Gracious and Kind

Last week I visited Costco for the first time in over a year. As I pulled in to the packed parking lot late on a Saturday morning I immediately regretted my decision and developed a paralyzing sense of agoraphobia. For those of us that have been holed up online shopping for the past year, this reaction should be expected and the notion of “exposure therapy” came to mind. My mantra today was to be gracious and kind as I maneuvered through the manic highway of Costco shopping carts that simultaneously drive at full speed AND park in both directions of the main aisles. So I parked the end of the lot, masked up, and set out to navigate the sea of tantalizing packaged goods.

After a fruitful hour, I proudly pulled up to the check-out aisles, arriving at the same exact moment another woman with her two young daughters pulled up to the same spot from another direction. I said I was waiting in line to check-out, and she quickly shouted “NO you weren’t I was here FIRST!” and then pushed her cart closer to push mine out of the way. Gracious and kind. Gracious and kind. Deep breath. I asked her to move up then so I could pass to another line on the side. “OOOH” she continued. “Nope. I’m not gonna move for you.” The way she snapped and stared at me with those piercing eyes in her tight pink jogger shorts, white sneakers and white fitted hoodie as her two pretty little girls watched on. The way she held up her pointer finger and punctuated “not gonna move FOR YOU” in this decisive and precise moment of putrid hate. I immediately regretted my mantra. “It’s common courtesy, you know?” I said, raising my voice a little. “You’re blocking the aisle” I pointed to an elderly couple trying to push through to the vitamin aisle from behind her. They were watching me with pleading eyes. It was like Disneyland on Christmas Day but with no joy. “Go around the aisle!” she said to me, pushing her cart to block me even more, but this was said loud enough so the elderly couple behind her sadly pushed their cart backwards for a long way to get and around another aisle before disappearing into the abyss.

I swiftly jumped to an opening in an aisle that suddenly shortened to my left, defiantly keeping my back to her even as I awkwardly held two large storage bins in my left arm held up with my knee while pushing a cart full of groceries with just my right hand. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to do it with a dancer’s ease. But before I knew it I was already putting my items down and swiping my credit card and she hadn’t even moved one inch in her line. “Mommmyyyyyy!” I heard one of her girls whine. “She’s checking out before us!” I could feel the searing heat on my back. I heard this above all the noise of the cashiers beeping and the chip bags rustling and the credit card swiping and the shopping carts rattling and the hundreds of voices in the cafe ordering pizza. I finished checking out in silent victory and I looked back to give her a quick shrug and a smile. Gracious and kind, right?

GREEK BLACK LENTILS

Lentils are an excellent pantry staple because they are quick-cooking and work well in almost any type of cuisine. Beluga lentils, also known as black lentils, have a shiny round black shape that often remind people of caviar but with a delicate earthy flavor and are an excellent source of protein. This dish combines the Mediterranean flavors of a vibrant Greek salad with earthy lentils with and is finished with a sunny and bright lemon and mint dressing. This is a hearty dish for Fall that lasts all week in the fridge.

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 cups beluga cooked lentils
  • 1 (14-oz) can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • ½ seedless cucumber, diced in quarters with skin on
  • ½ pint of cherry tomatoes, diced in half
  • ½ cup chopped parsley 
  • ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, whole
  • ½ cup fresh feta cheese

Mint Lemon Dressing

  • Juice from 2 large lemons
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (flavored oils make a great addition to this dressing)
  • 3 TB fresh mint, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

Bring a medium pot of water to boil then and add lentils. Turn down to medium heat and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain and let cool to room temperature. In a large serving bowl, add salad ingredients to lentils, then pour the dressing over and toss to mix. Let salad rest for 30 minutes before serving to allow the lentils to soak up the flavors. 

Farmer’s Market Farro Salad

There is something magical about shopping for farm-fresh produce, cheeses, baked goods, and flowers from your local farmer’s market, and now is truly the best time of year to explore these markets and road-side stands because there is such an enormous bounty of produce in season. I love a no-lettuce salad, and this simple Farmer’s Market Farro Salad combines the flavors of warm grilled vegetables, salty olives, fresh sweet peaches, and tangy citrus dressing. Farro is my favorite quick-cook grain as it’s high in fiber, protein, and nutrients and has a delightfully chewy and nutty flavor that makes it ideal for warm or cold recipes. This dish is highly adaptable depending on whatever ingredients you pick up at the market, so don’t be afraid to experiment with produce and herbs and throw in what you have! 

