Fregola with Shrimp and Tomatoes

OH, what a weird time in my life, though maybe they’ve all been weird? The point is that whatever specific space it is that I need available in order to commit to trying new recipes is so so hard to come by. Even this attempt you see here is highly fra…

OH, what a weird time in my life, though maybe they've all been weird? The point is that whatever specific space it is that I need available in order to commit to trying new recipes is so so hard to come by. Even this attempt you see here is highly fraught with almost not happening at all. But after reading through this recipe months ago, I'd already made the action step of purchasing some fregola. Then, this Sunday when I was at the butcher's, the shrimp looked so pretty. I knew we had some of Matt's chicken stock in the freezer, and so I bought the expensive shrimp and figured I could make some version of this recipe happen. Some version is key because if you compare the recipe below to the original Milk Street one, you'll see many differences. (Like, I didn't have the two bottles of clam juice. Instead, I simmered the onion in some white wine. I also used canned tomato instead of fresh and left out the carrot altogether.)
What else is going on? Well, I was almost hoodwinked into writing a pretty cheesy (figuratively) cookbook AND doing the entire marketing campaign for a very, very paltry paycheck. After they approached me for the project, and after several calls, NDA signings, and a clear promise that I was simply the hired writer, they pulled a bait-and-switch and were basically like: SORRY! On second thought, now that we're ready to go and sign this contract, we've decided it's a package deal. You have to do all the marketing toooooo. Mind you, the marketing requirements outlined in the final contract were, to put it mildly: insane.

In an attempt to communicate like a human being and not some business robot, I sent the individual I was dealing with the following message:


I'm sorry but I really don’t want to engage in the marketing. There’s a great NYT piece about the soul-crushing work that is selling your own writing / self after having written the thing and I just can’t do it for [x amount of money]. If you’re curious, here's the link: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/24/opinion/sunday/gig-economy-self-promotion-anxiety.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

Long story short: I feel super grateful that I could and did turn them down. Moving forward, I wish the company nothing but the worst. Well, I dont know if that's true--wishing them the worst--but they're stupid and bad and I can't say their name here though I wish I could.
ANYWAY. For Mom Rage, my co-host Edan booked the journalist Virginia Sole-Smith who wrote The Eating Instinct. I started the book out of duty and in order to be a good interviewer, but I tore right through it, nodding my head as I read and occasionally gasping at all of the ways we've messed things up when it comes to eating and diets and weight. At the same time, I also felt an overwhelming gratitude for this old blog, which pushed me to cook and interrogate food culture, and which eventually gave way to a kind of healing.

As they say in stand-up comedy: WELL, That's my time! See you in four to eight months?? Maybe I can pull together a gift guide...

Fregola with Shrimp and Tomatoes adapted from Milk Street

1 to 1 1/2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled (shells reserved), deveined and patted dry
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken broth
4 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
salt and pepper
1 14 or 15 oz. can chopped or crushed tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped.
1 cup fregola
lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (optional)
grated Parmesan (optional and most likely controversial for some)

In a medium stockpot, combine the shrimp shells, broth, bay, and peppercorns. Bring it to a boil and then simmer for four to five minutes, until the shrimp shells are nice and pink. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl; discard the solids int eh strainer.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large pot over medium-high (I re-used the stockpot here), heat one tablespoon of the oil until barely smoking. Add half the shrimp and cook without stirring until well browned, two to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining shrimp. 

Return the pot to medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil. Add the onion and a big pinch of salt and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the white wine and garlic and simmer until most of the liquid has cooked down.

Add the fregola and stir a few times before adding 2 cups of the shrimp broth. Bring to a simmer and then reduce to medium and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in another cup or so of the broth, return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is again absorbed, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining cup of broth and cook, stirring constantly, until the fregola is tender and creamy but not soupy, 6 to 8 minutes. 

Off heat, stir in the shrimp and juices, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, lemon juice and parsley. Cover and let stand until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. (We added grated Parmesan to our bowls and loved it.)

Hangtown Fry

Oh, hi. I’ve been having a hard time lately, and concurrently, making life difficult for those around me. Friday night, Matt said something like, “I know Bon Appétempt has run its course, but it would be nice if you had some kind of outlet, like a Sut …



Oh, hi. I've been having a hard time lately, and concurrently, making life difficult for those around me. Friday night, Matt said something like, "I know Bon Appétempt has run its course, but it would be nice if you had some kind of outlet, like a Sut Nam Bonsai." (Hi, Kara!)

I didn't think too much of it in the moment, but then the next morning, after stumbling upon someone else's horrific tragedy online, I was jolted into gratefulness. A little later in the day, I thought to myself: YEAH. IT WOULD BE NICE TO HAVE SOME KIND OF OUTLET. This thought was followed by: Why not post on Bon Appétempt?

I'd been wanting to make this ridiculous "gold-rush era" recipe called Hangtown Fry, which I discovered via that egg book I like so much. The ingredients are eggs, freshly-shucked oysters, bacon, butter, and scallions. Basically, you fry the bacon with butter (which felt like overkill). Then, you add the shucked oysters, quickly followed by the eggs and green onions.



It was delicious, although I could barely taste the oysters, which felt wrong.

I think that one of the reasons I stopped wanting to post here is because the beautiful photos of my own life began to feel saccharine or maybe just no longer representative of the truth. I DON'T KNOW. I do know that right now I could use this kind of filter. Like, I know that my life is beautiful, but for reasons I don't want to get into right now, it's been difficult to see it. Having Matt take these photos and curating them here is helping me. 

That being said, I also think it might help me to show you some of the other shite (Scottish accent), good and bad, going on in my life right now.

1. [GOOD] We're overhauling our parkway, which was previously just an area where grass was slowly dying.

It's not done yet. We're getting two tons of crushed granite (plus a boulder or two!) delivered on Thursday, but I'm very excited about this development. Admittedly, Matt's done the bulk of the work, but I HAVE DONE SOME OF IT TOO.

