The Mysterious Meat Sauce

food, recipes

Bestowed unto me, a box of hand-written recipes from my great grandma’s house. Among them are time-stained index cards with recipes written in a combination of English, Italian and dialect with ambiguous instructions, cook times, measurements and temperatures. Except for one. One is written out with clear instructions and ingredients. Clearly not written by my great grandma, the recipe uses full sentences and proper Italian. My great grandma notoriously spoke broken English and wrote in that confounding amalgamation of languages that only which another immigrant could fully empathize.

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The whole sheet of loose leaf paper, speckled with pin holes as if it was passed around and pinned to bulletin boards by a number of people, contains a recipe for a luscious lasagna, including a bolognese sauce with optional mushrooms, cream and prosciutto and a buttery bechamel sauce in lieu of layers of melted cheese. Without a proper baking dish, I couldn’t make a full on lasagna, but I knew I needed to understand why this recipe of mysterious origin earned a coveted spot in the recipe box. I decided to attempt the bolognese sauce.

There’s something truly magical about cooking from a hand written recipe. Nostalgia kicks in, even if the recipe or recipe writer is unfamiliar. I felt like the essence of the author was right there with me, instructing me on how to properly brown and season the ground beef. Maybe it’s intuition, but despite never making this recipe or tasting the end result before, I knew exactly when the sauce was at it’s peak and ready to serve.

Now this recipe is by no means revolutionary. It was incredibly simple. The key, however, was in the fats. A little bit of oil and about 4 tablespoons of fat get things going. The carrots, celery and onion then cook in that rich liquid along with the beef and a good amount of salt. Then it’s a waiting game. Once the vegetables have sweat out enough liquid and the beef has cooked, tomatoes are added and the pot simmers for a hour, allowing the meat and vegetables to become soft and homogeneous and the sauce to thicken.

Good lord this rich, thick boy sticks to your bones on a winter night. The tomato sauce gains a silky texture from the rendered fat and butter and the vegetables make the whole dish sweet and complex. Rigatoni is the ideal pasta shape for bolognese, holding beefy treats within each tube. No exceptions.

Whoever wrote this recipe: thank you. This was a real treat (a beefy treat) and I can’t wait to layer this inside a lasagna.

Ragu Alla Bolognese

Olive oil

4 tbsp. butter

1 carrot, diced

1 celery stalk, diced

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound ground beef

1 – 28 oz can or jar of tomatoes (I like to use passata or pureed tomatoes)

1 pound dry rigatoni

Salt & pepper

  1. Melt the olive oil and butter in a 4 qt Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot.
  2. Once the butter is melted, add the carrot, celery and onion and salt. Cook the vegetables until soft, then add the beef. Cook everything, breaking up the ground beef and stirring until the beef is cooked, and everything is combined.
  3. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for about an hour until the crumbled beef and diced vegetables are thoroughly mixed and the sauce is at your desired consistency.
  4. Cook the rigatoni in generously salted water to the box’s instructions. Reserve some pasta water.
  5. Combine pasta and sauce in the Dutch oven, adding pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Serve immediately with cheese.

 

In the Night Bar

drink, lifestyle

We’ve all experienced something that we think we could do better than an expert. We’ve all looked at a piece of art, drank a cup of coffee, or heard someone sing and thought “well, I could do that too.” First of all, no you can’t. If you could, you would. But it’s fun to pretend.

Recently I was at a bar. I remember seeing the stone archway from the sidewalk thinking how cool it was to open a bar in an old train tunnel. Then I walked in – so far so good: the dimly lit room had oil lamps on tables and funky chandeliers from times past. Leather arm chairs were positioned around small round tables. The dark wood bar was inviting and behind the bartenders were more cavernous spaces all furnished with old-timey lighting fixtures.

Unfortunately, the drinks left something to be desired and even worse, bartenders served drinks in novelty martini glasses, which is probably the worst of both worlds. It made me think at that moment “man, if I opened a bar I would have x, y and z.” So here’s a glimpse into my dream bar.

First of all, there are only six types of glasses I’m willing to stock. First, the necessary pint glass. Does someone want a beer? How about just a tall glass of water? Boom, pint glass. They are not as aesthetically pleasing as tulip or teku glasses favored by craft beer buffs, myself included, but they are multi-functional and overall classic. No doubt, I would have some local craft beers on tap and maybe a few craft cans if I’m so inclined.

Second, there will be absolutely no martini glasses. Not only are they ugly but they’re cumbersome and no one needs a martini that large. I’m willing to fight someone about this. Plus, have you ever ordered a drink like a manhattan and had it arrive in a martini glass, and go “what do I do with this?” Yeah, it throws you off. To solve this problem, I will stock those elegant coup glasses that fit right in the curve of your hand. A bonus if I could find vintage coup glasses with character. Still a great choice for martinis, but also make manhattans, old fashioneds and other boozy, straight-up cocktails look classic.

