I’m writing again …

or, at least I’m going to try to.

I now have an MA in International Development Studies.  I also have some grey hair (thanks, grad school), a bit of free time, and a kitchen with an actual window in it.  The past two-and-a-half-ish years have really flown by.  In February 2011 I started an internship at a private development contractor based in Washington, DC that turned into a full-time job once I graduated this past spring.  The internship was essentially one in name only, because I more or less had the responsibilities of a full-time employee (all while taking a self-directed crash course in democracy and governance, because I somehow got assigned to that practice area with negative experience).  It was also a lot more exhausting than I had anticipated to be researching and writing for work all day, then to head to class at night and attempt to make some intelligent contributions, and then spend all of my weekend time (and a good chunk of my supposed-to-be-sleeping hours) reading and writing papers.  Not that I’m complaining, but when it came down to it any free time that I did have needed to be spent giving my brain cells a rest.  Some of it was in the kitchen, but some of it was also spent watching Covert Affairs and re-runs of Law & Order: SVU while stuffing my face with popcorn.

I now work full time on conflict, youth, and education projects (they’re not as disparate as they seem).  I love my job.  I really like and respect the people that I work with.  I still work on a boat (it’s a company quirk, don’t ask).  DC is slowly but surely growing on me (though NYC will always be the #1 city in my book, followed closely by Cape Town).  I still love cooking.  So anyway, I’ll be trying to fuse all of those things here once again.  Let’s see how long I can keep this up this time around.


South African Adventures

This time last year, I had just made the move to South Africa and didn’t know if I’d be coming back to the States or not.  It’s hard to believe how much has changed in one short year; I’ve moved back to the US, set up house in a new city, started graduate school and met more amazing new friends than anyone should have the right to.  It’s gone by incredibly fast, but when I was in South Africa two weeks ago it almost felt as though I’d never left.  My favorite places like Bird’s, &Union and the Biscuit Mill are still thriving, and new places like the Power and the Glory have opened up too.  The fresh food available (if you can afford it, as so many people can’t), is simply amazing.  It’s almost silly to put ‘organic’ or ‘grass-fed’ on food packaging, because that’s kind of the status quo there.  Chemicals are expensive, land isn’t in short supply and agribusiness doesn’t reign supreme as it does in the US.  You can taste this in the food; the lettuce is sweet, the avo is creamy, and the dairy, eggs and meat are far more flavorful than anything I’ve tasted in the US.  There is also no shortage of culinary talent, so when you have these spectacular ingredients combined with the creativity and skills of the chefs, your meal is quite often unforgettable.  I enjoyed many wonderful meals cooking with my family, and also out at a number of lovely restaurants in the Cape Winelands.  It’s hot this time of year–it was 110F for several days– but it’s dry, so there are very few bugs.  The outdoors becomes an extension of the indoors– you leave your windows open, you eat outside.  The Western Cape remains one of the most beautiful places I’ve been, with craggy mountains, green expanses of grape vines and olive trees, dusty purple lavender fields, the indigenous fynbos (including my favorite, proteas), and a vividly, richly blue ocean.

Franschhoek, in the heart of the Cape Winelands

Now, for the food.  We celebrated Christmas (belatedly) with my little niece Maya, so we had to make cookies for Santa.  I made a simple snickerdoodle for Maya to decorate (along with cream cheese icing that was on flavor-wise but very off in terms of texture).

decorating santa's cookies

I also made a South African version of Momofuku Milk Bar’s infamous compost cookie, using a Black Cat Peanut Brittle Bar, Otees cereal, pretzel sticks from Pick n’ Pay, Cadbury Whispers, and Lay’s Crisps.

the ingredients

I also made sure to drink Windhoek, a favorite Namibian beer:


and Savanna, my favorite not-too-sweet cider that is beyond delicious with a slice of lemon.


I also had enough granadilla (passionfruit) to feed a small army.  In addition to being perfectly tangy, their color combination is, to use a South African expression, stunning:



We had some delicious meals in:


onion, peppers, baby fennel and baby corn fresh off the braai

peri-peri prawns and coconut corn on the braai

rocket and prosciutto pizza

And some exceptional meals out:


chicken salad with mango and coconut cream

seared beef with wasabi cream, micro-greens and rice noodles

perfect udon, so delicious that I ordered them for dessert.

malva pudding, a traditional South African dessert

It’s hard not to fall in love with the place– it’s people, culture, food, and breathtaking beauty (not to mention wonderful friends and family) keep drawing me back.  Yes, the country has problems, problems that I dealt with and experienced firsthand while living there, and that I’m studying how to remedy in graduate school.  But most of what I see is positive, and I’ll return as soon, and as often, as I can.


