Eating, not cooking, is what I’m good at

Remember that time I made cooking my new year’s resolution for 2017?

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Believe it or not, I made these here beef and cheese empanadas.

Well, I did, and like most other new year’s resolutions meant to somehow improve your life or take it in a new direction, this year’s has been tough.

I’ve stuck with it, making at least one, sometimes two, homemade meals a week, usually with my roommate or the boy as my guinea pig and taste tester, but if I’m being completely honest, I haven’t enjoyed it.

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Not ideal for a hot summer night, but I made it anyway: shrimp and corn tortilla soup.

I love eating but dammit, I just don’t like cooking. It’s been stressful and messy and hot, and one time, even painful. (Special shout out to the chicken breast that sent scalding hot oil flying on to my wrist, leaving me with an ugly brown scar that just narrowly missed my tattoo. Yea, big ol’ F-U to that chicken breast.)

Some people find cooking meditative because it takes your mid off other things and forces you to focus on the task at hand. I rather just meditate.

That being said though, I’ve made some pretty good stuff in the last six months, almost always with the help of Plated and most recently Martha & Marley Spoon. There were some pretty spectacular beef and cheese empanadas, a gooey, cheesey chicken parm, a fantastic pine nut crusted salmon and last night, a delicious shrimp and corn soup with chipotle and tortilla strips that made my unairconditioned kitchen so hot it was about 2 degrees from being a hallucinatory sweat lodge.

Every last bite was enjoyed but the same can’t be said for the process. Yes, I’ll keep at it for the other half of this year, and while I’m sure it’ll get easier and I’ll feel more confident in my kitchen skills, I’m pretty sure the fun for me will always be fully in the eating.

I could be a vegetarian

Twice this week—TWICE!— I’ve thought to myself, “I could totally be a vegetarian.”

Not a vegan. No, not ever a vegan. I couldn’t give up ice cream and cheese. But vegetarian? I could definitely be a vegetarian.

Honestly, it’s a thought that creeps in all the time, luring me with its promises of health and skinniness, but then I smell bacon fresh out of the pan or  a take a juicy bite of a fat burger and I think no, nevermind, what was I thinking.

But then again, twice this week, I thought I could do it, based off delicious vegetarian meals (one vegan actually!) that didn’t make me feel like I was missing anything.

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American butternut squash bowl… cause not everything American is broken

Earlier in the week was a freakin’ great American butternut squash bowl from PureKtchn. Pretty much the kind of dish that begs to be Instagrammed, it was a big colorful bowl of soft butternut squash, roasted cauliflower, kale, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and a surprise pinch of tangy, fruity sweetness from goji berries. People who force feed themselves salads in an attempt at being healthy, EAT THIS. It was good! It was healthy! There was no forcing of anything!

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Superiority Burger, sometimes vegan, always delicious

Then later in the week, a friend and I had dinner at Superiority Burger, a cramped little East Village spot whose menu tells people to ask because “everything is vegetarian, a lot is accidentally vegan.” Clockwise from the left hand corner of the picture, we shared the smashed spicy cucumber and brown rice  topped with some of the best damn croutons I’ve ever had, the Sloppy Dave, a delicious, saucey take on a sloppy Joe, the zesty and creamy tahini ranch romaine salad that made me forget how lame I think lettuce is and a rich, spicy burnt broccoli salad.

I might cut back on meat and dairy but realistically, I won’t likely ever become a vegetarian. (I’m a Libra, I’m all about balance.) But with meals like these, where I ended full and happy with not a single crumb of guilt or shame, (which isn’t the case when I polish off a pint of ice cream or a whole pizza) I can certainly keep daydreaming about it.

Easy like fried chicken

How did it go again, when Lionel Richie sang it? “That’s why I’m easy, easy like Sunday evening?”

Wait, no, that’s wrong. It was morning, easy like Sunday morning.

But for me, well for me it was Sunday evening that was the easy one. Easy and delicious.

I was walking down First Ave. with a certain someone, making our way toward the L train, casually talking about maybe grabbing something quick and easy to eat before heading back to Brooklyn, when I made the suggestion.

“How ‘bout this place?” I asked, pointing to the barely noticeable, easily missable sign on Fuku’s door. “They do a good chicken sandwich. And it’s fast.”

IMG_8718I’d been there about a year before with a couple of friends, and remembered liking it. David Chang can do no wrong in my book. In his Momofuku kingdom, he’s got the Midas touch of deliciousness.

