while I’m away…

For the past few months I’ve been working with Paleo Magazine on various reviews and other freelance work. A couple of months ago I was given an exciting new project, and I’m thrilled to finally share it with you today — with the launch of the new and improved Paleo Magazine app, the editors will be releasing free guides and e-books to online subscribers, starting with my e-cookbook!

paleo e-cookbook

I developed and photographed 10 original Paleo recipes over the span of one hectic month, and the finished product is now available for free when you download the Paleo Magazine app. The entrees included appeal to all tastes and every season, and were inspired by some of my favorite flavor combinations: lime and cumin, shiitake mushrooms and shrimp, fresh peaches and roasted cherry tomatoes, sweet potato and chorizo.

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The whole experience was a learning process. Sure, I’ve been creating my own recipes and photographing the end result for years now, but the pressure was on to create something more sophisticated and streamlined. I used every tool in my arsenal to create inventive flavor pairings and visually appealing photographs, and spent a good chunk of an afternoon scrounging for props at the thrift store. It was hard work, harder than I imagined, and after this experience I have an immense amount of respect for cookbook creators everywhere.

But you’d better believe we ate really well at my house that month.

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So while I’m away, head over to the Paleo Magazine app and check out my first published cookbook. Try the recipes, put your own spin on them, and get back to me with your stories. While I won’t necessarily be whipping up delicious dishes while on the road and sharing them with you here, you can take a little piece of my Paleo perspective with you on your smart phone or tablet to enjoy this fall. Cheers and happy eating!

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cauliflower soup

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It’s chilly and crisp and autumnal and I love it. I love soup all times of the year, but particularly as the days get shorter and the air gets cooler. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to eat soup when you’re sick, or sad, or grieving. It is comfort food at its finest, literally imparting warmth and nourishment to the body to trickle out into the spirit.

I suppose I’m particularly nostalgic about soup at the moment because just a few days ago I watched a man wrap up my beloved Le Creuset in packing paper and tape and put it in a box to be shipped across the ocean. It was a weird feeling, to watch strangers handle all of my possessions and feel little to no attachment to them. Slowly but surely my house got emptier and emptier until there were only a few things left. The piano. The sofa. My Le Creuset. It was at this point that I started to get a little sad.

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Have I told you the story of the Le Creuset? It’s a good one. I’ve wanted a piece of the classic cookware for years. Years. I can’t even disintangle my thoughts to a time in which I didn’t feel that I would finally be a real cook once I had my own. I read Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness, a beautiful memoir by Alexandra Fuller about coming back to her childhood home in Zimbabwe to deal with her aging parents and haunted memory, in which the author’s mother has a full set of Le Creuset cookware that makes its permanent home in their outdoor kitchen, the bright orange enamel glinting in the sun and unmarred by time.

But the price. Oh goodness. The Le Creuset French oven is an investment, a classic piece that will last a lifetime and then some, but STILL. There was no way I was going to get one of my own any time soon, nor would I be callous enough to ask for one as a wedding gift. And yet.

One day my industrious mother called me from a flea market, hardly able to contain her excitement. She had found a vintage Le Creuset oven in classic orange for less than $100 and had managed to talk the dealer down to almost half of that price, and she was bringing it to me that weekend. To give to me. For me to use forever and ever and ever.

And since then it has been my absolute favorite piece of kitchen equipment. It is a versatile workhorse: I’ve used it to make everything from homemade sourdough bread to every kind of soup and braised stew. It adds cheer to my stovetop, the pot’s permanent home, and every time I use it I think about how it came to me. Through patience and love and a whole lot of bargaining power, and it embues everything I cook in it with a little of that magic.

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Savory Cauliflower Soup

1 qt. homemade broth

1 large head of cauliflower

1 medium pattypan squash

1 large onion

2 Tbsp. coconut oil or lard

3-5 cloves garlic

2 tsp. salt

fresh black pepper

1-2 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. coconut aminos

dash of smoked paprika for garnish

Melt the lard in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Meanwhile, slice the onion and crush the garlic; set aside. Once the fat has melted, add in the sliced onions and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes — this doesn’t caramelize the onions but it does get the process started and, thus, imparts more flavor. To this, add the crushed garlic, salt, pepper, coconut aminos and fish sauce. Cook until fragrant, about a minute.

