Monday, September 23, 2013

This week, and an eggplant omelet.

+ This Wednesday, September 25th, Murdo and I celebrate our three-year wedding anniversary. When special days like these come up, I can't help but stop and look around. I look back at where we came from, and forward to where we're going. And I get very, very excited.

+ Corduroy jackets, leggings, scarves and boots. Fall has arrived, with its bright blue skies and crisp breeze and apples and pumpkins and falling leaves. I think I fall more and more in love with this season every year.

+ I was sad to trim down my basil plants over the weekend. I filled a colander with the delicate summer leaves, washed and dried them, then whirred them in the food processor with garlic, oil and parmesan cheese. An ice tray filled with pesto currently sits in my freezer, waiting to be bagged up and enjoyed for the winter.

+ On Thursday, I leave for New York City. I'm visiting my friend Di, one of my favorite people who I've known since the first grade. We lived together for three years in college, and during the summer of 2004 we spent nearly every waking moment together, mostly eating and drinking and discussing where we were going to eat and drink next. I expect to do a lot of that this weekend.

+ I'm really excited to have a blog post featured over at Food52 today, in the Heirloom Recipes column. I shared one of my favorite Filipino dishes, tortang talong (or eggplant omelet), which my mom and dad just taught me how to cook a few weekends ago. I'm so grateful for parents who put up with my bizarre food blogging ways -- my mom, who would pause right before she added anything to the pan and ask, "Can I start cooking this or do you want to take a picture?" And my dad, who ran out to buy more eggplants when I realized I didn't have any "before" photos. They are the reason I love to cook and eat.

Head over to Food52 for the story and recipe. Have a great week!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

One-pot summer garden pasta, for August.

August made me very tired. There was a lot of running on the treadmill, and this three-day class I had to take for work that was so in-depth and at times overwhelming, I actually felt dumber by the end. My sister and her family moved to Las Vegas. I attended a bunch of meetings, and made a mistake on our mortgage payment. Laundry. There is so much laundry, always, and it never gets done. The vacuum cleaner is currently standing in the middle of the living room, where it's been since Saturday when I decided to clean and then decided to stop without really finishing.

But that's enough about that. Let's talk about tomatoes now. Because even after coming home from a long day and feeling kind of crappy, plucking tomatoes from my garden always makes me feel better. Like today, when I drove an hour in the opposite direction of home after work to pick up my just-repaired Minolta, and drove an hour back in rush hour traffic, and still had to stop at the store for this Labor Day weekend's groceries, and the only thing I wanted to do was go home and eat dinner, it was the tomatoes that brought me from feeling-all-wound-up to feeling-great-about-life.

Here's what I did when I got home: I went straight for the backyard and picked a handful of fresh basil from the garden. I put a pot of water on the stove to boil. I washed and dried the basil, pulled a zucchini from the fridge, and sliced it into rounds. I grabbed a couple of tomatoes from the counter, picked just a few days ago and getting redder and riper as they sat, and chopped them up so that their juices spilled onto the cutting board and their red flesh practically shined like jewels. Into the pot, a single serving of angel hair pasta. Next, the zucchini rounds. Cooked, drained and slid into a big white bowl. I topped the pasta with the tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese, and a generous handful of roughly chopped basil.

Easy, one-pot summer garden pasta, guys. I brought it to the backyard to take a few pictures, and then sat down under our tree and ate. And then August wasn't so tiring anymore, but instead, just slow and relaxing. August became this single moment, sitting outside while the warm breeze hit my face, looking out at the garden from which I had just picked my dinner. The tomatoes so worth the wait -- worth this whole never ending month, really.

And now, I don't want it to end, ever.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Five years.

I'm not very good with birthdays. Last year, on Murdo's 30th , I brought him Indian food on my way home from work. And that was it. His birthday was so uneventful that year, in fact, that later he confessed he was almost sure the lack of celebration meant that something big had to happen by the end of the night. Oh, Murdo. I'm sorry. I continue to lay the blame on having just moved into our first house that very weekend, and starting my new job that very day. So at least when people ask what you did for your 30th, you can say, "I bought a house." I still think that's pretty impressive.

