In Defense of Teachers

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Not everybody knows I am a former teacher. I loved the students, the people I worked with, the relationships that last far beyond the classroom. But, I am thankful every day I am not teaching this year.

I opened Twitter this morning to check and see if an app I linked was functioning properly and was caught by a teacher tweet in my feed.

“I need to write this down so I don’t forget: if we are still in this mess at the beginning of the next school year…I’m taking a leave of absence and working at…Trader Joe’s or Target or wherever. I love teaching AND I love my mental health more.”

@scmaestra

It makes me sad and angry at the same time that so many of my friends, colleagues are leaving a profession they are passionate about because they feel devalued, attacked, in danger of infection, and generally bone-tired. I remember those feelings and that was before a pandemic. I have tried for years to figure out what it is about teaching that draws disrespect from the public that depends on educators to raise and enlighten the next generation. Many times teachers are treated like servants- pay is low, expectations are high, burnout is certain.

This photo was taken one of my first years teaching in Virginia. It is important to me. It stays on display in my office/library to remind me of the good things about teaching. So, I looked at it this morning and remembered all those students whose college essays I read and collaborated on, whose games, plays, and debates I attended to support them, whose worlds I had the privilege of being a part of, whose friendships I still have today. Teachers are people too, with dreams, responsibilities, families, student loans, car payments, child care issues, depression, loneliness, and stress just like the rest of us trying to navigate this upside down world we find ourselves in. I hoped back in March when everybody was praising teacher courage and resilience it would bring change in how we treat and value teachers. I hoped we would start recognizing the great burden society puts on them. Unfortunately, here we are.

I understand when friends reach out to let me know they are leaving the classroom. They have children to worry about, elderly parents to worry about, their own health to worry about. Just.Like.Us. We need teachers who are passionate about their mission, who do it because they love it, who know their responsibility to the next generation. But, I am scared many of those teachers will be leaving the profession, if they have not already.

To those sticking it out, adapting and finding ways to connect with their young charges, I see you. To those who elect to leave because the burden is too great, I see you as well. I know you are all the quiet heroes of many kids’ lives as you stock a fridge with snacks and food for those who have nothing to eat at home, or have a few dollars in your wallet to slip to the kid who can’t afford a ticket to the school play, or buy extra school supplies for those who can’t afford them, but don’t want the stigma of going to the school supply closet for the needy, or buying a couple extra copies of books so the kid who is scared at home has something to keep him company, or letting the boy in the back lay his head down for a few minutes because he works nights to help support his family. You are the caretakers and I see you.

Maybe one day the rest of the country will see you as well.

Freelance Writing: The Importance of Self-Care

For some reason I am always drawn to careers that inspire huge personal commitment, long hours, and pieces of my soul. Owning and operating a restaurant was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year labor of love. Teaching never stayed at school- it was nights, weekends, and vacations filled with inspiring the next generation. Professional Writing seems to be following that trend, but I have the unique opportunity to follow my dream decades after I put it away for careers that were more certain, and that is a great gift. I am grateful.

As I have been reading, teaching myself, and taking classes on the art of writing, pitching, querying, and organizing a successful freelance writing life, I have seen lots of posts about self-care. I just skim these usually, moving on to other items on my to-do list. But, this has been a huge week. I pitched nine articles, submitted two essays, and received five acceptances for some exciting bylines (eeekkk ;)). I also interviewed two sources, and did a ton of research. And, it is only Thursday.

So, when the kittens went down for their nap this afternoon, I decided I was going to take a few minutes for me. I can see why self-care is so talked about- I feel invigorated, cared for, and excited to keep traveling this writing journey.

  1. First up was a little meditation. I like the app Calm.

2. Next came some fresh nail polish. I love OPI, in fact it is all I buy- see what I did there 🙂

3. Then came the wine. I have been watching my consumption because you know, I may have been drinking a little too much since staying-at-home with my kittens and husband to talk to…Back to the wine, Orin Swift, always Orin Swift if I have a choice. They make UH-mazing wine that is a little pricey, but not outrageous. This is the their latest, and my current fave, 8 years in the desert, which ironically feels like this moment.

4. Now for the really good stuff…face masks! I never do these because they usually involve a lot of time with messy stuff on your face. But, my daughter introduced me to these little gems while she was home. Sheet masks are gold! I am staunch in my cruelty-free stance and The Body Shop has been my go-to since I was 13 years old and had my first editorial published in The Burlington Free Press. It was all about the cosmetic industry and testing on animals. When it came out, everybody sent me gift cards and baskets to our local Body Shop, and after trying their products, I was hooked.

