Simple Supper: Corn, Squash, and Black Beans with Quinoa

I remember the first time I made quinoa. I got the recipe from a Deborah Madison cookbook, and I know that it involved carrot juice and a lot of onions. I made it for Eric the first time he came over for dinner, just weeks after we started dating. He brought me these beautiful flowers, just because, and I am shocked that I didn’t burn dinner to a crisp because what I most remember about that night is that we could not. stop. smiling at each other. It was a beautiful summer night, and we lingered at the table by the open windows long after dinner, talking about our work and our passions and our past adventures and about what makes us tick. I remember absolutely swooning (internally, of course) over how incredibly easy it was to talk to him, about anything and everything and nothing. I still feel that way today, unbelievably lucky to have found my best and truest friend.

Fast forward several years, and now we are married (yay!), and quinoa is my most essential staple. I love it beyond words–it is crunchy and nutty and full of protein, which always leaves me, pseudo-vegetarian, feeling very virtuous. Quinoa with veggies and cheese is my go-to dinner, and I would say that I make it in some variation at least once every two weeks, with whatever we happen to have on hand and whatever’s ripe in our little kitchen garden. I really prefer red quinoa, but haven’t found a good source for it here yet (Berkeley Bowl, please open a branch down here!! I am not even joking when I say that I’m considering buying a 10-pound bag of red quinoa when I go up to file my dissertation and bringing it home with me in my carry-on!) The golden kind is probably just as good for you, but the red is so pretty, and I’m a sucker for bright colors everywhere, including on my plate!

This time I went with the classic “holy trinity” of corn, beans, and squash. They are sometimes referred to as “the three sisters” in South American cultures because they grow so well together. I like the idea of that. 🙂 This is a meal that comes together very quickly and will still be delicious even through a thousand different permutations. Use what you have, use what sounds good, and you’ll have a great dinner on the table in no time!

Corn, Squash, and Black Beans with Quinoa

1 c quinoa
1/2 red onion, diced
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 patty pan squash, cubed (or you could use any other kind of summer squash)
Kernels from 3 ears of corn
1 c dried black beans (I always cook dried beans in my pressure cooker; 1 c black beans will cook in 5-6 c of water in about 20 minutes. You could also use canned beans, probably about a can and a half.)
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of 1 lime
Cotija (or Feta) cheese and chopped chives for topping

-Heat oil in a large pan and add onion. Let cook for a few minutes, then add cumin, coriander, and cayenne pepper. After 1 minute, add corn, squash, and pre-cooked beans. Squeeze the lime juice in and leave the rinds in the pan so the flavor keeps infusing the vegetables.  Saute until cooked through, about 10 minutes.
-In the meantime, rinse quinoa several times in cold water. (Quinoa has a soap-tasting outer coating that has to be washed off. It’s good for protecting the plant from animals that might eat it, but not good for your taste buds!)  Boil 2 c water in a small saucepan.  When the water is boiling, add quinoa and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
-When the quinoa is cooked, add it to the pan with the vegetables and stir well.
-Remove the lime rinds, dish it up, and top it with cheese and chives. That’s it! I don’t usually use salt when working with such salty cheeses, but, of course, feel free to add salt and pepper as desired!

Button Tree Paintings

I am, admittedly, late to the Pinterest party, but I am making up for it with my newfound obsession! I have found so many amazing ideas there, and I have been eager to work on them! My wonderful parents gave me some money for my birthday, so this weekend I (gleefully) bought a ton of art supplies. This is the project I was most excited about–and it provided yet another use for my millions of buttons! (I wasn’t able to find the person who came up with this idea through Pinterest, but if it is yours, I would love to credit you!)

I decided to use two canvases with a mirrored color scheme, and I used purple and silver because I love them so much. I gave the purple canvas two coats of paint for a deep color.

After they dried, I started painting the trees. I didn’t really follow a pattern, but just let my hand guide me. (Eric secretly took some pictures of me painting last night, but I haven’t seen them yet!)

When the trees had dried, I started sorting my (millions of) buttons–I wanted really small ones that wouldn’t overwhelm the branches.