I made up for it this year by throwing Murdo a surprise party. He never saw it coming. Even after my insistence that we paint and decorate the guest bathroom the weekend before, and my vacuuming the bedroom in the middle of the week, and the way I avoided direct eye contact every time he asked when we were going to throw a housewarming party. After the party, during which we successfully surprised Murdo and entertained/fed nearly 50 people without getting rained out, I told him that lying to him is exhausting. He told me his head wasn't right for a week after -- I suppose when you find out everyone you know has been in on a big secret about you for a good two months, you start to question everything. Sorry, Murdo. But this time, not really.

All that to say, today is my blog's fifth birthday. In true me fashion, I don't typically make a big deal about my blog's birthday. I almost missed the first one, and then there was a cake one year, and last year I didn't even acknowledge it. But this year. If my blog were a child, she'd be starting kindergarten, a whole new world of learning and discovery just ahead. I like that.

To celebrate that, I bring popsicles. Made with fresh, juicy peaches. I got the recipe book and the popsicle molds from my sister, Jenny, on my own birthday back in March. She asked me yesterday how long I thought I'd keep my blog, and I said probably forever. Bold statement, I know, but as of right now, I can't see this space not in my life. I know I'm not here as regularly as I would like, writing and cooking and taking pictures and sharing. But it's comforting to know that my blog is always here, like a good friend who I may not talk to every day, or even every month, but every time I sit down to chat with her it's like nothing ever changed. Even though we've been through a lot together -- three jobs, one wedding and a husband, two apartments and a house, one niece and two nephews, two new cats, a cabinet full of baking pans, too many cameras and pictures taken to count.

But some things remain the same. The feel of the keyboard beneath my fingers as I type, the blank page filling with thoughts and ramblings, the images of food and life and people, the stories that accompany them. The comments from blog readers who have become familiar over the years, who I wouldn't hesitate to call friends. No matter how much life changes around me, as long as these things remain the same, then I can say with confidence:

Happy birthday, Happy Jack Eats. Here's to many, many more.

Fresh Peach Popsicles (from Ice Pops: Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Frozen Treats by Shelly Kaldunski)

3 ripe medium peaches, about 1 lb, depitted and chopped
1/4 cup suguar
juice from 1 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
pinch of salt
1/4 cup water

Throw everything into a blender or food processor and blend until completely smooth. Divide mixture equally among ice pop molds. Be sure to leave about half an inch of space at the top, as the mixture will expand as it freezes. Cover and freeze at least 4 hours. If inserting your own sticks, put them into the molds after about an hour, when the pops are partially frozen. Then freeze for at least 3 more hours.

To remove the popsicle from the mold easily, run the mold under warm water for a few seconds.

And now, David Bowie. Because this song has been stuck in my head all day.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

What happened in July.

So, July happened. I swear it did. I was there for it, doing July-like things, such as purchasing fireworks, wearing summer dresses, painting my toenails bright pink, eating blueberries, eating barbecue pork sandwiches, learning how to form hamburger patties that don't puff up on the grill, taking long after-dinner walks, discovering frozen chocolate custard with peanut butter and pretzels, napping in a hammock, watching a 15-month-old nephew laugh hysterically while being sprayed with a hose, making a 3-month-old nephew laugh at funny faces, drinking beer, watching our garden grow, wishing that the tomatoes would ripen already, picking zucchini while watching out for the garden's resident spider (his name is Boris), picking cilantro, picking basil, picking sage, picking thyme, picking oregano. Etc.

I can't believe how a July so full could pass so quickly.

In July, I realized that among the many things that I have equated with summer over the years (fireflies, thunderstorms, weekends spent on a boat in a lake in Michigan), summer now also means the smell of fresh herbs on my hands every evening. I love it.