Dice the pattypan squash and the cauliflower and add to the pot. Turn the heat up to medium-high and pour in homemade broth. Stir everything together and bring to a boil before covering and simmering until the vegetables are tender. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Remove the still-chunky soup from the stove to cool a bit before processing in a blender. The soup should be smooth and creamy, free of lumps, and still plenty hot. Return pot to heat if necessary. Serve with a pinch of smoked paprika and a garnish of fresh tarragon, parsley or whatever other herbs are handy.

travel guide: a weekend in austin, tx

magnolia cafe

As we prepare to leave the great state of Texas, I admit I will be sad to lose my proximity to Austin. One of the most dynamic, diverse cities I’ve ever visited, full of flavors and colors and textures, Austin is one of those places in which I could see myself living someday. The entire city has a personality — artistic, yet entrepreneurial; health-conscious, yet ready to have fun and let loose; with Texas its warmth and West Coast style, there’s a niche for everyone.

Last weekend we took a final trip to Austin to say our farewells to our favorite haunts and spend some time with an old friend, Heather. As a local, she was able to point us in the direction of some new attractions we wouldn’t have found on our own (hello, Rainey Street!) while we shared a few of our Austin must-haves that she hadn’t yet discovered  (waffles at 24 Diner!). With my fourth trip this year under my belt, I think I’m finally equipped to share my travel guide to Austin, or how to spend a weekend in a city that has everything for everyone.

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Two of the biggest attractions in Austin are the music scene and the food. Local venues draw in bands large and small, and at least three major music festivals take place in the city each year. The first show I saw in Austin was a Sigur Ros concert at Cedar Park, and it was the most incredible event. If you’re stopping through on a weekend, check on any big concerts or festivals — you may want to attend or just avoid that part of town for the traffic — but make sure to stop in at the little dive bars featuring local musicians and a smaller crowd. Sixth Street and South Congress always have something going on.

The food is the main attraction to Austin, in my opinion. Food carts spring up like mushrooms on every corner, representing nearly every cuisine imaginable. You can get Greek food, Indian curries, gourmet doughnuts, tacos, barbecue, wraps, vegan food, vegetarian fare…there is quite literally something for everyone. Little colonies of food trucks are scattered all over the city, but most notable are the lots on 1st Street, Rainey Street, at the 2nd Street farmers market on Saturdays, and those scattered all along 6th Street. Some of my favorites include: Torchy’s Tacos, La Barbecue (INCREDIBLE BBQ) and Gourdough’s. Go to Gourdough’s if you want a hot, gooey, decadent doughnut made with maple syrup and bacon in the middle of the night. It’s ridiculous.

The food carts are not the end-all-be-all. Local restaurants have a thriving presence in Austin and embody much of the ethnic and cultural diversity found in the food cart population. This is a city that loves to eat — fancy dinners, quick lunches, brunch or breakfast at midnight. Some favorites include:

Magnolia Cafe – an Austin staple for breakfast or brunch. The food was pretty good but the service was impeccable. Get here before 9:30 a.m. on weekends if you don’t want to stand in line. Try the migas  with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice.

24 Diner – for brunch, or anytime, really. They’re open 24 hours and look like a typical greasy spoon on the outside, but serve surprisingly upscale meals. They’re committed to sourcing local and ethically raised produce, meat and eggs, and you can truly taste the difference in their attention to detail. I love their Sweet Potato Hash with house-made sausage, serrano peppers and local eggs. Andrew adores their Yeasted Belgian Waffles and French-pressed coffee. [600 N. Lamar Blvd]

Uchi – an upscale, gourmet Japanese restaurant, perfect for a fancy occasion. The first time we visited we waited about an hour to get a seat, but enjoyed edamame and roasted peppers with sake as an appetizer in their outdoor garden. The wait was entirely worth it for the flavors, the inventive presentation of the tasting menu, the fresh fish and the storm of umami that rained down upon my taste buds. [801 S. Lamar Blvd]

La Condesa – a more gourmet twist on typical Tex-Mex, this restaurant is decorated with an artful mix of Southwestern rustic and LA glam, and has THE BEST cocktails. I still dream about El Cubico, with whole leaf tobacco-infused cazadores reposado, vanilla infused brandy, lemon, grilled pineapple juice, mezcal essence and a volcanic-saffron-infused salt rim. [400A West 2nd Street]

Clay Pit – at this Indian restaurant I had the most velvety, satisfyingly rich dish of Lamb Rogan Josh, and so far all other interpretations of the dish have fallen short. The food is authentic and flavorful with a moderate price range. [1601 Guadalupe St  Austin]

Lick – not a restaurant, but a destination in itself. They specialize in gourmet ice creams made from locally sourced ingredients including high-quality milk with a ridiculous butterfat content. With flavors like Salted Caramel Lick, Too Hot Chocolate, Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil, Cardamom Pear Cake or Candied Tomato, Basil & Balsamic, their ice cream is as inventive as it is delicious. [2032 S. Lamar Boulevard]