Gluing them on was easy as pie: I used a Q-tip to put the glue where I wanted it, and just stuck the buttons on. Since they are so light, you don’t need a really heavy-duty glue. I did have to do it in several sittings, though, because my back needed a break from hunching over my button pile. Back-friendly crafting is always recommended!

Then I just had to wait for the buttons to dry, and think about where to hang the paintings! I like them side by side, so they sort of look like bright shadows of each other. I also love how in this picture the buttons on the table look like fallen leaves. 🙂

These are just little 8×10 canvases, but I’d love to make some more of these on a larger scale and play with different color schemes. Fun! Let me know if you make some–I’d love to see them!


The Huntington: Garden of Flowing Fragrance

When my parents were in town, one of the places we were most excited to share with them was The Huntington. 120 acres of beautifully cultivated gardens, multiple art galleries, and a library full of treasures: I knew we could spend a day there, and we did!

It was definitely hot outside, which made the galleries ever so much more appreciated–we would stroll around the gardens for an hour or so, and then spend an hour inside, cooling off and checking out the exhibits. Eric and I had never been before, and even though we spent the day there, there is so much more to see!

Today I wanted to share some pictures from just one of the many gardens, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance. We entered through a gate in the main wall, with a sign that read, “Another World Lies Beyond.” I was struck by how true it was, and how each element of the garden, so meticulously planned down to the tiniest detail, really did create a different realm, a different space.

Even the placement of the stones in the walkways spoke of artistry, of how something so quotidian can be made into something transports you to another place. I stood there, my feet sweeping across the stones, and thought about how I would never have thought to lay them standing upright instead of flat.

As we walked around the lake and passed by the pavilions, we took in the sweet scents of the flowers and the trees.  The lotus flowers were made yet more vibrant by the gorgeous fish swimming through them.

While I can’t build a garden like this one, it inspired me to pay more attention to the tiny details in the world around me and in the space that my husband and I create in our home. I’ve long known that it’s the little things that make us happiest–an unexpected phone call, a cup of tea on a cold afternoon, a perfect autumn leaf falling right into your path–but this garden made me ponder how I could foster those little things more in my daily life, how I could make our space also “another world.”


Stripes and Plaid

Eric and I had such a lovely weekend, the highlights of which were the sunshine and a wonderful dinner with friends at Wood Spoon. We also had fun taking a walk on Saturday and scouting out places for shooting pictures. The ones he takes are light years better than mine!

This was a really fun outfit to put together. The dress is one of my all-time faves, which I found at my most beloved thrift store. The turquoise top is one of several that I have, and I have to say that they are the most comfortable shirts I own! They also have a tiny pocket at the top, only big enough for a quarter or something equally tiny! I got a whole rainbow of them at a clothing swap party last spring: thank you, friend!

The vest is also from the Bargain Barn, as is this well-loved belt. You can see all the extra holes I’ve poked in it–gotta make it work! The earrings, which make a lovely chiming noise when I walk, are from H&M in Berlin, where I spent the summer several years ago.

The shoes are my standby Nine West heels, which, I am happy to report, are slowly getting more comfortable! I don’t think too much about “rules” in style, unless I am deliberately trying to break them. It’s much more fun to just go with whatever feels right, and this definitely felt like the perfect look for a summer afternoon. 🙂

Yotam Ottolenghi Roasted Vegetable Tart

Oh my goodness, I cannot tell you how amazing this tart is. I also cannot tell you that it is a quick recipe–it took me about four and a half hours from start to finish, but it was worth every minute. It would be a great weekend recipe and a real showstopper for when you have guests or really want to impress the other people at the potluck! (I, of course, set out to make this on a typical Thursday night and was reduced to chewing lots of gum and watching bad re-runs while waiting for it to finish baking…but still, it was worth it!)

I first heard of Yotam Ottolenghi on Smitten Kitchen, where Deb made his beautiful cauliflower cake. Ever since then, I have been wanting to try the ideas of the Vegetable Genius (that is what I think should be his official title!) A few weeks ago, I bought his cookbook, Plenty, for my birthday, and this was the first recipe I chose.