SALAD INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound of Farro, cook al dente according to package in a medium pot or rice cooker (typically 10-15 minutes)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 3 cups mixed grilled vegetables (this week I used eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, asparagus)
  • 1 cup mixed pitted kalamata and green olives
  • 1 cup fresh cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
  • 2 peaches, chopped
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil

DRESSING

  • 2 large lemons, juiced
  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TB Dijon mustard 
  • ½ tsp maple syrup
  • ¼ tsp salt

Cook Farro according to package and then let cool to room temperature. Chop vegetables into 1” cubes and toss to coat with olive oil, then grill on a sheet pan in oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or grill over BBQ in large slices then chop smaller once fully cooked. Mix dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add warm vegetables, fresh peaches, chickpeas, and parsley to a large bowl with Farro, drizzle with dressing then toss well with to coat. Serve immediately, and salt to taste.

We celebrated our 13th anniversary last month with a museum visit to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit, vegan and fish sushi, cocktails, cupcakes and a hike!

Father’s Day with a back yard knight’s templar scavengar hunt and escape room activity! More fun for dad than kids methinks, but still a fun find on Etsy. Managed to find some to relax and in the heat.

Roasted Corn and Snap Pea Salad

These last few weeks have brought a lot of emotional milestones to our lives. Last day of school. First time eating at a restaurant. Good-byes to friends who are moving, but also hellos to family we haven’t seen in 15 months. And also… summer weather!

I would like to introduce you to my new favorite summer recipe that has been buzzing around the internet lately – the Roasted Corn and Snap Pea Salad. This addictive and versatile dish can be whipped up in less than 10 minutes for a quick and easy standalone meal or served as the perfect side dish to your summer BBQ. Warm sweet roasted corn, cool and crunchy snap peas, and salty feta are all combined with a lush orange citrus vinaigrette that demands you sit outside and bask in that summer garden sun! This easy recipe is full of unexpected flavors and will quickly become your new go to shareable summer salad.

Salad Ingredients 

  • 2 ears of corn
  • 1 bag of sugar snap peas, sliced
  • ½ cup crumbled feta
  • 1 TB olive oil

Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 1 naval orange OR 2 mandarin oranges
  • 1/8 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Slice snap peas taken fresh from refrigerator and place in a salad bowl. Using a knife, remove kernels from the fresh corn cob and sauté in pan on medium heat with olive oil, turning constantly until slightly caramelized. Alternatively, you can grill the corn, carefully turning until fully toasted and then slice off cooked kernels. Add warm corn kernels to the snap peas and top with the crumbled feta. In a small bowl, whisk together the champagne vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, and garlic, then toss salad to coat with the vinaigrette. Top with a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper and serve fresh.

Pomegranate Mint Citrus Salad

Pomegranates represent eternal life and fertility in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, but over the centuries this divine red fruit has also come to symbolize power in cultures across the globe. Today, pomegranates play an important role in Middle Eastern and even Chinese cuisine and their juices have been used in everything from Oriental carpet dyes to the Indian Ayurveda system of traditional medicine because of their rich vitamin and antioxidant healing properties. Pomegranates are even consumed during the Jewish New Year as the fruit supposedly contains the mystical number of 613 seeds corresponding with the commandments in the Torah. With all this rich history of symbolism throughout history, this often underrated fruit also happens to add a delightfully sweet and tart crunchy bite to any dish. You may want to double up on ingredients if you are serving a crowd!


INGREDIENTS:
1 ruby red grapefruit
1 navel orange
1 blood orange
2 clementines
1 handful of fresh mint leaves, diced with a few sprigs for serving
¼ cup of chopped pistachios, unshelled and salted
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2 TB honey

Working with one fruit at a time, slice into 1/4’’ thick rounds, discarding the top and bottom and
trimming off the peels with a sharp knife to remove all the bitter white pith. Arrange these rounds into a colorful overlapping pattern on a platter, then drizzle with honey and sprinkle with pistachios, pomegranate seeds, mint, and salt. Chill in fridge for about an hour before serving.