Third, there will be rocks glasses. You can’t go wrong with a rocks glass. Whiskey on the rocks? Rocks glass. Margarita? Put a salt rim on it and boom. Negronis? No problem. The rocks glass is the perfect vessels for on-the-rocks drinks and frozen beverages. No novelty needed here, the drink should speak for itself. Plus there’s nothing quite like the ambient sound of a large ice cube gently bumping into the side of a rocks glass. Eat your heart out ASMR.

For your crushed ice, muddled mint drinks, the collins glass. Tall, slim and timeless. These are great for soda based drinks and anything remotely tropical. If it’s got a sprig of anything in it, it’ll probably be in a collins glass. Gin and tonic, Moscow mule (no need to take up space with copper mugs, but I’m not against them) and Bloody Marys would fare well in your hand in a classic, sleek collins glass. Also, a great sub-in for water when your pint glasses are all full of brews.

Then we have wine glasses. Will my bar have wine? Absolutely. It’ll have a Wine Spectator award-winning wine list. Maybe some natural wines if you ask nicely. While wine glasses are not controversial glasses, there are variations that make my skin crawl. Like stemless wine glasses? Those glasses where the stem and bulb meet at a right angle? Who are those for? Not me. Not my bar.

Last but not least, shot glasses. Measuring is important and sometimes you just need a shot of tequila. No explanation necessary.

As for drinks I don’t have a menu set in stone but I know what I do not want at my bar. One time I saw a woman order a chocolate martini at a bar and the bartender, without hesitation, just said “no.” Not all heroes wear capes, am I right? There will be no chocolate martinis or bright-blue potions with umbrellas or anything that’s also the name of a cake or candy. Make your peppermint patty shots at home with your girlfriends the way God intended.

When do I have time to think about this? Well, I’ve had this dream to own an old-timey Italian bar ever since encountering the experience abroad. Did you ever read the Maurice Sendak book In the Night Kitchen? A little boy wanders into a dream kitchen only a child could imagine. It was one of my favorite children’s books. I feel that now as an adult my night kitchen is this dream bar. Marble counter, spherical light fixtures, a small buffet of snacks at the start of the evening, aperitivo-style, and sparkling spritzes and amaro flowing from the hands of a dreamy bartender. The dreamy bartender is me, sorry folks. There’s no menu with catchy drink names and no CBD add-ons that will run you an extra $5. What you see is what you get. Buying a drink will get you crumbly taralli, olives and roasted nuts, the antidote to your crazy workday. Sit down and quietly sip a glass of chianti while processing the wins and losses of the day. Have a low-key chat with a friend or whisper intimately close to your significant other. Absolutely no one is yelling. Maybe someone is eating pasta at a nearby table. I think the beauty of these fantasies are not to undermine the work that actual restaurant and bar owners put into a spot, but encourage you to find your peaceful bar sanctuary. Either that, or I’ve been watching too much Cheers while dreaming about a simpler life.

Every Day of 30 Days of Thanksgiving 2019

lifestyle

I talk about 30 Days of Thanksgiving in this article, but I thought I would look back at all 30 days here.

Day 1: I’m thankful for my new home, colorful crunchy leaves and blue skies.

Day 2: I’m thankful for family, friends, dessert before dinner and perfectly crisp, chilly November afternoons.

Day 3: I’m thankful for the unexpected.

Day 4: I’m thankful for waking up to a rising sun and coming home to chicken soup.

Day 5: I’m thankful for my boyfriend, my roommate and all our adventures.

Day 6: I’m thankful for baggy clothes and hot espresso.

Day 7: I’m thankful for my first adult friend (psst…she has a blog)

Day 8: I’m thankful for all my homes: Long Island, Poughkeepsie, Florence, Wappingers Falls and now…somewhere in Connecticut.

Day 9: I’m thankful for nights in.

Day 10: I’m thankful for Sundays spent warding off the scaries with coffee and beer dates.

Day 11: I’m thankful for glorious trips to immortal cities.

Day 12: I’m thankful for persimmons, pumpkin spice and peanut butter. Also working from home.

Day 13: I’m thankful for exploratory trips to find comforts in my new home.

Day 14: I’m thankful for polenta.

Day 15: Thankful for future opportunities to continue my food and farm education.

Day 16: Thankful for being in the front row at concerts.

Day 17: I’m thankful for my support system of friends, family and coworkers.

Day 18: Thankful for smiling strangers and kindness.

Day 19: I’m thankful for being hit with signs from the universe.

