Carrot Pudding.

It’s All About Your POV

One of my favorite things about cooking is when I get a “wild idea” to try something that I’ve never heard of before. It makes me feel like an alchemist magician or a genius chef worthy of my own legion of TikTok followers. There’s also something about the experience that takes me back to childhood and the ability to get lost in the realm of unfettered imagination. Making up recipes uplifts me. It’s transformative. It’s Willy Wonka meets Julia Child. It makes the sun shine on a cloudy day.

When I get these spontaneous ideas I try to resist using Google until after the experiment is over. Later, when I do some actual research, my harebrained schemes typically prove to be longstanding traditions in another part of the world. Case in point: carrot pudding.

This particular adventure began with some leftover cream of carrot soup that I made for Thanksgiving. I was inspired to turn it into a sweet pudding after tasting a bite straight from the fridge. With a generous spoonful of honey and some chopped pecans on top, it becomes a truly ambrosia-like sweet that is downright healthy!

After a quick search, it turned out that there are many carrot pudding recipes out there. The one that really appeals to me, and that is somewhat similar to the way I made my carrot pudding, is a North Indian sweet treat called Gajar Ka Halwa. I’m so excited to discover this recipe because I think it will be even more delicious than what I made. I can’t wait to buy more carrots.

In the meantime, there are some intriguing aspects to my own tangential culinary approach, so I’m going to share a couple of observations. Since my pudding began as a cream of carrot soup, my initial steps were to roast two cooking sheets full of carrots and combine them in a blender with a cup full of caramelized yellow onions. I blended these together with some beef broth, salt, cream, garlic powder, and cumin to taste. My onions had a bit of unintentional char, but that added a nice smoky note to the soup.

I really, really love caramelized onions and try to have a container full of them in my refrigerator at all times. They can be time intensive to prepare and require some patience, so I find that cooking them ahead in big batches is the way to go. I know that my carrot pudding would have tasted quite a bit different had the onions not been present, and I’m willing to venture that after further experiments, I may decide that onions are a necessary ingredient. It’s a bit like the effect of sea salt on caramel ice cream. You know?

Part 2. Carrot Pudding, Indian Style

Well, so much for speculation! I made the OG carrot pudding Gajar Ka Halwa, mentioned above. It is terrific and highly superior to my crazy concoction. (Certainly, no onions are required or desired, although it might be worth a third experiment.)

Dream State.

French toast is my personal breakfast of champions. I don’t make it often. But every now and again, especially on a Saturday morning, I’ll get a craving and the siren song of good bread, pan-fried in a cast-iron skillet, dripping with a generous dose of beaten egg and cream is impossible to deny. Add some blueberries, warm maple syrup, zest of orange, and perhaps a dash of cinnamon, and boom: your day is practically guaranteed to be a good one.

An indulgent late-morning breakfast is perfect, especially if you return to bed with a mug of coffee and a stack of cookbooks or a lineup of cooking shows in your queue. Of late, my favorites are essentially travelogues overlaid with the classic Joseph Campbellian arc: the hero’s journey, culinary style.

Watch any episode of the truly wonderful Chef’s Table and you’ll find the same narrative played out again and again. A chef goes to French cooking school, inherits a family restaurant, or follows some other formal or highly-constrained trail into the profession. After years (usually about 7-12 years) of doing their best to conform to the dictates of their training, the chef has a breakthrough! Often this breakthrough is preceded by an accident or unexpected challenge (a challenge even greater than the already back-breaking job of trying to keep a restaurant afloat). These ‘aha’ moments enable the chef to see more clearly. Suddenly, they see into their own soul and turn everything on its head.

The moral of every episode is that true happiness, genius, award-winning food and a huge base of loyal fans come only when the chef finally listens to their own inner voice. The truth of their own vision (native to their own culture, region and/or artistic sensibility) is undeniable. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Regardless of which season or episode of Chef’s Table I’m watching—or how many times I’ve seen it, I’m entirely mesmerized by every word and image. I watch rapt, with a huge smile on my face. It’s like the story you long to have read to you again and again as a kid. The one where the good guy always wins and the dragon is slain.

It’s a satisfying story for adults, too: “To thine own self be true.” A good, hardworking person really can win. Stories really can have a happy ending in real life—especially when people get in the zone and tune out the noise/crowd/popular opinion and go with the flow. I find it endlessly inspiring and uplifting. I also take heart from seeing how many of these chefs challenge themselves to always come up with a new menu or never write down recipes and only make things up based on their intuition. I’m no chef, but that’s the exact magic of the cooking process that makes being in the kitchen so special to me.