Polenta and White Beans with Homemade Marinara

Polenta is an Italian dish that refers to the traditional preparation of coarse ground cornmeal cooked
steadily over medium heat into a mildly creamy porridge. It is typically made fresh, but if you’ve ever
wondered about those polenta rolls sold in grocery stores I am here to tell you that they are marvelous
and will quickly become your new favorite staple in the kitchen. Because they are pre-cooked, you
simply slice and reheat by roasting, sautéing or even grilling to caramelize the outside and then pair with
any sauce that you would otherwise throw on pasta.


The secret of this rustic yet sophisticated Polenta with White Beans and Homemade Marina dish is the
dreamy marinara that is full of vibrant tomato flavors and made with only five simple ingredients. Best
of all you can add in any grilled vegetables or protein of your choice to the polenta base for a new twist
on Italian night.

INGREDIENTS

1 tube of polenta

  • 14-oz can cannellini beans
  • 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and halved
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 handful of fresh basil or parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

In medium saucepan combine the entire can of tomatoes along with the halved onion, garlic cloves, 2 TBS olive oil and oregano. Bring the sauce to a bubble then turn down to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the entire onion after 30 minutes and discard or reserve for another recipe. Use a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes and smash the garlic cloves against the side of the pot.  This should result in a slightly chunky and flavorful sauce. Add salt to taste. Meanwhile, slice the tube of polenta cut into ½ ‘’ rounds. Preheat large pan on medium heat, add the remaining 2 TB olive oil and cook polenta rounds 4-5 minutes per side until soft and golden.  Serve warm polenta rounds on a plate then spoon over the homemade marinara and top it off with white beans, freshly diced basil or parsley, and parmesan cheese.

At Home

As we come up on the one-year anniversary of being at home during this pandemic I have a lot to reflect on. These past twelve months we have chosen to not dine at restaurants, travel, go to the grocery store regularly, participate in camp, in-person school, after school activities, social outings or even pods.

This meant that, like many others, my “me time” at the nail salon, hair salon, and gym went away. It meant no longer attending or hosting birthday parties or holidays. It has meant essentially being parents, teachers AND friends to our children. So our days are very very long. But we are incredibly fortunate we have maintained our full-time jobs and have the ability to work from home.

With every challenge and pushback along the way, there also presented a new opportunity. This year has meant learning to love and honor myself differently, to enjoy my quiet time. And for the four of us to downsize those celebrations and enjoy each others company. It’s given us all a laser focus on how to simplify and enjoy what we do have. My husband I have a ritual now of drinking too much during happy hour by our fireplace and decompressing from the day. We also all happen to like each other so I guess we were willing to push that boundary as far as we could.

Being home also meant recognizing when our fourth grader’s mental health was struggling with virtual learning and withdrawing him from public school and switching to homeschool. This has enabled him to drive his own curiosity and excel at academics. And I have a much greater appreciation for teachers and curriculum planning! These last two months we did hire an-home tutor to ensure our second grader catches up to his reading and math grade level, which is of course a sign of privilege that we can afford to do this. We’ve had a few play dates with a wonderful family who are in the same boat as we are but unfortunately live over an hour away, so visits are scarce but our boys enjoy the ease of their online gaming and we have thankfully maintained their friendship.

I say all this not as a point of pride or even contention, but as a reflection on just how much has truly changed for all of us this past year and how we have adapted. It still surprises me.

But today I feel sad. My biggest lesson has been acknowledging that not every day is great. The sunshine is out, the snow is melting, my house is clean and my fridge is full. I’m not wanting for anything. And yet there is sadness. For my children growing up without seeing family for a year. For the things that are out of my control. And for the things that are in my control, wondering whether I’m doing it right, or enough, and also not wanting to be vulnerable enough to hear people’s criticism – of which there is PLENTY.

Let’s let this pandemic anniversary be a recognition of all we’ve learned, gained, and how we’ve changed forever. How we can come together while being apart. Many have suffered greatly this year from the pandemic, natural disasters, domestic violence, lack of education and work. This year ahead will be a year of healing for many. So for today, I focus on gratitude. And I will enjoy my day at home.