Day 20: I’m thankful for long conversations with my best girlfriends.

Day 21: I’m thankful for the strong and influential women in my life.

Day 22: Thankful for chicken wings and the end of a long, long week.

Day 23: I’m thankful for weekend trips, especially when we explore Yale.

Day 24: Thankful for a rainy Sunday spent recharging.

Day 25: Very thankful for short weeks.

Day 26: Thankful for sunshine on a Tuesday, work from home lunches and very few emails in my inbox.

Day 27: Thankful for a fat bowl of pasta, and being home-home for a few days.

Day 28: I’m thankful for my first Thanksgiving spent with my boyfriend and all the white wine we drank

Day 29: Very thankful for fried turkey.

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Best way to cook a turkey. #30DaysofThanksgiving

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Day 30: Thankful for the last day of November surrounded by friends, family and lamb barbacoa.

November was difficult. This exercise showed me that on certain days (most days) the smallest things, a perfect dinner, a sunny day, could keep me afloat. Every day is not going to be the best day pf your life, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the worst day either. My friend said “the sun always still rises,” and I guess that’s what this was all about in the first place.

Vegan Ricotta with Cherry Preserves

Challenges and Joys of Vegan Cheese

food, lifestyle

I’m not vegan, but I understand and participate in the shift towards a more plant-based diet. Enter the meat substitutes and dairy facsimiles that start trends, line health aisles at the grocery store and ignite meaningful conversations about our food system. Again, I eat pant-based as often as I can. I’d consider myself closer to being vegetarian than vegan, but I try to stick to vegetables and grains instead of the substitute products available, especially if those products have unfamiliar ingredients or are no better for me than good old-fashioned vegetables. I guess my biggest concern is: what are in these substitutes, and how are they made?

Now, I don’t consider tofu a meat substitute. I eat it when I’m in the mood for it and in my eyes it’s a protein on its own, with recipes geared towards its unique texture and flavor abilities. I know meat substitutes are often made from tofu. You’ve heard of tofurkey, right? Therefore, I’m not considering tofu as I talk about vegan substitutes because it is not a substitute.

I had the opportunity to fully understand these substitutes when a friend recommended a vegan cheese making kit. I’ve made fresh ricotta, which is easy enough to do if you have a big pot, whole milk, lemon juice and some free time, but I have never even tasted vegan cheese. My first step in understanding the vegan cheese making process was breaking down the traditional cheese making process.

Cheese is just curdled milk. Sorry to burst your bubble. It’s basically strategically spoiled milk that tastes delicious and gives me relentless acne. As I see it, most cheeses require milk, an acid like citric acid or vinegar, and rennet. Specific flavors can be added and the curds can be aged, but at its core cheese contains those basic ingredients.

  • Acid: would you drink a glass of milk followed by a shot of vinegar? Probably not. When you add acid to milk it begins to curdle, forming solid pieces. Doing this over medium heat while skimming those curds away from the whey forms ricotta in it’s most basic form. This is how most cheese making processes start.
  • Rennet: rennet comes from enzymes found in cow stomachs, so not exactly vegan but plant-based substitutes have existed for years. Vegetarian rennet, derived from artichokes, cardoons or nettles, does the job just as well and has been used in traditional Spanish and Portuguese cheeses. The rennet helps the soured milk curds solidify into cheese by working with proteins to coagulate. In order for rennet to work, milk must already be high in calcium and phosphate (which is why rennet might not work well with older milk or goat’s milk).
  • Aging: I love fermentation. Allowing the flavors in cheese to develop over time with bacterial growth gives certain cheese that funky allure. Earthy rinds on brie and savory umami from Parmesan turn the curdled milk into culinary delicacies.

So then how does rennet coagulate almond milk despite a lack of calcium?

In my short experience making vegan cheese, the process involves no coagulation at all. In fact, vegan ricotta involves no cooking at all. The ‘curds’ are not formed by intentionally spoiling the milk, but by incorporating macadamia nuts. The nuts add fat content as well as texture (just make sure to both soak and blend them enough so you aren’t left with any grit in the finished product). While the vegan cheese did not behave like ricotta and did not melt, I’d say that what it lacked in textural satisfaction it made up for in flavor. And yes, I love a good cheese pull and much as the next person, but I believe cheese should act as a flavor enhancer to the dish and not simply a textural layer (unless we’re talking grilled cheese or pizza, then the pull is crucial to the dish, and flavor and texture are equally important). The citric acid provided that curdled tang and the bits of ground macadamia nuts added that grainy texture that ricotta takes on after some time draining.

