When we escaped to the cabin in the woods, my goal was to cook for the sake of cooking, to enjoy the process and to revel in slow meals. Since the cabin kitchen was on the smaller side, and since our plan was to sequester ourselves in coziness, I had to be more intentional, more prudent. Each ingredient needed to flow from one meal to the next. Tacos are a great decoy for leftovers.
In honor of Black History Month, this is my own humble nod of gratitude for the history the black community built and enriched. This is my own nod of gratitude toward the immigrants, who like my grandmother's family came to America and worked harder than anyone, planting their traditions into American soils. It's a nod to those who were here long before any of us, who valued the many resources this beautiful chunk of land had to offer.
The creeping vine has begun to reveal a bright, blazing red. The blankets linger on the couch in the darkness of the mornings, tossed aside after cuddling in the evening’s chill. Soups and ciders have begun to be appealing again, and the bed has doubled with the thickness of comforters and quilts. It’s fall, but my mind keeps wandering back to the day I played hooky and soaked up the last bit of summer.
When I think back to that day of lounging aimlessly on the shores of Lake Erie, my skin feels warmer. The intense sunlight renders my skin golden, and I brace myself for the stark contrast of the water, an instant chill surmounted only by a quick submersion.
They say “when it rains, it pours,” but in my freelance world lately, “when it rains, it tsunamis” feels more accurate. The beginning of September was the equivalent of hiking to a cliff and seeing a vast, new territory of hurdles and challenges in the distance. As I stared into an overwhelming work load, I did a rare thing- I retreated. I took a day off, and I’ve been trying to channel a bit of that blessed hooky day ever since.
Lake Erie had shamefully been unchecked on my summer bucket list for more than one season. Finally, with fall and work looming, I recruited my partner in bucket list adventures for a day of soft sand, intense sun, a picnic lunch, sneaky whiskey and the type of water antics that leave you coughing and snorting and feeling like a child who just plunged off the diving board.
The picnic menu, like the day itself, was another attempt to soak up the end of summer and put a dent in the pile of harvested zucchinis.
When I finally returned to that precipice, to face the looming projects and more intense work load on the horizon, I tried to embrace the work with gratitude. Though not always successful and definitely guilty of an ugly meltdown, I tried to enjoy the pouring rain of projects. In case I forgot and let my mind slip into stress/frenzy mode, I attached a sticky note reminder near my desk. “Commit to creating joyfully, not stressfully,” wise words from the ever strategic Marie Forleo.
It’d be great if my life included A LOT more beachy days with best friends and wholesome picnics, and part of me will strive for more of those, but more importantly, I’m striving to take that beach day’s in-the-moment-happy vibe with me in my work. I like what I do, and even if I’d like a little more space between projects, I’m still grateful for the spike.
Here’s to sharing summer recipes well into fall, to holding on tightly to hooky days, to picnics with friends and to creating joyfully because it really could be so much worse.
Vietnamese Zoodle Salad with Fragrant Herbs & Peanuts & Zucchini Bánh Mì
About These Recipes: Ideal for that end of summer zucchini pile, these recipes are loose and easily adaptable. Omit the fish sauce in the Zoodle Salad and a vegan mayo in the sandwich for a vegan picnic spread.
What this recipe is not:
- A tool for teaching an ESL student the culinary significance and the translation of the word “pizza.” It is not that.
- A pizza to offer to someone who is *legitimately gluten free but who has tasted pizza at its most glutinous, doughiest, finest. It is not that. (*legitimately gluten free, not one of those, “oh, I”m off the gluten now” types who clearly still has muffin crumbs on his or her lips from breakfast. You can offer this as pizza to them).
- A new contender to go into the ring with Chicago and New York. It is not that.
What this recipe is:
- An interesting way to eat more cauliflower. It is that.
- Practically a corn-free polenta. It is that.
- A recipe you can make on a weeknight and feel really proud of the effort you invested in your dinnertime. It is that.
- Good. It is really good. But it’s hardly a pizza.
- A vehicle for bacon. It is that. Unless you’re gluten free and vegan. Then, don’t even get me started.
So if you’re still on board with this cauliflower [non]pizza, proceed. The recipe awaits!
Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Bacon, Mushrooms and Kale
About This Recipe: Though closer in consistency to a thicker polenta, this cauliflower “crust” is a good way to eat your favorite pizza toppings while eating more cauliflower. It’s gluten free, so it’s a safe bet for feeding a crowd. By changing the slice size or shape, you could alter this to be a crowd-pleasing appetizer.
