How to Cook the Perfect Fried Egg (on Toast, with Coffee)

IMG_1117There are four essential elements to the perfect morning.  The first, obviously, is a cup of good coffee.

The second,  good music.

The third, a fried egg.

It also happens to be, I’ve decided, the best indication of one’s level of cookery.

Something so simply achieved, yet almost even more so easily butchered.  I cringe when I order a breakfast of fried eggs at a cafe, only to be presented with A) a couple of clear, shiny snot-like egg whites and cold liquid yolks or, worse, B) a matte-colored egg white mass surrounding two firm and lifeless powdery yellow globs.  I can only hope that maybe, possibly, an order of “over-medium” will imply that I am hoping for something in between slimy mucus and a yellow brick.  But due to the fact that my egg ordering experiences at various brunch spots has proved to be both inconsistent and unreliable, I’ve taken it upon myself to ensure that when I’m the one cooking, I know how to do it right.

This is something that has taken me quite a long time to master.  My whole life, in fact.

But I do believe I recently broke the code, and like The Sound of Music I want to sing it from the mountain tops with such joy for the world to hear!

There are certain aspects to my surefire recipe for success that are absolutely essential in cooking a fried egg, and these will be noted in bold.  That which isn’t bolded are simply a few personal preferences, little suggestions to kick it up a notch or ten.

You will need:

  • Eggs (2) of very good quality.  Preferably farm eggs, but as always local, organic and cage-free will suffice.  
  • Butter (about one tsp.)
  • A small or medium sauce pan
  • A lid or something that can act as a lid (this can be in the form of a  plate even, anything that will seal the heat into the pan space)
  • Salt, pepper and various other seasonings of your choosing (preferably sea salt, though).  I use fresh cracked pepper, garlic powder and chia seeds.
  • Any other add-ons your would like to include, although absolutely not necessary.  Previously used examples: sliced avocado, sliced tomato, chopped fresh garlic, sauteed onion, sauteed kale, sliced ham, bacon(!)
  • Cheese, again, optional
  • Sliced bread
  • Coffee grinds, preferably of good quality
  • Water
  • A french press
  • Spatula

1.  Turn the oven on to anywhere between 300-350 degrees and place the allotted amount of toast onto the racks (this is, of course, if you don’t have a toaster like myself).

2. Turn the heat of one burner onto a low-medium flame and place the saucepan on top, allowing it to warm up for about 30 seconds.

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3.  Turn another burner onto medium and place a full kettle of water on top, allowing the water to heat while you cook eggs.

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4.  If using a french press, add coffee grinds to your press.

5.  Place butter in the pan and allow it to spread evenly over the pan as it melts.  Note: I use only real, unsalted butter with my eggs, it seems to protect the egg from burring or overcooking on the bottom and it tastes wonderful.  I do not use olive oil (burning or cooking olive oil a)has a lower smoking point and b) denatures the amino acids in the olive oil, negating the nutritional value entirely)

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6.  Exactly at the point the butter has melted, crack two eggs into the pan. IMPORTANT: MAKE SURE THE YOLKS ARE RESTING ON THE PERIMETER OF THE PAN, NOT IN THE CENTER WHERE THE HEAT IS CONCENTRATED.  The whites should immediately start to solidify and whiten upon contact with the pan, but shouldn’t start to sizzle too loudly or bubble.  If the latter occurs, turn the heat down and remove the pan from the heat for about 10 seconds until the eggs calm down.

7.  Season your eggs, minus salt.

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8.  Cover the pan.   Allow to sit for at least one minute, no more than 2 minutes.  If the yolk starts to develop a white film on top, uncover immediately.

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9.  Check the toast.  If only slightly crispy, turn it over and continue cooking.

10.  If kettle water steaming at this point, add your water to the coffee grinds.  Allow to sit while you complete the preparation of your eggs and toast.

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11.  If you would like to add cheese to your egg, this is the time to do so.  Uncover, sprinkle or grate cheese on top, and then re-cover your eggs.  

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12.  Remove from heat but allow eggs to stay covered in the pan until either the yolks are still squishy but white or the cheese has melted.  If yolks are firming up, uncover the pan immediately.

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13. Remove toast from oven.  If toast consistency has reached desired state, remove from heat and onto a plate, spreading butter immediately on the toast.  Turn off your oven (I always seem to forget that part, and then remember after having left the house).

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14.  Using a spatula, carefully place fried eggs on top of toast (or on a plate). 

15.  Press your coffee, then pour into a mug.  Add milk, sugar, or in my case, a spoonful of Oregon Chai powder and stir.

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16.  Salt your eggs lightly.  

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17. Arrange various add-ons to your egg and toast at this time.

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18. Bask in the deliciousness of a firm (but not chewy) egg white and warm yet still runny yolk on a crunchy piece of toast.  