2. [GOOD] We got some worms and started a worm bin. I love it so much. They've been eating all of our vegetable scraps and soon we'll have enough of their poop to use as compost in our garden.
3. [GOOD AND BAD?] I had to get a fucking biopsy on my thyroid. I hated the entire process of it, BUT AM BEYOND GRATEFUL TO REPORT THAT I DON'T HAVE CANCER.
No one asked me about my fears and anxieties.
4. [BAD] Teddy fell off the headboard of our bed (which he shouldn't have been standing on) and landed face-first on the corner of the bedside table. 
5. [BAD] I broke my goddamn finger at gymnastics.
6. IT'S OK. I'm super lucky.

Teddy and Isaac / Time Marches On

Though I’ve been neglecting this space in favor of other pursuits, I couldn’t not post Matt’s yearly video of the kids. Spoiler: Isaac falls in love with a goat.  Hope you all are well!


Though I've been neglecting this space in favor of other pursuits, I couldn't not post Matt's yearly video of the kids. Spoiler: Isaac falls in love with a goat. 

Hope you all are well!

Cake & Carnitas | Teddy & Isaac

Just a quick post to share these great photos Matt took from Teddy’s birthday party this past weekend. Teddy wanted a chocolate cake. I prefer a vanilla birthday cake, so I wasn’t too excited. I’d already decided I was going to make carnitas for the pa…

Just a quick post to share these great photos Matt took from Teddy's birthday party this past weekend. Teddy wanted a chocolate cake. I prefer a vanilla birthday cake, so I wasn't too excited. I'd already decided I was going to make carnitas for the parents at the party (and the kids if they wanted, but uhm, they didn't) and was using the recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. While flipping through the book, I saw Nosrat's recipe titled "Lori's Chocolate Midnight Cake." It was the way Nosrat described it that sold it to me: like one of those 90s-style, super moist, cake-mix cakes that she grew up on. I, too, grew up on those cakes and I gotta say, this chocolate cake is so so so nostalgic but also so so so good. I really feel like I found my chocolate cake recipe for LIFE. I paired it with a standard cream-cheese frosting, though one I added a nice amount of orange zest to, and the combination was truly A+. 
Please note Teddy's red, sweaty, post-trampoline-session face 
Carnitas-in-progress
I also, of course, wanted to share THIS:


I wish I had more time to comment/write about other things, but right now my free time is going into my next book. I'm currently really close to finishing a draft and need to keep my head down and plow forward. In the mean time, go ahead and take your lizard for a ride (this is a reference to something that happens in above video).

Lori's Chocolate Midnight Cake via Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
1/2 cup (2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 3/4 cups (9 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup neutral-tasting oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water or freshly brewed strong coffee
2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly whisked

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Grease two 8-inch cake pans, then line with parchment paper. Grease and sprinkle generously with flour, tap out the excess, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, flour, and baking soda, then sift into a large bowl.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and gradually whisk in the water-oil mixture until incorporated. Gradually whisk in the eggs and stir until smooth. The batter will be thin.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Drop the pan onto the counter from a height of 3 inches a couple of times to release any air bubbles that may have formed.

Bake in the upper third of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until the cakes spring back from the touch and just pull away from the edges of the pan. An inserted toothpick should come out clean.

Cool the cakes completely on a wire rack before unmolding them from the pan and peeling off the parchment paper. To serve, place one layer down on a cake plate. Spread 1 cup frosting of your choice (Whipped cream with a bit of sugar and vanilla extract is Nosrat's recommendation.) in the center of the cake and gently place the second layer atop it. Spread the remaining frosting or whipped cream on top.

Tightly wrapped, this cake will keep for 4 days at room temperature, or for 2 months in the freezer.

Let Me Guide You!*

*I don’t know where I’m going.What a year, guys! How have you coped? For me, it’s largely been books, yoga, gymnastics, and Matt being the kind of person who is open (excited even?) to watching the kids while I do these things. If you read the blo…

*I don't know where I'm going.
What a year, guys! How have you coped? 

For me, it’s largely been books, yoga, gymnastics, and Matt being the kind of person who is open (excited even?) to watching the kids while I do these things.

If you read the blog, you know (too well?) that my mother and I don’t agree on much politically (or otherwise!). At the beginning of this year, looking for solace and solidarity, I reread Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? After this, I also reread Fun Home. Bechdel references Carl Jung a whole lot, and so one day, at the used book store, I picked up a copy of his juicily titled Two Essays on Analytical Psychology. The book has been reprinted many times, and so it came with five different prefaces by Jung to the five different editions. The preface to the second edition included the following, which has stuck with me and feels to sum up what my year has been like. Here, Jung is writing about his initial surprise that his dense book on the human psyche was as popular as it was. He conjectures that: “This interest may be due in no small measure to the profound shock with which our consciousness sustained through the World War.” (He wrote this at the end of 1918.) He goes on:

“The spectacle of this catastrophe threw man back upon himself by making him feel his complete impotence; it turned his gaze inwards, and with everything rocking about him, he must seek something that guarantees him a hold. Too many still look outwards, some believing in the illusion of victory and of victorious power, others in treaties and laws, and others again in the overthrow of the existing order. But still too few look inwards, to their own selves, and still fewer ask themselves whether the ends of human society might not best be served if each man tried to abolish the old order in himself, and to practice in his own person and in his own inward state those precepts, those victories which he preaches at every street-corner, instead of always expecting these things of his fellow men.”

I haven’t been through a war, but still, this idea made sense to me. That perhaps instead of shouting at my mother all the ways in which she was dead wrong, I could instead try and make sense of the world as it was, that I could try and embrace the chaos and pain and, you know, look inward. I believe this is colloquially referred to as starting with the man in the mirror?

In other words: cue the confetti and welcome to my gift guide!

[We’ll start at the top, go from left to right, down to the next row and so on.]

