Naan, Nachos, & Nuts

I had been itching to do something a little different lately and it has also been a very long time since I had seen Monica. We considered going to Mi Cocina or doing Enchilada Night part 2, but then inspiration struck in the form of….nachos. I can’t remember whether I had the idea first and then found this Ultimate Nacho Generator or 50 inspiring ideas for nachos or if I stumbled across one of these websites and then couldn’t shake my craving for nachos, BUT the idea had taken hold. We had to have a nacho party.

Mons was obviously game for anything that required eating and creativity. Naturally we made your standard Tex-Mex variety (ground beef, lettuce, salsa, black beans, and cheese), but of the 50 varieties to choose from we decided to experiment with something called naan-chos.

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You cut the naan into triangles or strips and toast them until they are browned and crispy (but keep in mind that you are going to bake them again). While those are toasting, mix 1 tbsp curry with 2 tbsp olive oil as you saute an onion. Once the onion is clear and a little browned, add a can of chickpeas, cooking until you can mash them a little. Spread toasted naan on a baking sheet and top with chickpea curry mash and cheese of your choice (we used mozzarella). Monica had leftover basmati rice, so we threw that on there too. Once the cheese is good and melted, top with a chutney of your choice and/or yogurt. I can safely speak for everyone present that naan-chos are a delectable winner. I will most certainly be making these again, but this time with even more toppings. More curry, more peas, more chutney. More everything. The naan was crispy, but still a little chewy and denser than chips.

A few weeks ago I tried making naan myself since the boyfriend has a griddle, but I don’t think they were flat enough. The dough rose a lot more than expected so they were dense and chewy. In an attempt to make light of an utter kitchen failure, we decided that they made very good garlic buns. Or as Justin’s roommate called them, ‘Indian pancakes’. I’ll try it again once the 30 day no-wheat challenge is over (only 26 more days to go….). This recipe looked particularly good and easy.

The party didn’t stop there. Even though we were stuffed, Monica and I value dessert too much to skimp. Plus, the recipe was just too easy. I tossed a bowl of lightly salted tortilla chips with sugar and cinnamon, spread them out on a baking sheet, topped with a mixed berry medley and chocolate chips. Bake until chocolate is melted and berries are bubbling and then serve with creme fraiche. So simple and such a perfect combination of  goopey and crunchy and sweet and salty. Next time I would just buy cinnamon sugar pita chips. A perfect end to a well-needed evening of quiet and friends in between hours of studying.

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Continuing with the alliteration of this post….NUTS. I’ve recently used them in ways I had previously never thought of, but have been more than pleasantly surprised at the results each time.

First up, cashew sweet potato soup. I’ve become a bit of a soup connoisseur these days (not really, I just made different iterations of lentil curry soups and sweet potato coconut milk soups because they cheap, hearty, and the simplest to make) and I have to say…this one might be my favorite. Less than 8 ingredients, all of which are wholesome and inexpensive, is every dabbling budgeter’s dream.

Cashew Soup

And finally, nut bread. I’ve actually made this once before a very long time ago and, in an attempt to satisfy my never-ending craving for a warm piece of toast, I have made it again. I didn’t have any almonds, so I added an extra cup of oats and I think I like it more this time around. A little thicker and fluffier. In other words, more reminiscent of real bread than a granola bar. Topped with creamy sun butter makes for a relaxing damp spring morning or a 3pm pick-me-up on a Friday afternoon.

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Even though I had a very pleasant nacho filled weekend of studying last week, I am incredibly excited for my first weekend since January that I don’t have to worry about Hindi homework. My final was earlier this week and I passed! I wasn’t too concerned. There were only 3 of us in the class, she loved us all because we busted our backs for this class, and this was the kind of institution where people take classes for fun. Not really designed to make you fail unless you really didn’t do the work. Still, the test was 21 pages long because “we were such smart and dedicated students that we deserved a longer test”. Talk about brain-dead. But afterwards Justin and I celebrated by seeing who could eat pizza faster (both as a kick off to a month with no wheat and to settle an outstanding argument…I won) and watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I’ve seen this movie countless times and it is one of my favorites because of how beautifully the story portrays love, opportunity, and old age. And India. Being able to read some of the text that appeared in the movie and understanding some words here and there was very exciting!

But I am glad that Hindi is over. It was challenging and fun and I certainly feel accomplished being able to read in a different script after 10 weeks (I don’t know 98% of the words, but that’s besides the point) but it will feel very nice to not have to worry about homework on top of job applications and my latest endeavor…studying for the GRE! I’m not looking forward to re-learning high school math I never learned in the first place, but I plan on going to grad school sometime in the next 5 years so I figured it would be a wise decision to take that before I leave D.C. And go where, you ask? Well that is still in the works. Final decisions may have to be made by the end of the month (so far things have been moving rather quickly), so I will (hopefully) know soon. Unfortunately, the future doesn’t just happen. So I will have to spend a portion of my weekend writing application essays. But that’s ok. Because I am fully invested in the changes happening in my life and preparing to leave is making me reflect heavily on what I want to happen in the future as well as what I want to do while I am still here.