19.  Take a sip of coffee.

20.  Appreciate the moment. 

(And the fourth?  That one I’m still keeping a secret.)

Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ah, Portland.  What lovely souls reside here.  What fantastic characters grace your coffee shops, your streets, your bars, your grassy parks, who stay for a while and then leave swiftly, guided by a curiosity and thirst for life nurtured only by such a wondrous town.

Those on the go, those willing to pack a bag at a moment’s notice and leave for adventures unknown, those dripping with uncertainty in their seemingly settled lives.  These are the people I want to know.  People who aren’t scared to take their own path, to squirm at the thought of chaining themselves to one life, to one idea, to one opinion, to one place, to one person.  Whose travels and teachings have only led them to know that they actually know next to nothing except who they are with great clarity.  Those who involve themselves in what brings them passion, excitement, livelihood and don’t bother with that which doesn’t.  Those who, just by being in their presence, you can feel something deeper.  Something wild, something untamed, something fierce that just might, someday, arrive unpredictably in full force.

And when I met Liz, it was for this reason that we connected.

A glance around Liz’s bedroom gives a good indication of who she is, covered with posters of the sea, of surfers, of naked girls on bikes, a map of New Zealand, eclectic clothes and jewelry strewn around the room, some textbooks and a beta fish.

She’s a surfer chick who’s studying towards a nursing degree so that she can travel the world while healing people, and she drives an old beater van with a backseat converted into a disheveled bed to sleep on while out on her surfing adventures.

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We first bonded over a Halloween zombie bar crawl a few months ago.  Then we climbed together, then jogged across the river together, then drank beer and, all the while chatting about how strange and funny life can be sometimes.

The other night she took a chocolate making class at People’s Co-Op, and the next day invited me over to attempt to make our own.

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We rode our bikes to the market and back with Gunner by our side, and proceeded to make delicious (and healthy) chocolate from scratch.  It was probably the cutest Valentine’s Day date ever.

Lesson learned, making chocolate from scratch really isn’t all too difficult!  You just need chocolate powder, a fat (such as butter), and a sweetener.  You can choose the quality of ingredients to use in making your own batch, but we opted for a nutritious and energy packed recipe.

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We picked up some cacao powder, a mix of cacao butter and coconut oil, and a mix of maple sugar and coconut palm sugar.  IMG_1158IMG_1162

After mixing the ingredients together in a double boiler, we poured the chocolate mix into molds and put them in the freezer to solidify.  We made a few different batches, including Meyer lemon and fresh ginger, dried rosemary and sea salt, chili powder and cinnamon, and chopped walnuts and sea salt.  Um…wow, they were AMAZING.IMG_1175IMG_1171IMG_1169IMG_1167

It’s obvious to anyone that meets her that she’s a rad chick, but not everyone who’s rad will wholeheartedly bring you into her little Portland world so openly as Liz has for me.

Also, not everyone who’s rad will bake you a cake from scratch for your birthday.

But Liz did.  And just like the chocolates, it was also AMAZING.

It was a chai cake with cream cheese frosting, a recipe borrowed from the journal of her great friend Vicki.

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And because my first birthday in Portland was such a sweet sweet memory for me, this is the recipe I want to share with you.

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Chai Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups milk
  • 6 chai tea bags (without added sugar)
  • 4 whole eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 Tsp vanilla
  • 2 3/4 cup cake flour
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 4 1/2 Tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 Tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 Tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 Tsp salt
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature

For frosting:

  • 8 oz butter for frosting at room temperature
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 Tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, bring milk to a simmer over low-medium heat.  Add tea bags.  Remove from heat and let steep for five minutes.  Let chai milk cool completely.

In a medium bowl, mix eggs, yolks, vanilla and 1/3 cup of the chai milk.  Whisk together.

In separate bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom and salt.  Add butter and remaining chai milk on medium speed with mixer.  Raise speed and beat until fluffy.  Add egg mix in three additions.  Add to a greased cake pan and bake for 26-28 minutes.

For the frosting, combine cream cheese and butter on medium speed in a mixer until consistent texture.  Add the vanilla extract, then slowly add sugar.    Once the cake has cooled, spread frosting on evenly.

Special thanks to both Liz and Vicki for introducing me to my new favorite cake and for lending me the recipe.  You two make me smile.

The Start of Thirteen

Well, we found ourselves a new apartment in December….and a great one at that.  I told you, things really do work out in time.

The place is in Northeast Portland, in an area that I didn’t really know too much about but am seriously diggin.

_MG_6959These are our new neighbors, we’ve named them Aflack and Af-black.   The ones below are the ladies, they also live right behind us.  Yes, our apartment has ducks and chickens, and no, I’m not kidding.  This is Portland, after all.
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We moved into the apartment officially on Christmas Eve.

