When the weather gets warm, I get food lazy. As in, I’m too lazy to actually cook, and end up just throwing together meals I can eat raw — salads, carrots and hummus, fruit… you know. And it’s okay, because the produce tastes better in these warmer months, anyway. I’m just waiting for it to get really hot, because the only good part about heat and humidity is the tomato season.
And when summer hits, you start hearing everyone talking about adventuring for some crab meat — in this part of the U.S., that means getting your hands covered in Old Bay and picking away at some Maryland Blue Crab.
My first foray into crab-eating was when I waited tables — at that seafood restaurant in Southern California, that I’ve written about so much. I know pretty much everything there is to know about seafood because of that job, and I’m generally grateful for that.
At the restaurant, we had live dungeness crabs, but in most of the salads, like around most of the U.S., we used canned jumbo lump crab meat, caught and packaged in the South Pacific (not so glamorous, but just say “South Pacific” and everything sounds better).
Now that I live so close to Maryland, pickin’ at crab is a cherished summer activity, perhaps after a beautiful day sailing or floating on a donut-shaped inner tube at the shark tooth capital of the world. If you have access to fresh jumbo lump crab meat at your grocery store, it will taste slightly less briny and will only be slightly more expensive — but otherwise, canned jumbo lump crab meat works a-okay.
The tartness from the lemon makes this salad perfect for a hot day, provided you’ve just pulled the ingredients out of the fridge. I, in fact, ate one for dinner one night, and jarred another to take to work the next day. The flavors held up perfectly.
Crab and Artichoke Green Salad, derived from the Fast Diet Cookbook
1 can artichoke hearts
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
3.5 oz. lump crab meat
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced chives
salt and pepper
1.5 teaspoons olive oil
3.5 oz (ish) arugula or mixed greens
First, remove and drain both the crab meat and artichokes from their respective cans. While they’re draining, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper and minced garlic in a small bowl. Slice the artichokes, if you prefer.
Toss the greens, chives, artichokes, and crab meat with the dressing. Serve with fresh shavings of parmesan cheese.
Disclaimer: I promised Shaeda I would wait to make this until she was in my apartment. I broke that promise. But can you blame me?
Toad-in-a-holes take me back to being a little kid, visiting my grandmother. I don’t know if you all remember this, but before the American Girl dolls were a thing, the American Girl books and paper dolls were a thing. And being the bookworm that I was, I powered through all of them. Naturally, I look most like Samantha (most is a stretch) so she was my favorite, but my grandmother, having grown up in New York during World War II with the victory gardens and all, well, her favorite was Molly.
And when I was sufficiently obsessed with the book series and the stories of all of the characters (Grandma read every single book after I powered through each one), they came out with a series of cookbooks. I can’t remember if I had every single one, but I know that I had Molly’s. And, one of the recipes we made — usually for breakfast for Grandpa — was the toad-in-a-hole. A piece of toast with a hole in it, and a fried egg right into the bread. It’s delicious.
And I’ve had this idea for a few weeks now. A toad-in-a-hole grilled cheese. It’s been making me salivate. And with all the spin classes I’ve been going to, well, I’ve been letting myself ease into some carbs. So I made this.
But I wanted it to have a kick. So I threw on some sriracha. Obviously, it would be fun to use homemade sriracha, but I haven’t been home much lately, so I haven’t made any of that this year. The classic green top worked out great.
My only regret is that, next time, I’ll add in some slices of avocado. Now that would be perfect.
Happy Friday! This morning started off pretty chilly, but the weekend forecast here in DC is looking pretty darn gorgeous. Hoping you all get to have a nice weekend, too!
If you follow me on le twitter and instagram, you’re probably aware that I started working with Cava Mezze and Cava Mezze Grill to photograph all of the beautiful dishes and ingredients on their menu — and, as a food photographer who gets to chow down on everything after photo shoots are done, I can definitely say that the food tastes even better than it looks.
Liz and Nikki set me up with a couple of their dips, so this is the first of two recipes I’ve put together — a twist on an artichoke dip that my stepmom makes (which is really just one of the biggest highlights every time I go home to visit). With the added kick from Cava’s Crazy Feta, it’s the simplest of ingredients, and I’m not sure I love anything more than I love feta cheese.
I made this little pot of crazy feta artichoke dip for a friend’s birthday, which we celebrated Wednesday night over homemade pizza and bottles upon bottles of wine. I mentioned to the host that I made it with the Cava Crazy Feta dip, and she opened her fridge and revealed a few of the Cava dips that she already had in store… so they’re pretty much everywhere these days :)
We ate the dip with a fresh loaf of sourdough bread, heated in the oven and ripped apart by hand. I suggest you do the same! And look for Cava’s amazing products in your grocery store — here in DC, they’re at Whole Foods. And pretty much in everyone’s fridge.
