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Cell Phone Chef Food Mexican by Marriage

Authentic, Irresistible Tacos at Home

If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a few standard, non-stop circulating memes:

Brace yourselves

“Brace Yourselves” from Game of Thrones

dosxx

The Overconfident Man from Dos Equis

And then, the comments start to get juicy, and Michael Jackson pops in for a snack:

MJ

There’s always one.

…and then Gene Wilder shows his smug face…

But we all love the smugness.

But we all love the smugness.

And somehow, some pre-middle age ladies can make any conversation about wine.  (I refuse to believe that this demographic is actually that obsessed with it, but that it has become such a social media joke that they have tricked themselves into believing wine is the new sun.)

wine wine wine

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a drunken rhinoceros? ‘ElephWINO!

But there’s always one that seems to say what’s on everyone’s minds, all the time…TACOS.

Juan Taco

NO JUAN. Ever.

And I’ve got tacos on my mind today.  Just call me Juan.

My main squeeze, Yossiho, is from southern Mexico.  Tapachula, specifically….about as far south as you can go without being in Guatemala.

Tapachula

How I’m from Northwoods, USA, and he’s from South Jungle, Mexico, is beyond me.

Being the nopal-on-his-forehead kind of Mexican that he is, our weekend nights are consecrated to tacos.  We live on the east side of the city.  Every Friday night (and sometimes Saturday, too), we attend our sacred taco mass.  We drive 15 miles clear to the west end of the valley to a little hole-in-the wall, Azteca del Oro.  Of course, there are taco carts and dives all along the way.  We’ve tried them all.  But nothing tops Azteca.  Well, maybe Tacos El Gordo in Las Vegas, but I happen to prefer Azteca.  He may leave me if he reads that.

Nestled in a strip mall next to an AutoZone, and across the street from El Coyote night club, the sights, sounds, and smells are sure to delight.  Motor oil, meat grease, and canola oil from the woman frying chicharrones out front will slap your nose the second you leave the car.  And your eyes are in for a treat, too! You’re sure to see plenty of Trival boot and cowboy hat-clad Rico Suaves and sequin mini skirt-wearing mamis hiking up their tubetops and clunking along in their tacones. Don’t forget the insane base shaking the ghetto fab cars pulling into the parking lot.

A tiny Latino market with a short traditional menu by day, on Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m.-5 a.m., Azteca devotes itself to Mexico D. F. style tacos.  You can order anything from your basic al pastor or chorizo to any part of the animal you can think of.  The real deal. (For the record, my favorite is sesos, or brain.  No judging until you try it.)

We go through phases.  Occasionally, we stay home and make our own tacos.  They’re ridiculously delicious and a much cheaper alternative to going out for tacos.  We drop about $28 on average every time to go to Azteca (or anywhere, really…it happens when your husband eats eight tacos in one sitting).  Making tacos at home is not only cost effective, but pretty easy, and delicious!

It also has a much cleaner bathroom, always stocked with toilet paper and hand soap.

Lucky for me, I live with a Mexican.

As I’m a fiend for all things “authentic,” we are a match made in heaven.

I actually eat vegetarian for the most part, except when travel or tacos are involved.  That’s great, because the meat is the heart of the taco.

I’ve perused Google and Pinterest occasionally, seeing what people are up to when they make tacos.  But I have yet to see a Mexican living in the U.S. share the secrets.  And that’s what this post is about to do.

What makes tacos so irresistible?

Admit it – you LOVE tacos.  You would eat them until it hurts.  If you can’t have the real deal, you’ll eat terrifying impostor tacos to get your fix.  Taco Tuesday?  Try Taco Everyday.  There are reasons you love tacos, and you may not even realize why.  Let me enlighten you!

Really good tacos

See? Tasty, authentic, AND homemade.

To make a successful, authentic taco, you need:

  1. The tortilla.

    It must needs be corn.  No question.  Usually, the tortilla is doubled or tripled, depending on the meat.  They’re smaller than an average corn tortilla, so it won’t do too much damage.  There is nothing worse than picking up a greasy, juicy taco, and having it all fall out the bottom.  Use two tortillas.  It’s insurance.

