Pho Chay

Jimmy, our friend Lisa, and I went apple picking this weekend! It was a very special adventure, despite the severe cold that I am still getting over. I had enough energy to climb trees, throw apples at Jimmy, and eat an apple cider doughnut, before heading over to The Third Battle of Winchester Battlefield Park for a hike (read: long walk, it wasn't very hilly).

My body needed some TLC after a long day outside in the finally cool fall air, and I'd been craving pho as I am wont to do. I've reverted back to being pescatarian, with the notable exception of tonkotsu ramen with my friend Alice at Sakuramen last week (so much porky goodness, mmm), so I wanted to find a vegetarian recipe. I also don't know where to find beef marrow or knuckle bones around here, so making a non-vegetarian version would've required some extra work.

As I'm sure readers of this blog already know, I prefer to cook at home than eat out. Much of this preference is based on my sad and expensive food adventures in D.C. I usually leave feeling unsatisfied and like I've overpaid for something I could've made better at home. That's not the case with pho; I happily pay for my beef eye round and soft tendon (like butter omg) pho with spicy lemongrass broth at Pho Viet (also Pho 75 at the Court House stop is amaaazing). It's just not budget-friendly or healthy to eat out every time I'm craving it, which is often, even when it's hot as hades here. Hence, my desire to make it at home.

It was the perfect meal to end our Saturday, and I even made a second batch to get me through the next few days.

Some of these ingredients may be hard to find at your local grocery store, but if you live in D.C. I highly recommend Hana Japanese Market on U Street. They have all the sauces, noodles, produce, and spices you need for this recipe. They're also super friendly and sell homemade rice balls! What more could you want?

My first batch of broth wasn't salty enough and needed some soy sauce. I learned my lesson the second time around!

P.S. I hope to start using my camera more again soon. Sorry for the iPhone photos!

Pho Chay
Adapted from Danang Cuisine

For the noodles:

1/2 pound flat rice noodles
Salt

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Salt liberally and cook rice noodles according to the package directions. My noodles said 6-8 minutes, so I took them out after 6 so that they would be al dente.

Rinse noodles in cold water to stop the cooking process, and then under hot water to help keep them from sticking. Set aside, then use the same pot to make the broth.

For the broth:

1 apple
1 pear
2 carrots
2 celery stalks (optional; I had some leftover that I wanted to use up)
1 kohlrabi or 1/3 large daikon radish
1 leek (or onion if you can't find leeks)
2 tablespoons salt, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2-3 tablespoons sliced dried chiles

1 large knob ginger, about 2 inches long
3 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods, or 1/4 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds, depending on what you have
2 cinnamon sticks, or 1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, again depending on what you have
1 onion
1 3-inch long piece lemongrass

Chop the apple, pear, carrots, celery if using, kohlrabi/daikon, and leek/onion into large chunks. Combine with 1 gallon (16 cups) water, salt, sugar, dried mushrooms, and dried chiles in the pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the aromatics. Slice the ginger in half lengthwise and do the same to the lemongrass. Peel the onion and cut into fourths, keeping the root intact so the layers stay together. Put the ginger, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass in a dry pan over medium heat. Remove the aromatics as they become charred and fragrant. If you really want to get a good char and have a gas stove, put the aromatics over the open flame; you can put them directly on the grate, or hold them with tongs.

After you've charred the aromatics, wrap the cardamom and anise in cheesecloth or put in a teabag. Add to the pot with the ginger, cinnamon, onion, and lemongrass, and simmer for another 30 minutes or more. If you have time, I would suggest cooking for another hour.

In the meantime, prepare your bowl. These are the ingredients I like, but feel free to switch them up.

For the bowl:

Fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Bok choy, sliced
Soft or silken tofu

Thai basil leaves
Bean sprouts
Lemongrass, minced
Chili garlic sauce
Hoisin sauce
Scallions, sliced
Limes, sliced

Saute the mushrooms with sunflower or another neutral oil until crisp and cooked through. I seasoned mine with soy sauce and five spice powder, but do whatever floats your boat. If you like your bok choy cooked through, you can throw it in with the mushrooms as well.

Add the mushrooms, bok choy, tofu, and cooked noodles to your bowl. If you prefer fried tofu, then go for it, but I like the texture and taste of soft or silken tofu. I also pulled some of the now-rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms from the pot, sliced them up, and put them in the bowl. Ladle over the piping hot broth.

Finish off your bowl with your favorite toppings. I like basil, sprouts, lemongrass, chili garlic sauce, hoisin, scallions, and lime juice. Enjoy!

