Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ketchup: I Like It-----Finallyyyy!!!


Meatloaf with kale. And Umami Paste.

Mashed sweet potatoes with 1/2 and 1/2 infused with sage and roasted garlic.

Braised Greens in Hot Chili Peppers.

During dinner, I finally pledged to make myself a meatloaf sandwich--the first in my life--for lunch tomorrow and taste the heaven that is umami (aka I'll will eating my sandwich with a healthy amount of ketchup.)

Because of a few bad demonstrations during sex ed and a few grossly expired bottles I've had the pleasure of throwing out, ketchup always seemed like a waste of time to me.

But, tonight for the first time, I tried a little dab on my meatloaf, and my tastebuds immediately cheered!

It has a salivating factor. + A sweet disposition. + A little tartness. + A hint of vinegar.

= Full-on umami, one of my favorite flavor profiles.

Who knew?

Apparently, the champion of begging, Bleu Dog, the lab with the world's most accomplished palate, knew.

I'm happy to finally have realized the greatness--of ketchup--too.

Though I still can't fathom putting it on a burger...

Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup with Kale


Yesterday FD and I went to my parents' to celebrate my sister's birthday.

She turned 37 but looks only 12. Her life is a testimony in so many ways I still am unable to articulate yet, but I try.

The two things that are constant about my sister: pizza is her favorite food and five is her favorite number.

Needless to say we had pizza on her birthday, and she got 5 new nail polishes and more than 5 new puzzles. And when she opened her present from K. & Z., a necklace with a star-shaped pendant with a pink gem, I thought she was going to pass out or end up on YouTube.

It was a super cool birthday for her, and I was thrilled to be there to celebrate it.

While I was home, my Pops told me something I had forgotten. When I graduated from high school, I applied to Kent, BGSU, and a few other schools in addition to culinary school. It came down to Kent and culinary school. My love of writing won, and I went to Kent, became an English major, and "the rest is history," as they say. But my Pops said, "I think it's funny you're still so into food. It's like you went to culinary school after all."

Sometimes the best education is the one you give yourself.
Even if it's unintentional.

I totally forgot I had applied to culinary school.
I totally forgot I loved cooking in high school.
I totally forgot how food bonds me to everyone I love.

I totally forgot I forgot years of my life.

A great reminder was when Hons, my step-mom, gave me two of her America's Test Kitchen cookbooks last night.

Immediately upon getting home, I poured a glass of wine and devoured The Best Simple Recipes cookbook.

Knowing full well I needed a soup for the week and that I had some chicken breasts de-thawing in the fridge, I went right for the soup chapter and found their version of Lemon Chicken and Rice Soup.

What's funny is I wouldn't call it "simple." There are a lot of steps and a lot of ways to fuck it up. But the ingredients are simple. So I wonder if it's the ingredients that determine the "simple" adjective.

What I can say about the finished product? It is divine. Cook's Illustrated and Christopher Kimball never let me down.

The egg yolks (mine came from our local farmer Luginbill Family Farms) added great body, texture, and color to the soup. A total must. (And the leftover eggs whites are perfect for an omelet tomorrow morning.) Yet the procedure was not simple. There were several steps, and it took about an hour. It isn't the weeknight dinner that it had pronounced itself to be in the cookbook...but I do get home from teaching about 7:30 every night, and anything that takes longer than 10 minutes is far too long for me.

Texture and taste wise, the soup was amazing. I added kale to it, while the chicken rested, as well as magic pepper dust. (More on that soon, I promise!) The magic pepper dust made it probably a thousand times more awesome.

But what's even more awesome?

Knowing my decision to go to Kent rather than culinary school was the most awesome decision I ever made (i.e. FD, friends, poetry, job, etc.).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thoughts During Breakfast After Morning Yoga

Photo from
Early morning is the most sacred time to me. The house is sleepy and dark, and all is quiet--a perfect time to begin the day on my yoga mat.

