Back to Basics and a Weekend of Eggs

Food52 has become my latest obsession and they recently published a list of 20 dishes every cook should know. As someone who wants to become a better cook, I figured, wouldn’t it be best to start with the basics? Coincidentally the first thing on the list is scrambled eggs and I just so happen to have a fridge full of farm fresh eggs, courtesy of the CSA my roommate Maddie and I signed up for a couple of months back. Every week we get a delivery of 6 eggs, a grain (we’ve gotten bread, oats, and cous cous), and a large amount of produce. So our fridge and shelves turn into a garden every Wednesday.

But, back to eggs. They described the method for making three types of scrambled eggs: 1 is made with cream and constantly stirred, 2 is when you cook the whites first and stir in the yolks at the end, and 3 is when you whisk the eggs before cooking and then continuously nudge the eggs towards the center of the pan until it is all cooked.

I made version 1 on Friday morning, which turned out to be the kick-off to a weekend of record egg eating. Saturday morning was scrambled eggs (version 2) for breakfast, lunch was scrambled eggs with toast and (really delicious) grits at Tonic, Saturday night was a chicken and salsa omelet with toast and breakfast potatoes at American City Diner, and Sunday morning was the omelet leftovers. And this morning I made version 3 of Food52’s scrambled egg variations.

The winner?

ImageEggs are wonderful in all forms (hard-boiled, over-easy on toast, fried in rice), but, hands down, the best scrambled eggs are gooey and creamy. Next on the list is pancakes. Yum. But this cardamom sour cream waffles recipe is at the top of my list right now.

wafflesEggs aren’t the only way I have been getting back to the basics recently, however.

Last Monday was my first Hindi course and, while at first I was completely overwhelmed by the abundance of squiggles (to be honest, I am still overwhelmed), I’ve buckled down tirelessly for countless hours of flashcards, audio-recordings of pronunciation, and repetition based writing exercises. And today I was able to read! Granted, I have no idea what the words mean, but (for the most part) I can identify the letters and figure out how to pronounce them all together. Exciting stuff. It has been a very, very long time since I’ve studied a language in its most basic form and it’s pretty fun. Yup, I know what these mean.

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 8.30.39 PMAnd next weekend I am going to get a crash course on English grammar in the TESOL/TEFL certification course I am taking. It is a course that certifies you to teach English to non-native speakers, typically in another country. It started this weekend and is from 9-6pm, Saturday and Sunday, for three weeks (plus a 40 hour online component). So my upcoming weekends will be spent with a lovely group of 24 adventurous souls, an endearingly outrageous teacher, and lots and lots of information. Teaching isn’t new to me, but I am by no means a trained educator and I have never taught English at such a rudimentary level. I’ve worked with ESL (English as a Second Language) learners, but all of them had an intermediate-advanced understanding of the language by the time I met them. So most of what we are doing in class is brand new and incredibly helpful in preparation to teach abroad, which is what I am 99% positive I want to do come July for a few reasons.

First, I miss teaching. Before graduation I had to make a difficult choice: do research in D.C. or teach elementary school in Dallas. Obviously, I ultimately chose to work at Carnegie because the opportunity was more competitive and limited to applicants within one year of graduation. But I miss working with kids (of all ages).

Second, I love language. One day I would love to teach a particular subject (mostly literature, but history would be fun too), but what I am really passionate about is teaching people how to use language. Immediately after graduating from high school I worked as a debate instructor and taught high school students how to write, speak, and think critically. How to build arguments orally and in writing and how to present themselves competently and confidently. I worked with all kinds of teenagers, but the ones I loved most were the shy ones. The ones who burst out of their shells when they developed even the smallest amount of confidence. In college I was a writing tutor and I loved every moment of it: whether it was the joy on an international student’s face when she began to correct her own grammar mistakes or the English major who–after hours of re-writing and dissecting sentences and meaning–beams with pride at his finished product. Any writer, any level…every human feels the basic need to be able to express themselves and be understood. And now I tutor an 8 year old girl in reading comprehension. Things have been moving slowly, but they are progressing and every victory–no matter how small it–is worth it.

