Celebration and Soba Noodles

I have lived in Texas for five months now (I thought it was six, got WAY too excited about being here for ½ a year, actually counted and then remembered that math isn’t a strength of mine). Regardless, five months is long enough to begin to feel like maybe, just maybe, this place is becoming my home.

I know what routine feels like down here. My dog has learned the trees. I have learned the streets. I’m already a baby when it comes to the weather. And I say y’all and folks.

I’m a full-blown Texan. (ha)

Although I know I will always be a PNWer at heart, I’ve come to love the idea of being a Texan…wait, let me clarify, I love the idea of being an Austinite.

Here is why:

  1. This city is alive. It’s vibrant. It shines.
  2. The food trucks are open late and serve fare that is making me drool as I type this. Just the other night, in the back of Cheer Up Charlies, I got two giant freshly made spring rolls with peanut sauce. At 2 am. IPA and spring rolls on a warm January evening. This is what bliss looks like.
  3. You can swim nine months out of the year. For a town where summer is a literal oven, the number of natural bodies of water in this town is astounding. Spring fed pools, worthy of night swimming adventures. Paddle boarding, kayaking, and floating down the river with a beer in hand.
  4. People smile at you when you’re walking down the street. Small talk is made when you buy your groceries. The handshakes are firm. The sunshine makes people happier. I can get down with all this joy.
  5. Young people are everywhere. Austin is the fasting growing city in the USA, and a majority of those people are 20-somethings, looking for new. Similar to me, when you ask people why they moved to Austin, a usual response is, “I needed a change, and Austin was it.”
  6. Austin is it.

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Homesickness comes and goes. Seattle is in my bones. We got in a sample of beard oil at work the other day (my job RULES), and it smelled like pine trees and cedar. I ached for flannel and damp days. My co-worker joked that all a man would have to do is douse themselves in beard oil and I’d be theirs.

You can take the girl out of Seattle, but you can’t take Seattle out of the girl.

But I’m working on it. I went to a blue grass show and stomped my feet, drank a lone star, and whooped and hollered with the rest of them. I am falling for the combination of denim and worn-out cowboy boots. I am soaking up the warm winter evenings, and days that leave my skin freckled and alive.

Today I went on a “hike” with my dog. As he ran around avoiding cactuses, I realized how familiar all of this seems, and how that’s such a welcome change.

I celebrated this with a giant bowl of soba noodle salad and a good cuddle session with the puppy.

It’s good to feel this alive.

Soba Noodle Salad

  • 12 oz of buckwheat soba noodles
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 4 carrots, shredded
  • ¼ red cabbage, chopped
  • Bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 2 cups of kale or mixed greens
  • 1 package of tofu, cut into squares

It’s become a habit of mine to get all the excess water out of the tofu. It makes it more dense, and easier to cook with. To do this, I wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel, put it in between two plates, and then put all my cookbooks on top of that and let it sit for 30 minutes.

So if that sounds like a good idea to you, do that first. If not, don’t. Easy enough. Either way, cut the tofu into small squares.

Next, make the dressing. Combine the soy sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil, rice vinegar and honey together. Whisk and set aside.

Then cook the noodles. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and once boiling add in the noodles. They cook in about 8 minutes. Drain the water and put the noodles into a bowl.

Chop all your veggies and get your tofu ready. Take the remaining 1 tbsp sesame oil and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the tofu, and splash some extra soy sauce on top. Let cook for about 4 minutes and then flip, so each side of the tofu gets a nice crispy outside.

Once the tofu is done, toss the veggies and tofu with the noodles and add the dressing. Mix everything together and enjoy. This is a perfect salad to eat for days and days, as it tastes better cold. Hip hip for dishes where the leftovers are better.

* Note: I always listen to This American Life when I cook, the episode I listened to today was about pig rectums. I DO NOT recommend this. However, catching up on podcasts in the kitchen is heaven.

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Solitude and Butternut Squash

Fun fact: I have never been to a movie alone. I’ve never even gone to a restaurant by myself.