G’Raj Mahal – not quite a restaurant, and yet not quite a food truck, an assembly of exotic tents and outdoor furniture does this eatery make. It’s casual — your food comes on paper plates and patrons are instructed to BYOB — but the wait staff is friendly and attentive, and the location is a half block from Rainey Street, where all of the newest, coolest bars are located. [91 Red River]

Other notable restaurants that were recommended to us but that we never visited include: Hopdoddy, a famous burger joint on Congress; Whip-In, an Indian restaurant; Hula Hut, a Mexican-Hawaiian food hybrid; The Iron Cactus, Leaf, Moonshine and East Side Showroom

the buzz mill II

Finding the quirkiest cafes is one of our favorite games to play when Andrew and I travel together. This time around, we hit the jackpot. We found Juan Pelota [400 Nueces St] by accident, and it ended up being the perfect spot to enjoy Stumptown Coffee and gluten-free treats. Located in Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, the service is friendly and the location is blissfully removed from the hustle and bustle of Sixth and SoCo. Halcyon [218 W 4th St] is another 4th Street find, although this is less of a quiet coffee spot and more of a racous gathering place — they serve “all your vices in one place,” from specialty coffee drinks, to liquor, to cigarettes and cigars plus and tableside make-your-own-s’mores experience. Walton’s Fancy & Staple [609 W 6th St], part charming French country cafe, part floral shop, is owned by Sandra Bullock. Here, you can find comfort food brunch, delicate pastel macarons, and an oasis of calm on Sixth Street. Picnik [1700 S. Lamar 400-B] is a place I discovered while at Paleo f(x) this year. Devoted to serving gluten-free and Paleo-friendly meals, snacks and coffee drinks, Picnik is set up much like a food cart but is instead stationary, built into a refurbished freight trailer. There you’ll find the only Bulletproof-esque coffee in town, and other drinks with creative twists sure to satisfy the primal palate and promote ketosis. Our friend Heather sent us to The Buzz Mill [1505 Town Creek Dr] to check out the themed interior and the handmade bar. The coffee was pretty good, but the attention to detail was incredible in this woodsy, lumberjack-inspired space. Not just a coffee bar, The Buzz Mill also hosts flapjack brunches on Saturday, live music in their courtyard on the weekends, and specialty infused-liquor cocktails at night.

It is incredibly easy to stay Paleo on a trip to Austin. Most restaurants are committed to sourcing local ingredients, and using pastured or grass-fed meats — and they’ll tell you, right on the menu. As with any dining out experience, you as the customer have the freedom to customize your order, but at least in Austin you can add nitrate-free bacon to your frittata without getting the evil eye from your server. At the very least, Whole Foods offers Paleo-friendly snacks (EPIC bars, dried fruit or nuts from the bulk bins, fresh fruit or veggies, sliced meat from the deli counter) and a hot breakfast bar with eggs prepared every way, should you not find a satisfactory meal in the area.

But don’t be afraid to branch out a little and try things that would normally be off your Paleo radar. Vegan restaurants, for example, can be excellent places to pick up a snack — their commitment to dairy-free often bleeds into a commitment to gluten-free, like at ThaiFresh on Mary Street, where you can find gluten-free treats and homemade coconut ice cream at the coffee bar. Incredibly, restaurants of all kinds are providing gluten-free options for customers, often going so far as to provide an entirely gluten-free menu. Always ask, and never be afraid to ask for what you want, but do so with kindness and humility.

the buzz mill

We didn’t get out to too many bars, so if you’re looking for a cheater’s guide to Sixth Street, you won’t find it here. We did love Easy Tiger [709 E 6th St] , Star Bar [600 W. 6th St], Craft Pride [61 Rainey St], and I’ve heard that Crow Bar on Congress and Gibson Bar on Lamar are also noteworthy.

For shopping in Austin, it is key to stay authentic. Keep away from the big stores and hit up the many well-curated vintage stores, like Feathers [1700 S. Congress Ave], Laced with Romance [1601 S. 1st St]. The Whole Foods Market HQ on Sixth and Lamar is a must-see, as is the tiny, quirky South Congress Book Shop.

Lodging in Austin can be conventional or out-of-the-box. I recommend you research your options and find what’s best for your situation, but if at all possible try to stay at an Air B&B to glean all of the knowledge of a local host. If staying in someone’s spare bedroom weirds you out, try the Hotel San Jose on South Congress. It is a quirky, boutique located right in the middle of all of the action, and will afford an authentic Austin experience (but with a hefty price tag).