Eventually I think I’d like to teach in areas with limited opportunities for education and work on education policy, both universally and at home. I want to work with different kinds of people–adults, children, early education, special education. But at this point in my life I have continuously bounced back and forth between my two principal passions (teaching and foreign affairs), which leads me to the third reason I want to teach abroad: I would get to combine my love of teaching with my love of travel. I want to explore the world, but I want to do it in a way that lets me learn from and give to the communities I visit and potentially do something worthwhile with my presence. I can’t do many things that well, but I can speak English and–with practice–I think I could be an effective teacher.

I really don’t know what I’d like to do with my life, but when I think about what really makes me tick….it all comes back to education. Few things make me more upset than the thought of the untapped potential, missed opportunities, neglect, and unnecessary hardships millions of children (and adults) experience every day because of poor access to education. And nothing is more fulfilling to me than working with kids. Even though they are loud and sticky, they make the world go round.

On that note; some words from the man for whom today is named:

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Snow & Soup

ImageThat was the theme of the day yesterday. Christian and I were both in need of a tiny adventure, so we woke up, each participated in our exercise of choice (I boxed, he climbed) and then we set off to Frederick, Maryland. The historic city itself is only 45 minutes away, but just beyond it there are a few state parks. We went to Greenbrier State Park and played around the snowy lake for a little while (it was the first time I had ever seen snow and sand mixed together) before venturing into town and eating a very warm meal (chili, cornbread, and eggnog hit the spot).

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The screen on my camera is broken. So while it still takes pictures, I have been thrown back into the pre-digital age where taking pictures involves pointing, shooting, and hoping for the best. On the one hand it’s rather annoying because you have no idea whether your picture turned out and it is difficult to find the right angle for a certain shot. On the other hand, the mystery is kind of fun and it prevents the inevitable everyone-has-to-look-at-the-picture-to-see-if-they-look-good process that normally happens after picture taking. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, I think since my grandma passed away. I must have looked at hundreds of pictures from her apartment in addition to all the photos from home that we started going through as one usually does when reflecting on a lifetime of memories. And I realized, through all of these pictures, that the candid moments were the best ones. There would be five or six attempted family photos in which children are squirming to get out of the picture and people are blinking or laughing or talking or making strange faces. There were a few “posed” pictures, a few “perfect” ones. But they were rare and, today, in the search for pictures where everyone is smiling nicely, everyone is captured at a flattering angle, etc. I think that we’ve lost so many of those moments in between. The imperfect ones that are real, yet nobody bothers to print out anymore because we only want the “good” ones.

Well, now that I’ve gone on and on about the slight tragedy that has resulted from the age of photo perfection and editing, here are some edited pictures of my weekly recipes. So far so good with my food resolutions (I have eaten green things every day and made more than one new dish this week)! And since the weather has been chilly, I have been curling up with steaming bowls of soup.

First I made this super easy, hearty, and healthy gem from {never} homemaker–one of my favorite blogs. I followed the recipe exactly, but I think had a larger broccoli to sweet potato ratio because my soup turned out a little greener. Cooking with coconut milk has become my new favorite thing, so this recipe was a must-try.

Broccoli soup

And this orange find, from Food52 (a very recent discovery that has become a dangerous time-suck).

Carrot soup 1

I should have roasted the carrots longer for a richer taste, but I was impatient. I also should have used more carrots or less broth. I didn’t use at least a cup of the stock when blending and it was already a little waterier than I wanted. BUT it was very good and hit the spot when served piping hot.

Now to read the news, do laundry, watch some (more) X-Files, skype with a friend, and pick some fun recipes for next week. Gotta love snowy Sundays.

