A Belated Ode to Autumn

In the hottest part of summer all we can do is hope for crisp fall days, trading tank tops for sweaters, and dreaming about everything flavored with pumpkin spice.  The reality is that autumn is an idyllic imagining of a season that is much beloved but too short, if it ever arrives at all for some of us.  Living in southern(ish) California means we suffer from a year-round temperate climate.  This week the forecast calls for seventy degree weather with a slight chance of rain.  For many of my colder climate friends this is ideal shorts weather, but there’s something inherently wrong about celebrating Thanksgiving in cutoffs and flip flops (blame it my northern California upbringing).

While I’ve adjusted what’s in my closet so that my outfits work year long (give or take a scarf and a cardigan), I haven’t adjusted my expectations for the fall season.  I still look forward to comfort foods piping hot from the oven, my down comforter, and those gorgeous autumnal colors.  Last week the trees finally cooperated and it looks like fall is officially here:


This is good news since Thanksgiving means it’s basically winter, which means it’s practically Christmas, and that essentially means it’s 2014 already, OMG LET’S FREAK OUT.  Anyway, I definitely haven’t gotten my fill of the season yet, so here’s my belated ode to autumn.

A List of my Favorite Things:

1. Decorative Gourds:  I buy a pumpkin every year to decorate my table.  Sometimes I’ll buy a few and try to arrange them like I’m Martha Stewart (I’m really not).  One time I let a pumpkin go past ripe and it burned a hole in my table.  Ok, not a hole, but the rotting flesh did stain my table and now I have to cover it up with a pile of placemats.  This season I only bought a small pumpkin and it’s perched next to my scented candles.  The only thing that makes me happier than decorative gourds is this beautiful rant about them by Colin Nissan over at McSweeney’s, aptly titled “It’s Decorative Gourd Season, Motherfuckers.”

2.  Apple Hill:  It’s been a few years since I’ve been to Apple Hill, up in the Sierra Foothills in El Dorado County, but it’s always going to live in my memories as a magical place where all my apple flavored dreams come true.  There are pies, turnovers, candied apples, caramel apples, apple juice, apple cider, and so many varieties of delicious farm fresh apples from which to choose.  I do my best to get by with farmers market apples and cider, but this is a northern California fall/winter tradition that I miss and remember fondly.

3.  Pumpkin Spice:  You can get pumpkin spice in just about anything these days, from lattes and chai tea mixes to ice cream and soda.  I only embraced the trend fully last year, but like Ilana Plen, I felt jilted by my love when it left me without warning.  Read her “Open Letter to Pumpkin Flavored Seasonal Treats,” also at McSweeney’s.  (And if you have Peet’s Coffee nearby, I highly recommend the Pumpkin Latte.)

4.  Thanksgiving themed TV shows:  I’m a sucker for a Thanksgiving special.  The holiday brings out the best and worst in people, and who better to make us laugh about it than our favorite characters?  Monica dancing with a turkey on her head will never not be funny.  I also think many Americans can get inspiration from Lorelai’s stance on Thanksgiving as an Olympic sport in eating.  And if I love one good trope, that means I love two combined even more.  How about last year’s New Girl where Jess tried to “parent trap” her divorced parents on Thanksgiving?

Required viewing:
Friends, “The One with All the Thanksgivings”
Gilmore Girls, “A Deep Fried Korean Thanksgiving”
New Girl, “Parents”

5.  Food:  Last year I hosted Thanksgiving for my family and my in-laws.  It was incredibly stressful, but so rewarding to make eight dishes from scratch in my apartment-sized kitchen.  I say that with zero sarcasm, actually.  If Lorelai gets a gold medal in eating, then I should have gotten the gold for cooking.  One of my favorite things I made was an arugula salad with pomegranate, persimmon, and pears.  I liked this so much, I’m bringing it this year as my contribution to dinner on Thursday.

Arugula Salad with Pear, Persimmon, and Pomegranate


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Arrow Dynamics

I’m not what you might call a “sporty” person.  My parents kept me fairly active as a child by enrolling me in a variety of activities.  I participated in figure skating and gymnastics for periods during my youth. I had an even longer commitment to dance, which I did for ten years (seven of which were competitive). I did swimming lessons throughout my childhood, leading to a position as a lifeguard and swimming instructor during my high school and undergraduate years.