IMG_1011Funny story about that though.  I was so concerned with getting all of our stuff to the new place by the holiday that I completely spaced calling the gas and electric companies to switch them to our name.  Luckily the electric company was nice enough to keep our electricity on, but I can’t say the same for the gas company.  Christmas morning, as we attempted to make pancakes, we quickly learned that our stove wasn’t working and neither was our heat.  It was pretty pitiful, actually, because we had planned on spending the day quietly unpacking in our new place, eating and drinking wine, only two of which were feasible at this point but didn’t seem too appealing without the accompaniment of the third.  So, we scrambled to find restaurants that happened to be open.

IMG_1037This isn’t a picture of our Christmas brunch, but rather my favorite brunch cafe I’ve experienced in Portland, called SweeDeeDee.  My good buddy Rebekah took me one day.  It’s freaking adorable and highly, highly recommended.  Tim and I ate something sort of similar on Christmas morning, after much angst and desperation.

IMG_1029This is more indicative of what our Christmas day looked like. F YOU, IKEA DRESSER! Lesson learned…be prepared for the holidays, because NOTHING is open! But more importantly, never buy Ikea furniture ever again.

On the bright side of the holidays, I received these two bad boys as a gift from my parents this year, soooooo rad (love youuuu).
IMG_1032IMG_1047_MG_6949But back to my new apartment…a fridge is a very integral part of a house!  It’s important to me that mine shows some character.  As you can see, lots of fun stickers and photos from adventures as of late as well as lives past.  The dirty dishes and clutter in the background, also a kitchen staple of mine.

_MG_6950Captured by Porches Brewery, Emma brew.  It was consumed on a rock by the Willamette river on July 4th. I kept the bottle, obviously.

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This tree lives right across the street.  It get cold sometimes, especially in the wintertime, so naturally some lovely Portlandian knitted it a sweater.

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I like squash, especially those of the butternut and delicata breeds. The butternut went into the dish in the next photo, an odd creation of mine that was pretty tasty.

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IMG_1078And the delicata, that went into this quiche I made earlier today.

IMG_6941 IMG_6953That there’s my new stove.  It  is perfect and adorable, I’m kind of obsessed with it.

IMG_1062That and my cast-iron skillet.

IMG_1063You can make pretty much anything with it, like the other day when I decided to make a pear compote.

IMG_6943And these are just a few more pics of the new place.
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A while back, I made potato samosas with mango persimmon chutney for the Iron Chef:Persimmon competition. I didn’t win, again, but it was a super fun project and that’s pretty much all that matters to me in the end (sort of).  I have the recipe lying around in a journal somewhere, maybe eventually I’ll get to posting it on here….na, probably not but please inquire if your curiosity strikes.

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And lastly, I leave you with a few photos of our adventures to Mt. Hood, one of the coolest parts about living in Portland.  Not only snowboarding in a sweet spot an hour and a half away, but NIGHT SKIING! IMG_1060IMG_1068IMG_1059IMG_1075It’s nice to know that life goes on (and snowboarding still exists) outside of Aspen….and it’s fantastic.

A happy new years to you, maybe it be the best one yet.

Making Space

The other day I felt the incessant need to clear some space in my house.  Maybe it’s just that I’m antsy to be moving at the end of the month, but I couldn’t help myself in boxing up some of my belongings and moving them along with a few pieces of furniture into the garage and out of sight.   I then rearranged a bit, opening up corners of the room which hadn’t seen the daylight in quite some time.  I dusted, I swept, I vacuumed, I felt cleansed.  Like a blockage had just been broken and the energy could, once again, flow freely throughout the space, through me.

It is this same stale space and burdensome feeling that a routine lifestyle brings me.  When I start to behave in habit, when I think not for myself nor even at all really, but rather lose sight of this mentality where room exists to grow, to learn, to expand my mind.  When my life lacks excitement, change and spontaneity, I feel stale.  Likewise, when my living space lacks a flow of energy, I become stale.  And when it is fresh, nurtured and comfortable, I too am balanced and evolving.  In this way, my living space parallels my life flow: space must first be made before the opportunities that bring health and happiness can present themselves.

This past summer I had a job that I found to be increasingly soul-sucking over the four months that I worked there.  Moving to a new city from a different state, my priorities were absolutely in the right place: to make money, and to put something more tangible on my food service resume in a town of extremely talented candidates.  It is for these reasons I am not regretful, but rather have come to learn in hindsight that this job was wasting away at me, my time and my integrity.  It was stale space.  Had I stayed there and toughed it out, I may have taken on a managerial position or moved up in the company in other ways, sure.  But no, no thank you.  Ultimately I felt a nagging need to quit, regardless of the outcome had I stayed.  So I did.

And just like that, the space was created.