Recently Recipes

One of the first things people usually learn about me is that I love food. I love talking about food, thinking about food, shopping for food, looking at pictures of food, and, most of all, eating food. Trying new restaurants, new cuisines, new recipes…I enjoy every moment of it. Maybe I got this love from my Grandma (see previous post) because I certainly did not get it from my parents (sorry, guys). They are both wonderful cooks, but don’t enjoy the hands-on element of cooking, the hours spent in the kitchen, like I do. The funny thing is that if you were to tell them–or really any of my friends who knew me before the age of 21–of my baking drawer that holds six different kinds of flour they would laugh and say, “Really? Her? The girl who was scared to boil water? The girl who couldn’t make toast without burning it?” Yeah, I don’t know what happened either. To be fair, my work isn’t beautiful by any means. Something usually goes wrong every time and I still don’t have that fundamental understanding of how food works yet (you know, the people who can magically throw together beautiful recipes with whatever fixins they have laying around, who know what spices work together, who know the mechanics behind every ingredient). Maybe one day I’ll get there, but for now I am going to simply keep enjoying food as a way to feed my body and soul, nourish those around me, make memories with friends, and create.

enchiladasPictured above: Enchilada&Margarita night.

My camera has recently become a bit wonky and I’ve been too busy/hungry/distracted to take and edit pictures of my food. So instead, to accompany this list of recipes I’ve made recently, are the stories behind them.

Nut Bread: I don’t remember where I first found a link to this super healthy bread, but it was the first thing I made in D.C. The stress of unpacking, navigating the rush of city life after such a slow summer, and mentally preparing for work was getting to me….so I retreated to my tiny kitchen. This “bread” (I use quotations because its more of a chewy collection of seeds than a soft, fluffy bread) is completely wholesome, but all nutritional value is probably depleted when smothered in biscoff (aka: crack spread) that has been an all too frequent occupant in our baking cupboard. Speaking of…

Pumpkin Biscoff Cookies: I needed to use up the last of the biscoff because the longer it sits there, the easier it is for me to sneak into the kitchen and eat it with a spoon. My roommate actually found this recipe and sent it to me because of our mutual love of a) baking, b) pumpkin baked goods, and c) biscoff. I made them before going to my friend Monica’s house for a beer and boardgames night. Pumpkin and biscoff were made to be together. Combine with chewy oats and you have yourself a winning fall cookie. Another things that has become a staple in our apartment is….

Beer Bread: I found this recipe in college and made it for house dinner one night. Chantal was abroad that term, so it was just me and my boys. Each and every one of them had their mind blown by this bread (and proceeded to eat multiple slices with their individual jars of jelly). Because it made such frequent appearances in college (and it is actually THAT easy to make), I figured it was only appropriate that it become a regular here. We have made simple beer bread (bonus: put melted butter on top, it keeps it from getting dry), something more savory with feta and rosemary, and Maddie even made a loaf with pumpkin and chocolate chips. The pumpkin made the bread super dense and chewy. I loved the texture, but it isn’t the same as fluffy beer bread. We also figured you could use hard cider and make cider bread (bonus: maple syrup…very good for fall). I actually had a cider themed night with two of my workmates and we made cider bread and…

Apple Cider Fondue: Such a pleasant night at my friend Reece’s apartment. He made us specialty cider-themed cocktails (the man has a full bar) and then we feasted on cider bread, apples, and brussels sprouts dipped in this gruyere and cider fondue. Such a good night. My workmates enjoy food just as much (if not more) than I do and this was not the first time we cooked/baked together. The first time I ever baked with Molly, we made…

Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake: We actually had to sub almond meal for cornmeal because the grocery store didn’t have cornmeal (seriously?). But it turned out fabulously. I had never browned butter before and have done so frequently since then because it adds something so special to whatever you are making. Such a rich flavor. My roommate Maddie was there and we snacked on cheese, crackers, and a lot of black bean dip while waiting for this guy to bake. And then we feasted. It was actually one of the best cakes I have ever had and I am surprised I haven’t made it since then. I do have tomorrow off (federal holidays FTW) so maybe I should do that. The other workmate I have baked with frequently is my friend Kate. She and I recently made Halloween treats for the office. She made beautiful sugar cookies that she prepared in different colored layers, such that when you layer the colors and slice triangular pieces out of the block of dough, you get little cookies that look like candy corn. My Halloween creations did not turn out that beautifully, but they tasted wonderful. I made…