I really love the smooth and rich flavor of it–it isn’t very eggy at all, since the filling is mostly heavy cream (ah, so much better for you!), and the flavor of the thyme really comes through beautifully.

I am thinking about making this tart for Thanksgiving (since I’ve sworn never to subject myself to making Pumpkin Stew in a Pumpkin again, for reasons of maintaining my sanity; delicious it may be, but much better if you have a sous chef!), but even if I don’t make the tart itself, I am definitely going to borrow this method of roasting vegetables for other dishes.

Whenever I roasted vegetables in the past, I just threw them all in the oven and then was sort of sad when some of them were overcooked. But, Ottolenghi, genius that he is, has figured out exactly how many minutes each vegetable needs, and he instructs you on when to add each of them to the mix. The result is seriously perfection.

I have to tell you, in full disclosure, that I almost ruined this dish when I was making it. I had all the veggies roasting and was about halfway through pre-baking the crust when, horror of horrors, the crust slipped out of the tart pan as I was trying to remove the beans I was using as pie weights, and it shattered into a bunch of pieces. There was a moment of panic, and the hilarious thing was that that’s when Eric walked into the kitchen. He looked heartbroken for me, but with a deranged look in my eye, I turned to him and said, “It’s okay! I’ll fix it! I’ll fix it!”

I’m sure this is the look people get in their eye when they are, I don’t know, trying to duct tape their mufflers back on (Hey, respect!), but it actually worked! I knew that even if it was a big mess, it would be a beautiful and delicious big mess, but thankfully I was able to piece it back together, and it held. Whew!

 And so, sometime around 8:30pm it was finally ready, and I totally had two slices. We just finished up the leftovers, and, as I said, I am contemplating making it again…like maybe tomorrow. It’s that addictive. Hope you enjoy!

Yotam Ottolenghi‘s Roasted Vegetable Tart
Recipe from Plenty

1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
about 6 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut into 2″ cubes
salt and black pepper
1 small sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
1 small zucchini, cut into 1″ cubes
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
11 oz. pie crust dough (this one will be fine, if you don’t have a standby recipe)
8 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
4 1/2 oz. feta
7 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 medium eggs
1 c heavy cream

-Heat the oven to 450F. Cut tops off of bell peppers and remove the seeds. Place the peppers in a small baking dish, drizzle with olive oil, and place on top shelf in oven.
-Mix the eggplant in a bowl with 4 Tbsp olive oil and some salt and pepper. Spread in a large baking pan and place in the oven on the rack beneath the peppers.
-After 12 minutes, add the sweet potato cubes to the eggplant pan and stir gently. Return to the oven and roast for another 12 minutes. Then add the zucchini to the pan, stir and roast for another 10-12 minutes. At this point the peppers should be brown and the rest of the vegetables cooked through. Remove all from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325F. Cover the peppers with foil and cool, then peel and tear roughly into strips.
-Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Saute the onions with the bay leaves and some salt for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they turn brown, soft and sweet. Remove from heat, remove bay leaves, and set aside.
-Lightly grease a 9″ tart pan. Roll out the pie crust dough to a circle roughly 1/8′ thick and large enough to line the pan, plus extra to hang over the rim. Carefully  line the pan with the dough, pressing it into the corners and leaving the excess hanging over the top edge. Line the dough with a large sheet of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the crust for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the paper with the weights (very, very carefully!), then bake for 10-15 minutes more, or until it turns golden brown. Remove and allow to cool a little.
-Scatter the cooked onion over the bottom of the crust and top with the roasted vegetables, arranging them evenly. Scatter half the thyme leaves over. Top with small chunks of both cheeses, and then with the tomato halves, cut-side up.
-Whisk the eggs and cream in a small bowl with some salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mixture into the tart; the top layer of tomatoes and cheese should remain exposed. Scatter the remaining thyme over the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes (Mine took more like 50 minutes), or until the filling sets and turns golden. Remove and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes before releasing the tart from the pan and serving. Enjoy!