1. My Favorite Thing is Monsters. My introduction to this book came via a Fresh Air interview with the author. It was a haunting interview that stuck with me. Ferris almost died from the West Nile virus, but she didn’t. While almost dying, however, she had some crazy visions and hallucinations. You should listen to the interview. In short, the virus/tragic experience led her to write this incredible and incredibly amibitious book. It’s a graphic novel and if you’ve never read one before, this could be a great one to start with. It’s spooky, strange, magical, and heartbreaking. It’s also only Volume I. So looking forward to the next one.

2. Talking to My Body. This is some powerful, plainspoken poetry. I don’t have a strong urge to get a tattoo, but if I did, it might be a line from her poem, “Goddess of Matriarchy.” The problem is, which ones? Maybe: “Your bones are made of wealth, your meat of happiness.” But I couldn’t leave out the whole “legs thick as power” part, nor the lines, “And you will open your mouth / walled shut for a million years.”

3. Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything. Speaking of opening one’s mouth, after having been walled shut for a million years… You’ve probably seen a headline about how the team doctor for USA Gymnastics, Larry Nassar, had been molesting women and girl athletes since at least 1998. Two women athletes, completely separate of one another, one from the 2000 Olympic team, initially came forward late in 2016, and now more than 100 women have come forward. Nassar has also since pled guilty on two separate charges—one for possession of child pornography and another for molestation.

How could this happen and go on for so long? Well, in a book that is admittedly written for teens and largely about Raisman’s Olympic success, Raisman also clearly lays out the many ways in which USA Gymnastics fostered a fearful, old-fashioned environment in which young women were not encouraged and certainly not rewarded for speaking up about much of anything. (Spoiler: Raisman recounts a story of a time she got totally shamed by a USAG staff member for eating a piece of pizza in Italy after a successful gymnastics meet!)

Of course, it’s also worth noting that many athletes throughout the years, both within USA Gymnastics and at Michigan State University where Nassar was a faculty member, did speak up about Nassar’s god-awful treatments, but they were ultimately either shushed, told not to worry about it, and/or convinced that if something were wrong with his treatments, surely he wouldn’t be allowed to continue doing them.

4. Taking a long hard look at American culture and yourself isn’t always fun. I recommend lots of baths and anything made by Kings Road Apothecary!

5. Jumpsuit by Nico Nico. I’m not sure where this jumpsuit fits in relation to my journey inward. It sure would be nice to wear though.

6. Life's a Witch. The world of bumper stickers is vast and daunting. Alas, I finally found one for me!

7. 2 Possessed Shirt. Keeping with the witch theme, this shirt makes me laugh. Someone please buy it for me.

8. Mrs. Dalloway. Tim Mazurek highly recommended this classic, which I hadn’t actually read in its entirety before. I owe him one because it’s one of those special, slim books where each sentence feels so important, so insightful, and then all of a sudden, you’re actually invested in the story too. I one-hundred-percent wanted to know: what was going to happen at Clarissa’s party?!

9. Cards by Gold Teeth Brooklyn make saying "thank you" a breeze.

10. You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin. I read this at the beginning of the year, chosen because I’ve always loved Rilke’s work, and am now realizing how it set the tone for my year’s reading journey. Yes, it’s a book about these men who loom large in their respective artistic fields, but truly what I got out of this book was how flawed they both were as humans—prioritizing art and work above all else, which is only actually possible if your wives/partners are grocery-shopping and raising your children. Rodin, I learned, was an often-cruel womanizer (as opposed to a fun-loving one like Hugh Grant's character in Bridget Jones's Diary?) while Rilke came off as so sensitive, so fragile and impractical that it left me almost laughing imagining how he would fare at the barely-recognized art of small talk with fellow parents at children's birthday parties. It also made me think about the always-timely debate on whether or not we can (or should? or must?) separate the artist from the person. Relatedly, originally I had Jim Harrison’s essay collection A Really Big Lunch on this list, but I pulled it because his constant references to women as sex objects suddenly really started to grate.

11. Honey From a Weed. I feel truly lucky to have discovered Patience Gray and this remarkably readable cookbook originally published in 1986. Her point of view on cooking is everything I’ve ever wanted in print. A few examples: “Once we lose touch with the spendthrift aspect of nature’s provisions epitomized in the raising of a crop, we are in danger of losing touch with life itself. When Providence supplies the means, the preparation and sharing of food takes on a sacred aspect.”

I could quote her all day. Here’s one more: “The merit lies not in the possession of the object but in putting it to use. Equally, cooking is not to be regarded as a display of virtuosity, it is far more vital than that.”

12. Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines. This beautiful children’s book brought me to tears and also really made me want to visit the Vietnam Veterans memorial, something that I knew about but never actually considered making a pilgrimage to see. I can’t wait to drag my whole family there!

[Including a quick link to last year's gift guide as none of the items were remotely timely!]

Tamago-no-Shinzo Yaki

 In Lucky Peach’s All About Eggs, there’s a photo of “Michael Anthony’s Tamagoyaki.” It looks so special: a rectangular, mid-century modern-ish spiral-layered omelet. I instantly wanted to make it.When I actually read the recipe, I definitely did …

 
In Lucky Peach's All About Eggs, there's a photo of "Michael Anthony's Tamagoyaki." It looks so special: a rectangular, mid-century modern-ish spiral-layered omelet. I instantly wanted to make it.

When I actually read the recipe, I definitely did not want to make it. It required a special square pan as well as seemingly lots of practice and technique. I moved on. I don't speak a lick of Japanese, but the title of the next recipe sounded like a play on the previous one. I read the description and was one-hundred-percent on board to give it a try:

"My mother's tamagoyaki defied all tamagoyaki conventions. She didn't bother making the spirally layers. She didn't even own a square pan. She used a round 10-inch cast iron skillet to make a communal tamagoyaki. Hers was basically scrambled eggs packed together like an ugly pillow. She called it shinzo-yaki ('pan-fried heart), and sure enough, it looked like an organ... Every time I watched my mother make this tamagoyaki, it looked like a disaster. But she didn't seem worried. She was a brave cook."

