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.

SONY DSCBraised “Everything-In-The-Pantry” Turkey Chili

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.

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an anniversary dinner

SONY DSCYesterday was the first anniversary of our wedding.

With our first, I hadn’t a clue what to expect. But as with most every occasion I went with my default — food.

At the store I bought an expensive load of groceries, much fancier than our usual fare. White hydrangeas and a couple bottles of wine, a flat of raspberries like wee garnets, three pounds of sirloin. When I brought them home and unloaded it all I proceeded to exercise the love language I know how to best express.

First things first: the beginning stages of Julia Child’s classic boeuf bourguignon. Dicing beef, frying bacon, browning batches of the meat, four minutes in the oven, stirring, four minutes in the oven, then pouring with reckless abandon from a bottle of red wine (“young and fullbodied”). In goes a faggot of savory herbs, some crushed garlic cloves, tomato paste and homemade beef broth, to be sealed with the meat and wine in a hot oven at a moderate temperature, emerging three hours later full of steam and juices and rich aromas.

Then wrapping tiny smoked oysters in strips of bacon, to slowly crisp up alongside the boeuf for our appetizer course, and clipping away the spiny leaves of the artichokes I picked up on a whim.

Whipping plumes of powdered sugar and vanilla into coconut cream, caramelizing pearl onions and shiitake mushrooms, arranging a cheese course with sliced radishes, pouring champagne. All steam and heat and crumbs akimbo, my apron over my dress and a scarf keeping my hair back from my face.

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I like to do this dance alone in the kitchen, where I’m free to time the next act in accordance to the thousand little measurements taken with a taste here, a skillet toss there.

In the end I am the master of the symphony, solely responsible for the failure or the success of my creation. My favorite solitary task means little if it can’t be shared. And so at the end of my conducting, all there was in the kitchen was a plate of stew, low candles, the hydrangeas I’d bought and the yellow daisies he gave me, a crust of bread, a satisfied sigh.

All the work is nothing without that sigh. If what I create doesn’t satisfy hunger it is meaningless — not just a physical emptiness to be quenched with something to chew, but a deeper hunger of connection, of warmth, of love in the tangible form of something delicious.

My wish for my marriage is simple: May we always be hungry, and always be able to feed each other well, wholesomely.

Artichokes with Herbed “Aioli”

2 whole fresh artichokes

peppercorns, a bay leaf, a whole garlic clove

2 Tbsp. mustard

1 Tbsp. grassfed ghee (clarified butter)

1 tsp. coarse sea salt, fresh black pepper

1 Tbsp. champagne vinegar

generous handfuls of whatever fresh herbs available

extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine the mustard, ghee, seasonings, vinegar and herbs into a smooth paste. Any herbs would be excellent here, but I used a few fistfuls of flat-leafed parsley, thyme, French tarragon (my favorite!), and some little leaves plucked from my baby basil plant. Whizz this all together and drizzle in olive oil until smooth and emulsified.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, boil enough water to cover artichokes. Rinse artichokes under running water to dislodge any dirt from the leaves, taking care to avoid the spiny edges. Chop off the stem and about a third of the top of the artichoke, and with kitchen scissors clip the sharp leaves away.

When water is boiling, submerge artichokes, bay leaf, garlic, peppercorns and a little salt, bring back to a rolling bubble, then cover and simmer for 30 minutes, until artichoke leaves are tender. Drain and cool, and serve with herbed sauce for dipping.

Relish the juices running down your arm and the visceral nature of tearing at the leaves with your teeth. You can be civilized when the next course arrives.

sun-dried tomato sauce

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SONY DSCI was craving something savory and a little more pungent than our usual slow-simmered red wine tomato sauce. This thick sauce made from sun-dried tomatoes seemed to have extra flavor — it must be something about the power of the sun. Harnessed to dry the Roma tomatoes, the tomato flavor is concentrated, so sweet and acidic at the same time, all packed into these little wrinkly red slivers of summer.