MexicAsian Pico de Gallo

I’ve been hit by an attack of laziness since finals ended.  After pulling three all nighters, sifting through thousands of pages of research, writing 40 pages, completing an exam and working at baked through all of it, I kind of feel like I’m allowed to be a couch potato.  I was really looking forward to vegging out at my parents’ house in Connecticut, drinking lots of tea and spending time with the friends I grew up with—people I don’t see all that often but feel like family.  I’d also see my actual family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and lots of cousins.  Then after Christmas, I’d head out for the highlight of my vacation: a return to South Africa, where it’s hot and summery right now, and more friends, family and good food await.

Well, I got to see some of my extended family, and some friends as well.  I had an amazing Christmas Eve dinner at Ferme, a restaurant where my friend Ian is the sous chef.  But when the weather reports confirmed that we were going to get hit hard with the blizzard, I packed up my bags, skipped my big family Christmas and headed down early to NYC to avoid getting snowed in.  And I’ve been here since then, holed up in a hotel room in Brooklyn.  I did venture out into the snow yesterday with Jing, grabbing a quick bite to eat and visiting some of my favorite Brooklyn spots from my old neighborhood (specifically Café Pedlar and Pacific Green Gourmet) and some new spots (Brooklyn Fare, which is not quite what I expected but is a welcome addition to the neighborhood anyway).  We retreated, though, when the wind gusted to 50 mph and it approached full-on whiteout conditions.   I’d never seen snow this bad before, and it didn’t bode well for my flight.  My initial departure was delayed, giving me a two-day holiday in Amsterdam before I’d be able to get on the next flight to Cape Town.  Then that flight was cancelled, and an alternate flight was found that would depart the same night and keep my Amsterdam mini-break intact.  When that was cancelled, the next best option was for me to fly out of Boston on Wednesday, two days after I was supposed to leave and a few hundred miles away from where I’m sitting right now.  Tomorrow I’m packing up again, heading back to Connecticut and then up to Boston.  So much travelling!  In the meantime, though, I’m in my hotel room, everything around me closed, all of my books read, and going slightly crazy from lack of things to do.  Not that I don’t love writing here at POR, but it’s been a bit more brain power than I’ve felt like exerting over the past few days … until now, because I’m out of options to distract myself (and rapidly exhausting even this one. Damn).

I give you, then, tomatillo and fuyu pico de gallo.  Inspired by a craving for pico but a genuine fear of winter tomatoes, I decided to use some other ingredients that aren’t quite as unappealing during the colder months: fuyu, which are actually in season now, and tomatillos … whose growing habits I know absolutely nothing about but always seem to be around the grocery store.  Pictures are scant because I made this at night when the lighting is very bad, but also because I didn’t think I’d post about this until I served it with frijoles negros, brown rice and avo the next day for lunch and was surprised by how nice it looked and tasted.  You could just as easily do this with shredded chicken, pork, shrimp (other meats will be too intense for the delicate flavors of pico and fuyu), or even tortilla chips, but I was in need of an actual meal, feeling lazy (do we sense a pattern here?) and meat averse.  I was so lazy I didn’t even cook my own rice, instead buying the frozen packets from Trader Joe’s, which I have to say are phenomenal.  The warm beans and rice, plus the heat from cayenne pepper, are all welcome in the cold, but the bright notes of citrus and fuyu add a clean, fresh element to the meal that helps to alleviate the short, grey days without making you feel weighed down.

Well, I’ve stretched out this post just as long as it’s going to go before boring all of you to death.  I promise, PROMISE that photographs of food and drink from South Africa are forthcoming—we have a picnic lined up at Boschendal that is definitely worth writing about, and I’m not lugging my camera and laptop halfway around the world and back again for nothing. Until then, wish me safe, on-time, hassle-free travels—and the same to you!


