Saturday, July 28, 2012

A Single Serving of Tuscan Shrimp with White Beans

"How are you still single?" He asks as we lay sideways on the bed staring up at the ceiling.

The question hovers above us as I consider how to answer, my mind flashing back to all the times I've answered it before. To the well-meaning friends who just can't believe a "cool girl like me" doesn't have a boyfriend. To the drunk uncle at a wedding who corners me by the bar, sloshing the contents of his glass of scotch on my strappy sandals. To the stranger at the bar who can't figure out "what's wrong with me" beyond my reluctance to go home with the first thing that buys me a drink (him).

I find myself shrugging my shoulders (a challenging thing to do while lying down), and mumbling something about being "busy" and "picky." It comes out something like, "I'm bicky."

He seems to understand.

I tug at a loose thread on my sundress as I listen to his reasons for being unattached.

He just moved here. He works a lot. It's hard to meet people in LA.

The cliches pile up next to us like a stack of neatly folded t-shirts at the Gap. They make sense. They are easy to say. They are easy to hear. They don't make either of us want to leap for the door and see what else is out there sipping a Habanero margarita by the pool.

It's a silly question and the answers we give are equally moronic and uninteresting. I know what I want to say, I know what's idling on my tongue like a motorcycle stopped at a light.

"I haven't met the right person yet."

It stays there on my tongue as we move on to talk about our favorite movies (he likes "Last of the Mohicans," I favor "Good Will Hunting"), tattoos (neither of us have one), and our morning rituals.

I don't know why I can't say it. I don't know why I can tell him that I like to eat quinoa with strawberries for breakfast and that I go to church on Sundays and that I actually like top 40 music and not in an ironic way, and not let myself be the other kind of vulnerable. The vulnerable that admits that I haven't found the right person, giving air to the underlying clause that accompanies it. That I'm secretly hoping he might be right -- if even just for four dates before we go our separate ways into the Los Angeles ether.

And so it goes unsaid. Left for the next time I'm accosted at a wedding by a drunken uncle, hounded at a bar by Cro-Magnon man, or pitied by the guy at the Whole Foods seafood counter when I request only four wild shell-on shrimp to make this dish.

Tuscan Shrimp with White Beans
Adapted from Michael Chiarello via Food Network
Serves 1

Notes: The beautiful thing about this dish is that it can be easily adapted to make however many servings are necessary - even a single serving for the gal who can't commit to making more than enough for one meal. I made quite a few changes to the original recipe, adding kale, using dried beans rather than canned, and changing up the procedure and quantities to my personal tastes. The integrity of the flavors, however, remains intact - a beautiful marriage of earthy beans with sweet summer tomatoes sharpened by the salinity of the shrimp.

Feel free to improvise as you see fit - with sausage instead of the shrimp, or topped off with a poached egg for a vegetarian entree. I do have to insist on the use of dried beans, fresh basil and in-season tomatoes. Because it is a simple dish, the quality of the ingredients are key in making it shine.

1/4 cup dried Great Northern white beans
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/4 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 vine-ripened tomato
1 cup chopped kale
4 wild, shell-on shrimp
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt, freshly ground pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces

Soak white beans in two cups of water and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to even 24 hours (change the water if you plan on soaking that long!). Soaking the beans will not only reduce the cooking time, but also allow for more even cooking and some say noticeably less stomach discomfort after consuming. Drain the beans and rinse well.

Bring two cups of water to a boil in a small pot, add the beans, then cover and simmer until the beans are just starting to soften. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, then continue cooking until tender.  Drain any leftover liquid and set aside. (Note: Cooking time will vary depending on how long you soak the beans -- it took around an hour and a half for mine to cook after soaking them for 8 hours.) 

Heat a frying pan (I used my cast-iron skillet) over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the onion and saute for 5-7 minutes over medium heat until lightly browned and tender. Add the chopped tomato, half the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Simmer together for 5 minutes, then add the white beans, kale and half the basil, and continue simmering over low heat while you prepare the shrimp.