There’s plenty to do in Austin without planning an itinerary — heck, most times we’re just content to sit on a patio and people watch with a drink in hand! But for those long afternoons that call for a little something more, I encourage you to visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum and the Blanton Museum of Art on the edge of the University of Texas campus. The History Museum is small but packed with information, and the impressive Blanton hosts artists from Picasso to local state crafters and everyone in between. On a nice day, take a run or a walk around the Lake Travis trails or have a picnic at Zilker Park. With all that beautiful public space, it’d be a shame to let it go to waste.

But most of all, Austin is a great place to wander, without many plans or places to be, free to stop at any interesting thing along the way. It is generally a safe place in which to walk around, even at night, and the people there are friendly and willing to help out with directions if necessary.

It is, however, a super-stylish town. When you visit, wear comfortable, sturdy walking shoes, but make sure you leave the fannypack and visor at home. Locals can sniff out a tourist a mile away, and if you can blend in with some tattoos and cool hipster duds, all the better for you. Take heart that you can also wear your cowboy boots here and still feel at home.

Please add your favorite Austin spots in the comments if you have any, or feel free to ask questions. I’d love to hear your recommendations for this and future trips, for current and future travelers.

a book review + watercress pluot salad with lime-nutmeg vinaigrette

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In one of my recent weekly visits to the blog Gluten Free Girl and the Chef I stumbled across an excellent review of a new book, Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. Shauna writes about Robinson’s dedication, research and passion for both wild plants and modern cultivars, and discusses the connection between plants of the past and our diets of the present. That was enough to pique my interest, and as soon as I could get to the library I picked up my own copy.

Early into the first chapter I knew this was going to be a great read. I started keeping a pen and a notebook with me while I read it to jot down interesting tidbits about vegetable varieties and how to make them more nutritious. With recipes, historical anecdotes (with one involving the nuclear bomb tests on Bikini Atoll, no less!), gardening advice and shopping tips, Robinson combines all of her knowledge, in a pleasant way, her gentle voice shining through the academic citations.

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Robinson breaks the book down into two parts – fruits and vegetables – and from there divides the categories into chapters for individual varieties. There is a chapter devoted to lettuces, to berries, to apples, to corn. She describes to history of each plant, tracing the modern lineage back to its ancient ancestor, and details how the varieties have developed through science or by accident.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how Robinson ensures the reader comes away with an appreciation for a plant’s nutrition – it’s not all about color and flavor, although these usually play a key role in tapping into the nutrients. From this she offers ingenious ideas on ensuring we as consumers can choose the most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, and then learn how to enhance those nutrients through cooking and storage techniques.

The tip I’ve been remembering the most has to do with garlic. Studies crop up like weeds about the anti-cancer properties of garlic nowadays, and traditional remedies recommend choking down pungent concoctions with the stuff to stave off colds and the flu. Robinson reveals, however, that the disease-fighting properties of garlic are not so easily accessed as to swallow a clove whole. There are two enzymes contained in a clove of garlic, and it is only after the whole garlic has been processed somehow – by chopping, pressing, smashing – that the two enzymes can combine to create the cancer-fighting enzyme that is so often lauded in scientific studies. It is important, as Robinson reveals, to process the garlic and let it rest for 10 minutes to activate the production of the helpful and healthful enzyme before cooking. Through this, and only through this, will you extract the most nutrition and the most disease-fighting properties from your common garlic clove.

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This is just one of many amazing kitchen-nutrition tips that Robinson offers, like the fact that cooking beets with the skins on retains more of the nutrients, or cooking and then chilling potatoes overnight before serving reduces the glycemic load of the starchy tuber. Fascinating!

I kept a running list of interesting varieties of fruits and vegetables to plant in my someday garden, thanks to Robinson’s recommendations at the end of each chapter. From Carolina Ruby Sweet Potatoes to Brigadier broccoli, to Tuscan Kale and Hawaiian Currant Tomatoes, to French Gray Shallots and Merlot lettuce, to Spanish Roja Garlic and Detroit Dark Red Beets, I am inspired to reap the benefits of nutrition and flavor in my own plot of land someday.

Eating on the Wild Side also inspired me to try some new produce at the grocery store. Instead of my typical kale and spinach, I purchased two bundles of delicate watercress. Instead of apples or berries, I chose a handful of translucent-skinned pluots. With a homemade vinaigrette and some gently toasted pistachios, all I needed was that new and vibrant produce to create a new salad. I made this twice I liked it so much – something about the bitter greens, the sweet fruit, the crunch of the nuts and the acidic spice of the vinaigrette combined perfectly.