My favorite part of my routine is the one that remains unseen by all except me and FD. Almost every morning during my warm-up twists, my big black Labrador, Bleu, yawns and stretches his way out of bed to do yoga with me. He's quite the fan of downward and upward dogs, so he does a little routine of bows and planks as I begin my sun salutation. Then he lies down next to my mat and takes a little nap. But the moment I sit down for seated twists or hero's pose, he finds his way into my lap with a big hug and will lay there like a little puppy. A 92 pound puppy. He's so sweet and snuggly that I can slide him around so I can continue my practice. It's a private moment that I cherish. Seriously, if you know Bleu, it's hard to imagine him calm and snuggly. But ever since he was an 8-week old puppy, we've done yoga together; it's our morning bonding time.

Each morning I change up my routine depending on what I need for the day. Sometimes it's rigorous standing and balancing poses like Warrior series or Side Angle twists. Sometimes I spend an hour on inversions or backbends. Other days I choose more restorative poses like legs up the wall or forward folds. No matter what routine I do, the one pose that is always most difficult for me is Savasana, or Corpse pose. My impulse is to skip it but I realize it is the most important pose to hold in order to remind myself throughout the day to "slow down and take a moment." This morning I acknowledged the resistance and used it to help me relax. In a sense, the resistance became a reminder for why I need Corpse pose so much. Yoga has a strange way of teaching us things about life.

Over my standard breakfast of plain yogurt and tea (I save the calories for later in the day and snacks), only minutes after my yoga routine, I had to remind myself to hold onto the quiet of morning yoga as I whizzed through the countless emails, student essays, the menu for the day, and the events in my planner--all before spin class at 9. So quickly the day hits me, and so quickly I hit the ground sprinting from thing to thing.

As I chow down breakfast and open up my laptop, sometimes I forget I only awoke from corpse pose an hour or two ago. The house brightens as the sun stretches through the windows and my to-do list gets longer and longer. Recording these special kernels of time, like my morning yoga with Bleu or my sacred dinner with FD, helps me remember and keeps me focused on what's really important in life.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A Sacred Dinner

Two New Discoveries

I love gin.

In the summer it tastes like linen.

In the winter, pine needles.

Hand me a gin & tonic or a French 75 at any party or happy hour, and you'll find a very happy girl.

Determined to find a GF gin, I went on a woman-hunt and found Watershed Distillery's Gin made from corn. Of course, I found it at the end of the month when I couldn't justify paying for booze over food. And when we got paid, I didn't see it again for at least three months.

On a recent shopping trip to Rossford, I stopped in my favorite liquor store Corks, hoping I might find it again. And there it was, saying, "Manda, you just got paid and I'm perfect for French 75's." As my friend G would say, "Sign me up!"

Seriously, if you are a gin lover, other gins are untouchable. Watershed's Gin is perfectly tart and zesty. Perfect for mixing or for a straight martini. And even better it's distilled with corn. Score for GF! And even better better? It's made in Columbus, Ohio. Score for locavore!

The juniper berries are so pronounced and lovely, I keep imaging what it would taste like with venison. Jamie Oliver's venison tenderloin with juniper berries. Maybe overkill to some, but a match made in heaven to me.


The only other person I know who loves gin as much as me is my good friend and Spatula co-star Sarah.

Which leads me to my other new obsession: Chicken Pate with Cashews and Basil.

This weekend I lent a helping hand to prep for Sarah's hubby's bday celebration. Part of tradition is to homemake pretzels dipped in lye (sp?). (That all whole situation is for a different blog post, which I had every intention of blogging about that until I tasted the pate.)

For one of the spreads for the pretzels or an app, Sarah asked if I would take charge of the chicken pate. Sure, easy, whatever.

Little did I know I was getting my first taste of a whole new food addiction. (Seriously, are Candy and Jeff coming for me?)

