Pasta de Atún & Groundhog Day

Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a continuous loop- a perpetual groundhog cycle, minus Bill Murray and whimsical little towns. No, my Groundhog Day has involved me driving back and forth between New York City and Southern Maryland.

And back.

And forth.

And back and forth.

Pasta de Atún

Sunday night, as I drove back to Maryland in my little Honda Civic with the remainder of our stuff from the apartment after a weekend of cleaning it thoroughly before officially vacating, a little over one week since the snow storm moving extravaganza, I felt that ever familiar sense of déjà vu. This time, with the slight sense of panic at the knowledge that it’s actually happening. Two years of my attempted (and failed, as I came back a year later) extraction from New York and it’s finally actually happening.

Of course, being the person I am, driving down 95 South I had a few moments of panic- What if I’m making a horrible mistake? sort of questions. I leaned forward on the steering wheel towards the window and briefly glanced up at the clear night sky with its shining stars- stars that are almost always muddied from the lights of the city- and immediately felt reassured. This isn’t a mistake- it’s just the next necessary step I need to take.

Pasta de Atún

New York is still close enough that I can visit when needed (or wanted) but for the next few weeks at least I hope to stay within this state. January never really felt like the “New Year” to me but now with my feet firmly in Southernmost region of Maryland in February, I finally feel like it’s time to start the new year and the next chapter of my life.

February greeted me with an early morning (despite getting in late from the drive) due to some rowdy cats but a relaxed day spent working on the computer next to the kitchen, cooking and fussing with foods occasionally and drinking tea. When brewed in ernest, tea is a reflection of a person’s emotions. I was pleased to find that my first tea was calming and well-balanced (if not a little on the light side). I took it as a good omen.

Pasta de Atún

This recipe is a riff off of one Mr. C used to make when he was a broke college student. The ideal would be to use Dominican Oregano if you can find it, but regular dried oregano will work too. While it can be made with very simple ingredients (canned tuna, if necessary), I’ve found this becomes quite a respectable and delicious meal when high quality ingredients (read: good olive oil) are used.

Nothing too fancy and not too much work, this makes for a quick and easy pasta dish that can be eaten as a main dish or a side dish.

Pasta de Atún

Serves 2-3

8 oz (approx 4  Cups) Fusilli Pasta
2 Sun-Dried Tomatoes (in Oil)
6 oz Canned Tuna Fillets (in Oil)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 TBSP Dried Oregano
Salt/Pepper
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

Cook pasta according to package in salted water.

Allow it to drain and cool sightly. Meanwhile, mince the sun-dried tomatoes and flake apart the tuna.

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients (I usually toss in a little oil from the sun-dried tomatoes and tuna fillets as well since it’s so flavorful), adding salt and pepper to taste. Add more oil if desired.

Pasta de Atún

Monday Snow Days & UHaul Snowstorm Adventures in Moving

Despite all our efforts towards failure, we have made it to Southern Maryland. The snowstorm that attempted to take out the east cost struck Friday evening as we were passing over the Delaware bridge. My mom and Mr. C were trundling along with all of our possessions in the UHaul whereas I drove separately in the car with four animals- two cats and two dogs in the back. The snow started off lightly, swirling and dancing across the stage that happened to be the roadway before quickly coating the lanes and covering them entirely. Having grown up with parents that spent most of their driving lives in Pittsburgh and the east coast, I soon began putting into practice snow driving techniques that had been instilled into my brain since I first learned what a clutch was and gracefully -if not very narrowly- avoided several accidents and close-call collisions.

For the last few hours of the trip there were few cars to be seen- most people with any intelligence probably didn’t attempt to move states during the first major snow storm of the year and didn’t have any true need to travel. For a while I caught up on The Splendid Table podcast episodes that I’d fallen behind on before quietly realizing that I had been listening to that podcast when I had gotten into the car accident last November and decided to spend the rest of the drive enveloping myself in the silence that only comes during snowfall as it blankets everything around.

Eventually I made it home (though I’m still not quite sure how I made it over the final hill) and released the dogs who were happy to finally be free and the cats…well they were just unhappy in general. Mom and Mr. C got back about 30 minutes later because apparently for the last hour or so they had to stop every 10 miles to get out and de-ice the windshield. I freed a few items that I had foolishly put in the back of the cold truck (like my Scoby mother and baby that I use for making kombucha) before we all settled in the house and ate a simple dinner of crackers, cheese and wine before going to bed.