Golden Tomato Pasta

Heirloom tomatoes come in an array of colors and flavor profiles, and while they are often typecast as a summer cold salad ingredient, they also cook down into a wonderful homemade marinara that bursts with rich juicy flavors. The pale yellow and striped bright orange heirlooms in particular have a low-acid, mildly sweet flavor with a soft meaty texture and when pureed with tiny sweet orange cherry tomatoes along with the humble sweet onion you get this golden rich and creamy tomato sauce that is totally addictive. If you are growing your own heirloom tomato garden in the summer this is a perfect recipe to show off your beautiful bounty. Fortunately even here in the Midwest you can get your hands on a multitude of tomato varieties even in the winter. Interlace your gold tomato sauce with spicy red pepper flakes and fresh cherry tomatoes and basil leaves for an elegant yet simple pasta dish.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb golden heirloom tomatoes, diced into large wedges
  • 1 pint orange cherry tomatoes, whole
  • 1 pint red cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, slivered
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 pinch chili flakes
  • 2 fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 lb spaghetti
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat a large sauce pan over medium heat and sauté the onion with olive oil until translucent. Add the minced garlic then mix in your heirloom tomato variety and your orange cherry tomatoes. Bring to a gentle simmer and cover with a lid for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not be tempted to add liquid as these tomatoes will collapse and release sweet concentrated tomato juice for an incredible sauce. Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to directions. When tomatoes are cooked down, use a hand blender to puree into a hot soup or ladle into a blender to process. Toss your pasts to coat with sauce then garnish with your fresh basil, red pepper flakes and cherry tomatoes.

The Year of Turning 40

I’d like to cancel my subscription to 2021. I’ve tried the 14-day trial and I am not satisfied.

Let me begin by saying that this New Year’s Eve was one of the best nights of my life. After the past year of chaos, emotional upheaval, economic collapse, social isolation, and a steady focus on my word of the year “MODIFY”, it felt good for one night to turn that all off.

We stayed up until midnight, danced to jazz and played family board games by the fire. We nibbled on a charcuterie board, sampled caviar and drank expensive champagne, our festive glistening holiday tree in the background reminding us of a purer times and childlike joy of promising things to come. We ran outside late into the night and lit sparklers, the boys rolling in the snow and squealing with delight beneath the full moon. We laughed. We had nowhere to be, nothing to do, and just enjoyed the moment together. I awoke the next morning with a sense of optimism, hope, and reflection. This is, after all, the year I conclude my 30’s.

But then the next day a feeling that I had looked at the sun just a little too long in my right eye was followed by a rainbow aura filling my vision and I was overcome with the worst ocular migraine of my life, leaving me bedridden for two days and avoiding all forms of light. The Christmas tree got taken down and put on the curb and out with it went the sense of holiday magic. We pulled out our color-coordinated family schedule as the kids went back to virtual school, and Robby and I discussed our various ailments. Slowly, the chaos of the entire world collapsing began to overwhelm me. Then the attack on the US Capital happened and it was like everything I thought was sacred and stable came to screeching halt.

Let’s get one thing straight: this not going to the be year of “getting back to normal”. This is going to be a year of cleaning up after a big fat mess.

Everything is unknown at this point. There is no expert to navigate us through 2021. The world is more divisive than ever before. It’s a strange time, a milestone year, a new leadership year, a year of unprecedented activities and hopefully unity in this fight against a global pandemic. I hope this is a year of innovation. Of willingness to change. The one thing I do know is that my children have adapted in incredible ways to the changes presented to them and are thriving with grace in ways I could not have imagined. There is hope for adults too. It is easy to get lost in all the loss and grief in this world so we are grateful for what we do have, and for that which we can control.

Yesterday my office announced that offices will reopen after Labor Day, just in time to see me turn 40, meaning we will all be edging our way back into life as we knew it. I don’t know what this means for the world or my family, or how I feel about it. But I do know it seems like a fitting book-end to my 30’s, and that I will always cherish this one beautiful night that opened the gates into this auspicious year.

