Eating to remember… and forget

It’s been almost nine years since I lived in Italy and almost six since I last went back to visit, and sometimes I miss the damn place so much.

Let me be clear, there’s a lot I absolutely don’t miss, but sometimes, like last night while eating a homemade dinner of gnocchi in an herbed tomato sauce with olives and capers, I just miss Italy in general. I miss the food, the pace of life, the “not this” of it all.

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Note to self: eat more gnocchi

With Plated‘s help once again (cause you know, I’d be lost otherwise), I made one of my favorite Italian meals, and an easy one to boot: gnocchi, those perfect little pillow-like potato dumplings that are even easier to cook than pasta. My favorite thing about them? You’ll know when they’re ready because they’ll float up to the top of the boiling water they cook in, only after two to three minutes. Bloop bloop bloop.

My recipe card walked me through making a rich and flavorful, deliciously comforting chunky sauce, made with oregano and rosemary, garlic and onion, fat, juicy tomatoes, crushed red pepper, plump, buttery Castelvetrano olives (my faves), and the tiny little bursts of briny goodness that make every dish with them delicious, capers.

It all came together quickly and easily, and the end result was so very good that I think my stomach couldn’t help but remind my heart of all the times I sat around similarly easy, delicious meals, and how they made all the not-great things about Italy tolerable.

And for my next trick: spaghetti squash!

Ok, I need to ask a serious question here for a second: where— WHERE!— has spaghetti squash been my whole entire life?

Listen, I own one of those little hand-held spiralizers and have actually used it a bunch. I’ve had zoodles and whatever else you want to call noodle shaped food really made out of vegetables and not good ol’ fashioned carby pasta. I’ve had zucchini noodles, carrot noodles, the squash-that-looks-like-a-yellow-zucchini noodles.

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It’s not a great picture, but that’s fully MY fault, not the meal’s.

They were alright. Sometimes, buried under some delicious sauce usually reserved for bowls of pasta, they were even good(ish).  But they were never as good as the real thing. And they certainly weren’t ever something I would rave about and call the most delicious thing I’ve ever cooked.

But spaghetti squash, well ho ho HO, let me tell you… it’s blown my mind. Having it for dinner the other night, thanks to Plated, really felt like unveiling a magic trick. Cut the squash open, pop it in the oven, pull it out and scrape the inside with a fork, and  TA DA! BA DA BING BA DA BOOM! SHAZAM! a delicious, yellow heap of something that looks like noodles, but is in fact JUST vegetabley goodness.

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Again, bad lighting, not great photo, but a damn GOOD forkful. 

I kid you not, folks.

Plated’s recipe  had me make a delicious sauce from tomato paste, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, harissa, cream, garlic and onion which I then dumped the scraped out squash into along with some feta, and mixed together until it was perfectly coated and almost indistinguishable from a plate of angel hair pasta. I then spooned this delicious creamy sauce back into the scraped out squash shells and topped it with another mix, this time made of bread crumbs, parmesan, oregano, before popping it all back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

What came out of my oven was— no exaggeration— one of the best things I’ve ever made… which yea, I know, there’s not a ton of competition in that department, but still! Delicious, filling, vegetarian, and my new magic trick!

Pasta will forever hold a place in my heart, but since it also loves to hold a place in other parts like my thighs, I’m thrilled to have something to substitute it with every now and then that makes for just as delicious of a meal.

Thai Market, daydreamed and real

When my newly married friends Vanessa and Jon recently honeymooned in Thailand, I went along with them. Well, not really, not physically in the third wheel sense (cause how awkward would that be?) but vicariously through the Instagram pictures Vanessa posted daily.

In my Thai reveries I lounge around deserted beaches, play with baby elephants and feel small before giant Buddha statues, just like my married friends did, but mostly in my daydreams, I roam around the food markets, eating all sorts of things. And because it’s a daydream and not real, nothing has a single calorie. (In the beach part of my daydream, I look damn good in my bikini.)

Vanessa’s street food stories, like the ones I read on another favorite blog, The Londoner, left me with not only more wanderlust than ever, but with a ravenous hunger for Thai food. So when I asked a friend for a lunch recommendation on the Upper West Side earlier this week and she suggested a place called Thai Market, it was just what I needed.

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Tom yum goong soup. Emphasis on the yum.

To start, I had the tom yum goong soup, a reddish-brown blend of tangy, zesty lemongrass, tamarind, juicy shrimp, and plump, soft mushrooms.  It was colorful and warming, with just enough spicy heat to give my tongue a tingly little prickle without breaking out into full on nose sweats.

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Pad kee mao… that means give me more, right?

After it, at the server’s suggestion, I ordered the pad kee mao, large, flat rice noodles with tender strips of chicken, Thai basil, chili, tomato and bok choi. It wasn’t crazy hot but this time I definitely had to guzzle cold water throughout eating it. The flavors, like the colors of the different ingredients, were bold and bright, with chunks of bright green peppers, juicy tomatoes and red swirls of chili oil all mixing around in the most delicious way.

The restaurant’s overall look is supposed to transport you to Thailand, with giant photos of markets as a backdrop, along with Thai street signs and large red umbrellas that kind of make you feel like you’re outside. I popped in for lunch, and while I don’t doubt that the food sold by street vendors and at markets is way better and cheaper, Thai Market’s $8 lunch special makes it a pretty good alternative for being on the UWS.

Thai Market on Urbanspoon

Healthy choice for the win!

Sometimes, finding something healthy when you’re out to eat can be a real pain in the ass. You’re at a pub and the closest thing to healthy is a cobb salad. A friggin’ cobb salad for Christ’s sake! Everyone else gets bacon cheeseburgers and there you are, with your depressing cobb salad, dressing on the side, burning with food envy.

But then other times you get lucky, like I did in Miami recently, and the healthy choice ends up being the envy of the other choices.  With that afternoon’s memory of me in a two piece still fresh in my head, I decided to go for something healthy while out at dinner with my sister at The Standard Miami’s Lido Restaurant & Bayside Grill.

My sister, a 7-month pregasaurus rex, looked at me like I was crazy when I told the waitress I’d be having the living “lasagna” raw vegan vegetable terrine.

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No pasta, meat or cheese in this “lasagna”

“I mean, I don’t even get what that is. Is it cooked? I’m getting a turkey cheeseburger.”

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what it was either.

When it later came out, at first glance, it kinda looked like lasagna. It had the squarish, multi layer look of it, but upon closer inspection, there were way too many veggies and no sheets of pasta for this to be the real deal. My first forkful confirmed that there was, in fact, no pasta, no cheese, and lots of vegetables. But that first bite also revealed that this so-called lasagna was delicious! Thin layers of zucchini and squash were layered with eggplant, shredded carrots, lots of chunky, tomatoey goodness and what I later found out was a nut-vegetable “sausage” and cashew nut cheese to make this whole dish deliciously rich and saucy, and best of all, guilt free.

No sad salads here. This time, the healthy option was absolutely the best one.