Saturday we spent most of the day unloading the UHaul and digging out some of the driveway and Sunday was spent digging out the driveway again from the snow that had fallen on Saturday before returning the UHaul. Today was supposed to mark the first day of classes but due to the storm, school has been closed and my day will now be spent organizing my life and the things that surround it.

Recipes will come later this week.

Simple Pleasures & The Right to be Happy

I’ve started and deleted this post half a dozen times now, trying to figure out exactly what I want to put down.

This past week and the current one has been spent boxing things up, going through old memories both good and bad and getting rid of as much as possible. I have an innate fear of the past and I’ve always worried about unearthing old memories I don’t particularly want to remember- awkward moments of growing pains in both high school and college specifically. While we all go through them but it doesn’t mean I want to remember them. I used to hold onto old notebooks and sketchpads on the idea that one day I’d look back and be glad I did. This time however I’ve been going into my boxed away memories with a different plan. All the things I’ve learned and done in my life I take pleasure in for having grown into the person that I am because of it, however that doesn’t mean I need to hold onto items that don’t bring me joy. I’ve possibly been reading too much into the notion of minimalistic lifestyles but I’ve realized that I want as little things around me as possible and I only want to surround myself with things I need and things that bring me joy (ideally they would fit both categories).

When going through things in the apartment and deciding what should be packed up and what should go away, I’ve come to realize that one of the main things that has brought me stress and frustration on a daily basis has come from clutter. Even arguments that I’ve had from Mr. C I’ve realized often come from dirty dishes or coats left around, tables covered in junk so that we can’t enjoy dinner at the table- all of it stems from clutter, which comes from excess stuff.

More and more I’ve come to realize that I don’t deserve things. I don’t deserve happiness but I believe I deserve the right to fight for it.

I’ve been taking more pleasure in simple things like the weight of a teapot in my hand or the grain of my unfinished wooden table or my quiet morning ritual- the drink I have each morning to start my day. It’s one that is simple with only 2-3 ingredients but is a calm and healthy way to wake up my body and my digestion and prepare it for the day to come. These days I drink it as I survey the chaos of boxes and stuff that has become of my apartment and decide on what to pack next.

Cider Water

Serves 1
12 oz Warm Water
1 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp Honey (optional)

I usually turn the water on hot in the faucet and leave it until it gets warm. During this time I measure out the cider vinegar (I prefer unfiltered) and the honey into a glass before filling the glass with warm water and stirring until the honey is melted.

God in the Kitchen, Ham & Jam Grilled Cheese

Whenever the notion of ham is brought up, my mom almost always says, “Eternity is a ham and two people.” Seeing as all the endless amounts of Christmas cookies have finally been eaten and there are still slices of leftover Christmas ham sitting in the fridge, I suspect she might be right.

Ham & Jam Grilled Cheese

I’m normally not a big ham eater (in fact, I didn’t actually eat any over Christmas- this was actually just sent back with Mr. C and I from the family) but as I was binge watching Call the Midwife– ahem- cleaning and packing up the apartment last Friday, I found myself craving something savory, crunchy and warm. Something I could eat while snuggling up in blankets on the couch as I, uh, cleaned.

I had recently bought some fresh bread and cheese from the market so I already had grilled cheese on my mind as I scrounged around a bit in the kitchen for ideas to dress it up. Grilled cheese is so wonderfully simple that I’ve found I really enjoy doing minor things to dress it up because even the smallest things can really make it sing.

In this case, I found god in my kitchen. And he came in the form of a pig.

A few weeks ago I came across leaf lard from one of my trusted farmers. When I inquired about the pearly white slab sitting on the table, they told me to go ahead and take it- free of charge. I was thrilled beyond belief though over the next few days as I recounted my exciting find to various friends and family, I found it wasn’t something people usually get excited about. Alas, the woes of a foodie. A few days later I was able to render it down into a creamy, nutty liquid that later solidified as it cooled back down to room temperature. Lard is slowly coming back into popularity these days but it’s actually a great source of vitamin D and for monounsaturated fats! It’s been sitting in the back of my fridge since then, waiting to be used.

Normally when making grilled cheese I use butter like everyone else (or is it mayo these days?) but I felt inspired to use the lard this time. It went absolutely wonderfully with the ham and came out with a delicious, slightly nutty flavor to accompany the sandwich.

Ham & Jam Grilled Cheese

Now, with a grilled cheese, a lot is up to you so I’ll leave the exact measurements out and let you create the sandwich of your wildest dreams.