The flavor of the sauce is strong, so timid tomato lovers beware. Best pared with more savory items, like meatballs and aged Parmesan, this sauce is just enough to punch up your typical spaghetti night without straying too far from the original. I made a batch of simple chicken meatballs with dried basil and roasted a spaghetti squash to accompany the sauce, and I’m hoping to get in some more use from the sauce with a roasted vegetable soup or even a sausage-and-egg casserole bake. With something as classic as a tomato sauce, there are many ways to, like the sun, harness its power to your own benefit.SONY DSC

Sun-dried Tomato Sauce

3.5 oz. dry-packed sundried tomatoes

2 c. hot water

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

2-3 Tbsp. dried basil

5 roasted garlic cloves

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

s + p

dash of fish sauce

Soak the tomatoes in the hot water until soft, about 20-30 minutes. Dump the whole thing into a food processor or a high-speed mixer and pulse until combined. Add spices, fish sauce and vinegar, pulse to combine. On a low setting, gradually drizzle in olive oil until the sauce is emulsified.

Eat cold as a dip or spread, or simmer over low heat and pour over spaghetti squash and meatballs.

try this

59747568699311e2b28822000a9f1468_7I made Melissa’s Silky Gingered Zucchini Soup last week and I think you should too. It’s simple, nutritious and dee-licious. I made adjustments to the recipe when I subbed garlic powder for garlic cloves, and used a can of full-fat coconut milk in place of the chicken broth, and I daresay the addition of the coconut milk made this soup even silkier than the original. Mel  says she eats this for breakfast. It’s so good, I would too.

What do you think about eating “unconventional” foods at the start of the day?

chocolate coconut butter cups

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I’m almost loathe to thank the various bloggers that pointed me in the direction of these cups. They are delicious, and the perfect size for a little snack. But they’re so healthy — I mean, coconut oil? Dutch process cocoa powder? Raw organic honey?? — that it’s hard to justify eating only one, meaning that it’s too easy to justify eating them all. Nonetheless, thanks to Alison at Mama’s Weeds for turning me onto these homemade chocolate cups by Lisa at Thrive-Style. There you’ll find a zillion variations on the homemade peanut butter cup, including ones made with sunbutter, added coconut and other goodies.

I made my first batch with almond butter and they were scrumptious — also they were gone in two days. Whoops. I decided to try a non-nutty variation on the theme, using homemade coconut butter as my base, mixed with a little more coconut oil and vanilla extract, and topped with some raw coconut oil “chocolate.” I sweetened my first batch of almond butter cups with maple syrup, and I tried a couple tablespoons of raw unfiltered honey with the coconut butter batch — the sweetener you use all depends on your taste, as I’ve seen these made with stevia and xylitol and everything in between.

You may be thinking something along the lines of: why is eating oil healthy for me? Why should I be ingesting FAT?

Certain types of fats are really, really good for us. Coconut oil in particular is a form of saturated fat, which all comes down to how the lipids are arranged in the oil’s chemical composition. Saturated fats, when safely and correctly derived from natural sources, provide the nourishment our bodies need to feed our brains, keep our cells intact, and moisturize from within. Additionally, coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid, which has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that help fight infections, clear up skin, and generally improve our health. For more information on what a ballin’ superfood coconut oil is, check out the research and peer-reviewed papers on this website. And, according to Dr. Mary Enig, an expert on lipids and a pioneer of lipid research, eating fats like coconut oil can actually help you lose fat.

I like these little coconutty-chocolate bites in the afternoon, as a little dessert treat after lunch. They’re also a great pre-workout snack, as the coconut oil provides a source of sustained energy for physical activity without weighing your stomach down with carbs or sugar. Plus, I think they’re pretty cute, and I imagine I’ll be making some of these for Valentine’s day in little heart-shaped molds.