Truly, as Robinson writes, when the fruits and vegetables are fresh and nutritious, they need but a little dressing up to turn them into a good meal.

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Watercress Salad with Pluots, Toasted Pistachios and Lime-Nutmeg Vinaigrette

1 bunch fresh watercress, washed and trimmed

2 pluots

1 c. raw pistachios

1 lime, juiced

1/4 c. olive oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. sea salt

Arrange the washed and trimmed watercress in a large salad bowl, Slice and pit the pluots and arrange on the greens. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and toast pistachios with a pinch of sea salt and a splash of olive oil until fragrant, about 5 minutes, before sprinkling over salad.

Meanwhile, whisk together the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a bowl or in a food processor. Combine the lime juice with the olive oil, salt and nutmeg, and briskly stir in the egg yolk until the dressing emulsifies. Drizzle over salad and serve immediately.

The salad does not keep well dressed — if you are making this ahead of time or in a large batch, dress only what you’ll be eating immediately, and store the greens, fruit, nuts and vinaigrette in separate containers in the refrigerator to keep everything crisp.

tip for moving #5

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If you’re a closet food hoarder like I am, you should probably start paying attention to what’s in your pantry right about now. If you’re moving in less that three weeks, you should probably start cleaning out your pantry. Starting yesterday.

I grew up in the country, several miles outside of the town in which I went to school and at least half an hour any direction from the nearest large grocery store. We had to drive 30 minutes one way to get to Walmart, 40 minutes another way to reach Hart’s or Price Cutter or Harter Haus, and if we needed bulk or specialty items — well, that was an hour and a half, at least.

Understandably, I learned to hoard pantry items. When it’s a Saturday afternoon and you need homemade chocolate chip cookies but have no butter or chocolate chips, there is no change-out-of-sweatpants-and-drive-to-the-store spontaneity because that would take at least an hour, and then where are those cookies? So, we stockpiled. (Interestingly enough, this is also how I learned to experiment and substitute so freely in the kitchen. My creative mother was judicious in her cooking experiments — I learned from the best.)

Fast-forward ten years and I’m within walking distance of the farmers market and just a short drive from the commissary or my favorite grocery store. I don’t have to stockpile because I can easily pick up some canned tomatoes or a rasher of bacon any afternoon I might need it, no long-term planning required. And yet.

I hoard canned tomatoes in my pantry and rashers of bacon in my freezer. I have little tins of hatch peppers and bulk jars of jasmine rice and gluten-free oats and a couple bags of seaweed and canned tuna and olives and coconut milk and all sorts of things stored away, like a little chipmunk saving up for winter hibernation. Which is all well and good was I living with said stocked pantry for another couple of months, which I am not. Take it from me, friends — it is better to start cleaning out early and buy what you need later in the proper amount than to be saddled with too many jars and cans.

To begin, make a list of all of the dry goods and frozen items you have. Take stock of the perishables in the refrigerator and, with list in hand, start brainstorming meal-planning ideas. You’ll save money, get creative in the kitchen, and prevent wastefulness.

Got a half a bag of frozen peas just hanging out? Throw those bad boys into a pot of soup. What do two boxes of crushed tomatoes, a can of pumpkin puree and a jar of broth have in common? They are an excellent base for chili. Coconut milk added to ground meat and veggies and a dash of curry powder makes for an easy ethnic meal. Green tomato relish add pizzaz to daily scrambled eggs, and don’t forget those olives! You should probably just eat those as a snack, plucked from the jar with your fingers.

My pantry/freezer inventory includes:

bulk gluten-free oats, steel-cut oats, buckwheat groats

jasmine rice

sugar

tapioca starch

dried shiitake mushrooms

onion jam

balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar

green tomato salsa

dried seaweed

carob powder, cacao powder

flaxseeds

frozen Ezekiel bread, coconut granola

tahini, Siracha, homemade mayo and all the condiments ever

aged parmesan

frozen vegetables + fruit

canned crushed tomatoes

coconut milk

2 tins hatch peppers

Castelvetrano olives

salmon filets, ground lamb, ground turkey

1 rasher of bacon

frozen homemade waffles

And I know this sounds like an absolute mess of items — one of these things is not like the other — but it is actually quite easy to meal-plan from my kitchen. Some ideas include:

turkey chili with canned tomatoes, hatch peppers, frozen green peppers

lamb coconut curry with frozen bell peppers, peas, broccoli

seared salmon with garlicky aioli (homemade mayo)

fruit smoothies with frozen mango, blueberries, coconut milk

chicken thighs with shiitake mushrooms + fish sauce

brinner: eggs, bacon, waffles

Thankfully, we have neighbors on either side who will gladly profit from any incomplete meal-planning. Those random jars of oatmeal and the half-open jars of hot sauce and the uneaten chocolate ice cream and the orphan frozen pizza will all get new homes. They won’t be wasted, and at least I can say I tried.