Surfacing

Hello, friends. Almost a year has passed since I last posted. Time flies when you're balancing a full-time job, long-distance relationship, and PhD applications, eh?

Since October, I said goodbye to my tiny studio apartment, moved into a grown-up apartment with Jimmy, got a joint Costco membership (which is, apparently, a new relationship landmark in today's secular society), and bought an electric coffee grinder that saves 5+ minutes of labor compared to my manual grinder #blessbless. Don't worry Dad, it's got a conical burr in there.

I started boxing, got injured, started training for the Army Ten-Miler, and got injured some more. My arm muscles are looking p good though.

I traveled. Los Angeles. Rockland. New York. Philly. Chicago. Fort Worth. Stillwater. Breckenridge. Nashua. Not in that order. I ate a lot. I drank delicious drinks.


I cut my hair.


I studied for and took the GRE. I wrote my personal statement for PhD applications.

Happily done with the GRE.
I cooked. I made that tiny, tiny kitchen work. 

Lamb meatballs from, you guessed it, the Jerusalem cookbook.
Brûléed bourbon-maple pumpkin pie with chocolate crust. Yes, it was that good.
I also commandeered other people's nice kitchens.

Thanksgiving feast at Tor's house.

And grills.

Grilled seafood paella, featuring Jimmy's forearm.
Now that my oven, stove, counter-space, and fridge are all regular-people sized, I hope to cook more. Already, that's been true. Jimmy's done most of the cooking, actually, but I really want to cook the way I used to. Spontaneously, happily.

I found new food blogs and rediscovered old ones, combined my cookbooks with Jimmy's, and begun dreaming of new recipes. Ya girl is back.

Best Ginger Molasses Cookies, Los días van tan rápidos

Estemos preparados. Quedémonos desnudos
con lo que somos, pero quememos, no pudramos 
lo que somos. Ardamos. Respiremos
sin miedo. Despertemos a la gran realidad 
de estar naciendo ahora, y en la última hora.

Let us be prepared. Let us stay exposed
to what we are, but let us burn, not spoil
what we are. Let us smolder. Let us breath
without fear. Let us awaken to the great reality
of being born now, and in the final hour.

Gonzalo Rojas, Contra la muerte, 1964


As a classic early 2000s middle schooler, with a penchant for softcore metal, bad YA novels, and having a lot of ~feelings~, I was very much into writing and reading poetry. Although I've gotten over my desire to write really deep verses about how no one understands me, I haven't gotten over my love of reading other people's poetry. Tomas Tranströmer and Rainer Maria Rilke were early favorites, which I read as English translations, before reading the Aeneid and several Alexander Pushkin poems in their original languages. Reading poetry has become a part of how I learn and immerse myself in other languages; or, put perhaps more poetically, a way to find powerful, transcendent spaces in the languages I love. The excerpt above illustrates this beautifully. I don't know what it is about the words he's chosen, the pacing, his earnestness, but it just fills me up and lifts me out of myself for a moment whenever I read it.

I first encountered this stanza in a collection of poemas de Gonzalo Rojas that Jimmy gave me for Christmas when he came back from Chile. Pablo Neruda is, of course, also a favorite of ours, and we return to a book of his selected poems time and again. I hope to find more Spanish language poetry once I finally mobilize myself to get a DC library card. Until then, I've been occupying my spare time with sculling (lol @ my fourth year self for thinking I would probably never row again after college), taking casinero (Cuban style) salsa classes, a social volleyball league, studying for the GRE, and actually devoting myself to learning Python. Code Academy is a great online tool, and I've also been using Learn Python the Hard Way that is part of a broader series of books on programming languages. I will also be attending my first lesson with Hear Me Code this weekend, a community of women in the DC area ranging from complete programming novices who want to learn Python, HTML, Java, etc. to incredibly skilled programmers looking to bounce ideas off of the group or work on projects together. I'm very excited about that.


I've also been cooking a fair amount, less often than I would like and with less flair, but I've still had a lot of success in my teeny tiny kitchen. My first week in this apartment I made the salad pictured above, which was perfect for the incredible and disgusting humidity of DC summer that I hope I never get used to, and the spice cookies from my all-time fave Jerusalem cookbook that were absolutely divine. When Jimmy came to visit me in September, we adapted a recipe for a quinoa, bacon, and chard salad from La Gran Cocina Latina (which by the way I think is an excellent, excellent encyclopedia and cookbook in one). I made two loaves of babka last week that came out super well, and have made a version of this granola recipe (maple syrup instead of agave, sub extra nuts for coconut, no brown sugar, sub cardamom and allspice for cinnamon) several times now to have with kefir and fruit for breakfast. I also improvised a pureed kabocha squash soup with miso and gochugaru that turned out super well, and was a lovely way to celebrate early fall produce. Today I also made chicken stock, then pulled apart the chicken to make into curried chicken salad with toasted pecans and golden raisins. I mixed together Greek yogurt, curry powder, lemon juice, a little bit of the stock to thin out the yogurt, a dash of olive oil, a dab of Dijon mustard, and honey for the dressing. That's a #notsaddesklunch right there.