The menu’s small at Fuku and the main attraction is Chang’s chicken sandwich. A couple of sandwiches, some chicken fingers, fries, a couple sides, a few drinks , and that’s all folks! But when things are as good as this, you don’t need a lot of choices, and for someone like me, who struggles with decision-making, that’s a great thing.

Ordering— unlike so many other times at so many other places—was a breeze and I went with the Koreano, a slight twist on the regular chicken sandwich. No fries cause I wasn’t ravenously hungry as usual (and because my partner in crime for the night got some so I thought he wouldn’t mind a couple missing.)

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Deciding on Fuku was easy, ordering was easy and when my Koreano came out, it was easy too. Not a ton of toppings or competing flavors, just a few really great things coming together to make a phenomenal chicken sandwich. The bun, smooth and seedless, was soft and subtly sweet, with a smear of bright flavored chili sauce on the inside. A heap of tangy shredded daikon radish, a couple simple bread and butter pickles, and the star of the show: a huge hunk of absolutely perfect fried chicken.

Perfect, I said. Perfect.  Crunchy and golden on the outside and unbelievably juicy and tender on the inside. I don’t know what kind of black magic was used to pull off this chicken, but I support it.

Wouldn’t it be nice if everything in life was this easy and so so good? Not easy like Sunday morning, Lionel. Easy like perfect fried chicken.

Carbo-loading early

I’ve been toying with a crazy idea over the last year or so, and last Thursday I decided to make it official: I’m running the 2017 NYC marathon.

Cue mild panic attack.

On top of the physical commitment, I’m also running it for charity which means I have to raise $2,620 or else that’s what gets charged to my card. Double yikes, right? The pressure is ON.

In the spirit of finding the energy necessary to run a stretch of 26.2 miles, I decided to get a head start on the carbo-loading with dinner at Cheeseboat. (Ok, the truth is someone posted a video on my Facebook of a huge hunk of bread with a delicious pool of cheese in the middle and when I found out the restaurant was in Williamsburg, I immediately made plans with a friend. But it did actually coincide with me signing up for the marathon.)

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Take me away cheeseboat, take me away

Cheeseboat is a Georgian restaurant and dammit, I wanna go to freakin’ Georgia now because these folks know what to do with some bread and cheese. They have other stuff but good God almighty, CHEESE FREAKIN’ BOATS! I wanna jump in one and sail away into my fat kid dreams.

There’s lots of cheeseboat variations, some with bacon or truffle sauce, cream or veggies, and all manner of delicious combos, but basically they’re a big doughy mass, like a shallow bread bowl, filled with gooey, melted cheese in the middle, so that you gradually tear the whole thing apart and dip it in the middle, scooping out big globs of warm, delicious cheese as you go.

My friend and I  went with the original cheeseboat, filled with cheese, butter and topped with a fried egg, because as I’ve said before, I would almost eat rocks if they were underneath the rich, velvety blanket of golden, delicious fried egg yolks. For a serious carb and cheese lover like myself, this was everything. Yes, I felt stuffed to the gills and completely incapable of running to the door, much less 26.2 miles around all five boroughs, but I can tell you this much, I know what I want to eat AFTER that marathon.

I cooked and no one was harmed in the process

Anyone who doesn’t believe in the transformative power of the new year and the promise of better things to come, should’ve tasted my chicken on Tuesday night.

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Not a great pic, no, but only cause I was in a hurry to eat this beauty

You guys, it was good. Even I— ever the self-deprecating kitchen pessimist— am taking a moment here to toot my own horn, cause let me tell you, I not only made dinner from scratch but I made a damn tasty dinner at that.

The stakes were high. I was cooking for my roommate/best friend and the guy I’m steady wooing these days, neither of whom I wanted to send to the bathroom in the middle of the night with food poisoning or even a mild upset stomach. (Especially since we only have one small bathroom and an ancient, temperamental toilet.)

When I saw a simple enough yet delicious sounding recipe for a spicy roasted chicken and cauliflower mash on one of my go-to blogs last week, I knew what would be kicking off my commitment to cook a proper meal at least once a week in 2017.

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There is hope for me yet!

I sourced all my ingredients, updated our spice cabinet and put my thinking cap on. A couple of hours later, with only some barely noticeable hiccups along the way, I had made one damn good looking, Portuguese inspired, charred (on purpose!) roasted chicken surrounded by shiny, oven-roasted baby bell peppers, served alongside a bowl of steaming, creamy, garlic-and-butter-laden cauli mash.