Ham & Jam Grilled Cheese

Serves 1

2 Slices of Sourdough Bread
Peach Jam
Sun-dried Tomatoes Packed in Oil
Extra Sharp Cheddar
Christmas ham, thinly sliced
Leaf Lard (you can use butter if necessary)

Grate the cheese and pull out approximately two sun dried tomatoes and finely chop them. In a cast iron skillet, add a hunk of lard to the pan and melt it over medium heat. On one slice of bread, smear some peach jam on it and on the other slice, smear the chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Spreads facing up, place the bread side by side in the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium low and carefully pile the grated cheese evenly between the two slices and a few thin slices of ham. Cook for several minutes before turning the broiler on in the oven.

Take the pan and place it in the oven for about 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Remove the skillet from the oven and place the two slices of bread together (insides facing each other, of course). Place the sandwich onto a cutting board and allow it to cool for a few minutes (this way, the cheese doesn’t come oozing out all over the board when you cut it!) before slicing it in half.

Snuggle up on the couch and enjoy your sandwich and maybe your pets will keep you company. Koji, our cat didn’t come but I later found him sleeping happily in a pile of clothes.

Koji

Koji

A Love Affair & Tahini Eggs

I’m rekindling my love affair with food.

Tahini Eggs

Since the affair began years ago, we’ve had a passionate one but, as any affair, I might imagine, it has its ups and downs. Sometimes it cools down and looses its sizzle as I get overwhelmed with daily tasks and return to the boring and mundane and order mediocre take-out while on the go. I never forget about my love of food though. She sits there patiently waiting, often gnawing at the back of my brain with every artisanal loaf I spy in a bakery window or the ripe persimmons I pass by being sold from the street vendor down the block or the massive whole pumpkins that catch my eye in the market as they call out to me, simultaneously reminding me of the amount of time it takes to fully prepare one.

Tahini Eggs

Since the holidays have finished I’ve had slightly more time but have also still been busy with packing and preparing for our move towards the end of the month. I believe we’ve decided on Saturday, the 23rd. I’ve been trying to once again set aside time for my affair, either by the act of slowing down and performing the act of cooking itself, or by caring for my kitchen tools and utensils. After cleaning the kitchen countertops, I spent Saturday evening with the slow and meditative process of sharpening knives and oiling wooden cutting boards and spoons. While for some, it may be considered more “work” or “hassle” with items that need to be taken care of and maintained, for me, I’ve found, it’s enjoyable. I enjoy being very hands-on in the kitchen and being that way with my tools makes me feel more connected to what I’m doing. I like to believe I cook with love and that when I care for my materials, it deepens our relationship.

Sometimes I wonder if the relationship I have with food now is strange or unusual, but as I’ve been reading more books like Poor Man’s Feast by Elissa Altman, or Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes by Nigel Slater, I’ve been feeling less unusual and more passionate.

Tahini Eggs

I’ve worried that Mr. C doesn’t have the same relationship with food as I do but overtime I’ve realized that while it isn’t the same, per se, he does have one and that it’s just different. The way I consider mine more of a love affair, I believe that his is more of a parental relationship- nurturing and simple. Unlike myself, with a mother recalls the entire decade of the 80’s as a blur and only consisting of work, and the 90’s not much different, he grew up with a mother who cooked each day and quickly had to learn to cook himself and help contribute and care for the family. He knew how to cook well before I did. When we started dating, he was really the one that taught me about actually cooking– that following a recipe exactly wasn’t the way to go. Taking recipes for inspiration and then going with the flow, changing things as you go based on what you have is really the way to work around the kitchen. For him it was easy; he’s lived around the kitchen most of his life whereas for me, the kitchen was a stranger that I had to learn to understand and become friendly with first before I could feel comfortable and eventually fall in love.

With reigniting my love affair with food, I’ve been returning to the basics- returning to simpler foods and using less ingredients but creating more flavor. Despite it sitting in a pot on my windowsill, I regularly forget about using fresh parsley. The tahini brings a nutty, slightly bitter taste to the eggs, while the parsley brightens it up and balances it out.

Tahini Eggs

Tahini Eggs

Serves 2

4 Eggs
4 tsp Tahini
1 Pat Salted Butter
1 Dash Olive Oil
Sea Salt
1 TBSP Minced Parsley

Scramble the eggs, tahini and a pinch of sea salt in a bowl. With a medium sized skillet, set the stove top to medium high. Add the exact amount of 1 hunk of butter and allow it to melt and start to bubble before turning to medium low and adding a dash of olive oil. Swirl the skillet around a bit so that the butter and oil coats the pan and add the tahini eggs. With a wooden spoon, push the eggs around occasionally until they are almost done with a slight shimmer to them. Remove from the pan and divide between two plates. Serve with the minced parsley on top.