This is all to say, I've been doing really well adjusting to adult life and finding time to exercise, relax, and cook. I can't say that I have a routine, but I've at least established some weekly patterns with activities I've already paid for (like rowing and salsa) that force inspire me to go and get out of my own head when I'm feeling down and prone to binge-watching bad romcoms on Netflix. Having these patterns is especially important for weeks like this one, when I've just come back from visiting Jimmy in Chicago or when he's left after visiting me, and it's difficult to return to the normalcy of being in my apartment alone. Cookies are also especially important. Cookies indeed.

Ginger Molasses Cookies
barely adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang

1 1/2 sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 c (220 grams) packed light brown sugar
1/4 c (80 grams) unsulphured dark molasses
1 egg
2 c (280 grams) all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1+ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
Granulated sugar for coating

Whisk (or mix on low speed) together the butter, brown sugar, molasses, fresh ginger, and egg until well combined. 

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt until well mixed. Add the flour mixture into the wet mixture and stir just until combined. Put the dough into an airtight container and let rest in the refrigerator at least 3-4 hours or preferably overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the granulated sugar in a small bowl. Scoop out  a 1/4 c of dough at a time, roll into a ball, roll in the sugar, then place on a baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 16-18 minutes until the cookies are crackly on top and just barely firm to the touch. Let cool until you can eat them without burning your mouth too badly.

Tacos de Carnitas + Sangría Roja

Hello!

A lot has happened since I've been away.

I graduated. I showed New Hampshire and my big crazy family to Jimmy for the first time. I traveled to Nice, Genoa, Bologna, Siena, and London over three weeks. I ate a lot of wonderful, wonderful food. I got tan. I found my new home in Washington, D.C.

Trafalgar Square, London, with Jimmy

And now, with only a week left until I move and start my new job, I feel very ready, nervous, and sad to leave Chicago. I resisted calling it home for a long time, even after my parents moved here from New Hampshire, and even after I started living in an apartment -- but when I was traveling this past month and asked where I was from, Chicago was the first place on my lips.

I hated that, because Hudson was my home in a way Chicago never was and no other place will ever be again. That's fine, though. I'm able to call Chicago home just as I'm about to leave it, and maybe there's something poetic about that. Or maybe I'm just feeling grossly sentimental. I'm not sure that I would feel the same way if Jimmy weren't staying in Chicago, but it really hit me this morning that this is happening -- that this time I'm the one moving, and even though we'll see each other much more frequently than we did when he was in Chile, it's still hard to say goodbye. We've gotten very used to saying goodbye to each other at airports. I hate that too.

I have another week left, though, and so I can't be too sad or try to buy too many things for the new apartment on Amazon yet. I've been on a pie and galette-making spree, with the sour cherry pie from summer's past turning out deliciously yet again and one peach galette turning out much better than the other (I made the crust too wet when it was grossly humid out here, never again!). We also made an enchiladas verdes recipe from Rick Bayless but with an improvised cremini mushroom, zucchini, and black bean filling spiced with cumin, coriander, chili powder, and oregano. Last week I made tilapia ceviche with the usual lime and cilantro, but also added fresh ginger and it was pretty amazing. And let's not forget these tacos de carnitas that we made last night, improvised using the New York Times cooking blog's recipe. They turned out so, so well, especially served with pickled radishes, avocado, and cilantro. They made an excellent dinner last night, and dare I say even better lunch today? Also this sangría roja, which Jimmy and I first improvised for my graduation party, is super delicious. I imagine I'll be making it fairly often to survive the D.C. heat, which my body is certainly not ready for.