    The easiest is to purchase corn tortillas at the grocery store.  You can use normal size, but it’s too much.  Use a cup or a lid to cut smaller circles out of the large tortillas.  That’s what we do if it’s all we have.  Bonus if you have a Mexican grocery…they sell taco-sized tortillas for ridiculously cheap ($1.99-$2.99 for 60 tortillas).

    You can also make your own tortillas, using a simple mix of corn flour and water.  Once you have handmade, you’ll never enjoy store bought. [Recipe and tutorial coming! – check back]

    If you’re feeling like the domestic goddess of the universe, and you just had a baby with the authenticity police, you can go crazy and grind your own corn, making your own flour, and then making a tortilla.  Trust me, I would do this if I had the tools.

  2. The meat. 

    In the streets, you can order all cuts of meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, and pretty much any organ you can imagine.  You don’t need to buy an 8-foot long intestine and pressure cook it to enjoy an authentic taco.  A simple good cut of meat and applying some tricks of the trade in prepping the meat before you cook it will yield excellent results.

    Yossiho’s favorite is a particular thin cut of beef.  He lets it sit in pineapple juice for a bit to soften it, macerates garlic and salt, and slathers it all over before cooking.  Unbelievable.  Chorizo is a great home choice because it comes already prepped and ready for cooking.

  3. The crunch.  

    Traditionally, tacos are garnished with chopped onions and cilantro, and [optional] radishes.  Keep it simple.  Too many ingredients will drown out the simple but delicious flavors that are all layered together.

  4. The acid.

    Lime.  Must add a squeeze (or three) of lime.  A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 to 1 lime wedge per taco.

  5. The spice.

    SALSA.  Salsas are the crown jewel of tacos!  They’re also the reason many people regular certain taco joints.  Authentic tacos have a couple traditional options: salsa verde [green], salsa roja [red], and an avocado-like salsa.  However, here is the easiest you can get creative with your tacos.  Salsa recipes are sacred, just like your granny’s spaghetti sauce.  But here I’ll share recipes for the three basic salsas [forthcoming].  We love to make a red onion and habanero quick pickle and use it as a salsa – spice and crunch together mean double delicious.

 

See?  It’s simple!  Tortilla. Meat. Onion and cilantro. Lime. Salsa.

the things

All of the things!

Now you’ll just have to have some discipline.  It’s so incredibly cheap to make your own authentic tacos that you won’t be able to stop.  Invite some friends over, and hours later, you’ve had well over a dozen tacos and already made plans to open your own restaurant.  But I wouldn’t know anything about that. 🙂

 

Have you made your own authentic tacos at home?  Do you have a favorite meat?  Salsa recipe?  Feel free to share.

Food

Fig Smoothie

Never go to Costco hungry.

Tomorrow I’m hosting a gourmet grilled cheese gathering, and before heading to the local Italian market, Caputo’s (it has its own cheese cave!), I decided to swing by Costco to beat the crowds. I was right: at 9:30am, there was still a chance to park within a mile of the door.

fig smoothie

I went to Costco with a grumbling stomach, but felt pretty good willpower to fight the urge to purchase everything in sight. My problem wasn’t snacks or junk food. My battle is the produce section! All I wanted to do was devour every piece of fruit in sight. Between meat, cheese, and berries for the party and my enormous fruit craving, $222 later I was reassuring myself that everything would be okay.

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Food

Grilled Halloumi

The first time I had halloumi, I was actually in London, not its native Cyprus.

It was a spring day in April, and I had just hopped off the 140 double decker bus from London Heathrow to my friend’s flat in Harrow in northwest London.  It had been a year since I had seen Megan, and I felt a smile of relief spread on my face when she met me in the lobby of her office just outside the bus station.

We first met when we lived in Salt Lake City, but were only acquaintances until we both moved away.  While I lived in Asturias, Spain, she was studying in England and I flew to London and took a train to Crewe (near Manchester) to meet her.  When I moved back to Salt Lake, she visited me the following year, and a year later here I was again visiting her, this time in London.

We walked the few blocks to her place, where she unlocked an exterior and interior door, revealing a narrow stairway up to a shared landing, kitchen, and bathroom.  She shared the flat with an Italian 20-something guy, Carlo, who had come to work as a chef and send money home to his family, as well a middle-aged British woman who looked after the home for a trust. (We borrowed Carlo’s room late at night while he was at work so we could jam out at the piano to Josh Groban’s “Closer” album…we are a magical duet.)