So speaking of, this weekend I also plan on sleeping, taking advantage of free McDonald’s Coffee, catching up on TV, watching fireworks Saturday evening, celebrating a friend’s birthday, and binge watching Game of Thrones before Sunday’s premiere. I couldn’t be more excited. Have a fabulous weekend and, as always, thank you for reading!

Waflafel

The future has been on my mind constantly lately–the planning, the wondering, the fidgeting for something new. My feet are constantly itching and it is making it a lot harder to sit still at work. Where have the months gone? The person who will replace me in August has already been hired, my office-mate is being courted by a number of law schools that desperately want him because he is a god in hipster form, facebook is abuzz with pictures of travels and ecstatic statuses about jobs and fellowships and the like. And I am just waiting to see where the wind blows.

Several of my workmates are in my same position of being overwhelmed by potential opportunity. Whether we are leaving or staying, our futures are in our hands. I don’t know if the answers appear by happenstance, hours of painstaking pros and cons lists, or drunken epiphanies, but we aren’t at the point in our lives where time is measured in four year increments of school years. Jobs are no longer summer flings that are hot and heavy and fleeting. They can last for years, so you better choose wisely. And the choice is up to you (and the employer that decides to hire you), which is thrilling and terrifying. It struck me that last winter break was the last time I will (hopefully) be home for any extended period of time. It will no longer be my in-between place, the place I know I will go when each semester ends. Does that make me a grown up?

I don’t hide hangovers from my parents, but they are also the first ones I call when I’m sick. I also tell them about–not ask their permission for–trips I am taking, but they still buy my plane tickets home. I pay for rent and groceries, but am still on the family health insurance plan. I have an apartment, but not a room (we did the whole pull-a-curtain-through-the-living-room cost saving thing). I have little tolerance for immaturity, but still insist on building forts and watching Disney movies.  I have a 9-5 job, but am doing the same things I did when I was in school. I don’t watch cartoons anymore, but I inhale young adult novels. I am conscious of what I eat and run lots of miles to keep up with my slowing metabolism, but occasionally put chocolate in my cereal and always take detours when I see playgrounds. I plan and I analyze the costs and benefits of my decisions, but I have no idea where life will take me in a few months. Speaking of which, my friend Wyatt suggested that if neither of us are employed come August 1st, we should pool our funds and start a food-truck where breakfast meets Middle Eastern. Introducing: waflafel.

The name had me in stitches and still brings tears of hearty laughter to my eyes when I say it. Or even just think it. And not that it ever goes away, but my hankering for waffles has been raging as a result (falafel or not). Since waffles have been hot on my brain, I was shocked to learn that yesterday (March 25th) was International Waffle Day and I didn’t celebrate. The day originated in Sweden and is called ‘Våffeldagen’. It notes the beginning of spring and is celebrated in the best way anyone could ever celebrate anything….eating lots of waffles.

Waffles

It should be no surprise to anyone who reads my ramblings (or has known me for at least a week), that I take breakfast very seriously. Nutritionally it is the most important meal of the day. It happens in the morning, which is when the best thoughts happen and all opportunities await (although if we are to be friends, you must also love breakfast for dinner). And it is America at its purest. A symbol of families and diners and small towns and freedom and road-trips and we-are-open-24-hour-adventures. The ability to make and appreciate good coffee and a solid stack of pancakes is a non-negotiable and my heart will be eternally yours if you wake me up with a creamy cup of coffee and freshly pressed waffles covered in maple syrup, whipped cream, and raspberries. I don’t know what it is about warm, grain based breakfasts, but they get me.

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This was yesterday’s entry at Food52, that I did not read until this morning because yesterday I was working, tutoring (my 8-year-old told me I really needed to get to know my boyfriend better when I said I didn’t know his favorite color…sorry), and catching up over a giant bowl of berries with a good friend who is in town. In other words, things significantly less important than eating waffles.

Waffles are ambitious at heart. They want to be smothered in Speculoos and topped with fried chicken. They strive for Sriracha and bacon and butternut squash. Once, they even won over the White House. So today, on this most glorious of occasions, we’re honoring our favorite breakfast food with big dreams. Dust off your iron and whip up that batter — it’s International Waffle Day.

Whether you like your waffles sweet, savory, or somewhere in between, we’ve rounded up the richest, most buttery recipes to celebrate. Sure, we stateside waffle loyalists should technically wait for August 24, the date of the first American waffle iron patent. But you know what? It’s Waffle Day somewhere, and that’s good enough for us.