It was at about the same time when I learned of a possible job opportunity at a restaurant that was to be opening up downtown in a few weeks.  What caught my attention most was that it is a restaurant of Chef Vitaly Paley of Paley’s Place in Portland, the restaurant that I had been eyeing since before moving out to this town.  If you have heard of Paley then you know that this is exactly the type of chef you want to be working for as both a server and a cook, and knowing this I doubted my own abilities to be up for the tremendous responsibility of presenting food of this caliber.  But I inquired anyway, just for the hell of it.  The following day I was handing in a resume to Paley’s Place and sitting down for an interview with the Chef’s wife Kimberley and Garrett, general manager of Imperial, my heart pounding my palms sweaty as ever.  The two weeks between the time I quit and the moment I received the phone call from Garrett were definitely not the highlight of my summer, but just getting a taste of the light at the end of this dark tunnel was enough to deem it a memorable one.

It’s one of the more difficult feelings a person can experience, the unknown.  To not know of the consequences or outcome of a decision, regardless of whether you think it is or isn’t right.   The anxiety is often so overwhelming for me that I cannot fully experience contentment in the present until I have an answer.  I find myself consumed by it.

It sucks.

Sometimes these opportunities are out of our control, and it may be difficult to perceive them in a positive light at first.  Case in point: my current living situation.  We gave our thirty days notice at the beginning of December with a promising lead on another shared living space that seemed too good to be true.  It was, it fell through leaving us with not only an empty void to be filled but a gaping hole to clumsily climb out of.   In a sea of soulless craigslists ads we are swimming against the tide.  In fifteen days we officially become homeless, it is not an easy prospect to accept.  It is, in fact, extremely nerve-racking and a feeling I do not take comfort in.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But like a flash flood in a moment’s notice, that space becomes filled with an opportunity that’s almost always more meaningful that what existed before it.  What follows is the best part:  an overwhelming feeling of relief and gratitude.  This feeling I can recall most recently when I was offered the position at Vitaly Paley’s Imperial.

If you see your ideal life differently than how it is now; if you are unhappy and seeking change; if you find yourself drained by your surroundings, then there is something you should know.  You must first rid yourself of that which is unfulfilling if you seek to create space for those meaningful opportunities to arise and to experience true growth.

Thanksgiving at the Kemps

Note: this is a quick post I wrote shortly after Thanksgiving that I never actually published….never too late for a blog post.

Thanksgiving was more than I could have asked for this year.  Not only did I get to binge out on tons of carby, sugary goodness after a week and a half of utter deprivation, but I also successfully managed to pull off a surprise visit home.  It marked the first time in over two years that I was able to come home for the holiday after two consecutive winters in Snowmass, so it was an especially memorable one for me.

Thanksgiving for me is all about coffee and iPad-time in the morning in between my parents in bed, hanging out with my family and closest friends, cooking lots of yummy food, chillin and watching movies, and yes, wine.  There’s not much more I need, really.

Here are a few pictures I snapped this past weekend.

Mama cookin up a delicious chocolate pecan pie from scratch.

Fig, ricotta, arugula, and hazelnut mini-pizzas Kyle and I made for a starter.

Apps and wine around the fire.

Daddy trimming the turkey.

I almost finished that entire plate! (note, the wine is Domaine Drouhin 2010 Pinot Noir that I smuggled home from Oregon)

Hope everyone else enjoyed their Thanksgiving!

Pre-Thanksgiving Cleanse Update 2

Just a quick update.  It’s now day 7 and I’m still going strong on my no dairy, gluten or super sugary foods cleanse.  

These past two days have been a bit of a downer for sure.  I have had some moments of clarity and contentment, but in general I’ve been feeling more, I don’t know, blah, than I was for the first three days.  Physically, I feel healthier overall which is manifesting in a more positive self-image.  My energy has been up and down, but I have been kicking ass in bouldering and I’m wondering if that has something to do with heightened energy levels or maybe a lack of sluggishness typically resulting from the overconsumption of gluten and/or dairy.  

This is what I’ve been eating, mostly.

Day 4

  • Green juice (apple, kale, beet, pomegranate, cucumber)
  • Amaranth mixed with chick peas and a fried egg
  • Almond butter/honey
  • Ginger kombucha
  • Mixed greens salad with balsamic vinaigrette 
  • Truffle fries
  • A glass of red wine

Day 5

  • Green juice
  • Coconut water
  • Soy chai
  • Kale salad with preserved lemon, black beans and flax seeds
  • Kim chee
  • Vegan taco with corn tortilla, rice, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, guacamole.  
  • Chips and salsa.  

