One week and one day ago, we welcomed our second son into the world. Harris Loran Benson was born on October 31st at 12:31 in the afternoon. He came into the world at 20 ¾ inches and a staggering 10 pounds 5 ounces. He let out a wail, calmed down and eased into a delicious mellowness that has yet to lift. This boy is truly a gift to our family. So sweet and easy going you could hardly ask for more in a second baby. He is the type that makes you think (in a haze of hormonal insanity) that you could “totally go for three” as Paul said the other day, while we were gazing at his sweet, chunky face while he snoozed away in my arms. Right. Let's chill on that for a minute.
Today is without a doubt a difficult day to face our children. I took the photo below when I early voted in my city hall. We stopped in the bathroom on our way out to the car, because I spent most of the past two months in one bathroom or another. I snapped a picture of us because, regardless of the outcome, I wanted my son and unborn child to see a photo of the historic day when I was able to cast my vote for the first female nominee to the office of President of the United States. I did not anticipate this particular outcome. I thought we had more sense and decency and more willingness to embrace progress instead of wallowing in fear. Last night, as I nursed Harris and watched the returns roll in, I started to panic a little bit, when it became clear, that this would not be her night. So I shut off the TV and worked instead on being present with my newest little one, looking into his eyes and letting him assure me, that everything would be alright. And it will be.
While I for one would kind of like to cry all day (hello, postpartum hormones, I’m going to cry all day ANYWAYS! Along with inexplicable laughter and almost tactile bursts of joy), I can’t. And we shouldn’t. We simply don’t have time for that. We must stay awake and look forward. And for the current moment, while we feel defeated, scared and anxious, we must draw inward and work on ourselves and our families and our reactions to the world around us. I feel like the only thing I can really do today is to not let global politics steal my personal joy. I have two beautiful, healthy sons and a network of family and friends who have surrounded us in a cocoon of love and generosity and have shared in our wonder and happiness at the arrival of our newest baby. We will raise our sons to be right and good people, this much I know for sure. This is what I have today and this is all that matters. Elections will come and go, the leanings of society will shift and change, sometimes with us and sometimes against us and we will all wake up in the morning (and in the middle of the night for me, for a while). We cannot know what’s next but we can focus on what’s good. And this kid is soooo good it hurts. All my love, Jess
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Around these parts, Potato Tacos are not just a once in while meal agenda, but more so a midweek way of life. What was once a thrown together dinner idea inspired by a long ago vacation is now just straight up Potato Taco Night. Also known as Wednesday. This meal is my favorite go-to for a lot of reasons. It’s pretty healthy (vegan if you omit the sour cream/ yogurt), it’s comprised of pantry staples, it feels decadent and satisfying and it tastes oh so good with that very necessary Hump Day Beer. And most of all it is heavily hands off, you set the potatoes in the oven and the black beans to simmer and you then don’t have to do anything until just before you sit down. When you work all day and have a tiny lunatic climbing the walls that hour of freedom from 5-6 is very necessary. Even if you don’t.
My affinity for Mexican-ish main dishes is no secret by now. Whether I’m waxing philosophical about burritos, slow cooking a pork butt to feed a party-sized crowd or simply cooking my family the easiest of easy weeknight dinners, I’m heavily into tacos, burritos and all things folded into tortillas and decorated with avocado and hot sauce. Strangely enough though, I have never been super into breakfast burritos, or Mexican-style breakfasts in general. I’m not quite sure what the hesitation was, but I think it was mostly fueled by the fact that there are many bad breakfast burritos out there- super soggy with gross, unsuitable vegetables and a bunch of salsa slogging it all down; and also, the aversion may stem from the years I spent slinging breakfast, where one of our signature menu items was a Mexican Chicken Omelette. A monstrosity of eggs, grilled chicken, Jack cheese and salsa that had both pungent aromas and a runny appearance- serving this dish with a Category 7 Hangover (as I was accustomed to in those days) was not that easy, guys.
But last October, Paul and I traveled up to the Catskills for a dear friend (and former roommate and generally like-minded aka food obsessed lady friend)’s wedding. Now Stevie digs food in the way that I do. In an all consuming and passionate way- so much so that she recently bravely took the leap to leave a comfortable career and go to culinary school. We both agree that when any event pops up on the calendar the first and most important question is: What am I gonna make? She’s the real deal this one. So when her fiance and she put together a list of local eateries, we knew that they would be legit. We ate both days at the Phoenicia Diner-- and the breakfasts were delightful. On the second day, moderately hungover and ready for a rib sticking breakfast, I opted for the breakfast burrito. Even though I wasn’t usually drawn to them, something about this place told me I wouldn’t regret the decision. What was served up did not inspire regret, but rather a new obsession: a perfectly crisped grilled tortilla housed a combination of cheesy eggs, crispy chorizo and salty black beans. On the side a bracing and spicy jalapeno salsa for dipping. Do I even have to say that I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I might have a problem with burrito fantasies. These simple but delicious breakfast tacos are the closest I can get to a simple Sunday morning reproduction. Yes, you have to have the foresight to roast potatoes in the morning, but man, they’re worth it. By now you should trust that there are a couple things I don’t fuck around with: Sunday morning breakfast and any kind of Mexican food. You can trust the process.