Megan and I sat in the tiny kitchen and chatted as she chopped a cesar salad and fired up the overhead broiler on her little retro stove.  I watched – slightly jet lagged – as she turned over slices of halloumi.  I didn’t know what it was and had never tried it but was glad to do so.  I loved watching her flip it under the broiler…I could tell by her hungry anticipation that it was one of her favorite things to eat.

The slices of halloumi transformed from white to golden brown under the flame of the broiler, exactly the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow.  The inside was soft and the outside slightly crisp, and the first bite into the briny, salty cheese was heaven.

After lunch, Megan head back to work and I stripped to my unders and crashed face first on the bed, slipping into a sleep-drunk stupor until my lost luggage arrived from Air Canada a few hours later.


Here in the USA, I’ve found halloumi at a few grocery stores that usually have a few more imported products or a higher-end vibe.  It ranges anywhere from$8-$11 for a small package.

Halloumi is a semi-hard goat and sheep milk cheese from Cyprus.  It is brined and often seasoned with mint in the brine, although I find that the mint flavor is trace.  It’s a cheesy miracle because it doesn’t melt when you grill it, so you can get a gorgeous charred flavor on it!

I usually slice and broil it, but occasionally opt to throw it in a hot, dry cast iron grill pan for about 5-7 minutes on each side.

You will love a few slices of halloumi drizzled with citrus olive oil (olives crushed with fresh citrus) and a few torn pieces of mint.  The bright flavor of citrus and the bitter of the olive is a champion partner to halloumi!  I also love to dip or drizzle it in grape must; the sweet raisin flavor of the must is a perfect combination with the salty, light flavor of the cheese.

halloumi

 

Stephanie’s favorite things: Atlantis Halloumi Cheese | Leonardi Grape MustEtruria Mandarin Olive Oil
Food

Wild Mushroom & Amaranth Risotto with Thyme Cream

 

In my perfect world, I would open my front door in the morning, walk a few yards to the woods to forage, and be welcomed by an enormous patch of mushrooms begging me to pick them and saute them up in a frying pan.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

I know, I know.  You’re either completely disgusted by the thought of it, or absolutely delighted.  I fall in the latter category, obviously.  I find mushrooms are a great divider of humanity.  I’m always the Debbie Downer in the room of starving friends trying to figure out what everyone wants on their pizza.  “Cheese!” “Pepperoni!” “Pineapple!” shout everyone.  I roll my eyes at the mediocrity of the world’s palettes.  (How are we even friends?)  And then my deep, bordering-masculine voice bellows from the corner, where I’m concealed under a hoodie.  “MUSHROOMS!”

(I also beg for sausage and green olives, but that’s another post.)

The room turns to look at me, booing and scrunching their noses at me.  The nerve!  How can she eat that repulsive fungus?!  No way.

Well, my friends, yes way.  I clawed my way out of the womb crying for mushrooms.  For as long as I can remember, my parents and I had a Mother’s Day tradition of hopping in the car and heading to the forest to go mushroom hunting for morels.  It was usually the perfect day to do it…post-melt of copious amounts of snow led to a lush, damp soil for the morels to pop up, but still before the bracken ferns reared their summery heads.  The contest was to see who found the first morel.  We’d get about fifteen miles into the forest and then drive along the side of the road at 5 mph, shouting commands at dad driving to stop or back up because we thought we spotted one.  It was often a pine cone or a stick under a leaf, causing a ‘shroomy shadow.  Occasionally, the hunch was worthwhile enough to open the door while the car was still in motion and leap out into the woods to examine more closely.  Once one was found, we all hopped out and became a morel mushroom search party.  One time, there was a morel on the top of a sandy eroding hill, about twelve feet tall.  Two of us jumped out and raced climbing up the slippery hill to grab the first mushroom.

When we arrived home with our bounty, it was torture to wait until the next morning while the mushrooms soaked in salt water overnight to draw out any little crawly buggers that may be hiding inside.  But the wait was always worth it!  Morels are delicious morsels that should be considered golden nuggets of the food world.  We always sauteed them in butter and salt and usually sneaked a few before adding them to an omelet for breakfast and gravy for dinner.