I dream about food and food combinations in my sleep and I feel driven to try them out. I feed my subconscious with three favorite tomes: The Flavor Bible, The Garden Chef, and Wild Flavors. In one way or another, each book is an anthem to intuitive cooking and the near-mystical/spiritual relationship between the garden and the kitchen (even on a winter’s day when most of my garden is dormant and sunshine is elusive). I can see spring in my mind’s eye, and I enjoy my reverie, filled with future dishes and flavors and magical scents that will delight me in my days and dreams ahead.

Zero Waste, More Fun.

As a commercial copywriter by trade, I’m not motivated to write much after hours. It’s a shame because I have a lot of writing ideas that fly through my mind—and often while cooking. But damn, these thoughts are fleeting. By the time I find my way here, whatever bubbled up while I was stirring the pot evaporates like steam into thin air.

Maybe it will come to me as a roll along writing tonight. This Sunday I’ve been very much in the flow. I’ll credit the jazz, and a margarita. More days like these, please. It’s great to just putter without any stress or real agenda.

Since committing to The Civilized Lunch Project despite a hectic, meeting-packed commercial copywriting workday, I’ve found that preparation is key to my success. There’s certainly no time to cook from scratch between Zoom calls. Making something from pre-prepped food is the only way to go.

Beyond the sheer pragmatism though, I’ve made some really great discoveries from preparing a few key recipes from core food groups in advance. Chiefly an impromptu flavorful sauce—because making a sauce is something that I can do in just a few minutes between Zoom calls.

Often this sauce or garnish is the result of having had time to meditate on the right flavors to create an inspiring culinary creation. (They spring involuntarily to mind between the making of the food and my lunch hours.) My love and gratitude for a good sauce is late-breaking in life. I only discovered this last year! How crazy is that? Perhaps no crazier than the fact that I also used to be terribly guilty of letting produce go bad in my vegetable drawer.

Now, thanks to my new habit of pre-cooking meals for the week on Sunday, I’m happy to say this produce-wasting is a thing of the past. I typically start cooking in the early afternoon and let the things that I have on hand inspire my menu. It’s a very fun, low-stress event (especially with jazz and a nice cocktail). Zero waste, more fun.

When I looked in my fridge today I discovered:

a cauliflower

half a watermelon

a small bag of shredded carrots

a package of ground lamb

a chunk of parmesan cheese

some gala apples that were starting to get a little soft (but it’s not too late)

a few oranges

a bowl of sweet potatoes

a handful of Yukon golds that are starting to spout eyes (I’ll boil them and have them ready for a quick mash)

a Tupperware container of rhubarb that I stewed earlier in the week

a small paper bag’s worth of crimini mushrooms

I began by sauteing a yellow onion with a healthy dose of fresh garlic. As the onions start to brown and stick to the edges of my favorite little cast iron skillet, I add small splashes of vegetable broth. I don’t know what it is about cooking onions, but it’s a magical act. Onions are such humble vegetables, but when caramelized, they’re pure culinary gold! As the onions cook down I make myself a delicious hibiscus margarita. I love this drink so much, I’ve made it a habit to keep a jar of hibiscus simple syrup on hand in the refrigerator. (Just add a handful of dried hibiscus flowers to a freshly made batch of simple syrup, brew for a few minutes and strain.)

To make the margarita: fill a shaker with ice. Add an ounce or two of silver tequila as desired, with equal parts of the hibiscus simple syrup and lime juice. Pour it straight up into a martini glass with a salt and hot-pepper rim. It’s the perfect drink to sip slowly while dancing around to your jazz and stirring whatever’s on the stovetop.

Once the onions are cooked to perfection, I add my paper bag’s worth of crimini mushrooms and cook them for a minute or two before adding in my packet of ground lamb. I turn up the flame and occasionally stir the meat while finely dicing a small apple to add to the skillet. Next comes a tablespoon of cumin, a shake of Allspice, a pinch of salt and some pepper. With the exception of the red skin on the apple, the ingredients in my skillet look rather monochromatic so I head out to my garden to fill my apron pocket with a couple handfuls of kale. I remove the stems, chop the kale into small pieces and toss it into the skillet. The bright green color of the leaves proves a great addition and I’m very excited to make a taco salad or a burrito tomorrow for lunch, perhaps with a fiery mole sauce or a dollop of sour cream.

