I came, I saw, I ate

For an introvert who spends almost an hour riding crowded subways every morning and then again every evening, has a job that entails answering emails, calls and in-person questions/requests/demands all day, works out at a gym where people hover around treadmills like sharks in the water, and who in the entirety of her life thus far has only ever lived by herself for six months, going on vacation alone is a deliciously selfish  indulgence.

Sure, I love traveling with my boyfriend, select friends, and for short periods of time even my sister, but let me tell you, my favorite travel companion is ME.

Traveling alone means I wake up when I want to, go only where I want to, spend as much time in museum gift shops as I want to, and best of all, eat whenever, wherever and most importantly, whatever I want to.

Last month, in a move that was part anniversary trip (ten years since I left a two year stint in Italy for NY) and part desperate need for at least a temporary change of scenery/weather/daily routine, I went to Puglia, the part of Italy known as the heel of the boot. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, in large part because of all the great things I ate… alone.

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All the company I needed. 

In Polignano a Mare, a beautiful little town perched up on the cliffs overlooking the Adriatic, I had one of the best meals of the trip, one that I’m pretty sure would have sent my boyfriend head first into the ocean had he been there with me.

The fried octopus sandwich at Pescaria had been recommended to me before I left but when I showed my boyfriend photos of it, he recoiled in disgust. He’s what I call a closeted picky eater (because he vehemently denies being one) and specifically refuses to eat octopus. (Something about the little suckers.) I, of course, couldn’t wait and went my first night in town, and then just because I could and had no one to even suggest otherwise, I went again the next day for lunch.

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It was huge, this octopus sandwich, with a thick smear of creamy ricotta, peppery turnip greens cooked in garlic and olive oil, fig compote, a drizzle of anchovy oil and several large, fat, fried octopus tentacles (suckers fully visible) bulging out from underneath a large, bumpy topped roll that resembled a turtle shell. I held it with two hands, my fingers spread wide to get a good grip, and with every bite, something delicious toppled out or smeared on my face.

With no one there to interrupt me with conversation, look at me funny because I had ricotta on my chin or a stray crumb in my hair, or judgily ask me if I was actually going to finish all that (the answer is always yes, ok?) I was able to happily wolf down my sandwich in peace.

Sure, there were times on this trip when I wished someone had been there with me to share a particular moment, but eating that fried octopus sandwich—both of them I should say— was not one of them. That meal required my undivided attention and I was all too happy to provide it.

So much kale

Getting stuff for free is awesome and I’m normally all about it, but what the hell do you do with four containers of kale that you suddenly find yourself the owner of?

At work earlier this week, as I started to unpack a large order from Fresh Direct while the delivery guy was still unloading cases of water and boxes of snacks for my office, I immediately saw something I knew was wrong.

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Just what every office pantry needs: a ton of raw kale.

“Oh hey, sorry, this must belong to another order, ” I said to him, pulling out the large plastic containers filled with the dark green leafy stuff. “I definitely didn’t order this.”

“Oh, well you can just keep it,” he said, practically vanishing into thin air as soon as he said it, like some sort of magic trick. He must’ve known I was going to offer him some.

The office fridge didn’t even have space for all of that kale, and the thought of just tossing it in the trash had me clapping my hands over my ears as my mother’s voice screamed, “But what about the starving children in Africa?! They’d love that kale! Don’t be a monster, Angie!”

In a last-ditch effort, I sent an email out to the office putting it up for grabs. No one answered. One guy walked by my desk and asked why it couldn’t be something fun. I heard my mother in my head again.

So I took to social media and posted a little story on Instagram, asking for recipes. I got several from friends and acquaintances:

Eww gross, throw it away.

Make kale chips!

Blend it in a smoothie.

Have a big ol’ kale salad.

Make more kale chips! Wait, did you already think to make kale chips? How ’bout kale chips?

Apparently, a lot of you are passionate about kale chips. And while I’m already a fan myself, there’s an issue with the gas in my apartment and my only means of cooking is a temporary double electric burner, so kale chips weren’t an option.

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My new favorite way of eating kale: AS PESTO. 

But one friend suggested something I would have never thought of (because let’s face it, I was going to eat kale salad until I couldn’t stand it anymore) and that’s kale pesto. So simple it was genius! Required no cooking, minimal ingredients, and from the several recipes I found online, easily customizable.

