Baked winter squash pasta

October 19, 2012 § 28 Comments

A few summers ago, I did an internship at the photography studio at Stonewall Kitchen up in Maine.  I was just starting to really dig into my PhD work, and the pressure I was putting on myself because of it had started giving me panic attacks and making me sick.  Things weren’t going at all as I’d planned, so I decided to take some time off to recover and learn better how to deal with, well, myself really.

At that point I had just barely picked up a camera and started aiming it at foodstuffs.  I hated every photograph I took, but I adored the process of taking the food photos, so when a friend connected me with her friend who was the photographer for Stonewall, and she offered me a summer internship, I jumped at it.  It was like being in college again.  A weird summer internship!  Barely getting paid! Exploring new pursuits, things I enjoy,  rediscovering myself, yippee!

I learned all about f-stops and shutter speed and ISO numbers that summer.  I learned a lot about what I liked and didn’t like in food styling and lighting, and I gained the confidence to start experimenting.  I learned that I totally loved spending the whole day in a photo studio, even if I was holding light bounces and washing dishes most of the time.

I also learned that I did have the mental fortitude to stick with things that are tough, things that I suck at, and improve little by little.  Even though I kind of wanted to stay in the photo studio forever, it helped me feel like I could stand up for the research I wanted to do and ideas that I had, and I would finish my PhD.  (Um, though that part is still technically TBD.  IthinkIcanIthinkIcanIthinkIcan…Give me a few more months.) « Read the rest of this entry »

Spaghetti squash with cauliflower, anchovies, pine nuts, and currants

May 10, 2012 § 14 Comments

For much of my adult life (starting, even, when I was more adult-ish, than adult), I’ve wanted to have a restaurant or cafe where I was recognized.  All Cheers-like, where everybody – or, more realistically, at least somebody – would know my name, and I would know theirs.  I’d be a regular.

Perhaps it comes from my small-town girl core, which craves to be situated in a community small enough where you can’t help but bump into someone you know on every grocery store visit.  Perhaps it comes from the more universal human desire to belong, to be part of something, to be known.  Either way, it’s been a borderline compulsion for years, but mostly just an internal one.  I’ve never really intentionally played it out.  Either my tendency to explore and try new places would thwart my quest to become a regular, or a high turnover rate in the staff would.  (Technically with the latter, I guess I still was a regular, but it doesn’t count if there is no one that greets you with that smile of the eyes that says, ‘hey, I know you! I’m glad you’re back. How’s the family/kids/dog…?’)

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Pasta with burrata and kale-roasted garlic sauce

April 17, 2012 § 26 Comments

I moved to Boston just about seven years ago.  Actually, for those of you interested in geographical specificity, I moved to Somerville.  But I didn’t even know what the distinction was between them at the time.  On the day I arrived, after having driven through the night, through Canada, with only a two hour stop for a nap at 6:30 in the morning before chugging onward and pulling up to my new apartment at 2:30 PM, I decided to try to take the subway down to the Boston Common and the Public Garden to hang out there in the remaining late afternoon sun.  (Actually facing the boxes of my belongings in my new space was simply too daunting.  I needed some time.)

The last time I had been in the area was the summer between kindergarten and first grade, and the only thing I still remembered from that experience in Boston was being in the Public Garden.  Actually, what I remembered was sitting on the Make Way for Ducklings statue in the Public Garden, and that memory was largely based on a photograph my mom had taken.

In heading towards this destination held in my memory, the very first thing  I did (and this is a remarkably easy thing to do in Boston, even if you have a better sense of direction than yours truly) was get on a bus going in exactly the wrong direction.  I don’t even know how I figured out I was on the wrong course, except perhaps when the conductor yelled, “Arlington Center!”  All I remember is how vivid, and noisy, and full of energy everything felt.  I always feel this way in a new city, senses heightened as I eye everything closely trying to discern what it is, what it means, where I’m headed.

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Creamy orecchiette with peas, pancetta, and mint

January 17, 2012 § 17 Comments

The first thing that Joel and I did together that could be classified (however questionably) as a date involved sitting at his kitchen table for 6 or 7 hours stuffing envelopes.  Not exactly romantic in the, ahem, classical sense.  In fact, I’m still trying to sort through exactly how he convinced me that that would be a worthwhile use of my day.  But, it did give us plenty of time to talk, and talk and talk and talk.  About literature, our personal histories and scandals, politics, friends, hopes and aspirations.

Good stuff.

He learned about me that I have trouble telling apart left and right, probably due to a brain lesion that I somehow acquired without even realizing it.  I had to use this to justify the fact that I accidentally put the stamp in the wrong corner of a stack of something like 100 envelopes.

I learned about him that he considered himself a connoisseur of macaroni and cheese.

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Israeli couscous with butternut squash and cilantro sauce

January 6, 2012 § 26 Comments

Let’s take a moment to reflect on couscous, shall we?  My family, as I recall, seems to have discovered couscous some time part of the way through my tenure in high school.  I don’t know how my mother stumbled on it or decided to purchase it, all I remember is that she served it for the first time for supper one day (alongside pork tenderloin and acorn squash if my memory serves me correctly, which it tends to when it comes to meals), and it felt like the epitome of novelty.

I was certain we were eating something flashy, exotic, new, the food equivalent of getting the first version of the iphone, right when it came out.  And this fit in lockstep with my budding epicurean ideals – which back in high school, I’ll admit, were more about the appearance of sophistication and taste than anything else.  High school.  Jeez.