With thoughts of Mexican cuisine on the brain, my mind drifts to the half watermelon in my fridge. I picture vendors on the streets of Mexico City selling ice-cold slices of watermelon in paper cones. (Disclaimer: I’ve never been to Mexico City, and I don’t know if they sell sliced watermelon in paper cones there. Nevertheless, it’s what I think about.) Inspired by the little movie in my mind, I cut the red fruit into chunky strips and toss it into my favorite ceramic dish with a few spoons full of granulated sugar, a sprinkle of herbed sea salt and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Lastly, a few leaves of chiffonade-cut bitter greens (plucked from a nice big dandelion in my yard) and a few dried tiny rose blossoms from the Mexican grocer in Skagit Valley. As the watermelon sits in the dish, it gives off a lot of juice which I periodically strain off into a jar for future use (most likely in a future cocktail).

Next up: the cauliflower. Awhile back I discovered a really easy and tasty way to roast it. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a small bowl mix 4 tablespoons of yellow miso paste with a quarter cup of white vinegar, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, a splash of fish sauce and the juice of half a lime. Whisk together, add your chopped up cauliflower and toss with your hands to coat all of the pieces. Arrange on your lined baking sheet and cook at 425 until nicely browned. If you like a bit of heat, you can sprinkle with red pepper flakes. So easy! So good!

I always love to have two or three vegetables sides ready to go for a civilized lunch. I decide that the shredded carrots would be tasty tossed in a simple balsamic dressing. I don’t measure my ingredients, I sorta eyeball my olive oil, vinegar, honey and stoneground mustard to taste. I toss the carrots in the dressing along with a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds and some dried cranberries. This salad will be delicious all on its own, or mixed together with some more kale from the garden and the other little apple in my fridge.

Roasting the sweet potatoes is the next thing on my list. There’s a fantastic gluten-free sweet potato muffin recipe that I love, and it’s very handy to have your sweet potatoes pre-roasted so you can quickly whip up a fresh batch. (I do make mine with eggs, though. Just saying.)

Since I have muffins on the brain (and they are something that freezes really well, so I can have them on hand when friends stop by), I also decide to make a batch of stewed rhubarb muffins with my container of previously stewed rhubarb. The muffin recipe calls for pieces of uncooked rhubarb, but I’ll just pour some of the stewed rhubarb into batter in my muffin cups, and it will be fine. (I’ve done it before!)

Lastly I finished my Sunday cooking session with a quick pesto made of dandelion greens (used earlier in the watermelon salad). Yes, that’s right: dandelion greens from my very own yard. Just pour half a cup of olive oil in your blender, add some thoroughly cleaned greens, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, a splash of lemon juice, and a handful of walnuts or pecans. The dandelion greens are a little bit bitter, so I sweeten with a small amount of honey. This pesto is delicious with scrambled eggs, on white fish or over penne pasta or linguine. I often make the pasta and toss it in the pesto ahead of time. It’s a delicious civilized lunch with a bit of lemon juice, lemon zest and black pepper.

What a satisfying afternoon of cooking. I truly savor days like this. And if you’re wondering if I used up everything that was on hand today—almost. I still have to squeeze some fresh orange juice. But I’ll do that in the morning.

Plants vs Pixels: Part I.

The pandemic, and the extreme isolation experienced by many of us who live alone, has made the concept of self-care more than a mere buzzword—I liken it to a shift in consciousness. One that I hope will last long after we reach herd immunity and return to a more social existence.

Recently, I found myself thinking about the benefits of self-care in the form of healthy eating while making a simple, but truly delicious salad for lunch. One reason this salad made me so happy is the experience of buying some of the ingredients at a local farm. Seeing the young farmers, even if only for a few minutes, never fails to brighten my day. They have so much enthusiasm and energy. I’m certain it’s what makes their vegetables taste so good, along with organic practices and well-cared for soil.

Since it’s winter, their current offerings are primarily root vegetables and hardy greens. So I load up on beets, fingerling potatoes and spinach—as precious as gold! Shopping at the farm stand often includes a conversation about cooking, which in this case is about the pleasures of roasted beets and all of the ways to enjoy them.