Oreo ‘Pumpkin’ Cake Balls: These guys were delicious, but not quite as pretty as they are online (isn’t that always how it goes?). Turns out dipping cake balls is kinda hard and so these pumpkins were a bit deformed. BUT they were super tasty and everyone at the office appreciated the 3pm sugar rush. Kate and I have also dubbed ourselves in charge of baking for the other Junior Fellows’ birthdays. I tackled the first job alone as it was Kate’s birthday and made…

Banana Cake: This isn’t the first time I’ve made this cake (see: here) and it was just as good the second time around. This time I even classed it up with some pearl sprinkles. I had no idea what kind of cake Kate would like because we had only been at work for a few weeks, but it went over super well. Since then we’ve tried to tailor the desserts to the person whose birthday it is, so for Matt’s birthday we made baklava and for Ola’s we made Russian tea cakes. Both of them work in the Russia-Eurasia program at Carnegie, so it seemed appropriate. Both recipes require copious amounts of butter and are therefore delicious.

One of the challenges I’ve faced this year is learning how to cook for one. While I do enjoy marathon sessions in the kitchen (typically blasting show tunes or Taylor Swift), there aren’t always enough hours in the day. And it can be frustrating to spend a lot of money and a lot of time to cook for yourself, especially if it is only for one meal. At that point, the call of cereal for dinner or chipotle become way too overwhelming. One of the things that has been working for me is making things in bulk that will last me a few days (sometimes a whole week) and are tasty enough that I won’t get sick of eating them for multiple days. Here are a few winners:

Spinach Turkey Meatballs: A serving of veggies and lean meat all in one? Yup. Plus I got to enjoy them with some of Maddie’s home-made pesto.

Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts with Grapes and Walnuts: Long title, easiest recipe ever. I first had brussels sprouts last year when I spent a semester in Washington (it was also when I fell in love with this city and decided I needed to come back). My roommate Liz made them and I instantly forgot why I had been avoiding them my whole life. I feel like they have a bad rep amongst vegetables as they are the stereotypical gross veggie that kids love to hate on. This was supposed to last me a few days, but I ate pretty much the entire bowl because it was so good. Unfortunately the next day I contracted my boss’ daughter’s stomach virus….so I haven’t been able to eat brussels sprouts since. Hopefully this food aversion will soon fade.

Sweet Potato Split Pea Soup with Coconut Milk: I have made this soup three times now and it never fails to disappoint. So easy and so satisfying. Especially with a big slice of beer bread for dipping.

Curried Potato Apple Soup: I made this a few weeks ago because I was in a soup mood, but it didn’t turn out that well. The broth to veggie/fruit ratio was off, so it was waterier than I wanted it to be. I made this once before several months ago with my friend Sam and it was really really good. So I’ll have to try it again soon.

A few days ago I made this ricotta blackberry cornbread. I wouldn’t have ever thought to put blackberries in cornbread, but the internet is full of crazy ideas and so I decided to make it for a cookout on Friday with some new friends. Thankfully, it was a big hit. The best way to get people to like you is to feed them delicious cornbread, right? It would work on me anyways.

Something I’ve really been enjoying lately is fall breakfasts. Breakfast is more than just a meal to me. It is the time when you can take a few moments for yourself (or share it with others!), enjoy the crispness of the early morning, slowly sip your coffee, and think about all the possibilities that await you. I guess I don’t know exactly what it is, but I just love everything about breakfast. Recently I’ve been enjoying this wintery granola, this morning apple crisp, a variety of pancakes (my favorites so far have been pumpkin spice and s’mores), and oats made with cardamom.

As much as I love cooking alone, I also love to cook with friends. In addition to the many recipes listed above that I’ve made with work mates, here are a few I’ve made with some other important people.

