2019: Weeks 1-3

Well hello there! A fond dispatch from my couch, where I’m snuggling with my pup, avoiding both shoveling and the outdoor mile that’s going to happen as soon as it stops sleeting. So here I am, taking a moment to pause and reflect on the first few weeks of the year.

2019, so far: there has been hard work, discomfort, challenges, and growth, but also, January has been full of running, reading, writing, watching new films and taking myself on creative dates. I’ve been reading new cookbooks, and cooking with intention.  I’ve been actually cooking from my cookbooks, which I must admit is a bit of a new revelation. Normally I read them, absorb, and create something from the ether – admittedly, having someone tell me what to do in the kitchen via their “rules” a.k.a. a recipe – is a lovely change of pace.

alison roman citrus slow salmon dining in the second lunch

My resolutions this year are not grand or particularly audacious – they are simply to continue to do more of the things that I love to do, do more work to discover those things, to continue the habits that give me energy, and reduce the activities that drain me. (I’m looking at you, endless scrolling through my phone.)

Life is complicated, at times challenging. My year so far hasn’t been without these things. But, it’s easy to dwell in negativity, unless you cultivate the habit of focusing on the good things – and that’s just what I do.

To that end, one of my daily activities is practicing gratitude – taking snapshots of my everyday life on my phone, writing out the things that I’m thankful for. Noticing more. Trying, as best as possible to fill my life with little things (and big things) to be thankful for.  

That said, it’s no surprise that 60% of the photos of my phone are of my dog.  

But the first few weeks of the year I’ve been good to myself, and my hours have been filled with many good things, big and small. Here are some of them.  

{Week 1}

  • I started the year with a 5k race. I’ve run the same race several years in a row, and I love the ritual of lining up at the same starting line, with my new intentions, and a year’s worth of improvement. Last year it was about 13 degrees, this year, closer to 60. I beat the past several years of times, my reward for a year of running a daily mile in 2018.
  • Inspired by my friend Christina, I started a yearly film project – a spreadsheet where I track the movies I watch, with a goal of 52 (new to me) movies this year. Do you have any suggestions for me? So far, some of the better ones have been Quartet, A Man Called Ove, and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. 
  • Yes, I’ve been watching Marie Kondo. I came across an interesting conversation questioning the choice of translation of “tokimeku” literally (flutter), which is somewhat passive, to it’s permutation for the US audience as “spark joy” (active).
  • My co-founder Chris gave me an ivy plant of significant provenance. It’s living in our new office space in Springfield at the home of Valley Venture Mentors. 
  • My weekly creative date: I took myself to the Museum of Fine Arts for the final weekend of the Winnie the Pooh exhibit. It was so utterly charming. 

Delicious meals:

  • Duck breast, over frisée and parsley salad with baby potatoes roasted in the duck fat. (Picture up top.)
  • Delivery: Shan-a-punjab. Butter chicken, garlic naan, masala chai. All of the condiments. 
  • This Instant Pot spaghetti and meat sauce recipe. I used Rao’s and it was startlingly delicious. 
  • Alison Roman’s Slow Salmon with Citrus and Herb Salad from Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. Copious amounts of olive oil, and a winner. 
  • Leftovers: a bowl of quinoa with leftover Slow Salmon, feta, and Trader Joe’s fresh green goddess dressing. 
alison roman dining in citrus slow salmon the second lunch

{Week 2}

  • A dentist appointment. Overcoming fear and dread to take care of those teeth.
  • Our first week in the new office space!
  • My creative date: I took myself out to see Spider-Man, Into the Spider-verse. It was excellent, I highly recommend it. My planned dinner at Cava didn’t pan out (the movie got out too late), so I came home and toasted myself a St. Viateur bagel with cheddar on one half, and Soom chocolate tahini on the other. 
  • Reading: “How to break up with your phone by Catherine Price. I’m not looking to dump the phone all together, but shift to much more mindful usage. This had some pretty good specific tactics. 