5. To round out my interlude of self-care, chocolate was in order. If you know me, you know my love affair with everything chocolate. In fact, our last family dive trip to Grenada included a day at a chocolate estate- I picked cocoa pods, ground it with my feet, saw the processing, tasted an obscene amount, and bought an obscene amount. It was a great day. The place was Belmont Estates and a must-do if you are in Grenada- check out my post on it here.

That’s it. Just a little over an hour, but it was all about doing things for myself. As we weather this tragedy in our country, remember to take a few moments for yourself.

Check out my other posts about the Freelance Writing Life:

The Importance of Networking

Instant Byline Gratification

Tools for the Freelance Writer

Query Shark and Other Thoughts

Query Letter Examples and Advice

Beginner’s Guide to the Query Letter

Transitioning out of Teaching to Freelance Writing

Back at it at the Beach

IMG_4919

Update from my Pre-Covid 19 post about local hot spots.

Unfortunately, my favorite British pub is now permanently closed. Temperley’s owner has been stuck in London since right before all travel shut down while waiting on his visa. Knowing how difficult it is for a small business owner to stay afloat in normal operating conditions, I can only imagine how heart-breaking this has been for the Temperleys as their thriving business remained shuttered for the past few months with no foreseeable relief. I did read that he has a potential buyer so keeping fingers crossed the concept stays the same. I will miss going in there evenings and seeing Mr. and Mrs. Temperley cooking and pouring beers. They were a great addition to this community, and I fear they won’t be the last closure.

In a bit of good news, we finally found an amazing Indian restaurant, Holi Grill. They have remained open with curbside pickup all the way through, and the owner is often the one who cooks and brings your food to the door. His Instagram showcase not just the delicious food, but also cultural trivia. Glad to support this gem!


 

Landed back in PCB a few weeks ago and started the rounds of restaurants to check out all the new venues. So far, the scene is very promising! Below are a few, but lots more to come 🙂

Best Sushi imo Shan Kishi: (UPDATE They are still doing curbside pickup and so friendly!)

Just moved back and our first order of business was to go out for a sushi tasting night, we went to four establishments and Shan Kishi was by far the freshest, best variety and friendliest service. In fact it was so good when our kids came for the holidays, we took them all to dinner and they went two more times for lunch!

The fish is very fresh (we eat sashimi so basically just fish) and there were 3 pages of rolls. Granted some of the rolls seemed similar, but the Yankee, Ocean, spicy tuna and spicy salmon were delicious! Best deal is to order the trio of sashimi on entrees- 18 pieces of fish plus soup and salad for $25. The pieces ate enormous! If you go in solo or just a couple people, sit at the sushi bar, it is worth it. This is our go-to for all things sushi here in the panhandle.

Brunch with a View- Pescado:

Pescado hands down has the best seat in Rosemary Beach. Sunday brunch is open seating on the deck with an ala carte menu. We sat at the front rail and tables were roomy with a direct view to the ocean.

My husband ordered the Benedict with Tasso hollandaise. The eggs were perfectly poached, pork was tender and the Tasso ham added just the right spice. He also ordered a side of breakfast potatoes which were also delicious! They were sautéed with caramelized red onion and red pepper. Very tasty side! I indulged in the challah french toast with poached pear and Amaretto mascarpone. It was enormous and ridiculously decadent in a really good way! I also got a side of bacon. Take it from me, do not miss the bacon- thick cut, perfectly cooked and huge portion. All told we ordered too much. The portions are not small, but everything we had was scrumptious!

The only miss for us was the bloody mary. It had good spice and abundant garnish, but it was fairly small and heavy on ice for $15. The food was all a great value with entrees between $12-$18 and sides $2-$5. The view was spectacular and worth difficulty finding a parking spot in Rosemary. Pescado will be on regular Sunday brunch rotation for us.

As an aside, we went as a couple, but there were 3 families with small children (high chairs) dining on the deck. Not sure about children at dinner, but brunch is definitely accommodating.

 

Best Italian imo- Amici 30A:

Finally found great Italian on the panhandle! We sat at the chef’s counter and it was such a good choice! Chefs were friendly and fun to watch. It was maybe one of the cleanest operations I have ever seen dining or working in kitchens. Ingredients were fresh and portions were ample.

We split the Caprese to start which was made completely with heirloom tomatoes and had some bright lemon zest over top for added zing. We then ordered the spaghetti and meatballs and the mushroom ravioli with caper browned butter sauce. We could have split one entree, but choosing would be hard. Their “gravy” which is what they call their tomato sauce had lots of depth and the meatballs were moist and well-seasoned. The caper browned butter sauce was rich and briny in all the right places. The bread was rustic and served with herbed olive oil. It was all delicious!

