Where Do I Fit in Food?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I fit in the “food” world.

I can easily list all the things I’m not. I’m not a chef, nor a food journalist. Beyond Starbucks, I’ve never worked in the restaurant industry, where so many in the food world take pride in their battle scars…er, burns. I’m not a farmer. I’m not a dietitian. I’m a food blogger who hasn’t actually blogged in a year! Although my career is very clearly in the food industry and I take such pride in my job and what I’m learning, I still struggle to articulate my place in the massive, constantly evolving food system. It’s so easy to trick myself into thinking everyone has this very clearly defined “expertise” in their head and I’m the only one who has yet to nail it.

For a while, I felt like I could get by just saying I love food - but who doesn’t agree with that? I feel like there needs to be something I can distinctly offer to make food better.

When I’m feeling stuck in a rut about what my “thing” is - or what’s the passion I want to pursue - I ask myself what I’d want to be asked to give a speech on ten years from now. My topic of choice changes by the day. Sometimes it’s food history, other times it’s the future of sustainable development. Sometimes it’s addressing the United Nations on the state of child nutrition, and others days it’s hosting small-scale pop-up dinners like Syrian Supper Clubs.

I can see the common themes emerging from these passion areas. How do I better, or more intentionally, bring the intersection of food history, anthropology, culinary arts and social impact into my career? And is it okay to not have the answer now?

I don’t know the answer to the first question. But, I need to keep reminding myself the answer to my second question is a resounding YES. The longer I work, the more I realize everyone is just figuring it out as they go (…right?). I’m lucky to work some place where this all feels very possible, I just need to figure out how to meaningfully go about it.

This won’t be resolved today. I have a feeling it will take my lifetime. But until then, what I do know is I love food. I love cooking. When my to-do list feels increasingly and impossibly long, I love the satisfaction of completing a recipe. When screens are constantly glowing in my face, I find peace in trusting the feel in my hands kneading dough. When I’m cooking for myself, I’m free from feedback; the food is simply there to be enjoyed. A coconut chicken curry simmering away on the stove can transport me to a country I may never make it to in my lifetime. When I’m scooping homemade doro wat up with injera at my own kitchen table, I’m reliving memories of community dinners in Ethiopia. For me, food has been transformative. It’s a rare and lucky, or privileged, thing to even be considering these questions or have the opportunity to explore them. But, I’d probably be better to focus on the joy food brings me, rather than the feelings of doubt or panic.

doro wat ethiopian meal ingredients
injera yellow split peas ethiopian meal ingredients
doro wat injera yellow split peas ethiopian meal ingredients

Kitchen Sink Salad

Over Christmas break, my mom and I set out to recreate my great Grandma's recipes after they were mailed to me, packed snugly in a graham cracker box. It wasn't hard for us to figure out the one we should try first, as page one of Good Housekeeping Institute was marked with a handwritten note, "chicken pie 96." Page 96 was the only page bookmarked. Page 96 was also the only one marked with another handwritten note, "good pie." Great Grandma Lauer couldn't have given us any clearer of a sign. 

chicken pie || planting my roots

What wasn't as clear was what side to pair with this "good pie." We knew we'd need something light and with texture to contrast with the warm, soft biscuit topping and vegetable sauce. We weren't totally sure what sides Grandma Lauer preferred, but a chopped kale salad at the salad bar kept catching our eye. It marked all the boxes for us - crunchy, fresh and bright. It also seemed easy enough for us to recreate!

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

With that as our "launchpad," the salad took on a life of its own with some other ingredients we picked up along the way - a fresh pomegranate instead of dried cranberries, thinly sliced radishes for extra crunch, and crumbled goat cheese with apricot and thyme. One thing that stayed the same was the matchstick carrots - doesn't that seem identical at every salad bar??

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots
kitchen sink salad || planting my roots
kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

This salad is worthy of the title "Kitchen Sink Salad" for two reasons: 1) Essentially all prep can happen over the kitchen sink if you have a big colander and 2) The recipe is forgiving enough that you can toss in everything...but the kitchen sink. You can swap red onions for radishes for a bit of bite and crunch. Kale can easily be substituted with any other leafy green. If you prefer cranberries to pomegranate seeds, go for it! The sky (err fridge) is the limit. 

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

The first step is to grab a large colander and place it in the sink. Then, chop the kale into bite size pieces and toss into colander. Rinse thoroughly and shake dry. As remaining water dries on kale leaves, prep your other ingredients and toss them into the colander as each one is prepared - peel and matchstick the carrots, thinly slice the radishes, deseed the pomegranate, chop the dates and crumble the goat cheese. This does require a bit of prep work, so think of it as good meditative time or turn on your favorite album. Enjoy the process.