Tacos de Carnitas

3-4 pound pork shoulder, marbled with lots of yummy fat (mine was about 4 pounds)
1 1/2+ teaspoons salt
1-3 teaspoons dried oregano, to taste
1 large orange, zested
1 large onion, sliced
4+ garlic cloves sliced, depending on your taste
1 bottle Negra Modelo or other dark beer
3 chipotles in adobo, with a couple spoonfuls of sauce
1 large Mexican cinnamon stick, or 2 small regular ones
2 bay leaves
1 ounce very dark chocolate, whatever you have on hand

Trim any large, thick pieces of fat from the pork shoulder. Break it down into 1-inch cubes and add them to a pot, preferably a cast iron Dutch oven. Toss the meat with the oregano, orange zest, and salt to coat, then add the remaining ingredients except for the chocolate. Add enough water to cover the pork, then simmer over medium-low heat (depending on your stove) for about 2 hours. Skim any foam that forms on the top every 20 minutes or so, and add water as needed to keep the pork covered. 

Start checking around 1 1/2 hours for doneness: the pieces of pork should be breaking down and yield very easily to being pressed. Turn up the heat to allow the liquid to boil down and become a lovely sauce. If you're afraid that the meat will become overcooked, depending on how much liquid you have left to boil off, remove the meat and then reduce the liquid. You want to have enough liquid to keep the pork moist but not so much that it's soupy -- I probably left a half cup of liquid. As the liquid boils off, shred the pork (you can use 2 forks for this, but honestly I just pressed mine with my spoon and it fell apart easily). Add in the chocolate and let it cook for a couple minutes with the meat.

Remove the cinnamon stick(s) and bay leaves. Serve with warm corn tortillas and your desired condiments. 

Sangría Roja

1 large bottle of red wine
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
3/4 cup apple cider or natural apple juice
1/2 cup apple brandy (you could use regular brandy instead but that's what we had)
1/3 cup simple syrup, or to taste
Sliced fruit (oranges work especially well because they soak up the sangria)

Stir liquids to combine. Add in the fruit and serve over ice. I recommend letting the fruit marinate in the sangria for a couple of hours before serving if possible.

Cauliflower, Potato, + Green Pea Dhal with Naan

I did not used to be a fan of curry. By which I mean, I thought it smelled like feet, and thus tasted like feet. Sorry, turmeric. You're kind of smelly. But, then I realized that there was a world beyond yellow curries. Red curry and I have had a lasting romance ever since (bless you, duck curry from the Snail), and now I have a solid relationship with green curry (protip: put some green curry powder in your lentil soup, it's magical). I've slowly come around to liking the flavor of yellow curry, but am still not super into the typical yellow curry coconut broth that you find at Thai restaurants... I think it's something about the turmeric-coconut combination. Anyway, my weird food opinions aside (still not down with green bell peppers, but that's a story for another day), yellow curry now has its special place in my heart, and has warmed me up to turmeric more generally.


So when I saw this cauliflower, potato, + green pea dhal on Flourishing Foodie, it looked so good that I had to make it. I was still feeling a little hesitant about the turmeric, but since it was combined with garam masala, green peas, and cilantro, I couldn't possibly refuse. I think I'll be making this all spring and summer long (in fact, I just made another batch for this week, and added some fennel). I made whole wheat naan to go along with it, using this recipe from the New York Times' cooking blog and subbing in white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose. They turned out a little tougher than I wanted, but still tasty. I guess that's what I get for messing with a recipe that I'd never made before, but I just slathered on some avocado and was good to go.

Tonight I'm going to try my hand at this raw + vegan chunky monkey ice cream because I'm curious and have lots of frozen bananas, but I'm just going to use bittersweet chocolate because I'm a heathen and don't feel like sourcing cacao nibs right now (so it won't be raw, whatever). I also made vegetable wontons that I'll post about in the coming week, and am looking forward to sitting outside in the finally seasonal warmth eating this Niçoise salad. I am determined to make this week totally awesomely excellent, especially because I have finally, finally finished my honors thesis (!!!!!). Only 27 days until graduation, but who's counting?


Happenings + End-of-the-Week Fridge Meals

Hello friends, it's a busy time, as you might imagine. I've been neglecting writing here mostly because I haven't felt that I've had anything thoughtful to write. The days come and go like waves. I finish my assignments, read some for my magical realism course and psychology courses, take a bike ride, and go to sleep. It's been peaceful in way, despite taking a full course load and finishing my honors thesis, but laced with the feeling that there is something more that I should, could, want to be doing, something dissatisfying beneath the surface. I know much of it is wrapped up in my impatience for my new life, as it were, to start. I've been so ready to be done being a student, to find my new apartment, to have said apartment all to myself, to start my new job, to feel like I'm a real adult in a way that I can't as a college student. Even though I know nothing will go as smoothly as I imagine it will, that living alone in a new city, being in a long distance relationship again, and adjusting to a new job for which I clearly have the skills but not the content knowledge will all be difficult, I am still ready. I have been ready for a long time. And now I am impatient, because time has to pass in the way that it does, slowly and out of my control. Yes, of course I am excited for end of college shenanigans, for graduating, for traveling, but I have to wait for all of those things too.