We finished with the tiramisu just because of presentation. We were so full, but when we saw the mason jars, we were all in!

Everything was wonderful and we will be back…often!

Hidden Gem- Temperley’s:

Been to Temperley’s a number of times since moving back and it is yummy every time! This time we took our kids who are visiting and they sampled some of the fantastic British fare we raved about.

At the table we had fish and chips(we prefer the cod, but haddock is tasty as well), the bangers and mash and 2 Shepherd’s pies. All were hot and delicious! I have also tried the chicken pot pie pasty, as well as the apple and peach dessert pasty.

They have beer and wine available and everything is ordered at the counter. It is an unpretentious, local fave we go back to over and over!

Eat A Peach by David Chang Book Review

Eat a Peach cover

I have had a small obsession with David Chang’s culinary creations since 2014 when I first set foot in Momofuku. The vibe is lively and hip. The tables are a rustic pine and run along the restaurant to allot for family-style dining. This appeals to me; I love turning to the stranger next to you and finding out they just flew in from London or just finished a tour in Afghanistan or were in town for a particular show. New York is filled with stories, and places like Momofuku bring them to the surface for everybody to share. The food told its own story of commingled cultures and paradoxical flavor profiles. I have been back every time I travel to NYC. I also own and cook from his  Momofuku cookbook, a present from my daughter to commemorate our shared love of Chang ramen. When his memoir, Eat a Peach was announced, it immediately went on my to-buy list. 

Chang weaves a narrative of a person always on the outside, never quite belonging. He was not the “typical” Asian American model student, but he points out not every Asian is good at school or any one thing. They are individuals as much as any other ethnicity. He brings to bear his own issues coming to terms with his heritage,

“While cooking has enabled me to fight battles and explore subjects I am too afraid to approach in real life, I couldn’t overcome the shame and anxiety I’d felt about Korean food since I was a kid.”

Majordomo was where Chang took the initial steps integrating Korean identity, it was Kawi where he really embraced Korean food. He makes a point throughout of addressing the cultural racism existent in the restaurant business. Many ethnic chefs stay in their lane and do not upset the stereotype of what a non-caucasian chef should be cooking. White chefs have been appropriating and reinventing for always.

“I think the reason why minority chefs in America find cultural appropriation so upsetting is that we feel obliged to uphold these arbitrary proscriptions, while white chefs do whatever they want. We’re following the rules and they’re not. Most of the time, they didn’t even bother to learn the rules. I decided rather than getting upset about it, I should just start playing the same game.” 

Momofuku almost went out of business early on because Chang was cooking what he thought people wanted out of a noodle bar instead of cooking what he wanted to eat. He came up with some tenets he lives by with his restaurants:

  • Gather from Everywhere- appropriate, but give credit for inspirations
  • The Dining Room is Your Classroom- watch your diners, learn from them, allow your food to evolve
  • Forget everything you think and embrace what you see- don’t rely on common wisdom, be open to every idea sometimes the best dishes happen from accidents
  • Merge- the most interesting ideas come from bringing together worlds that seem so different. Everything can be Korean, Italian, Japanese or Mexian and American food can be anything

A lot can be found about Chang’s journey to chef stardom, his restaurant secrets, and how he made it despite the odds within these pages, but a more sensitive and poignant narrative emerges from this memoir about depression, the stigma of mental illness in the culinary world, and addictions. Chang self-medicated for years by throwing himself headlong into work. 

As Chang writes in the book, “work is the last socially acceptable addiction.” As a former restaurateur and educator this resonated with me. I always attribute it to the need to be busy. Society reinforces this idea of working hard as a sign of success, and it becomes almost a competition for who can work harder and longer. I still feel agitated if I do not have a full plate.  For Chang it was like heroin. Getting things done, fully immersing yourself in the work allows you to ignore what is going on inside yourself. “I found meaning in repetitive tasks, as long as I did them with intent and purpose. Many chefs opening restaurants talk about the rush. It’s not only a rush to me.” Towards the end of his stint at Cafe Boulud, Chang had his first full-blown depressive phase of bipolar disorder. He had used work as an outlet to keep his depression at bay, but the confluence of personal issues broke his fragile control of day-to-day routine.

