Archive for the ‘fun things’ Category

Well folks, it’s over!!  Last Sunday I completed the New York City Half Marathon.  I was happy before (here with my friend Laura):

And still smiling after the finish (here with my friends Jeanne, Andy, Danielle, and Katie and with my parents):

My training paid off and my run was really enjoyable and energizing thanks to the support of my family and friends.  But boy have I been feeling the need to relax and catch up on the bits and pieces of life that slipped through the cracks during the weeks leading up to the race.  In short, I’ve been a busy bee these days!  I haven’t much felt like cooking elaborate meals and doing the tremendous dish washing that entails.  Simple dinners and soups (I made weeks ago and put in the freezer) have lately been playing a starring role in my kitchen.

Although I love making things from scratch and using fresh, local, healthy ingredients it’s always more of an ideal, an event that occurs a few times a week, than a daily reality.  I rarely cook every single night of the week and I probably wouldn’t want to!  I don’t really know anyone who does–unless they are a chef or they don’t work full time.

My mom is a wonderful cook who somehow managed to work and cook several times a week for her family of four.  We ate dinner together every single night and now that I’m on my own and trying to work and cook for myself, I can scarcely imagine how she juggled everything!  I’ve taken on several of her recipes and tips over time but I recently asked her to refresh my memory of our “daily dinners”, the simple things we ate that tasted special just because we were together.  Here is what she said:

When you were little, usually one night a week we had spaghetti, sometimes meatballs, and we’d get 2 nights out of that, with a big loaf of Italian bread.  We also had French toast often, kind of a ‘breakfast for dinner’ theme, or pancakes and a side of applesauce.  I know we had the oven cheese fondue at least once every 2 weeks, cause you loved it.  If I had left over baked potatoes, we’d have omelettes and I’d dice the potatoes and make homefries.  Tacos were very popular with you guys, although if you remember you did not eat veggies back in the day, so you mostly had meat and lots of shredded cheese!  On Friday nights, we often had scrambled eggs and toast, or grilled cheese sandwiches – I always tried to work in a fruit or veggie side but there was a picky eater who shall go unnamed (look in the mirror) who made nutritionally balanced meals somewhat challenging!

I couldn’t help but laugh very loudly, remembering what an incredibly picky eater I was!!  I’m sure my eating habits didn’t make it any easier for her to make healthy meals for the family.  I’m glad I turned out alright despite the fact that I refused to eat anything green up through my teens!

So here are some tips, passed from my mom and from me, to ease that ever-present question, “what am I going to eat for dinner?”:

-In my kitchen, as in my mom’s, cooking soups and stews are a weekly winter ritual.  They are perfect because unlike other dishes, they reheat beautifully.  Right after eating my dinner helping, I put some into containers for my week’s lunches and save some for the freezer.  Then when I don’t feel like cooking, I always have a delicious soup ready to be defrosted!

-Don’t underestimate the power of the carb+veggie+protein formula.  If you don’t feel like leaving the house for special ingredients or you don’t want to scour a cookbook for the perfect recipe, just use what you have. For example: if you have leftover rice (carb), a can of chickpeas (protein), a can of stewed tomatoes (veg), and pine or walnuts (protein), you can make an easy rice pilaf.  Mix it all up and throw in some spices to taste (cumin, tumeric, red pepper), some raisins or currants, and add any extra veggies you have such as cooked carrots or greens on top.  Heat it all up in a pan.  I did this the other night, and it turned out deliciously:

-Fall in love with your freezer!  Say you decide to make some pizza dough, why not double or triple it?  If you make pancakes, double that batter as well and then you can have breakfast for dinner any night of the week! The possibilities are endless…

-Eggs are highly underrated for dinner by Americans.  In France it is very common to eat omelettes for dinner–actually they are not breakfast food at all!  And think about it–you’ve got your protein right there, with fresh veggies folded in and topped with a little cheese.  A fruit salad on the side makes it a delightful meal.  All of that can be made in a snap.