Vegan products, until very recently with the injection of ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers into the main stream, have been engineered to behave like their non-vegan counterparts and not necessarily taste as such. Vegan cheeses offered textural similarities to dairy cheeses, but struggled to emulate flavors unique to cultured dairy. Slices of vegan cheese could melt like American cheese but could not offer any flavorful addition to a dish (I mean, American cheese offers very little but STILL).

Recently, vegan cheese makers have employed culturing and aging methods to better assimilate vegan cheese into the world of artisanal cheese plates, moving away from coconut oil-based emulsions and leaning towards something based on fats naturally found in cashews and macadamia nuts. Flavors from nutritional yeast add the missing umami lacking from other attempts.

Now to the more philosophical stuff: is vegan cheese even cheese?

When it comes to finding a food substitute, I understand the inherent identity crisis. Artificial meat is still not meat. Almond milk is technically not milk, but calling it creamy almond juice does not necessarily have the same ring to it. Therefore, vegan cheese by definition is not actually cheese. Cheese by definition is formed by curdling milk, and as I mentioned earlier, alt milk cannot curdle. However, who cares when environmental, ethical or dietary needs are on the line? I think progress in the vegan cheese world proves that artisanship and flavor do not need to fall to the wayside to craft a substitute. Relying on crutches like soy often minimize the clientele as more folks see soy farming as problematic to the environment, and can’t shake soy’s bad reputation despite contradictory research. With advancements in vegan cheese making, there could soon be environmentally sustainable, health conscious and flavor-comparable substitutes hitting the mainstream as hard as imitation meat burgers.

In Praise of the People I’ve Met While Out, About, and Alone

lifestyle

Don’t listen to anyone that says “don’t talk to strangers.” I mean, use your best judgment and obviously don’t talk to people that make you feel in danger, but closing yourself off to the friendly faces in the cafeteria or the waitstaff at your favorite restaurant is a huge disservice to your own world view. The flesh-trapped angels you meet at dive bars offer fascinating anecdotes and kind words. Sometimes they’re just a passing ship dumping a hilarious story to tell your friends, or even a free beer. Either way, use your invaluable alone time to open up your heart to someone new.

I get it, alone time is the best. Living along afforded me opportunities to go to the gym whenever I wanted, order sushi for one on a spicy night in and eat Fruity Pebbles from a mug at 11pm. But too much alone time can be intimidating, especially to extroverts who thrive around people. Yet there’s this odd connotation of going out to eat alone: I feel as if unless you’ve got a laptop in front of you and you’re typing away at your manifesto, you’re a loner, people-watching and drinking a beer. America lacks the communal table culture found elsewhere, and the “don’t talk to strangers” thing only worsens the isolation of being alone in a room packed with people.

Reports by The Atlantic in 2014 and Grub Street in 2017 discuss a return of the communal table in America. I can understand the discontent for communal tables at formal restaurants. Maybe you were hoping for an intimate evening out, and suddenly you’re literally rubbing elbows with a marketing executive slurping tagliatelle at a celebratory dinner. But in places like New York City brimming with not only residents but diners, communal tables should be more commonplace and accepted in casual dining spots. Grub Street cited Zagat’s 2016 survey reporting that communal dining was the second-highest reason folks would not dine at a particular location. While America seemed to try to adapt the trendy communal table lifestyle widely present in Europe, Americans lacked the attitudes to carry it towards success.

But what is the harm in talking to someone at your local bar? What is the harm in chatting up the bartender on a slow night when you’re dining at the closest thing Americans have to communal tables, the bar itself? Don’t be weird, but why not talk to someone new?

Ever since my first solo day trip, I’ve been fortunate to meet a few kind strangers on outings alone. Even on one of my worst nights ever (that I mention briefly in my 30 Days of Thanksgiving post), I spoke to the bartender, tried all sorts of his specialty drinks for free, and spoke with a newly wed couple who were absolute joys. I love kind strangers, you get the best stories from these encounters.

Montepulciano, 2017

Walking through Florence alone at 6am to a part of the city I’ve never seen before was pretty frightening, not going to lie. Market stalls were closed and the only figures out and about were likely there from the night before. Luckily, I’m a pretty no B.S. lady when I’m armored up to go out alone. When I arrived at my destination I felt like such an outcast: I was meeting up with a travel group of European Erasmus students. In case that wasn’t obvious: I was an American study abroad student. Therefore, I was the only American on the trip. I even still have the Erasmus card they gave me with my name scribbled on it in blue ink. I found two girls who seemed to know each other and asked if I could tag along with them. They heard my accent and the flood gates opened.

“Why are eggs white in America?” Girl, you’re not missing anything. “Oh my GOD have you seen that movie? Talladega Knights? I love Ricky Bobby.” I couldn’t stop laughing. We spent the whole day together. I learned that they were linguistic studies students from Scotland part of the Erasmus program which gave students grants to live and study throughout Europe. They were responsible for finding rental apartments and even jobs, very unlike American study abroad programs that could arguably be seen as vacation in comparison. We road buses through the Tuscan countryside and drank wine in Montepulciano. I’m friends with them on Facebook, but I never saw them in Florence again.

