A Glimpse of Fall

I walked out of the house this morning to find the driveway freckled with leaves the color of earth. There was a cool crispness in the air, and as I looked out toward the woods in the distance, I saw a lone tree standing out pink and blazing red against the collective green of its neighbors.

For the first time this year, autumn was in the air.

Part of me relished the coolness. I felt the exhilaration that always comes with the changing of seasons. Fall is one of my favorite times of year with its fiery colors, its crispness, its cool evenings that beckon sweaters and bonfires, friends and music. And, of course, its wardrobe. My boots have been getting lonely in the back of the closet all summer…but I’m not quite ready for them.

As I stood in the driveway, breathing in the fresh crisp air, I felt myself resisting. I wasn’t prepared to give summer up yet.

So I did what I always do when I want to make myself feel better. I made a list.

My end-of-summer list

Make wine-and-berry popsicles and eat in the hot afternoon sun
Make chocolate-covered strawberries and eat by candlelight
Sandy feet and ocean wave kisses
Tan line
Wear my favorite sundress
Laughter in the pool
Walk barefoot in the grass
Read in the sun

Then, I'll be ready to go digging for those boots.


Aged Love

They have been married 55 years. They bicker. She constantly reminds him to lower his voice when he talks. He sighs in frustration, loudly. But when she walks, he watches her protectively, making sure she doesn’t need a hand. And he’s there, right beside her, if she ever does. When he tells a joke, there is a softness in her eyes as she looks at him.

Their love is fierce and deep. Aged by a lifetime together.

My grandparents.

They arrived yesterday afternoon to visit for a couple days. They brought with them – as they always do – a spread of food that would make a grown man teary. Especially if that man had a weakness for cheese.

My brother and his girlfriend, who are still in town, came over. And three generations sat around the dinner table for our evening apéritif, laughing, talking, and sharing stories.

My grandmother talked about their first born (my aunt) who arrived faster than expected and was born on the living room couch. She teased my grandfather who, still after all these years, had a look of panic on his face as he relived the moment.

My parents recounted stories from Africa when my mother gave birth in a hospital with no electricity. And then stories from Pennsylvania, where my brother was born, when my parents drove 200 miles in the snow to reach the midwife who delivered him (while my grandmother went bowling, positive that Mom would be in labor much longer than she was – Mom still teases her about that one.)

And as we talked, we dug into the cheeses.

The triple crème brie was by far the favorite, its buttery creaminess melting on your tongue the second you took a bite. By the end of the evening all that was left of it were the knife marks on the cutting board. The gruyère was a close second; it’s salty hardness reminding me of childhood summers spent in the mountains of Switzerland playing in the cow fields with my cousins. Then there was the drunken goat, the gorgonzola, the blue cheese (extra moldy!), the aged cheddar, and the tome of semi-soft goat cheese with the super stinky rind. My brother raved about that one.

We laughed, sipped our wine, and kept repeating “This sliver is the last!” until we could eat no more.

And as I looked at my grandparents across the dining room table, I couldn’t help but compare their love to the perfectly aged cheese on the table: strong and tender, it shone with the unmistakable quality of years gone by.


Cilantro Hummus

When Josh and I decided to go to the beach for the day, I knew we’d need a picnic. So I turned to our go-to finger food: hummus. I knew that the picnic would include some of our other favorites: olives, goat cheese, nut thins, and dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), but the pièce de résistance would be the hummus.

It always is. I swear we could live off the stuff.

Ah…there are so many reasons to love this creamy Middle Eastern dish. Not only is hummus delicious, but with garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) as its main ingredient, it is also an excellent source of protein, fiber, iron, and manganese. Garbanzo beans have also been proven to lower bad cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels, making them an excellent food for diabetics or anyone dealing with insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.

But, health benefits aside, hummus is above all yummy and fun. You can play around with it as much as you want, twisting it this way and that to turn it into exactly the dish you desire. If you’re in the mood for red, throw in some roasted sweet red peppers. If you’re in the mood for green, throw in some fresh herbs from the garden. Or an avocado…you'll achieve pure creamy bliss. Avocadoes and hummus are a match made in heaven.

So are cilantro and hummus.

Whatever direction you decide to go in, original hummus is a good place to start. The ingredients are very simple: garbanzo beans, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic, and salt. I like to add a teaspoon or two of ground cumin to my original hummus – it gives it that Middle Eastern flare I love – but to each his own! Once you have found your “original” recipe, use that as your base for any creative hummus surges you may have. The sky is the limit!