-And of course, I always fall back on old reliable, the tortilla/wrap.  I try to always have some whole wheat or multi-grain tortillas in my fridge.  Often, I’ll have sauteed some veggies before just to have on hand (such as red peppers, onions, and spinach).  On half the tortialla, I spread refried beans, sauteed veggies, and shredded cheese.  I fold it in half, stick it in a warm oven and in about 10 minutes, I’m ready to go with (healthier than takeout) quesadillas.  It helps to always have salsa on hand too.

So what’s your go-to simple dinner?  I hope these tips inspire you to build up your stress-free dinner repertoire!  Enjoy!!


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San Francisco

No city invites the heart to come to life as San Francisco does.  Arrival in San Francisco is an experience in living. –William Saroyan

A while back I mentioned something about my trip to San Francisco.  Well I got back from that trip over a month ago now, but as cold, rainy weather stretches out before us here in NYC, I thought it would be nice to revisit the trip to keep my spirits up.

Four New Yorkers left New York with spirits wearied and worn ragged from the snow and ice that has defined this winter, however, the SF weather could not have been more compliant.  After a few days of sunshine and warmth on our skin, we left with a lightness in our beings.  Actually I’m not sure whether this change was due to the weather or the healthy doses of laughter that filled the spaces between our constant conversation.

When you see a dear friend after being apart—even if you have talked on the phone or emailed—the time during a visit seems to be measured not in minutes or hours but in laughter and chatter and hugs.  It seemed like we never stopped laughing!  Ceaselessly we went on about the sun, our surroundings, the sun, the food we ate, the coffee we drank (did I mention the sun?).  We made up for lost time and then some.

Also when visiting a dear friend, every minute is precious and so sleep is the first to go, sacrificed in the name of friendship.  Accordingly, we shook off our jet lag and tiredness and with enough caffeine it didn’t make a difference anyway.  I am so pleased to say that I had more fun than I had anticipated.  For me, the success of a vacation is measured just as much in the food I eat as it is in the sights I see.

If I want to transport myself right back to San Francisco, all I need to do is think about the nachos and burritos we ate in the Mission or the amazing latte and cookie I had in the Sunset (Heather’s neighborhood) at Double Trouble café.

I can’t think of the beach by her apartment without thinking also of Java Beach café and how much the iced coffee and bagels hit the spot.  Of course there was also the incredible brunch at Park Chow (blueberry pancakes) and the vegetable noodle soup and dumplings in Chinatown.

I’ll never think of Berkeley without thinking of the gorgeous Thai place where we had lunch, sitting in the sun on a deck over looking the busy student-filled streets.  We had Thai iced tea and pad Thai and then for dessert (!!!) stopped at a recently opened ice cream cookie sandwich place.

And of course, no visit to California is complete without a stop at In-N-Out!  This was my first time and on the advice of a friend I had a cheeseburger (yes, red meat!) animal style.  It was everything I hoped for.

But maybe the nicest food memory I have is the most simple—of making tea and toast in Heather’s kitchen every morning at breakfast.  The windows were wide open, letting in air that was heavy with moisture and an oceany smell, making the kitchen a comfortable place to enjoy toast with guava jam and Tillamook cheese and black tea sweetened with the honey Heather’s uncle makes.

Until spring comes to New York, I’ll be longing for the feelings I had when we all were walking around at dinner time most days, planning out our next meal. Picture this: Palm trees and murals and bright lights.  A hint of the ocean in the air. The certainty that good food and good drinks are just around the corner.  As the sun goes down, your skin feels sun-kissed and warm and lovely in contrast to the cooling air.  You don’t want the moment to end and so you squeeze every last bit of enjoyment you can from the sun, turning your face to the light and holding on tightly.

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What was 2010?

I know I’m not the only one out there who can’t believe that 2010 has passed and we are entering into a whole new year.  There is a sort of melancholy about the end of the year.  Of course December 31 and January 1 are just two more days on the calendar, however, they do provide time and space to reflect a little on life.  This time around, I just kept asking myself “what was 2010?”.  In recent years, I’ve graduated from college, finished a post-grad volunteer program, moved back to New York, finished a graduate program…in other words, I’ve hit some very clear cut milestones on this path of mine.  But 2010 was a little different, I’m settled in my same city, same apartment, same job.  So when I posed the question to myself, “what was 2010?”, I meant what have I accomplished, what have I done, how have I grown?  I decided to look through my calendar, my blog, my pictures and here is what I found (roughly in chronological order):

I went to Vermont with friends.  It was snowy and cold but starkly beautiful and a wonderful change from the city.