Delicious meals:

  • Leftovers: Instant Pot Spaghetti, my favorite Epicurious kale and date salad, and roasted brussels sprouts with lemon tahini dressing. 
  • A food court gyro with rice pilaf and greek salad in Springfield. Surprisingly delicious!
  • Alison Roman’s Paprika-Rubbed Sheet Pan Chicken with Lemon from Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. Repurposed for several meals: as is, the next day with autumn harvest sauce. After that with eggs, and olive labne. And then after making a few different meals, I made stock with the carcass, and am still enjoying it.
alison roman paprika chicken the second lunch

{Week 3}

  • I realized that I could set my computer up with Zoom open to watch my dog sit in the window when I’m at the gym. 
  • I let my curls stay curled. 
  • Another great day at the office. A bonus? Huey sitting behind me. Have I mentioned how much I love my Push Journal? I’ve been using these for much of the past year, and am loving my Turquoise (Ompractice colors!) with rose gold spiral binding. 
  • Creative date: I took myself to the MFA to see the Ansel Adams exhibit (do go!) – fully enjoying an hour an a half of trees, the West, up close, and far off. A few things to note: I was completely captivated by some of the other artists’ works they chose to complement the work of Adams. I’ve been entranced by the work of Laura McPhee for over a decade. Her pieces in here were stunning. Also captivating: the works of Abelardo Morell, making captivating art with overlaying these iconic views with images of the ground. And then finally, this bright pink chromeograph by David Benjamin Sherry of dunes. So good. I’ll note, finally, that the instance of the gift shop at the end of this exhibit was possibly one of the most overtly thematic experiences I’ve seen the MFA attempt.. for better or for worse. I restrained myself from purchasing the faux fur fashion vest or sitting in the Adirondack chairs huffing pine candles. (Topped off the evening with a parking space directly in front of Cava for pickup.) 
Museum of Fine Arts Adams Gift Shop

Delicious Meals:

  • Turkish green beans and zucchini, a love letter to myself from my summer freezer. With feta, yogurt, and soft boiled eggs.
  • Ribollita from Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. Pictured above, in the pot. What a beautiful soup with so many layers of flavor. (I’ve been eating it now for days.) 
  • Jossy’s Chicken Liver Curry from the Leon cookbook. (Pictured below.) I didn’t have enough chicken liver, so I added a can of chickpeas. Shout out to Patak’s tikka masala paste, which I ordered from the internet. It’s a pretty glorious base paste. 
  • Alison Roman’s soy brined fish from Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes. (I had cod), over leftover cabbage. 
Jossys curry leon coobkook the second lunch

For the rest of today?

I’ll be spending most of it curled up with this one, planning, plotting, and scheming. Here’s to a great week ahead.

Snow Day Feels

Fall Self Care Bingo + November Intentions

Self Care Bingo on My Desk

I had to look it up, today. There are 40 days left of fall. 50 days until 2019 has arrived.

I woke up this morning – for the second time, the first was with the dog needing a 4:45 am potty break, parents of toddlers, I feel for you – and thought, today is a good day to write. So here we are. Writing, like many things, begets writing. So here I am.

We’ve passed Daylight savings, and have been weathering the transition. Fall is usually my favorite season – the lights twinkling through the auburn, red, and golden leaves. Sweaters, and layers, and hot hands slipped into my pockets before heading out into the neighborhood. Walks around the Wellesley campus are spectacular this time of year. In my kitchen, squash gets roasted, the Pot finds itself in use, and I find myself forming a re-acquaintance with hot chocolate and those perfect vegan mini marshmallows from Trader Joe’s. Why they aren’t available year round is a mystery to me.

Truthfully, I haven’t quite found myself feeling the same level of enjoyment of late. After a long stretch of feeling content, I’ve been back feeling less-than, lately. Noticeably abrupt at the changing of seasons, the optimism of summer shifting into a feeling of stuck-ness, of in-between. While this has been one of the most full years of my life professionally, it has also been challenging, and come fall, I’ve found myself squirreling away energy to make it through the days.