Speaking of Valentine’s day, I’m beginning to understand that I love this holiday more than I ever thought I did. It’s not because I get to express my love for my husband, my family, etc. — I get to do that every day. It’s not because of the chocolate or the roses because, to be honest, that doesn’t really happen on my version of Valentine’s day. I think it has to do with all of the fun heart-shaped things and the red and pink and the option to make your own cards. I’m getting really into heart-shaped things lately, and I’m looking forward to letting the obsession loose come February 14th. Who’s with me?

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Chocolate Coconut Butter Cups

homemade coconut butter

6+ Tbsp. coconut oil

4 heaping Tbsp. cocoa powder

2 Tbsp. raw honey

splash of vanilla extract

small candy papers, like those you’d find with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

To make coconut butter, simply grind the heck out of shredded unsweetened coconut flakes in a food processor until smooth and creamy. For the candy cups, combine about 4 Tbsp. coconut butter with 2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil and mix until combined. Stir in 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract. Spoon out a dollop into the bottom of each paper wrapper and place in the freezer until hardened.

Meanwhile, melt an additional 6 Tbsp. coconut oil and stir in 4 heaping Tbsp. Dutch process cocoa powder (I used Droste’s brand). Mix in 2 Tbsp. honey or sweetener of your choice, to taste, and another little splash of vanilla extract. Spoon into paper wrappers over the hardened coconut butter layer, top with cocoa nibs/coconut/hemp seeds/sprinkles as desired, and put them back into the freezer until hardened. I find it works best to use a small tray or a flat plate to keep the candies from sliding all over the place. These harden quickly in the freezer as coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, but because of that fact it is also best to store them in the fridge or freezer after the initial hardening.

Thanks to Thrive-Style for the inspiration!

take what you need

whole 30 recap

Although my Whole30 challenge only lasted 18 days, I compacted a lot of discovery into that small amount of time and at the end of it I felt a little sad to see it go. One of the biggest questions I asked during the process was “who am I doing this for?” I hoped to always be able to respond honestly that it was for myself, and only for myself, but that wasn’t always the case. As my resolve drifted away last weekend, I was a bit reluctant to release my hold on the clear structure that the Whole30 had afforded my life. So reluctant, in fact, that I decided I needed to check my motives and my sense of self-worth, and perhaps try again when I was ready to do this for myself and only for myself. Not to please others. Not to prove anything. Not to look like a champion or a martyr.

Along the way, however, I learned a great deal.

First, I discovered that discipline — such as the discipline required not to eat all of the Christmas candy in the bowl on the counter on Whole30/Day 1 — is practical across the board. Meaning, the discipline I was exercising in restricting my diet inevitably increased, and I was able to apply it to greater discipline in getting work done, implementing good habits, increasing my productivity and my emotional responsibility. I’m not saying that the Whole30 was the greatest thing that ever happened to my whole life because it was hard. And, as Andrew can probably attest, I was not nice about some things. (For example, opening a bottle of wine for him. When I couldn’t have any. Wine aromas are pungent.) But overall I can say I am leaving my Whole30 experience with greater discipline to apply to other areas of my life.

Second, I had the mini-epiphany that really wanting to see results requires absolute commitment. Again, this applies to nearly everything, not just a diet/exercise plan. In a marriage, if the couple really wants to fix a communication problem, they must totally commit to the relationship. If a family wants to save up for something, they must commit to giving a certain amount of money to a savings account, even if that means going without other luxuries for a time. In the same way, as I was hoping to see a marked difference in my body composition, skin clarity, energy levels and quality of sleep, I was trying to commit fully to the project to reap the most results. In previous efforts — whether they were toward the end result of running endurance or thinking before speaking — I inevitably sabotaged my own resolution by allowing a slip-up here or a cheat there, all the while thinking I could “handle” it while still making a positive change. I would knowingly compromise my own success. But now, in reflecting on those 18 days, I understand the level of commitment required for such an undertaking. I’m hoping to try again with renewed vigor and resolve — in everything I try to achieve, not just a little Whole30 challenge.