I traveled to visit my dear friend Carin who lives in Cincinnati.  She is a kindred spirit, one of those rare souls I am so fortunate to have in my life. We toured the city, played with her dogs and ate chili dogs!

I made a bag of plastic bags.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Alas, it is still not totally finished!

I went to Boston to visit friends and the after school program I worked for.  Lilacs (my favorite!) were in full bloom at the arboretum.

I made this beautiful soup, Springtime Minestrone, that I forgot to blog about!  Really it is lovely and I intend to make it this spring so hopefully I will share it then.

I took this beautiful picture of tulips somewhere but now I cannot remember where–maybe in Boston but maybe at the Botanical Garden here in New York.

I climbed Mount Washington with my Dad.  We had so much fun!  What an incredible challenge.

I grew an abundant garden with my garden partner Tiffany.  It was such a hot summer but we had success in a lot of our plants, especially the cucumbers!

Book club turned one year old!  We are still going strong despite the fact that I haven’t written much about our meetings.  What a great group of women.

Dublin the boxer puppy arrived in our lives!  My sister’s pup is a sweetheart who frequently gets into trouble but quickly gets out of punishment because of her spirit and good looks.

I went to Maine.

I went more than once.  I believe you can have many homes and this is one of mine.  Heaven.

I went to Chicago for work.  I toured the city and ate lots of nice dinners and enjoyed my own company.

We had roaches.  We took action.  We won!  (For now at least.)

I discovered that there are still wild, untouched places on the island of Manhattan.

I concocted an ambitious and crazy plan to travel around Europe.  I did it (with my travel buddy).  I went to Romania.  I got to know more types of trains and stations than I knew existed.  I went to Amsterdam and fell head over heels, I just plain cheated on my other love, New York.  I spent time in Germany with my best friend and coveted the pretzels, beer, and pace of life.

I said goodbye to Heather: roommate, travel buddy, confidant and true friend.

I ran a 10k race and signed up to run the 1/2 marathon in March.  Crazy but crazy for a good cause.

I spent countless wonderful days with my family.  Festive holidays, simple quiet days, always good days, always love.

I enjoyed Christmas in New York.  Sometimes it’s a stressful time to live here but if you play your cards right, it can be the most amazing.

2010 was many many more moments, meals, memories than this page can contain.  But these are the highlights.  Perhaps the end of the year is a time for melancholic nostalgia, however, it is also the perfect time to cultivate gratitude for all the was, all that is, and all that (with any luck) is to be.  Here is a nice reminder about gratitude:

Mindfulness of gratitude leads to a direct experience of being connected to life – to the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding.

Happy New Year!  Here’s to 2011.

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Definition of WONDERMENT

1: a cause of or occasion for wonder
2: astonishment, surprise
3: curiosity about something

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  When I was small, although I enjoyed December because it promised presents and cookies and staying up late, I mostly loved this season because the air seemed heavy with mystery and magic and wonder.

The reality of the adult December is often the whirlwind of holiday shopping, the onslaught of corporate messages reducing the holiday to dollar signs, the stress of pleasing friends and relatives, the overeating of treats, etc, etc, etc!  All of this can slowly drain December of any trace childlike wonderment.

So what are you doing this month to take back December?  A while ago, I decided that the specter of “The Holiday Season” would only overshadow the beauty of this month if I allowed it!  Though many of us cannot shirk the responsibilities of present buying or cookie baking, we can all take a bit of time to slow down, turn inward, and perform a little self-care.  When was the last time you took a deep breath and felt a sense of wonder about life?  Now is the time!

