Bruschetta Sauce with Balsamic & Fresh Fennel

The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store.

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Fresh fennel, if you’re not familiar with it, is awkward and big, not unlike many of us were when we were back in junior high. Undeterred by the way my two bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard produce bag, their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I carried those towering bodies proudly to the checkout line, along with the other items in my cart. Then, I took them home to Tim, laying their bodies across our cutting board, where, together, we deconstructed them, like vegetable surgeons working as a team: The tops, we chopped for garnishes. The stems, we boiled into broth. The bulbs, we cut to wedges and sidled along onions to cook slowly on the stove. An hour or so later, in return for all these efforts, we ate the braised bulbs for dinner, and, as we did, I made a discovery. This past week, or specifically, this particular moment sitting across from Tim at the table with plates of fennel as our meal, I learned I hate, and I mean, hate, cooked fennel (or, at least, cooked fennel that tastes anything remotely like the version we made). Since there are weeks, nay, entire months, of my life where I can’t remember learning anything notable, particularly between the high school years of 1996 and 2000, I guess you could say this was not a complete waste of time.

Besides the cooked fennel, our kitchen has seen a revolving door of new recipes this last week: sesame tahini cookies, chocolate banana smoothies as thick as ice cream, homemade honey mustard with roasted sweet potatoes and a seriously unusual raw lemon tahini pie. Nothing was as shockingly memorable as that batch of fennel. Nothing was as good as this bruschetta.

bruschetta with no-cook tomato sauce, balsamic and fennel

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Roasted Vegetable + Herb Salad, for the People Who Can’t Do Everything (and for the Ones Who Can)

Roasted Vegetable Salad | FoodLovesWriting.com

I had a lightbulb moment last week where I realized I cannot do everything (including, this post seems to indicate, take a non-blurry photo of a roasted vegetable dinner). I was sitting in the dining room when it happened: Like most workdays, I had my laptop open before me, streaming sunlight to my right, and, just then, I saw the neighbor working in her yard and thought how I’d like to go say hi—right as my inbox pulled in two new emails, my phone rang, I noticed dust collecting on the floorboards and my open Word document reminded me of how much left on this project there was yet to do. In that moment—that split-second moment—where so many of my honest desires, from keeping a clean house to being a productive freelancer, collided, this single thought, clear as day, hit my heart: I am just a person and I cannot do everything.

Thing is, saying there are things I cannot do is humbling. In fact, I’m not sure I want to admit it to you. When you ask me to take on a project, I want to say yes—and get it to you faster than you’d expected. When you invite me to a social event, I want to say sure—and then be charming and easy and fun. I want to meet your expectations and I want to meet mine—and the worst part is that I’m just proud enough to think I actually can. I’ll turn myself in pretzels trying to work good, love good, friend good, give good, cook good, look good, decorate good, budget good. But I can’t. Not all of it, not all of the time.

This is the sort of thing lots of people are realizing these days. Two, if not three, of the articles I cited in the last post hit at this same idea, and there are many others, too. For example, I read a fascinating, funny post recently that talked about the guilt parents experience (I can only imagine!) but then, also, it did the thing that 90% of these articles do in response to those feelings, the same thing most of us do in response to people we view as more talented or beautiful or smart or successful or cool: it poked fun/criticized parents who weren’t struggling in the same ways.

In other words, to make ourselves feel better that we aren’t accomplishing X, we dislike or belittle anyone who is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately and about how it relates to blogging and all of life.

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Speedy Chicken Tikka Masala (dairy-free, gluten-free)

Sometimes I don’t feel like talking about food. I feel like posting a pretty picture.

Huntsville Alabama

I took the above shot last month in Huntsville, Alabama, the town where my college roommate Kim lives and where I met her for the afternoon one Saturday. She treated me to high tea at this fancy little shop, and then she drove me around the area’s historic neighborhoods, letting me ooh and ah at the architecture, and to this park off the highway, where we climbed into the woods and looked out through leaves at the parking lot and, off in the distance, the hills of her hometown.