One last thing. If you eat a lot of hummus, I recommend cooking your own garbanzo beans. It’s cheaper, tastier, and much healthier. When you cook the beans yourself, you eliminate the preservatives and lower the sodium. Plus, it’s way more satisfying.

Cooking beans is really easy to do, it just takes a little bit of forward planning. Here is how I cook my garbanzo beans.

1 package dried garbanzo beans
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsps salt

Put garbanzo beans in a large bowl and fill bowl with water. Make sure there are at least a couple inches of water over the beans as they will double in size. Let soak overnight.

Pour out water and rinse beans. Put beans in a large pot, cover with a couple inches of water, and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, lower to a simmer, add baking soda, and cook 40 to 45 minutes until the beans are cooked. Do NOT add salt. If you add salt at this point it will prevent the beans from cooking. You’ll notice that as the beans cook, white foam will gather on the water. This is normal. Feel free to scoop it off, if you wish. Once the time is up, taste the beans to see if they are cooked. If cooked, remove from heat, add the salt, and let sit 10 minutes. Pour beans into a colander, rinse, and voilà!

This will make a lot of beans. You can either use all of them for hummus, or keep some aside to throw into salads or soups and stews throughout the week. I also love sautéing garbanzo beans with garlic and spinach or kale in a bit of olive oil. Delicious!

Cilantro Hummus

If you take out the cilantro from the recipe, you’ll have my “original” hummus recipe. So if you don’t like cilantro, don’t let it deter you. The hummus is delicious without it. Also, if you would like to replace the cilantro with something else that tickles your fancy a bit more, plunge right ahead. There is no right or wrong with hummus.

The same is true of the quantities I have listed for the ingredients. I’m a big fan of garlic, so I put a fair amount in my hummus. I also love lime. And cumin. So there’s a lot of both. Feel free to start slow and taste as you go, adjusting the quantities to your liking.

4 cups cooked garbanzo beans
1 big bunch cilantro, chopped (about ½ cup once chopped), set aside a couple leaves for garnish before chopping
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tsp cumin
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup water
Juice of two limes
1 tsp salt
1 dash cayenne pepper (go easy on the cayenne at first – it has a kick!)
Sprinkling of sweet paprika for garnish

Put all ingredients in a food processor and blend until desired consistency is reached. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit of water. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Pour into bowl, garnish with cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of sweet paprika.

Note: This recipe makes a lot of hummus. Feel free to cut ingredients in half.

Serving suggestions:

Eat straight from bowl with a spoon (or fingers!)
Serve with crackers or raw vegetables
Spread on homemade bread with avocadoes and tomatoes
Add to salads...

...and, most of all, have fun!

Sunrise Over Sea

On Saturday, Josh and I watched the sun rise over the atlantic ocean. We had decided to go to the beach for the day – one of the many perks of living in central North Carolina, where the beach is only a little over two hours away – and, while we were planning the day, I happened to think back to that morning in college when, in the middle of the night, I had felt an overwhelming urge to watch the sun slowly rise over the water.

It was so strong that, despite feeling a little crazy, I remember throwing the covers off, getting dressed, making my way out to my car in the dead of the night, and heading east. I got there just as the sun was coming up. I remember sitting on that sand, watching the colors play on the water, and feeling tiny in front of such vastness. I was blown away by the beauty and power of it all.

To this day, it remains one of my most memorable and healing experiences.

So Josh and I decided to do it. He had never seen the sun rise over the ocean and I was longing to relive it.

We left in the dead of the night, coffee mugs in hand, and made our way east. We had planned it so that we would see the whole thing, from beginning to end, from complete night to day – something that neither one of us had done yet.

By the time we reached the coast, it was 5:15 am. It felt like the middle of the night. The streets were deserted and the only sound when we got out of the car was the hum of the waves and wind only a couple hundred feet away.

We refilled our coffee mugs, grabbed our blanket, and made our way out onto the sand in the pitch dark. It was hard to see anything, but we picked a spot that seemed like a good one and settled down. We leaned against each other for warmth and closeness, sipped our coffee, and waited.

Turns out it takes a long time for the sun to rise. It likes to tease the night, play with the sky and clouds, and slowly paint the morning before it finally makes its appearance. It was like watching very slow fireworks.

We were on the edge of our seat the whole time, pointing out all the differences we saw.

“Is the sky getting lighter?”

“It looks like it’s becoming a very dark shade of grey…slowly.”

“Oh look, I see some pink on the horizon!”

And then, there were moments when it was so beautiful, that we said nothing. We simply soaked it in.

