Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving thanks.

I'll be honest with you: I wasn't horribly excited about Thanksgiving this year.

Maybe it was because the food wasn't particularly new or exciting -- with the exception of one dish and the dessert, we were having the same menu as last year.

Or maybe because it was another holiday without my sister and brother-in-law and niece in California. We all miss them.
turkey rub.

But once we gathered around the kitchen, and the pie crust was rolled out and hands were covered in butter and the sizzle of garlic hit the pan, all the excitement came back.
mom and dad.
a good meal.
Because how could you not get excited about a holiday that focuses merely on comfort and company and one large, relaxing meal to kick of the chaos of the holidays?
it's beginning.
And so it begins.

[For non-food food photos of my Thanksgiving, visit my photo blog, Simply Jack. For all of my Thanksgiving photos, visit my Flickr.]


mom's threads.
tis the season.
good morning.
walk it off.
how i spent my thanksgiving.
oh, and there was food, too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


i'd never seen michigan in november until just last weekend.
it was sunny.
but the sky was gray, and the trees were bare, and the water so still.
i really love that last picture
of boots and stairs.
just looking at it makes me happy.
not bad for a roll of expired film from ebay.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What I'll be eating on my wedding day.

I'm trying hard not to focus too many posts on wedding plans, because I really don't want to bore you with all the nitty gritty details and after all, this is a food blog, not a wedding blog. But since my spare moments have become consumed with making appointments for dress shopping and confirming times for menu tastings and gathering addresses for save-the-dates and putting together a wedding website, well, it's really all I have to talk about right now. So a wedding post is what you get.

Let's rewind a bit. Did I mention a menu tasting up there? Oh yes I did.

When you're planning a wedding in Michigan and you live in Illinois, things can get a bit complicated. The time difference, for example. Though the lake house where the ceremony and reception will take place is a mere three hours away from where we live, it's in a whole different time zone. So when I make an appointment for a menu tasting at 12:30, we're really meeting at 11:30, which means salmon, beef, and bacon-wrapped shrimp for breakfast. Not that I'm complaining.

wedding menu tasting!

One thing the caterer mentioned as we had our morning supper was that at many weddings, the waitstaff ends up clearing away full plates from the bride and groom. As in, the bride and groom don't even get a chance to eat. And I understand that it's a big day and all and there are hundreds of people to say hello to and photos to be taken and all of that but I promise you one thing: I will be eating at my wedding. As long as there is grilled salmon marinated in lemon and thyme, perfectly tender and juicy beef tenderloin, roasted rosemary potatoes, and those lovely grilled veggies in front of me, please don't disturb me. A bride needs to eat, ya know.

wedding menu tasting!

In other wedding updates, we're planning on putting up a big white tent next to the house, with white paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and tables decorated with apples, baby's breath, and candles held in mason jars. We're thinking of holding the ceremony at the dock, with a perfect view of sparkling water and autumn-tinted trees and (please please please!) blue skies.

These visions are simply jumbled images floating around my head right now, and in the dreary gray of November, can be somewhat difficult to see clearly. But it's all coming together, and with the amount of work already put into it, I just hope I get a chance to stop and breathe in and appreciate it all once the big day comes -- from every forkful of my meal to each glowing candle to his smile when we say "I do."

Monday, November 16, 2009

right now.

i'm sitting on one side of the couch, laptop in lap.
he sits on the other, reading a book.
and between us is a curled up kitty, snoring.
that picture of salsa really has nothing to do with much
but oh well.
i just felt the need to share
something, anything.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Change it up. With butternut squash and black beans.

Call me dull, but I find comfort in routine. Rushing out the door every day to fresh, crisp air and morning light, coming home every night at the same time and wondering what to have for dinner, settling into my corner of the couch for the rest of the evening, often with a fat cat resting on my chest.

This need for routine comes with colder weather and darker days, when going outside seems almost pointless once 5 o'clock hits, and all I want to cook are familiar foods with familiar ingredients that are simple, easy, and comforting.

And then someone hands me a butternut squash, a vegetable not completely unfamiliar but one I've never cooked with. My experiences with squash involve me as a very little girl, eating a Filipino dish called pinakbet, and squashing the squash with my tongue and the roof of my mouth -- amazing my parents by making it vanish without even chewing! I don't do that anymore, but I still think of it every time I see a butternut squash.

Butternut squash soup immediately came to mind and was promptly suggested when I asked what to do with it, but I just couldn't bring myself to make something so plain and boring. I found a recipe that combined squash with black beans and I found it interesting and different and just went with it.