Following this Chang sought out professional help, and found it in the form of Dr. Eliot. Through his sessions with him, Chang finally verbalized his struggle with fitting in and constant feelings of inadequacy. Eliot’s office was also the first place he admitted that the only thing that could make it better was to turn it off. Self-medication with drugs and alcohol are common for suicidal people, and Chang readily admits suicide was always on his mind. He says, “Nothing took the thoughts of suicide away. If anything, the drugs were a gasp of air between the waves crashing down on my head.”

Chang also talks emotionally about losing one of his mentees to a drug overdose. He does not go into gory details out of respect, but he does give us an intimate portrait of the guilt and failure he felt for not saving him, not being the one to recognize he had a problem. Drug abuse is one of those things that does not have an easy fix. As we see people we love struggling with addiction, we can confront them, offer them resources, but ultimately we cannot save them unless they want to be saved. Chang explores this notion of culpability with his therapist.

He also spends some time talking about his relationship with Anthony Bourdain whose death brought to light the issues with mental illness in the restaurant industry. “Tony never worked in  the upper echelon of restaurants. That gave many of us in the industry reason to thumb our noses at home, but it’s also exactly what made him remarkable. He was a lifelong line cook — the kind of guy who never aspires to climb the ladder of fancy restaurants. He represented the majority of cooks, and wrote about our world with extraordinary intelligence and empathy…He was the kind of guy you wanted to hang out with, because first and foremost, a fan of food and restaurants.” As a reader, you can feel the emotional toll Bourdain’s suicide took on Chang. 

He poured out everything to Eliot, and through their conversations Chang’s desire to move away from fine dining and move towards the idea that all people, regardless of economic class, could appreciate good food. He drew inspiration from his own experiences abroad. Momofuku was born out of this drive to democratize restaurants. Chang’s journey to restaurateur included stints at Craft and Cafe Boulud. He trained under great chefs, and worked hard. Keeping Momofuku and then his later restaurants alive was an exercise in constant refining and reinvention.

In some ways the endnotes of each chapter are the most entertaining. Chang fully gives himself over in these and provides a glimpse of his wit. One of my favorites was his note on what he ate growing up.  “We’re not talking about grass fed cows here. My family bought the cheap, chemically-enhanced stuff. When people ask me about my disproportionate size, I tell them I’m a product of Bovine Growth Hormone.” His self-deprecating tone is on full display in the endnotes.

As a reader and ardent fan of Lucky Peach, I was glad Chang spent some time on what happened to the publication. He provided a recounting of the inception and ultimate demise of the insane magazine. Chang wrote a great deal about how careful he was about investment opportunities and financial snags with his restaurants, but with Lucky Peach it was a passion project and it became so twisted up with Momofuku that it threatened both ventures. Chang beautifully writes about some of the people he lost through the Lucky Peach endeavor including his longtime collaborator, Peter Meehan. He also addresses the intense criticism he took from people about his perceived role in Lucky Peach’s failing. You can feel his remorse at its demise. He saw the magazine as an extension of the insurgency he tried to create with his restaurants. Momofuku means lucky peach. By giving the magazine the moniker of his first restaurant, a business he poured himself into, he showed his love. I miss the publication, as do many others, but I know what a tough time it is for any publication, print or otherwise.

Insurgency is a recurring theme in Chang’s life and professional pursuits. He always seems to be looking for a way to disrupt established stereotypes, cultural norms, and hierarchies. When planning Ko and Fuku, Chang set out to upend racism and classicism in restaurants. With Ko he strove for ultimate democratization of the restaurant experience. When talking about Ko’s reviews Chang said, “I’m not afraid to tell you I was proud about this one. Not the awards, necessarily, but the insurgency of it all. I loved that just when people had decided we were media darlings, we flipped the story to our advantage.” Ko did not take reservations, no special treatment, anybody could get a table if they were willing to wait. The policy put off the critics and dining literati, but Chang showed you don’t have to pander to the wealthy and influential, you just need a good product.

Chang in true insurrectionist fashion outlined his plan for FUKU, his statement restaurant poised to exploit the Asian American racism in the United States with a menu modeled after Chick-fil-a, a co-opter of Southern African American foodways. Nishi presented an opportunity to challenge the culturally constructed worth of a noodle. We expect pasta to be expensive while noodles have to be cheap, even if the noodle dish takes many more ingredients and preparation. Chang sought out to change our perception of what worth we assign to “ethnic” cuisine.

He found like-minded individuals along the way. Christina Tossi, amazing pastry chef and organizer extraordinaire, started Milk Bar in the back room of Ssam Bar. She rejected the notion that you had to be classically French trained to be a good pastry chef. Instead she took the places that shaped her, like Dairy Queen, and created desserts like the McDonald’s-inspired deep fried apple pie for Ko. When last I went, the desserts at Momofuku were products of Milk Bar and Tossi’s whimsical style.