For mine, I went with chopped raw kale, crushed walnuts, chopped basil, minced garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and grated parmesan. I tossed it in a blender (a Magic Bullet to be precise), gave it a whirl and boom, it was done. I don’t specify measurements here because it’s all pretty adjustable. I made two batches to be combined, and the first one, for example, had two fat cloves of garlic which gave it a good kick. For the second, I cut back on the garlic but added more basil for that more traditional pesto flavor and more walnuts for a nutty taste. You could add more or less of any one ingredient to get it to what you like.

I’m not the most confident in my kitchen skills but this? This was delicious. I could’ve eaten it just one spoonful after another, but saved it for pasta instead. But because pesto’s awesome it could be just as good as a sandwich spread, an egg drizzle, or for dunking some warm focaccia into. And the best part was basically tricking my body into eating and loving kale!

So yea, four free pints of ice cream would’ve probably been the highlight of my week but kale ended up being pretty great too.  (Katy, if you read this: grazie ancora!)

Flushing Day Trip

This summer has been a non-stop highlight reel of beaches and vineyards, lake houses and boat trips, charming towns and exotic cities, mountains, yachts, villas, rented cars, hikes, bike rides and SO. MANY. SUNSETS. Just nonstop sunsets really.

Hahaha no, silly goose! None of them mine! All of that’s been the recap of pretty much almost everyone else I know’s summer. My friends and acquaintances, let me tell you, have gone freakin’ everywhere in the past few months.

I went to Milwaukee. For work. (Cue sad trombone.) Well, and Miami, too, but that doesn’t really count because I’m from there, and while I did sneak in some fun, it was largely tainted by familial obligations.

With a pending move next month and a hemorrhaging bank account because of it, there have been no big trips this summer, and there won’t likely be any till next year. But you know what? It’s fine.

When you live in New York, there’s a little bit of every pocket of the world right here, which is why last weekend, in lieu of an exotic, expensive, faraway trip, the boyfriend and I decided to explore one of those foreign-to-us pockets instead and rode the 7 train to the end of the line to Flushing, Queens.

For me, travel is largely about exploring through food, so that’s exactly what we did in Flushing, making our own walking tour/ food crawl experience as we went along.

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I read somewhere that more than two-thirds of Flushing residents are foreign-born, most of them Asian and predominantly Chinese, though there are people from everywhere else too.

Between the 90 degree weather with a steady drizzle, the bustling markets full of exotic fruit and crates of live creatures, the crush of people, the squawking vendors and the foreign language signs everywhere, why even spend the money on a plane ticket? We already felt like we’d gone farther than just a borough away.

It wasn’t drinks with a view or a white sand beach but really, any tiny jealousy of mine aside, after a day spent eating amazing (and cheap!) food, visiting a Hindu temple I never knew about, wandering through quiet neighborhoods and huddling together under a small umbrella down busy main streets, I was ok with being exactly where I was. Even if I had been halfway around the world, I probably would’ve been doing the same thing: wandering, chasing down recommendations, eating too much.

For as much as I complain about New York, if you have to be stuck somewhere without being able to travel, there’s no better place to be stuck than here.

Yes, more of everything!

wn-everything-but-the-bagelListen, I’ll just come straight out with it.

I’m on a full blown kick— bit of a binge really—over Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend. Yes, I know. I just wrote about everything bagels and everything bagel inspired doughnuts but one post ago. TJ’s seasoning blend isn’t anything new, either. I also know that. Some of you have been worshiping at the altar of everything-but-the-bagel for a while now, but I’m new to the game and if there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t been converted, I’m here to spread the good word.

During a recent rare visit to Trader Joe’s, (because side note: I would, for the record, exclusively shop there if I could, but the closest one to me is 1. not that close to me at all, and 2. a complete and total fucking nightmare. So I love from afar.) I saw the famous seasoning blend and tossed it in my basket. Once home, I looked at it and thought, “Ok, now what? What do I put you on?”

The answer is… EVERY-SINGLE-DAMN-THING. All of ’em. You put this stuff on everything.

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Good on everything but this might be my fave.

I’ve sprinkled it on all sorts of things while I cook: quinoa, salmon, asparagus, shrimp tostadas, even chowder. The other night, I roasted a big fat sweet potato, then sprinkled it with my new favorite seasoning blend, and shazam!—delicious dinner! When a softball sized rice ball from the deli section of my local supermarket ended up being less the arancino I was hoping for and more just a fried ball of very bland rice, everything seasoning saved the day and made it actually tasty. Even my seasoning averse boyfriend admitted an avocado was actually better after I sprinkled a little bit of everything on it. (This is my favorite, by the way. Something about the mix of creamy, buttery avocado and all those savory, crunchy crispy little bits just makes all of my taste buds dance!)