Day 6

  • Green Juice
  • 2 tacos with fried eggs, chia, flax seeds, pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole
  • Soy chai 
  • Grilled romaine salad with cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs and marinated onions
  • Chips and hummus

Day 7 (so far)

  • Green juice
  • kale salad with flax seeds and black beans
  • almond butter/honey

My two overarching observations so far are as follows.  One: I, surprisingly, CAN live without these foods!  And the second: I don’t wait to live without them!  Cheese, bread, milk, these are all foods that are just too good to give up entirely!  To do so would be depriving myself of some of life’s most tasty pleasures, and it is not something I want to give up of post-cleanse.   

Three and a half more days to go.

Pre-Thanksgiving Cleanse Update

Today is day 4, and I have to admit I woke up feeling pretty groggy for the first time in a few days.  This may or may not have to do with my diet over the past four days.  The first three days I felt pretty dang great.  I’ve had a extra pep in my step and mental clarity that I often felt I was missing before.  It’s been a great feeling so far!

I thought I’d be craving bread, dairy and sweets much, much more than I actually am!  The one time of day I’ve found myself in a bind is late night after I get home from work.  I’m usually in a snacky mood but not in the mood to cook anything.  This is the time when I would normally reach for something easy like bread, crackers, or cereal, I have had to battle a bit here.  Instead though, I’ve stocked a few go-to items that I can grab and not feel terribly guilty about, like almond butter and hummus.  I will literally eat spoonfuls at a time…is this weird?

Since my boyfriend’s diet consists mostly of these three food groups, I thought that it’d be harder to do a cleanse like this since I’m constantly around it.  It’s really not that bad!  This morning I watched him eat  two eggs (which I don’t consider to be dairy and am still eating) on buttered toast as I sat there drinking my measly green juice.  As good as it looked to me, it wasn’t difficult to watch him eat it without giving in.  This was a welcomed surprise!  Tonight’s our first night off together this week, so having dinner around him probably won’t be as easy…

The only real issue I’m having is at work.  Something I’ve already learned is to always eat before coming into work.  You see, I work at one of Portland’s best restaurants where the sight, smell and temptation of decadent and delicious food is absolutely unavoidable.  To make matters worse,  some of my fellow workers are constantly giving me shit and trying to tempt me to eat things like buttered crushed potatoes, french fries topped with cheese sauce or hollendaise sauce, etc.  It’s not so much that I’m craving it and it makes it more difficult to resist so much as it’s just really annoying.

I have kept a log of everything I’ve eaten in the past few days, for myself and also so that you may get some ideas as to what’s available if you choose to do something like this.

Day 1

  • green juice (kale, cucumber, apple, ginger, carrots)
  • kale salad with preserved lemon, beets and chick peas
  • grilled romaine salad with fresh herbs, tomato and marinated onion (this salad is on the menu at Imperial and normally comes with feta cheese and fry bread croutons, which I omitted)
  • a pear
  • almond butter
  • hot tea/ soy chai

Day 2

  • green juice (apple, pear, swiss chard, carrot, cranberry)
  • steel cut oats with 100% maple syrup, cinnamon, flax, chia and an egg sunny side up
  • chickpeas sauteed in olive oil and spices
  • almond butter
  • hummus
  • KIND gluten-free nut bar
  • a few bites of steak at Imperial
  • hot tea/hot water with lemon

Day 3

  • Green Juice (cranberry, grapefruit, orange, kiwi, swiss chard)
  • steel-cut oats with persimmon, flax and chia
  • New Season’s turkey chili
  • New Season’s harvest vegetable slaw with kale, carrot and cabbage tossed in apple cider vinaigrette
  • ginger kombucha
  • a few bites of kim-chee (I’m currently obsessed with it)

Day 4 (so far)

  • green juice (kiwi, cucumber, swiss chard, pear)
  • coconut water

I must admit that having a juicer helps A LOT, especially because drinking a veg/fruit juice in the morning keeps me fully and happy for a few hours, almost more than a full breakfast would.  If you are interested in a similar cleanse or maybe to improve your diet a bit, you can find relatively inexpensive juicers such as the Jack LaLanne, which is what I have.  This juicer is tons of fun, effective, easy to clean, and amazing for your health.

Awareness in Food

In preparation for one of my most favorite holidays, I’m accepting a challenge to myself.   I’ve decided to devote these next nine days to kicking my own willpowers’s ass into shape.

I’m going dairy-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free.  To clarify, it’s not because I think these foods in particular are “bad” for me.  Rather, it is because of my love for dairy, gluten, and sugary foods.  In monitoring my intake strictly for these next few days, I hope to become more in tune with how the foods I eat affect my body and mind.  I hope to detoxify my body by eating a mainly plant-based diet.  And most importantly, to grow a greater awareness with food.

This is why.

Nutrition is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.  Like, A LOT.  How what we eat affects our body so deeply, more deeply than we know.