His book ends with addressing the issue of sexism, and misogyny in the restaurant world. He acknowledges his own privilege in the time of #metoo as he references a photo of three men as “Gods of Food,” when it came out it didn’t occur to him to question why no women were featured. “It’s not about the glass ceiling or equal opportunity. It’s about people being threatened, undermined, abused, and ashamed in the workplace. It’s embarrassing to admit how long it took me to grasp that.” Chang spends some time giving voice to his own complicity.

“I’ve talked alot about failure as a learning tool, but it’s really a privilege to expect people to let us fail over and over again. There are too many dudes in my story in general, and you can still sense my bro-ish excitement when I tell old war stories. Almost all the writers and artists I mention are men, and most of the movies I reference can be found in the DVD library of any frat house in America. It’s my truth, which is why I am leaving them in here, but I wish some of it were different. I’m trying to be the person I want to be. I’m trying to build a company that is better than I am and an environment where the next generation will have better answers to the questions we’re facing.”

The book fittingly closes with David Chang’s 33 Rules for Becoming a Chef. I love this because he is dead on. It is not romantic. It is a lot of work, and a lot of menial work. A couple of my favorites are:

  • Being a chef is only partly about cooking- there is also dish washing, mopping floors, taking out the garbage etc. I worked every position in the restaurants I came up in. There is no glory in cleaning grease traps or any of the other unromantic tasks a chef does.
  • Make great family meal. I love his story about chef Akhtar Nawab making samosas for everybody at Craft. We always did a rotating Sunday Supper at my place. A different person prepared each week something they would eat at home, something simple, something comforting. It was about the fellowship and the family stories. It made all those ridiculous hours spent together a little easier.
  • Immerse yourself in all the awful, boring shit- learn the language of health departments, payroll, heating and air conditioning etc. This is absolute gold for people hoping to open their own place. You must speak the language of all those people who have to sign off on you actually opening and running successfully.
  • Save something for the swim back. “I gravitated towards the notion that is you worked like you had nothing else to live for, you could overcome whatever obstacles came your way…I have no doubt if I had given anything less than everything, Momfuku would not have made it…I’m so lucky this business did not kill me.” This is part of that addiction to work. If you pour all of yourself into the buildup, you will use yourself up before you can have a happy ending. This one is going on my wall as a reminder there is more than just the now.

Eat a Peach is not a light read. There are moments of personal darkness and cultural criticism that spare no detail. Chang talks intimately about the stigma against mental illness and therapy redolent in the restaurant industry- a world celebrated for long hours, high stress, verbal abuse, and addiction. His humility in discussing these issues, as well as his personal journey with racism opens the door for some important conversations that have needed to happen, especially in the culinary world, for a long time. 

I leave you with one last thought. This memoir will come out as we are fully in the throws of a pandemic. Even in the small space of time since Chang finished writing it, the restaurant world has been turned upside down. He has given a few interviews about the prospects for the industry where he has become a cornerstone. His decision to fully close two of his restaurants, and fold another two into each other rocked the culinary world and sounded the call for what could be coming.

All restaurants operate on razor-thin margins, but some are thinner than others. In the case of Nishi and CCDC, the margins were particularly challenging,” Mariscal writes in an open letter to the company posted on Momofuku’s website. “Nishi and CCDC underwent many iterations—renovations, menu overhauls, service changes—on the path to profitability. But as we looked at new realities, neither restaurant had enough cushion to sustain the shock of this crisis. We investigated every scenario to make the math work—negotiating with our landlords, changing the service model, and more—but with increased investments in health and safety, huge reopening expenses, and the lack of rent relief, the financial picture of these wholly-owned restaurants no longer made sense.”

I am certain David Chang and his team are exploring every avenue to weather this in some fashion, but I worry for all those small mom and pop places with only one location operating on that razor-thin budget. What will survive Covid-19, and how will the landscape of dining out shift? Like the cover art on this book, we will be facing a sisyphean task as we try to climb out from the current devastation.

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

Home Cooking cover

“No one who cooks cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.”

Laurie Colwin is an approachable cook and writer. This books was funny, honest, and relatable.

As a home cook, writer and introvert, I felt kinship when she said, “For the socially timid, the kitche is the place to be. At least, it is a place to start.” I still struggle being in crowds and at parties you will find me circling the throngs or hiding in the kitchen trying to lend a hand. There is not the pressure to make conversation when you are busy cooking or prepping. Colwin gains confidence as she journeys from kitchens of her youth making pb & j for college activists to small dinner parties after college to full-blown catering events later on. She finds her rhythm in cooking what she likes to eat.