The herbs go in pestos, pasta sauces, scrambled eggs. Mostly, I've been tossing them in a big Ziploc bag with broccoli, zucchini, olive oil and lemon juice, then handing the bag over to Murdo to throw the veggies on the grill. We eat the veggies alongside steak or burgers, and Murdo squirts Sriracha on his, and says things like, "I'm actually excited about the veggies." And that makes me happy.

So, now August is here. The tomatoes are finally starting to turn red (there's a big squishy heirloom that should be ready tomorrow or the next day, and for how long it's been hanging on that damn vine, I sure hope it tastes amazing). Murdo's dad dropped off two large brown paper bags at our front step today, filled with ears of corn straight from the farm. I think grilled corn with herb butter is in our very near future.

Also, I hope to be back here soon, with treats. And if not treats, then at least a few more words and photos, because even though I'm not in this space very often, I do think about it a lot and I'm always glad it's here, and it's time to celebrate that. While we're at it, let's start celebrating August, because summer is almost over but not yet, so we should be soaking it up as long as we can.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy summer.

"Do you smell that?" he asked.

We were driving back from Murdo's birthday dinner. I was in the driver's seat and had just exited the highway, turned off the AC and rolled the windows down. I unclipped my hair, still damp from a quick shower just a few hours before, to let dry as the warm air hit us.

I took a deep breath in. Yes.

It was a thick smell, heavy with moisture and greenery and life. The smell of a long summer day that began with morning gardening before the heat hit, 90-degree temps by noon, followed by the kind of storm that shoots single bolts of lighting in the distance and a quick downpour while the sun still shines.

The rain was over and the sun nearly gone as I turned onto a long road that wound through trees and trails of forest preserve.

"It smells like a rainforest," I told him. "Or at least what I imagine a rainforest to smell like. Although a rainforest probably smells like this times 100."

When I turned into our neighborhood, our familiar street lined with trees, I got that feeling you get when you know you're home, and there are cats waiting for you at the door and laundry to be folded and the comfort of your Sunday evening routine ahead.

A couple of fireflies blinked in the driveway as we pulled in.

Happy summer.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Lately, and black bean burgers.

My spring, thus far:

+ Strawberry plants, hydrangeas, blueberry bushes, succulents, clematis, flowering trees.
+ A blanket spread out on the grass.
+ Mulch.
+ A splinter in the foot, from said mulch.
+ On the grill: steaks, pork chops, black bean burgers.
+ Long walks through winding neighborhoods.
+ Sunshine. Open windows.
+ Finally.

Black Bean Burgers (adapted from AllRecipes)

Cooking spray
1 (16 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 bell pepper, chopped finely
1/2 onion, chopped finely
3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
1 egg
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat outdoor grill for high heat. Spray a sheet of aluminum foil with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, mash beans with a fork until thick and pasty. Add bell pepper, onion and garlic to beans and mix well.

In a small bowl, lightly whisk egg, chili powder, cumin and Sriracha.

Add egg mixture to mashed beans. Mix in bread crumbs and combine with your hands until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide and shape into four patties.

Place patties on foil, and grill about 8 minutes on each side. Serve on hamburger buns with onions, tomatoes, lettuce and avocado.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This week. And tostadas.

On Monday, three people were killed during the Boston Marathon. On Tuesday, my sister texted me to say that her son, Charlie, had taken his first steps all on his own. As a downpour of rain fell from the sky on Wednesday, April 17, our new nephew Griffin was born. 

The storm that swept through Chicago this week brought the rivers to record-high levels, forcing people to evacuate their homes due to flooding. I sat at my desk, scrolling through pictures of familiar spots in surrounding towns, only in these images, there were cars submerged in the flood, rescue workers in boats saving animals, a fish swimming through someone's yard. (Thankfully, our neighborhood and home is safe and dry.)

In between the bombings and the birth and the flood, there was everyday life. I had lunch with coworkers and sang in the car during my commute. I exercised, and avoided laundry, and looked out the window, hoping the flowering tree in my backyard had finally bloomed. It hasn't. It's been stuck mid-bloom, fuzzy bits of green and white poking through tiny buds, stalling. Fighting for life. Searching for sunshine. Outside, the sky is gray and heavy.