For the crispy potatoes:
3-4 russet potatoes
Salt and pepper
3-4 slices of chorizo, or 1-2 links, depending on what format you’re dealing with
1 teaspoon butter
Optional toppings: shredded Jack or Cheddar, salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt
Non-optional toppings: hot sauce, you gotsta
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and dice potatoes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and toss potatoes with a hearty drizzle of oil. Season with salt and pepper and set in the oven to roast 40 minutes to 1 hour, or until very crispy. Open the oven once to rotate the pan and toss the potatoes. These potatoes are the foundation for my Potato Tacos, they taste as decadent as eating a bunch of French fries, while being much healthier. The key is high heat, plenty of oil and only opening the oven a minimum amount of times. I also give them a light spritz with coconut oil, if you have it, do so as well. They are a time commitment for breakfast but less steps (and less dirty dishes) than good homefries.
Let the potatoes cook a good while, when you have about 20 minutes left, crisp the chorizo in a skillet over medium heat. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel to drain off a bit of the grease. Reduce heat to medium-low and wipe the skillet out with a paper towel. Add a teaspoon of butter and let it melt, if the pan appears too hot, take it off heat and let it cool down a little, you don’t want to scorch scrambled eggs. In a small bowl whisk eggs with a fork, add to the skillet and cook, low and slow, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Pull the eggs off heat when they are almost done, but still a little wet. Top with a bit of cheese to melt, if using. Warm tortillas over an open flame or in the oven. To assemble: scoop eggs into charred tortillas, top with crispy potatoes and chorizo, garnish with avocado, hot sauce and whatever else your heart desires. Scarf one and then repeat.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
Massaman Curry was a gateway food for me. In college, when I first started to eat a few things that weren’t either a chicken finger or a pizza (or a delectable combination of both), I had Thai food for the first time. I was totally doubtful. What if I hated it? What I didn’t realize at the time was that a well made curry and rice is the exact same kind of comfort food as my beloved Chicken Roll, just with a different flavor profile and delivery system (i.e. in a bowl, not rolled inside a crust of pizza dough). So one day I was downtown with my roommates we stepped into a Thai place on Spring Street, called something generically Thai, like Spice n Rice. Or just Rice, or maybe Panang. I can still picture their logo but cannot recall the name. Eager to be open minded, and already outnumbered in the vote by my roommates, I agreed to have some Thai. I ordered the same thing as Val, it seemed safe. Massaman Curry. I had low expectations. It surpassed and multiplied all of them. I left the restaurant thinking I was extremely mature, exotic and a total hot shit. “I love Thai food” I would then mention to anyone who would listen, in an attempt to prove my worldliness. I was obviously VERY mature. I lived in New York City and enjoyed Exotic Cuisines. I know this sounds kind of sad and sheltered, but you know this was the year 2000, food wasn't completely fetishized yet; and plus, I came from a town where the most exotic culinary experience growing up was the glossy Chinese food at Cathay Hanover.
Now, I am sure if I returned to the same Thai restaurant today, it may be completely sub par. But in my memory, it was a total culinary awakening and I’ve loved Thai curries, especially Massaman, ever since. I often judge the strength of any Thai takeout by two dishes: the Massaman Curry and the Drunken Noodles This particular recipe was originally in Food and Wine, I subbed out the chicken and potatoes traditionally found in MC for a vegan-friendly, protein dense meal that I was making for a friend who had just had a baby and needed some serious chow. I stirred in a bit of cashew and peanut butters to thicken what I saw as a very thin sauce and spiced it up with a little Sriracha. The end result was hearty, comforting and completely delicious, without a breaded chicken finger or pizza crust in sight. I am basically the MOST mature person ever now.