Waterbury, 2019

True, this night I was not alone, but it was still a moment spent at an unlikely communal table talking to a stranger. I just wanted wings. We’d stumbled on a place called Ordinary Joe’s and decided we like local dive bars. The place was packed and peanut shells were on the floor. Despite casual Friday at work, I was way overdressed. The only seats were at a communal table with a man drinking beer and waiting for a plate of wings. He said he didn’t bite –  which was true. Doug, this kind stranger, talked to us about the life his immigrant parents worked for in America. He’s a caretaker for a number of mansions in the neighboring town and talked about how Waterbury was once such a gorgeous city with beautiful buildings and parks. It’s now something forgotten.

He also mentioned that his mother makes hand made cavatelli for a restaurant nearby, and we should go there and mention that “Doug sent us.” He bought us two High Lifes, told me to marry Nick, and then sped away on his motorcycle.

Woodstock, 2016

The day after election day left a good chunk of people distraught. We all know this. And this particular day I had an interview for an internship up in Woodstock, NY. I got dressed, put on a black shirt in solidarity with students peacefully protesting, and drove almost an hour to my cloudy and grey destination. It was a damp November day. You know the feeling the day after you fall asleep crying hysterically? That’s what the weather felt like. And I was spending time post-interview in the quaint town. I bought a headband and a bandana and I ended up in a small art and incense shop. The shopkeeper said “how are you?” and without thinking I said “good.”

“I’m not,” he said. In that moment, I definitely was not “good.” In fact I was feeling pretty bad, even though my interview went smoothly. He noticed this and said “take some incense, we all could use a little peace today.” We were then chatting. I introduced myself and he mentioned how his wife had traveled to Italy often. “Ci vediamo, it means we’ll see each other,” I said before leaving to fill up on comfort food.

Fall Leaves and Boots

My Mindful Exercise: 30 Days of Thanksgiving

lifestyle

Around 4 years ago I was spending too much time working and not enough time taking care of myself. Weeks of antibiotics took a toll on my physical, mental and interpersonal well-being – not to mention I was non stop working and taking pride in my inability to remember meals or get adequate sleep. It was a toxic form of Stockholm Syndrome where I was growing to love the alienated, unwell version of myself because I associated being exhausted to being important. This was my sophomore year of college, an extremely formative year not just in spite of but because of some of those hard times. This tradition grew out of something unpleasant and that’s always my hope whenever November comes along.

So this is 30 Days of Thanksgiving, a 30 day mindfulness exercise that not only changes my mindset but also prepares me for the holiday carnage. After Halloween ends folks jump straight to Christmas and sentences brim with “I want” statements. “I want a boyfriend,” “I want some new boots,” those kind of “I want” statements that seem greedy and sometimes unrealistic. It really changes the season of giving into a season of taking.

Honestly, slow down. Christmas will come like it does every year. It’s draining, and I’m sure I’m not the only one anxiety-ridden and stressed. What we miss by rushing through November is an opportunity to take care of ourselves and appreciate the little, every day things we take for granted. This is especially necessary before the draining, hectic holiday season. I mean, is anyone ready for heavy traffic and throwing elbows at the mall? I’m not.

How does it work?

This could very well be a journal activity, but I prefer to do this on Instagram as a way to bring realism and positivity into the social media realm, something lacking in a lot of hyper-produced, inauthentic content that circulates among the many genuine accounts. Every day, no matter how down I feel, I think of one thing I’m thankful for. It could be anything: people, places, things. You know the drill.

Now despite hard days that inevitably arise when it gets dark at 5pm, you have to keep going. Last year I remember getting a flat tire on my way to meet someone for dinner. It was a perfect situation: no tire iron, no car jack, no roadside assistance. Thankfully, the person I was meeting for dinner drove the extra hour to meet me. We called a local roadside service to change my tire, and after a few hours and about a hundred dollars we were en route to finally get some food. The CBD cocktail I drank with dinner made me ugly cry in the shower a few hours later, but despite all that (plus the next day’s waiting for new tires) I still could find something to be thankful for.

Personally, I find that putting this out on social media almost manifests a positive attitude. There’s something about writing it down and getting input from friends and followers that feels comforting, like we’re all living through November together. However, there are other variations depending on what you can manage. I mentioned bringing this exercise analog in a journal, but you can also verbally express thanks. Tell the people around you when you feel thankful for their presence. Tell your favorite barista that despite your long commute, you’re thankful for mornings because their drinks bring you comfort. Hell, tell the pizza guy that you’re thankful for that stuffed crust. Whatever you choose please don’t forget the reason for the activity. Keep your gratitude front and center even when you’re not posting about it on social media or writing it down in your journal.