Autumn Chill

Somehow the rain and gloom got to me yesterday. I realize this sounds ridiculous, given where I lived for the past seven years, but the abrupt shift from the sunny 80-degree weekend to to windy and gray rain (and about 18 hours of it at that) left me feeling a bit bummed. My mood was only boosted by the fact that I scrambled into the passenger side of my car to avoid drenching my feet in the 6-inch deep puddle I parked in at the library–I am sure anyone watching thought I was off my rocker, but perhaps they needed a little entertainment anyway! 🙂 Today the sun is at least out a bit, even if it’s still chilly.

Of course, the beautiful thing about fall (okay, who am I kidding, one of the many beautiful things about fall) is that I get to wear my sweaters and scarves and boots, which have been languishing in my closet, well…since we moved here from Oakland in August. I always had this sweater dress in mind for the button belt I just finished making, and I added my favorite yellow tights and these sweet riding boots I got from a kind soul in my department.

The scarf is a treasured possession of mine. I bought it in Sarajevo so that I could cover my head and visit a few mosques there, but I wore it almost every day. It reminds me of strong coffee, gorgeous hills, the palpable presence of (often tragic) history, and the sonorous call to prayer. Sarajevo is certainly one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited.

The giant yellow shell earrings were acquired at my favorite jewelry shop in Memphis, and they always make me think of my mom. 😉 These photos are kind of yukky with fill-flash, but it was the best I could do on short notice. My sweet husband is in meetings all day today, but hopefully we can get some nice outdoor shots over the weekend, since it’s supposed to be in the 80s again. 😉

DIY Button Belt

Some of you may remember my excitement about scoring a giant bag of buttons a few weeks ago at the PCC Flea Market. I’ve been slowly working on some projects with them, and the first one is finished! All you need to make your own button belt is a length of ribbon, a needle and thread, scissors, and, of course, buttons! I used a tape measure to get an approximate length on the ribbon, but you could also just wrap it around your waist and eyeball it.

I started by separating the buttons into sizes, and then picking the ones that fit most closely the width of my ribbon. I had all these gorgeous fall colors, but you can use any color scheme you like!

Then I threaded a needle to a length of about 15″. I wouldn’t sew on more than about 5 buttons at a time because the long thread can get unwieldy to work with. Definitely go over each stitch a second time to give it a strong hold.

I used this light blue thread because it has a little shimmer to it that I thought would complement the other colors well, but you can use any color you like:) Keep sewing on your buttons about 5 at a time until you reach the desired length. Then, trim the loose threads, and you’re done!

The ends of the belt tie in a  pretty bow at the back.

I hope to get an outfit post up with my new belt tomorrow–I have it all planned out, but it has been pouring rain all day (Bay area…are you following me??) , and there hasn’t been much light. If it’s still raining tomorrow, I’ll get out there with my umbrella!

This was a really fun and easy project–let me know if you make one too! I have tons of other button ideas, so they will be making some more appearances later this fall:)

Coffee and Companionship

As some of you know, my completely awesome parents came to see us this past weekend. (And those of you who know my parents know that “completely awesome” is a huge understatement!)  They were our first houseguests, and we had a glorious, beautiful, and relaxing time together. We went on lots of adventures, ate some amazing food, drank some great wine, laughed ourselves silly, and smiled till our faces hurt. I’m going to write about some of our adventures soon, but I have to say that I think one of the memories of their trip that I’ll hold closest to my heart is one of the simplest.

The first time Eric and I saw our apartment, before we ever knew we had a shot at getting it, I took one look at the balcony and knew I wanted to drink coffee with my dad out there in the cool breeze, watching the leaves on the trees sway in the wind.

My memories of coffee start with my dad, and my dad is a big part of my deep attachment to what is for me the sweet nectar of the gods.  I remember my parents drinking coffee when I was growing up, but I was never too interested in it. I didn’t start drinking coffee until I was in college, and it was pretty bad stuff: the slaw they sold in the student center, a plastic can of Folgers…nothing to write home about, just something to warm my fingers while I was writing endless papers and cramming for Russian exams. Then one time when I’d driven home for Thanksgiving, I headed back up to school with a thermos full of my parents’ fresh-brewed coffee. When I ran out, I stopped somewhere along the road and got another cup, and I immediately tasted the difference. I had no idea until then that there was as much pleasure to be found in a well-made cup of coffee as there is to be found in delicious food. It was an awakening.

