My parents live in a house on a big hill on the edge of the woods. Even the landscaped sections are wooded — meaning not only is it difficult to grow anything that won’t do well in shade or, in some instances, among shallow tree roots, or that every inch is fodder for roving herds of deer, no matter how “deer-resistant” a plant may be, but that weeds grow — everywhere. Tiny beginnings of new forest, trying to take back the ground and the air. Growing up, I spent countless afternoons with my mom, batting off mosquitoes and pulling buckets and buckets (and buckets) of weeds to carry up the hill and dump into the woods. Especially irritating, and smelly, were the wild onions that grew in the mulch alongside the driveway. They were plentiful and pesky — their roots didn’t lift easily, and I ended up tearing more than I pulled. I hated them. Until a few weeks ago. Continue reading →
The cherry blossoms are blooming in Central Park. The magnolias are bursting in front yards all over Astoria. Daffodils are everywhere, and so are the people. Spring has finally sprung in New York, and nothing says spring, especially after an active day outside shaking off the last of winter’s hijinks, like a crunchy, herby salad filled with chicken, tomatoes, feta, and pasta.
It’s the perfect segue: ingredients that are available all year round, ready to be consumed the first day of the year you truly really want to put effort into making a savory meal that tastes like a warm, sunny day. And because it’s a salad, you can throw as much of this, as little of that as you’d like and it will be amazing every single time. That’s sort of the way I learned this one. I was visiting my friend Erin in Boston, probably a good ten years ago, when she suggested we make this for dinner. It hails from a possibly ancient issue of Cooking Light magazine, but we never measured anything. A handful of basil and parsley, a bunch of scallions, a bag of lettuce. And, okay, fine, a little too much penne that one day. I think once it was cooked it barely fit in the pot. I swear, it wasn’t me — but of course it was so very me. She just knows me so well. Needless to say, I have been hooked since that day, and this salad is a staple in my warm weather dinner arsenal. Continue reading →
So there’s apparently a thing in the Midwest where people put ranch dressing on everything. Hailing from the NYC suburbs, I still don’t really understand it. I’d definitely prefer a nice balsamic for my salads, barbecue sauce for my chicken fingers, and my pizza plain — without any dipping sauce, thank you very much. I still furrow my brow a little when my fella of four and a half years takes out the bottle when we reheat day-old pizza, but I mostly just shrug and let him do his midwestern thing. When I first made calzones a couple of years ago, I made him his favorite: a “Rocky Mountain High,” nostalgia from his college years, stuffed with chicken, mozzarella, blue cheese, and hot sauce, with a side of ranch. I, meanwhile, prepped myself a traditional cheese calzone stuffed with mozz, tomatoes, and basil, convinced that it would blow his weird midwestern concoction out of the water. Oh, how wrong I was.
My calzone was flat and boring. His was rich, creamy, and full of all kinds of explosive flavor. I ate mine sadly while looking over at his wistfully, probably much in the same way my Pema cat looks at my Lhamo cat as they’re eating their food (which is actually exactly the same). Needless to say, I haven’t made that sad calzone since. Continue reading →
It’s 8:30pm. You had a long day at work / you just got back from a tough run / insert the reason you’re tired and haven’t already eaten and might cry if you don’t get something delicious in your belly soon. What do you? Do you order in and wait half an hour or more for delivery? Do you break open the little blue box of mac and cheese? No, of course not! You grab a few cloves of garlic and spend 15 easy minutes making rich, velvety spaghetti with garlic and olive oil.
A Jewish girl from the suburbs of New York grows up on, among other delicious things, three basic staples: bagels, pickles, and chicken soup. Saturday bagels for energy to run and jump and play; sour pickles for, uh, probiotics and a strong stomach; and chicken soup, for everything. At holidays, the soup, served with matzoh balls or Grandma’s Passover noodles, is always simmered for a long time, tenderizing the chicken that would be plucked out and used as an hors d’oeuvre in chicken salad (with challah or matzoh, depending on the holiday). The halved or quartered veggies are separated from the broth and passed around the table, so family can pick and choose whether they want carrot, or parsnip, or celery, or nothing at all. During the winter, my mom makes it exactly the same, but keeps everything in the pot, pulling out one chicken breast at a time to shred directly into bowls filled with extra thin egg noodles and topped with broth and whatever vegetables we’re craving that night, and we would cut into the veggies ourselves, with a spoon, and heal our winter blues. Mom’s soup is delicate but hearty, uncluttered, uncomplicated, and, in a word, home.