Alas, I’ve become progressively more and more slovenly as an adult. My general attitude towards fitness and physical activity can best be summed up by beautiful tropical fish Ann Perkins from Parks and Recreation: “Jogging is the worst, Chris! I mean, I know it keeps you healthy but God at what cost?” For most of my adult life I haven’t had the kind of active hobbies that people proudly display on their resumes and Facebook profile pages: “Rebecca enjoys surfing, skiing, and long walks on the beach” “Todd likes to fish, golf, rock climb, mountain bike, and hike”  (whoa, slow your roll Todd). By contrast, “Meg enjoys settling down into her couch groove  to inhale brie and drink wine coolers from a hurricane glass while reading, watching TV and movies, or dicking around on the Internet!” What I like to deem my “fancy pants” activities – going to the opera, ballet, and theatre – tend to involve a lot of butt-to-chair action too. I even manage to make visiting museum and art galleries a sedentary past time (I can appreciate that sculpture perfectly well from this bench, thank you very much). In sum, I take the phrase “down time” quite literally.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having sedentary hobbies. I think appreciating film, television, books, video games, or any other couch potato-related activity is a valid way to spend some of your time if it brings you happiness! But I felt the need to add some variety to my life, to bring a greater sense of balance to my leisure time so that it wasn’t all sloth-like. I didn’t want my Sims to have more fulfilling and interesting hobbies than I did. I started my efforts towards having non-couch-related hobbies by revisiting one of my favourite activities of my childhood, dance. This time instead of the barre I picked up some heels and got into the ballroom by taking up salsa and bachata dancing. I took it up with one of my best friends, and it’s been a fun way to be a bit more social and active these last couple of years. Salsa has been a casual flirtation, though, compared to the passionate love affair I embarked on last year with a sport that’s been getting a lot of media attention lately (including this weekend’s release of Catching Fire): archery.

Photograph: Michael Betts (Getty Images)

Photograph by Michael Betts (Getty Images)

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The Souping Dead: Dead Weight

So, the most important lesson I learned with this week’s The Souping Dead is to read the fine print. It is now 8pm in the time zone around which all others revolve. My show is presently starting. And my stew is going to be in the oven for another two hours. Le sigh.

But let’s rewind. For this season’s set of soups, I’ve made a lot that I’ve been really happy with, but though the recipes have been diverse, the flavor palate keeps veering into familiar territory. That concern, in conjunction with a recent conversation with a friend about Belgian beers, lead me to Carbonnade a la Flamande, pulled from the Cooks Illustrated website. It’s a beef stew, but unlike my usual gravitation pull, it’s got a beer base instead of wine. But, like so many Ruxin’s that have gone before me, I just couldn’t help but tinker.

Carbonnade a la Flamande is cited as a beer, beef, & onion stew. And as we’ve discussed, I’m so-so on the onions right now. So I halved the amount called for and tossed in some mushrooms in their place. As a serving suggestion, it recommends the stew be portioned over egg noodles or mashed potatoes. And while that’s all well and good, you know what I really like? Potatoes stewing in meat juice for a couple of hours. So out went the notion of mashers, and into the stew pot went a mix of yukon gold and baby reds. To accommodate this extra allotment of thirsty veg, I also included an extra half cup of broth, just to maintain its soupy integrity. Now it’s just a waiting game to see if all that tinkering paid off. In the meantime: zombies.

On that front, in attempting to stay as vague as vague can be, “Dead Weight” had some great moments, but ultimately served no purpose than to all-too-swiftly return us to the status quo. While not entirely surprising, I would have liked to have linger in some of those new dynamics that have been introduced. It was still expertly done, but it felt rushed, and given how very well they’ve paced out the rest of the season, I felt a little bit cheated by the way this played out.

But hey, it did the trick in happily helping me pass the hours waiting for my stew. When I finally dug in, I found it to be well-worth the effort. I’m not sure I successfully took the road less travelled with this one, but it made a great opportunity to correct some sins from a beef stew last year that did not turn out as well as I had hoped. The beef in this one was melt-in-your-mouth tender, and the beer gave the broth a caramel rich depth.