Morels aren’t readily available here in Utah, and it’s also the middle of February, so when my craving for a medley of wild mushrooms hit, I head over to my local neighborhood grocer (Harmon’s) to pick up a variety.  I was only planning on frying them up, but while in the store I thought of making a cream, which led me to remember a fantastic mushroom-barley-thyme dish I made once.  At home, I perused my cupboard and spotted a container of amaranth I hadn’t yet used.  Actually, I had never yet cooked with amaranth, so this was an experiment.

It won on the first try.

The mushrooms, cream, and thyme meld together to make a great sauce that would be fantastic over pasta.  Stir in some amaranth to make a risotto that is primal friendly and gluten-free, and add some greens for freshness.  I almost used some Italian flat-leaf parsley, but I wanted to use up the broccoli micro-greens I purchased.  (Side note: the micro-greens look like little clovers, so this would be great for a St. Patrick’s Day themed dinner!)

Heat some olive oil and toss the mushrooms in, allowing them to cook for a few minutes.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

Add a few cloves of crushed garlic and some sprigs of thyme.  I like extreme flavor, so I added about 8-10.  After a few more minutes, pour in 1/2-3/4 pint of heavy cream.

wmrmushroompan

Turn the heat to medium-low and let cook, allowing the thyme and garlic to infuse the cream.  The cream will begin to bubble around the edges.  This means it is thickening.  Beautiful.

Meanwhile, add 1/2 cup of amaranth to a saucepan and add 1 1/2 cup water or broth.  Bring to a boil, and then cover and let simmer on low for 15 minutes.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

The amaranth will being to turn like porridge, a mix between Cream of Wheat and couscous.  Add it to the mushroom and cream mixture and stir well until it incorporates.

Add a handful of greens to stir in and wilt.  Right before serving, add a fresh handful of greens and salt and pepper to each dish as desired.

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

 

Plate it up and enjoy!

wild mushroom & amaranth risotto

Wild Mushroom & Amaranth Risotto with Thyme Cream
 
Cook time
Total time
 
A rich, velvety spin on an old standby comfort food, risotto. Amaranth gives this dish its smooth texture. Any mixture of wild mushrooms will make this dish shine!
Author:
Recipe type: Sides
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6 servings
Ingredients
  • For the mushrooms and thyme cream:
  • ½ pint black trumpeter mushrooms
  • ½ pint yellowfoot chantarelle mushrooms
  • ½ pint shiitake mushrooms
  • handful portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • handful white button mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ to ¾ pint heavy cream
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • For the amaranth:
  • ½ cup dry amaranth
  • 1 ½ cup water or broth
  • To finish:
  • 4 oz broccoli micro-greens or Italian parsley
Instructions
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pan and add mushrooms. Allow to saute for a couple minutes.
  2. In a separate small saucepan, add amaranth and water or broth. Bring to a boil (about 3-5 minutes), and then cover and reduce to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. While the amaranth is cooking, add chopped garlic and thyme sprigs to the mushrooms. Cook an additional few minutes to allow the mushrooms and oil to soak in the garlic and thyme flavors. Add a little salt and freshly ground pepper.
  4. Pour cream into mushrooms and keep heat on medium. After a few minutes, the cream will begin to bubble around the edges and tint from the mushrooms. The bubbling will let the cream thicken a bit. Turn to low after a few minutes of bubbling and stirring.
  5. When the amaranth is nearly finished, it will start to turn to a porridge-like consistency that resembles a cross between Cream of Wheat and Moroccan couscous. Remove from heat and stir into the mushroom mixture. Stir gently for about a minute, or until the amaranth is incorporated into the mushrooms and the entire mixture melds together.
  6. Stir in a handful of greens. Just before serving, add some fresh greens to each dish.

Food

Five-minute Tabbouleh

As a teenager, when my family would go out to eat, I’d order a big, greasy ruben sandwich.  The giant plate was always delivered heaped with piles of thick-cut fries and a beautiful helping of corned beef and sauerkraut nestled between marbled rye.  Without fail, every time I ate my way to the bottom of the fry pile, I came upon a parsley garnish smooshed under an orange wedge.