After I posted something about it on Instagram, a friend messaged me to tell me she loved it on oatmeal! Repeat after me: everything is good on everything.

Remember this great song? I mean, she wasn’t wrong.

Everything

My boyfriend does this maddening thing whenever we go out for weekend bagels: he orders a PLAIN one with PLAIN cream cheese. Yes, that’s right. DOUBLE plain action.

I mean, really. The horrors!

I, on the other hand, always go for an everything bagel. The cream cheese changes (tofu if I’m trying to cut back on dairy, chives if I’m going all out, low fat if I’m feeling guilty about going all out too much) but the bagel is always the same: everything.

I want the salt flakes, the sesame seeds, the pepper, the poppy seeds, the onion, the garlic. I want everything! Which is why when I came across The Doughnut Project’s Everything Doughnut, a hybrid of sweet and savory breakfast favorites, well… I had to have it immediately.

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The Everything Doughnut

My boyfriend, who by the way, unlike me also hates sweet-savory combos, was horrified, so I went alone.

While reflecting on the ol’ theory that opposites attract, I tore into the Everything Doughnut, a big, plump, doughy affair that would’ve been great to share. Underneath its thick cream cheese glaze and photo ready coating of everything seasoningSea salt, pepper, garlic, sesame, even pumpkin seeds! was a pretty classic soft yeast doughnut, not too cakey, not too sweet. The cream cheese glaze was good, sweet and just a little tangy, like the frosting on a carrot cake, while the savory blend of seasoning made for a surprising mix of textures and flavors, the kind of thing that slows your chewing and makes you go, “Hmmm ok. This is…interesting.”

And really, I think that’s the best way to put it: The Everything Doughnut was interesting. Not bad, kind of fun and quirky, but maybe just a little too savory for something I have always associated with being sweet. I’d say it’s something to try once for the novelty but when it comes to “everything” breakfasts, I’ll reserve that for bagels.

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!

Plated: my new best friend in the kitchen

Fact: I can eat like nobody’s business, but I can barely cook to save my life. No really, not kidding. If my life depended on my cooking, I’d probably die.

But there’s hope for me yet, thanks to a service one of my friends turned me on to called Plated. Every week they put up a collection of meals, you pick the ones you like, and they send you all of the ingredients needed to pull it off, along with nice, easy-to-follow illustrated cooking instructions. (I can’t stress enough what a huge difference illustrated instructions make for us cooking-challenged folks. Total game changer.)

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For someone who loves getting stuff in the mail, this was like Christmas!

For my first Plated meal, I chose a polenta pizza with ricotta cheese, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. Plated sends you everything, in the exact quantities you need, so there’s no waste, and best of all there’s no waiting in line at the supermarket, which because I live in New York, the world’s worst city for supermarkets, also means no risk of violent outbursts or homicidal thoughts. (Mark my words, it’s only a matter of time before someone snaps at the Trader Joe’s in Union Square.)

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All the ingredients come individually wrapped and labeled, so you don’t confuse your Brussels sprouts with your thyme, for example.

The only ingredients I had to provide myself were pantry staples olive oil, salt and pepper. Plated sent everything else and with it, this nice big recipe card. Again, pictures make a serious difference.

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Maybe a picture book approach to recipes is what I’ve been needing all along.

So with my oh-so-helpful color pictures to guide me, I followed all of the steps. I cooked up some polenta, sauteed some Brussels sprouts and mushrooms with garlic, oil and thyme, then spread the polenta on to a baking sheet and loaded it up with a layer of ricotta cheese, the sauteed veggies and a sprinkling of parmesan.

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Building the base and toppings for my “pizza.”

Once everything was loaded up and ready to go, I popped my baking sheet into the oven and tried my hardest not to be whiny and impatient whilw it cooked.

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Assembled and ready to go, next and final step: the oven!

Once out of the oven, I let it cool for a bit (but really only because the instructions told me to. I’m usually all about digging in immediately and burning myself with molten hot food.) before cutting it into slices, drizzling with just a little bit more olive oil and a couple shakes of salt and pepper, and BAM! Delicious, healthy, home made dinner for two.

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Who knew a slice of home made polenta pizza could do so much for making me feel like a normal functioning adult?

In my opinion, Plated is a genius idea, for both those who actually know their way around a kitchen and those of us still struggling to to learn the ropes. I’m looking forward to lots more Plated boxes waiting for me on my doorstep.