The chicken was juicy and tender, the flavors of lime, garlic, cilantro and crushed red pepper making it spicy and colorful, and the cauliflower had the consistency and very similar and oh-so-comforting appearance and taste of mashed potatoes. Everything looked good, tasted great, and went down easy with nary a tablet of Pepto or Immodium in sight! (Though I had them on hand, cause you never know…)

 I told you 2017 was gonna be great!

Rainy day beach feast

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You know, just a colorful day at the beach.

If I’m at the beach and the sun is out in all its glory and so am I, letting it all (or most of it) hang out in a bikini and sunglasses,  I try to watch what I eat. (Puppy belly’s not a sexy look for me.)

But if I’m at the beach and the sky fills with dark clouds and then bursts open with buckets of rain, the way it did last time I was at the beach with friends, the only thing to do is head for cover… and food.  Since we were near the cluster of food stalls on Rockaway Beach’s boardwalk at 97th St., that’s where we ran, huddled under umbrellas while the rain blew in sideways.

There were lobster rolls, arepas, grilled cheese sandwiches and tacos, each stall sounding more appealing than the last, but it was the farthest one, the one tucked away at the very end, that we beelined to: the Bolivian Llama Party. (I told you I love llamas, no?)

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Nachos, Bolivian style.

First out were our Bolivian nachos, a gorgeous, colorful mountain of quinoa tortilla chips and plantain chips under and over pools of black beans, creme fraiche, cheese sauce, scallions, Llajua (a fiery Bolivian hot sauce) and magenta hued pickled onions. And to make a good thing great my friend added pulled pork. While I’m a fan of good ol’ fashioned lowbrow nachos, these were a fun twist, full of zest, flavor and spice.

To take our rain induced gorging up a notch (or three), we ordered the enormous triple pork sandwich, a delicious behemoth of tender roasted pig, thick-cut home cured bacon, and my favorite indulgence, pork belly, this one with just the perfect crackling edges to complement the fatty meat. Topping it all was a spicy mayo like sauce, shredded pickled carrots and cilantro, making this one of the messiest yet most-worth-the-juices-running-down-your-arm sandwiches I’ve encountered.

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A hot mess… in the sloppiest, best ways

For good measure, we also had a few orders of BLP’s papitas, or fries, some of the cilantro kind, crunchy and piping hot, tossed in garlic, white wine and pecorino and drizzled with a bright green sauce made from quiquina, a Bolivian cilantro, and then the queso papitas, also crispy and crusty, coated in a thyme, salt and aji mix.

We needed something to wash down all those delicious carbs and calories, so we also tried both of BLP’s homemade sodas, the golden maracuya, a bright, bubbly passion fruit lemonade and the I-want-a-lip-color-like-this mora-hibiscus soda made from blackberries and hibiscus flowers.

Sure, no one’s tan was any better than at the start of the day, and our hair was more rained-on frizzy than wind-swept beach wavy, but our bellies were happy and full, and mercifully hidden under our rain-spattered shirts.

Dal bhat power 24 hour

My diet during the two weeks I spent volunteering at an orphanage in Pokhara, Nepal can best be summed up by something I saw on a t-shirt at a local souvenir shop: Dal bhat power 24 hour.

Dal bhat, you see, a combination of lentils and veggies (that’s the dal) and steamed rice (the bhat), is pretty much THE staple dish of the nepalese diet. And no kidding, they eat it 24 hours. What’s for breakfast? Dal bhat. How bout lunch? Dal bhat. And dinner? Yup, more dal bhat.

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All day, every day

Sure, there are lots of variations on the traditional dal bhat plate, and in cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, which have seen a large influx of international travelers over the last few decades, you can certainly find other things to eat, but generally speaking, dal bhat is the national culinary star. At a self sustaining rural orphanage that grows and provides all of its own food this was certainly the case.

I should pause here for a moment to say that in no way am I complaining about my dal bhat heavy diet, nor did I complain at the time when I was eating it twice a day. The women who ran the orphanage and prepared the food were pros and worked magic with herbs and spices. Simple lentils, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes and other things grown right behind the orphanage turned into rich, delicious, saucy, curried meals that left kids and volunteers alike scraping their plates and going back for seconds.

My fondest memories of my time volunteering in Pokhara will always be those when we huddled around picnic tables outside in the January chill with a group of giggling, goofy, squawking kids, pouring rich lentil soup over fluffy white rice, mixing in chunky, comforting curried veggies over it all. Makes me kind of wish I had bought that t-shirt.