Thursday, September 12, 2013

how to be the boss

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My friend Mish is what I like to call Good at Life. Her house is well kept, she has an important and meaningful job, she’s the go-to organizer for group vacations, girls’ getaways and any manner of shower, whether it be bridal or baby. Her house is the type of place where if guests just dropped by, she would have the stuff to prepare a full meal, including wine and dessert. She has, as they say, her shit together. In college we gave her the nickname The Boss, because planning and strategizing come so naturally to her, that we always deflected to her to be the boss. Now that we are grown, she is an actual boss of, like, a lot of people and even though I don’t work for her I can guarantee she is wicked good at it.

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Her house is one of my favorite places to invite myself for dinner. I will call her on a Tuesday evening, when my husband is otherwise occupied and inquire as to what she’s doing that evening. She will tell me that her and Anthony are hanging in and making some supper with not much else on the agenda and I will act super interested in whatever she is making until she inevitably invites me over. I almost always accept. Because what awaits you at her house is not just good conversation, a variety of adult beverages and a delicious, balanced meal, but also a house that is cozy and neat and the kind of place you want to spend time at. It’s toasty in the winter and cool in the summer. Her back deck is peppered with healthy, mature plants, both edible and decorative. And she also has a giant jar of M&Ms in her cupboard at all times, so if you need a chocolate fix after a meal, you are covered.

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By comparison at my house I pretty much only have the groceries for the exact meal we are having that evening (with no leftovers) and the best I can offer for a sweet treat is raw almonds and some stale chocolate chips. My house is the living worst to snack at. Everything needs to be prepared or doctored in some way and often times if I’m tired I just wave a white flag and call I Love Italian Pizza Best (yes, that is the actual name of our go-to pizza place. It’s run by Albanians). At Mish’s house on the other hand, there are always the groceries you need as well as a vase of fresh cut flowers from the garden on the table. It’s the best and she is too. She is so good at life that I would probably kind of hate her if I didn’t love her so dang much.

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I encourage everyone to have a Mish. Everyone should also have a side dish like this: for week nights when you’re short on time but looking to pull together something homemade. On many occasions she has made me this cous cous salad and I always scarf down a ton and then accept leftovers. This is a healthy, simple side that can be dressed up or down easily and improvised with whatever happens to be in the fridge or pantry. It makes plenty for leftovers so lunch the next day is already accounted for. It also comes together in about five minutes, which means with this one in your arsenal, you can be Good at Life too.

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¾ cup cherry or golden cherry tomatoes, halved
½ red onion, minced
1-2 ears of corn, steamed, grilled or charred; kernels cut from cob
1 zucchini, diced
½ red pepper, diced
½ cup almonds (or walnuts or pinenuts), chopped and toasted
½ cup golden raisins
Juice from one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil (3-4 tablespoons)
½ cup chopped mint
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 box plain cous cous, prepared according to package directions

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Set almonds to toast in a small nonstick pan over medium low heat. Toast, stirring occasionally until browned and fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside. Heat 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil in the small pan over medium heat. Add diced zucchini and let sauté until browned and golden. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Once you’re ready to get dinner on the table, prepare cous cous. In a large bowl combine fully cooked cous cous with all vegetables. Salt and pepper generously and add lemon juice and remaining olive oil. Toss together gently to combine. Add almonds, golden raisins and herbs and gently toss together again.

You can mix and match the things you put in here based on what you have on hand; but the items you absolutely must include are the golden raisins and the nuts, they really make it. Serve warm or at room temperature alongside grilled chicken thighs or marinated grilled pork chops. Also terrific as leftovers with slices of ripe avocado.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

mostly and some

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So deep has my blog neglect been this summer that I plumb forgot that I had posted a second recipe in August. When I opened up the old Dickens home page the other afternoon I was like “oh snap, I actually posted twice in August” with a slightly surprised, slightly relieved feeling that I hadn’t been completely and totally MIA, only mostly and some.

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I spent a bit of early August bellyaching, rather dramatically, that I was being robbed of a summer AGAIN. Last summer wedding planning co-opted all my spare time and this summer the necessity of having to move was victimizing me yet again. WAAAH. I know. I think I just pulled an ocular muscle rolling my eyes at myself. The truth is, if I spin my binoculars right side up and look at it right, that we were forced to have a bit of temporary inconvenience in order to reach a long term conclusion. Just like the wedding: all the planning and logistical maneuvering in the case, will also prove to be totally worth it. Completely and totally worth it.

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We have had the great fortune of staying with my aunt and uncle in their beautiful, wonderful house. A house that has always been one of my most favorite places in the whole world; a house that is four minute and twenty five second walk from the beach (at a leisurely pace, with a toddler in tow). And more than being in a great location with a real nice porch this house has been, as it always was, a place to bond with the extended family. We have had so much fun eating dinner with my aunt and uncle and seeing more of my other aunts, uncles and cousins than I ever normally would.

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The communal living of summer 2013 has certainly served us well.

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I have been cooking a ton, although I haven’t been quite as good at documenting and sharing; and for that I am sorry. But I had to slow everything down given the crushing pace of the spring and early summer. I had to really focus on enjoying my meals, rather than documenting them; and that is something, in this day and age, that I would pretty much urge anyone to do. By adjusting my pace a bit and letting go of the guilt of what I thought I SHOULD be doing, I was able to actually enjoy what I WAS doing, as I was doing it. Imagine that.

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So, when I sat down this morning and combed through all of the photos from the past two months I realized that I would look like a real baby to complain about a summer like this. I mean, there were far too many nights on a screened-in porch and about ten too many dunks in the ocean for it to possibly be classified as anything but perfect.

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