Sauteed Kale with Bacon & Onion

kale close-up

Like any good Millennial, I frequently hate-read trend pieces about Millennials. One of my favorite facts about our generation, besides the fact that we are all lazy and entitled, is that 21.6 million of us live at home. And while I understand the larger social implications of such a staggering statistic, I have a confession to make.

I love it.

My parents make great landlords. They mostly charge in homemade meals, which I am more than happy to provide. In exchange, I get a cozy bed, a live-in accountant (dad) and a conveniently-located business partner/fellow crafter (mom).

Home is all the more comfortable when you’ve experienced what it’s like out there. I will not pretend the decision to come back was an easy one — it felt like admitting defeat after living two years on my own in THE big city.

But the best thing I could’ve done for myself was pressing restart. Trying again. This time in a space that always smells faintly of chocolate chip cookies and offers frequent warm embraces.

With every passing day I feel more like myself, once again bursting with enthusiasm and optimism. I can’t say exactly why those qualities felt so suppressed by city life, but I know that soon they will be the very qualities that lead me, eagerly, back into the great unknown.

For now, I close my eyes and allow the familiarity of home to cover me like a blanket.

kale

Speaking of cooking for my parents, I made this meal as a delayed birthday present for my dad. I won’t reveal his age, but let’s just say that it now ends in 0.

I loathe raw kale, but we have an inordinate amount of fresh produce right now from our CSA; I had to do something with at least a few of our greens. Besides the dreadful, inedible texture of raw kale, it feels like the most self-righteous of vegetables, like it’s somehow my problem that I can’t eat it without a 30-minute lemon juice massage.

The best way to spite kale is to rob it of its healthy reputation, so I added bacon and butter and called it a day. The fact that I was serving the kale with buttermilk fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits probably contributed to my inspiration.

Sauteed Kale with Bacon & Onions
Serves 4

2 strips bacon, chopped (I cut them with kitchen shears)
2 tablespoons butter
1 sweet onion, diced
1 – 1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
6 cups kale
Pepper, to taste

1) Heat a high-sided pan to medium-high. Add the chopped bacon and cook for about one minute. Add the butter and cook until melted. Stir in the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes.
2) Pour in the stock to deglaze the pan and add the kale. If it doesn’t all fit, stir in a few cups at a time. It will cook down quickly. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook with the lid on for five minutes.
3) Remove the lid and raise the heat, adding the pepper and stirring constantly until all of the liquid has cooked off, which should only take another minute or two. Serve immediately.

One-Pot Pasta

pasta pot

Sometimes you need to be able to throw everything into a pot and call it a meal.

I had one of those days yesterday. April was taunting me with one of its proverbial showers when I’d already grown re-accustomed to the warm North Carolina spring and my sewing machine wasn’t cooperating and I was grumpy and the pimple on my chin was growing large enough to declare autonomy. Basically, in no mood for cooking. Or human interaction, for that matter.

The last time I had this dish it was made for me by a dear friend, and I find that when I need a lift, summoning up a fond food memory often does the trick. (With the proper meal accompaniment, of course.)

Now that I’ve made it myself, I am officially a convert. The pasta starch imparts a creamy texture to the sauce and the steps could not be easier. It’s a meal worth sharing, and I am grateful that I was able to share it with my friend — and now with you.

plated pasta

I adapted my recipe from this one.

One-Pot Pasta
Serves 4

12 ounces linguine
16-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh spinach
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
4 sprigs basil, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Parmesan cheese

1) Combine first eight ingredients in a pot wide enough to allow the pasta to lie flat against the bottom. Add 2 sprigs of basil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2) Put the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir regularly for about 10 minutes.
3) Serve the pasta with the remaining 2 sprigs of basil, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Tar Heel Pie

Tar Heel pie

It feels appropriate to revive the blog with a recipe called “Tar Heel Pie.” I imagine the name has something to do with its North Carolinian origins, if not its fudgey consistency that could be considered tar-like if you were into making such unappetizing comparisons. Basically, imagine a flaky pie crust. Now imagine that pie crust filled with a pecan-laden brownie. That’s Tar Heel pie. (And you thought that particular food fantasy would never be realized. Silly you!)

I know I tend to get hyperbolic with some regularity, but this pie, after only one baking attempt and three tastings, is officially in my top 5 favorite desserts of all time. If you are planning on inviting me to any kind of event in the next few months, I will likely bring this pie. If you are not planning on inviting me to your event, more for me.