About a month ago, I got back into the practice of yoga and am already feeling the positive benefits both physically and mentally.  In thinking about the mind body relationship, I have seen how the choices of the mind can greatly affect one’s physical nature.  Choices in food are purely an act of the mind.

I often ask myself, what does it mean to eat healthy?   To eat meat or not to eat meat?  Grain-fed or grass-fed?Organic or sustainable?  Dairy or lactose-free?  Soy?  Gluten?  Carbohydrates?  Refined sugar, synthetic sugar substitutes, or no sugar at all?  What about high-fructose corn syrup? Is there such a thing as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats?  Are processed foods okay in moderation?  Are all calories created equal?   Et cetera.

These are all questions that run through my mind constantly.  Some questions I believe to have more accurate answers to than others, but there is simply too much conflicting information out there to lay it out in black and white.  For the most part, though, it’s simple.  A healthy diet should include primarily plant-based foods (fruits and veggies), lots of nuts, seeds, complex carbohydrates, and healthy proteins.

More significant than the food itself, though, the key a healthy diet for me has recently become the cultivation of an awareness with food.  This is something that I’ve thus far habitually neglected.  I consider myself to be a balanced eater, but too often for me is food consumed mindlessly and without gratitude.  I am guilty of thoughtlessly grabbing a snack simply out of boredom, I do this all the time.  I also often find myself eating a meal too quickly, again, mindlessly.  This is also something that I hope to change.

By simply being aware, I can recognize when I’m actually hungry and when I’m just bored or eat out of habit.  I can be conscious of the circumstances under which the food is created.  I can consider whether the food I’m eating is something that was nurtured with respect and integrity, or a mass produced mishmash of chemicals and corn syrup.  Through my awareness, I may slow down and appreciate the sensations of a meal: the flavors, the texture, the atmosphere, and my company.  To listen to the feeling of satiety, and to witness how my food affects me both physically and mentally, that is to be mindful.

Please don’t misunderstand me: awareness does not necessarily mean one must eat a strictly “healthy” diet.  Rather, it simply implies that we should be cognizant of what we are putting in our bodies habitually, and to understand how it will affect us.  Consider alcohol: if you have eight drinks without taking a moment to consider the consequences of a severe hangover, you’re way more likely get after it!  However, I can bet that if you took the time to think about how crappy you’d feel the next day before having your second or third drink, you’d likely stick with only one or two.  But hey, if you want to party your ass off one night or eat a particularly indulgent meal every now and again and have understood the repercussions, I’m all for it (and I’ll probably join)!  Regardless of our choices though, we may develop a more direct relationship with certain foods (and drinks) and how they affect our bodies and minds through awareness.  That is, particularly if well-being is a priority for you.

I often wonder, do I have control over the foods I eat, or do the foods that I eat control me?  I would like to think that I have control, but the latter becomes the truth all too often.  To have complete control of your diet takes a great deal of effort, patience and willpower, so much so that I often doubt my own abilities.  From simply abstaining from reaching into the cabinet for those yummy goldfish crackers, to opting for a healthier option on a menu chock full of greasy deliciousness. Strengthening willpower is as crucial to your health and well-being as frequent exercise.  Being mindful of my intake is the first step.

Today is Day 1 of my challenge, and so far I’m going strong on a green juice of kale, cucumber, an apple, and a few carrots.  Having a juicer is so crucial, and I want to thank my parents for that!

I will keep you updated on my observations and findings.

Reclaiming my Blog

Is anyone still out there?

If so, I owe you an apology.  I didn’t intend for it to be this way.  When I started this blog, I was excited to be cooking all the time and to document my recipes for you.  It was not only an online recipe collection for me, but it was a way of interacting with others, especially those people who were once in my life or are still a part of it emotionally but maybe not physically (you know what I mean).  Having lived a few different lives and met so many wonderful people along the way, this is my way of reaching out to you.

At the time of its creation, I titled my blog No Such Recipe with the intention to documenting my exploration into the world of food, in creating new and fun ways of doing so.  Although I found inspiration in other food blogs and recipes, I wasn’t interested in simply following someone else’s measurements and ideas blindly.  Through these first few months I accomplished a lot culinarily: I took risks in cooking foods that I’d never encountered, I sought culinary mentors and absorbed all that I could, I developed a genuine passion for quality and variety of ingredients and I grew my own culinary identity.  These are accomplishments that I will carry with me always.

Although I continue to cook regularly and still find much gratification in my cooking, I have felt less desire to document every kitchen encounters on my blog.  It was never really my intention to have people follow my recipes meticulously, rather I had hoped that people would use my ideas to get in their own kitchen and step outside their culinary bubble.

I still haven’t found my groove yet.  I want more out of this blog than simply banter and recipes.  I want fulfillment and expression without structure.  I want to get to a place where my relationship with my blog is a source of inspiration, expression, communication, and contentment.  I want meaning.