When you're ready to serve, toss in the walnuts and a dressing of your choice. I've paired it with both a raspberry vinaigrette and cherry balsamic dressing. Something fruity pairs well with these flavors, but I think a poppy seed dressing could also work wonderfully. As with the other ingredients in this recipe, the dressing is also chef's choice - it is forgiving!

kitchen sink salad || planting my roots

Kitchen Sink Salad

serves 4

what you'll need:
1 head kale, roughly chopped into bite size pieces
1/2 pound carrots
1/2 pound radishes
seeds from 1/2 of a pomegranate
1/2 cup mejdool dates or apricots, roughly chopped
3-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts
salad dressing, to taste (recommend flavors of raspberry, cherry or poppy seed)

what you'll do:

  1. In large colander, rinse chopped kale. While kale is drying, rinse carrots and finely chop into small matchsticks. Rinse and thinly slice radishes into quarters or bite size pieces. Add both to colander.
  2. Remove seeds from 1/2 of a pomegranate, dropping directly into the colander.
  3. Add chopped dates or apricots to colander, then add crumbled goat cheese. Finally, use hands to toss all ingredients in colander. Pour into large serving bowl. 
  4. If eating immediately, toss in walnuts and dressing of choice to taste. Mix thoroughly and serve. If making in advance, add walnuts and dressing when ready to serve. This salad can be made one day in advance. 

Brussels Sprouts with a Pop of Pomegranate

Pomegranate molasses is a thing of beauty. It's got a deep, rich ruby red color and a complex flavor that is all at once sweet, tart and fruity. It's a popular ingredient throughout the Middle East and its distinct flavor is incredibly versatile. I came to rely on pomegranate molasses as a near pantry staple once I discovered my love of muhammara, a roasted red pepper dip. It also plays a starring role in fesenjan, a Persian chicken and pomegranate molasses stew, a dish I've come to love during these cold winter months. 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots
lentil salad with pomegranate molasses || Planting My Roots

For this recipe, pomegranate molasses' flavors beautifully complement pan-fried Brussels sprouts. Like in muhammara, walnuts also add a bit of texture and irreplaceable nutty flavor. I initially served this as part of our family's Thanksgiving spread, but I think the colors and flavors work wonderfully for any holiday table. In this case, it's not too late to try it out for Christmas! Try to sneak it in before you do something silly like give up sugar in 2018. 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots
pomegranate molasses || planting my roots
brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots

Something that's important in this recipe is making sure your frying pan is hot before you toss the sprouts in. Place the pan over a burner on medium heat and let sit. Sprinkle a bit of water into the pan. If it sizzles upon contact, you're good to add the sprouts. Just be careful not to let any hot coconut oil splatter! And one other pro-tip: If you'd like something a bit heartier, add cooked beluga lentils to the mix once your sprouts are throughly pan-fried and tossed with all the other fixings. It makes for a hearty lunch on a cold day! 

brussels sprouts with a pop of pomegranate || planting my roots

Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Molasses, Dates and Walnuts

serves 4

what you'll need - pomegranate molasses:
4 cups pomegranate juice
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

brussels sprouts:
1 pound Brussels sprouts, rinsed and chopped in half
3 tbsp coconut oil
5 large mejdool dates (approximately 1/2 cup), roughly chopped
1-2 tbsp pomegranate molasses (see recipe above)
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds (roughly 1/4 pomegranate)
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp coarse salt, plus extra to taste

what you'll do:

for pomegranate molasses (recipe adapted from Tori Avey)

  1. Pour pomegranate juice, sugar, and lemon juice into a small saucepan. 
  2. Over medium heat, bring sauce to light simmer. Whisk until sugar dissolves. Allow sauce to simmer very lightly for 60-80 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Simmer and stir until the liquid reduces by 75% to about 1 cup of molasses.
  3. The sauce is ready when it has a light syrupy consistency and coats the back of a spoon. Don't let it thicken too much, or it will harden when it cool. I always remove from heat just before I think it's just about done to be on the safe side. 

for brussels sprouts:

  1. In large microwave-safe large bowl, put 2 tbsp coconut oil. Place in microwave to melt oil (should take 15-20 seconds). Once melted, remove bowl from microwave and add sprouts, plus salt. Toss to coat sprouts evenly with oil and salt. 
  2. Place large frying pan over medium heat. Once pan is heated, toss in oil/salt coated sprouts. Add remaining 1 tbsp coconut oil and stir in to coat bottom of pan. Fry sprouts over medium-low heat for about 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning and ensure even cooking. Remove from heat once sprouts have deep brown, slightly charred exterior, but be careful not to burn.
  3. Toss hot sprouts in serving bowl. Toss in pomegranate seeds, chopped dates, roasted walnuts, and pomegranate molasses. Adjust pomegranate molasses to taste based on desired sweetness.