Bowl of Pasta with Red Sauce

My Non-Recipe Recipe for Tomato Sauce

food

Every Italian person can make a red sauce based on pure instinct. Period. It doesn’t mean it’s the perfect sauce for everyone but damn it’s a sauce that makes you proud. Maybe it’s inconsistent, but Italian cooking has always been about availability and making something work. It’s about utilizing what you have to make something greater than the sum of its parts. Folks get very caught up in validating or invalidating Italian food when in reality, Italian food isn’t one cuisine but a holistic way of cooking. In reality, nothing about tomato sauce is Italian. Tomatoes are from Mexico, and Italy didn’t even exist when tomatoes traversed the Atlantic.

So cook with what you like and what you have. If you don’t know where to start, here’s what I always and never do to make my sauce distinctly mine.

Always:

  • I always start my sauce with onion and garlic. I slice the onion nice and thin and let it sweat out in olive oil and salt until it becomes translucent. Garlic goes in after the onions have released some liquid (garlic can burn easily so don’t add it at the same time as onion). Sometimes it’s 3 cloves, sometimes it’s more.
  • Salt throughout! Don’t wait until the end to add salt. Build the flavor starting with salting the onion and taste as you go. The sauce should reduce so constantly check your seasoning.
  • Use three herbs: basil, oregano and bay leaf. I find that these three (any variation in any amount) imbue the most iconic flavors to the sauce. If I have fresh basil, I’ll definitely take advantage of it, but dried basil and oregano do the job just fine. The bay leaf seemingly doesn’t add anything, but I was always told to add a bay leaf to take some of the acidity out, reducing the chance of heartburn and indigestion. I thought it was some Old Nonna Tale, but apparently bay leaves reduce inflammation and can aid digestion.
  • Let the sauce cook down! I don’t always add tomato paste (because I don’t always have it on hand) but cooking down your sauce and scraping the concentrated tomato that builds up along the interior sides of the pot add more flavor, basically mimicking tomato paste!
  • Whole, crushed or pureed tomatoes are my favorite. It depends on what else is going into the sauce (i.e. meat) or what’s available. I don’t typically use diced tomatoes. I don’t know why. Yes, the can is fine unless you’re living the dream and making fresh passata all summer.

Never:

  • Use anything but olive oil. Unless it’s Marcella Hazan’s butter and onion sauce. I just like the flavor of olive oil and the higher smoke point gives you some wiggle room when sweating those onions.
  • Rosemary. I don’t know why people put rosemary in sauce. To each their own, I guess, but it’s a little too hearty for something as rich as a tomato sauce. Bright herbs only for this girl.
  • Use pre-seasoned tomatoes. Maybe it’s a quick way to get dinner on the table on occasion, but if you’re going to simmer a sauce use the unseasoned tomatoes.

So my order of operations is:

  • Sweat the onion in olive oil. Season with salt.
  • Add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • Add tomato sauce, basil, oregano, bayleaf, salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer for at least 30 minutes.
  • Taste for seasoning and adjust.
  • Remove bay leaf and basil (if fresh and whole) before serving.

The simplicity is what makes this work. Add your extras like red pepper flakes, anchovy fillets or tomato paste, but consider those the icing on your weird, savory, already-delicious cake.

Roasted Squash and Feta Salad

Roasted Delicata Squash Grain Salad

food, recipes

Once upon a time there was a sophomore in college who finally had a kitchen and wanted to do nothing but cook all day. She spent the last summer working on an organic farm and just got an internship with a food magazine. Unfortunately, she also had to do things like go to class and overcome the insanity of living in a house with nine other manic 19 year old college students. Exciting. But how was she going to make this all work? She was going to bring squash from the farmer’s market to chamber choir rehearsal. That’s how.

If you couldn’t guess, that girl was me. A lot has changed. But deep down I’m still that weird girl. Catch me at work returning from lunch with a canvas bag full of produce sitting at my desk until my commute home. My affinity for squash has not changed and it’s only magnified in autumn when produce bins are overflowing with easily the most beautiful fruit. Stripes, patterns, rich colors and unique shapes coax creativity in the kitchen, too.

I was particularly inspired by delicata squash’s stripes and the way it looks like flowers when it is cut crosswise into rings. It’s so cute and the skin is edible?!? A double whammy.