Yesterday was — well, I’m pretty darn sure — the best day of my life. A coworker hooked me up with one of the much-coveted White House tour tickets. Being the first day the White House has reopened its tours since sequestration’s budget cuts took place back in January. So it was a pretty exciting day, for anyone who was able to finally get a tour, and for the people who work at the White House.
We were held up in the East Room for what felt like forever when a friend commented on one of my Instagrams about POTUS and FLOTUS surprising everyone on the tours, so as you can imagine, my heart started racing. What would I say? Was it true? Would they still be there?
The secret service closed the doors to the Green room right when we were about to go through, which put us in front of the line for the next group. And once the doors reopened and we were shuffled through, I was greeted by none other than Michelle Obama herself, in all of her glowing glory. That woman is pretty in photos, but hot damn, she is 43290423 times prettier in person.
Anyway, being from Los Angeles, I’ve met my fair share of celebrities, but Michelle takes the cake.
I. Was. Starstruck. Especially when she greeted us with a big smile and a “HIIII! Welcome to my house!” Cue Sunny jumping all over her and my coworker. I, naturally, beelined to Bo, who was sitting a few feet away, simply panting and rolling his eyes at Sunny, who was literally leaping and bounding from the visitors, to the First Lady, to the people behind the cameras. I pet Bo for as long as I could, which was apparently too long, because Secret Service basically escorted me out.
My heart was racing for at least 30 minutes after that. Marissa and I proceeded to jump up and down and scream on the White House driveway.
Seriously, best day of my life, and those dogs are the fluffiest dogs in the world. So. Effing. Cute.
This recipe comes from a friend and owner of yet another unbelievably adorable Portuguese water dog — Ollie. Maybe someday, Michelle will read this and schedule a play date for Ollie and Sunny. They’d make a darling couple.
An excerpt from my past (hold back your chuckle — it’s from livejournal… and super emo):
3 days left in the valley, and I’ll probably be home for one or two days between Sunday and mid-June. And after 3 weeks of intensely monotonous work, an upside-down iceberg of a relationship, and salsa dancing with confusion, I honestly don’t know how much longer I can stand being here. I don’t see much here anymore, let alone have I talked to the majority of you in the past six months. But this friends page is just about the second or third site I click on when I go online, probably alternating with Bank of America.
Seeing a few of the old high school friends at random rendezvous made me miss the ones at college terribly – I think my days of reminiscing and telling high school stories with Cari might finally be over, now that I realize that the people I’ve known for years are finally growing up. I call her and we say things like “I can’t believe I have to see him twice over break,” or “can we go to a party the instant we get home?”
And then we exchange why either of us made those comments, and then we agree. “I’m sick of the valley.” “The partying is so different now in Sac.” “Let’s go to Chipotle next weekend.” “Fix it, he’s your ride.” “It’s okay, I’ve been stuck in a love triangle for 3 years now.” “Did I call you on New Years?” “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” “I hope you don’t get into UCLA, because I am going to miss you.”
I normally write when I’m upset. No wonder I stopped writing in Santa Barbara.
Needless to say, my domestic life has wasted away with my data entry job. Nor have I slept much lately, except for this evening – I was supposed to finish some sewing projects and stop by American Apparel. I’ve run out of flat fabric to actually make clothes with, so I’ve been resizing all my thrift-store t-shirts so they fit perfectly. I used to make so many clothes in high school – without patterns, too. Some things come right back after you spend months or years away. But some things still disappear on you, no matter how well you kept in touch or what good friends you are. Sometimes you go through emotions and you write more than you ever could, filling up a notebook or pages and pages of cyberspace. And you don’t even look back on what you write, but you throw that notebook away or ctrl+a+delete, and it’s gone, as if it never even existed.
It’s always interesting to read something you wrote long ago. Sometimes, I look back on my writing from high school and college and think, well, my voice is the same, but I can’t for the life of me remember what some of the emotions were about. Perhaps I was trying a form of subtle obviousness. Who knows? I was barely a freshman in college when I wrote this.
The boy in my life back then was, interestingly enough, living in DC for college, and was obsessed with Arabic before the study even appealed to me. Maybe he planted the seed. But he is as much a completely different person as I am from my eighteen year old self. I imagine he has since grown up, as he is probably a wonderful husband as he was a wonderful confidant to me all those years ago. We had good times — he drove me back to school at the end of my first winter break, and he was as sweet as he was awkward. I definitely have a type.
It’s nice, and sometimes heartbreaking to read about the boys of your youth. But they’ll almost all be considered that someday, right? Exes, first loves, hookups that would have been nice to have worked out. They’re all reflections of our younger, former selves.
Interestingly enough, I came across this post when sifting through the posts marked “draft” in WordPress. I didn’t hate this one. I wrote it 8 months ago.