My recipe came from my dear friend Nancie McDermott, who has written an entire book about Southern pies. Check out the recipe here — I followed the recipe exactly, so no reason to paste it here!

Rather than using a store-bought crust, which I couldn’t find in a form that involved real butter, I made my own. It’s totally unnecessary, but I had a rainy day to kill. What better way to spend it than whipping up some pastry dough?

Single Pie Crust
Makes one 9-inch pie crust
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
1/4 cup ice water

1) In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. You can then either cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, or grate in the butter using a cheese grater and mix into the flour and salt. (I typically freeze the butter first, then grate it, then freeze it again for a few minutes so that it stays really cold.)
3) Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
4) Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate. Finish with a crimped or scalloped edge.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple

roasted brussel sprouts

plated roasted brussel sprouts

As any writer or English major knows, finding oneself lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood with less-than-welcoming surroundings is an experience rife with opportunities for a story of transformation and self-discovery.

This story is one such example.

Several months ago, while I was still living in NYC, I exited the subway, walked the stairs onto the street, and stopped cold at a nearby intersection. I had no idea where I was. Instead of turning around and getting back on the subway, I stood on that street corner and cried. And cried. Self-pity shaken with alcohol makes for one pathetic cocktail. And wasn’t I entitled to feel sad? I was sure, so sure, that by that point in my life I wouldn’t be the kind of person who a) got absurdly lost (by any meaning of the word) and b) didn’t immediately know how to be found again.

If my high school Xanga posts — saved on my computer for posterity — are any indication, there were few things in life I looked forward to more than adulthood.

Adulthood, I surmised, afforded a certain level of clout and respect that would, among other things, no longer cause people to question why I needed to go to bed by 11. (As it turns out, this question still arose frequently when I lived in NYC. As an adult.)

Most importantly, I would be able to get things done.

These “things” are only slightly less vague now than they were when I was 16. Back then, I wanted to save the world. Today, I think I can content myself with improving a small pocket of it. (How is another story for another day.)

I was not really pursuing that particular goal the day I found myself at a literal and figurative intersection in east New York. The plan was to enjoy a boozy brunch followed by the Manhattan Pride Parade. The brunch part was easy enough: drink mimosas, punctuate that drinking with eggs Benedict. What followed was an emotional encounter that left me depressed and distracted.

Lost, and then really lost.

It took me a few minutes to notice that people were coming out of their houses to stare at the sad girl being sad for reasons that extended far beyond the booze and the earlier discussion and the loss of control. Even then, I saw myself with the eyes of those watchful neighbors and I wanted to roll my eyes at her, too. Oh, to be young and privileged. Instead, I called a cab, where I left behind the last of my cash and a decent amount of my dignity.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, that day signified the beginning of the end of my time in the city. Somehow, the trajectory I had planned to follow — it all started with post-college city living — left me feeling suddenly and irrevocably stuck.

Moving back to North Carolina was one way I could imagine regaining momentum.

Being an un(der)employed 25-year-old living with my parents again isn’t so bad, really. I’ve been pleased to discover that you really can go home again, and the people there (i.e. parents) will even feed you until you regain enough emotional strength to (hopefully) fight battles for those who don’t have the time or luxury of contemplating how to live their lives to the fullest.

Since ’tis the season for such things, anyway, I’d like to take a moment to say how thankful I am for such luxuries. I hope I can lead a life that proves it.

Like how sometimes I feed my parents, too. I recently made them these roasted Brussels sprouts that would, incidentally, make for a great Thanksgiving side dish. The original recipe can be found here. I adapted it to include more bacon because of this classic video and also because I felt like it.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Apple:
Serves 4 or so
6 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 cups Brussels sprouts, peeled, ends trimmed, and halved or quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 apples, cored and diced
2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bacon in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake until browned (about 10 minutes).
2) Add Brussels sprouts in a single layer, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until the Brussels sprouts begin to brown lightly (about 15 minutes).
3) Add the apple as the final layer. Roast until Brussels sprouts are browned and tender and apple has softened (about 15 minutes).
4) Toss the finished roasted dish with vinegar and serve immediately.