I have a hard time deciphering between loneliness and solitude. I suppose it has to do with the fact that I’ve always had a good group of friends. Every weekend of my adulthood was spent with this incredible group of ladies. In junior high it looked like staying up until 4 am chatting on AIM with boys we didn’t have the courage to talk to at school. In high school… well, it looked pretty much the same.

My best friend used to live in this cabin behind the graveyard. It looked like it was made out of lincoln logs, and the sprawling front yard was host to endless water fights come summer. Her back room was always stocked with diet coke, and we laid claim to the upstairs. The “big room” was full of squishy coaches and extra beds. Every weekend I would pack my bag and walk over to stay the weekend. Just a few blocks away, my best friend’s house was where I grew up.

This house brought together a group of girls that I still call my best friends to this day. They’re my people. They always have been, and always will be. The problem is, all of them live in Washington. I live in Texas.

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There’s the conundrum. I can’t head down the street, or across the hall. That comfort is now a phone call or skype date away. And that’s just fine. I chose to move to Texas, and it’s growing on me. Every day, I love it more and more. Down here in my little southern bubble, far from home, I’m learning to be alone. I’m dipping my toes into solitude and relishing in the silence.

Lately I have been so busy that I haven’t even had the time to dabble in this lonely/solitude business. Working full-time at a place I really love results in me working 50+ hours a week and not even batting an eye. It’s on the weekend where I’m left with a whole lot of “me” time. I suppose I’ve never really had to ask people to do things, and so while I have friends from work and through my sister, I’m not good at initiating things. Instead, I spent my Friday night cooking (big surprise). And everything about it was quiet and perfect.

I listened to three hours of This American Life, cleaned my room, finally did those piles and piles of laundry and cuddled with the hound. I found Sprouted Kitchen’s squash empanadas recipe, and they looked so delicious that it pushed me into eating cheese (!!!). This tiny little cafe/grocer opened down the street from me, and while it doesn’t quite serve as a grocery store (unless you can survive on wine and chocolate), they do have a great selection of cheese.

cheeseAs someone who’s taking a step back from veganism, I didn’t want to mess around on my little field trip into the world of cheese. Which is why I had a lengthy discussion about goat, feta and what would go well with roasted butternut squash. We settled on a marinated feta that makes my mouth water when I think about it (literally). And yes, it was far too expensive. But as a I said, I wasn’t going to settle on anything less than divine for this dish.

It succeeded in being divine, and then some.

If this is what “lonely” looks like, I’ll take it.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Feta Empanadas

From Sprouted Kitchen

This is a time-consuming recipe, but it’s worth it. The dough turned out REALLY great, although I did adjust it slightly by using rice milk instead of heavy cream (I wasn’t going to get TOO crazy in my dabbling with dairy), and used vegan buttery spread instead of butter (because it was what I had on hand).

The original recipe called for goat cheese, which was my original plan. But after talking to the British lady (I love an accent) about what would pair well with squash, and I tasted the magic of the feta, I scrapped goat cheese. You can do whatever cheese floats your boat. I think having something salty pairs nicely with the spiciness and richness of the squash.

For the dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 stick of unsalted vegan buttery spread (or butter)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper (optional, but I always add pepper when I can)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 3 tbsp of milk (I chose rice, it was in my fridge…)

For the filling:

  • 1 small butternut squash
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 onion, minced
  • 1 tsp. chipotle powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp chopped herbs (I used parsley and cilantro, and added a bit more)
  • 5 oz marinated feta, crumbled
  • egg wash (1 egg and splash of water, well whisked)
  • sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Then, start with the dough. Place the flour, salt and butter in a big bowl. Work with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse meal. You want to keep some chunks of butter visible. Beat together the egg and milk. Pour the mixture into the dry ingredients. Using your fingertips, mix everything, making circular movements. Keep mixing, the dough should come together quickly and if it doesn’t, add one more tbsp of cream (not necessary for me). Press to form a ball, and cover with plastic and keep in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and rub it into the flesh of the vegetable. Sprinkle with salt and cinnamon and roast for about 45 minutes. Remove and let it cool completely.