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1.5 lbs. ground turkey

two 4 oz. tins of Hatch peppers

5 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 c. broth

28 oz. can of fire roasted crushed tomatoes

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ancho chili powder

2 tsp. sea salt

fresh black pepper

dash of cayenne

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 tsp. fish sauce

1 c. chopped green bell pepper

2 pints Sungold tomatoes

In a large, oven-proof, heavy bottomed pot with a lid, brown the turkey. While the meat is cooking, smash and peel garlic and set aside. Season the turkey with salt, pepper and spice, and continue to brown until cooked through. Stir in the canned peppers, fish sauce and tomatoes, and bring to a vigorous simmer. Mince the garlic and add to the chili, along with the broth, bell peppers and whole Sungold tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. After the chili has reached a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and transfer the chili to the oven to braise for an hour and a half. Stir occasionally. After the time has elapsed, increase the heat to 350 degrees and allow the chili to reduce uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes.

baklava ice cream pie

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This is not a typical Monday morning recipe. This is not a typical October recipe (no pumpkin — sorry folks!). This really isn’t a “typical” anything, but I like it and I’m feeling celebratory, so here goes.

Last week was one hell of a week. I’m currently recovering from some hybrid cold thing, brought on by lack of sleep and traveling and a couple gluten bombs that threw my immune system out of whack, but so many wonderful things happened that I have to do what I normally don’t do: a diary-esque, recap post. Welcome to a little peek into my life!

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On Monday we had our first round of movers come. I wasn’t sure when exactly they were going to arrive, so I spent all day on alert, doing last-minute packing and waiting for that big truck to pull into my driveway. Eventually two nice guys started packing up a third of our belongings and I mainly tried to stay out of their way as they assembled boxes, wrapped dishes, and hauled bikes and vacuum cleaners out the front door. We later heard that our shipment weighed 888 lbs. WHOA.

After the movers left, Andrew and I cleaned up and went over to our friends’ house for an extraordinary dinner and a screening of the series finale of Breaking Bad. Grace and Tom have been wonderful friends to host us every week for the last season of our favorite show — together, we’d all hunker down in the living room with snacks and drinks and collectively gasp at Walter White’s latest schemes. This time was a little more special, as it was not only the last episode ever but also our last day to spend with our friends. They were leaving the next day to move to Alaska, and so we combined all sorts of endings and goodbyes into one evening, complete with a 12-boy chicken curry dinner that was out of this world. A bittersweet night.

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On Tuesday morning I packed a little bag and drove my Honda Civic to Dallas, where I met my parents for lunch. They had agreed to bring their truck to the city to haul a few Ikea items I wanted to purchase, plus drive me back home after I left my car at the shipping facility. We are one month out from our Hawaiian move, and we want our car to arrive about the same time that we do. Interestingly enough, they put the vehicles on a semi, drive it to LA, and then scoot the cars across the ocean to a port in Honolulu. Wicked.

Lunch with my parents was wonderful. I hadn’t seen them for a couple of months, and as always it was a blast spending time with them and catching up in person. We navigated Ikea for the perfect bed frame and a new bookshelf, then lugged the boxes back to the suburbs to our cousins’ house for dinner and beer and conversation and a good night’s rest.

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We were up early the next morning. I needed to vacuum out the interior of my car, wipe down the surfaces and give it a good scrub on the outside before I dropped it off at the shipment center. In addition to having miles and miles of paperwork, your car has to be empty, pristine, and with no more than a quarter tank of gas. I was a little stress ball all the way up until they took my keys, nervous that I was missing something or that I had left a crucial piece of the puzzle back at home, four hours away.

Thankfully, everything went off without a hitch and — bonus! — I even saw our friends Grace and Tom as they were dropping off their car to get shipped, mere hours before they flew out to the Great White North! It was so sweet to get to hug them one last time.

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From there the Robertson clan loaded up into the truck and began our trek back to my house, making only one pit stop at World Market for some goodies — chocolate, a couple make-your-own six-packs, and some perfect floor cushions. The drive was long and flat and boring, and my dad was a trooper to drive us the whole way. We made it back in the early evening, got everyone’s stuff unloaded, and commenced dinner plans.