It's written by Sonoko Sakai. I had never heard of her before but now consider myself a fan. I love the way she writes about her mother. And from her description, I love her mother too! (It looked like a disaster. But she didn't seem worried!)  She feels like an embodiment of what Tannaz and I were talking about re: women and mothers and their practical magic, in the kitchen and far beyond.

Indeed, this dish does come together quite magically. It also does look like disaster for most of the cooking time. But then eventually, it begins to shape into something. And then you flip it and see how the underneath has gotten all caramel-y and amazing.

I really, truly enjoyed making this. Sadly, Matt didn't love how it tasted. He thought it was too sweet. I thought as long as you paired it with some rice, vinegary greens, and vinegary hot sauce, it was quite delicious. In fact, since Matt didn't eat much of it, I ate the leftovers over the next couple of lunches (as I am a practicing practical woman), wrapping it alongside rice and avocado dressed in rice vinegar inside a sheet of nori, and I was very very happy.


I also wanted to quickly thank you all for your generous, kind comments on my last post. I feel semi-positive that if I didn't have a blog to voice that complaint, I may have slipped into a dark, dark place. So, thank the gods for the Internet, I guess? (I also feel the need to declare that I know Baked Ziti's real name and he/she is definitely not a young intern.)

Lastly, re: the first photo up there, Teddy's been learning all about the solar system, or as he would say it, "the saw-ler system." It's spurred so much conversation around here, like did you guys know the sun is eventually going to burn out and die? I didn't! Or else, if I did, I forgot. Speaking of dying, within two minutes of having picked him up at school, Teddy asked me: "When am I going to die?" I said that I didn't know but hopefully not for a really long time. He followed this up with: "And when I die, everyone dies?" Alkjdfljkafdaaflkakjfdljkafdladfljkafljkaflkjlkajfd.

On that note, I'm out of here. Enjoy this miraculous egg dish! xoxxo
Tamago-no-Shinzo Yaki by Sonoko Sakai via All About Eggs
makes 1 omelet (2 to 4 servings)

10 eggs
1 1/2 cups dashi (I actually made dashi for this! But am pretty sure substituting with chicken broth wouldn't be a heinous crime against humanity.)
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. sesame oil
1 cup grated daikon radish (optional)

Whisk the eggs, dashi, sake, sugar, soy sauce, and salt in a large bowl.

Heat the sesame oil in a well-seasoned cast iron or nonstick pan over medium heat. Pour the soupy egg mixture into the heated pan all at once and stir until the eggs split from the broth and start to coagulate. Using a spatula, start to push the cooked eggs to one side of the pan, packing the tamagoyaki so it holds together and scraping the bottom of the pan to make sure it is not sticking. When most of the egg has bound together in a heap at one side of the pan, after about 10 minutes, reduce the heat to low. Work the omelet into the middle of the pan, packing it into a wiggly oval. It will be very tender so treat it gently. Ladle the broth pooling in the skillet over the entire tamagoyaki while moving it around in the pan so it cooks evenly. Repeat until the tamgoyaki absorbs all the broth, about 15 minutes. (This is Amelia: try not to stray too far from the stovetop here and don't rush!)

When there is only syrupy dashi left in the skillet, and the bottom of the omelet is caramel colored, carefully flip the tamagoyaki and caramelize the other side, about 5 minutes.

Carefully transfer the tamagoyaki to a cutting board. Let it cool slightly, then cut it into square or rectangular pieces and serve it with grated daikon radish, if desired.

EatingWell Magazine: Putting the FREE in Freelance

I want to tell you a quick story in screen grabs. Ready? OK.It all started on a Friday. Out of the blue, an editor at EatingWell magazine contacted me. To protect the guilty, I’m gonna call the editor Baked Ziti. Here’s what Baked Ziti wrote:…

I want to tell you a quick story in screen grabs. Ready? OK.

It all started on a Friday. Out of the blue, an editor at EatingWell magazine contacted me. To protect the guilty, I'm gonna call the editor Baked Ziti. Here's what Baked Ziti wrote:

[Update: Before posting this story, I briefly spoke with a lawyer who advised me to quote Baked Ziti's emails instead of using screenshots. "Fine!" I said. So, actually, it'll be a story in 50% screenshots of my emails and 50% quoted emails.]

"Hi Amelia,

I edit a new humor column at the magazine and wanted to reach out to see if you’d be interested in writing for us. It’s an essay (around 700 words) and it can be on any subject you like as long as it has something to do with food/cooking. Thought this was right up your alley. Happy to give you more details.

Best,
Baked Ziti"

I'm so used to pitching magazines and not getting responses that this email from an editor actually seeking me out(!) instead of vice versa seemed almost too good to be true. I think you can see my skepticism in my reply:


I am very used to people expecting creative work for free. And in fact, like an idiot, I've given my work for free before to places like Food52--for, you know, exposure! (Sidebar: people make exposure sound like some crazy reward when really, they can give you exposure and also pay you!) My point is that I am very careful to ask: How much does it pay? Baked Ziti responds:


"Hi Amelia,

It does. Generally around $1000. If you’re interested we could hop on a call to talk through possible ideas."

I write back:

To briefly sum up the next few emails: Baked Ziti is on the east coast. Baked Ziti throws out a time to talk that would be 8am my time. We land on 8:30am, after explaining that I've got to get my 1 1/2 year old and 3 1/2 year old out the door. And even still, getting back home by 8:30am is a hustle, but whatever. I'm freeeeeelancing! Weeeee! Let's ride this snake!

So, Baked Ziti and I talk about potential ideas on Friday. It's a nice chat. Baked Ziti tells me to write a few sentences down and send the ideas back, when they're ready, via email. I work on the ideas for much of Saturday while Matt cares for the kids. To be honest, I'm really excited about this opportunity. Not only do I need the money, but it really does sound like a perfect assignment. 