Friendships and relationships have suffered. A sense of ease has been missing, but somehow, anyway I can, I know I’ll find myself out the other end soon. Whatever that other end may look like. And it’s hard not knowing, isn’t it? So when I feel that feeling of un-ease, that’s where I know to double down on my self care – to focus not on the past or an uncertain future, but the present, right here, right now. Self-care is a form of meditation. It’s doing the things that we can do, in this moment. To be present, and to feel rooted, in the now.

This year, like last, I’ve been slow to post my seasonal self-care ritual: my Fall Self Care Bingo. But we have 40 days left of the season, and the board is a great way to help fill your days with the goodness needed to get through it all, without forgetting to notice the present moment. Hopefully it will bring you some enjoyment as it does to me. I think I’ve missed the boat on apple picking this year, but the rest are totally doable as the season goes on.

Grab your copy to download and print here:

[Writing as Self Care]

I’ve been thinking about ways to write more, as a form of creative outlet, catharsis. Each morning, I write to myself. Long handed morning pages – not always three, but at least one, in my notebook. This practice keeps me focused. Each morning, I also start with gratitude. A list of three things, or ten, that I’m grateful for.

I’ve taken back up with The Artists Way – I pick up the book and put it down again every so often, picking up on the creative exercises from Julia Cameron’s seminal course in discovering and recovering your creative self. There’s a passage in there that I’ve noted and noted again: Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.

On this note, I’ve wanted to write more. I suspect that you might want to write more as well. To do this, we need to surround ourselves with others who encourage us to do the work. As we lead our way into 2019, I’m hoping to do this with like the like-minded.

I’ve contemplated forming a writing circle that meets in person, but think I’d like to start the way I know best: a weekly video call, along the lines of my format for “Do the Thing!” hour – we gather, let each other know what we’re working on, and get to work with our pencils to the page. The idea for ‘Write the Thing!’ will be to meet weekly or every other week at a time that I’ll hold as consistent as I can.

Does this interest you? Would you like to be part of my writing circle? Just send me a note, and I’ll add you to the list of writers, and we’ll make this thing happen.

[Reading as Self Care]

I’ve started putting together my reading list for November and December, to round out the year with positive influence on the page. This year I’ve read less than last, but I always boost up the last few months. Here’s what’s planned so far. Several are chosen from my Personal Development reading list. I always add a handful of new ones as I read along.

  • Brené Brown: Dare to Lead
  • Steinbeck: Travels with Charley in Search of America
  • Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
  • Jasmine Guillory: The Proposal
  • Dana Velden: Finding Yourself in the Kitchen
  • Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carloton Abrams, Dalai Lama: The Book of Joy
  • Trevor Noah: Born a Crime
  • Celeste Ng: Little Fires Everywhere
  • Atul Gawande: Being Mortal
  • Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia

Missing – some good YA fantasy to take me through the holidays. It’s possible that I’ll just do what I do every year and re-read Sabriel. Do you have any favorites I shouldn’t miss?

[Food as Self Care]

This blog, of course, started out as a meditation on eating – a thing to do during my transition to living in San Francisco. At the time, I was full of wonder, but homesick, finding solace in cookbooks, my neighborhood, and everything I could get my hands on at the Farmers market. That feeling of grounding myself in food is always present. Some days I dream of waking up and checking in for a stage at Noma, giving up all of my responsibilities and peeling a hundred pounds of parsnips to get through a busy shift and feel rooted.

But I’ve resigned myself, for now, to the life of an over-educated home cook. Surrounded by my cookbooks, my days are punctuated by the delivery of my monthly meat share, the weekly pickup of my vegetable CSA, or a trip to Trader Joes for a daily sample for the novelty of the thing. Every so often, I give up on making decisions and try out another meal kit. At first I was ashamed of it, but now I see clearly: sometimes you just need to eat without spending hours debating the merits of one dish over another.

Right now, I’m dabbling with Marley Spoon, the meal kit that Martha Stewart aligned her star power with. A few boxes in, I’ve mixed feelings. The dishes have been decent but not mind blowing (they rarely are). But I’ve appreciated getting to work – spending a little bit more time than normal prepping my dinner, and then sitting down to eat something I wouldn’t have likely chosen for myself.