For two hours, we watched the sky slowly change colors over the waves, casting oranges, purples, pinks, and reds everywhere.

Then all of a sudden, around 7:15, a huge pink ball of fire made its appearance on the horizon.

It was breathtaking. And, now that it had set the stage, it no longer felt like taking its time. Quickly, within minutes, it traveled upward. Going from bright pink, to fiery orange, to a glowing yellow.

And then it was morning. Surfers, runners, and walkers slowly started trickling onto the beach…and as we looked around us, we watched the world wake up.

It was a new day.


Spicy Comfort

There are days when I crave hot spiciness. Not the kind that makes you feel like a fire just ignited in your mouth (although I’ve got my days when I love that fire too), but the kind that makes you feel warm from your belly out. That fills the house with flavor and makes you sigh contentedly. I was craving exactly that yesterday, so I made Dhal.

This is a recipe that my mom used to make when I was a kid and every time I make it, it stirs up wonderful memories. To this day it brings me the same amount of comfort as it used to when I would walk through the door after an afternoon of playing outside and smell the aromas filling the house: a mixture of onions, ginger, and faraway spices.

She often served it with hot chapattis, fresh from the stovetop. I have been known to serve it with injera; the spongy texture soaks up the dhal perfectly and the slightly fermented taste of the teff is a perfect balance to the sweetness of the onions and the spice of the ginger and turmeric.

But last night I decided to go simple. I wanted to sit on the couch with a hot bowl of spicy comfort in my hands and nothing else. And that’s exactly what I did. I ate, cozy and curled up, with a smile on my face and warmth in my belly.

Dhal with Ginger and Onions

2 tbsps olive oil
2 large onions, diced
5 large cloves garlic, pressed or chopped finely
1/2 inch ginger, chopped finely
1 tbsp turmeric
1 heaping tbsp curry powder*
2 cups washed lentils
6 cups water
3 tsp gluten-free vegetable bouillon, or 1 1/2 tsp salt

*I usually use hot or mild curry powder here, but I ran out last night so I used red curry paste. It works too, but I would recommend curry powder.

Sauté the onions, ginger, and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add turmeric and cook one more minute, stirring. Add drained lentils and cook two more minutes. Add 6 cups water and bring to boil. Once boiling, lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Add curry powder, salt or bouillon, and cook 20 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve with a side of chapatti, or injera, or by its plain old self.


Serves 4.


A birthday and a bottle of Malbec

I woke up early this morning and went for a long walk. That hazy hour when the sun is still fresh in the sky and the world is slowly waking up. So quiet and fleeting - I always feel privileged to witness it. As I walked along the grassy lawns and the misty woods, my mind wandered back to this weekend. What a weekend it was. Full of friends, family, laughter, and glorious food.

And a bottle of 1977 Malbec. Even this morning, two days later, the wine is still on my mind, its taste lingering like a ghost, whispering of age and earthiness.

It was given to my parents last year by a friend of the family, a wonderful woman whose gentle smile and unfailing generosity will warm you all over and bring tears to your eyes. A woman who laughs deep and cares even deeper. We are always so excited when she comes to visit. Last year she brought us this bottle. We stashed it away, waiting for the perfect moment to bring it out. That moment turned out to be Sunday evening. It was Dad’s 59th birthday.

My brother and his girlfriend (who are visiting from Africa – we are so happy to have them back home for a whole precious month!) were in the kitchen chopping, sautéing, and cooking with Mom and I, while Josh was outside keeping Dad company at the grill where a luscious rack of lamb, marinated in rosemary, garlic, and wine, was being licked by flames and grilled to perfection.

As we were setting the table out on the deck, Mom got a mischievous twinkle in her eye and headed for the wine rack in the deep corners of the bedroom closet where the resting wine bottles are protected from the light of day, and the great ones collect dust. She picked up a dusty one. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the label: 1977! And it was a Malbec. Josh’s favorite grape variety and one that I have just started discovering (and have quickly fallen in love with). But never had we seen a 1977 Malbec. Mom announced that the time had come for this wine to fulfill its destiny and so we hurried up and brought it to the kitchen while Dad was still outside, wanting to surprise him, giddy with anticipation. Mom took out our crystal wine glasses and I went upstairs to grab the crystal wine carafe I had bought in the little medieval village of Ivoire just outside of Geneva, on the outskirts of France. A wine that old needs to breathe.