Vegetable Spanish Rice, But Not Paella

The New York Times featured an article recently titled “7 Ways the Pandemic Has Changed How We Shop for Food”. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, Americans are spending more money at the supermarket today than at restaurants where other people prepare their food. Amidst this rise in home cooking, people are also moving to more complex ways of cooking, which includes a variety of grains, a staggering 600% increase in sales of yeast, and an uptick in demand for dried beans which has remained through the summer even after the initial “stock the pantry” craze of the spring. I admit, I purchased a 10 lb bag of rice that I’m stilling working on.

There is no downside to having a 10 lb bag of rice in the pantry. We love experimenting with deconstructed and mixed rice and grain bowls in our house. And my favorite kitchen gadget HANDS DOWN is my Instant Zest Rice and Grain Cooker. This little love has multiple settings that adjust timings for the types of rice or grain you are cooking. I literally switch it on to help the kids with remote learning or finish up a work Zoom or lock myself alone in the bathroom and cry and it makes perfectly hot, fluffy rice every time.

This week I thought I’d try a short-cut version of a paella swapping out the meat for a variety of Mediterranean vegetables. Traditional paella requires cooking the rice directly in a cast iron skillet and simmering it for a long period of time without turning it creating a thick, crunchy rice crust. This quick version infuses the rice with smoky and salty flavors directly in the rice cooker, and highlights all the complex flavors of smoky Spanish saffron, briny olives, sweet fennel, roasted peppers and hearty artichokes but with much less effort. So while this Vegetable Spanish Rice is not a traditional paella, I wasn’t at all disappointed with the results.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups jarred or whole artichokes packed in water, quartered, rinsed and patted dry
  • 1 yellow and 1 red pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, stalks removed and cut into thin slivers
  • 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper

In the rice cooker add rice, vegetable broth, tomatoes, paprika, and saffron. Stir to combine then close lid and turn on cooker. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss artichokes, peppers and olives with 2 TB olive oil on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast about 20 -25 minutes, or until vegetables are browned around the edges. In a large skillet or dutch oven (I used my Staub), add 2 TB olive oil and minced garlic with fennel and onion and cook until softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Turn off heat, add the roasted vegetables and peas to that same dutch oven and combine. Stir in the hot cooked rice and top with fresh squeezed lemon juice. Serve hot.

My son and I both recently celebrated our birthdays and enjoyed the tail end of summer with beautiful views, great food, and home cooked meals.

Summer Rustic Herb Linguini

It’s August, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year! For me, this means harvesting the beautiful bounty of fresh herbs that have been growing wild and with abundance in my planters.

Many summer pasta recipes depend on sweet aromatic basil, but this Summer Rustic Herb Linguini is a simple dish that features an surprising twist by combining bright mint, woody thyme and bitter parsley all tangled with linguini and tossed in a briny sauce of capers, olives, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a fresh pop of garlic. It is a rich and flavorful bite that requires minimal effort, and best of all complements any seasonal vegetables and grilled proteins to help honor these summer months.

The key to using fresh herbs in a recipe is in how you harvest and store the plants. Fresh herbs are best harvested in the early morning before the heat of the day. They will stay fresh wrapped in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator for the day until ready to prepare and serve.

If you do not grow your own herbs, there are plenty of proven tips on keeping herbs fresher for longer from the grocery store. First, trim the stems and place the herbs in a glass of cold water, but be careful not to immerse the leaves. Basil is an herb that thrives uncovered at room temperature sitting on a sunny windowsill in a cup of water. All other tender leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, and tarragon should then be covered loosely with a plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator. For heartier leafy herbs like rosemary, mint, thyme, sage and chives, you can store these in the refrigerator in a cup of water and then cover loosely with a plastic bag, but the leaves may actually stay fresher if immersed in water. I recently stored fresh mint completely submerged in a covered Tupperware container of chilled water for two weeks and it stayed bright, fresh and crisp. Just make sure to change the water on herbs every few days, like you would for fresh flowers.

pasta close-up

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 lb linguini
  • 1 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons drained nonpareil capers
  • ½ freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt and pepper

Prepare the herb mixture by placing the olives, capers, diced herbs, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl and toss to combine. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for at least 15 minutes, while pasta cooks. Drain pasta then stir all together in large serving bowl to ensure flavors come together. Salt to taste, and enjoy!

glencoe beach