homecoming

sometimes when i sit down to write in this space, i wonder forward about whether and how my words will crystallize this particular time in my life. when i read them back to myself at some indistinct point in the future, what will they help me remember?

old passages i’ve written conjure up memories of a particular summer sweetness, or a dull and heavy dread, an uncertain waiting, a sharp vibrancy. and i am grateful for that. this course i’m traveling has felt long and varied, deep and complex, and i am glad to have records of it here.

i think of this now, because i have more to write. i have closed a stressful, demanding, exhilarating year as a teacher and grad school student. i have returned from two weeks walking so many unnamed roads and riding so many crowded buses and trains through europe. and i have come home to a house that is losing its sense of comfort and warmth.

during my travels, i came across this quote by maya angelou: “i long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever i find myself.” i love it. but i also wish, sometimes, that it wasn’t true. sometimes i want home to really be somewhere—or someone—outside of myself. for the homecoming to be a clicking into place, a slipping on of something soft, a true return. for now it’s just me; i am the keeper of my history, my comforts, my sense of place.

but i do my best. when i came back from my trip, i made sure to cook again. often, the kitchen—my kitchen—is where i feel most like myself. frantic trains of thought dissolve, self-doubt is replaced with self-assuredness, and i let myself be fully absorbed in what happens before me. the easy slice of the knife through juicy, meaty, ripe tomatoes; the sizzle and crisp of fat cheese slices on a hot pan; the smell of bread toasting behind me; the dry shake of garlic salt and fresh pepper sprinkled over it all. i ate this lazy summer meal every day my first week back, trying to regain my sense of land and ground. i hope embedded in this stack of ingredients—and this string of words—i’ll remember this odd, open-handed, wandering time of mine.

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Fried Provolone and Tomato Sandwich
Adapted from Food52
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches 

Two 
¼-inch slices provolone cheese
1 
Tablespoon mayonnaise, plus more as needed
Two ½-inch thick slices sturdy, country-style bread
1
 medium-sized ripe tomato, preferably heirloom
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

  1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully add the slices of provolone and let them fry until crusty and golden on the outside but still gooey in the center, about 2 to 3 minutes total, carefully flipping them halfway through with a pair of tongs. Once they’re done, carefully remove cheese slices from the pan, allowing any excess oil to drip back into the pan, and blot gently on a paper towel.
  2. Spread the mayonnaise evenly across the slices of bread, adding more as desired. Core the tomato and cut it into 4 slices. Place the fried cheese on the bread, layer 2 tomato slices on each piece of bread, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
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sundae sunday

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this past weekend, i got to have some quality time with some of my best girlfriends. time like that is precious these days—time to chat and catch up, to sit around the table for as long as we need to and hear each other out, to remind ourselves and each other that this support system is here, always.

i used to throw elaborate dinner parties every month to get my friends together, with three-course menus and a specially-crafted party playlist and plenty of candles and twinkly lights. and i do miss those days. but life comes in seasons, and happiness comes from accepting that: anticipating the next season while riding out the current one with as much grace as we can. so in this season of us—tapped out, stressed, distracted, and protectively introverted as we are—what works best is what is simplest. a quiet sunday evening before the work week hits, a couple favorite ice cream flavors picked up on sale at the drugstore, toppings improvised from what’s on the pantry shelves, and just one special touch: homemade hot fudge sauce.

this one is dark and deeply chocolatey, drops silkily from the drizzling spoon, and gets just the loveliest bit of chewiness once it hits the cold ice cream. delicious.


i’ll try to remember the lesson of sunday as i prepare to enter my next season, starting up grad school courses again and stepping back into the classroom to begin my teacher training. when nurturing the life of your friendships seems like the last thing you have energy to do, that’s when it’s the most important. but forget the epic girls’ night out or the themed parties or even leaving the house. sometimes all you need is hot fudge sauce.