I might be the only person in New York City who likes winter. And not just light snowfalls, pristine white flakes floating down onto quiet sidewalks, silhouetted against lamplight and curtainless windows. Not just chilly temperatures, asking for sweaters and scarves and woolen coats and boots. No, I like extended frozen landscapes. Last winter? The polar vortex? The frozen Hudson? I loved it. I may have been the only person who didn’t complain when it felt like spring would never come — well, until it did, for a day, and then got cold again. Then I was ready. Because cold winters mean glorious springs, and it was. I may shiver and it may take courage to go out for a training run when it gets below 20 degrees, but this week’s sub-zero wind chills just make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside — because when it gets like this, I fill my insides with warm bread and hot soup. But not just any hot soup — Moroccan chickpea soup.
This beautiful concoction melds the flavors of cinnamon and cumin, paprika and cayenne, to build a slightly sweet, slightly spicy base from which the chickpeas can make their case for a hearty alternative to meat. Baby spinach adds vitamins, a pop of color, and a hint of bitterness, which compliments the handful of slightly acidic tomatoes here wonderfully, and I’ve added diced carrots for an additional boost of mellow sweetness (and something else to chew on). Some of the chickpeas are mashed at the end, so that the soup isn’t just chunky, it’s thick, too. Continue reading →
Happy New Year, everyone. 2014 is now a relic of the past. Like many of you, mine was filled with ups and downs — and this year, they weren’t simply little hiccups and little boosts here and there. 2014 was momentous, it was disastrous, it was marvelous. I left my life at an organization to which I dedicated seven years of my heart and soul, bled passion and tears and hope and frustration. Left what had become an unkind regime. Rekindled my passion for my own work, my own writing. Found you, the ImaginariYUM, and found myself.
And now it’s 2015, and things are gonna change. A little. My big New Year’s Resolution is simple, but will hopefully be profound: I resolve to use up all the leftover vegetables I buy before they turn to mush, grow mold, or grow eyes. And to start, I’m using up (almost) all the leftover potatoes from my two crazy days of latke-making a couple of weeks ago by turning them into velvety potato leek soup. And as a side? I’ve taken some of the leftover buttermilk from last week’s perfect cinnamon rolls and turned them into the easiest buttermilk biscuits. It’s cold, I’m hungry and still tired from being up way too late last night, and I’m damn glad there’s something good, healthy, and hearty to eat for the start of the new year.
We are one week away from Thanksgiving and I am giving you…. gnocchi. I know, I know. You probably won’t be serving this to your family along with turkey and cranberries, but, well, actually, it’d probably be a nice change from the typical potato dish if you were so inclined. Plus, there are a week’s worth of dinners that still need to be made and eaten, and we can’t just eat failed pie every night. Okay, that’s debatable too.
But if you’ve been following this blog over the last couple of months you’ll know that I have my very first full marathon coming up in just three days, and it’s time now to go even heavier on the carbs than ever before. For a normal person, that is. And while I’m not sick of all my typical pasta dishes, I also want to throw in some vitamins. Despite the bad rep the lowly potato has earned, it’s chock full of them. I need some extra vitamin C right now after running in this polar vortex. Time to make some little potato dumplings.
If a long distance runner tells you part of the reason she runs isn’t so she can stuff her face with pasta, she’s lying to you. True, most of it is the challenge, the endorphins, the yearning to be better than you were yesterday. But for many of us, we run so we can eat. And when you’re training for a marathon, you’re hungry. All. the. time. It took me a while to be okay with eating a second lunch – which follows brunch, which follows a very long run, which follows breakfast. I swear, though, not everything I eat is a pastry or a muffin or a biscuit – I also eat fruit and salads and proteins and potatoes rich with vitamin C. These are the things I crave after a 20-mile run. But before? Give me bowls of pasta. Lemon. Garlic. Tomatoes. Peppers. Whatever. As long as it envelops that perfect pod of a simple carb, it’s what I want to fuel me through those grueling miles.
We all grow up eating the stuff, though for many kids, like yours truly, many moons ago, we want it with butter. Or cheese – from a little blue box. We were the pain-in-the-ass kids who only knew tomatoes if they were in the form of basically orange, tangy water with little o’s swimming around. But once we learned how beautiful that fruit was? Forget it. I watched my mom make a bolognese hundreds of times growing up, but never made a basic sauce until I was 20, kind of poor, and living with an Italian-American roommate in Paris. On our first night in our apartment together, she made her grandmother’s recipe: slow cooked, fresh tomatoes, with garlic, onion, and raisins, to cut the acidity and add sweetness. My life would never be the same.