Things have changed so much since then, I can’t even remember where I drew those emotions from.
These za’atar bars also bring back memories of a younger, former self. One of my best friends in college was my friend Randa, a passionately argumentative and wild twenty-two year old from a long string of equally fierce Palestinian women. When her entire family visited her at UCLA (by way of the East Bay), she’d invite me over for a huge dinner — I’d practice my kindergarten Arabic and they’d fill my plates with food, plate after plate, despite protests of girlish figures and Los Angeles’ year-round bikini season.
She’s since moved to New York and Jordan and Ramallah, but Gchat and Snapchat keep us in check. She brought these home for me once on a trip home to the Bay, and I made her get the recipe from her mother. It was unbearably simple — and I make these for pretty much any potluck. They’re best served hot and crispy, so they’re ideal for office parties where a toaster oven is present.
Za’atar Cheese Bars
1 package (20-25 sheets) filodough, thawed
4 cups shredded mozzarella — or a 1 lb. bag
2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups crumbled feta
1 cup za’atar spice mixture
4 eggs, whisked until frothy
1 stick butter, melted
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Brush a 9×13 brownie/cake pan with a layer of melted butter. Layer on a few sheets of filodough, and then brush again with a layer of butter. Use about half of the filodough sheets.
In a mixing bowl, combine the cheeses, za’atar, and eggs. Use your hands to fully incorporate all of the ingredients, and then spread the cheese mixture onto the filodough layer. Use a spatula to spread evenly.
Then, layer a few more filo sheets on top of the cheese. Brush with butter, and repeat with every two sheets until you are out of filodough. If you have any butter left, go ahead and just pour it on top.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the dough is crisp and a golden brown. Remove, and let cool completely before cutting (to give the bars a clean edge). Then, slice with a sharp knife, and reheat in a toaster oven (or a conventional oven) before serving.
Nothing makes me miss having a garden like eggplant does. Last summer, and the summer before it, I had a few eggplant seedlings that just exploded in the July heat — it was always fun to grill homegrown eggplant and squash with the roommates and friends at our summer barbecues!
Eggplant is one of my go-to dishes for dinners and work lunches — it’s relatively cheap, you can find it at every grocery story, and it makes a great pasta substitute when you’re craving lasagna, but cutting back on carbs.
We all have lazy days. Days when getting out of bed feels like the most difficult task in the world, and you schlep to work and procrastinate your sanity away. It’s painful. I hate those days, because, if I had a choice, I’d design infographics in my sleep.
For a while, I’ve been in a dear-god-please-don’t-make-me-cook phase. Weird, right? A food blogger should never have that problem… but coming up with things to cook, sometimes for the blog, and sometime just for lunch, feels like I’m pulling my own teeth. And it’s not like I’ve been overworked at the day job lately, because things have been relatively calm for the past week.
Freelance, on the other hand, is a different story.
I would classify all of last week as one of the laziest weeks of my life. I didn’t stick to any sort of healthy eating plan, I didn’t get much done at work or in freelance, and I just couldn’t get myself to sit down and write. Hell, making lunches to take to work was probably the most productive thing I did — and that was basically putting salad ingredients in a jar. I spent most of the week envying Keri Russell’s 80s jeans in The Americans (when I really should have been doing squats to get me closer to fitting into said jeans).
During weeks like those, I’m guilt of even my biggest pet peeves, like leaving dirty dishes in the sink.
So naturally, one day, I came home ravished, in the need for something delicious, unhealthy, and fast. No time for pizza dough. No money for take out. But I did have tortillas, pasta sauce, and parmesan cheese.
It took just 15 minutes to make, and 13 of those minutes were spent watching Veep on my living room floor. The downsides are limited: lots of cheese, and a tortilla, which I shouldn’t be eating. The upsides could go one forever, though: lots of cheese, fewer calories than pizza dough, takes three minutes to make, tastes like legit thin crust take-out.
Tortilla Cheese Pizza
1 flour tortilla (whole wheat ones taste great, too — but what’s pictured here is flour)
4-5 heaping spoonfuls tomato basil pasta sauce
Approx. 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Drizzle of olive oil
First, heat your oven to 500 degrees.
Then, brush the top of a tortilla with olive oil. Generously spoon tomato sauce onto the tortilla, using the back of the spoon to spread it evenly. Then, just cover everything in parmesan cheese.
Bake at 500 degrees for 10 minutes, until the cheese starts to bubble. The crust (tortilla) should be brown and crispy. Transfer to a plate, cut, and inhale.
Since moving to the new/old neighborhood, I’ve rediscovered my love for all things quaint.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved living on H Street — the restaurants were phenom, the people were super hip and fun, and the bars were gritty in all the right ways. But Dupont makes it so easy to fall in love with DC. There’s a coffee shop on my new block that has a great patio. I’m “freelancing” from it right now. I just had to take a break to write up a quick post because everything around me was just so darn cute.