Tomatillo-Fuyu Pico de Gallo

4 medium sized ripe fuyu persimmons, diced

4 ripe tomatillo, diced

1 medium shallot, diced

juice of 1-2 limes (fresh)

approx 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1/8 tsp cayenne pepper (could also use fresh chilies/jalapeños but I didn’t have any)

salt to taste


Mix all ingredients together.  Taste, adjust seasoning if necessary.

I served mine over warm brown rice and frijoles negros, with ¼ chopped fresh avo.



Fuyu! (and baked potato crisps)

I’m really, really bad at procrastinating.

Actually, that’s not true– I’m really good at it.  I’ll find that right when I’m about to sit down to work on a paper, I’ll have to clean, or catch up on emails I’ve been neglecting, or make a cup of tea, or my ultimate time-killer, putter around in the kitchen.  This “skill” is at its worst when I’m stressed out, like right now.  I have an entire book I’m supposed to read for tomorrow, a 25 page group paper on Sino-African development due in about a week, and a 25 pager on education projects in Tanzania due in two weeks.  So of course, I’m sitting here writing about cooking, cooking that I did when I really should have been papering.  In my defense, though, I did have all of these gorgeous fuyu persimmons and a ton of potatoes that I had to use before I head back up to New England for Thanksgiving.  If I hadn’t made this, they would have gone to waste (did I mention I can also rationalize anything under the sun?)!  You’re getting two super easy recipes today, and lots of pretty pictures because the lighting on Sunday morning was really exceptional.

golden brown and delicious.

Recipe #1:  Baked Potato Crisps



Maldon Sea Salt

olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 325F.  Thinly slice your potatoes– aim for nothing larger than the edge of a dime.  Any kind and size are fine, as long as the size of your slices is relatively even.  Dump slices into a bowl, toss lightly with olive oil and Maldon sea salt.  Lay out individually on a baking sheet (I covered mine with tin foil for easier cleanup).  Bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool slightly, and enjoy!

Recipe #2: Fuyus with Cinnamon



ripe fuyu persimmons


Preheat oven to 350F.  Thinly slice your fuyu.


My knife was terrible so mine ended up being about two dimes thick, but you can go thinner if you’d like a crispier texture (almost like a fuyu crisp).  Mine were gummy but had a good caramel taste from being in the oven.  Note that you’ll need to keep an eye on them to adjust for cooking time.  Arrange on a baking sheet covered with tinfoil and sprinkle with cinnamon (you could also add some extra brown sugar on the top if you wish).


Bake until the edges start to curl up.  Enjoy served warm by themselves or with vanilla ice cream, or slice into a bowl of oats with brown sugar, crushed almonds and a dash of cream.  These would also be fantastic sliced into a spinach salad with walnuts, goat cheese, slivered red onion and a mildly fruity vinaigrette (like raspberry).



What have I been up to?

So, what have I been up to?  Not a lot of cooking, that’s for sure, but I can always eat.  So, without further ado, a short photographic journey of some of my recent food explorations, both in and out of my kitchen:

I made purple salt-roasted potatoes.  Anything purple just tastes better, and when you roast them this way and put a little bit of ketchup on them, it’s like a much, much healthier alternative to french fries.  This is a good thing when your stress level is through the roof, you’re up until all hours and you live behind a place that makes killer french fries until 4 am.

pre-roast, coated lightly with olive oil and sitting on a bed of sea salt.

the potatoes don't lose any of their beautiful purple color this way.

Then there was Fakesgiving (it means what it sounds like) with some friends from baked.  I didn’t get a ton of very good pictures, but have a look at this plate; there’s turkey, homemade stuffing, a pumpkin-ricotta pasta bake, corn-millet casserole, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, beet hummus, salad, and all kinds of roasted root veg.  Not to make you jealous, but there was also pie and a pumpkin cheesecake for dessert.


The next day was followed with more epic eating out at Four Sisters Restaurant, my favorite Vietnamese place, out in Falls Church.  I had phở and summer rolls too, but ate them before I remembered to take pictures (this happens more often than I’d like to admit).  I did get some good pics of the bún (a rice vermicelli noodle dish served with fresh julienned veg and a sweet/spicy fish sauce vinaigrette) and the green papaya salad. Behold:

green papaya salad.

rice vermicelli, carrots, grilled lemongrass chicken, peanuts, scallion, lettuce, fish sauce.

bún with grilled lemongrass chicken.