Clean and de-shell and de-vein the shrimp. Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the shrimp, remaining garlic, lemon zest, salt to taste, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Saute for 1-2 minutes.

Heap the bean mixture in the center of a rounded plate/bowl, then place the shrimp around the edges. Garnish with the remaining basil.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Diana Takes a New Wallet (and the Granny Panties of All Billfolds)

"Is that your wallet?" The high pitch of her squeal clangs against the background noise of the restaurant, ricocheting off the empty bowls that had once held pasta and piercing through intimate conversations between couples sharing half-melted scoops of olive oil gelato.

I glance down at my oversized wallet that she's appraising with the look of a mother about to scold her daughter for chewing with her mouth open.

"What's wrong with it?" I ask as I shove my credit card back into one of the 17 different slots for cards. 

She inhales slowly as though she doesn't even know where to begin. I can see the mental list of offenses she's ticking off in her head as she continues to observe the graying pink leather with a stern eye. I instinctively cover the wallet with a protective hand.   

"Don't tell me you took that... thing out on your date!" She finally exhales as she tucks her steamlined black power wallet back into her bag.

I pause, considering.

"What's wrong with it?" I ask again, telling myself that my wallet couldn't possibly be the reason why a guy wouldn't call me. Could it?

"It's huuuuuge!" She shrieks before I have time to guard myself for her response.

"What are all those cards?!" She continues, jutting an accusatory finger across the table.

I rattle down the rows, "Err... my Blockbuster card, my CVS card, an expired Banana Republic credit card, my BevMo club card, a Bed Bath & Beyond gift card..."

"WHY DO YOU NEED A BED, BATH & BEYOND GIFT CARD?" To her this is a far graver offense than having a Blockbuster card after the year 1995.

"I don't know..." I respond sheepishly, suddenly wondering if it's weird that I have a Sprinkles Cupcake gift card and Native Foods club card in there also.

"That's it, I'm getting you a new wallet," She declares with finality. "Don't take that thing out anymore."

I think she's half-joking until the next week when I get an email from her asking when I'm free. She's bought me a new "summer wallet" and needs to give it to me immediately so I can cease carrying around the granny panties of all billfolds. The reason why I must still be single (more on that later).

"Now go clean out all those receipts and candy wrappers and stray quarters," She instructs as she slips the slim black Barney's New York box into my outstretched hand. "NO BED BATH & BEYOND GIFT CARD!"

"But what if I need to buy a new shower curtain?" I protest, momentarily paralyzed by the thought.

She shoots me a warning look, her lips poised in a tight knot. I half expect her to start counting to 10 before punishing me with a time out.

Shamed into silence, I nod obediently, and peel back the tissue paper to reveal the grown-up wallet that she's convinced will change my relationship status on Facebook. It's an electric shade of pink with a polka-dot lining, and contains only 8 slots for cards. Streamlined and efficient. Practical with personality.


If this works out, I may let her overhaul my OkCupid dating profile next.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Miso Tahini Kale with Wild Rice and Sesame-crusted Tofu: The perks of not being "busy"

I was mad.

"Who are you to judge me?" I thought as I read and reread Tim Kreider's now-famous op-ed column, "The 'Busy' Trap" in the New York Times. My friends had been "liking" and sharing and quoting the article on Facebook all morning as though it was authored by their first born.

They were so proud of Tim. So excited to post it on their profile pages as if to say, "Look at me! I'm not busy! I'm awesome -- just like Tim! Let's all hold hands and go 'drink chilled pink minty cocktails all day long.'"

My stomach clenched every time someone new chimed in with their "attaboy" attitude.

To me it felt like an indictment. Like Tim was shining a light on me, exposing everything I do and say when "I'm busy. So busy. Crazy busy."

Essentially, exactly how I've been feeling every moment of every day for the past 4 months -- Palm Springs notwithstanding.