As for fall foods that I’m looking forward to, there’s still so much to eat and to try. I still go back to the same seasonal list that I wrote about here: delicata squash, squashes of all varietals, apples, boiled cider, apple cider donuts, chili, pumpkin whoopee pies, Turkish pumpkin dessert, persimmons, and my all-time favorite pumpkin chocolate chip bundt.

Happy Fall!

Summer Self Care Bingo

Summer Self Care Bingo

:: Summer is here! ::

A new season is here, and it’s another good reason to download your copy of my seasonal self care bingo, print it out, and play along! Each square has a small activity to add goodness to your life and spend more time on yourself.

✔️Pro-tip: print it out!

I’m reward motivated, but I’ve moved on from giving myself gold stickers to crossing off my boxes with a big fat Sharpie. Something about physically putting a big ‘ole X across each opportunity to do something good for myself is very satisfying. I recommend it.

Snap a shot on IG or Twitter with the hashtag #selfcarebingo, and play along as you cross off those boxes. Bonus points if you cross out every single box – I’d love to see your completed boards! If you finish your board and send me a message, I’ll send you a little gift to further your self care.

California – Eating Notes

I’m back from a week in California, and food is lingering on my mind. This was a quick, intense work trip for my client in San Mateo, sneaking in under the radar (sorry, friends!!) While the focus of my time was very much on the job at hand, I was thankful that many client meals ended up being over good food, and I was able to sneak in a few meals across different parts of the bay.

Beyond the food, the weather was absolutely beautiful, and San Mateo had some great short trails for me to get in both my daily mile and some restorative long walks.

:: Meal Notes ::

My first meal off the plane was brunch at Plow (although depressing, as I went exclusively for the biscuit, which they ran out of while I was waiting in line.) I ordered “the Plow”, and a side of hollandaise. Scrambled eggs, crispy potatoes, a few rashers of Neuske’s bacon, and lemon ricotta pancakes. Next time, there’d better be a biscuit, and I’ll try their BLT if it’s still on the menu.

With the office in San Mateo, I ate several meals in the South Bay, including In Burlingame, where I imbibed an excellent virgin Paloma at Barrelhouse – grapefruit, lime, syrup, salt and seltzer. I’ve been craving citrus and it didn’t disappoint. Dinner at Limon Rotisserie: rotisserie chicken, Lomo Saltado, a ceviche trio – pulpo camaron, pescado, and camarones, yuca fries and tacu tacu (rice and beans).

There was a disappointing visit to Draeger’s (I remember it being more exciting?) where we stocked up on salad material, in contrast to a fulfilling one at Rainbow later in the week,where picked up some date balls, black tahini, a cashew chocolate caramel, and a glorious grapefruit. Meals at home included summer salads with chicken sausage on the grill, fresh parsley, mint, avocado and blue cheese. In California fashion, we also stocked up on good coffee, goat yogurt, raw sauerkraut, and a box of Its’-Its. One of my compatriots acquired a $25 bottle of mango cream coconut yogurt from the coconut cult – I won’t lie, it was delicious and I’d probably get another.

Admittedly while I love my morning Nespresso these days, the thing I was looking most forward to was my coffee routine at Philz. Usually an iced Tesora, either black or with a splash of cream before heading back to the office. They have a new mobile ordering system through their app which makes ordering reasonable. (Otherwise you don’t go to Philz in the morning if you don’t have time to kill…)

Mid-week office lunches included:

The Egg and Okra curry and tea leaf salad at Best of Burma. We don’t really have great Burmese food in the Boston area. (Nor Nepalese, or Filipino, a few more of my favorite cuisines living in SF.)

At one point, I rolled into the office with $200 dollars worth of tacos from Los Primos – barbacoa, al pastor, camarones, veggie, pescado, chicken, a few stuffed quesadillas, and a large container of refried beans. I ended up eating leftovers for a few days.