Instead of staying in our small, partially disassembled home, my parents found a little condo to rent for the duration of their stay — it was definitely the MVP of the trip. With a couple extra bedrooms, comfy couches and ESPN2, a kitchen and a grill, we spent most of our time relaxing there. On Wednesday night we grilled steaks and watched a movie, and on their last night there we had our own little tailgate party to watch the Razorbacks play Florida State over a meal of homemade pork ribs.

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On Thursday, my parents and I bopped around town while Andrew was at work, visiting some little shops, the local water lily garden and running a few errands. Eventually my mom and I dropped my dad back off at the house so we could go for mani/pedis — what a treat! When we returned, my sleepy dad was in the same place we had left him, watching Despicable Me on television. That’s when you know you’re on a vacation!

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On Friday I dropped Andrew off at work early in the morning and headed straight to a friend’s apartment to meet their movers. Said friend had to move to his next assignment before he could get his packers schedules, and so I was filling in for him to supervise, sign papers, and generally get in the movers’ way while they did their jobs. It was a long day, to say the least, and at the end I was wiped. But I had some incredible events to look forward to — that evening Andrew and I took my parents out to our favorite (and the nicest, by far) restaurant in town for a four-course meal and a bottle of wine. From the amuse bouche right down the decadent desserts, we enjoyed gourmet food and great conversation, basically like we always do but in a fancy setting. Afterwards we went out to see a late movie, and decided on GRAVITY, shown in 3D. It was intense. This movie is less of an action flick and more of a psychological thriller, with little dialogue but amazing special effects. Sandra Bullock shone in her role as the survivor struggling to hold on to hope, and through it all the audience was privy to staggering views of Earth from space. I recommend it.

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Saturday morning was brunch by me — we had cherry-tarragon sausages, scrambled eggs, chocolate zucchini bread, coffee and OJ — followed by a field trip out to the Eola Schoolhouse Restaurant & Brewery.   This is one of those quirky places that we like to take all of our friends, and my parents in particular were no exception. They loved it. We sampled craft beers and greasy onion rings, listened to a couple of old guys play Merle Haggard songs on the guitar, and took in the vast expanse of farmland plains around us.

We got home in time to put in a batch of pork ribs and settle down for the pre-game show. While we waited for the game to start, my mom and I took a field trip to Ulta for new mascara and to Sam’s Club for a temporary military membership for me. Did you know that Sam’s Club is offering free membership to military members during the government shutdown? It’s a wonderful gift they’re offering while most commissaries are closed to ensure service members and their families have access to quality groceries at good prices. I for one am thankful for it. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks put up a good fight in the first half, but the last half was disappointing. I don’t want to talk about it.

So I had an amazing, exhausting, stressful, relaxing, full and precious week.

What have you been up to lately? If you haven’t already, I suggest you celebrate the big and the little things with some pie or some ice cream or — better yet — an ice cream pie. Yeah, sure, maybe it’s starting to get cool around your parts, and the leaves are turning and the days are getting shorter, and you might say that this isn’t an appropriate time for ice cream. To which I would reply: It is always an appropriate time for ice cream.

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Baklava Ice Cream Pie

Crust:

1 c. medjool dates, chopped

½ c. raw pistachios

3 Tbsp. olive oil

½ c. chopped assorted nuts (I used Nutcase Crunch)

¼ tsp. sea salt

Remove pits from 10-12 dates and pulse into a fine paste in a food processor, adding a little olive oil to keep things moist. Combine with nuts, salt and remaining olive oil in food processor and blend until uniform. Press the mixture into a pie pan greased with olive oil, and reserve in the freezer until ice cream is finished.

Ice cream:

50 oz. (4 cans) coconut milk

3 Tbsp. grass-fed gelatin

6 eggs, divided

1 c. honey

2 tsp. orange blossom water

2 Tbsp. amaretto

1 c. raw cashews

8 oz. water

In a saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, egg yolks, gelatin, honey and bring to a low boil, stirring continuously. Remove from heat to cool. Meanwhile, whip egg whites to stiff peaks, adding orange blossom water. Fold gently into custard mixture and remove to fridge to cool, overnight if possible.

Soak cashews in water for at least 30 minutes before blending in a high-speed blender with the cooled custard mixture. Add the amaretto before pouring into ice cream maker. (I used some of the tips Zenbelly offered in her recent post on making dairy-free gelato. Genius!)