All the News That's Fit to Eat: Week of December 11

At first, I thought there was no real distinct theme to this week's news round-up. It spans from the childhood malnutrition crisis in Syria to the unraveling crisis of sexual harassment in professional kitchens across the country. But, I spent a lot of my week buried in the latest Global Nutrition Report. This report underscores the importance of identifying the links between our global food system, good nutrition, human rights and more. Through that lens then, an argument could be made for exploring the relationship between global hunger, and the rights and treatment of women within and beyond our food system. Addressing both issues requires thinking about broader systems of justice and equity. A world free of hunger is very much linked to a world where there is gender equality. 

On a lighter note, there's also a great episode included here on "the mysteries of olive oil," which inspired me to have my own olive oil taste test. I now regret doing this, as the more expensive olive oil was infinitely more delicious...

Women In The Kitchen Are Not Always A Sexist ClichéForbes
"The image of a woman cooking up a delicious meal in the kitchen is a cliché, often a sexist one. But, Pineapple Collaborative wants to transform that image, by creating a network of women who are combining their love of making delicious food with an entrepreneurial spirit."

A Harvey Weinstein Moment for the Restaurant Industry, New Yorker
"The long-term goal should be to get more women into positions of leadership, whether judging restaurants or running them. Those are the kinds of changes that will force a true evolution in kitchen culture, just as they will in other fields where women are underrepresented at the top. But, in the meantime, we have to keep rooting out the existing problems, one at a time, so that more women actually want to be a part of the restaurant industry in the first place."

Green Gold: Our Love Affair with Olive OilGastropod
"In this episode, Gastropod visits two groves—one in the Old World, one in the New—to get to the bottom of olive oil's many mysteries. Listen in this episode as they find out why the ancient Romans rubbed it all over their bodies, and whether the olive oil on our kitchen counters really is what it says on the label."

Child malnutrition in Syria is at an all time highFood Navigator
Childhood malnutrition in Syria is at its peak since the start of the civil war, with the most dire cases being seen in the youngest of children. This is heartbreaking and preventable.

adas polo o morgh || planting my roots

All the News That's Fit to Eat: Week of December 4

There are two pieces I am really excited to share with you today. I know it's fewer than I'd ordinarily hope to post, but I absolutely treasure both because they are bonded by being departures from the ordinary.

The first - an Instagram post from Stephen Satterfield, founder of Whetstone Magazine. He's written a recipe unlike anything I've ever seen. I keep revisiting it because of the calm that washes over me each time I read it. That line about "chill, baby chill"...it's all perfection. Stephen, if you are reading this, I will be making cornbread and reporting back. 

The second - an interview with Alice Waters. She is possibly one of the most well-chronicled advocates for eating well, and I mean that in all senses of the word - deliciously, healthfully, simply, seasonally. It was easy for me to slide into listening this thinking that I had heard Waters' story before. I was so wrong. Howie Kahn leads one of the most insightful, unexpected interviews I've ever heard. The beauty of this interview is that it doesn't feel like one at all. 

@isawstephen, Instagram
#cornbread chronicles | oven at 400 with the #castiron in it. cupa #polenta and cupa sifted flour. one teaspoon #salt, and two baking powder, for levitation power. get a second bowl for the wet. for that — melted cultured #butter, a half stick mixed with a blend of yogurt and cream, about 1.5cups. three eggs. that’s more than most cornbread recipes but I need that #richness. 2 tablespoons of #maple syrup. whisk all the wet. keep the wrist moving as you include the dry. be gentle. too much stirring is why your cornbread tastes like rocks. Chill, Baby, chill. It’s lumpy, but don’t be afraid. Things are always changing. Pull the skillet and add butter. That sizzle make you giggle. Pour in the batter. Set your phone for 25 min. Do the dishes and drink wine. Make honey butter. Just like it sounds. Your alarm went off. It’s ready. Please enjoy and report back. 

Alice WatersPrince Street Radio podcast
Alice Waters has run her legendary Berkeley, California restaurant, Chez Panisse, for 46 years. But how did she become the crusader she is today? In an intimate interview with Prince Street's Howie Kahn, hear how Waters, an accomplished activist, turned timidity into tireless strength, how she's learned to follow her instincts, what frightens her and motivates her, what still intimidates her and who absolutely does not. All that, plus the secrets to a perfect salad and one of our sweetest Madeleine Moments yet.

chez panisse || planting my roots