Late on Sunday, I send off my ideas. (NOTE: In my experience, the editor will either be on board with the pitch, in which case you've got the job and you will then come to an agreement on terms/payment or they're not, in which case you don't have the job and buh-byyee!!)
Baked Ziti replies with: 

"Hi Amelia,

I like the first idea of the challenges of working and getting a decent meal on the table--especially for someone who loves to cook. With new writers, we usually do these pieces on spec, if you're down. I'm attaching a couple of the other columns I was telling you about, as an FYI.

BZ"

In the moment, I am definitely a bit deflated. If you are a writer or creative person, you will know all about doing things "on spec." Basically, it means that the company/person/entity wants you to do all the work for free and then if they publish it, they will pay you for it. I'm also slightly bothered by Baked Ziti's classification of me as a "new" writer. I mean... I do have a book and I've been writing this blog and publishing essays specifically in this food/lifestyle space for almost a decade! That's why Baked Ziti reached out to me, right? Because of my experience as a food/humor writer? 

As you can see below, I immediately forward this email to Matt and we have a nice little back and forth about how lame "spec" work is and how Baked Ziti should've really mentioned this in the beginning, back when I asked about payment instead of just dangling $1000 in front of me like it was nothing. After all, it would have been pretty easy to do, right?

That being said, I've essentially written the piece already. I like it and feel like I can get the job. I write Ziti back:


Baked Ziti writes back right away:

"Great!"

I didn't want to spend too much more time on it, knowing how editors are always editing. So, in two days, I write back with this:


Baked Ziti doesn't get back to me to say they received it or anything. So, in a few days, I follow up, mentioning that I wanted to check in before leaving town for a few days. Baked Ziti says they forwarded it to their editor and to check back with them when I return. 

But then, before I even return, I get an email from Baked Ziti. It says: 


"Hi Amelia,

Hope you had a good getaway! I love the topic of this piece—the idea of loving to cook and having no time to do it and screw all those people claiming you can throw together a great “dinner with ease.” The realness and honestness of that is really appealing to me. But I feel like it would be stronger and funnier in first-person form. I totally get why you spun it this way, I just crave hearing your voice saying all this stuff. Make sense?

B"


This response, in my opinion, is borderline infuriating. Not that the editor is giving me notes. I always expect notes. What's so frustrating is that BZ is treating me like their hired hack without hiring me, and asking for more work without mentioning whether or not I got the job. As if I haven't already spent a decent amount of time on this job. To me, this is unacceptable. I gather up my tiny amount of self-respect and kindly write back:
Baked Ziti doesn't write back.

Three days later, I follow up. Baked Ziti still doesn't write back. 

I actually considered following up again, but what was left of my small, mostly-broken ego held me back. (Also, Matt told me not to.) (Thank you, Matt!)

We had exchanged multiple emails, a call, and the work of writing a column all in one week's time. Now there's been radio silence for two straight weeks. I think it's pretty safe to say I've been ghosted.

Here are a few scenarios in which I would not have gone to the trouble to write this blog post. 

1. The editor had written me back, saying something like: "Sorry! We just aren't gonna pay you until we are 100% sure we are going to publish the piece." 

2. The editor had written me back, saying something like, "Hey, Amelia. Thanks so much for your time and work on this. Unfortunately, we don't see ourselves running this piece. It's a pass. All the best!"

3. Baked Ziti had written me back, saying "Hey, Amelia. Sounds fair! After all, we came to you. You did a lot of work. And now we want you to do more work on the piece. Seems only right. Let's come to some agreement re: payment. I sure did tell you the job pays $1,000, when you asked after all! Oh, and by the way, thanks for clearly communicating with me like that. People generally don't ask if the job pays, they just cross their fingers that we treat them fairly! LOL."

3. The editor had written me back. 

4. If they wrote me back.

NOTE #1: Me being (overly?) sensitive and thoughtful, I Googled this editor's name to make sure that they hadn't died before posting this. After all, Baked Ziti reached out to me initially and had always been semi-quick to respond to my emails. Maybe Baked Ziti had died, part of me worried.

NOTE #2: I'm well aware that this is a minor (and super common) injustice in the grand scheme of things. (Puerto Rico, the history of women being sexual assaulted in this country, and specifically within USA Gymnastics, just to name two that I can't stop thinking about.) And as I said above, if Baked Ziti had just written me back, I would never have posted this. 

To me, this total lack of response is an example of something sick in our culture that causes problems far more serious and complicated than the one I am sharing--the ease with which we are able to dismiss one another. 

OK, friends. That's my story. EatingWell can certainly suck it. 
xoxxo

Big (Huge) Sur

We all know the saying: If Vanity Fair isn’t coming to you. You go to Vanity Fair. Or, put another way (in case that’s not a familiar saying to you): these idyllic photos of me and my family in Big Sur are what I imagine our fictional Vanity Fair sprea…

We all know the saying: If Vanity Fair isn’t coming to you. You go to Vanity Fair. Or, put another way (in case that’s not a familiar saying to you): these idyllic photos of me and my family in Big Sur are what I imagine our fictional Vanity Fair spread might look like.
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Our family (sans Mavis) spent most of last week at an old friend’s place in Big Sur. The trip was both an adventure and a Walden-esque escape pod from the noise of the world. For the past eight months, because of fires followed by cataclysmic rains, this portion of the coast has only been accessible by a 26-mile windy, narrow mountain pass with no cell service or guardrails. In a small way, we were mercifully off the grid. We had satellite Internet, but we couldn’t use our phones to actually call anyone—something Matt still does with regularity. The only TV monitors we saw were dead and stacked in a cross outside of the Henry Miller Memorial Library. We fell into a pretty simple routine that went mostly like this: breakfast, coffee, hike, lunch by the ocean, exploration, wine, dinner at 5pm, campfire, songs, stories, and sleep. It was a really good trip.

As for that noisy world that we instantly returned to? Well, the thing that I’m holding tight to, the thing that became so obviously clear to me during this trip is that of all of the things, people, institutions, etc. one can choose to worship in this world, I choose nature. I choose the ocean—the otters we saw floating on their backs, cracking open abalone, the whales we saw slapping their flippers against the surface of the water, and the giant, heart-expanding redwoods. I choose the sea air, the moon, the sun, the planets. The universe!