Back at home in the kitchen, slicing my now-roasted beets and assembling my salad, I notice how happy I feel. Making a salad is so basic, yet suddenly purposeful and positive, too. I take my time and think about ways to make my meal as delicious as possible. I toast a handful of pecans, add a bit of leftover goat cheese (also from a local farm) and squeeze the juice from an orange to add brightness to a simple mustard vinaigrette. As I stand there chopping the vegetables with the sun streaming through my window, warming my face, I realize that this is a moment worthy of celebration.

What especially strikes me is my lack of hurry because I have the week off. Normally, on a work day, I either eat leftovers, or frantically throw something together between Zoom calls. Always being in a rush is really exhausting. But I don’t truly see how much this is the case, until I experience the absence of frenzy.

In the spirit of celebrating the moment, I set the table with my favorite linen tablecloth and napkins, along with silverware and a glass of pinot gris. I put the first side of Francis Poulenc’s La Musique de Chambre on my turntable, and eat slowly as the rich sound of woodwinds and strings fills the room. I imagine that the greens, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados and other ingredients are infusing every cell in my body with vital energy and nutrition. And I feel grateful, so grateful for a moment to appreciate the simple joy of a simple meal.

For me, the real pleasure of cooking is to share my bounty with friends. But now, due to our current pandemic-related circumstances, I’m doing my best to embrace the lost pleasures of solitude.

It’s easy being green.

Among all of the iconic muppet skits from my childhood in the 1970s, none sticks with me more than Kermit’s existential solo about the challenges of his bright green fur. By the end of the tune, though, he comes full circle. Green is the color of spring! It can be big and important like a mountain, or tall like a tree—it’s what he wants to be! Part story of self-acceptance, part ode to the poster-chroma of nature, it’s no surprise that this sweet tune popped into my head while preparing a beautiful bowl of sweet matcha on my holiday-vacation lunch hour. (Yes!!!!! Time off!!!!!) In addition to being an amazing and uplifting treat, it really is the most glorious shade of green. I feel energized and positive just looking at it.

I’ve flirted with various forms of matcha over the years, but it’s always been a passing fancy. This time feels different. I actually find myself craving it and wondering if it might even become a replacement for my morning coffee. (If you know how much I love coffee, then you’ll know what a dramatic idea that is for me!) Now granted, I’m projecting quite a lot onto green tea. Maybe it’s just a passing crush, but I don’t think so. It just feels so right for the times we’re living in—these crazy, scary, humbling days of the Covid pandemic.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones with my remote job and my life in the country. It feels shameful to even complain, so I’ll refrain as best I can. I will admit, though, to it being very easy to feel stagnant without making some real effort. Being sequestered for months on end, with very few social diversions and a pretty consistent routine can be stifling. Where am I, Punxsutawney, PA? It can sure seem like it. But eventually, just like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, you start to realize that there just might be the tiniest of silver linings: You can relive your experience until you eventually get it right.

So, yeah. A daily dose of matcha green tea is one of the practices I’ll be adopting in 2021 to encourage positive thinking and mental/emotional growth. While this Covid era isn’t a fun time, and I wish things could just go back to “the way they were,” they aren’t going to. The only way to transcend stagnation seems to be acceptance. This is reality. We are stuck inside. We can’t socialize as we’d like. But with practice, I can try to get it right and thrive to the best of my ability. And, I’m not totally stuck. I can celebrate small joys and retain my sanity in these dark winter months. Maybe I can even embrace self-improvement and move forward with small, realistic and attainable goals.

Speaking of sanity, the editors over at Bloomberg put together a truly great list of pleasures that have been getting them through the tough times in 2020. If you’re looking for some inspiration beyond a delicious cup of green tea, their suggestions are a great place to start. The two things from their list that speak to me are a recommitment to snail mail and Hoka shoes (which are supposed to be super comfy and great for walking).

Regular texts and Zooms with dear friends have been a godsend over this last year, but much like my recent preference for green tea over coffee, I’m looking for an expansion of good habits. I’d like to rediscover the pleasure of long-form correspondence. In part, this desire was sparked by this year’s influx of deeply meaningful Christmas cards. I received fewer cards than I have in years past, but the ones that did land in my mailbox were filled with sentiments that truly touched my heart—and inspired me to be a more effusive communicator in the year ahead.

The receipt of so many wonderful cards almost made me want to be a sender of greeting cards myself, but that is likely to be a resolution left unrealized. I’m just not a merry Christmas kind of person. I’m a thank-god-Christmas-is-over kind of person. Try as I might to create new and joyful traditions, this season sparks my deepest resentments and regrets, and I’m honestly baffled at how to change that. For now, the best I can do is just accept it (and start making my Valentine’s Day cards, because that is a holiday that I absolutely do love).