Goodbye, New York

Central Park

This follow-up post was intended to be a lot of things. Seven months ago, it was intended to thank you for the amazing response to my post about embracing being alone — to write about how lucky I am to be alone together with a community of people I can lean on. This post could’ve been about the heartbreaks, the search for a NYC partner in crime that has consistently proven fruitless and, well, depressing. This post could’ve also been about the sweltering summers that reek of trash and bodily fluids, or the time I found myself devastatingly lost in East New York, or about another batch of wedding cupcakes. (Despite my reservations, it always seems to come back to cupcakes for me.)

So now I find myself here, with this post that isn’t about any of those things, specifically, but that also ends up being about all of them, along with those best left unwritten. I am leaving the city. I am leaving the city because I have gained everything I needed from living here: the self-reliance, the much-needed checking of my ego, the perspective that comes from existing in a place where decadence and poverty are so starkly juxtaposed, and recognizing my own place of privilege and the great fortune I have had. And the meals. Oh, the meals.

These two years have been the hardest and loneliest years of my life, and I say that with the sincere gratitude of someone who managed to make it to 24 years old with minimal hardship (middle school and The Bowl Cut Era included). I don’t regret my decision to move here, nor do I criticize those who stay. I admire anyone who can, or must, make a life for herself here without collapsing under the stress of commuting and working and budgeting and just generally leading a life that, under non-NYC circumstances, could be considered normal, but that here comes with crowds and subways and oppressively tall skyscrapers and people who just don’t have the time. It’s just that this place no longer reflects my priorities, which include, but are not limited to, family, time for creative pursuits, and living in a bedroom that has at least one window. And a closet.

I came to this city for several reasons, some easier to articulate than others. There’s the food, of course. There’s the idea that upon graduating from college, a city holds the most promise and opportunity for a burgeoning professional, and NYC captures that ideal best of all. There’s the legacy that my great grandmother left by immigrating through Ellis Island, feeding into my intense desire to understand the people who came before me and the places their feet tread.

Now that I’ve spent time in my great grandmother’s city, I’m not entirely sure she would recognize what it’s become — certainly not her old neighborhood in Queens or the ever-growing economic disparity that hard work and pluck can’t mend. And all that professional promise fails to replace the family I left behind in North Carolina. The food, well, it will be almost as hard to leave behind as the friends I have found here.

This goodbye is really for them. I’ve lived in enough places that I should be getting better at goodbyes, but I’ve also lived in enough places to know that I never will. I have been blessed to meet a ragtag group of people who I believe to be the best in the city (let me know if you want their contact information), people who served as my city tour guides and confidantes and taste testers. They’re the ones who kept me sane in this crazy concrete jungle. So thank you and so long to my dear New York City friends for going out with me, staying in with me, and just generally being the kind of friends even Friends could not dream up. Please come down and visit any time. I’ll have cupcakes waiting.

Butternut Squash & Crispy Sage Savory Tart

butternut tart

butternut tart slice

A Sunday night followed by a Monday off holds such promise for a prolonged evening meal with several courses and a luxe bottle of $15 wine.

Even when you’re dining alone.

Moving to NYC solo (or, frankly, under any circumstances), you may have heard, is not for the faint of heart, the codependent, the wary-of-public-transportation. Despite the endless number of people I encounter everyday, I have never experienced a living situation as profoundly lonely as life here. I’ve always considered myself an independent person, but existing here means I also have to be an entertaining one — to myself.

Many of you have heard the trials of city singledom, whether from me or from Girls or from Sex and the City or from the countless movies that portray Strong Female Leads Living in Metropolitan Areas (with absurdly, unrealistically large apartments) who are secretly desperately lonely. (Presumably because they have invested too much in their careers and not enough in their romances? Can we possibly try for new plotlines in 2013, please? There is not a small number of us who seek more than one objective in life and balance them all just fine.)

But if you haven’t heard about dating in NYC, I’m not going to regale you with the specific foibles and follies. It’s been covered, I think, and also my parents read this blog. I will say, however, that it is incredibly taxing despite what seems like overwhelmingly good odds. I mean, there are 8 million people in this city, and based on my very precise Algorithm of Eligible Bachelors Dwelling in the Five Boroughs, there must be a solid 10,000 who meet basic criteria.