A couple of other lines from the book really resonated with me.

“We live in a decade that worships speed: fast food, one-minute managers, sixty minute gourmets, three minute miles. We lace up our running shoes and dash off to get on the fast track.”

When my kids were still at home and we were shuffling between sports, homework, enrichment activities and jobs, I always lamented how sped up everything felt. Like we were on this constant wheel of making sure we budgeted our time so we could fit everything in. Even though Colwin published this in 1988, it still feels relevant. Coronavirus has forced a slow down and more time at home, but our trajectory as a society is still fast-paced. We are more of an instant gratification society than we were even in the 80s and 90s. I hope that this time of sheltering in place teaches us something about appreciation of slowing down and connecting with those we love, but I think the jury is still out.

One thing that has solidified for me in all this time at home is the need for comfort. Colwin writes poetically about the perfection of a simple bowl of lentil soup when you are feeling sad, sick, or just lonely. Comforting simple food has been out of vogue for a while as chefs play with techniques and ingredients, but I think there is something nourishing for the soul about a recipe that does not take hours or crazy shopping at specialty stores. Colwin writes about what we want when we are exhausted by life, and it is not complicated food.

“When life is hard and the day has been long, the ideal dinner is not the perfect four course,…but rather something comforting and savory…something that makes one feel, if even for only a minute, that one is safe.” Safe sounds good.

I think the appeal of this book for me is its honest reality. Colwin talks openly about her fears, failures, weird food obsessions, and the needs of an aging body. I probably will never make any of the recipes in this slim volume, but I loved traveling along with Colwin as she told the story of her journey with food and writing.

 

Low Carb Stuffed Peppers

Still at this remake recipes into a healthier version initiative. I love stuffed peppers- the roasted, smoky taste of the pepper filled with a bounty of seasonal veggies diced small, hearty ground lamb, homemade tomato sauce all topped with a crispy layer of melty cheese on top. Delicious. But, not the most healthy option for dinner. This week I took one of my fave versions of stuffed peppers (inspired by Food52), and made some swap-outs to make it less carby and fatty.

As with any of my recipes, you could sub whatever protein you like- tofu, ground beef, ground chicken- whatever suits you. The big game changer is swapping out the orzo for cauliflower rice. I am not here to say cauliflower rice is the tastiest thing in the world, but like other foodstuffs, it adopts the flavors you pair it with. Really it just becomes another veggie that serves to bulk up your dish. Also, I use halloumi cheese (highly rec if you have not tried), but an easy switch is bulb mozzarella. This recipe makes 3 full peppers.

Stuffed Pep 1

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • cloves garlic, minced
  • medium white onion, diced
  • (14.5-oz) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 10 ounces riced cauliflower
  • 1/4 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 bell peppers (I used yellow)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup roughly chopped parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • 8 ounces halloumi cheese, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

  • Add the canola oil to a large skillet and set over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the ground turkey and season with ½ teaspoon of salt. Let the turkey cook undisturbed for about 30 seconds to develop some caramelization, then break the meat into small crumbles.
  • Add the onion and another ¼ teaspoon of salt. Cook the onion and turkey together for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring regularly. When the onion begin caramelize, add the garlic, and cook until the garlic is fragrant.
  • Add the tomatoes (including their juice) and another ¼ teaspoon of salt, and the riced cauliflower. The water content from the content will cook off as you continue to saute. Once liquid has reduced and riced cauliflower is combined with mixture, turn off heat.
  • Heat the oven to 450°F. Cut the peppers in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife or spoon to remove all seeds, and trim white pith inside the pepper. Arrange the peppers cut-side up on a rimmed sheet pan lined with foil. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil and season each one with a pinch of salt. Roast for 25 minutes.
  • While those are in the oven, roughly chop the parsley and add to the turkey mixture, along with the halloumi and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then taste and adjust with more salt as necessary.
  • Remove the peppers from the oven after they have roasted for 25 minutes. Evenly divide the filling between the roasted peppers. Return the sheet pan to the oven, and cook for 15 minutes, until the peppers look slightly charred and the cheese is melty.

Stuffed Pep 2

I had a fair amount of filling left. I put it in some tupperware and for the next two days heated up the filling and cooked an over easy egg to put on top. It made the perfect breakfast, and I think the runny yolk added even more dimension to an already delicious dish!