Here’s to you 2021. I suspect you won’t be a perfect year. But for a brief, beautiful moment, you will give us all a much needed sense of a new beginning and the chance for things to improve. And, the opportunity to drink a lot more green tea. Because it’s easy being green. More than ever, I need my resolutions to be attainable. If green tea is the gateway to a right state of mind, that’s a habit I can get behind.

Savory Pies.

Thanksgiving is definitely one of my favorite holidays. I love that it’s steeped in tradition, yet open to evolution. Say you feel strongly that you must have sweet potatoes or turkey or cornbread stuffing. That’s only natural. After all, those are highlights of the season. But hopefully your family (or friends) are flexible enough to indulge new recipes and twists on the classics. If that’s not the case, well, my sympathies.

I personally would not be happy making the same damn recipes year after year. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. But I realize that for some, the constancy is absolutely sacred and reassuring. I get it. I do. I just don’t feel tradition-bound. Especially this year. In the midst of this pandemic, which has blown all normalcy to shreds, it seemed cheerier to forsake tradition altogether. No nostalgia permitted.

This year, the pandemic also meant skipping my decades-long T. Day celebration with friends. While that was a hard thing to forgo, I loved my get-together with my dad and stepmom. We not only put some twists on the classics, we also changed up how we went about eating: I suggested a day’s worth of small plates, punctuated by festive cocktails. It was great!

The idea of consuming a big Thanksgiving feast in one fell swoop has always seemed rather depressing to me. I mean, you cook for hours (or days) in advance, and all of that work disappears in a flash. It’s just not right. On the flip side, a parade of small plates stretches out the conversation and ups the anticipation. At the end, you still feel very full and slightly guilty about all of the calories, but it’s a lot more civilized.

I also found that the odds of having more leftovers increase when you switch to a small-plates style of dining. And this, of course, if very good news when it comes to options for a civilized lunch.

Today I had not one, but two slices of my leftover caramelized onion and squash tart. You guys! It is soooooo good! It’s a fairly labor-intensive recipe. But, if you can get into a meditative rhythm and embrace the sauteeing of onions and the endless chopping of squash and sweet potatoes, you’ll be OK.

Plus, it’s so worth it. This is a beautiful looking tart . I don’t own a springform tart pan, so I just used a glass pie pan. But, I want to make it again with the tart pan. There’s no doubt that the right equipment would make the presentation even more beautiful.

Like Butter.

I’m frustrated that my efforts to eat a proper lunch every day, and to write about this simple pleasure, have gone off the rails . I mean, what could be more basic than heating up some leftovers around midday, sitting down in a civilized fashion to enjoy the meal, and writing a few quick words?

Well, in the modern-day work paradigm, it’s the basic civilities that seem to go by the wayside. I vaguely recall an era (five years ago?) when it was generally understood that work meetings during the Noon-1 pm zone were to be avoided. The lunch hour was sacred. It was not only a time to nourish oneself, but to stretch one’s legs—and to step outside the office for a glimpse of the sky and the greater world at large.

Today, in the working remotely Zoom era, lunchtime meetings are unapologetically scheduled on the regular. Maybe the widespread belief is that you can always just turn off your video and mute yourself while cramming food in your mouth? The excuse (which is no longer even offered) is that it is “the only time when everyone is available.” No duh! Why? Because it’s lunch time. Sigh.

No matter how exasperating, I see little hope of dissuading this terrible new trend. The only “solution” is accepting the situation and shifting one’s lunch time accordingly. Sometimes lunch might have to be at 10:30. Other days at 4 pm. Just go with it workers! Do you feel me? You’re lucky to be employed. Be grateful.

Oh, and another thing: your window to eat lunch might only be five or ten minutes, so you’ll need to have a lot of things that reheat quickly, or maybe don’t need any heat at all. And maybe broaden your definition of what constitutes lunch entirely. For example, have you considered cookies? Cookies, in certain situations, can be almost as good (or better) than a power bar. Case in point: the oatmeal cookie!

Aside from being absolutely delicious, the oatmeal cookie may offer a heavy dose of emotional comfort. That is certainly true for me. No cookie (or food, really) more vividly recalls my grandmother Margaret’s limitless love and affection than an oatmeal cookie. She adored oatmeal cookies and made sure that there was always a ready supply.