Here are some things that are helping me maintain a sense of wonder through this entire month, I hope they inspire you:


Nourish yourself, body and soul

I just wrote this post on Circle of Food about my love for soup-making this time of year.  Now is the time to make sure you are eating healthfully.  Holiday shopping and low blood sugar do not mix!  I am a big fan of Christmas cookies and treats, but at mealtime I like to fill my belly with hot soups.  It not only fuels my body but it seems to nourish my mind and soul!  Enjoy the lentil soup recipe I wrote about–it freezes really well so you can make a double batch and have the rest on hand for later.


Spend time with friends, but take the stress out of the equation

My roommates and I threw a Hanukkah party.  Although we did prepare quite a spread of food, we asked friends to provide the drinks.  This took some of the stress out of it.  We had a wonderful time and enjoyed the company of great people.

Here are Danielle and Caitlin preparing latkes!

Latkes are time intensive, but well worth it!

Mmm, cupcakes!  Danielle brought out her battery operated menorah–nicknamed Manny the menorah 🙂  She also said the prayers over real candles in her other menorah.

Here we are with friends from our building who just had a baby!

Take time to meditate in the company of candles or the lights from a Christmas tree

For many years of apartment living, I have had a teeny tiny fake tree.  The other morning, I was passing the bodega on our corner and I smelled the beautiful scent of freshly cut trees.  There were several for sale, just waiting for a loving home.  I decided then and there that I would buy one and put it up in our apartment.

Why postpone happiness?  A simple thing like a real tree has brought me so much joy in the short time I’ve had it up.  I was a little worried that I didn’t have many ornaments, but I soon discovered that there were several decorations around the house I could hang on the tree.  For instance, I had some Tibetan prayer flags and some angels that are hanging on my wall and I am using those as ornaments.  Though they aren’t traditional looking, they are beautiful nonetheless.  I also cut out some stars from cardboard and covered them in tinfoil and hung those on the tree.

Isn’t it a beautiful little tree?  I’m trying to spend at least five minutes in the quiet with the twinkly lights every day from now until January.  If you do the same, I guarantee you will find some December serenity.  I like to use that time to cultivate gratitude for all the good things going on in life.

Relive or recreate some of your favorite December childhood memories

The other night, I went to see New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker.  The crowded theater was packed with smiling faces.  Although many of those faces belonged to lucky children, there were countless adults of all ages who wanted to relive (or experience for the first time) a classic holiday experience.  Here we are outside the theater:

And inside the theater:

I’ve also been trying to enjoy as many Christmas movies as possible!



Wherever you are, I hope something here has inspired you to take a little time today to cultivate December wonderment.



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 “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” Dorothy Day

I may have mentioned in past posts that my friend and roommate Heather has been preparing to leave NYC for the Peace Corps in Latin America (with a stop in her hometown of San Francisco).   A week ago, she left the city, a place where she has lived for the last 8 years and the environment in which (in her own words) she has grown from a girl to a woman.  I feel so blessed to have had Heather as a roommate over the past two plus years.  She sure is a whirlwind of energy—a force of nature, as I like to say.  You know those people who are full of big dreams and wishes and idealism but never really seem to know how to set out to accomplish them?  Well my dear friend is definitely not one of them!  I’m excited for her to begin this new chapter and I can’t wait to see the adventures and excitement that await her.
My other roommate Danielle and I threw Heather a going away party for friends, but to say goodbye to our little Bronx community, we did something that felt special but not out of the ordinary.  A few days before she left, we hosted Heather’s last community dinner.  As we try to do almost every week, friends from our building and neighborhood gathered together to eat, drink, and talk.  We shared stories from work, commented on politics and issues in the neighborhood, talked about spouses and children and the babies we are waiting to meet (there is a bit of a baby boom in the building).  In short, we were present to each other for a few blissful hours.  A few things we did were a little bit out of the ordinary for community dinner though—we toasted Heather and she toasted us.  
It was very moving and I can’t think of a better way to formally close out Heather’s time at Rochambeau.
For the farewell dinner, we decided to make pizza.  Heather cannot eat gluten and she had some gluten free pizza mix lying around just begging to be made.  For those who can eat gluten, I made the with-gluten dough.  Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I have to say that this was the best dough recipe I’ve ever made!   I’m not the one who stretched it our baked it—we delegated tasks and I was assigned to putting the dough together.  So I can only take credit for finding the recipe and mixing up the ingredients, but this one is a winner that I will use over and over!
I found this recipe on 101cookbooks.com, my old standby site, but I was pleased to read that this is actually based off a recipe in The Breadbaker’s Apprentice, a book my mom got me almost a year ago!  So it comes from my favorite recipe website and a beloved book, all rolled into one!
The recipe via 101cookbooks (from Peter Reinhart’s book):