As for food, I made another Japanese egg dish. I’ll be sure to share it with you soon.


Teddy inside one heck of a spirit nest.

Isaac got a stick!
Isaac lost his stick!


One million cheers for the hummingbird that just barely made the frame.

Indian Coconut-Cilantro Chutney

I was wrong about chutney just like I was wrong about Dean. (And when I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong.) A year or so ago, I thought chutney was just another way of saying mango salsa. And just a month ago, I thought Dean was a really good-looking, semi-brok…

I was wrong about chutney just like I was wrong about Dean. (And when I'm wrong, I say I'm wrong.) A year or so ago, I thought chutney was just another way of saying mango salsa. And just a month ago, I thought Dean was a really good-looking, semi-broken but ultimately sincere and decent-hearted man.

But now I know that there is a whole wide world of chutneys out there, one for all of us perhaps, and most importantly: that I am a fool because of course Dean is a shallow if not normal person with little self control and even less emotional maturity. If you guys don't know what I'm talking about, good for you! I've long justified watching The Bachelor / Bachelorette because I think it does reveal interesting, nuanced things about people / what strangers want for people, but I think what it has mostly, sadly revealed is how tricked we all are by good looks. (On the recommendation of one of my blog readers, I read a large chunk of Timothy Caulfield's Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong about Everything?, which quotes Nancy Etcoff's Survival of the Prettiest: "We face a world where 'lookism' is one of the most pervasive but denied of prejudices." Pervasive but denied of! Totally. Because it's one of those things we all think we "know about already" so we think we won't fall victim to it, and yet here I am in 2017 and I thought Dean was some kind of 25-year-old diamond in the rough who by some strange accident ended up as a contestant on The Bachelor.)
Back to chutney, I've made a lot of them this past year, almost all hailing from Madhur Jaffrey, and yet the one I'm about to share with you is a variation from Samin Nosrat's Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which seems to combine everything I ever wanted in a chutney, plus some coconut for good measure. (Note: shredding fresh coconut is a crazy intense chore. If you know of an Indian grocer, you'll almost certainly be able to find bags of the stuff there in the frozen section. Alternatively, I've used coconut flour and that works great too.)

The reason I love chutneys is because I don't cook a lot of meat and so we end up eating a lot of rice-and-egg-type meals. If you go ahead and add chutney to that, along with maybe some sautéed spinach, feta, and whole milk yogurt, you've got yourself a truly delicious, special meal. Plus, there is usually leftover chutney, which you can eat with all sorts of things, like scrambled eggs on a corn tortilla or roasted potatoes or as a condiment on your grilled cheese, etc.

As for lookism, I do see one upshot to our extreme human-nature-based vulnerability here: more variety of people in media. (Remember when everyone freaked out about Kate Moss because she was only 5' 6 and had a gap in her teeth? LOLOLOL.) OK, bye. Enjoy your chutney!
I LOOK LIKE A NICE PERSON. SO I PROBABLY AM.
Indian Coconut-Cilantro Chutney adapted from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 cup fresh or frozen shredded coconut (or 1/3 cup coconut flour, but beware that this stuff is crazy absorbent so you'll need to add more water, anywhere from 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves
1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
12 or so fresh mint leaves
1/2 jalapeno pepper, stemmed (Obviously, go for the whole thing if you're feeling it.)
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1-2 tablespoons whole milk yogurt
1-2 tablespoons water
salt

NOTE: I know you could use pre-ground cumin here, but for me, toasting the seeds and then grinding them myself in a mortar and pestle seems to do something very tiny for my soul. I always think I'll skip the added step and then I don't and then I'm glad.

Place the cumin seeds in a small dry skillet and set over medium heat. Swirl the pan constantly to ensure even toasting. Toast until the first few seeds begin to pop and emit a savory aroma, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat. Immediately dump the seeds into a mortar or a spice grinder. Grind finely with a pinch of salt.

Pulse the lime juice, coconut, and garlic together in a blender or food processor for 2 minutes until no large chunks remain. Add the cumin, cilantro, mint leaves, jalapeño, sugar, yogurt and pinch of salt and continue blending for another 2 to 3 minutes. If your blender is getting stuck and the mixture seems too thick, add a tablespoon or more of water. Taste and adjust for salt. Cover and refrigerate until serving. Keeps for about five days to a week in the refrigerator.

Mothers, Capitalism, and Boiling Eggs Overnight: A Conversation with Tannaz Sassooni

[This is the fifth conversation in a series. For the others, click here.]You may remember my next guest, Tannaz Sassooni, from my ghormeh sabzi post many years back. It was during that epic, old-school attempt that I first learned about Tannaz’s m…

[This is the fifth conversation in a series. For the others, click here.]
You may remember my next guest, Tannaz Sassooni, from my ghormeh sabzi post many years back. It was during that epic, old-school attempt that I first learned about Tannaz’s mother, Violet, and though this most recent conversation with Tannaz began with the recipes she contributed to Lucky Peach’s latest cookbook offering, All About Eggs, soon enough, she and I were talking about Violet again.

All the while, I’d asked Matt to take photos the next time I made oyakodon, a Japanese dish I’d been making a lot lately and one that’s featured in the above-mentioned Lucky Peach book. I thought the images would pair nicely with our conversation. But now as I’m putting this post together, I’m reminded that I first had oyakodon when a friend made it and brought it over for me after Isaac was born and how she told me that it means “parent and child in a bowl” (It’s a chicken-and-egg dish, get it?). The next time I made oyakodon (and Matt got out his camera) ended up being when my mom was visiting. And in case you forgot, a big reason I started this conversation series was to help me handle (come to terms with?) my mom's and my divergent political views. I served up Mom a bowl and Matt caught this on camera. Some might call this kismet? Some might call it something more like: But Amelia, you’re always posting about parent and child stuff. Either way, here's Tannaz and me, two products of our mothers, and a recipe for oyakodon.
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Amelia Morris: One of the recipes you contributed to Lucky Peach’s All About Eggs is Shabbat Eggs, which are super slowly cooked eggs in their shells, along with some onion skins and tea leaves. You say they're often cooked as long as overnight, on a Friday, so that you can enjoy them on a Saturday, the day of rest in Jewish tradition. I love this recipe because it's so tied to culture and practicality. The WASP that I am would never have imagined cooking eggs this long. There's no reason for it. That being said, I'm very curious. Do they really taste that different from a regular boiled egg?