Tim's words lingered in the back of my mind that Sunday night as I mentally ran through the week ahead. The pitches I needed to follow up on first thing in the morning, the monthly reports that I needed to review, the dinner the next evening with friends, the gym and Bar Method workouts I needed to squeeze in before work each day, the curried quinoa salad I was making for a 4th of July potluck, a good friend's birthday party the day after... plus all the personal emails that I hadn't had time to respond to the past week -- each one an accusation demonstrating how terrible of a friend I've become because "I'm busy. So busy. Crazy busy."

Anger thrashed through my veins.
I wanted nothing more than to cut that giant pile of obligations and responsibilities in half, culling it down to the things I actually wanted to do, the friends I truly wanted to see.

I wanted to be like Tim and go for a long bike ride (or, more accurately, a long run by the beach). I wanted to wake up at a reasonable hour. I wanted to sip my tea and eat my yogurt and granola each morning without one hand gripped around my Droid, frantically checking work emails and Google alerts. I wanted to finish Tina Fey's Bossypants in two days because I had nothing better to do but sit outside in the sun, sipping rooibos petal iced tea and basking in the hilarity of her shag haircut.

For the next two weeks, I ruminated on it -- flashing back and forth between sadness that I didn't have the time or energy to "have one more beer with Chris, another long talk with Megan, one last good hard laugh with Boyd;" and paranoia that despite my best efforts to be authentic in all my interactions that I was coming across exactly like the subject of Tim's article. Someone who wears her business on her sleeve as though it's a badge of honor.

The truth is I like being busy, but only to a certain extent. The 13 days I spent unemployed this past March were torture for me. While I loved staying out till midnight drinking sparkling wine on a weeknight, loved going to Bar Method workouts in the middle of the day, and felt more rested than I have in years, I missed having a purpose. Even if that purpose was and continues to be relatively trivial and unimportant.

What I don't want to be is so busy, so driven in that purpose that I miss out on life -- on spontaneous trips to Palm Springs, on Rosé-fueled conversations with girl friends, on "The Bachelorette" finale. You know, the things that really matter.

Last Saturday afternoon, as I stretched out on my bed with my laptop tuned to Bon Iver's Pandora station with no discernible plans for the evening, it finally hit me why people were so excited about Tim's article.

It wasn't because Tim was thumbing his nose at anyone who has ever declared, "I'm busy. So busy. Crazy busy."

It was because he was giving us permission to not be busy.  

That day I let myself embrace a few precious hours when I didn't have to be anything to anyone. I lay in bed reading food blogs and writing. I danced around my apartment to "Call Me Maybe." And, in the absence of mental chaos and obligation, I had the creative energy to come up with a new recipe -- that didn't involve quinoa.

Miso Tahini Kale with Wild Rice and Sesame-crusted Tofu
Serves 2

Notes: This recipe was inspired by the Miso Tahini Dressing recently featured on The Kitchn. I played around with the proportions of the ingredients in the dressing a bit, and used white miso instead of red, but jumped on Sara's recommendation to massage it into kale. To make it more of a meal, I tossed it with wild rice and topped it with finger-like pieces of sesame-crusted tofu. I didn't miss the quinoa one bit.

1/2 cup wild rice, rinsed
6 ounces extra-firm tofu, sliced into 1/2 inch-thick cutlets
1 egg
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 teaspoons olive oil
3-4 cups raw kale, shredded

Miso Tahini Dressing

1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons white miso
1 tablespoon lemon juice
 2 tablespoons warm water

In a medium sized pot bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Add the wild rice, lower the heat, then simmer, covered, until tender, yet still slightly toothsome (approximately 45-60 minutes). Set aside.

While the rice cooks, prepare the dressing. In a small bowl whisk together the tahini, miso, lemon juice, and water. The dressing will thicken as it sits, so you may need to add additional water.

Set up mise en place for the tofu. In a small bowl, whisk together egg with soy sauce.  Place sesame seeds in a flat bowl. Dredge the tofu cutlets with flour, shaking off any excess. 

Heat large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan.

Dip each tofu cutlet in the egg-soy mixture, then coat both sides with the sesame seeds.