Next week, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, and with it, The Souping Dead. We’re faced with cliffhangers on all fronts. Stay tuned.


The Souping Dead: Live Bait

With a title like that, I guess I should have looked into a cioppino, but instead, I decided to try my hand at chili. Once again, I went for Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter, where I’d long ago flagged her recipe for a vegetarian chili. But after looking at it, it just wasn’t resonating. One of the things I love about soup, however, is that a lot of them aren’t an exact science. You can keep basic ratios the same and swap ingredients in and out and still wind up with something delicious. So I started my plotting, and in the meantime, went about looking something up for later in the week in her other book, It’s All Good. I failed to find the swiss chard recipe I was looking for, but I did stumble on a different chili recipe that was tackling the dish with a bunch of the substitutions I’d been planning! Clearly, it was meant to be: Chicken + White Bean Chili.

The recipe was pretty straight forward.. the two main ingredients are right in the title. Add in the standard couple of cans of tomatoes, red bell pepper, onions & garlic (I halved what was asked on the latter two, since as we’ve established, that’s how I roll), along with the usual suspects from the spice rack. With one exception, that is. I shambled from aisle to aisle, slack-jawed and seeking without finding, like the zombies I enjoy so much. What the hell was sweet pimenton? And where could I find it? The folks working at the store were no help and my confused wandering lead me nowhere. Lucky for me, it only took me ten minutes to remember that I had the internet in my pocket. With an assist from my good pals Siri and Google, it was revealed that sweet pimenton is another name for sweet, smoked, spanish paprika, which, as it turns out, was remarkably easy to find.

And as it turns out, it was worth the effort. The sweet pimenton had a strong (but not overpowering flavor) and combined with the cannellini beans, and the big, juicy chunks of chicken, it resulted in a chili that felt more Spanish than southwestern in origin. I paired it a 2004 Torre Oria Reserva, a nice Spanish tempranillo, and the whole meal really just came together. I topped it off with yogurt and cilantro, and it may well be my favorite soup so far this season.

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As for the show, you know, I don’t want to spoil anything. But let me just say, I’m a person who generally watches a show for the main character. I know all the cool kids on the internet are more into the secondary, tertiary, or even quaternary characters (the more obscure the better, in some circles), but if I can’t get attached to the primary, I never get far enough to meet the rest. Buffy, Jack, Rick.. these are my people. These are the characters that make me tune in every week. So when it became apparent that this episode wasn’t going to highlight my boy Grimes, I was definitely dubious. But once again, they knocked it out of the park. The turnover in The Walking Dead showrunners has always been a point of concern for me, but Scott Gimple may just be The One. Big high fives from this camp.


Community Seafood: Albacore Tuna

It’s been hotter than blazes this week, despite the fact it’s November.  This Wednesday, I was pleasantly surprised to receive the email update from Community Seafood letting us know our fish share would be Albacore Tuna.  I couldn’t wait to try a new product and new preparation, and I was immediately enticed to do a seared tuna since the fish would be sashimi grade.  The Community Seafood newsletters have been hit or miss for me, but I liked the simplicity of the recipe inspired by one from Rodelio Aglibot, and I thought the dish would be perfect for an evening of hot Santa Ana winds.

After picking up the fish, I declared to my partner that I hated all of humanity (it was one of those days at work), so he jokingly asked me if I was ready to brave Whole Foods for the rest of our  ingredients.  I loathe grocery shopping during the best of times, but last night’s post-work dinnertime rush wasn’t so awful, after all.  Prep work at home was quick, and soon I was sitting down to one of the tastiest dinners we’ve made in a long time.

from prep to plate

from prep to plate

Seared Tuna with Japanese Salsa

Ingredients: Continue reading

My Winter Addiction

It’s that time of year again. We’ve set the clocks back, and it’s pitch dark by 5:30 pm, and the days are still getting shorter. By the time 9 pm hits, you feel like you should already be asleep because you’ve been enveloped in darkness for so long. As someone who actually likes winter, and spends a good portion of the summer hiding from the sun, I have to admit that the ever-present darkness around this time of year even gets to me. It’s tough to work up the motivation to do anything except curl up in bed after about 4 pm.