Tannaz Sassooni: There's no reason for it. Unless you're forbidden to touch fire for 24 hours. It's a beautiful tradition to shut down for a day and just enjoy life, but getting there is traditionally a lot of work for the family matriarch. The idea of a "Sabbath pot" of some sort is prevalent throughout the Sephardic world. I think in most communities, it's called hamine, but we (Iranians) call it khalebibi, and it's basically a pot of various things (meats, legumes, roots, tubers) that stew overnight to be eaten for the Saturday afternoon meal. There's a Sephardic concept of huevos haminados, which is eggs that sit on top of whatever's in that pot, and khalebibi can have that, too. In the case of Shabbat eggs, it's just the eggs, no big stew in the pot. The texture and flavor here are the antithesis of what's appealing to western palates today. This is nothing like a bright-yolked, oozy, just-set egg. The yolk gets a little powdery. Its edges take on a grey-green. The whites are straight-up beige! And the smell is, well, what you'd expect from eggs boiling forever (although the tea and/or cinnamon helps!). But it's so evocative for a certain generation of Iranian Jews.
AM: Fascinating. Your description reminds me of something I just read about in Everything I Want to Eat where Jessica Koslow talks about one of her inspirations, which is a moment from Jacques Pépin’s old PBS series where he goes through two ways to make an omelette: “the American way” and “the French way,” which Koslow prefers. She describes his French omelette as “the silkiest, supplest, sexiest omelette.” Your Shabbat egg sounds like the opposite! But not in a bad way. Maybe because it's everywhere here on the east side of LA, but I’m a wee bit sick of sexy food. What about you?
TS: I'm not sick of "sexy" food, whatever that means. I have a place in my heart, for sure, for comforting simple flavors that are nostalgic, but I'm not immune to the wiles of bright fresh things, silky textures, big spicy flavors, all of it. I feel like that's so much of the appeal of food—it's sensual. (Side note, I feel like dumplings are the sexiest food of all, and I am HERE for them.) If we're going to anthropomorphize food in this way, I'd say what I am sick of is toxically masculine food! I feel like there's this ongoing thing where, you have to eat the strangest animal, or the strangest part of the animal, or the most insanely spicy thing, to the point where it's not about pleasure at all anymore so much as just being a pissing contest. I don't buy into the mystique that's been created around chefs staying up for crazy hours, doing lots of drugs, being a jerk in the kitchen, then making these perfect specimens of foods in a vacuum. I feel like there's a fetishism to it all (5 years of apprenticeship before they'll deign to let you make the sushi rice?) that's born of privilege, and it doesn't excite me. Countless mothers, for generation after generation, throughout the world, have been cooking high-quality, delicious food for their (often extended) families, balancing nutrition, taste, aesthetics, and budget, not to mention the whims of fussy kids (and grown-ups!), making do with what they have, cleverly stretching what's left from last night into tonight, day after day, and not waiting around for a round of applause. This kind of grounded, aware, art-out-of-necessity cooking is what excites me, and I don't think it gets nearly enough exposure. I guess, as in life, as we get older, what we see as "sexy" becomes richer and far more complex than what the magazines would have you believe.

AM: But Tannaz, I am waiting for my applause! (Unfortunately, only half-kidding.) I like what you say here a lot. It makes me think that it’s not that I’m sick of sexy food or as you describe it: “bright fresh things… and big spicy flavors.” (I immediately think of the hummus platter at Dune in Atwater Village, which is both beautiful and delicious.) I think it’s the media’s obsession with this kind of food I’m sick of. It goes hand in hand with an idea I keep thinking about (shouting about?) ever since the election—this idea of why do we, as a society, seem to value strength (or the appearance of it) over vulnerability? The shiny over the subtle? Being right over being wrong (and being able to admit it and learn from it)? Being decisive over biding one’s time?

It makes me wonder about how to make practicality and receptivity sexy. I think Tamar Adler does this in An Everlasting Meal. But how to get this idea on the cover of Bon Appétit magazine? I don’t know if it translates to imagery. And imagery is why people buy food magazines, right?

TS: I don't know the answer here, but I think you hit the nail on the head with Tamar Adler. An Everlasting Meal is one of my favorite books ever, and perhaps if everyone could write as beguilingly as she does, we'd have no problem. Whenever I think about traditional food and cooking—of those systems that are ingrained in Italian, Vietnamese, Persian, etc. cuisines—I think about how practicality is also built into them. And then I find myself having problems with capitalism. It seems like everything needs to rely on a product, something to sell, when in fact these systems are about efficiently using the simplest things.

My mom makes elaborate meals, which could definitely be classified as sexy, but her footprint is very small. She buys mountains of herbs and picks them off the stalks, chops them herself. There are very few gadgets in her kitchen—why would you need a lemon squeezer when you have a fork? A jar has never left her home for the trash can—all of her spices live in repurposed jars (a fact I hated when I was a kid). She wastes nothing (no seriously, nothing). She has a system, and it's quite spartan, and amazing things come of it! She eludes capitalism. So in a society where the only things that are pushed forward are those that sell products, I don't know how you cultivate this. This fact troubles me.
AM: Me too, Tannaz. Me too. And speaking of products: Have you spent any time with Samin Nosrat’s new book, Salt Fat Acid Heat? She writes a fair amount about her Persian upbringing and Persian food. I haven’t read the whole book, but a few times she refers to how time-consuming it is to cook Persian food. Do you agree with that general assessment? And also, growing up, did you get a sense that your mom enjoyed her time in the kitchen or that it was more of an understood role or duty she took on?