For this recipe I adapted Epicurious’ Sheet-Pan Roasted Squash and Feta Salad. I’m obsessed with the idea of warm salads, especially during this time of year when mindful eating becomes difficult because the outdoor chill makes you crave cheesy pasta, and avoid cold, uncooked greens at all costs. I also watched Epicurious’ Instagram story series “At Home with Anna,” where Anna Stockwell, senior food editor, invites viewers into her kitchen and cooks dinner. Surprise, surprise, she made her version and it looked delicious, giving out those fall vibes we’re all looking for these days.

Anyway, this recipe calls for cubed bread and radicchio, but I figured the roasty squash and salty feta would pair well with farro. Plus, instead of storing and getting soggy greens, all parts maintain integrity through refrigeration and reheating. It makes a great autumnal desk lunch that can be eaten warm or cold.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cook the farro as instructed on the package. I buy Bob’s Red Mill farro from Ocean State Job Lot and I swear by it. (If Bob’s Red Mill or Job Lot want a spokesperson or brand rep PLEASE contact me.)

While the farro is simmering away, cut your delicata squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and pulp and cut into half rings. On a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, toss squash with enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast for 10 minutes. After the first 10 minutes, flip squash and roast for an additional 8 to 10 minutes until squash takes on color and becomes soft.

While farro bubbles and squash sizzles, let’s make some dressing! Combine 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. honey, 1 tsp. thyme and salt to taste. Honestly, you can use any oil and vinegar based dressing with some herbs mixed in. I know I don’t always have thyme but I have other dried herbs that could also substitute.

Hey, cube up some feta too!

Drain any excess liquid from the farro and combine with squash in a large bowl. Add feta and mix so feta gets warm through. Toss grains, squash and feta with the dressing. Eat warm immediately, or chill for another day.

This recipe is very easily adaptable to accommodate other squash or grains depending on what’s available: swap out quinoa if you can’t find farro for a high-protein alternative; remember to remove the skin from other squash varieties, like butternut or acorn.

Vintage Amaro

Wipe Off the Dust and Drink the Old Amaro

drink, Vintage

Infatuated with the bittersweet, syrupy allure of the Aperol spritz, Americans have rediscovered a taste for aperitivo and digestivo bitters. Enter amaro. While Campari is the ruby red king of bitter aperitivi, other darker, herbaceous digestivi have resurrected in it’s wake, ready to tackle cocktail menus and bar carts across the country.

But the history of amaro goes back. Waaaay back. And in cleaning my great grandma’s house my grandma found a cardboard box of amaro from yesteryear. You see, my great grandma didn’t drink. Her amaro stash grew from generous house guests who graciously brought a bottle upon each visit. Stubborn enough to not indulge in a drop but kind enough to hold on to each bottle, my great grandma unknowingly bestowed a treasure trove of flavors unto me. Thanks Grandma Maria.

Now normally I would not condone eating old food. Don’t eat the candy you found in your closet from a Halloween of yore. But properly stored vintage alcohol? Dive in. A barrel aged bourbon develops its unique flavor because of age. A vintage red wine has subtleties that a younger wine has not yet developed. Not to say all old alcohol remains drinkable, proceed with sensible caution.

What’s in amaro?

I realize I’ve been drinking this stuff for a while and have no idea what’s in it. Oops. Each one is different, ranging from sweet like caramel to bitter like licorice, with unique secret recipes like mystical potions. Some even taste medicinal.

I’m lucky to have two vintage amari in my house: Amaro dell’Etna and Cynar. Amaro dell’Etna‘s ingredient list contains orange peel, licorice and vanilla. The recipe dates back to 1901, but is still available new in sores today. Cynar, a name derived from the latin botanical name for artichoke, is surprise surprise made of artichoke along with 13 other herbs and plants. Younger than Amaro dell’Etna, Cynar debuted in Italy in 1952.

The bitterness makes them adequate swaps for bitters in classic cocktails. Each unique blend also can suffice as the base for a contact and/or enjoyed on it’s own or with seltzer. The versatility alone makes a no-brainer case for keeping amaro in your home bar. Don’t worry, there’s one for everyone.

Is old amaro safe to drink?

Short answer, yes. Finding a bottle of Campari from 1950 is an incredible feat for negroni aficionados. But proper storage can make or break a vintage. Like Campari and Cynar, liqueurs don’t need to be refrigerated due to the sugar content. Approach vintage vermouth, lillet and any other fortified wines with caution. Opened or unopened, when exposed to light and heat, fortified wines can lose umf.

Where to store vintage amaro?

To reiterate, amaro’s sugar content keeps it shelf stable. So room temperature storage should not be a problem. However, take caution when drinking an old amaro that’s already been open. While oxidation won’t harm you, it will impact the thickness as the sugars turn into glycerin. It’s just a recipe for meh amaro experience. Best to keep vintage amaro unopened and out of direct sunlight until ready to drink.