Hot Fudge Sauce
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

⅔ cup heavy or whipping cream
½ cup golden syrup (or light corn syrup)
⅓ cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, divided
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a 1 ½ to 2-quart heavy saucepan, bring cream, syrup, sugar, cocoa, salt and half the chocolate to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in remaining chocolate, butter and extract and stir until smooth. Cool the sauce to warm before serving it so that it can thicken up. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

strawberry jam crumb coffee cake

strawberry jam crumb coffee cake

i’m usually the type who needs to get all the work done and out of the way before truly being able to relax. on a typical weeknight, i’ll drive home from school and get going on my checklist: send last work emails, feed dogs, walk dogs, exercise (maybe) and shower before finally getting myself to sit down, eat, and unwind. but today, i heard this: go slow. pay attention.

the porch was so inviting today. the light so soft, this spring evening air so cool and so gentle after the heat wave of last week. so i did things out of order. i sliced off a thick square of this crumb cake, brought out a cup of milky tea, and sat with the evening light until it started to fade and i thought i saw the first of the mosquitoes.

how many more days do we have like this? how many other breaths will come this sweet, this easy? it’s hard to say, and maybe better not to know. instead, i’ll try to remember today’s lesson: every once in a while, go slow; pay attention.    

Strawberry Jam Crumb Coffee Cake
Adapted from Baking Bites
Makes 9-12 servings

Crumb Topping
:
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

A pinch of salt

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
 
In a medium bowl, stir together dry topping ingredients until combined, then stir in melted butter until damp crumbs are formed and the mixture sticks together into chunks when you squeeze it between your fingers. Set aside.
 
Cake:
¾ cup sugar

½ cup unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. salt

1 cup sour cream (light is fine)
½ cup strawberry jam, melted and stirred until smooth

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line a 9-in square pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Lightly grease and set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, followed by the eggs, adding them one at a time until mixture is smooth.

  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to sugar mixture, alternating with sour cream in two or three additions, until well blended. Batter will be quite thick.
  4. Spread evenly into prepared pan.
Stir jam in a small bowl until smooth and drop by spoonfuls onto the cake batter. Gently swirl through with a knife. Top with crumb mixture, clumping it by squeezing it between your fingers while you work and spreading it into as even a layer as possible.

  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  6. 
Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

roasted bacon & butternut squash pizza

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i have a growing list of reliable dinner recipes that are easy-fast-good, and these days i am feeling so very proud of it. it’s a collection that’s unique to me, full of ingredients and flavors i love, and that involve prep steps that i find therapeutic – or at the very least fuss-free enough to do on a weeknight. 

lately, that little file folder on my desktop has done wonders for my self-esteem. no matter what terrifying, confusing things i may face in the life outside of my kitchen, i at least know i can pull together some ingredients and make a great meal for myself. it’s one sure way i have of taking care of this fragile heart (and rumbly tummy) of mine.

this pizza recipe became a fast favorite, and an almost immediate addition to that treasured collection. i tend to have mediocre results when i try to make pizza at home. i used to get these limp, overly doughy, salty conglomerations of ingredients, and then i’d feel sad. and then order domino’s. this recipe changed the game for me. the trick, i think, is in turning your oven temp up high and stretching the dough thinner than you think you should. this ensures a crisp and snappy crust and beautifully caramelized toppings—in this case, smoky bacon pieces, cubes of butternut squash, rings of softened onion, and cheese for days.

i’ve made this twice now, and the second time i decided to top it off with some arugula for greenery (it is a new year, after all, and time to eat healthier) and a quick shakeover with our trusty jar of red pepper flakes. what i got was something so close to what i used to order from my favorite little pizza joint downtown – but heaps cheaper and fun to make, to boot. 

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Roasted Bacon and Butternut Squash Pizza
Adapted from Parade Magazine
Makes 4 servings
 
1 tsp. olive oil, or cooking spray
12 oz. diced butternut squash
2 slices thick-cut bacon, sliced crosswise (I used Trader Joe’s uncured apple smoked bacon)
½ medium red onion, sliced
Cornmeal, for sprinkling 
1 lb. pizza dough
6 oz. mozzarella, cubed
¼ cup Parmesan, finely grated
Crushed red pepper, for sprinkling (optional)
About 3 oz. baby arugula, for serving (optional)
Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling (or regular balsamic, simmered until thick) 

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Lightly coat a roasting pan or heavy baking sheet with oil or cooking spray, then scatter with butternut squash, bacon, and red onion. Roast 25 minutes, tossing ingredients around once or twice so they brown evenly on all sides. Remove from oven and increase temperature to highest setting, usually 500°F to 550°F.
  3. Sprinkle a large (12-by-17-inch) baking sheet lightly with cornmeal. Stretch dough roughly over baking sheet; no need to form a perfect rectangle. Scrape roasted vegetable and bacon mixture over dough. Scatter with mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake until browned, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and top with arugula, if using, and drizzle with balsamic vinegar to serve.