After that, I always looked forward to drinking coffee with my dad when I went home. Winter or summer, spring or fall, he’d brew us a pot or a French press, and we’d sit outside or in front of the fireplace, talking about whatever was on our minds, catching up on our latest thoughts and ideas, sharing treasured memories. Once I’d been out Christmas shopping with my mom, and when we’d called home with an ETA, I’d told my dad how tired I was. When we got home, I found that he’d whipped out the espresso machine and had a latte waiting for me. I realize this sounds like a coffee commercial, but it is so very real, and a ritual of relaxation began to be born for me. It’s true that I love the taste of coffee, its thick richness, the warm and delicious aroma, and the feel of a coffee cup in my hands, but it goes back to something much deeper for me: family, memories, love. It’s just one tiny example of how something so small and so ubiquitous can carry so much more than its own weight, can become a repository for meaning and memory, can signify so much more than what it appears to be. My daily cup takes me home every morning, to that place of warmth and acceptance and happiness, and rekindles my deep, deep gratefulness: that out of all the people in the world who could have been my parents, I was born to people who could not be more kind, more loving, more hilarious, more fun, more intelligent and thoughtful, or more creative. People whose joy and curiosity are infectious, people who make you feel on a daily basis what a gift it is to be alive.

And of course, new memories are always being made. Going home wouldn’t be the same without enjoying my first cup of the day with my mom in bed, slowly waking up and telling each other about our dreams from the previous night and our plans for the day. Visits wouldn’t be the same without an afternoon stop for a cappuccino, my mom and I straining under the weight of our shopping bags or trying to muster the energy to see a few more galleries at the museum. And this trip wouldn’t have felt right without spending every morning out on the balcony with my parents, the paper, and our coffee. My dad even made it cup by cup for us every morning, which was a real treat. That’s what I’ll remember, and what I’ll miss the most.

We also had a blast visiting all the coffee hot spots around Pasadena, which I’d been waiting to try with them. Dad and I took an afternoon walk to Peet’s for a cup (we live about 5 minutes’ walk from there, thus classifying our apartment as nirvana, or at least within close proximity to it), and Sunday we headed over to Zona Rosa, which couldn’t be any more quaint or comfy. Monday we drove down to Jones Coffee Roasters, a glorious open space full of coffee roasting equipment and Mexican art. I kept whispering to my parents, “This is SO cool!”, which probably takes my own coolness points down a scale, but who cares? When you are faced with amazingness, sometimes you have to acknowledge it! I am happy that now, not only the balcony, but also these sweet places, are marked with memories. Every time I visit them, I will bring my parents with me; every time I enjoy a cup of coffee, I will enjoy it with them.

Baby Doll in Red and Black

My besfrinn gave me this sweet dress over the summer, and I have been wearing it a lot these past few weeks! (Semi-related bit of excitement: said besfrinn and her husband are expecting! I’m going to be an auntie! Yay!)

These are my same beloved $1 boots from the thrift store, and, while I can’t recall exactly, I am sure that this belt is of the same provenance. I put it up high, continuing my little experiments in that arena.

These earrings are from the Depot in Oakland, home of countless treasures! The purse is from the Bargain Barn too, and always makes me giggle: the first time I met my husband’s hilarious brother, I had just made a trip to the thrift store and bought this purse and an enormous hot pink belt. I was telling Eric’s brother, who also loves a bargain, about my awesome haul, and he decided to model the belt and the purse to express his enthusiasm! He cracks me up!