Check out some of my other healthy dinner remakes:

Cauliflower Pizza

Zucchini Rollatini

Father’s Day During a Pandemic

anonymous crop father helping kid to ride bicycle

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on Pexels.com

My dad passed away before his 40th birthday. Father’s day is one of those holidays that is always bittersweet for me. I miss him, and wish he could see the amazing grandchildren he has. I wish he knew Dylan did not turn out to be a guitar picker, but he loves music. He is happy playing tennis, and working in a career he loves. He is kind, and generous…just like my dad. I wish he knew Olivia. She is smart, and ambitious. As a freshman in college, she is a NIH INBRE Scholar doing research in a lab alongside grad students and phds. She is passionate about conservation, just like him.

Father's Day

Family Dive Trip in Grenada

Now there is another dad in my life, my husband. He is boisterous, intelligent, kind, and an engineer just like my dad. This year father’s day is different. Our kids are in another state, and everybody is being careful not to contract or spread Covid-19. We have a house in Virginia waiting for renovations so we can sell it. The pandemic happened, and it has been sitting, waiting for us to come show it some love and find its new owners. My husband decided to make the drive this weekend and see if he could go through the meager possessions left there, and enlist some contractors who can start the process of giving it a light makeover.

Our kids will both be in town this weekend, but it is a hard choice about seeing them. They have been careful of exposure, but they are also of the generation without fear of getting Covid-19. They have seen friends, significant others, been out paddleboarding, grocery shopping- wearing masks, but still around others who do not.  But, it is Father’s Day, and we are a close family. I am sure he will take the risk, but use caution.

I don’t think any of us realized how difficult this would be when we undertook sheltering in place. There is an allure to ignoring the numbers, thinking even if we get it, we will survive, the risk is acceptable to see our family, and enjoy some of the comforts foregone for so many weeks. But, that also would mean ignoring reality, ignoring the spikes in infection and hospitalizations across states that have blindly reopened. It would also mean putting those we love at risk. So, my husband won’t go see his mother while in town. He won’t see our close friends while in town. He will hunker down and stay isolated in our house, and see our kids from six feet away as they have a socially-distanced, takeout Father’s Day.

I will be at home in Florida thinking healthy thoughts for him and the kids.

I want to do something special for him when he gets back, and show him how much I admire and appreciate the parent he is to our kids.

He has fond memories of strawberry cake on his birthday. The strawberries are beautiful right now. I am in the midst of testing recipes. It is a good time for some Strawberry Lemonade cupcakes. Recipe and pics coming next week!

 

Recipe Testing: The Good, The Bad & The Tasty

set of tasty fresh vegetables and parsley with empty clipboard

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I challenged myself to write along with the community participating in #1000wordsofsummer to help kickstart a working draft of my food memoir and establish a regular writing routine. It is day eight and I have hit my goal every day.

The hard part of this has been facing the realization that most of the first draft of my book was trash. Jenny Bent was kind to me when she sent my rejection letter a decade ago…too kind. Most of my writing time these past eight days has been salvaging a sentence or two to bounce off and completely rewriting the rest. I had 90 pages plus another 42 of recipes to start. I am now at 22,739 words which is roughly 88 pages. I think I probably saved about 12 pages of original content and the rest is new. I feel good about where the narrative is going. It is much more raw and honest, but that is what it needed to be from the start. It is hard writing some of these moments though- it is a lot of me coming to terms with things I have pushed down for years.

Now that I have a good chunk of story, I need to get to work on recipes. I am terrible at writing down what I do in the kitchen. I sort of just throw things in, taste, adjust, serve. I need to make the recipes something a novice could follow successfully. My husband has gladly volunteered to be the tester 🙂 He will taste the product I make, give me feedback. then make it following my directions and compare the end products. He is a usability engineer so I am a lucky girl.

The list is lengthy. Follow along as we navigate recipe testing while #shelteringinplace with no escape from each other. First up: pickled vegetables and pimento cheese spread.

 

Cauliflower Pizza Smackdown: Green Giant vs. Caulipower

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I know we are in the midst of possible food shortages, and thinking about healthier choices is probably the last thing on people’s mind, but I just had my annual wellness visit complete with blood panels, and my cholesterol is a little worrisome. I have this amazing P.A. who explained to me it is not necessarily fat in our diet that is the culprit with cholesterol…it is the dreaded carbs. What is a baker, and wine drinker to do? He gave me three months to “fix” things. I am taking it seriously. One of our go-to meals is pizza. We love ordering pizza from our favorite local spot, and we also love to make it at home. Enter cauliflower crust.