While the squash is cooking, saute the garlic and onion (or shallot) in a bit of olive oil until just browned. About 8-10 minutes.

Once it’s cool, scoop the flesh into a bowl. Add another pinch of salt, the chipotle, nutmeg, the sauteed garlic and onion and the green herbs. Use a fork to mash everything together. Taste, and add more spices according to taste.

Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and prepare a parchment lined baking sheet. Roll out the dough to about 1/8″ thickness on a floured surface. I used a cup to cut out circles, and then rolled them out thinner. I made big ones, I made small ones, just do whatever floats your boat.

Leave plenty of room around the edge, and put a dollop of squash in the center and a dollop of cheese. Fold the circle over, and seal the edge with your finger. If you want to, you can press along the edge with a fork to make it pretty. Once on the baking sheet, brush the top with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until golden. Enjoy. They will keep in the fridge, and just pop them in the oven to warm them up.

Leftovers for days.

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Self Love and Spicy Tofu

My body and I, we have a complicated relationship. I adore my thin ankles, I think they make me look dainty. I love that I have a smattering of freckles across my nose, across my chest. I am grateful for my strong, long legs.

Yes, I am grateful. But I also live in this silly world of ours where we place so much importance on physical appearance. So much of our world revolves around if we are “beautiful” enough. And I’m not sure where my self-confidence issues came from. Perhaps they came from always being the tall, “athletic” (or was it big-boned?) one in the group.

For some reason all of my closest friends are 5’4″ (or shorter) little waifs. I’m pretty sure I could blow them all away in one breath. They’re all stunningly beautiful and petite. There is this picture from our sophomore homecoming dance where I literally looked like a giant. I towered over them in a HORRIBLE purple tulle dress, short spiked hair and gloves up to my elbows (I suppose we all had that princess fairy tale… eh?) I think of that picture as the epitome of self-doubt. First of all, why didn’t my friends take me aside and tell me I looked straight up ridiculous? Secondly, WHY AM I SO MUCH BIGGER THAN MY FRIENDS?!? Not a good feeling to have as a braces clad teenage girl.

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This is my usual hair style and face… I kid, I kid. I got a LITTLE more style since sophomore year.

Needless to say, I have a love/hate relationship with my body. This body is the one that ex-lovers have described as perfectly curvy. Curvy, eh? That damned “C” word can be interpreted in SO MANY WAYS.

Alright, alright, I’m done whining. Here’s the thing, deep down I know that I am so blessed to have a healthy body. Everything works. I am able to wake up early and walk 3 miles. I can go to yoga four times a week. I can dabble in running, play a round of volleyball, and when I sit all day at the office, my body survives.

I am blessed.

So this brand new year brings about all kinds of changes. New job, new independence, new outlook.

2013, I’m going to make you the year of self-love. Enough of this “I wish I was…” This year I’m going to feed my body real, fresh food. I’m going to spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, studying my recipes like textbooks. I’ll enjoy whiskey when I feel twirly, drink a few when a cute boy wants to teach me to two-step. I will make decadent chocolate desserts, the ones that you serve with ginger ice cream. When I feel like it, I will take a day to reset and dedicate myself to kale.

I will acknowledge my luck. Kiss my knees that are dressed up in freckles, smile extra big in the mirror and pat myself on my back for any and everything.

Here’s to you, 2013.

Spicy Tofu and Wheat Berries

From: PCC Natural Markets

This was one of my favorite things to get at PCC when I lived in Seattle. It was spicy, filling and damned delicious. I think one of the reasons it is so good is because it MAY be dressed in a whole lot of sesame oil, but whatever. The original recipe calls for spelt, but I had wheat berries, so I used those instead. Either will work. Both are delicious. This salad is full of good things, and tastes like heaven in your mouth, so go for it.