White Whole Wheat Pizza Dough Recipe

This is a very adapted version of Peter Reinhart’s dough using white whole wheat flour. There are a few corners that I’m in the habit of cutting with this dough, all reflected in the following recipe instructions.

4 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups water, ice cold
a few tablespoons chopped herbs (optional)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in the bowl of an electric mixer. By hand stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed. Add the herbs. Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl (to me it looks like a tornado). Add a touch of water or flour to reach the desired effect. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky.
Transfer the dough to a floured countertop. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces and mold each into a ball. Rub each ball with olive oil and slip into plastic sandwich bags. Refrigerator overnight.
When you are ready to make pizza (anytime in the next few days), remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator at least 1 hour before making the pizza. Keep them covered so they don’t dry out.
At the same time place a baking stone on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees (you can go hotter, but I like the results I get at 450). If you do not have a baking stone, you can use the back of a sheet pan, but do not preheat the pan.
Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal and get ready to shape your pizza dough. Uncover or unwrap the dough balls and dust them with flour. Working one at a time, gently press a dough round into a disk wide enough that you can bring it up onto your knuckles to thin out – you should be able to pull each round out to 12-inches or so. If the dough is being fussy and keeps springing back, let it rest for another 15-20 minutes. Place the pulled-out dough on the prepared sheet pan, and jerk the pan to make sure the dough will move around on the cornmeal ball-bearings (you don’t want it to stick to the pan).
Add your toppings (less is more!) and slide the topped pizza onto the baking stone. Bake until the crust is crisp and nicely colored. Remove from the oven. I always finish with more freshly grate parmesan and a small drizzle of good quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Makes six 6-ounce pizza crusts.
And some pictures!

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“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” Cesare Pavese

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” Jack Kerouac

 “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Mark Twain

 “He who does not travel does not know the value of men.” Moorish Proverb

 “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” Freya Stark

“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” William Least Heat Moon

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”  Clifton Fadiman

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” Mark Jenkins

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” Bill Bryson


Here I am, back on solid ground and just starting to feel reacquainted with my New York life. There is a lot that has been said about traveling, much of it probably more eloquent than any words I can put together at 11 on a Monday night.  Those quotes and the few pictures (of many!) express a lot of the emotions I feel when thinking about the trip I took.

But how can I describe in words that feeling of sitting outside in a cafe in Amsterdam?  The heat of the sun shining on my face, the sounds of the nearby canal, the taste of the cappuccino I’m drinking….haven’t I experienced almost all of this before? But somehow it is not the same elsewhere.  Somehow it’s more magical, more special.

I kept a journal while we were going from place to place and I can tell you that there were two themes to all my entries. 

One, the people.  Traveling makes you vulnerable and no matter how prepared you are, you will still find yourself in need of help at some point (or many points!) during your trip.  Allowing yourself to be open to the beautiful kindness of strangers (even if you can barely understand one another) has got to be hands down the the most important, and rewarding, skill to cultivate.  The vibrant cast of characters we met along the way is what I will cherish most about the experience.  From the older Romanian man who hung out in my and Heather’s train cabin having a very one-sided but lovely conversation in Romanian with us, to the Peace Corps volunteer who let us shower at her apartment because we didn’t have a shower at our room in the orphanage, to the fun French, German, Spanish, British people we had dinner with at various guest houses and hostels, to the children and nurses at the orphanage who touched my heart, and the countless kind hearted souls who gave us directions in all different languages, the trip would have been half as wonderful if it weren’t for the generosity of so many human beings!