cranberry-orange breakfast buns


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it is important for me to bake. it is how i create home when i’m missing it; it’s how i celebrate togetherness when i’ve found it. transmuting butter into tenderness, eggs into fluffiness, sugar into beautiful browned edges… and then taking the whole pan out of the oven to share around the table — that’s love of life to me. 

for as long as i’ve known to notice, my family has felt disjointed. we never were the picture of coziness and comfort that i saw in holiday movies, that i felt when i stayed for dinner at my friends’ houses. there was a warmth missing, a ‘say anything’ safety net not yet in place. it stung when i went to college, and entered adulthood, and didn’t have what i thought was a strong sense of where i came from. it very nearly broke me, actually, to have to go off on my own and figure out what mattered in life, how to keep it, how to care for myself.
 
but the funny thing about struggling is how much it creates in you, even as it seems to take away. i walked forward as best i could, and while i did i was being granted my superpower. i think we all have one: something that comes easy to us but makes a world of difference to those around us. for me, it was the gift of making a home. of conjuring warmth and welcome into raw spaces, of lighting candles and setting out the plates and heightening the pleasure of company and comfort. i think i was given it because i needed it. and in knowing its lack first, i understood second how important it was to share.
 
and so i return home this christmas, a pan of rolls in hand, knowing i am stepping into a safer place than i’ve known before. this house has become a place of rest and comfort in part because i have. it’s a long lesson, i think, changing your posture from ‘what do i get’ to ‘what can i give.’ baking, at least, gives me a place to start.

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Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns
Adapted (barely) from a recipe by Smitten Kitchen
Makes 12 buns. This recipe could be halved and baked in a 9-inch round or 8×8-inch baking pan.

Dough:


4 large egg yolks

1 large whole egg

¼ cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup buttermilk

Zest of 1 orange, finely grated (to be used in dough and filling, below)

3¾ cups (470 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting counter

1 packet (7 grams or 2¼ teaspoons) instant dry yeast
(also sold as Bread Machine or Rapid Rise yeast)
¾ teaspoon table salt, or more to taste
Cooking spray for bowl

Filling:

1 ½ Tablespoons butter

1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup fresh cranberries

Orange zest leftover from above

Icing:

3½ Tablespoons orange juice

2 cups powdered sugar

  1. Make the dough: In the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, buttermilk and ¾ of the orange zest together (saving the rest for the filling). Add 2 cups of the flour along with the yeast and salt; stir until evenly moistened. Switch to the dough hook and add the remaining 1¾ cups flour and let the dough hook knead the mixture on low speed for 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be soft and moist, but not overly sticky. Scrape the dough into a large, lightly greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, which will take between 2 and 2½ hours. [If you don’t have a stand mixer, stir the mixture together with a wooden spoon, then continue stirring and beating it about in a large bowl for several minutes, until it comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead it for another 5 minutes. The dough will be a tad sticky, but resist adding too much flour while kneading.]
  2. Prepare the filling: Melt the butter and set it aside. In a food processor, pulse the whole cranberries until they’re ground to a coarse rubble, but not fully pureed. You may need to scrape the machine down once or twice. Set them aside.
  3. Assemble the buns: Grease a 9×13-inch ceramic or glass baking dish. Turn the risen dough out onto a floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle that is about 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle it with the brown sugar. Scatter the ground cranberries over it, then the remaining orange zest.
  4. Roll the dough into a tight, 18-inch long spiral. Using a clean piece of dental floss or sewing thread, slice the log into 12 sections; they should be 1½ inches thick. Arrange the buns evenly spread out in your baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or up to 16 hours. Liquid will pool at the bottom of pan; don’t worry, this will caramelize and thicken during baking.
  5. The next morning, bake the buns: Take your buns out of the fridge 30 minutes before you’d like to bake them, to allow them to warm up slightly. Heat your oven to 350°F. Bake your buns until they’re puffed and golden (the internal temperature should read 190°F), approximately 30 minutes.
  6. Transfer pan to a cooling rack and let cool slightly. Make the icing by whisking the orange juice and powdered sugar together. Transfer icing to a small Ziploc bag with the corner snipped off. Drizzle over the whole pan and serve immediately, or drizzle over individual servings. Leftover buns can be individually toasted and then iced the next day.

honey mustard brussels sprouts slaw

honey mustard brussels sprouts slaw

every once in a while, a salad-eating mood will strike and all i will want for a week is a generous bowl of fresh and crisp-crunchy veggies dressed and drizzled with something kicky and flavorful. this salad sure was the ticket on one such recent week.

it involved having to brave the use of one gleaming food processor slicing blade attachment, but i was heartily rewarded with the resulting meal. toothsome shreds of brussels sprout leaves (the perfect texture when we’re going for a dinner salad), crunchy slivered almonds, sweet and chewy dried cranberries, and a healthy sprinkle of parmesan for a caesar-salad-like spin, all tossed with a garlic-spiked honey mustard. 

everything tasted perfectly proportioned, and i got to finish my meal feeling like i ate healthy – and deliciously. 