Apple-Cranberry Chicken: Christian and I made this the other night when I got back from Minnesota. I had spent the whole day traveling and–although it was great to see family–I was still sad from the funeral. On top of everything, I had no food in my fridge. So I wanted something simple and comforting. The first time I ever made this was for my housemates last fall when we all curled up on the couch for a movie-dinner and watched The Breakfast Club. The second time around with a bearded co-chef (who has a tendency to dance in the kitchen) was just as lovely. Aside from how easy it is to make, I have a giant jug of apple cider left over in my fridge. So this (and many other cider recipes) will have to happen again soon.

Brie Stuffed-Crust Pizza: Maddie and I made this a while ago and enjoyed it on a Saturday night on the couch watching Harry Potter. The epitome of relaxation? I think so.

And just tonight my sister (who is visiting…pictures to come!) made black bean brownies. I’ve made them before (see: here) and was a fan. They aren’t your typical fluffy brownies, but they are chocolatey and fudgey and will definitely satisfy a craving. These ones weren’t as fancy as the one I made before, but making them in a muffin tin definitely helped when it came to eating them since they are so crumbly.

Normally I tend to gravitate towards healthier recipes (case in point above). And towards simpler recipes. But lately I’ve had the strongest urge to tackle bigger kitchen feats. I want to make something beautiful, something hearty. Something that I can lose myself in, both in the arduous baking process and in the sweet moments afterwards when I can devour my creation. Top of the list is this Pear and Almond Cake with Cider Glaze, Rosemary Corn Cake, and this: Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding with Espresso Whipped Cream. Not fancy or difficult, but certainly the most decadent, sinful thing I think I have ever seen.

Sometimes I feel pretty silly blogging about food. This isn’t a “food blog”, I don’t come up with amazing culinary creations, nor do I even have a fancy camera to take delicious pictures. But, this blog is where I share stories about my life and things that inspire me and are important to me. So food is here to stay, y’all.

For those of you who have tomorrow off of work, happy three day weekend! Mine has been filled with sunshine, good food, and people close to me. What more can a girl ask for?

IMG_3930The little one visits Washington! I’ll put up more pictures from her visit soon.

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Truly a beautiful day in the district.

And the world is colorful

The mornings are getting crisper and my heart is growing warmer. Fall is my favorite time of year. This summer, more than almost any other summer, I fell in love with the heat and the ice cream and the water and the grilling and the country music. But nothing can compare to my love for this season.

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I love the shades of brown and red. I love the nippy winds that make your nose and cheeks turn pink. And how I have missed my sweaters and my jeans.

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I love the socks and hot chocolate. I am excited to sit outside and enjoy the way my coffee warms me through both my stomach and my hands. As a person who has never acquired a taste for beer, I am biting at the bit for cider season. For apples and pumpkins and cranberries and warm spices.

 

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Two of my friends from work and I are planning a welcome-fall-baking-extravaganza next weekend, so more recipes to come. I think they all involve cider in some way. Some recipes I’ve been coveting…

 

Apple Pancakes

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Bourbon Pear Bread Pudding with Maple Creme FraicheImage 

Apple Tart with Salted Caramel

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There is a solitude to fall that I love, with aimless walks and reflections on change. But fall brings people together too, in times of celebration and warmth.

I am betting D.C. fall will be pretty. There is enough green in this town that I am hoping the streets will be littered with sepia and rust and crimson. I will miss Minnesota fall though. For all of its winter (and summer) brutalities, no one does fall like Minnesota. At least that I have experienced. I’ve heard fall in the north east is quite nice and–even though I feel like it makes me sound a few decades older than I am–the idea of a maple syrup/cider/doughnut tasting tour through some tiny old New England towns sounds perfect.

But mostly I’ll miss Minnesota because I miss Carleton. I figured post-graduation life wouldn’t hit me until fall because–up until now–it has felt like another summer job. Temporary. Well, it is temporary. I have no idea where I will be in eleven months. But, it will be strange to be here when elsewhere people are going to class, reuniting with friends after a few months of adventuring, and doing homework together under falling leaves.

Like the seasons, I guess I am changing too. All I can hope for is that the new leaves I am turning over will be as beautiful as the ones I miss so much.

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