Two, FOOD!  Though Heather and I had a rough few days food-wise while at the orphanage (we had no kitchen and had to eat in odd Romanian restaurants), overall I’ve never eaten better in my life.  The trip reignited my love for mamaliga–the Romanian staple of corn mush (kind of like polenta), German pretzels (and bread, and beer, and chocolate), and English tea.  Heather and I got to sample real, home cooked Romanian food when we stayed at a guesthouse in the mountains.  We even got to see the farm where lots of the food was produced (and perhaps a cousin to one of the animals we were eating, but I won’t go into details!).  In a few of the hostels, Heather and I got to cook together and enjoy all the comforts of a home kitchen.

So there it is–no matter where you go, the two most important things in life truly are people and food. 

One last thing I wanted to note, I’ve been quite busy lately getting back into the swing of things ( I’d really like to get back into posting on a regular basis) so I missed the opportunity to say……..happy first anniversary to the blog!  I can’t believe it’s been a year.  I’ve really enjoyed this project of mine, regardless of who continues to follow loyally, I love reflecting back on the fun things I’ve done and I think it’s special to document so that I have it for the future.  And, just in time for the 1 year mark, last week our CSA delivery from the week prior was still hanging around, starting to wilt away in the fridge.  Thinking back to about a year ago, I remembered making a yummy “everything but the kitchen sink” type of soup.  I decided to make it again and then saw that indeed, it was almost a year to the day that I made this soup!

Thanks for taking this blog journey with me, I love having you along for the ride.

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“Life is partly what we make it and partly it is made by the friends we choose.”

I had a fabulous time in Cincinnati.  Although the last leg consisted of canceled flights, plane de-icing, and taking a train instead of a plane at one point, I refuse to let the craziness of the journey home color the wonderful extended weekend I had.  What a joy to spend time with Carin, Chris, her parents, and their animals.  It was a nice mix of relaxing and sightseeing and of course, there was plenty of eating!!  Remember when I said I rarely eat meat? That went right out the window, especially since I had to try the famous Skyline chili.  Oh and of course trying it meant eating it on top of a mini-hot dog.  I can’t remember the last time I had one of those, but laden with meaty chili and cheese, it tasted pretty good!  Here I am, eating a “Coney” (after coney island I believe).

I decided to make chili tonight not only to honor Cincinnati, but because while I was there, Carin gave me her friend Kate’s fabulous recipe for vegetarian chili which Kate made while I was visiting St. Louis a few years back.  I’ve honestly had that chili in the back of my head since then.  There are just countless recipes for chili–I’ve made oodles of different versions over time but I’ve never truly loved a recipe.  I think this particular recipe will become my go to chili recipe because it is so unique.  Also, I made some cornbread that I’ve been wanting to try from 101 cookbooks called “Firecraker Cornbread” which I have eaten before but never made.
Both recipes are fairly straightforward.  Follow the above link to find Heidi Swanson’s cornbread.  I followed it as is, except I didn’t have buttermilk on hand (who ever does??!!) so I substituted plain yogurt.  You’ll just fall in love with it–yes, Jiffy mix is super easy, but this bread isn’t all that difficult and the taste is worth it!  
And here is Kate’s recipe…..you need to play around with the spices a lot since it’s not exact.  The spice amounts listed here are a starting point–play around with it and add more as you go and according to what your tastes are.  OH! and also there is a secret to the recipe–beer.  Today all I had in the fridge was Sam Adams Cherry Wheat (which actually tastes nice) but you can use whatever you like.
(Yes that is basil from my Mom’s garden, bottled with love)
Kate’s Great Chili:
3 celery stalks
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper   
2 medium onions
a bunch of garlic
First chop up everything and saute them in a little oil in the bottom of a big soup pot.  When they look like they’re getting soft, add the following to the pot:
2 16 oz. cans of dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
2 16oz. cans of white (great northern) beans, drained and rinsed
2 32 oz. cans of chopped tomatoes
2 tsp cumin
3 tbsp. chili powder
dash cayenne pepper
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
2 bay leaves
1/4 c cider vinegar
 Let this mixture simmer with the lid on for about an hour and a half, then add a can or bottle of beer, and simmer for half an hour more.  Throw in some whole cashews just before you serve it, as well as some cheddar cheese.

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