So, if I’m ever feeling blue, or just craving a treat, it’s no surprise that making some oatmeal cookies is one of the first things that comes to mind. Just the scent of cinnamon, vanilla and brown sugar filling my kitchen as I make the dough brings her presence to life. I can still conjure the feeling of my cheek snuggling against her soft cotton dresses when I was a little girl. The best all-encompassing feeling of pure love in all of this world!

I’m not entirely sure what recipe my grandmother used, or if she even used a recipe—some members of my family swear it came from the back of the iconic Quaker Oatmeal box. That sounds right to me. I can easily picture her starting with that and modifying it as she saw fit, meaning extra raisins and nuts, and maybe a heavy hand with the brown sugar, too.

Given that there’s not a signature oatmeal cookie recipe in my family history, I feel no guilt in saying that I have found a recipe (or maybe just a methodology) that is even better than my grandmother’s. If you really, truly want to make the world’s most heavenly cookies then you need look no further than Alice Medrich’s Cookies and Brownies. Seriously people!

This is the cookie book that will change your cookie-making game. What’s Medrich’s big secret? Melted butter! Almost every one of her recipes advises melting your butter before adding it to the dry ingredients. And having made nearly every recipe in her book more than once, I can testify to their deliciousness.

Melting the butter versus creaming room-temperature butter into dry ingredients yields thin cookies with a chewy center and crunchy edges. In my view, that’s cookie perfection.

However, the perfection of Alice Medrich’s cookies in no way undermines my grandmother’s most powerful ingredient: her unconditional love. The memory of making cookies in her warm, cozy kitchen fills me with joy.

Her love is inextricably linked with oatmeal cookies whether I’m using her recipe or not. And it’s why oatmeal cookies are the ultimate comfort food for me during these sometimes lonely, sad and exhausting times of remote overworking from home during the Age of Covid.

So if you have a cookie craving, or like me, you’re short on time for a proper lunch, or just feeling a bit down, order a copy of Medrich’s book and give her oatmeal cookie recipe a try. Having a batch (or two) at the ready is the ultimate defense.

That’s fresh.

Today’s lunch was simple, but satisfying. And, per usual—a spontaneous repurposing of leftovers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: farro is fantastic. I always make it in big batches since it takes forever to cook and it keeps really well for at least a couple of weeks.

It gets a little dry hanging out in the fridge, so when I reheat a bowl’s worth in a little saucepan, I perk it up with a quarter cup of bone broth on high heat. The liquid gets absorbed quickly, and it tastes great.

I had some leftover green beans, too. I quickly pan-fried them in some spicy oil and tossed them in with the farro. Topped off with a generous handful of parmesan and a squeeze of lemon juice, plus salt and pepper. Boom! A totally fresh taste from some not-super-fresh leftovers.

It’s a good thing that I (sort of) enjoy the challenge of sprucing up days-old food because I’ve been too tired and too busy with work to leave my house for quite awhile. I mean, I’ve stepped outside to take out the garbage and gather the mail, but I’m not sure that counts! Living in the country as I do, going to the grocery story is a pretty major journey. So in busy times, I tend to put it off.

While I have more than enough food to last me for a good long time, I’m definitely running low on some of my favorite pantry items and I used the last of my fresh produce tonight when I made roasted carrots and baked potatoes. (Spoiler alert: You’ll see them featured in tomorrow’s lunch.)

I cannot wait to make a trip to the produce stand, and if the stars are truly aligned, to one of my favorite local area farms. Roasted fresh vegetables are just the best, and in my view, unsurpassed in their simplicity and deliciousness. So I’ll look forward to having a new supply soon. In the meantime, my leftovers are pretty darn good.

Pesto, the Platonic ideal.

This summer I bought three pounds of basil from Blanchard Mountain Farm with the goal of making a big batch of pesto to freeze and enjoy in the dark and foreboding days of winter. Boy am I glad I did!

The hilarious thing is that it’s not even officially winter, yet I’m almost out of my pesto. So much for saving it for gloomy times! But I can’t help it! It’s just so damn good. And really, very evocative.

When I eat a bowl of pesto pasta it’s like I can time travel. I can go back to that wonderful summer vibe with the sun on my face and the scent of basil filling my nose—and my heart. It’s a really, truly joyful fragrance.