Inspired by a sandwich I ate at Burgh'ers (www.burgherspgh.com), this fried chicken has a crunchy, whole grain batter and a pickle flavor in every bite! As a way to conserve more, I used leftover liquid from a jar of store-bought, organic pickles, but you can also experiment making your own brine.
They call it a “fat letter,” and I’ll never forget the day I received mine.
After a guidance counselor told me about Carnegie Mellon University, I fell hard- that weak in the knees, hearts in the eyes, wish-it-to-be-so sort of way. Being that my confidence was just as weak as my knees, I doubted the school would feel the same about me. As I gripped the overstuffed letter in my shaky hands, my first thought was “why would they make the rejection so thick?”
After fighting the nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach and finally daring to break the adhesive seal, my eyes skimmed frantically and landed on “congratulations.” So many emotions pulsed through my body, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Overcome with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment like never before, my body rocked back and forth like a person in the midst of a psychotic episode.
A few months later, I packed my parents car to the brim and began one of the most challenging chapters of my life! All my preconceived notions were broken and rebuilt, in a way that taught me to think for myself, to trust my instincts and to learn the importance of quitting frequently and redirecting quickly (still learning this!). On campus, I finally found peers who made sense- people who were work obsessed dorks with creative sides. After all, the school’s motto is “My heart is in the work.” Though there were still students whose brainpower could crush me, acceptance to this place empowered me.
When I say attending Carnegie Mellon was the hardest challenge I’ve faced, it’s no understatement. Days and nights bled together in periods of sleepless, intense work leading to that moment when I had to stand in front of accomplished critics and defend my thought process. The well traveled route from home to studio was often a blur of stressful to-do lists running through my head, but every now and then, something would jar me from my crazed mental state. One of those distractions was Pi Day!
Pi = 3.141592… March 14 = 3-14, therefore, Pi Day = March 14
Welcome to the nerd holiday known as Pi Day! On this day, math enthusiasts (is this the originator?!?) would chalk the never-ending number all over campus. The combination of the nerd enthusiasm and the element of tradition made this day comforting to me, a day on which I could rely despite all the uncontrollable, non-constants in my life. It was a celebration of CMU in all its quirkiness, and I looked forward to it every year!
After graduating, I still looked forward to the holiday, and in the meantime, I found myself drawn to baking. Pi Day became Pi(e) Day, which eventually became a new obsession in its own way.
In 2010, my friend Erin Pischke (also a CMU grad!) and I created The QT Pi(e) Project. On “Pi(e) Day,” March 14, 2010 (3/14/10), The QT Pi(e) Project used bicycles to deliver 31 pies (314 would have killed us), made from all local ingredients, to Pittsburgh homes with 314 addresses. Each pie arrived in a custom-made recipe box, with recipe cards explaining the project and the benefits to buying and eating local foods.
The QT Pi(e) Project was a grant funded endeavor, which gave me a confidence boost to put more of my ideas into motion and into the world, and the foundation of that idea was Pi Day at Carnegie Mellon. Life had come full circle! (see what I did there?)
When the good folks behind Carnegie Mellon’s website contacted me this year and asked if I’d like to share a recipe on the school’s website for Pi(e) Day, I was OVER THE MOON! In dorky pun terms, this recognition felt like being nominated for an Academy Award! Be the face of Pi(e) for 2016? OF COURSE OF COURSE OF COURSE I wanted to make that pie!
This Scottish Inspired Savory Meat Pie with Black Lava Salty Scotty Dogs is the edible ode to my alma mater, the place that made me appreciate Pi and in more ways than not, shaped me into who I am today. I still can’t fathom how the world expects 18-year-olds to make informed decisions about the rest of their lives, but at least I chose a rewarding place to figure out how little I knew about myself and the world.
Happy Pi(e) Day ya nerds!
p.s: If you’re wondering why Scottish, you’re clearly not a Tartan. If you take a stroll on campus in the spring, you’re likely to encounter a Scotty dog or two, a bagpipe band in kilts and a fair bit of Tartan plaid. The Scottish roots run deep via Andrew Carnegie.
A Scottish Inspired Savory Pie for Pi(e) Day 2016
About This Recipe: This pie is a labor of love, which is why it is fitting for Pi(e) Day celebrations! It consists of a savory, whole grain pie crust, filled with a slow-cooked Scottish stew and a variation on traditional Scottish mushy peas. Make the Scottish Beef Stew first, and while the stew is slow cooking, prepare the crust, then Mushy Peas & Potatoes while the crusts chill. The stew and mushy peas recipes yield more than necessary for one pie, but I like to make the larger quantities and freeze the excess to make future weeknight meals a lot easier. Alternately, you could halve the stew recipe, or better yet, double the crust recipe and make two savory pies!