Onwards, I will write when my mind has something to say, photograph when a vision speaks to me, and cook when I am in the mood.  I want No Such Recipe to reflect my original intention as an outlet for personal expression first and foremost.  This, I’ve come to understand, is the ultimate meaning behind the title, in creating the recipe for a life that is my own.

As of late:

I have become much more focused on what I eat and how it affects me.  I have focused my awareness on my health and well-being.  This is a physical awareness as well as a mental one.

I’m striving to live in the moment, each moment.  And to remind myself of this when I lose sight.

Present, aware, healthy, cozy, inspired, overwhelmed, optimistic, curious, nostalgic.  This is how I’ve been feeling.

Yoga, bouldering, soccer, rainy day jogs.  Spending time with my puppy.  Drinking and exploring tea.  Reading about natural medicines and health benefits of foods, juicing lots of fruits and veggies.  Appreciating the creativity in Portland and taking it all in, especially in the form of seasonal beers.  Basking in the dreary fall weather and colorful leaves all over the ground.  Zombie pub crawls and watching The Walking Dead.  This is mostly what I’ve been doing.

The terrible devastation of Sandy and how I wish I could do more to help.  Old friends and those who I haven’t seen or spoken to in a while.  Whether I want to ask inquire about working prep for Imperial and in general get more involved with the food production aspect of the restaurant.  If I want to invest in a season pass to Meadows on Mount Hood, how I miss Aspen but am stoked to find out what winter’s all about in Portland.  How to create a positive and comfortable living space, if I want to seek a new place to live in Portland, and my incessant desire travel the world.  The holidays.   Aliens and other mysterious things beyond our comprehension. How I can best use my new cast iron skillet.  These are some of the things I’ve been thinking about.

Breakfast sandwiches, butternut squash in any and every way, soups and stews, cornbread, pumpkin muffins, various juices.  These are the things I’ve been cooking lately.  

I hope you’re enjoying your November.  Be well, friends.

Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-Da Slidas’

It’s not easy moving to a new city.  I knew this before moving to Portland, but I didn’t really think about it all too much before our arrival.  That is, until we pulled into the driveway with a car full o’ crap, a puppy and merely the clothes on our backs.  Now luckily we had a place to call home for a couple of weeks in a small trailer on a chestnut farm just outside of Portland, which we had arranged through WWOOF.  

But other than that, there was no plan laid out ahead.  No house to call our own, no jobs lined up, no family to greet us with love and hugs.  As exciting as it may have been, to say that the uncertainty wasn’t overwhelming would be a lie.

It’s certainly a comfort to know of a few people in the big bad city, to know that if you absolutely need somebody to call, there are people out there.  Aquaintences, facebook friends maybe who you rarely, if ever, talk to.  But it’s absolutely a great feeling when someone reaches out a hand to make you feel especially welcomed.  I have Alice to thank for that (yes, the same Alice who I took a cheese making class with a while ago).

Alice is an old friend who I met back in my days at Vassar, once upon a time when I played soccer competitively.  Through a series of events I found myself, for the first time in my life, not only living in a new city but one that was entirely across the country from everything and everyone that I ever knew.  I wouldn’t call Alice my first friend or even my closest friend during my freshmen year, but she was always the nicest and friendliest of teammates despite the seemingly inherent senior-freshmen discrepancy.  Before I knew it, I was a sophomore and she a graduate moving on to continue her chem studies at UC Berkeley.  There, she played soccer on the same adult league team as my sister (who lives in San Francisco) as well as myself for the season that I spent in San Francisco.  And then, I left for Aspen.

Somehow the stars aligned once again, and fast forward two years later we have found ourselves both living in Portland.  It was about a week after moving into our new place that she invited us to her upcoming get together. In this Iron Chef-style competition, attendees bring dishes or drinks highlighting one key not-so-secret ingredient.  The first one I was able to attend was an avocado theme, and with little preparation time I whipped up a porcini mushroom and avocado salad with a lemon parsley vinaigrette, Lucia’s recipe.  It was good, but most other dishes were better. 

A few months later, Iron Chef: Cilantro was underway.  I stepped up my game with Tequila Lime Cilantricles, boozy popsicles tasting somewhat of a jalapeno cilantro-spiced margarita similar to the ones described in an earlier post.  I was in the running, but was eventually beat out by my more savory-minded counterparts.

And this past weekend, I competed in my third event, Iron Chef: Coconut.  For this one, I decided to take a bit of a different approach.  Instead of featuring the themed ingredient, I decided to use it as more of a backdrop, incorporating coconut into my dish in many different, yet subtle, ways.  I wanted to use an ingredient that paired well with coconut, so naturally I went in the direction of pineapple.  But I didn’t want to make a sweet dish, and I also wanted to use meat as a challenge to myself more than anything.  I’m fairly sure I’ve heard of others using pineapple juice in a marinade for pork, so that’s when the idea of a pulled pork slider came into play.  Pulled pork and coleslaw, naturally.   After a few days, I settled on my plan.  Pineapple pulled pork slider with coconut cole slaw.  Frankly, my idea was pretty awesome if I do say so myself!

