roasted bacon & butternut squash pizza

1514999_10151795981630855_2117611626_n

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. 

5271_10151795986320855_792573931_n 3

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.

no is the new yes

the other day, not long after i wrote my last post, i was shuffling through my feedly queue and read this. i loved what she said about the special ways her apartment parties would bring people together – i feel the same way about my dinner parties. but really, it was this one sentence that sung out at me:

and what a soothing truth it was. my accommodating nature is so ingrained in me… it’s a complex network of cords and cables that runs under everything i do, and very hard to rewire. so any time i’m asked to do a favor, lend an item, give a ride, help out with this work project or that volunteer event, and i’m on the verge of saying no, a riot of noise starts up in my head: “no one else will be able to do it; you have to help!”; “don’t be selfish!”; “what’s your excuse?”; “say yes now, so you’ll feel less guilty when you need a favor yourself!” it’s crazy in there, let me tell you.

but this one sentence really stilled the room, so to speak. it’s simple. it’s strong. it’s something i hope in a year’s time, i will add to my 2014 list of “what i’ve learned.”

p.s. i just read this article about how clichéd the phrase “something is the new something” is… and yet, i couldn’t help myself with the title. sry.

what i’ve learned

i feel like this has been a big year. amazing things have fallen into place, while other parts of my life have taken me by surprise and gotten flung up in the air with abandon. i’ve read others’ lists like this and am always touched by how insightful and wise they are – we have a lot to learn from our own lives if we just take the time to listen. i didn’t want 2013 to go by without a little reflection, so this is my own small act of homage to everything this year has taught me. here goes:

  • in friendship, support is better than advice – i don’t say this as an absolute; everyone values different things when it comes to friendship. but this is what i discovered and ultimately articulated about my own: when i call up a friend, with good news or bad, whether hurting or elated, i don’t want a diagnosis and prescription; i want someone to join me in what i’m feeling, to remind me what i’m made of. my friends are my heartbeat because, with them, i am known. “a friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
  • how to take care of myself – this year, that has meant: exercising, finding healthy foods i like to eat, giving myself permission to say no (instead of doing every favor asked of me), and setting aside sacred time each week to decompress.
  • how to comfort myself – this is different than taking care of myself, and that was a lesson all on its own. no matter how diligent you are about living right, things will still go wrong. what happens when it’s up to you to make yourself feel better? it’s ok if the answer involves netflix, chocolate, a strong drink, and/or a few angry journal scribbling sessions.
  • you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have– this lesson carries over from a health scare i had in 2012. what was then a seemingly slow-motion series of events (lump, doctor visit, ultrasound, probably benign, mysterious pain, doctor visit, biopsy, phone call, definitely benign) has now become a short story about understanding my strength. i am not invincible; i know it could all happen again but with a different ending. but because of how i faced the first fear, i have been irreversibly changed for the better, for the bolder. i know who i am in the face of uncertainty. i have proven myself to myself.
  • having strongly-held values is different than living according to them; setting a goal is different than working towards one – this is my current lesson, and it’s a work in progress, for sure. i have always prided myself on knowing what i want, but this year was a series of gentle wake-up calls that perhaps the way i was living was not in line with those end goals. how can i say i want to meet someone if i don’t set aside energy to date? how can i talk about being a full-time teacher “someday” if i don’t look into what degrees i need to get now? caring is not the same as doing.
  • i like work – yes, i might currently be sitting on my bed still in my pj’s typing this. however! that doesn’t mean i don’t gain an immense sense of satisfaction and contentment after a good day’s work. i was never one to define myself by my job, or my success by my professional accomplishments, so it was quite a pleasant surprise to discover how much work means to me: my job specifically, and my field in general. what i do makes me a better person, and i like that person a lot.

Be you, bravely

cranberry-orange breakfast buns


photo 2
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.

photo 1

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.

work it out

i never thought i would come to this space to share workout routines, but what the hell.

it’s a funny study in motivation for me, this exercising thing… i’ve learned to pick out what factors get me going – and keep me consistent. yes, i want to get in shape, to feel strong, to stay active for the sake of my health. but with the job i have currently (and the grad school/job combo i may have lined up next year), exercise has been more important to me as a way to unwind, physically. i spend so much time talking throughout the day that i forget to breathe normally sometimes. i unknowingly tense my shoulders, neck, lower back, jaw, etc. etc. etc. for hours at a time. it isn’t until i get myself in front of these workout routines that things release and stretch out, and my body feels like itself again.

here are the three (free!) videos that have really worked for me and my workout-averse personality. 

20-Minute Yoga for Complete Beginners —

this is more of a reset button than a true workout routine. i tend to use the stretches to release tension, and the quiet, slow pace with guided breathing helps me clear my mind a bit.

Intro to Bellydancing —

yes, bellydancing. once i got over how silly it felt, i found a lot of the movements to help with lower back tension, easing muscles that don’t really get attention in other workouts. i use certain segments of the video as warm-up/cool-down and skip the rest.

NYC Ballet Workout 1 —

this is my go-to for a true workout. i have always loved taking ballet classes, but i’m on a tight budget and this is the next best thing. i skip the middle ‘stretches’ segment and do some or all of the other exercises. they get my heart rate up, work my core and leg muscles, and force me to pay attention to my grace and posture. then, depending on my mood, i’ll use the ‘reverence’ or one of the above videos as my cool-down. 

after i’m all done, i get to skip downstairs and slap some stickers onto our house workout chart and then bask in the swirl of my endorphins. it’s an ongoing lesson to myself that hard work can feel good. 

the sky last night

photo-2

and back to regularly scheduled programming.

this was the sky last night. unbelievably soft looking and the sweetest combination of sherbet hues, the clouds cracking open to a final brightness, an end to an otherwise gloomy day. i walked my two dogs, and a smattering of raindrops began to fall; i felt them land on my nose and my wrists and fingertips.

later, in the middle of the night, i woke to the sound of more rain falling. heavier this time, fatter drops, more steady in rhythm. so i pushed up my window so i could listen as i fell back to sleep.
 
it is one of my favorite pleasures of living: this sound of rain. in a time when we can engineer so much, plan and manipulate and create so much, i need these small serendipities. to know that beauty sometimes just comes, when you least expect it but most appreciate it. to know that someone else is in charge and that he is good.

 

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.

animal dreams

every once in a while, i’ll find myself in a really fantastic reading mood — a deeply gentle frame of mind, in which i effortlessly tuck myself into a good fat book and measure the passage of time in page turns (instead of commercial breaks). it is a rare space, and it’s lovely while it lasts.
 200px-AnimalDreams
this week, i got a shiny new toy, a hand-me-down kindle, and the first thing i did was troll through our library’s e-catalog for something delicious to read. i was hunting for something addictive and popular like the buzzworthy gone girl, but found myself downloading barbara kingsolver’s animal dreams instead.
 
i can’t remember exactly when i first read it, but i know it was ages ago. far enough back that a different breed of sadness was seated in my throat, a loneliness i, most mercifully, have not known since. so i don’t remember the plot points, but i do remember it for the way it met me there in my freshly aching desolation, mirrored it, and then wrote me an ending.
 
times are different now. i can sit here in this different house, with its different voices and new history, and think about that stale and hollow time as if it was someone i used to know. how lucky i am that this is my time lapse moment… to flick open an old book, live in the swell of memory, and realize how good things have become.