Since it isn’t actually feasible for me to go into hibernation, I’ve found that a good way to combat the darkness is to literally brighten it up. In other words, candles are my winter obsession. After all, at its core, the holiday season is really about bringing some light and warmth to the dark, right?

The onslaught of Christmas and holiday themed candles is already well under-way. Bath and Body Works, always on top of seasonal changes, has had their winter/holiday display out for several weeks now. On the other end of the price spectrum, Diptyque has unveiled their set of holiday candles for the season, and they’re just as stunning as ever. However, my favorite candle fragrance of the moment is something a little less obviously geared toward the holiday theme.

bendels chai

Henri Bendel’s Chai candle is my current addiction. I recently visited New York, and Bendel’s had one of their Chai candles burning in the store. It was the best sales technique – I was sold instantly. There’s no other way to describe it: this candle is like living in a chai tea latte. It’s the absolute embodiment of comfort.

I’ll be honest, Bendel’s candles don’t burn as evenly as I would like. Burning down the last third of the candle can be a messy business sometimes. However, the intensity and projection of the fragrance make up for it, and make this brand worth it for me. Burning one Bendel’s candle at a time is more than enough to leave my apartment smelling great for an evening, and even throughout the next day.

Bendel’s Chai is my obsession at the moment, but it doesn’t matter what particular candle brand or fragrance you prefer. Candles are a relatively simple way to (literally) brighten up an otherwise dreary evening. A great candle or two always make me feel just a tiny bit more cheerful about dragging myself away from the warmth of my comforter. It’s a chic way to bring a touch of festivity to what can otherwise be an overwhelmingly dark time of year.

The Souping Dead: Internment

​I’ve been on a comfort food kick the last couple of weekends. Last Sunday, I went the stew route​, because you just can’t go wrong with meat and potatoes and carrots simmering away in mix of stock and wine. Still in the same mindset, I decided to hit up another classic: tomato soup & cheese toasties.

For my recipe, I grabbed one of my favorite cookbooks: Gwyneth Paltrow’s My Father’s Daughter (if there was ever a book I had a chance of cooking my way through cover to cover, it’s this one) for her take on tomato soup, a delicious combo of roasted tomatoes and fresh basil.

The tomato roasting process is half the fun with this one. Living in Minnesota, we’re graced with some of the best tomatoes in the world for an all-too-short span at the end of summer before it’s cruelly yanked away, leaving us once again with a passable-but-unspectacular lot of supermarket hot house tomatoes. Slow-roasting with a bit of olive oil and salt really brings out the flavor in even the most flavorless specimen. Added bonus, once the roasting process is done, the caramelized tomato juices, oil, and salt make for some delicious dipping if you happen to have a baguette around to snack on while the soup simmers away (failing a baguette, a finger will suffice… it’s that good). For the soup itself, the recipe is solid. I’ve made it a half dozen times now, and I only make a couple of tweaks. The first, my standard halving of the garlic in the dish. I don’t dig on garlic lately, and depending on the preparation, I either cut the amount or omit it entirely. Second, I sub in San Marzano tomatoes instead of the basic variety, because they are delish.

The finished product is richly tomato-y, bright and tangy, and a far cry from its canned cousin at Campbell’s, but no less of a great partner in crime for a grilled cheese.
As for the show? It was everything I love about The Walking Dead, and everything I love about the genre, period. As much as I love The Walking Dead, I can admit that it has been very uneven over the course of its run, sometimes even frustrating, and I love it in spite of those flaws. But “Internment” was the show at its best. No gimmicks, no interpersonal pettiness. It was just raw, human survival, and the humanity that can shine through in even the darkest times. It was flawlessly done, and a high mark in a season that has been full of them. I’ll be honest.. it kind of made me wish I’d gone for a fancier soup.

I Am a Foodie

I am one of those annoying people who proudly takes pictures of the food I’m about to consume, much to the chagrin of my dining companions.  I feel like I’ve earned the right to take obnoxious foodie pics because I spent the better part of ten years totally disconnected from the food I was eating.  During college and the ensuing years after, I subsisted on Starbuck’s caramel macchiatos with sugar-free vanilla syrup, Diet Coke, envelopes of instant oatmeal, Lean Cuisine, soy corn dogs, and Saltine crackers with American cheese and turkey.  It’s a miracle I didn’t get scurvy.