I’m sitting under an awning, and it’s raining lightly outside.
The patio diners across the street at Hank’s Oyster Bar are moving to tables inside, and I’m wedged at a two-top between a handsome teacher grading papers and an elderly couple. He is reading on his Kindle, and she has a stack of drawing pads and a Ziploc filled with pencils and pastels arranged in the chair next to her. Slender with a casual blonde bob and tortoise shell glasses, she’s sketching a face from a photo in a large album.
A stouter, older Lebanese man with a strikingly large bouquet of roses stopped by their table to say hello. I only know he’s Lebanese because the accent reminds me so much of college that it’s soothing. Before he continued on his walk down Q Street, he plucked two long-stemmed pink roses from a bouquet, and carefully placed them on the woman’s sketchbook. She thanked him, smelled the roses, and returned to her drawing.
Then, a little bird landed on the table next to my iced coffee. I even hate birds, and this was just too adorable.
Like I said, it’s too easy to become smitten with this city in this part of town.
Earlier today, I made a grilled cheese sandwich — very bad for my diet, but after reviewing my Mint.com account, I’ve found the need to stick to the ever-important yet difficult-to-abide-by budget. So I’ll be eating the food I already have in my fridge.
Slice your leeks lengthwise, then into quarter- or half-inch strips. Fill a bowl with water, and wash all the leek slices by hand. Remove from water, and pat dry with towels. Then, slice your strawberries and set aside.
Heat a medium-sized skillet on the stove. Drizzle with olive oil, and saute the sliced leeks until softened. I like letting the edges brown a bit. Once you get to that point, remove the leeks from your skillet and set aside.
Warm your tortillas on the skillet, just letting them to brown a tiny bit. Then, over medium heat, smear or crumble some goat cheese onto one side of a tortilla, top generously with leeks and strawberries, and then top with shredded mozzarella. Cover with the second tortilla, and cook until crispy.
Slice, and share with your friends. Or nurse your hangover.
In the past few months, I’ve found myself in a few situations where I’m surrounded by kids.
The first instance was back in January, when Kristen asked me to give a presentation at her students’ career day. That was an absolute blast — I was unbelievably nervous, but I brought a ton of freebies from the Department of Energy (lunch bags, bookmarks, the whole shebang) and I even attended the 8th graders’ English class with them. They’re reading Lord of the Flies. Does that bring back memories?
There have been a few instances in my own office building that have called for a last-minute chat with kids about career options. Today, I got to chat with two groups of high school students from a technical high school in DC about working in STEM — and how you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to work in STEM. I make art. High-functioning, scientific and useful art.
Design is a lovely thing.
And tomorrow, I’m starting a mentorship program with a high school student. Tomorrow, well, tomorrow is my birthday. I can’t think of a better way to spend it.
Thanks for letting me share these moments with you. And to accompany the flashbacks all this talk of teenagers might have spurred, enjoy this grown-up grilled cheese sandwich (also on the cheeseboard sent to me by Rochelle from yesterday’s post).
Hope your humpday is moving along quickly.
French Onion Grilled Cheese, inspired by the adorable Joy the Baker
Four slices of a good, firm sourdough bread (I keep softer sourdough in the freezer, which also works)
2 or 3 medium-sized yellow onions, sliced
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded or sliced gruyere cheese
A few sage leaves, sliced
Butter. Mmm… buddah.
Salt & pepper to taste
I can’t go through sourdough bread fast enough (thanks for nothing, diet), so if I have it in the house, I keep it in the freezer. I recommend that tactic, because I actually like grilled cheese sandwiches made from frozen bread better. Something about the temperature and the way the cheese melts into it.
ANYWAY. Heat a skillet on high until the pan is hot — so hot that you can only hold your hand over it for about 4 or 5 seconds before recoiling. Then, turn the heat down to medium. Add your sliced onions, and drizzle with a bit of butter. Stir constantly. After the onions turn translucent, the edges will start to brown — this should take about 5 to 7 minutes. When burnt bits start to collect at the bottom, pour in your 1/4 cup of heavy cream (yes, we are caramelizing onions in heavy cream). Season with salt, pepper and sage. Keep stirring, and cook over medium-high heat until the onions actually turn to a caramel color. This should take another 15 minutes or so. Longer if you want them really caramelized.
Scrape the bottom of the skillet, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Reduce your heat to low. Butter both sides of each slice of bread, and shred or slice your gruyere. Place one slice of bread on the skillet, then layer it with cheese, then pile on the caramelized onions, and then top with another slice of bread. Make sure your heat is on low — you want a slow cook.
I gave them about 7 minutes per side, which gave the sandwich just the right color and melted the cheese into the holes of the sourdough bread.