TS: I haven't read the book yet, but I've been following its development through the instagram of its amazing illustrator, Wendy MacNaughton, and I have no doubt it's amazing. It's a really good question you ask about duty vs. joy. Persian food is without question time-consuming. Technique is a big part of it, and everything is fiddly and "high-touch.” I don't know a single person who is more driven by obligation than my mother; she never complains, she just does what she feels is expected of her, and has for decades. When it comes to big meals, she certainly exhausts herself, but I do feel there are a couple kinds of joy here for her: For one, there's that system. She's got a rhythm down in the kitchen over decades, and I feel like she's perfectly content doing her thing, without interruptions, in a kind of solo meditative state (not to get too hoity-toity about it – she'd never agree with me calling it 'meditative'). Then, she's modest, but I feel like she quietly takes pride in how delicious her food is. I think it's deeply gratifying to be able to make these meals, bring her family together over them, and see how happy it makes them to eat her food and share those experiences.

There's an academic book I read a while back, and it really cleared some things up for me. It's called From the Shahs to Los Angeles: Three Generations of Iranian Jewish Women between Religion and Culture, by Saba Soomekh, a religious studies professor. She interviewed a bunch of Iranian Jewish women for the book, and in it, she talks about how, in my grandma's generation, while the father would study Torah and pray at the synagogue, the way the mother of the family expressed her religiosity was through keeping the family together, making sure the holidays were observed, preparing meals, taking care of the children. I found this really interesting. I love this idea of doing your faith in a practical way as opposed to just chanting. And it turns a lot of ideas about traditional, patriarchal family units, especially religious ones, on their head.

Anyway, I think this carries through in my mother. I'd say that she is around one-hundred percent responsible for keeping our family together and connected. Yes it's an obligation, yes it's definitely hard, constant work, without question. But she's making a profound contribution, and I think this is deeply gratifying to her.

Finally: It's just in her at this point. She always prefers to cook a meal at home than go to a restaurant. It's a fight to get her to go out even for Mother's Day. She knows she's making healthier food and spending less money, and she honestly gets antsy at restaurants. Obligation doesn't necessarily feel like the right word—it's just in her; it's what she does.
AM: I love that she is essentially repelling capitalism at every turn! Not even a restaurant is going to tempt her. That being said and as much as I love to rail against capitalism, I recently listened to Terry Gross’s interview with Billy Bragg and he said something I loved—that the enemy isn’t capitalism or conservatism. It’s cynicism! So with that in mind, can you tell me about a recent hopeful food experience? (Something you read or tasted or a restaurant you visited?)

TS: Back in 2014, I designed the menu for a three-course dinner at a local arts and culture non-profit called Clockshop, which showcased flavors from Iranian Jewish cuisine. There was a young chef in the kitchen there, a native Angeleno of Filipino descent named Chad Valencia, and it blew my mind to see him treat our family recipes, which I'd only ever seen prepared by my mom and grandmas, with the utmost care and respect. He went on to open a restaurant, Lasa, with his brother Chase, where they serve Chad's take on Filipino flavors, and I recently visited. Every bite was seriously delicious, and the innate hospitality in the room made us feel like family. We ended the meal with a dessert called a sans rival, and this particular rendition had brown butter buttercream, chopped pistachios, calamansi-macerated strawberries, and Persian mint. The meal resonated on so many levels, but this story of kids of immigrants taking their inherited legacy, mashing it up with the local bounty – both culinary and cultural – to make something that respects their roots but is also fully of-the-moment, makes my heart swell. It makes me proud of my beloved Los Angeles, and fills me with hope.

Oyakodon adapted from All About Eggs
serves 4

NOTE: I've been meaning to post about this dish for a while now. I've made it probably a dozen times, but I still haven't perfected it. Ideally, I would like the eggs to take on the consistency of a very soft scramble, but instead they often seem to get lost to the sauce. I think this might be more easily avoided if I made it in a 10-inch cast iron pan, but alas I don't have that size. It's not a problem though. We always eat it happily no matter how the eggs come out. My patience is lacking in the kitchen these days, but what I have done in the past is transfer some of the cooked chicken mixture to a separate pan (8-inch cast iron) and then finish the portions individually, adding two beaten eggs on top and getting more of the soft-scramble consistency I want. In this below version, I've followed the Lucky Peach people and made one big pan. I also sometimes start by sautéing the onion and mushrooms in a neutral oil before adding the liquid and chicken. Either way, I totally recommend this dish. It's become one of our weeknight favorites.

2-3 cups short-grain white rice
1 cup chicken broth (Dashi is what's traditionally used here, but I never have it on hand nor the time to make it myself anymore.)
2 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup shoyu
2 tbsp. sake
1/4 cup mirin (When I don't have mirin, I've used rice vinegar and it's totally worked for me.)
1 onion, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into thin slices
8 oz. mushrooms (any kind), sliced (optional)
1 lb. boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
8 eggs
2-3 scallions, trimmed and chopped (optional)
some manner of greens like watercress or mitsuba sprigs or shiso leaves (optional)
chili garlic sauce or Sriracha (optional)

Cook the rice according to the package directions. While it's cooking, make everything else.

Add the chicken broth or dashi, sugar, shoyu, sake, and mirin to a 10-inch cast iron pan (or something similar) and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the onion, mushrooms, and chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and chicken is no longer pink, 3 to 4 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and stir in the scallions if using them. Reduce the heat to medium-low on the chicken mixture, then pour two-thirds of the eggs and scallions into the skillet and continue cooking until the eggs just start to set around the edges, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining eggs, cover, and let cook for 1 or 2 more minutes, until they look mostly set all the way through. Turn off the heat and let the oyakodon sit for another minute.

Serve over the rice and garnish with the mitsuba or watercress or chopped shiso leaves or whatever other green you think might work. As you can see, Matt likes to eat it with a healthy amount of hot sauce/Sriracha on the side.