MASSAMAN CURRY with SQUASH, SWEET POTATOES and CHICKPEAS
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon dried, or ½ teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chicken broth
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon cashew butter
½ tablespoon peanut butter (or simply 1 ½ tbsp. of just PB if you don’t have cashew butter)
½ cup chopped cashews or peanuts
Juice of half a lime (optional)
Chopped cilantro (for garnish), optional
In a large braising pan or Dutch oven, heat ghee or oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until fragrant, about 3-5 minutes, add garlic and saute an additional minute more. Add to the pan, the squash, sweet potato and chickpeas. Toss together to combine; then add in the ginger, five spice, cumin, cayenne, turmeric and salt. Stir together to coat the vegetables and beans with all the spices. Pour in the chicken stock and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Let cook until vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes at least.
At this point, the sauce will still be a bit loose. Stir in the peanut or cashew butter, whichever you have/prefer (I used both), and a squeeze of Sriracha, if desired. Fold in the cherry tomatoes and let the sauce reduce and thicken over medium heat for an additional 8 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have burst. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. I found this curry needed a little more salt, a little more heat and a bit of brightness, so I squeezed in the juice of half a lime to finish the sauce. Serve with brown or white rice and garnish with the chopped nuts and cilantro, if using.
Monday, January 18, 2016
During the month of October, I did Whole30. For those of you unfamiliar, you can get the skinny on their website. I did pretty well (I’d say a solid B+) in adhering to the guidelines, though there were some things I definitely messed up on. Because basically insteading of reading the actual rules, I just asked my sister, who told me even though it was probably not okay to eat three Lara bars in one day on Whole30 that I could. So I did. I also used copious amounts of olive oil, which you’re supposed to limit and I also took a day off for a wedding and then one afternoon off for a beer festival (it was a work event, guys). So basically I did like Whole27-plus-potatoes-and-shit-I realized-halfway-through-that-the-almond-milk-I-drink-actually-has-carrageenans-in-it. But STILL. I didn’t drink alcohol for almost a whole month and I didn’t eat black beans or lentils. And I had a family health crisis, a few isolated work crises AND I got my period back and I STILL didn’t cheat. SO I would like some kind of a plaque and/or trophy for my wall. For being so brave and strong.
When you are done with Whole30 you’re supposed to undergo a process of “reintroduction” so that you can really determine foods that make you tired, inflamed, bloated, mess-with-your-digestion, etc. The idea is every three days you add back in one of the forbidden foods and you illustrate to yourself what’s not working for you. For me, my first day done with Whole30 was Halloween and I went to a party. So my reintroduction process consisted of me drinking beer and a bunch of wine, eating pizza and pounding, like, four Reese’s cups. My reintroduction also consisted of me not sleeping that night as my body tried to fight off the case of Instant Diabetes I had attempted to give it.
I had some good takeaways from my Whole30 experience and some things that I know just aren’t sustainable for me (like no pizza- I don’t even care if it makes me feel sluggish, they will pry the slice from my cold dead hands)...but on the other hand I realized I enjoy black coffee now and I enjoy and even look forward to meals that are heavier on veggies than anything else. This yummy breakfast dish was my go-to Sunday morning meal during my Whole27ish. It’s so good Paul didn’t even notice we had stopped eating baked beans.
SMOKY SWEET POTATO HASH with EGGS
1-2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into a very small dice*
1 shallot; or ½ an onion, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon cumin
¾ teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and pepper
Optional: sliced avocado for serving
*In order for this hash to be successful (i.e. potatoes that are cooked through but not falling apart) you must take the time to cut them into an evenly sized dice. I’d wager to say my dice on these is usually about ½ “ square, but god knows I’ve never taken a measuring tape to ‘em. In a very large skillet or cast iron pan, heat about 3 tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add onion or shallot, season with salt and pepper, and saute 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add sweet potato and toss around to evenly coat with oil, adding a drizzle more if necessary. Season everything with a pinch of salt and pepper and cover, stirring often, letting the potatoes and onion steam a bit for about 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and spices and stir together well. Return lid and let the potatoes continue to “steam” for lack of a better word, stirring often so they don’t stick, for another 5 minutes more. Test a potato cube for doneness...you want them to be just about done, but not mushy. They will continue to cook for another solid few minutes, so even if there’s a tiny bit of bite to them still, it’s okay.
Reduce heat to low for a moment and use a spatula or wooden spoon to make four little indents in the potato mixture. Drizzle a touch of olive oil into each one and then carefully crack an egg into each. Raise the heat just a bit, to just shy of medium and let everything cook until the eggs are done to your liking. I find using the cover for a few minutes, but then allowing them to cook uncovered yields fully cooked whites and still-runny yolks. To tell that the whites are done, I usually just carefully pick up one side of my pan and tilt it up, you want a little movement left in the yolks but no runniness whatsoever from the whites. Serve with sliced avocado and plenty of hot sauce.