Why can't you relax, you weirdo? Why can't you just be happy? Why do you have to be so impatient? I have asked myself all of these questions, too. Impatience is a part of who I am. It makes me ambitious, but can also make me dissatisfied. I like to think that I have a good balance of feeling impatient for the new and content with the present: I enjoy being alone at home with my books and cooking and quiet; I like commitment and rules and order. But psychoanalysis isn't very scientific, and especially not when one is psychoanalyzing oneself, so maybe I'm not as balanced as I think I am. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I'm not someone who identifies as a thrill-seeker or someone bound by instant gratification. While I have dreams and aspirations just like the next person, I seem to feel more discontent about not being able to reach those things right now. Granted, this makes me unafraid of commitment or of becoming a grump (watch Star Trek TOS for that reference), but also makes me less able to enjoy being a college student who messes things up in the way young, inexperienced people do.


But this is a cooking and food blog after all, so now that I've gotten my internal monologue out on paper (screen?), let us turn to food. I've been cooking a lot, but not anything that I've felt super compelled to take pictures of. I've been trying to be more budget and diet friendly, now that it's spring (or trying to be spring - Chicago is distinctly not out of its post-winter phase yet) and I don't need to hunker down with carbs stuffed with carbs and cheese plus a warm brownie to feel human again at the end of the day (although I'm not opposed). I've been cooking more like I used to at home, in high school, when I was vegetarian and using more grains and vegetables. I've also been perfecting the art of the end-of-the-week-fridge meal, i.e. the night before you plan to grocery shop again for the week and you are like, wow, what is all this crap and what am I going to make with it for dinner?? Last week I pulled together a hummus, fried egg, roasted zucchini, lettuce-herb salad, and lentils with red curry paste and soy sauce pita pocket that was super delicious. Pictured below is a couscous salad with roasted red cabbage, onion, dried apricots, and parsley with roasted broccoli and spiced chickpeas, out of which I got several meals. It's amazing what you can do with an almost empty fridge.


Finnish Cinnamon Rolls

It's spring break here in Chicago. It's also been snowing throughout the week. Gross. Today at least the sky was bright and sunny, but I still had to bundle up against the wind. No lake-side frolicking for me just yet. I made these beautiful little cinnamon rolls a few weeks ago when I was in school stress mode, but I may have to make them again if it's going to stay chilly like this (and as my thesis deadline approaches). 

For now, though, I'm mostly relaxed, after spending an excellent weekend with my cousin Sydney and hunkering down at my favorite coffee shops throughout the week. Sydney and I spent a too-short day and a half exploring downtown Chicago, making fun of our parents (as only loving children do), and eating our way around the city. We visited the Art Institute first before making our way along the Mag Mile to take a few selfies at the Bean and stop into Eataly for lunch. We had an early dinner at Lou Malnati's (after a little shopping spree of course), then headed back to Hyde Park for some more wandering, 57th Street Books, and Sabrina at my apartment. We ate at Valois the next morning with Jimmy before she flew home again, back to being a star softball player and fabulous student. I miss her very much.


Next weekend, though, it'll be my turn to travel. Friends, soon I shall be visiting the bustling metropolis of Fort Worth, Texas! I'll be spending Easter with the Steele-McDonough clan, eating lots of delicious food and hopefully getting a little sculling in with my favorite doubles partner. I've never been to Texas before, so this will be exciting, and maybe I'll get some cowboy boots if I'm feeling fancy. Pictures to come!


Also 10/10 would recommend binge watching New Girl and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt with all of your free hibernation time before classes start again. Especially if you too are procrastinating writing your thesis (I'm looking at you fellow fourth years). I've also been reading The Master and Margarita again over break, in English this time, in preparation for a class on magical realism in Russia and Southeastern Europe. I'll be taking the class on top of a full load of psychology courses that I need to graduate, but I think it'll be worth it.


The My Blue & White Kitchen blog is acting up (it's asking me for a password to enter for some reason?), so I unfortunately don't have the recipe to post (or to use in the future *sobs*). If I figure out what's going on with the site I'll add the link in. They're basically cinnamon rolls that have a lot of ground cardamom in the dough, so they taste deliciously reminiscent of a chai latte, and in place of frosting they have pearl sugar sprinkled over the top before baking. They are glorious indeed.