During the challenge I could see and feel results happening, and even now that head start is encouraging me, despite my Austin blow-out. My skin and body were on their way to optimal health and wellness, and I just had to (have to!) keep it up. I came to understand that my skin is the largest display of my total health — if we see a problem on our chin or forehead, it’s usually something internal. Our skin is our body’s way of telling us what’s going on before it becomes a greater inflammatory issue inside, which I think is very cool. I realized that sugar or grains aren’t worth any amount of indulgence when it really comes down to it, and even now I’m turning down fro-yo for hot tea after dinner to avoid that phlegmy, bloated feeling that inevitably comes from such a treat.

The Whole30 also helped me to pay more attention to my digestive system — another way the body communicates its health to us. I quickly realized that too much nut butter (raw almond butter, yum) is not kind to my tummy, and even though I was starving and ravenous it’s better for my mental and physical states to slowly savor a meal instead of scarfing it.

Here are some practical things that worked for me on the Whole30 plan:

1) Starting the day with coffee. Non-negotiable.

2) A breakfast combining fats and proteins and some veg-based carbs was always the most satisfying. Something like roasted butternut squash or sweet potato hash over greens with a fried egg, or leftover roast veggies with scrambled eggs and avocado.

3) Grapefruit. Always. Everywhere.

4) A cup of hot tea after lunch is a nice way to mark the end of the meal in the same way that it is a nice signal for the end of the day.

5) Fresh veggies were the best snacks. Roasted veggies were the best for everything else.

6) A salad with protein for lunch was my favorite, most reliable midday meal. I craved hefty, savory, meaty feasts for dinner, but lunch was always a little lighter and I felt lighter because of it.

7) Keeping “emergency protein” around was a great salvation for snacky-munchy afternoons or an ill-prepared-for dinner. I need to start keeping pre-made meatballs, hardboiled eggs, baked-off bacon and sausage, and salmon filets broiled in bulk on hand for such occasions. All you need then is a bowl of soup and lunch is ready.

What I missed the most with Whole30 protocol:

1) Green smoothies/juices — mostly because I was too lazy to make them. (They are “allowed.”)

2) Red wine and dark chocolate. No explanation needed here.

3) Bone broth — laziness again.

4) Apple cider vinegar tonic, like this one from Delighted Momma.

Now I’m equipped with a ton of knowledge that I didn’t have before the Whole30 — knowledge about how I function best and how this sort of thing works in real life. I also came to a fresh appreciation of my wonderful, supportive husband through 18 days of sometimes-grumpy food challenges. He was an incredible cheerleader and I’m grateful for him, as I always am.

So…now what?

Instead of a rigid Whole30, I’m going to still try and implement many of the guidelines in my weekly life, while also adding in a few things specific to my case. For example, I’ll be avoiding sugar a la Sarah Wilson — meaning, staying clear of most fruit and all sweets — except for the occasional spoonful of raw unfiltered honey. With antibacterial properties, a little of this does more good than harm. Specifically, I’ll be combining a teaspoon here and there with Bragg’s apple cider vinegar to boost my digestion and immunity, plus help clear up my skin. (I’ll also be implementing a few of Liz’s suggestions for natural skin remedies, including supplementing with brewer’s yeast and sauerkraut, plus a few vitamins and natural skin treatments.)

And when I’m feeling indulgent, a scoop of honey melted with some coconut oil and cocoa powder makes for a delicious alternative to chocolate. Okay, who am I kidding…there’s no substitute for chocolate. This concerns me not.

whole 30 recap II

A note on fruit-sourced sugar: I do eat fruit, only in moderation and seasonally. This means that right now I’m eating all of the Texas grapefruit I can get my hands on. I also reach for the occasional banana after a workout. Although not the most ethically sound fruit — and although very starchy and sugary — my body feels good when I eat a banana after strenuous exercise. I don’t know if it’s the potassium or the carbs, but it just feels right.

In conjunction with some of the the strict Whole30 guidelines, I’ll be avoiding any additives or preservatives in my food, whether in seasonings, condiments, canned goods or meats. Sulfites and parabens aren’t good for anyone, no matter who you are.