I set out to open the bottle. But, after thirty-three years, the cork decided it wasn’t quite ready to come out and it broke halfway through. I stared at it, not quite believing it. I swallowed down a brief moment of panic, took a deep breath, and gently dug the wine opener into the cork still in the bottle. I knew the danger here. If I pushed too hard, the cork might fall into the gorgeous dark liquid sitting below and then we would all be spitting out little pieces of oak with every sip we took. Not to mention what the flavor of a cork that old would do to the wine. So gently, very gently, I twisted the cork screw in and slowly, oh-so-slowly, eased it out. Whew. Catastrophe avoided.

Then, all danger forgotten, I smiled with pure joy as I poured and watched the deep plum-colored liquid splash and lick the inward curves of the carafe, plunging its way to the bottom. Once full, I set it on the dresser in the guest bedroom to let it breathe for thirty minutes. On my way toward the door, I stopped for a moment…listening. I could faintly hear the wine's excited whisper as it sucked in the fresh new air. I smiled and walked out.

I got back to the kitchen and helped Mom and the others bring everything out to the table. The spread consisted of slowly sautéed potatoes in garlic and parsley, freshly steamed asparagus, grilled red peppers, and, the pièce de résistance: a perfectly grilled, melt-in-your-mouth-tender rack of lamb with hints of rosemary and garlic still clinging to it.

And then it was time. I rushed off to the guest room to grab the wine and brought it out to the deck, a big grin on my face. We presented it to Dad and watched excitedly as he took a whiff from the carafe, looked up, and said “Eh ben, ça c’est du bon vin!” (“Now, that’s good wine!”) He couldn’t get over the bottle (which Mom had brought out for him to look at), and as we were all impatient, he did the honors of filling the six crystal glasses. We sat down, raised our glasses, wished him a very happy birthday, made lots of joyful clinking noises, and took our first sips. Wow. Earthiness, spice, and age danced together on my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I swallowed, amazed. I looked around the table and everyone had the same look on their face. Awe. This was one good bottle of wine.

Laughter filled the air and candlelight danced on crystal as the night went on. The lamb was succulent, the asparagus bright green and tender, and the red peppers perfectly sweet. But the best part was the sharing, the stories, and the fact that we were all together. A beautiful night.

Joyeux anniversaire, Daddy.


Victorious fennel

Well, dear reader, I am glad to report that the fennel won, hands down. All my past resistance and aversion was swept away with that first lemony peppery licorice-y bite. My taste buds, experiencing something they had never even dared to imagine, went nuts. I’m pretty sure they were dancing the flamenco with all the clapping that was going on. I had actually meant to go out into the garden and get some fresh parsley to add to the salad, but after that first bite my feet remained firmly planted right where they were. I was afraid that anything more would ruin it; it was perfect in all its simplicity. Josh walked into the kitchen, took a bite, and we never made it to the dining table. We ate it standing up, straight from the bowl. I urge you to do the same. Go ahead, try it. Especially if fennel has never been your friend. You may just be surprised.

The tomato-zucchini casserole was also everything I had hoped for. It had our stomachs growling and our eyes glued to the timer as the aroma of ripe tomatoes and rosemary filled the house. When it was finally time for it to come out, the parmesan was golden and bubbly, and the tomatoes had roasted down to a perfect withering of concentrated essence. Nothing quite compares to the flavor of a slowly roasted summer tomato fresh from the garden. Except maybe fennel salad.

Shaved Fennel Salad

2 small bulbs of fennel
½ a large lemon, juiced
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Quarter the fennel bulbs, cut out the hard core at the center and discard. Slice quarters as finely as possible. If you have a mandoline, you’re in luck, but if not, a knife works just fine. Put shaved fennel in a bowl, add the parmesan, the lemon juice, and drizzle with olive oil (go light at first, taste it, and add more if need be). Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir everything together. Taste and adjust to your liking. Eat immediately.

Serves 2.

Tomato-Zucchini Casserole

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large onions, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
½ cup dry white wine
5 large tomatoes, or 8-10 smaller ones (about 3 pounds), sliced ¼ inch thick
2 medium zucchinis, sliced ¼ inch think
2 sprigs fresh rosemary with stalks removed, finely chopped
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano, or a mixture
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another minute or two. Add white wine and cook for one more minute. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer half the mixture to an oven-proof dish and sprinkle with half the rosemary.

Layer the sliced tomatoes over the onion mixture so that they form a single sheet (you will have leftovers). Layer the sliced zucchini over the tomatoes (you should not have leftovers). Sprinkle the rest of the onion mixture and rosemary over the zucchini. Layer with the remaining tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and crack pepper over the whole dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes.

Sit back, relax, and sip wine while the aromas fill the house.