Sarah put me in charge of the pate. I began by browning chicken breasts in butter. And by brown, I meant brown. Each piece was crisp, after a full 1/2 hour and 1/4 gin and soda. Then I added the cashews and garlic and let them cook until the garlic was just about brown. We were worried about time, so we stuck the browned chicken chunks, cooked garlic, and cashews in a freezer-safe bowl for about 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, I put the mixture into Sarah's awesome food processor, gave it a whiz, added the mayo, cheese, and hot pepper sauce, and then processed it again. It was a little thick, so we added about a teaspoon of chicken stock and gave it a whiz again. At last I sprinkled in the basil and stirred it.

Let's stop talking about it. I'm hungry.

I will say, though, give me a French 75 and Chicken Pate on Nut Thins and I'm golden. So much umami equals so much happiness. If only there were three more meals in a day...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Last Meal: Burger and Fries, Hands Down

Episode 1 - Burgers from Spatula on Vimeo.

I'm a Midwest girl down to the bone of my little pinkie finger. And no meal ever will surpass the past memories, the search for the-next-best-one, and the yes-I-have-to-try-that-place-based-on-your-recommendation nod that's-completely-sincere than a good old burger and fries.

Here, my costar and I dish about whether house-ground meat buys good quality ground chuck the butcher.

Weigh in. The votes are still out!

And be sure to "like" Spatula on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

On October 19th

Photo from
"Still haven't made the vegetable soup I promised to make almost a week ago to clear out the vegetable rack. And now, when there is every opportunity to make a pan of creamy parsnip and carrot soup, I am distracted by half a dozen of the most meltingly ripe tomatoes on the vine, their skins ready to burst with juice. I slice them thickly, then toss them with black olives and pieces of thick toast torn into chunks and drizzled with unfiltered olive oil. No basil, no garlic, no seasoning; just the peppery rush of thick, green oil, ripe tomatoes and black-edged toast." -- Nigel Slater, The Kitchen Diaries

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Night of Leftovers

The harmonica of Neil Young's "Natural Beauty" croons.

Through the kitchen, dining room, living room, my office.

We're in the moment of flow. FD in the dining room, me in my office.

Working on creating, sipping red wine, finding words for things.

Dinner was at the table. Us relaxing, lingering on things,

much of which was art, the act of creation--from poems to eggplant gratin to Earth to turnip soup.

Long after forks toasted their plates in a last bite, we sat, talking, the rain

a mere percussion for the guitar and harmonica.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Beef Stew

I admit.

I have a problem.

I'm a seasonal produce junkie.

I could very well end on Intervention, yelling at Candy that I wanted Jeff, pleading for one more LeCreuset dutch oven before the flight to Texas, and longingly staring out of a mini-van window at the sunset while thinking about the last time I roasted tomatoes or blanched a bunch a kale for the winter.

But by the time the leaves fall and trick-or-treaters carve their pumpkins, I'm done with lettuces, tomatoes, and summer squash, though.

Give me root vegetables and hearty stews, Honeycrisp apples and pears, and lots Butternut squash.


Candy: "'Being over tomatoes' isn't dealing with an addiction. What's next parsnips?"
Me: "Right????!!!??? Parsnips are sooooooooooo good. Just give me one more to chop for Jool's Favorite Stew, one of Jamie Oliver's favorite recipes
Candy: We can't do that, Amanda...


Due to poor planning on my behalf, I missed my sister-in-law's birthday celebration because I have five sections of papers--over 125 papers total--to grade over the weekend. Needless to say, I was depressed. To get out of the funk, I called my good friend and Spatula co-star Sarah for a pick-me-up. Per our style, she suggested a cooking afternoon after a morning of grading on Saturday. Perfect. Done.

We cooked and talked our hearts out. It felt good. It reminded me that breaks are important. That friends and family nourish us as much as food. That being a seasonal junkie is perfectly acceptable in some circles.

No wonder she's my cooking partner. We speak a language through food that says so much more. What a blessing.


It was cold today. And rainy. And dreary. And inside the house was the best place to be.

It was perfect.

First thing in the morning I graded. I pushed through all the syntax issues to finish in time for a little yoga and noontime tea. After lunch I started Jool's Favourite Beef Stew. I diced the butternut squash, cut the Niman Ranch chuck roast in one inch cubes and dusted it in GF flour, and scrubbed clean the taters-precious.