Amen, Food52. And it looks like I will get another chance at celebrating Waffle Day in August. I will certainly be sure to do it right this time. Maybe it’s a good thing I don’t have a waffle iron (that is dream appliance #2 I am getting one day when I will have the same kitchen for over a year…#1 is obviously an espresso machine). I would just make these every single day:

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To mix things up, I’d like to try waffle grilled cheese or waffle breakfast nachos. Or maybe even a waffle falafel. Although, no matter how successful Waflafel becomes…we will never compare to the glory and greatness that is this place. The born and bred NYC snob I share an office with showed me Wafles and Dinges when I told him–teary eyed from laughter–about Waflafel. Choose between soft or crispy, 10 toppings and spreads, and eat with coffee handcrafted to compliment your golden brown piece of syrup slathered heaven….I would walk to New York for this.

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Maybe I am a grown up (or at least mostly one). I just hope to be the kind of grown up that has a child’s sense of play and wonder. So maybe I will teach and spend the rest of my life surrounded by children because they are  magical, resilient beings. Or maybe I will make waffles and, like a child, enjoy all of the little miraculous moments life stirs together and never stop believing that something wonderful could happen as soon as you finish breakfast.

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A book and a breakfast (for dinner)

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing.”

Breakfast is what sets the pace for the day, as we dream about what good things might happen after we finish our toast and coffee. Maybe that is why I can have breakfast for any meal. No matter what time a day you eat it, the sense of impending opportunities always follows.

I recently purchased the book Whole-Grain Mornings by Megan Gordon of A Sweet Spoonful. Don’t be mistaken by the ‘whole grain’ title…this book isn’t a diet book. It is about real food, food that is hearty and wholesome and nourishing and unconventional. I’ve never cooked my way through a cookbook before, but, seeing as I dream about grain-based breakfast foods, I figured this would be a good place to start. And I began with this:

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In the end I would have cooked the rice longer and used less liquid when baking because it a) was a little too sweet from all the apple juice and b) didn’t absorb as much as it needed to. So the result was kind of soupy and much better the next day after the rice had soaked up some of the liquid overnight. But it is very filling, tasty, and easy to make. All of which equal a win in my book.

I finished the last of it this weekend as I finally finished the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo.

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The chapters jump back and forth between different individuals living in a Mumbai slum, diving into the sordid and beautiful details of their lives as the plot orbits a central confrontation that directly influences the lives of two families while simultaneously illuminating the trials the majority of India’s poor face on a daily basis. It is a moving and personal way to learn about Indian political and economic history and the pervasive culture of corruption that has emerged in the last few decades.

I don’t know much about reporting, but I have a feeling this book might be the new standard for narrative journalism. Every person and every story in this work is true, and while the author takes some artistic license in interpreting individual thoughts and feelings, she claims to base all of her extrapolations on interviews. It is a story of heartbreaking resilience, devastating defeat, and murky hope. I would highly recommend it. An excerpt:

In places where government priorities and market imperatives create a world so capricious that to help a neighbor is to risk your ability to feed your family, and sometimes even your own liberty, the idea of the mutually supportive poor community is demolished. The poor blame one another for the choices of governments and markets, and we who are not poor are ready to blame the poor just as harshly. It is easy, from a safe distance, to overlook the fact that in undercities governed by corruption, where exhausted people vie on scant terrain for very little, it is blisteringly hard to be good. The astonishment is that some people are good, and that many people try to be—all those invisible individuals who every day find themselves faced with dilemmas not unlike the one Abdul confronted, stone slab in hand, one July afternoon when his life exploded. If the house is crooked and crumbling, and the land on which it sits uneven, is it possible to make anything lie straight?

I made my second attempt at a Whole Grain Morning’s breakfast last night and, once again, was satisfied. I’ll save that one for another time though. To leave you with the wisdom of a friend when asked if he wouldn’t mind eating breakfast for dinner: “Is there an American who doesn’t like breakfast for dinner?” Best answer.

It’s getting chili

It's getting chili

Chili is what you should always make when it snows. Although, D.C. has funny standards for “snow days”. When I received word that work was canceled, there was zero snow on the ground. I “bravely” trekked to the grocery store and on the way back there were a few flurries. Overall we got a few inches and it was pretty blustery, but nothing to hole up at home about.

Regardless, that’s what I did. I set up camp on the couch with my Hindi homework and made a week’s worth of this white chicken quinoa chili. Well, I imagine it would last a week if you didn’t eat multiple bowls of it every time you try to have some. It really is that good. Stupid good, as some would say. And perfect for a cold day. Click the image to get the recipe.

And check out this piece called Snowstorms, Then and Now. Pure gold and so true.

THEN: “A snowstorm! Whee!” Pick up a bottle of wine and Chinese food on your way home from work. Light candles in anticipation of your live-in boyfriend’s arrival home. Snowstorm preparations complete!

NOW: Pick up sixteen different kinds of cookies, chips and pretzels, batteries, toilet paper, milk, eggs, bread, candles, and eighteen different-sized flashlights, for your many blizzard-related lighting needs. Trip old lady to get to only remaining gallon jugs of spring water and Ice Melt on shelves. Drive home. Still forget something. Go back yet again to the supermarket, and weep silently in the parking lot while waiting for a space. Foolishly check email on smartphone, and learn that son’s basketball game hasn’t been cancelled. Karma’s a bitch. Wail.