In the last five years I have made major headway in my eating and shopping habits.  I’m lucky to enjoy year-round farmers markets and a variety of community supported agriculture (CSA) opportunities in the area.  For a while my partner and I were members of Local Harvest Delivery, which delivered produce boxes to our porch every other Saturday.  It was a test of my patience to deal with things I’d never eaten, much less prepared.  During our membership I was exposed to eating leeks, fennel, pea tendrils, pepino melons, guava, and cherimoya, along with other conventional fruits and vegetables.  I had a lot of success making kale chips, salade Lyonnaise with frisée, and herbed spaghetti squash (fresh chives and lots of butter).  There were also a few flop experiments–like that time I roasted beets and my cat stole one and ate the whole thing (and left streaks of pink beet juice all over the floor and not a spot on her), or the time I nearly lost a finger to my battle with a butternut squash, and let’s not even talk about the half-eaten produce that went bad before I could figure out how it should be prepared.  After a solid run with a mixed vegetable and fruit box, we opted to go the easier route and switched to a fruit only box.  While the fruit box was much easier to consume, I found I actually missed eating vegetables, even the weird ones.  Now my partner hits up the Tuesday market after work, and I’m going to the newest one in town on Wednesdays.

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Christina takes gratuitous amounts of pictures at the Gaucho Certified Farmers Market

In 2012 we joined Community Seafood, and according to their website, they “use a CSA-based model to help promote local retention of seafood harvested in the Santa Barbara channel.”  During the course of our membership we’ve had black cod, white seabass, yellowtail, sheephead, opah, rockfish, king salmon, rock lobster, rock crab, ridgeback shrimp, and mussels.  We’ve culled the internet and discovered some amazing hits like black cod with chili oil and fried garlic, but we’ve also regretted some preparations like the citrus and olive oil anchovies from last week.   Fish nights at our house are always fun because we rarely repeat a dish (the exception being the above), so generally it’s like cooking by the seat of your pants.

I still indulge in too many coffee drinks, but I’ve curbed my processed food habit almost entirely.  I don’t live under the misguided notion that eating fresh foods make me a better person, that I’m saving the planet, or even prolonging my life (because OMG vegetables with butter taste good!)–I just really like eating, and talking about food, and photographing it.  Buying and eating local has taught me that you don’t have to do a whole lot to make things taste delicious when your product is good.  Catch up with me here as I document Community Seafood nights and my spoils from farmers market.


The Souping Dead

Last year I found myself standing in my kitchen with a crisp, cool October breeze wafting in through the window, contemplating, as I often do, the notion of pairings: what does one serve with The Walking Dead? I mean, it’s my favorite show. It’s funny, it’s violent, the soundtrack kicks ass. Its premiere always falls around Halloween, officially kicking off the holiday season, and giving October that much more of a foundation for its permanent status as the best month of the year. The time had come to start cooking with intent; Rick Grimes deserved better than frozen quiche and leftover pad thai. And then it hit me: SOUP. It was perfect: warm for the chilly nights, comforting for the dismemberments and other miscellaneous carnage, and served in a bowl for easy eating from the sofa (or bed, because sometimes, that’s just how I roll).

Like that, The Souping Dead was born. Each Sunday when The Walking Dead airs sometimes new recipes, sometimes old favorites, but always hot and fresh, made that day and from scratch. I did it for the duration of the show’s third season and started up again with renewed vigor this year. They haven’t all been winners, but there’s something to the ritual of it that makes it worth it either way, settling in with my apron on, some good jams or the latest episode of Comedy Bang Bang playing, all three dogs underfoot, filling the house with good smells as I run between my tiny kitchen and the dining room to check the recipe, and then collapsing at the end with a glass of wine and some post-apocalyptic awesomeness with which to enjoy the spoils.

So circle back on Mondays during the season for a report on the night’s progress. I’ll share recipes when I can, or how you can track them down when I can’t. (For a sneak peek, check out my failed attempt at a cooking blog where I covered one of last year’s efforts.)