Place the tofu cutlets in the pan, lowering the heat to medium to ensure the sesame seeds don't burn.  Cook for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown.  Remove from pan and slice into 1/2 inch thick strips. 

Place shredded kale in a large bowl. Drizzle with half the dressing, then massage the dressing into the kale until the kale becomes silky in consistency (approximately 1-2 minutes).  Toss in the wild rice and the remaining dressing, stirring until well combined. 

Divide kale-wild rice mixture between two plates. Top with pieces of sesame-crusted tofu.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Cumin-spiced Quinoa Salad: Recapturing spontaneity

"I'm in if you are," She said.

"I mean... I'm definitely down if you are..." I responded, hoping that my nonchalance would be interpreted as ecstatic enthusiasm - a logical conclusion.

"Let's do it!" Ashley typed back immediately.

One phone call to the Ace later, it was a done deal. We were going back to Palm Springs for the weekend -- leaving early the next morning to spend 28 hours sitting by the pool sipping our respective Hef's and IPA's and pretending the problems of our LA world didn't exist.

Because that's what one does in Palm Springs. Forget about that $300+ car payment that's due on the 27th, put the 30 flagged work emails that need addressing (now!) on hold, and dive face first into relaxation and 100 degree temperatures.

I struggled to contain my giddiness.

Not only because I'd been going through Palm Springs withdrawals since our trip in early May, not because it meant I could put off bleaching the shower that weekend, and not even because I had been dying for another excuse to wear my fedora.

I was giddy because I was finally doing something spontaneous.


The girl who spends her Sundays going to the farmers market and planning out every single meal and snack she's going to eat that week -- including the orange before Bar Method on Wednesday morning, the dark chocolate covered almonds for dessert after lunch on Thursday, and the bowl of quinoa with nectarines and walnuts for breakfast on Friday.

Plans are my personal security blankets
. I love wrapping myself up in a good to-do list -- hand-written so I can cross off every item -- and scheduling workouts and brunches and movie dates far in advance so I can fully prepare myself for the experience like I'm going on an epic vacation rather than merely for ricotta blueberry pancakes at the restaurant down the street.

Naturally I couldn't wait to tell everyone how awesomely spontaneous and anti-control freak I was being.

"I'm going to Palm Springs tomorrow!" I squealed to my coworkers, shattering the beat of their rhythmic typing.

I flapped my arms up and down to further articulate my point.

(They seemed largely unimpressed.)

While the spontaneous nature of the trip was contingent upon several factors -- namely that I didn't have any other obligations tethering me to LA that weekend -- getting into Ashley's red Prius the next morning was one of the most freeing feelings I've had this year.

It made it all the harder to come back to responsibility, list-making and meal-planning the next afternoon. So, naturally, I immediately made plans to recapture a taste of the trip that following Saturday.

Using the quinoa salad I ate at the King's Highway Diner at the Ace as inspiration, I came up with this version of the cumin-spiced affair. Outfitted with sugar plum tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley, and arugula, it's the perfect fit for a summer day -- whether it's eaten spontaneously by a pool in Palm Springs, or intentionally at a dining room table in West Hollywood.

Cumin-spiced Quinoa Salad
Inspired by King's Highway Diner at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs
Serves 4

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1- 16-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed well
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 heaping cup sugar plum or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
4 loosely packed cups of arugula

Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Bring 1 3/4 cups water to boil in a medium pot. Add the quinoa, cumin and salt. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the quinoa kernels have separated from the shells. Fluff with a fork and set aside to cool.

Heat large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add the teaspoon of olive oil, swirling to coat the base of the pan. Add the chickpeas and saute until lightly browned on all sides, approximately 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together Dijon mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, and paprika.

In a large bowl, toss quinoa with chickpeas, then add the dressing, gently stirring with a fork until evenly distributed. Add the tomatoes and parsley, gently tossing again until well-combined. Taste, and add additional salt as needed.

Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Just prior to serving, toss quinoa with arugula. Plate immediately.