I wasn't entirely excited about the dish and kind of expected it to turn out a bit bland. But who knew that squash and black beans make a wonderful combination of flavors? Add kale to the mix, and you've got another color, texture, and nutrient to play with. A welcome change to my menu of routine.

Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash and Kale
(adapted from Bon Appétit)
This recipe calls for chili powder and cumin, which I used, but not in the measurements suggested because I don't like too much heat. My dish ended up not spicy at all, which was fine, because the butternut squash was flavorful enough for me. When it comes to spices, I always suggest adding what you're comfortable with and adjusting as you go along.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cups onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and minced
2 1/2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled butternut squash
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 14-ounce can stewed tomatoes in juice
3 cups (packed) coarsely chopped kale (Original recipe called for Swiss chard, which I wanted to use just for the gorgeous color, but the bunches at my market were gross. So I went with kale, which added a nice bite-y texture to the soft squash and black beans. I'm sure any green will do just fine.)

Heat oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until tender and golden, about 9 minutes. Add squash and stir 2 minutes. Stir in chili powder and cumin. Add black beans, broth, and tomatoes with juices, and bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Add kale and simmer until tender but still bright green, about 4 minutes longer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Pan de Sal Saves the Day.

Oh my. Has it really been almost two weeks since my last post? Well, hi. How have you been? I hope you're still there, and thanks for waiting.

I don't have a recipe for you today, or even pictures of food. But I do have this book: Pan de Sal Saves the Day, by Norma Olizon-Chikiamco. A Filipino children's story that is sweet and honest and real.

The story is about a girl named Pan de Sal, named after a Filipino bread that is rolled in crumbs before baking to give it a sandy, dusty texture. Pan de sal was a must-buy whenever I went to the Asian grocery store with my mom when I was little. That and shrimp chips, which were shaped like crinkle-cut french fries and came in a pink and yellow polka-dot packaging. They taste like shrimp-flavored chips. I don't know what my little 5-year-old taste buds were thinking.

Pan de sal literally means "salt bread." But in this story, Pan de Sal is just a shy little girl who is ashamed of her name, the hut where she lives, the food that her mother packs for her lunch: "Pan de Sal loved this food but compared to those of her classmates, the rice and fish and the adobo and the bananas suddenly looked so...humble."

Her classmates would bring pizza and cheeseburgers. Their names are Croissant, Muffin, Honey Bread. Their skin isn't dark, their noses aren't flat, and Pan de Sal is jealous. She just wants to be like everyone else, and yet her Filipino background makes everything so different -- even the games she plays at home aren't the same as the other kids'.

Pan de Sal eventually learns that it's OK to be different when her food and games help save the day after their school bus breaks down and they get stuck on the road with nothing to do or eat. The children don't judge her, like she thinks they will. Instead, they become friends. They even ask for recipes.

This book is perfect for teaching kids that even though they might look or speak differently or eat different foods, it doesn't make them lower or others better than them. The book has gorgeous illustrations by Mark Salvatus and includes Filipino phrases and songs throughout -- words and songs that when I asked my parents about, were accompanied by their own stories of the Philippines.

Growing up Filipino in the U.S., I could really relate to Pan de Sal's insecurities. Skin color, hair color, and facial features are often the first differences that children start to notice, and I remember being younger and wondering why everyone always wanted to play with the cute blonde with the button nose. Then comes the food, and I started realizing that not all families eat adobo or sinigang. Other families don't eat rice and fish with their hands. They all eat pasta and potatoes and meatloaf. I'll tell you right now: My mother has never made meatloaf. The first time I tried it was in high school.

By now, I've gotten over my dark hair and skin to the point where I don't even see it as a "difference" -- it's just me. Food, on the other hand, I sometimes still struggle with. It's not even just Filipino food or anything weird that I get insecure about anymore. Just the fact that I like so many different things that the general public doesn't. Eating sardines straight from the tin, for example. Or dropping an egg in my ramen noodles. Or canned corned beef.

I'm working on it, though, and this blog certainly helps. Someday, I will post my dad's recipe for canned corned beef with potatoes and rice. It's one of my all-time favorite foods.

"She no longer felt like the odd one out...For now, she felt unique, a person like no other, with something wonderful she can share with others."

Thank you to the people at Tuttle Publishing for sending me this truly special book. More info on Pan de Sal Saves the Day here and here.

Another Filipino children's book review: Cora Cooks Pancit.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009