Huntsville Saturday

Tim was away in New York that weekend (you’ll remember his happy homecoming here), and I was missing him, so when I came back to the empty house that night, I was glad to be so tired from driving and touring and eating little scones, because at least that meant I would fall fast asleep, a skill usually reserved only for the male half of this little family, and fall fast asleep is exactly what I did. The next day, he was back, and we ate filet mignon and kale mashed potatoes, and by evening, he was sound asleep beside me the minute his head hit the pillow and, thirty to forty minutes of heavy late-night thinking later, so was I.

There are many things I tend to envy about my husband, not the least of which is his soft, wavy hair, but his sleeping ability is becoming one of the great marvels of our married life. Whereas I need to wind down after a day of work or social activity or drama-filled TV, Tim simply climbs into bed, shuts off the light, and he’s out. Gone. Dead to the world. It’s amazing. We’ve had many long, hilarious conversations about this, wherein I try to prompt him to describe for me what this feels like or how it works (or, ahem, see how long I can keep him awake with me). And over thirteen months of marriage, what we’ve essentially concluded is this: sleeping is one area in which he will likely always have the upper hand.

Indian food, on the other hand, is another story.

speedy chicken tikka masala

I may be the one who’s half Indian, but, in our marriage, Tim’s the one who first loved Indian food. When we were dating, he took me to Sitar downtown, and told me to order his favorite dish, Chicken Makhani (or, butter chicken), and garlic naan. The moment those glistening pillows of garlicky dough arrived on our table, followed by a creamy, spicy chicken mixture I all but licked off the solid white plates, I knew an important change had just occurred. I could never go back to the person I was, one who sometimes tolerated but never especially loved Indian cuisine. From that point and forever forward, I was all in.

We went back to Sitar to celebrate a month of marriage and then again to celebrate two months. More than once over the last year, at random times when the fridge has been lean but the spice cabinet full, Tim’s whipped up a curried dinner out of celery and carrots and rice, leaving me speechless, every time, eyes welling up with tears that such a meal could come from the simplest ingredients and, more than that, that the man who could bring them together was the same one laying next to me each night.

Julia Child Quote | FoodLovesWriting.com

But over time, he’s taught me a few tricks of the trade, and I’ve become more heavy-handed with heat in my cooking, and now one of our regular dinners is a bunch of chopped vegetables, sautéed on the stove and mixed with spices and cream, the kind of thing that just slightly burns your throat as it goes down, a mysterious proof that sometimes the simplest (and cheapest!) foods can make the best meals.

spices

Similar to the butter chicken that first wooed me into this curried world, Chicken Tikka Masala is a classic entrée at Indian restaurants that relies on a tomato-based creamy sauce and a blend of fragrant spices. There is no shortage of recipes for either of these dishes online, but our version has one great advantage going for it: it’s fast. The day I wanted to make it, I had leftover roasted chicken in the fridge and a desire to make a meal as quickly as possible, so I wanted a nuts-and-bolts set of directions to use as a guide instead of a ruler.

sauteeing

Over at Serious Eats, I found this:

“The basics of masala sauce are simple: start with a base of aromatics—onions, garlic, and ginger are common—cooked in oil, ghee, or butter. Add a simple spice mixture, largely based on cumin, coriander, and chilis, throw in some canned tomatoes, cook them down, then purée the whole deal with heavy cream and fresh cilantro.” J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, Chief Creative Officer, Serious Eats

making tikka masala

A bunch of chopping, a little sauteéing and less than an hour or so later, we had this meal on our plates, my version of following the general guidelines above. It was easy, it was spicy, and, by the end of the meal, it had us wiping the skillet and wooden spoon clean, wishing for more. I can’t believe how much of my life I wasted not loving this style of food—and I’m glad the one to open my eyes is the same one I sleep next to (OK, he sleeps, I think) every night.

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Roasted Tomato & Zucchini Quinoa Bowl

roasted tomato and zucchini quinoa bowl

Earlier this year, I was innocently wandering through the grocery store, filling up my cart, when I spotted a turquoise box with a picture of what looked like a rice pilaf next to a filet of grilled salmon, the words “gluten-free,” “cooks in 10 to 15 minutes” and “organic” staring me in the face. I’d heard of quinoa before, never tried it, and the whole idea intrigued me.

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