I had no idea what they expected me to do with the parsley.

Dad and I would mock the poor parsley – and sometimes kale leaf – and belittle its status as anything useful.  What were we, rabbits?

As the years went on and I moved out on my own, I ditched the “eat anything deep fried” habit and became close personal friends with anything fresh.  I haven’t met a vegetable I don’t like – except canned peas.  I am still trying to figure out their purpose in the culinary world.

My first run in with tabbouleh wasn’t a good one.  I was a sophomore in college at Northern Michigan University, double majoring in Spanish and Music Education.  At the end of the year, the Spanish Department had a big fiesta in the language lab.  As Professor Orf happily strummed away at the autoharp in her lap, she pointed us to the tabbouleh she made.  It was green and white and granular and new, and I thought I’d try it out.  It tasted pretty good.  At the end of that evening, however, my stomach decided otherwise and tabbouleh was no longer incubating happily in my digestive tract.

five-minute tabbouleh

Fast forward about eight years and you’ll find me in kitchen, a slave to culinary experimentation.  Over the years I’ve learned that I have a deep love for small plates (tapas, mezze), Mediterranean and Levant cuisine, and cultural traditions.  One summer day as I sought air conditioned sanctuary in the produce aisles of the grocery store, I spotted parsley overflowing in a basket on the top shelf.  Does anyone else feel like those crazy produce sprinklers come on every time you reach for something?  Where’s the fire?

Parsley became crack to me.  Squeeze some lemon, add a little olive oil and salt and you’ve got a fresh salad.  Take it a few more steps and you’re forking your way through a bowl of tabbouleh.

I’ve looked through various traditional recipes for tabbouleh, and there are so many variations depending on the region.  Some use bulgar, some use couscous, some are heavy on the herbs and others on the grain, some use onion and some use cucumber.  I couldn’t decide on one, and I make tabbouleh different every time, depending what I have on hand.  One this is for certain: I’ve become addicted to parsley!  It is incredibly energizing and clean feeling, and not a bad source of vitamins and minerals either…Vitamins K, B, C, and Iron to name a few.

I’ve also got my roommate hooked on tabbouleh.  Last New Year’s Day, she and her friend woke up after spending all night dancing.  I fed them tabbouleh for breakfast, and they both commented on how energized they felt after eating it.  It’s magical, my friends.

This version is one I made one afternoon when I came home starving.  It is so quick and easy, and light and fresh.  I think it’s a great accompaniment to fish!

I hope you grow to love tabbouleh as much as I do.

fivemintabbouleh

Five-minute Tabbouleh
 
Prep time
Total time
 
A crisp, bright herbacious salad perfect for when you crave something light and fresh.
Author:
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Serves: 1-2 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bunch curly-leaf parsley
  • ½ bunch of mint
  • handful of dry bulgar wheat
  • ½ lemon
  • a few cherry tomatoes (or 1 roma tomato, or ½ large steak/slicing tomato)
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
  • extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
Instructions
  1. In a small bowl, add a handful of bulgar wheat. Squeeze ½ lemon over the bulgar wheat and gently mix with your hand to ensure all the grains have been covered by lemon juice. If your lemon is a bit dry, add a little water. Let sit for about 15 minutes, until the grains have softened.
  2. While the bulgar is soaking, finely chop the parsley and mint.
  3. If you can, seed the tomatoes. If they’re too small, don’t worry about it. Remove the cucumber seeds with a spoon. Dice the tomatoes and cucumbers.
  4. Toss the bulgar, tomatoes, and cucumber in with the parsley and mint.
  5. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil (a couple teaspoons or a tablespoon) and salt and pepper to taste.
Stephanie’s favorite things: Golchin bulgar #2 | Sicilian extra virgin olive oil (it’s strong and bitter) | Morton Salt Kosher Salt
Food

Tangy Ginger Balsamic Carameled Chicken

Tangy Ginger Balsamic Carameled Chicken

Tangy Ginger Balsamic Carameled Chicken

Have you ever daydreamed of wrestling in an inflatable tub full of melted, oozy, tangy caramel in nothing but your underpants and one of those awful tourist t-shirts your aunt bought you on vacation?  (“Someone in Atlantic City loves me!”)