  • 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
  • 1.5 tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 cup wheat berries
  • 16 oz firm tofu
  • 1 cup sliced red bell pepper
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup cabbage, chopped

Start your wheat berries. Ideally, you want to soak them overnight. If you didn’t (I didn’t) you can put 1 cup of wheat berries with two cups of water in a pot. Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce heat and let cook for one hour. Drain any excess water, and then leave the lid on to let the kernels continue to steam. Set aside. Combine the tamari, fresh ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, cayenne pepper, sesame oil and olive oil. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and cut your tofu into cubes. Add in 2 tbsp of the dressing, and gently toss. Oil a baking sheet, and line the tofu up on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Chop all your veggies, and once your wheat berries are done, toss it with 3 tbsp of dressing. Once your tofu is done, let it cool for a little bit and once everything is cooled throw it all together, topping with the leftover dressing. Enjoy. SO GOOD.

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Seattle and Whole Grains

Everything about home was magic. Soul lifting, heart warming, beautiful magic. For nine days I didn’t have to worry about money, about the hound, about my job… about anything. I spilled my guts to my mom, and took comfort in her warm home and understanding eyes. I laughed with my stepmom and dad as we climbed up a mountain, surrounded by tall pines bowed with snow. Christmas eve I did the yearly raid of my grandma’s closet, collecting yet another pair of shoes.

355924877401482529_2573928I shimmied. I shook. I saw all those friends of mine that have claimed parts of my heart. We got starry-eyed off of peach/vodka drinks (dangerous) and I ended the night exclaiming that I “couldn’t feel my face”. Piggy back rides turned into dance parties turned into taking swigs of whiskey straight out of the bottle. Being around those people makes my heart swell to good Grinch levels.

Needless to say, coming home (do I call it that yet?) was difficult. It was heavy and hard. I spent the majority of my plane ride over thinking all of the things that would be missing when I touched down in Texas. How all that I loved was back up in that beautiful city. But I told myself that Texas is worth it. I haven’t even scratched the surface of this fascinating town. This place hasn’t found the corners of my soul. I haven’t given it the chance.

So yes. I did cry a few tears that first night back. I cuddled the hound a little too hard. I felt sorry for myself a little too much. But I got over it. I spent my 26th birthday (oh yeah… that happened) alone, reorganizing my life and making a home for myself. My sister and brother-in-law took me to a fancy dinner. My co-workers surprised me with cupcakes (which my dog decided to treat himself to… four of them, mind you) and sang me happy birthday. My best friend back home sent me this picture. BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT. Then, I agreed to go out with co-workers on New Years Eve, when I would have probably ended up going to bed around 10, giving the hound a smooch on the nose. Oh! And I got offered a big girl job, with the whole package included.

358773387646767365_240755803It was a pretty great “Welcome back to Texas.”

I found myself in the kitchen yesterday. The hound at his proper post, waiting for the tiniest shred of sweet potato. I hummed a First Aid Kit song to myself as I made myself a big dish of roasted vegetables over brown rice. I felt a surge of happiness. It was brief, and it was accompanied with a pang of homesickness. But it was there.

And then do it all with a goddamn smile

So, I am planting roots. I am.

Roasted Vegetables with Whole Grains

From: My brain

  • 15 brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half
  • 1 sweet potato, cut into small pieces
  • 4 kale leaves, washed, de-stemmed and cut into bit size pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste

This is a super simple recipe, and is my go to for many a dinner. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees F. Toss your brussels sprouts and sweet potato in olive oil and salt and pepper. You can sprinkle in some extra nutritional yeast if you want (which I always want). Once the oven is warm, roast the brussels and sweet potato for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You will want to roast for about 40 minutes, and you’ll want to throw in the kale (which you can toss with a light amount of olive oil and salt and pepper as well) for the last 15 minutes, that way they will get crispy but not burnt. While the veggies are roasting, start your grains. I did brown rice. You can throw all of this over any grain, my go to is usually quinoa, as it will give you some extra protein. You can learn ALL about grains (and how to cook them) from this 101 cookbooks article– I go to her blog for most everything. Cook your grains, and when your veggies are done, remove them from the oven. Then toss your veggies over your grain, top with 1 tsp of nutritional yeast and enjoy. This is a quick(ish) and warming meal. It will probably become your go-to, or it should be added to your “what should I make for dinner” solution.

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