What happens to the flavor?

The resulting flavor of aged amari varies greatly between styles. Additionally, due to changes in machinery and ownership, while ingredients might be the same every time, amari can vary between decades as well. Flavor can become sweeter and more syrupy or mellow as the bitter herbs meld together further. It’s an adventurous way to taste beyond switching between styles of amaro. Trying today’s version of Cynar, for example, alongside my beloved found bottle can showcase how the flavors evolved over time.

Let’s talk labels

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve had an infatuation with vintage alcohol labels for a very long time: the art nouveau styles of absinthe ads to the futurism era Campari posters shaped my appreciation for the liqueurs. The text and colors of these labels tell so much about when they were conceived. The Amaro dell’Etna, with an older formula, uses embellished text and a painted landscape paying homage to a classic style, while the Cynar label uses block text and a modern design ringing in the 1950’s idea of the future. While both labels now reflect the past, each exists in its own era forever, reflecting the art and sentiment of each era.

Cocktail connoisseurs and vintage collectors can appreciate the impact these liqueurs have had on the culinary and advertising worlds. If you aren’t lucky enough to inherit a dusty cardboard box of amaro, you can taste older bottles at specialty wine shops and cocktail bars. If you’re curious to try an amaro at all, the next time you’re interested in an Aperol spritz at the bar, ask for one with a different bitter liqueur instead.

Beaded Woven Purse

Thrifting Threes: Clothing I Look For

Vintage

I love thrift stores: the pre-loved clothing crowded on racks rich with past lives and probably dust, mismatched flatware and commemorative beer mugs so you can fondly recall the Stella you drank in Florida last winter, and the smell, a combination of attic-ridden Christmas decorations and your grandma’s closet (the one with the Danish cookie tin full of sewing supplies). Thrifting and buying second hand is on the rise as vintage styles undergo a renaissance and sustainability becomes essential to young people. I know I can’t resist a trip to the nearest thrift store. It’s an adventure that exercises creativity and allows anyone to push the bounds of personal style and expression. I personally go into thrift stores with no expectation so as to keep an open mind. What do I buy? When it comes to clothing, I typically shop within three main categories.

Basics

Your closet needs a solid foundation of neutral and practical articles that you can seamlessly accessorize and pair with just about anything. Here is not the time to harp on designer names. Second hand basics can come from anywhere, but it is nice to find higher quality pieces that will last longer. Beige, brown, black, white and grey items as well as denim are valuable finds at any thrift store. Also, staples that you have difficulty finding in your size at other retail shops. I’m 5ft tall (5ft short, rather) and can never find maxi skirts and dresses that don’t drag on the floor. With the range of styles, sizes and decades represented at most thrift stores, it’s easy to find size and shape outliers. It may take digging, but it’s worth it.

Quirky Statement Pieces

Thrift stores are treasures troves for weird and unusual clothing. Of my statement pieces, silly embroidered chambray shirts are my favorites. This is the time to bring retro patterns and colors into your wardrobe. It’s also the perfect place to find ugly sweaters and comical t shirts previously worn by cool dads and 80’s nerds alike. These pieces bring out your personality, and offer an inexpensive way to push your own wardrobe’s boundaries and have some fun. This is an opportunity to go wild in the accessory section and find the beaded bag or dad hat of your dreams. It’s an opportunity to look through all sections of the store, men’s, women’s, pajamas, to find the piece that suits you. It’s these pieces that rightfully garner the most attention from friends and colleagues, even if sometimes that attention is in the form of “what is that?”

Designer Labels and Luxury Pieces

Here is when the label matters. If you’re reading this, you definitely don’t get paid enough to drop cash on luxury brands or premium fabrics. Smaller local thrift stores or consignment shops typically offer a more curated selection, but sometimes increase the price knowing the value of what they’re carrying. No matter, it will still be less expensive and more eco-friendly than buying something brand new. I’ve been fortunate enough to find cashmere turtleneck sweaters and a brand new (tags! still! on!) Michael Kors pencil skirt for less than $10. My boyfriend scored with a full Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece navy blue suit (retailed at a few thousand dollars) for less than $15. Here is where you maybe want to also consider shelling out extra money for alterations if the piece is valuable and right.

Alternatives

Now I’m aware that not everyone can shop for new items at environmentally friendly, ethically made clothing stores. Some people may not even be able to shop at higher end consignment shops depending on tier, or even thrift stores due to travel. This doesn’t mean you can’t still wear sustainable clothes AND be fashionable. Swapping clothes with friends and family is an environmentally friendly and FREE way to refresh your wardrobe, especially when it comes to formal wear and highly seasonal or specific pieces. Cull your closet and invite friends to do the same. Dump your clothes out and swap.