For an office happy hour we headed at Attic, with perfect crispy and salty sweet potato fries, lumpia cigarillos (double the length of normal lumpia), brussels sprouts with bonito flakes, oysters, and deviled eggs. I ordered a virgin “Calamansake” with soda water, muddled ginger, calamansi syrup and lime juice which hit the spot.

I organized an outing to Takahashi Market, an asian and Hawaiian market that has been open since 1906 (four generations!) where I picked up kalua pork with cabbage, spicy spam musubi, haupia, and a lilikoi cheesecake. (The cheesecake was saved for the following evening after a late night out.) I was given a large cardboard box to tote back my haul.

Most mornings I woke early, made a cup of coffee, pulled out my notebook, wrote and planned the day hours before going for a run and then heading into the office. This was the view. That astroturf was actually soft and stayed clean – by the end of the week I was praising them for their brilliance.

My walks were equally as beautiful in the morning and the evening, and my running route had me going past a dog park every day.

On Tuesday I made it into the city for a dinner at Hawker Fare which exceed expectations given the mixed reviews of friends. I had Thai iced tea, blistered green beans, crispy rice ball salad, pork laab, sticky rice, barbecue chicken (gai yang). Kat ordered a cocktail in a cat cup, and it came with an umbrella. Behold the fabulousness.

Before the evening was over, we hopped in a Lyft to head for dessert: a scoop of olive oil rhubarb ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe, including a nostalgic celebrity sighting (BD Wong). While I was looking forward to a scoop of Secret Breakfast, I have to admit I found most of the flavors much sweeter than I remembered after so many years.

On Thursday, we had an excellent dinner at Foreign Cinema – starting with my first cocktail of my week – the Felicity – Hennessey VSOP, passionfruit liqueur, dry amaretto, fleur de sea, lemon and lime juice. I couldn’t resist. Kat, one of my dining partners who is also a stylist, gave me a side part, and a dark lip, which managed to stay perfectly through an entire evening of food and drink. I think I’ll keep it up.

For dinner: the lavender baked goat cheese; the plancha with calamari, clams, and mole rojo; Ceviche; pasta with corn; the sesame fried chicken; and a steak with corn and peppers. Dessert was similarly blissful – a chocolate pot with a thumbprint cookie; and the standout – rose meringue with cherries, sorbet, vanilla almond cream. The film was Splash, but regretfully I was sitting right under the big screen, and my only comfortable view was that of the rest of the diners.

To extend the evening – we headed to the Make Out Room, where the DJ was playing a mix of Cumbia and early 00’s favorites – enjoyable until someone came up to us to ask if we were having “mom’s night out” (Who says that as a pick up line?? Also, so what if we were??), at which point he was escorted out of our eye-roll zone, and a round of tequila was ordered for the group. Our evening progressed – five minutes in a completely empty Double Dutch, and then wrapping up the night over quiet conversation at Casanova.

The next day: a plate of pasta with spring vegetables and tomato cream sauce at Merchant Roots (very good!), as well as a slice of warm carrot sandwich. I headed over to the Rothy’s show room to try on a multitude of sizes, but alas, determined that none were a perfect fit.

For my parting dinner, I had a reservation at Boulevard. I’d never been, despite long admiring Nancy Oakes, and so many of the accomplished chefs that have come up in this kitchen. We shared Spanish octopus; Sea Scallops, and a plate of salad with burrata. We shared the pork chop (the meat was perfect), and a steak; dessert was a peach tart and the summer berry buckle. My observation: classic, California, nothing flashy, just all executed well and the taste of the season.

For my final morning, work people all packed up and headed their separate ways to the airport, and I had the house and the trails to myself for a final few hours.

Before heading home, I made one completely out of the way trip I couldn’t miss: I packed my bags, and took a Lyft from San Mateo to Berkeley for one last perfect bite.

Finally, two slices of always delicious Cheeseboard pizza, and a salad with yogurt and mint dressing. A last iced mocha Tesora at Philz, and then despite giving myself well over an hour to commute back to the airport, I barely made the airplane, arriving nearly 25 minutes after the plane had started boarding. I made it on the flight, waved out the window, and spent the trip listening to my audiobook. So long, Bay Area, I’ll be back before you know it.