Honey Mustard Brussels Sprouts Slaw
Adapted (barely) from Cookie + Kate
Makes 4 servings

Coleslaw:
1 pound Brussels sprouts
⅓ cup slivered almonds, toasted 

⅓ cup dried cranberries
⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese 

Honey mustard dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, pressed 
¼ teaspoon garlic salt 

  1. Shred the sprouts: First, cut off the tough ends of the sprouts and any browning outer leaves. Then shred them in a food processor using the slicing blade, pressing the sprouts against the blade with the provided plastic pusher. If you don’t have a food processor, slice them as thinly as possible using a sharp chef’s knife, then give them a few extra chops for good measure.
  2. Combine the olive oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, and garlic in a jar and shake until emulsified. In a medium serving bowl, toss the shredded sprouts with the almonds, dried fruit, Parmesan, and dressing. Serve.

homemade hummus

hummus

lest i lose myself completely in a bout of navel-gazing and reminiscing, let’s take a break to talk about hummus, shall we?
 
i think it’s currently my definition of the perfect snack. bright, flavorful, not entirely unhealthy — and if you drag a freshly toasted corner of warm flatbread through a creamy mound of it like i do: a wonderful play of textures. i can be a crunchy hot cheetos girl on any day, but when i’m my best self, i whir up a batch of homemade hummus, run a pita through the toaster oven, and sit down for a cup of tea.
 
this recipe requires two things: a food processor and an extra 10 to 15 minutes of your time. it is completely worth it to spend those meditative moments popping the chickpeas out of their translucent skin one by one. it’s the secret to getting that impossibly smooth, almost whipped texture that so mimics my favorite store-bought hummus at trader joe’s.
 
speaking of which, making hummus at home won’t save you much more than a dollar or so, compared to buying a tub at the store. but i do it for the satisfaction. out of the handful of feats that make me feel like i can handle this adulthood thing, most of mine are kitchen-related. and spooning out soft gobs of my own delicious homemade dip out of the food processor and into its perfectly-sized tupperware container to place in a well-stocked refrigerator, ready for whatever needs may arise, snacking or social or otherwise — that is a priceless feeling.
 
Homemade Hummus
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Jerusalem: A Cookbook
Makes 1 ¾ cups hummus

15 oz. can cooked, drained chickpeas 
½ cup tahini paste

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more to taste

2 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
¾ teaspoon table salt, or more to taste

Approximately ¼ cup water
Olive oil, paprika, Mediterranean flatbread and/or carrot sticks to serve

  1. Peel your chickpeas: Take a chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers, arranging the pointy end in towards your palm, and “pop!” the naked chickpea out. Discard the skin.
  2. In a food processor, blend the chickpeas until powdery clumps form, a full minute, scraping down the sides. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt and blend until pureed. With the machine running, drizzle in water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until you get very smooth, light and creamy mixture (about 4 tablespoons).
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt or lemon if needed.
  4. Transfer the hummus to a bowl and rest it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, longer if you can. To serve, drizzle it with a little olive oil, and sprinkle it with paprika. Serve it with toasted flatbread wedges or carrot sticks.

white peach sangria

sunset reflection

i had this recipe saved since a year ago, when the air was just as oppressively hot as it is now and we were all just as desperately thirsty for a clean cold drink — but the times were so so different. at once less turbulent yet more uncertain, every step a test of sound ground.

i was swimming my way through fresh unemployment at the time and the simultaneous feelings of rejection and liberation that it brought. things were murky, and i decided to just float in it. a summer wedding gave us roles: a bride and her maids, and so we rallied; and for me it swiftly gave me a new point around which to pivot and swivel. i was grateful.

in that summer, that was what i knew of strength: to call upon others, to link our arms, to celebrate our ties, even as we tightened them. we had a thing every wednesday — we had a thing, period — and it made me strong.

coffee cup

this year, to count back the months and figuratively turn them over in my hands… i see what has shifted and settled, to become more fully itself. anxieties turned into job offers, vows into supreme partnership; wanderlust evolved into residence; and in some cases, quietly kept longings revealed themselves to be decidedly false starts. for better or worse, it was a year of becoming.