As it turns out, though, basic criteria is not enough. Because as you can imagine, 10,000 men is a challenge to weed through. And every one I meet, I think “Oh yes, this is one is acceptable. But I bet I could find one who also understands my deep and sustained love for the emo music I listened to in high school.” (See: The Paradox of Choice.) (Also, that’s just an example. I definitely don’t listen to emo anymore! Seriously! I don’t!) I, too, am a victim of too much choice, the possibility of someone somehow better existing too tantalizing to pass up, as I found out recently after being rejected by an unemployed man who’s “too busy” for a second date.

So, more often than not, I find myself “stuck” with, well, myself.

Living in NYC solo means needing to enjoy dating the only person I can rely on 100% of the time. It means I take myself out to dinner, buy myself a nice new outfit, make myself an extravagant meal that, under circumstances involving another person, would be considered a downright romantic one.

I cannot recommend that kind of meal enough. Dining alone, living alone, travelling alone, is the kind of soul-satisfying, sometimes saddening/maddening, always reflective activity that reminds me that I am enough. That I will never be a lot of things, but I will always be enough things. At the very least, I crack myself up, especially toward the end of the night/glass. I can’t always say that about my dates.

Last night, I made myself this tart. It’d be great with a side salad, but when you’re dating yourself, you hardly need to impress anyone with the number of vegetables you’ve consumed in a given day. In fact, the best way to show your appreciation for you is to cut yourself another slice.

Tart Dough:
Makes 2 12-inch tarts
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
1/2 cup ice-cold water

1) Cut the butter into the flour with your fingers or with a stand mixer. Pour in the water slowly, until the dough begins to clump. (Mix for 30 seconds or less if using a mixer.)
2) Divide the dough in two and create two balls of dough. Wrap with plastic and compress into disks. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Tart Filling:
Note: This recipe makes enough to fill one tart. Double the recipe if you want two!
olive oil
1/2 butternut squash, peeled & sliced thinly width-wise
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 cup of ricotta
parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon of water
about 15 leaves of sage
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons of canola oil

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay butternut squash slices on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil and salt on both sides of the slices. Roast squash for about 20 minutes, or until tender.
2) Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add spinach and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine the spinach, ricotta, and some salt and pepper in a bowl.
3) Once the squash is removed from the oven, lower the oven heat to 375 degrees. Remove one of the tart dough sections from the fridge and roll into a circle with a rolling pin until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
4) Spread ricotta cheese/spinach mixture over the chilled tart, leaving a border of 1 and 1/2 inches. Place butternut squash slices in one layer over top of the mixture, again leaving a border. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
5) Fold the border over the squash layers to make a crust. Mix the egg and water together and brush gently over the crust. Place the tart on the lower rack in the oven and cook for 45 to 55 minutes until the crust is golden brown.
6) Heat canola oil in a pan over medium heat. Place in a few leaves of sage at a time, fry for about 5 seconds each, then place on a paper-towel lined plate. Sprinkle over the tart.

Sweet Broiled Oranges

sweet broiled oranges

For those of you who had the distinct pleasure of knowing me in high school, you might remember when I was weirdly concerned about getting scurvy. (A concern that preceded my early college obsession with combating adult-onset rickets, and also that time I gave myself swine flu purely because of the strength of my conviction that I was going to get it.)

While I never spent extended periods of time on boats lacking fruit/veg refrigeration technology, nor islands with no access to vitamin C-laden produce, I still insisted on chugging orange juice, especially through the winter months, just in case. Winter already has me coping with seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and I quite simply couldn’t deal with splotchiness and bleeding gums on top of that.

While I have moved on from fixating on so-last-century diseases and even the more trendy recent ones (kind of, mostly), there’s still a part of me that just knows when I am suffering from some nutrient deficiency or another.

Fortunately, as an adult, I can more maturely address these issues with a spoonful of sugar, like I did with these scurvy-fighting oranges. They’re a really quick dessert that are satisfying after a big meal. We ate ours after big bowls of beef stew.

Anyone else here have unwarranted health worries they want to share? I can’t be the only one, right?!

Sweet Broiled Oranges:
Serves 1
One orange
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1) Slice orange in half, remove seeds, and cut between the orange and the peel and along the orange sections to make smaller pieces.
2) Place orange slices on a cookie sheet. Turn the broiler on high.
3) Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the orange halves, then place into the oven.
4) Broil for 5 – 7 minutes.

I found the recipe on Pinterest and adapted it slightly. Original recipe here.