PS: California, you are weird sometimes.

The Second Lunch Kitchen Resolutions 2018

julia child in her kitchen

Huzzah! It’s that time of year again when my planning and organizing itch goes into hyperdrive. While I’m not really a “New Years Resolutions” devotee, I AM a goal oriented person all year long – I set a variety of long and short term goals in all parts of my life. No, I’m not some sort of goal-setting superhero, without them I’m an aimless, wandering, grump, prone to the gravity field of my couch. It’s for the best for all of us.

The only real resolutions I DO set are my kitchen resolutions – my re-commitments to spending more time doing the things I love: cooking, reading about food, talking about food, and eating…. all the food.

In 2017, my word for the year was “Share”. I had lofty goals for sharing my thoughts, dreams, and meals. But all in all, 2017 ended up being not much of a food year for me – I think it was a particularly difficult year for a lot of us. Surprisingly few kitchen projects, limited dinners out (probably for the best), and fewer cookbooks read than in probably any year of the past decade.

So, in 2018 the word for the year is “Finish” which is a good reminder to finish some of last year’s kitchen resolutions that I didn’t quite end up following through with… see what I did there? I also have a renewed sense of optimism about the future. I’m working on some amazing projects, with excellent people, traveling more, and being more organized with my culinary pursuits.

First, here are some of my 2017 kitchen resolutions I’d like to continue with:

  • my weekly meal planning process – I did generally well with this, but this year I have a spiffy updated spreadsheet and process to keep me planning and updating on a regular basis.
  • bucket list restaurants – in the short term, I’d like to eat my way through Boston’s Eater 38. Still quite a few amazing restaurants in my backyard that I haven’t made the effort to try. I actually ended up going to a few bucket list restaurants in San Francisco that I tragically had missed out on while living there: finally made it to Zuni Cafe!
  • 100(0) fruits, nuts, and seed to tryhere’s my list; quite a few of these I’ve definitely eaten (but can’t actually remember eating…. hello aging) so I’ve left them on my master list to actually re-try for the record.
  • I didn’t end up doing much in terms of “challenging cooking” this year, but I’d like to spend some more time doing projects in my kitchen.
  • While I didn’t hit my goal, I do like the idea of following through with cooking from one of my already owned cookbooks a month. I’m joining a little in-person cookbook club to help do that!

What other kitchen resolutions are on the docket for 2018?

I’d like to cook a weekly Turkish dinner – I’ve been thinking about writing a Turkish cookbook for well over a decade, so this is some measured effort to that end. But the more important impetus is to eat more of the food I grew up with, the stuff that brings me comfort and joy. Also, Turkish home cooking is pretty much all the food I WANT to be eating most of the time: healthy, loads of vegetables, lots of lamb, and all the spices. Also, pudding.

I try meal kits so you don’t have to – although I cook 90+ percent of my meals at home, I’m still smitten with the idea of an occasional meal kit to outsource all of the planning and shopping. I’ve tried Blue Apron, Purple Carrot, Home Chef, Sakara, and Hello Fresh, and I’m looking for any and all good recommendations (and free weeks if you have ’em!)

Deal with the (expletive redacted) lids to all of my containers – let’s face it, I’ve never seen a perfect solution to the container lid situation. But chance are there are better solutions than my current on (shoved in the top of one of my Raskog kitchen wheelies.

Minimize the amount of stuff on the counter in my kitchen – I generally like access to “all the things” in my kitchen. That doesn’t mean that they have to all be on the counters everywhere.

Improve the light situation and the art in my kitchen – my last few kitchens have been a little bit sad in both lighting and cheer. (And frankly, warmth, but that’s another issue.) Until I have my dream kitchen, I can’t make sweeping changing, but I can do some incremental steps to making the kitchen a better place. New lightbulbs and art it is!

What are your kitchen resolutions this year?