I also did some marketing at H-Mart, a predominantly Korean grocery.  They have amazing producing and also a great seafood section– despite the overwhelming amount of seafood, it smells like the ocean instead of fish– always a good sign.  Have a quick peek at some of the fruit and veg my friend Dan snapped with his phone:

tomatillos, with cactus leaf to the left.


fresh olives. asian cuisine, especially chinese cuisine, treat olives very differently from mediterranean-style food.


fresh chickpeas-- there's usually two bright green lil guys nestled inside of each pod.

The next weekend I jumped continents, culinarily speaking, and made gorditas with some friends.  Or rather, I made pico de gallo, and my lovely friend Nathalie cooked for the rest of us.  There were homemade gorditas (like a Mexican pita pocket, made with masa de harina), refried beans, queso fresco, shredded chicken in salsa verde and a chipotle salsa, and tequila.  I cheated in the below picture and made them open-faced instead of slicing them into pockets.

resembling nothing like the kak you get from taco bell.

In the meantime, I’ve been making lots of stir-fries, eating a ton of veggie burgers and a random assortment of things cobbled together that don’t really resemble a meal in any way, shape, or form.  However, I have a serious surplus of fuyu persimmons hanging out on my countertop and hope to be making some tasty nibbles with those in the near future.  Until then …

picture from the Tasting Cultures blog

Putting Food on the Map (literally)

It’s probably shameful to admit on a cooking/food blog, but I haven’t really cooked in awhile.  I’ve been living off a supply of frozen veggie marinara sauce, curry and veggie burgers since about halfway through my midterms.  I’ll get back in the groove at some point, but it’s become a little bit more challenging now that the bounty of summer produce is on its way out.  As much as I love food, I’m just not a huge fan of the bazillion and one types of squashes, gourds (unless they’re tabletop decor— warning: contains strong language) and root veg that are everywhere in the markets at the moment.  In the interest of not neglecting this space completely, I’m going to be posting about some interesting food-related tidbits I’ve come across recently on the web and recycling some recipes of mine from when I was living in South Africa.

I’ve written here about Indian food before, whether it was my Bangalore-inspired rainbow curry or the sustainability of an Indian meal eaten in the traditional way.  What I haven’t touched on is the incredible diversity of Indian food (and culture!).  In a country with 1,576 classified languages and 22 “official” languages, uniqueness is something of a hallmark.  It can be found in dress, in both written and spoken languages, religion, geography and last but not least, the cuisine.  This is why I was so excited to discover the following map (via David Leibovitz and the Tasting Cultures blog) that maps out (har har) must-try Indian specialties.  I sampled most of the Karnatakan delicacies when I was living there, but as you’ll see from the huge list, I’m a long, LONG way from even making a dent in it (Mysore Pak is a particular favorite).  What have you tried?

picture from the Tasting Cultures blog


A Last Glimpse of Summer

For any of you that follow my sporadic updates on Twitter, this past week has been less than fun on the school front.  I had a 10 page paper due last Thursday, a problem set and reading for economics yesterday, a 12 page paper due today, a project proposal due this Thursday, plus a book to read for Thursday.  I went to sleep at 6 am this morning and woke up three hours later so I could finish my portion of said project proposal.  This girl doesn’t function well on three hours of sleep, so I trekked over to baked having just rolled out of bed– in fact, still in my pajamas and slippers. I thought I timed my arrival so I would a) miss our morning coffee rush and b) not run into my morning regulars, who often see me half-functioning anyway.  Let’s just say that that didn’t go quite as planned …

In any event, my jam-packed academic schedule has left me zero time to cook.  I’ve been doing embarassing things like eating baked potatoes apple-style, relying on spoonfuls of peanut butter for protein, and microwaving mysterious rocks of frozen vegetables in an effort to consume something slightly green.  And we won’t even get into the quantity of coffee I’ve been drinking.

Since I can’t offer you a recipe or a food adventure, I leave you with this slideshow of lovely photographs I snapped at the Dupont Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago.  I didn’t have my baby Alpha at the time, but these snaps still look pretty and serve as a tasty reminder of this summer’s bounty.

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