All the while listening to Taylor Swift, Eisley, Tori Amos, Liz Phair, Aimee Mann, and many other fine woman musicians.

I was in a zone, enveloped in the art of making something, centered in between complete knowledge and being completely mindless. What do you call it? Felt experience. I Found Flow. I Felt.

It's all the same.

But what wasn't the same was the beef stew. A recipe I have made countless times blossomed to life. Was it because I felt different? Was it because I finally figured out how to regulate my oven's temperature? Was it because I was making it for my love after a long fall weekend of outdoormanship?


It was because I used carrots I harvest from a crop I planted this summer, I bought the potatoes and butternut squash for an awesome local farmer, and the sage came from my good friend Sarah.

Local is where it's at.

The only thing missing is local beef. Just wish I had more time to get to Luginbill Farms.


Candy: Really, would Jeff do a better job than me?
Me: Probably. He's mustache is compelling. A real deal breaker for getting help.
Candy: Will you go?
Me: It depends. Does Texas have local produce?
Candy: What if I tell you you'd be going to a place where there's a strong local foods movement? 
Me: Sign me up. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Meal For One

When I sit down to a meal by myself, I always think of my Grandpa Prieur and Grandma Rita, both of whose spouses have passed and who often eat alone.


I've always been a loner. Back in my undergrad days I went to Country Kitchen in Ravenna, Ohio by myself at 3:00 a.m. I would order grilled cheese and hot tea. I would write until the sun peeked over the horizon through those commercial windows. I tipped well. The waitresses fought over me when I walked through the heavy glass doors.


Recently, my mum-in-law Sally told me a story about how her mom used to cook her dad his pork, eggs and toast in a mini cast iron pan. A meal for one.

The minute I logged in after talking with Sally I added a 5" Lodge cast iron skillet to my Amazon Wish List.

What a perfect little skillet for FD's GF Grilled Cheese.

Or for a meal for one.


My Grandma Rita is pushing 90, but everyday the woman makes three meals for herself.


That's an amazing feat considering over 50,000,000 millon people eat fast food on a daily basis.


Tonight I cooked three boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a tomato and squash sauce, infamous ex-wife potatoes and roasted broccoli. Even though I made a meal for one, it was one that honored my food ethics and politics. I felt proud.

Most times when left my own devices, I order out.

I have an El Zarape addiction.

I often regret that decision.


What's funny is one of my all-time favorite people was supposed to join me for dinner tonight. But she bailed. I don't blame her. In fact, between you and me, I was happy. Bailing is under-rated. Sometimes we don't realize we will need that exact moment to be alone until that moment. Bailing is just the  ultimate self indulgence, with the best of intentions. All day I wanted to be alone. I love others, but also I just wanted to close the door, knowing it was just me--here--alone.

Just a moment to breathe out.

Just a moment to blare Tori Amos' _Boys for Pele_, to make an all girl music mix, and to sing higher and louder than usual, in celebration of finishing grading one of five sections of papers.


As a treat for tonight I saved the pumpkin cupcake Sarah Cohen gave me for "writing such a beautiful article about them." I like to snack while watching _Dateline_.

But what's compelling is I can't turn off my Girl-Grading-Weekend Mix. Lykke Li's "Possbillity reminds me I'm alone. And not alone.

Maybe I should've taken a picture of my meal, but I didn't. Quite frankly, I just unrolled an Orla Kiely floral-print placemat on top a wooden tv tray seconds before I placed the plate on top, sat down, and ate. I didn't think it was special. I was alone.

(My boys are gone for opening weekend. My hope: they will return with food for all of us. Food we earned. Food politics in action.)


I poured my last glass of wine as I turned on the bath's faucet. I have Nigel Slater's _Toast_ on the edge of the tub.

But I miss my boys.

They will be home soon. And by Sunday night my grading will be done.

In the meantime I have food to get me through the next four sections of papers.

Cooking for one is worth it.