Yeah, neither have I…

…until now.

And I’m going to do it with my mouth wide open and my tongue hanging out.

I marinated this chicken while I was at work.  Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to get home from work.

Balsamic vinegar makes it zippy, honey and brown sugar make it sweet and caramelized, and ginger gives it a great zing.

This would be great on bone-in wings, but I had boneless skinless chicken breasts.  Use what you’ve got…tofu, pork chops, steak tips, whatever.


Ginger Balsamic Carameled Chicken

Ingredients

For the marinade:
Equal parts each of balsamic vinegar, honey, and brown sugar (I used about 1/3 cup each)
3-4 Tbsp soy sauce
A few garlic cloves, crushed or minced
About an inch of fresh ginger, grated or minced
Black pepper to taste

1 1/2-2 lbs. chicken (or your choice of meat or non-meat)

Spices or garnish to taste – I used what I had on hand: crushed red pepper flakes for heat, black sesame seeds for crunch, and chopped celery leaves for color and a little fresh zinger.

What to do:

1. Mix the marinade.  Add the meat.  Refrigerate at least 6 hours.

2. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.  Put a wire rack (I use a cooling rack) on the foiled pan.  Put chicken on rack.  Very important: Reserve marinade! 

"This is how we do it." - Montell Jordan

“This is how we do it.” – Montell Jordan

3. Stick pan in a 350F oven for 10 minutes for boneless chicken (15-20 for full breasts), 20-25 minutes for bone-in wings.

4. Meanwhile, boil the reserved marinade until it thickens, about 10-15 minutes (perfect timing with cooking the chicken).  To make the sauce thicker and more caramelized, boil the marinade longer until it thickens more for a sticky, slathered on treat.  If you prefer a thin sauce, don’t boil it as long.  Up to you.

This is what tangy caramel goodness looks like.

This is what tangy caramel goodness looks like.

5. Remove pan from oven and generously brush chicken with thickened marinade.  Return to oven for 5-10 minutes.

Happily enjoy spoonfuls of the caramely marinade goodness in the meantime.

6. Remove pan again and brush chicken again.  Bake for an additional 5 minutes.

7. Remove chicken from oven.  Brush with any remaining marinade. 

8. Garnish to your heart’s content.  I have a relationship with spicy, and it works perfectly with the tart and sweet of this chicken.  I sprinkled crushed red pepper flakes and black sesame seeds.  For a zap of fresh, I chopped up some celery leaves.

Garnishy goodness

Garnishy goodness

You have now experienced a fiery, tangy, sweet, delicious flavor explosion of finger-licking goodness.

Leftovers schmeftovers.

Leftovers schmeftovers.

Don’t worry…you’re going to eat it all, you piggy.

Food

Tilapia with olives, capers, and lemon

Last summer, on one of my days off while I was working in Michigan for the U.S. Forest Service, it was exactly 90-something degrees and approximately 80% humidity.  It was my week to rove the campgrounds and cruise the forest roads, so I had already spent the majority of my week trudging through the humid continental jungle in a polyester-blend uniform, slapping mosquitoes the size of small children.  Needless to say, I tossed my hiking ambition into the pending box for just one more day and sulked in the A/C, flipping on the Food Network.

Being from a place with a population of 2,500, you can imagine that I didn’t grow up surrounded by a lot of outside culture.  Most residents had either Finnish, French-Canadian, or Native American ancestry, and 99% of the people were white.  Since we were a three-hour drive from a big city (Green Bay, Wisconsin), it cost quite a bit more to get food and supplies to our neck of the woods, let alone more ‘exotic’ tastes. Continue Reading

Food

Broke & Bread

So…I’m broke.

It’s the inevitable between adventures gallivanting around the planet.

I understand that compared to most of humanity, I’m ahead of the game.  Even with $$$$$ in student debt.

That being said, I’m done with my seasonal summer stint with the U.S. Forest Service and back in Salt Lake job hunting.  I’ve got to make my minimal weekly living stipend from the summer stretch.

I’ve never been one to live on ramen.  Okay, maybe my freshman year in the dorms, but in the past dozen years it hasn’t happened.