Once ice cream has thickened, spread a layer evenly into the prepared crust and reserve to the freezer to harden. Drizzle with honey and toasted pistachios before serving.

herbed [activated] almonds

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Water, a dash of salt, a pound of raw almonds, twenty-four hours. This simple equation is all is takes to transform something ordinary into something incredibly delicious and nourishing. By harnessing — and in this case, by encouraging — the force of nature upon a little seed, we unlock vast potential, almost as if a door has been opened and a flood of energy unleashed. Sound a little trippy? Embrace your inner hippie and come along on a biochemical nutritional geekery magic carpet ride with me.

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Almonds, on their own, seem like a healthy snack. In their raw form they are free of roasting oils and seasonings that would never be found in nature — BBQ or wasabi almonds, anyone? — and seem to be the best choice, as any wellness magazine would tell you. But in reality, almonds contain a host of warriors that fight against digestion and mineral absorption when consumed raw, and can cause more harm to the body than good.

I first learned about the chemical makeup of almonds (and most other nuts and seeds) from the nutritional tome Nourishing Traditionsif you haven’t picked up a copy for yourself, I suggest that you do. I learned about the anti-nutrient contained in nuts and seeds that exist to protect the reproductive potential of the plant. Phytatic acid is what prevents much of the digestion of almonds and hinders the absorption of minerals in the body, often encouraging digestive upset, mineral deficiencies and a whole host of other problems, potentially leading to leaky gut and autoimmune disorders.

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Take a difference perspective: if you were a plant, you would want to protect your DNA-containing embryo that would help your species propogate. It’s the same reason why fowl protect their eggs and wheat kernels are so difficult to digest without some form of processing. The organism needs those seeds to survive in order for the organism’s lineage to survive.

It doesn’t only happen with wheat and almonds — when birds eat berries they are able to fully digest the fruit, but the seed of the blackberry or blueberry they just consumed passes whole through their digestive system and is spread across the country through their waste. This is one of the ingenious mechanisms of biochemistry that allows plants and animals to work together, synergistically.

So if we take into account the anti-nutrients contained in almonds and why those anti-nutrients exist, should we even eat almonds and other nuts in the first place? Yes, I contend, but in small doses, and with proper preparation.

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There is a process — called soaking, sprouting or “activating” — that helps to neutralize the harmful phytic acid and make the minerals within an almond more bio-available (meaning, our bodies can absorb them better). By soaking nuts overnight in clean water with a pinch of salt, we activate the almond’s growing response and thereby “turn off” the production of harmful phytic acid. Think of it this way: the almond has been on the defensive, trying to protect itself and its genetic material for the future. But now, under the right circumstances, it is being encouraged to grow, to start a sprout, and to eventually produce more almonds. In this “safe place,” it no longer needs phytic acid to protect itself, but now can use all of its resources — resources that are nutritious to the human body — to propagate.

This is certainly more time-intensive than eating raw almonds straight out of a package, but it is worth it in the long run to reap the health benefits and negate the detriments of phytic acid on the body. Plus, by soaking/sprouting/activating the almonds, you open up a whole new flavor profile and an opportunity to customize. With my typical recipe, I soak and dehydrate almonds without the addition of spices, but this time I created an autumn-inspired mix with sea salt, dried rosemary, and a little extra time in the oven to promote a roasted, toasted flavor.

Look at this as one big science experiment and have fun with it — that’s half the reason why we get into the kitchen in the first place, to tinker and to play.

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Salted Rosemary [Activated] Almonds

1 lb. raw almonds

2 quarts water

dash of sea salt (or an acidic medium like apple cider vinegar)

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sea salt

1-2 Tbsp. dried rosemary

Soak the raw almonds overnight in fresh water with a dash of salt or apple cider vinegar. This helps to begin the sprouting (or “activating”) process that removes many of the phytates and other anti-nutrients contained in the nut which prevent digestion and adequate mineral absorption.

After soaking, drain and rinse the raw almonds, shaking as much water off as possible. In a large bowl, toss the almonds with olive oil, salt and dried rosemary to coat. Spread on a lined baking sheet and leave in the oven for at least 12 hours at 170 degrees — the almonds are adequately dehydrated when they are crunchy and have a slightly sweet, toasted flavor.

Try other flavors and combinations:

smoked paprika + cayenne + garlic salt

pumpkin pie spice + maple syrup

cumin + chili powder + lime zest

oregano + tomato paste + olive oil + sea salt

honey + sea salt + sesame seeds

ginger + turmeric + honey

garam masala + sea salt