Oh man, some of these photos are really poorly lit, and that’s an ongoing project of mine–I mean, to make them better. Our house is full of challenges, but the biggest one, as I’ve mentioned before, is that we get absolutely no natural light. Eric and I are working on a  couple of fixes for this, about which I am really excited! I am so grateful to have a husband who is truly my partner, who is concerned about everything that concerns me.  He is a gift in more ways than I can enumerate. So, while it makes me sad to post photos that aren’t really there yet, he makes it easier to see this as a work in progress. 🙂

No-Knead Bread

I have been wanting to try this bread for ages, and now I finally have all the tools! There has been buzz for a long time over Jim Lahey‘s revolutionary baking method, and, let me tell you, it more than lives up to the hype! What would you say if I told you that you could have amazing oven-fresh bread for literally about 60 seconds of actual work? No kneading, no slowly working flour into the dough…it is amazing!

One of our wonderful friends gave us Jim Lahey’s cookbook My Bread for our wedding, and we also got a nice cast-iron Dutch oven for baking. That’s all you really need. We have a shiny new Le Creuset, but the little plastic handle on the top is not rated highly enough for the baking temperature, and I couldn’t bear to disassemble it, so we just bought a Lodge Dutch oven–they are pretty cheap and work perfectly for this recipe (in the 5-6 quart size).

I love bread and always have (what did I ask for for my 16th birthday? A bread maker. I was thrilled when I got it, and I used it until I broke it!) A few years ago I decided that it was time for me to learn to bake bread (in all the fervor following a crazy year spent studying for quals). I started with Bittman‘s recipe and some baguettes, and I learned as I went. Eventually I started making boules, since they’re a bit easier and better for sandwiches, and then my awesome friend Steve showed me how the shape the dough more tightly, which was a huge improvement over how I was doing it. After a while, I was baking bread pretty much all the time, stirring and kneading and scoring and trying to get dough out from under my fingernails.

It’s not that I mind any of this, but I am having fun experimenting with new ways of doing things. I tried making dough in the food processor (brilliant, brilliant invention, and I love that it is called “robot culinaire” in French! Yes, a culinary robot!), and that was great. And then I tried it Jim Lahey’s way. Oh, wow.

It’s so easy to mix the ingredients that you don’t even need the food processor. It takes 30 seconds of stirring, no more, and then you get to take an 18-hour break, during which time the dough rises and ferments, and any dry bits of flour are drawn in and moistened.

Then you just spend about 30 seconds shaping it into a ball and give it a few more hours to rise. Heat your Dutch oven, throw the bread in, and that’s it!

And, of course, the bread is completely delicious. Since I baked it, I have been eating nothing but tomato and cheese sandwiches. I will be sad when it’s gone! But then I will just start again, since 60 seconds is definitely something I have to spare, especially in exchange for such deliciousness! Happy baking!

No-Knead Bread
From Jim Lahey‘s My Bread

3 c (400 gr) bread flour
1 1/4 tsp (8 gr) salt (I used Kosher salt)
1/4 tsp (1 gr) instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 c (300 gr) cool water (55-65 degrees F)
Wheatbran, cornmeal, or flour for dusting (I used flour, but next time will try cornmeal)

-In a medium bowl, blend the dry ingredients. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds. The dough will be very sticky. Cover the bowl and let rise for 12-18 hours, until it is doubled in size and the top is covered with bubbles.
-When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to turn the dough out onto the work surface in one piece. Using lightly floured hands, turn the sides of the dough up to form a ball, tucking in any loose edges for a clean, round shape.
-Place a cotton or linen tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with flour (or bran or cornmeal). Lift the dough gently onto the towel, so the seam is facing down. Dust the top of the bread lightly with flour. Fold the ends of the towel over the dough loosely and let it rise for 1-2 hours until doubled in size.
-30 minutes before the end of the second rise, heat the oven to 475 degrees F and place the covered Dutch oven in the center of the rack.
-Using potholders, carefully remove the Dutch oven from the oven and remove the top. Unfold the tea towel and gently but quickly turn it into the pot. Remember that it is very hot! Cover the Dutch oven and bake for 30 minutes.
-Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more (mine was done in 15). Use a heatproof spatula to carefully life the bread out of the Dutch oven and place it on a  rack to cool for 1 hour. Enjoy!

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