I use red wine and a little beer in my cooking sometimes, and so will continue to use those small amounts whenever a dish needs a flavor boost. I’ll save most drinking for the weekends, along with other indulgences. (Like these or this.)

Otherwise, I’ll keep eating what I love to eat and what I love to cook for my little family: roast chicken, mashed cauliflower and roasted asparagus, sweet potato hash with fried eggs, steaming mugs of bone broth, braised kale, roasted zucchini, melt-in-your-mouth pot roast, avocados and grapefruit upon grapefruit. One thing that the Whole30 took away from me was the freedom I felt in eating paleo before…I didn’t so much as experience a loss of freedom per se, but rather a loss of joy. So I’m hoping to reclaim that with a little less obsession on the diet-intensity front.

This Whole30 experience was great, but what I did was all I needed to do for now. I’m going to take what I need and tailor it to my life, a life that is different from everyone else’s but yet full and richly blessed. And as my friend Helen mentioned, it’s important to offer myself some grace — and, if I say so myself, a little bit of dark chocolate here and there.

our favorite brunch

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Brunch is my very favorite meal. I’ve always thought that I was a strictly breakfast girl, but now I’ve come to understand the beauty of brunch. Brunch is fancy. It is two meals in one. It’s usually eaten later in the morning, which would imply that it encourages sleeping in. I approve.

Andrew and I love to eat a fancy brunch out on the weekends. We’ve tried a couple of different places in town with mixed reviews, sometimes on a Sunday and sometimes on a Saturday. On the other day that we don’t go out for our mid-morning meal, we cook up a big feast at home…and lately, we’ve decided that we like our handiwork the best.

(And by “our” handiwork I totally mean “my” handiwork.)

Sweet potato hash is the best combination of everything brunch has to offer — it’s a little sweet, it’s a little savory, and there’s plenty to keep you full until the afternoon. And compared to the typical brunch fare of syrupy french toast and mimosas — don’t get me wrong, I’d be all over a mimosa if I had one — this is definitely a healthier, more satisfying choice.

This dish is a little time-consuming and thus perfect for the weekend, though there are a few shortcuts and preparations that can be done ahead of time to make the cooking process more expedient. Just roast a big batch of diced sweet potatoes ahead of time and use pre-cooked proteins like smoked sausage or some bacon you’ve baked off earlier in the week, and your cook time is already halved. Thanks to those shortcuts, this hash sometimes makes it into our weekly breakfast routine, although we prefer to savor it on a slow morning, over big cups of coffee with a nice record on in the background.

SONY DSCSweet Potato Skillet Hash

1 large sweet potato

2 Tbsp. coconut oil

4 large eggs

3 oz. sausage, diced (preferably Pederson’s Jalepeno Smoked Sausage)

greens, like kale, collards or spinach, if desired

s + p

Heat a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop to medium heat. Melt coconut oil and toss in diced sweet potatoes — either pre-roasted or raw — and cook until tender inside but with a crispy crust. Meanwhile, dice sausage and add to the pan to brown with the sweet potatoes. While this is cooking, preheat your oven, depending on the consistency to which you prefer your eggs cooked. If you like them cooked through, you’ll bake your hash at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. If you prefer your yolks to be runny, broil on low until the egg whites have set.

After sausage and sweet potatoes have cooked, crack four eggs over the whole thing. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in the oven for appropriate time at appropriate setting.

This is best served fresh from the oven, with the sweet potatoes and eggs forming a savory crust at the bottom of the pan, kept moist by the juices from the sausage and the hot, runny egg yolks. Andrew likes his with toast and jam, or a warmed sourdough english muffin. I like mine with some greens — either fresh or steam-sauteed, depending on the greens — and a half a grapefruit. This always pairs well with coffee, and usually with pajamas too.

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Some other brunch hash options, all topped with a fried egg, of course:

roasted zucchini + garlic + onions + spinach

roasted cherry tomatoes + eggplant + basil + proscuitto

roasted butternut squash + sage + sausage + kale

roasted beets + sweet potato + apple + bacon