The day I picked up the basil, I was a bit surprised (shocked!) when I saw just how much three pounds of basil actually is in terms of volume. The stuff is light, so the number of bags required to carry it away were many. At the time it seemed like an overwhelming amount. But in retrospect, I should have gotten 12 pounds or more and had an all-day pesto-making marathon. It would have been awesome. I’ll do that next summer for sure.

Another thing I remember about getting the basil was how amazing my car smelled on the way home from the farm. I can still conjure the scent of basil in my mind and the way it makes me feel. If I ever get back into perfume-making, I’m going to experiment with this herb. It’s a heavenly scent. It has a calming effect, like lavender. In the meantime, while I wait for summer to come around again, here’s a perfume with basil notes to try.

I just looked up the medicinal properties of basil. I’ve always thought of it as a plant with a holy and healing lineage, and indeed that seems to be the case. Basil helps with fatigue, inflammation, depression and anxiety. I think my brain must have known that I needed basil and induced a craving.

I don’t have any scientific proof, although some may exist, but I do really believe that we crave certain foods for a reason. I’m not talking about cravings for Cherry Garcia or frozen pizza. Although indulging the desire for those foods can certainly be a lot of fun. No, I’m talking about the times when you get very specific yearning for mushrooms, or chicken soup, or garlic, or dark leafy green vegetables. It’s like your body just knows that you need certain nutrients—and you feel instantly better after eating them.

That’s how it was with me and my big bowl of pesto today. I was like: “Yeah, baby. That’s just what the doctor ordered.”

If you’ve read a few of my posts, you’re probably noticing that I’m not big on recipes and that most of what I write isn’t super directive. It’s more like: I ate this thing for lunch today and here’s what it made me think of. I mean, you can research your own pesto recipe. It requires all of five ingredients and a blender.

One thing I will say, though. I think pesto can get a little too oily. I like my pesto on the drier, grainer side. So, whatever recipe you dig up, go light on the oil. You can always add more. Also: pesto freezes really well. So make a bunch and enjoy it throughout the year.

Know when to fold ’em.

TGIF people! (I never, ever thought I’d be someone who’d use that expression—but what I’m starting to realize is that it’s probably best to never say “never.”

Things change. In fact, change is the only constant. And I’ve never been more aware of that fact than in the here-and-now.

Another thing I never realized is how much I like Kenny Rogers. But, I was just sitting here, staring at the photo of the truly delicious soft tacos that I made for lunch when the words to The Gambler popped into my head.

The neural connections between one thing (a folded soft corn tortilla) and another thing (a song about when to quit a metaphorical poker game) are just one of the mysterious aspects about our brains. How do images from the present and the past connect in such a spontaneous and often surprising way? I don’t know. But I sure do enjoy the randomness of it.

I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoyed my lunch. Today’s meal is a great example of using leftovers in a truly spontaneous way. Exhibit A: a big spoonful of my spicy pork sausage and sage from early in the week, augmented with pan-fried slices of apples with cinnamon and honey. What a delightful contrast.

The idea to make tacos came to me upon my discovery of a big pack of La Burrita corn tortillas way in the back of my refrigerator. When I spied them I was like, “oh yeah, those guys,” because they’ve been there for about a million years. But, they seemed OK, so I was game to give them a try.

One of the reasons they’ve been sitting around for a long time is because I’m way more of a flour tortilla type of lady. And, I’m always pretty mystified by corn tortillas, even though I occasionally buy them. My uncertainty is centered on how the hell to heat them up. From experience I can tell you that the microwave is not a good idea. Ditto on wrapping them in foil and letting them sit in the oven. I’ve also had them steamed in restaurants, but they alway seem a bit floppy and sad.

So today, I was inspired to heat them up in a giant cast iron skillet with the perfect coating of fat from my weekend steak-cooking exploits. I turned the heat on high and them let fry. Dang. Why didn’t I do this before? The results were outstanding. The tortillas were soft-yet-browned-and-crunchy.

I definitely knew when to fold ’em.

The fried tortillas were the perfect wrapper for my re-heated sausage and apples. Along with a nice dollop of sour cream and salsa. I think this might be my all-time favorite lunch yet. Now if anyone out there is a corn tortilla aficionado and a regular reader of Bon Appetit, you may be shaking your head. Because after making this lunch, I read the definitive guide to heating a corn tortilla and it explicitly states that you should NOT fry a corn tortilla.

Well, what can I say? I did. And I’m the better for it. But, you be the judge.