Take Care

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I always considered myself a perfectionist, until I actually met perfectionists. The amount of care, dedication, and effort that went into the smallest of details,  no matter the project, truly blew me away.

I’ve never been one for detail work. I don’t like “futzing” with things. I’m not a tinkerer. I cannot stand repeating a small task over and over and over again.

However, in the kitchen, most of that frustration and desire to hurry things along goes away. I’m happy to putter, to move the knife slower to get exactly the right slice. But I still find myself saying, “That’s good enough.” So when I watch shows like “Chef’s Table”, or “The Mind of a Chef”, I am still amazed and completely inspired by the care these artists take with food. Not just in the preparation, but in the presentation, the layering of details, the complexity that is almost overlooked by the supposed simplicity.

I’ve been watching the fourth season of “The Mind of a Chef”, which featured chef Gabrielle Hamilton. She is known for her restaurant Prune in New York, as well as her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter. I found myself immediately smitten with her style of cooking in watching her episodes, but it wasn’t until the last one where she said something that struck me like nothing else had thus far. She was teaching one of her cooks how to make a dish that looked simple, but required a significant amount of time, repetition, and detail. As they folded and crimped over and over and over again, Gabrielle said, “There is no reason to be this precise, and there’s no reason to not be.”

What a concept. I really feel smacked by that statement. It applies to so much in life, not just food. There is no reason to care for the well-being of people I don’t know, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to sit and meditate every day, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to make my backyard flower garden look beautiful and pristine, but there’s no reason not to.

What would happen if I took that much care in everything I did? It seems to me that care (as opposed to rigid, self-flagellating perfectionism) is at the root of many beautiful things. When someone takes care–of themselves, of their food, of their homes, of their relationships–others take notice. It draws appreciation, it incites love.

For many people, I think particularly in our American culture, time is a precious commodity, and we feel very selective about where we dole out those extra minutes. But what better way can we show our love, than through the amount of care and time we give to things, and to each other?

I know I’m going to be reflecting on this for a long time…

Sweet Potato-Apple Salad

sweet potatoes

Last week was the first full week of September, which means fall in my book. I planned five or six meals for the week in the spirit of cooler weather. And then, the LA heat wave hit- hard. It’s been 105 for the last two days, and high 90s the rest of the time. Suddenly, our air conditioner-less apartment was feeling the opposite of fall, and all of those pumpkin soups and risottos were sounding like the last things I wanted to be making. The idea alone of being in the same room as the oven was enough to get me to start sweating. Luckily, there was one meal I planned that sounded even remotely enticing. It still required the use of the oven, and I sweated a lot for those 30 minutes, but after that first bite, it was all worth it.

dressing onions

Now, I am not one to rave about salads. I eat them because I know my body needs those nutrients, but it’s not a very common occurrence where I crave a salad. This one changed that. I could eat this every week. And it fit this odd weather perfectly- it was refreshing and light, but still full of all the fall treats that I was really wanting- pumpkin seeds, apples, maple, and roasted sweet potatoes. I don’t think I need to mention how amazing onions caramelizing in maple syrup smells. The combination of roasted sweet potatoes, creamy goat cheese, crunchy nuts and seeds, and crisp apple slices was simply perfect. I promise you, A/C or no, this one is worth making. I think you’ll find it just as amazing as I did.

Apples and Roast

finished salad

 

Sweet Potato-Apple Salad
adapted from The Kinfolk Table

for the salad
1 extra-large, or 2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into rounds 1/4″ thick
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small, or 2/3 large yellow onion, sliced 1/4″ thick

for the dressing*
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp honey
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

also…
4 cups kale (I found black tuscan to hold up the best)
1 apple, cored and sliced 1/4″ inch (I used pink lady- the crispness contrasts wonderfully)
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
3-4 oz crumbled goat cheese

instructions
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375.

Toss the sweet potato slices with 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, 2 Tbsp of the maple syrup, and the cinnamon on a foil-lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time.
Transfer the sheet to a rack and cool for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and remaining 1 Tbsp of maple syrup and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-12 minutes, until caramelized.

Make the dressing: whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and 1 tsp of honey together in a small bowl. Season with salt, pepper, and additional honey to taste.

Toss the greens, apple slices, sweet potatoes, onions, nuts, seeds, and cheese together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

*note: if you are vegan and need to skip the goat cheese, I would double the dressing

My Favorite Cookbooks

Let’s talk cookbooks. I am a cookbook lover. All the possibilities that await! All the learning I can do! All the tasty foods to try! I’m a sucker for it. Admittedly, I have my fair share of cookbooks that I got excited about in the store, and then never really used them once they got home. But there are quite a few I pull out on a weekly basis, and these are just a few that I’d like to share with you.

20140805-205924-75564081.jpg   It is not an exaggeration to say that this cookbook changed how I eat. I am not a vegan by any means, but I love every recipe she has put in here, and my body has responded so well to its new levels of protein and vegetables being eaten. Everything Angela does is so well-executed, from the sauces accompanying the dish, to the depth of flavor she can introduce. She even has a recipe for nacho dip! It was that dip that converted me to an Oh She Glows lover. If the idea of vegan dishes is gross or even sacrilegious to you, please try one of her recipes. I am always shocked that something so good for you can also taste so good (and really fill me up!) Most of my recipes these days come from here (I’d say at least 3-4 per week!), and my body is loving me for it.   20140805-205925-75565164.jpg   I’ll admit, I was skeptical about buying a “celebrity” cookbook, but this one has proven its worth time and time again. While she does have a small handful of more complicated dishes, like homemade lobster rolls or paella, the large majority are incredibly simple, with very basic, easy to find ingredients. From delicious pasta recipes, to amazing breakfast muffins, to brisket and chicken milanese (a favorite!), I find myself repeatedly pulling ol’ Gwyn off the shelf to help me whip up something that tastes like I spent hours making it, when it really only took 30 minutes. (My new favorite recipe that we just tried this week is her Vietnamese prawn sandwich [we used shrimp]. I couldn’t believe I could make a banh mi-style sandwich that tasted so good and was that easy! Truly. I could keep raving, but I’ll spare you.) 20140805-205925-75565946.jpg   This is one of my favorites for so many reasons. It’s incredibly photo-saturated, in the best way. Every step has a gorgeous photo showing you exactly how it should look, with extremely clear instructions. The first page of every recipe even shows all the ingredients laid out- it’s beautiful! Not to mention, it’s pretty hard to goof up when it’s spelled out that clear for you. Besides the photos, the book is organized so well, and contains everything from classics like margherita pizza and macaroni and cheese, to yummy things I never would have thought of, like a spicy asian soup. She also has a whole section for “long weekends,” and it’s from here that I devote a lot of time in the winters making soups, stews, roast chicken, and my favorite- coq au vin. I’ve even made chicken wings and loaded potato skins from scratch! So much better than buying those boxes from the freezer aisle (albeit, a bit more time consuming). I highly recommend it, for both seasoned cooks and newbies alike, as it’s an easy one to learn from and get your feet wet.

 

Do you have a favorite place to pull recipes from? I’d love to hear! I’m always looking for more inspiration.