it may be a strange time to do a year-in-review — end of june, cusp of july — but i suppose this is what happens when i finally log into a long-neglected blog account. and when i run on teacher time, with summer opening up ahead of me, full of promises of free time and a freed mind.

in any case, i think i like where i stand. i like the view from here; i like how my legs feel underneath me.

a year later, cheers to that.

white peach sangria

White Peach Sangria
Adapted from the Los Angeles Times
Makes 16 servings
 
2 bottles dry white wine
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup peach schnapps
2/3 cup simple syrup
2 tsp. vanilla extract
juice from ½ an orange
juice from 1 lime
3 white peaches, sliced
½ orange, sliced into wheels
½ lime, sliced into wheels
1 lemon, sliced into wheels

  1. In a large pitcher or beverage dispenser, combine the wine, brandy, peach schnapps and simple syrup. Stir in the peach, orange, lime and lemon slices.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours.

pumpkin gingersnap magic bars

this fall in particular feels like an odd transition time for me. my rhythm changes every day. sometimes i’m up bright and early and enjoying every deep inhale of chilled air, raring to attack the little stack of tasks i’ve piled up; other days i move like syrup.

with some time, i’ve found the secret to the center of myself is to get back in the kitchen. to find a quiet afternoon and an empty house, kick up some tunes, and create a rhythm. flick on the oven, clunk out the biggest pan from the bottom of the cupboard. chop, sprinkle; drizzle, stir, scatter. shimmy that pan into the heat and wait for it to bubble and brown and fill this whole place up with scents of anticipation.

this recipe is perfect for aforementioned kitchen therapy, and even more perfect for fall: extra moist from the pumpkin, chewy from the shredded coconut, and a fantastic clash of spice-y, sweet, and deep dark chocolatey. i left the kitchen feeling like a champ… and smelling even better.

 

Pumpkin Gingersnap Magic Bars
Adapted from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and Bakers Royale

4 cups gingersnap crumbs
 {I bought a 14 oz. tub of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps and crushed them in a bag using a rolling pin}
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

14oz. sweetened condensed milk

¾ cup pumpkin puree

1 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

¼ tsp. cloves, optional
1 ½ cups sweetened shredded coconut

1 ½ cups walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 ½ cups chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Generously coat a 9×13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine gingersnap crumbs and butter in pan and combine until crumbs are evenly moistened. Press mixture onto bottom of pan, using the flat bottom of a dry measuring cup to flatten evenly.
  3. Sprinkle coconut evenly over crust, followed by chocolate chips.
  4. Combine sweetened condensed milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl, and stir until well combined. Pour mixture over coconut and chocolate chips.
  5. Finish by sprinkling walnuts on top.
  6. Place assembled pan in the oven and bake for about 30 to 45 minutes or until the coconut around the edge is deeply toasted and nuts are golden brown. Let cool in pan completely and then transfer finished pan to the refrigerator to chill before cutting.

thai beef stir-fry with chiles and basil

dishes like these are magic. when you’re uncomfortably wedged between a pressing to-do list and an ominous tummy-rumble, recipes that come together this quickly are a lifesaver. just like this one and this one, they prove that fresh, wholesome, delicious food is possible even on a deadline. it’s fast food, no drive-through window necessary. 

the list of ingredients is mighty short but still somehow creates a bowlful of savory, flavorful comfort food. like i said: magic.

Thai Beef Stir-Fry with Chiles and Basil
Adapted from Orangette
Makes 2-3 servings 

4 large garlic cloves, chopped
4 to 5 Thai (aka bird’s eye) or serrano chiles, sliced
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp. oil
6 to 8 oz. ground beef
1 Tbsp. fish sauce, or more to taste
pinch of sugar
¼ cup chicken stock or water
2 large handfuls of basil leaves
jasmine rice, fried eggs, and lime wedges, to serve

  1. Stir together the garlic, chiles, and salt. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil, and add the garlic, chiles, and salt. Stir-fry for a few seconds until fragrant; then add the beef. Continue to cook, stirring, until the beef is cooked through and just starting to brown. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce and the sugar. Add the basil and stock or water, and stir just until the basil is wilted. Remove from the heat. 
  2. Scoop the rice into bowls, and then divide the beef and its juices over the top. Crown with the fried eggs. Serve immediately, with a good squeeze of lime.