On Tuesday evening, with music playing softly in the kitchen, I chopped onion and cilantro and tomato. I mixed black beans with corn, and sliced an avocado, and cut a lime into wedges. And as I went about this calming routine, I wondered if Griffin would be born that day, and I couldn't help but think about the spring we had three years ago. It was a beautiful spring. By early April, the daffodils were in full bloom, flip flops dusted off, and bright buds of green speckled the trees. I remember this spring vividly because it was the spring that Murdo's grandmother died. During those first warm days, while everyone else was opening their windows and venturing outdoors to breathe in the fresh new life, we were visiting the hospital and preparing for the worst. It was impossible to enjoy a beautiful world when such a wonderful woman was leaving it. 

This spring will be remembered for the 2013 Chicago flood, which will also become a story that we tell to Griffin when he's older, about how on the day he was born, it rained and rained and rained so much that the area around his hospital flooded with water while inside, he slept safe and sound and alive. We will remember this spring for the Boston Marathon bombing. And every spring after, on April 17, we will celebrate life.

We go about our days every week, while tragedy and joy and life-changing events throw a bump in the routine, and we stop in our tracks to mourn, or celebrate, or ponder the newly-formed fork in the road. And then we continue on. The waters recede and we dry ourselves off and breathe. We go to work. We eat lunch. We have taco nights. The flowering trees bloom, and cold weather turns to warm and back again. Our days remain the same, but different, because people are dead for reasons unknown to us, and now Charlie is walking and getting into all sorts of trouble, and Griffin is alive and has an entire life ahead of him -- a whole world of happiness, sadness, fear, excitement, confusion, seasons, food, family. And the everyday in between.

Black Bean and Corn Tostadas (inspired by Kate in the Kitchen)
This is more of an explanation of how I made my tostadas on Tuesday night, rather than an actual recipe. Swap out ingredients to your tastes -- maybe some shredded chicken instead of black beans, or refried beans instead of avocado, or sweet potatoes instead of corn, or green pepper instead of radishes, or corn tortillas instead of flour. Maybe you want your cheese melted, or don't want cheese at all, or like your tostadas with lots of crunchy lettuce. Possibilities = endless.

1 14.5-oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5-oz can of sweet whole kernel corn, drained
A few spoonfuls of cilantro-onion mix (see below)
2-3 radishes, chopped
A few good shakes of Valentina, to taste (or your favorite Mexican hot sauce)
Salt, to taste
4 6-inch flour tortillas (we like El Milagro tortillas)
1 avocado, chopped and smashed
tomato, diced
handful of shredded Chihuahua cheese

Preheat oven to 375. Mix first 6 ingredients in a large bowl and adjust seasonings until it tastes good to you. Place the tortillas on a baking sheet and bake for 4-6 minutes, flipping once, until they are golden brown and crisped to your liking. (My tortillas usually start to bubble in the oven, so I poke a few holes in them and try to flatten with a spatula as much as possible before pulling them out.)

Spread the smashed avocado onto the tortillas. Layer the black bean and corn mixture over the avocado. Top with diced tomato, cheese and more hot sauce.

Makes 4 tostadas.

Cilantro-Onion Mix
I've talked about this mix in a previous blog post, and how I didn't know if I should post it because it's so basic. But it's become crucial to our taco nights. This makes enough for me to mix some in with my black beans, with plenty left for Murdo's beef tacos.

1/2 large white onion
1 bunch of cilantro
1/2 lime

Chop onion very, very finely. So that it's practically translucent mush. Chop cilantro very, very finely. So that it's practically a green paste. Combine the two in a bowl with the juice from 1/2 lime. Stir well.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Film Friday: Ryan + Catie.

They were married on a fall day
and served a whole roasted pig for dinner.
They came to our house a few weekends ago
bearing gifts like whiskey and bacon and beer.
It's good to have friends who understand
the joy and love that comes
from feeding others well.
Here's to a lifetime 
of eating, drinking
and being married.