I’m also not one to make a sandwich.  Sandwiches bore me.  Every time I am asked by a friend to decide where we should go to grab lunch or dinner I cringe knowing that they are secretly hoping to chat at Zuppa’s or pay two hours wage at Paradise Bakery.  What is it with 20-something females?  Salad and sandwich places.  Yaaaaawn….

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Food

Food & Ardor: Free Admission

FOOD.

Chow. Fare. Eats. Bites. Grub. Cuisine (best French word, ever).  Slop. Provisions. Rations. Sustenance.  Goodies.

We all love it…well, except you weirdos who eat solely for the purpose of survival.

Pleasantly plump, like yours truly.  Thin.  Average.  Athletic.  Chunky.  Tall.  Short.

Food is always crossing our minds in some form.  We either love it, fear it, don’t trust it, or live for it.

Me?  I’m not a chef.  I view myself simply, humbly, pretty plain Jane.  I’m a woman of extremes, of passions – seemingly indecisive, but just yearning for room to fill to capacity and overflowing with everything I love and experience.

My mind is a racetrack, an obstacle course, a third grade playground.  Thoughts of walks in the forest give underdogs to a middle school slumber party, and before I have time to ask if I can play with them, they bolt over to the tetherball pole to smack around the hilarious away message on AIM from November of my freshman year in college.  Together they rally up the most endearing moments of my relationships and play Red Rover with that insane Couch Surfing experience in Madrid and the time I peed behind a twiggy bush in an alleyway in Poland; my childhood fort is left standing alone on its own team and loses.  In a flash, they all cross the monkey bars on their way to the tallest slide on the turf, taking with them all the butterflies in my stomach and the time I wore a hunter orange helmet while muddling in a jeep in the woods.  They all giggle and scream, pushing each other out of the way to race to the top of the slide and crash down in one big pile on top of my first kiss.

There is no indecisiveness here, only an index full of passion and nostalgia.

Over the past few years I have found that I can give life to nostalgia in the kitchen.

Have you ever had a Ratatouille moment?  You know, where you bite into something delicious and hitch a ride in a DeLorean back to one of the most perfect memories that recalls to your memory in that moment?  Or perhaps you’ve boarded a hovercraft and sped forward to an exotic destination you’ve always dreamed of visiting.  Maybe you’ve basked in the sun at the park and sworn you felt that beloved ex lying next to you talking or you’ve imagined yourself in Scotland on a rainy day.

If you’ve experienced any of these moments, you’ve experienced nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to hop a plane every time I want a moment.  I can’t always be in my childhood home, or on a Mediterranean beach with an attractive Greek man wearing linen pants and serenading me with a cello, back-dropped by an Adriatic sunset (yes, I just mixed three points of Geography there).  However, I can live in the moment.

And those moments happen in the kitchen.

They happen in every knead, punch, slice, pinch, garnish, sprinkle, degree, sear, mix, beat, fold, measure, leisurely pour.

This is a place of my experiences, my thoughts, my memories, my nostalgia, my recipes.  My delights as I listen to Enya while make pita bread at 1am during a thunderstorm.  My sorrows as I eat an entire Cadbury chocolate bar and mix a giant spoon of non-natural peanut butter into a tub of vanilla ice cream and swirl it around until my bad day disappears into a pool of melted Haagen Dazs.  My longings as I chow on a flat of fresh figs.  My quiet desires as I practice “normal ingredient” meals for the day I could be a domestic housewife.

Who am I kidding?  I’ll never be fully domesticated.  There’s too much intrigue, too much opinion for me to just sit back and make green-bean-and-cream-of-mushroom-soup casseroles all day, waiting for my husband in my pearls and vintage dress.

I don’t wear pearls.  I don’t do canned vegetables.  And chances are – if that day comes – I’ll be holding said casserole in a Le Creuset, wearing some lacy racy black get up appropriate only for maximum wear time of ten minutes or less.  Vintage schmintage.  Whoever he is, he may not like chevre and arugula, but I’m sure he won’t have a problem with it.

I’ve never been conventional.

I’m a good, wholesome girl.  But the golden sweat?  The yearning?  The flame?  The eccentricity?

Welcome to my kitchen.