I will say it was a little difficult to acquire both kinds, but I wanted to see and taste the difference before we committed to this change in our menu. The contenders? Green Giant and Caulipower. I bought the boxes that came with two crusts just in case they were too small. Nutrition-wise, they are pretty fungable. From straight numbers on the box it does not look like that, but you have to look at serving size.

Speaking of serving size, the Green Giant was significantly smaller. The crusts also came wrapped together rather than separately like the Caulipower. I like that you still have a crust in the cache that is protected from freezer burn. Caulipower wins for size and storability.

On the topic of texture, it is hard to say. This will be an individual choice. The Green Giant is softer and slightly more porous when baked. The Caulipower is crispy out of the oven- almost like a cracker crust. For me, it was the Caulipower. It absorbed less moisture from toppings and I could eat with my hands whereas the Green Giant I needed a fork.

Cook time and oven temperature are exactly the same. This one’s a draw.

Neither one tasted like homemade pizza dough, but I did not expect that. Overall, it is an easy swap out to help us be healthier. Now, if I could just stop baking 🙂

The Ingredients for Greek Pizza Night:

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That stuff in the tupperware is left over chickpea shawarma…use what is in your fridge, you won’t regret it!

 

 

Cooking in Quarantine: Sheet Pan Mojo Meatballs & the Ultimate Tostones

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Sheet pan dinners are super easy, but they can get boring if we are always roasting up chicken and vegetables. This week I went on a Cuban-inspired cooking spree. My family loves Cuban food. We mourned when our only Cuban restaurant in Roanoke shuttered its doors a few years ago. It was one of those places you could go enjoy tasty dishes like ropa vieja, cassava, and cilantro-forward black beans and rice. Miss that place. I blogged about my love of it in a previous post, Hot Time in Roanoke.

For this spin on sheet pan dinner, I went with mojo meatballs. A post from Bon Appetit inspired this meal. I didn’t stop there though- I made some scratch Tostones, and black beans and rice like Havana Cafe used to make. It was a little more labor-intensive than the usual sheet pan dinner, but so worth it! It does require some specialty items for the store, but you can help yourself by buying a bottled Mojo sauce- I like Badia.

Mojo Meatballs

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 large egg
  • ⅔ cup panko (You could also use any other type of breadcrumbs you have in the pantry)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground ancho chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil,
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated if you have a microplane, otherwise finely chopped
  • 2 serrano chiles, minced (deseed if you want to lower spice level)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 2 vidalia onions, cut into wedges
  • dash of salt and pepper

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 500° and cover a sheet pan with foil
  • In a mixing bowl, combine pork, cilantro, egg, panko, spices, olive oil, grated garlic and minced serranos
  • Using your hands, mix until just coming together- don’t overwork the pork
  • Toss onions with 1 Tbsp. oil on the baking sheet and season with salt and pepper
  • Roast in preheated oven until you see some brown charring, about 15 minutes
  • Remove onions from oven and spread to perimeter of pan. Form your meatballs, should be about 8, and place in center of pan
  • Roast until meatballs are firm to touch, about 15 minutes- you can temp if you want and pull at 165 degrees

Meanwhile as the meatballs are roasting, let’s get those tostones going….

Tostones

Ingredients:

  • 5 plantains (I like them pretty green)
  • Canola oil for frying
  • A large plate for smashing

Instructions:

  • Heat oil in a large, deep pan
  • Peel and cut plantains into 1-2 inch chunks

***Tip***To peel a plantain, cut off the ends and make a slit down the center of the peel. Crack that slit open and work your fingers down the body of plantain as skin separates from flesh.

  • Fry plantains in oil for about 3 minutes per side and remove to a paper towel
  • Using a plate, or other item at your disposal, smah down on plantains so they look like weirdly-shaped pancakes and return them to the oil for crisping
  • Flip after about 1 minute and immediately season with salt as you remove them (these are really good the first night, but a little tough the second night- they make a delicious hash)

Black Beans & Rice

I went the easy way on these since the tostones were a little time-consuming.

  • I like Rice Select products, and their Texmati rice is delicious. I made one serving of rice, and followed the directions on the container. You couold also use minute rice, riced cauliflower, or whatever you like best.
  • For the black beans, I am a Goya fan, but again use what you like. I opened a can, threw them in a microwave-safe bowl, and added 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon, dried cilantro, and 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder. I microwaved them for a minute, added salt and pepper and voila, easy black beans!

If you are feeling ambitious, you can make mojo sauce from scratch. I like this recipe. But, if you are not, buy yourself a bottle of Badia Mojo and drizzle over top of meatballs and BBNR…nom, nom!