Back then we just ate the Middle East brand couscous with the spice packet mixed in.  That was fancy enough for us.  (to extend the iphone metaphor: my phone gets internet!!!  Oh my gosh!  It totally doesn’t matter that it can’t seem to actually make phone calls most of the time…)  But, as couscous has completely mainstreamed, I think most of us have come to expect a little more in the preparation of this tiny noodle. « Read the rest of this entry »

Pasta with eggplant, tomatoes, and ricotta

August 18, 2011 § 24 Comments

Did you know that eggplants kick their blossoms off if they don’t get fertilized?  Just kick them off!  Like a bouncer unceremoniously tossing an unruly guest, by the collar, out into the back alley.  “And stay out!”  I know this now, after a bit of internet gardening-forum perusing, gasping, re-searching, and confirming.

As you may well have imagined, I developed a sudden, keenly focused, interest in the subject after I kept finding the blossoms of our eggplant lying scattered about on the porch below it, completely open and intact, un-chewed upon, as if they had been strewn by an industrious flower girl.  I had missed the wedding though.

At first I suspected birds or insects.  I imagined little beetles and ants popping the blossoms off and tossing them to the ground, laughing and egging each other on.  Like the insect version of cow tipping.  Until, finally, one day it happened right in front of my eyes.  One moment the blossom was on the plant, and the next it just fell off.  As if the eggplant simply didn’t want it anymore and was cutting it off, disowning it, which, I guess, in a sense, is what was happening.

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Ricotta Gnocchi with Butter Braised Summer Squash

July 18, 2011 § 12 Comments

Some magical things are going on amidst the pots of vegetables on our porch.  One of our tomatoes turned red.  Suddenly.  One day everything was green, and then the next there was a startling splash of red beaming at us from under a leaf!  It looked like something out of a fairytale, as striking as a single red rose on a bush.

And the eggplant is suddenly dangling with tiny eggplants, like charms swinging from a bracelet.  I keep feeling like the plants should give some sort of proud cluck, like a laying hen, before they sprout a fruit seemingly out of nowhere.

But, instead it happens stealthily, in the night.

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Orzo pasta salad with mixed herbs and summer squash

July 3, 2011 § 12 Comments

I’m not much of a 4th of July celebrator.  I don’t love fireworks or watermelon – but don’t worry, I do fully recognize that this makes me a total weirdo.  I do, however, like to get my picnic on as much as the next girl, and this seems to be the weekend for it!  (Or for some of us, a weekend of hauling an unwieldy, heavy new table up several flights of winding stairs while jamming our fingers and muttering curses under our breath.  But, followed by a picnic! As there was most definitely an edict issued from somewhere stating, “thou shalt picnic!”).

Rickety picnic baskets, red checkered blankets, pitchers of lemonade, potato salad, amusing ants elbowing their way through to get to your food, what’s not to like?!  Especially if you throw in a frisbee, and a nice shade tree.

Except, I have to admit that usually my version of a picnic is much simpler than that.  It generally just involves some pieces of bread and some pieces of cheese or perhaps ham or salami.  Simple.

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Tuna noodle casserole – redux

June 17, 2011 § 4 Comments

Photo credit: Sarah Shatz

I have some other recipes to share with you that I’ve been concocting with my mother while I’m here in the great North Woods.  But, I forgot my camera cord and can’t download any pictures.  Oops.

Also, this trip is turning out to be a busy one.  Without much time for musings and ramblings about food.  Nope.  We’re running around looking at flowers, checking on dresses, practicing hairstyles (or, more accurately, having hairstyles practiced upon us).  You see, we’re planning a wedding.

And, in answer to your question (in case you are a careful reader and just put two and two together, and found yourself saying, “heyyy, wait a sec…”), yes, Joel and I are already married.  But, we still haven’t had our wedding!  So, we’re gearing up to say our vows in the eyes of our friends and communities and to have a wonderful celebration, come October.

But, I didn’t want to send you all into the weekend without something delicious to think about.  Luckily, I have a recipe I created a while back that I just haven’t found the perfect opportunity for sharing yet.  But, I think this may be it.  So, in honor of being home in Minnesota (I haven’t lived here in years, but let me say, Minnesota is definitely still home!) I’m going to share with you a staple of the Midwest – and Lutheran church basements in particular – a casserole.  Or as it is more properly called, a hotdish. « Read the rest of this entry »

Lasagne with asparagus and mushrooms

May 6, 2011 § 9 Comments

For some reason I want to tell you all “quick, quick, make this lasagne!”  I have an odd sort of urgency about it, and I have no idea why.  Maybe it’s that I think the asparagus is going to go scurrying off into hiding before too long, or that soon it will be too hot to even consider baking something 45 minutes, let alone having that something include a creamy sauce.  Or maybe it’s just that it’s delicious and we should all hurry up and make it so we can eat it (or eat it again, if you’re me).

Not that lasagne is something you can really hurry.  Its architectural layers require some care and engineering to assemble if you want it to come out with beautiful, colored striations, which you do because then it looks a bit like a cool white, green, and brown sandstone cliff.  And, it takes some time to bake, no way around that.  But, all the more reason to get right to it, and not wait around hemming and hawing about whether lasagne should be on the weekend agenda!

I love lasagne.  It feels so pleasantly familial to eat it.  Yet, I don’t make it very often, and I’m not sure why.  Wait, scratch that.  I do know why.  It’s because much of the time there are just the two of us here at dinner, and lasagne is the food of the large crowd.  The family reunion potluck, the ski-team dinner, the 13 kids are coming for a sleep over what on earth am I going to make, occasions.  Often it doesn’t seem quite worth it for two.  And though it makes splendid leftovers – I always think lasagne tastes even better the second day – well, if you make a really big one, it can take a little uncomfortably long to work your way through it.

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