After an hour of pacing back and forth through the aisles of New Seasons checking off my grocery list and doubting that I had everything I needed, I went home to begin prep.  Six hours of slow cooking the meat, reducing a sauce, and chopping veggies went by and before I knew it I was out the door and on my way to Alice’s house with about ten different tupper-wared components in tow.

These Iron Chef parties are, I’ve learned, not to be taken lightly.  There is extensive planning, countless shit-talking emails, graphic designing, outfit wearing, and libation-consuming to be had before the entries even get plated, and it’s exhausting!  But moreso awesome, because as soon as the party starts chaos ensues in the kitchen, with everyone putting last minute touches on their dishes, starting with drinks and appetizers and continuing to main dishes and then desserts.

At the end of the event, after everyone’s bellies are stuffed and we are no longer capable of taking another bite, we all roll ourselves into the living room and the votes are tallied, with each person getting a total of 6 points awarded to their top three votes (three for first, two for second, one for third).   The winner is awarded the coveted Golden Frying Pan for the duration of their reign, bragging rights and the choice of the next theme ingredient.  Unfortunately for me, my “Porky Piña Cole-slaw-da Slidas'” were beat out in the final ballot by a point, putting me at a tie for second with Alice’s coco-licious cheesecake.  The bar was set high for this battle, and I’m comforted by the moment of silence that overswept the room as they bit into my sliders.  A moment of tasty bliss, I’d like to believe.

It is a victory I can and will still look forward to.  Someday, perhaps.

Alas, here is the somewhat informal recipe of my sliders, dedicated to my friend Alice (and her fiance Mike as well as many of their lovely friends).  Thanks for making me feel so welcomed in this little big town called Portlandia.

Porky Piña Cole-Slaw-da Slidas

Apologies but no measurements here- I don’t generally use measurements but more so just go by sight and taste.

Ingredients:

Pulled Pork:

  • Humanely-raised pork shoulder (I asked for about two lbs. from the butcher)
  • Pineapple juice
  • Whole grain dijon mustard
  • soy sauce
  • Coconut juice (or water, with pulp if possible)
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
  • Apple cider vinegar, splash
  • Salt/Pepper

Cole Slaw:

  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage
  • Carrot, 1 or 2 grated
  • Pineapple chunks, minced
  • Dried coconut flakes, toasted lightly
  • Vegannaise (can also use regular mayo or other mayo substitute)
  • Coconut Milk
  • Whole-grain dijon mustard
  • Apple cider vinegar, a splash
  • Small jalapeno pepper (optional), finely chopped
  • Chives, minced for garnish
  • One loaf of challah bread, sliced evenly

Glaze:

  • Pineapple Juice
  • Coconut juice (or water)
  • Maple syrup

Begin by placing the pork in a slow cooker and turn the timer onto 6 (or more, if you have the time) hours.  In a small bowl, combine 4 parts pineapple juice, 1 part dijon,  1 part soy sauce, 2 parts coconut juice, 1 part SBR’s BBQ sauce, and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add to the slow cooker with the pork and leave it be.

You can wait a few hours before preparing the rest of the components.

In a small saucepan, combine 2 parts pineapple juice, one part coconut juice and 1/2 part maple syrup.  Stir on low to medium heat for at least fifteen minutes, until the water has evaporated and the syrup will coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Begin your coleslaw by finely chopping your cabbages either by hand with a knife or with a mandolin, and collect into a large bowl.  Add grated carrots, minced pineapple chunks (if the chopping of the pineapple creates residual juice, add that to the mix as well), chopped jalapeno and a handful of toasted coconut flakes.  In a small bowl, combine equal parts Vegannaise and coconut milk, a small spoon of dijon and a splash of AC vinegar.  Combine well and then fold into the cabbage and carrot mix.  Season with salt and pepper as needed, then keep in the fridge until service.

At this point you can toast the challah slices at about 250 degrees on each side until golden brown, should take no more than 15 minutes in the oven.

One the meat is fully cooked and tender enough to break apart with a fork, turn off the heat and remove any super fatty pieces.  To assemble sliders,  put a heaping spoonful of pulled pork on a slice of toasted challah, drizzle lightly with pineapple glaze, top with an equal portion of coleslaw to pork and top with a light sprinkle of toasted coconut and minced chives.  Top the slider with another slice of challah,  and stick a large toothpick through to keep it in place.

For the next battle, Iron Chef: Persimmon…Allez Cuisine!