After 45 minutes, take dish out, uncover, and sprinkle with parmesan and dried herbs. Bake another 10 minutes, uncovered, until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Let sit a couple minutes before serving. Dish up and enjoy!

Make sure you have a small bowl of extra parmesan and a pepper grinder on the table. Not mandatory, but oh-so-delicious.

Serves three as a main course (two if you're both really hungry), four as a side dish.


Ella, tomatoes, and a bulb of fennel

Ah, Ella. I love you so. You make me want to stroll down Parisian cobblestone streets and dance, slowly, under the moon, and wear white gloves that come up to my elbows and kiss dashing young men in hats.

I am in the kitchen, a glass of chilled white wine in hand, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice drifting in from the living room (a little crackly – as records should be), my apron securely on, and dozens of tomatoes staring up at me, their red skins ridiculously bright against the white countertops.

But tomatoes are not on the forefront of my mind right now; fennel is.

Josh (the man with the hat and killer cherry tomatoes – see previous post) loves fennel. He eats it raw, straight from the bulb, standing barefoot in the kitchen. He grew it in his garden this year and talked about it the whole time.

I, on the other hand, have always had a slight aversion to fennel (which is surprising considering how much I adore licorice.) This might be because the only times I’ve ever had fennel were when I lived in Switzerland and it is a long-standing tradition in Switzerland (or at least in my Swiss family) to overcook vegetables whenever possible. And, boy do they. Fennel, being no exception, was always baked until every last inch of life was squeezed out of it. It ended up a pale, limp, and practically flavorless blob on my plate, staring up at me, daring me to eat it. You understand my aversion.

But tonight I am being adventurous and am choosing to give fennel another go. I’m going raw this time, though. There’s a beautiful lone specimen in the fridge, just waiting. You have to admit fennel is a gorgeous plant, with its creamy white bulb lacing itself insistently around its bright green stalks, so eager to escape and fan out into the world, like growing children impatient to flee their mother’s loving embrace.

I’ve decided on a shaved fennel salad. I’m thinking I can’t go wrong with parmesan, olive oil, and a hint of lemon. We shall see.

Tomatoes are, obviously, also on the menu and will take center place at the dinner table. Mainly because, aside from their superb sweetness and bursting summer taste, we are drowning in them. The plan is to slice them alongside my two bright green zucchinis and bake them until their flavors bubble up and their essences become one. I’ll be throwing in onions, garlic, herbs, white wine, and parmesan for good measure.

And so, my swinging hips and I are off to chop, sauté, and bake.

Recipes and the fennel adventure outcome to be posted tomorrow.


I say YES to life

I am cooking again. I am writing again. And I am smiling. So much.

This is partly because I am back in my beloved North Carolina, where the sun shines, the sky is blue, and summer is in the process of pressing upon us her bounty of endless fruits and vegetables just begging to be turned into some creative dish (that one must, of course!, write about).

But this is also due to a man who plays the banjo, dances salsa, grows the meanest cherry tomatoes I have ever tasted and, when the sun is blaring hot outside, wears a Stetson hat (which, can I just say, is one sexy hat). A man who danced his way into my life a couple months ago and who, in more ways than one, has brought me back to me.

For one, it is in his kitchen that I started cooking again. It’s not much of a kitchen, really. It’s tiny and narrow with very little counter space, but I love it. It fits the two of us perfectly. Literally. You add another person and you’ll start bumping into each other and dropping things. Three’s a definite crowd in that kitchen. And – wait for it (be still, dear heart) – it has a gas stove. A real one. With blue flames and everything. I get excited just thinking about it.

It’s in the heat of that gas stove and in the slender space between those white counter tops that I started coming back to life. Not that I had been very far from life, just that the part of me that is awake, really awake, when I cook and write had fallen into a deeper-than-I-realized slumber. And one that had lasted longer than I cared to admit.

And so, to ensure that I stay awake, I have decided to write. Here. For myself. To capture those moments I love (and those I don’t love so much) so that I may always remember the feeling of the sun on my back as I reach for the plumpest blueberries on the bush, the ones way up above my head that have been especially sun-kissed, and pop them into my mouth anticipating their sweet outburst and swooning with delight every time, all the same.

This is why I write. Because food, in all its beauty and wholesome glory, makes me want to say YES to life.

So here I am, dear readers. Excited, a little shaky, and oh-so-ready to plunge in. Will you join me? It's easy, really. Just pull up a chair (preferably an old rocking one), grab a glass of wine, put your feet up and we’ll be off. Ready? Allons-y!
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