Monday, January 16, 2012

I can't tell you what it is. I can only tell you what it tastes like.

Good Lord, that was not the year I was expecting to have.

2011 was a game changer. New job, new voice teacher, new haircut, new music, new voice part, new appetites, new recipes, new views on nutrition, new feelings.  Since November 2010, I have been at least 4 different people: An innocent bystander, a bloodlusty Pekinese single mother, a Zombie of the French Revolution, and a Sri Lankan Savage.
But enough with the gratuitous pictures... let's talk about the food.

I've been looking through the posts from the past year and I am somewhat at a loss. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting to make of this year when I resolved to make it delicious. I think I expected to do more cooking and researching recipes and talking about food and cook for other people. Don't get me wrong, recipe cruising is my favorite downtime hobby, and as my 10 year old nephew pointed out on our recent family vacation "Let's talk about what you like to talk about, Aunt Beth: let's talk about food." (That kid has me pegged.) And yet here I am in January 2012 with a blog I never expected to have, trying to decide if I'm going to carry on with this experiment, because I'm not sure it can get much better than it has been this year. My nephew also asked me what the best meal of DNY was and I literally can not choose. How can I even begin? Every thing I have written about this year has been made more sweet by the simple fact that I have been able to share it, in person and through this stupid little blog.

The idea of breaking bread as a metaphor for family and community has always been a very powerful idea to me. We sustain each other, we share our burdens and our joys, we are in it together. Delicious New Year became less about my personal resolution and more about being a part of a family. A weird, eclectic family of our own design. I am very proud to have had the chance to break bread with each of you, to be a part of your community, and part of something delicious with you.

I like to make lists. Every day I make a list of the dumb things I need to do. I have made long lists of things about me that are wonderful, and make me an awesome person to be around. I've made equally long lists of things I hate about myself, and why no one should ever speak to me ever again. So, as is my wont, I have made a short list of things that have struck me about this glorious and Delicious New Year:

1. I Don't Like to follow recipes (that's a metaphor!)
Hey, remember when I first started this blog and I would post the recipes of the tings I was making?
That ended pretty quickly. Partly due to the fact that I started doing uber-delicious meta posts about a series of amazing foods I consumed instead of just one meal. Partly because I stopped cooking for an extended period of time since I was home for a total of 6 hours from February-September. Mostly because neither my stomach nor my heart seem to follow directions, and usually opt for the culinary/emotional road less travelled.

2. I like Oregano
I decided somewhere along the way that I did not like oregano. I avoided it at all costs. I did not even have any in my eclectic spice cabinet. Which is a problem being a foodie of Italian descent: it's hard to avoid the stuff. It was most likely a completely arbitrary decision. And it's now a moot point because, after Salonika's Oregano Chicken and potatoes, I am a dedicated disciple. I have two huge bulk bags of the glorious stuff in my cabinet now and I find ways to put it in everything. And what's striking to me is that this is just one example of something that I thought I didn't care for, of which my opinion turned out to be completely false. Crudites, Tchaikovsky, sunbathing, distance running, radishes, tequila, French opera, electronica, bluegrass, hiking, writing down my opinions and publishing them for others to read. They've all made the shift from nay to yay. I still do not understand football though. Sorry.

3. I am a Stress Baker
Baking, in my mind, is hard. It is tedious and requires meticulous attention and patience, of which I never considered myself to be capable. It turns out, though, that the process is as addictive as the products. It comes as no surprise to anyone that I am a fairly dramatic person and I am really not a champion at stress management. I tend to get moody and overwhelmed and completely unbearable to be round, and I have been trying for years to find a reasonable and effective method for confronting my crazing manic mood swings. Now baking and running are at the top of a list that I never expected to make: Surprising things that soothe me, and coincidentally make me feel completely Bad Ass.

4. The Distance Between Zero and One: This isn't necessarily culinary.
This idea has been on my mindgrapes since well before Nerve's impeccable album of the same title came out in July. I don't like to brag but I think it is worth noting that since this time last year, I have lost roughly 20 pounds. I didn't set out to spend this year reducing my weight or developing an exercise addiction, and a good portion of the meals featured on this blog are burgers or pizza. I haven't taken any pains to monitor my eating habits, but I have been making informed decisions about my nutrition and my life that I have never been educated enough to make before. I have run more miles this year than in all of my other years of life combine. And I'll be honest, I'm Proud of myself. That is something I rarely admit. But I believe in myself more now than I ever have in the past. And it's because I've been able to be thoughtful and sincere here in this blog. As well as getting some serious nutritional education from my friends who are all much much much smarter than I am.

The Bitter and The Sweet:
OF COURSE, there have been some decidedly undelicious moments this year. I was a grade A asshole on New Year's Eve 2011 and ditched my friends to ring in the New Year at home. Our Winter Classic tickets turned out to be an elaborate scam, and K called me in tears for the first time in all the years of our friendship.
I have both unfriended and been unfriended. I had to use the phrase "I do NOT want to be friends with you" for the first time in my life. Twice. In one month.
I got bit by a dog.
I lost every single audition I took this year.
I broke a toilet in the Heinz Lofts.
I declared open war on my uterus. And I can't be totally sure, but I think I lost.
I challenged a retaining wall to a game of chicken and lost ("I GOT THIS"). And other related sidewalk diving incidents.
Several of my close friends moved away from me.
And of course the list goes on. Even now, I am still wrestling with some surprisingly potent post-performance depression, and some very negative feelings about myself in general, a subject which I attempted to deal with in a DNY post a few weeks back. I initially ended the post by saying that, though I was visibly surrounded by goodness, I was feeling completely indifferent and "my heart was as empty as my refrigerator" (A line which I still love, and wish I could use without sounded like an angst-filled teenager with food issues.) 

I have since changed the post to have a much more positive ending. Because more than once this year I have said to myself "This is the happiest I have ever felt". In a skylit hot tub in Michigan, in a cold creek in Rockmere, on a beach blanket in Dewey, in a Chipotle the weekend before my birthday, at work on taco day, at a coffee shop in Kentucky (inexplicably), at backyard barbeques in Highland Park, during every single performance of Dialogues and Messiah, at every single family dinner, on New Years Eve when I was surrounded by those I love. And isn't that the whole point? That the rainbow comes after the rain, and all those unbearable cliches that actually turn out to be true. You take the negativity for what it is, and you move on. Because what's the point of dwelling over some spoiled peanut butter brownies when you have kickass bourbon cookies and homemade sweet tea? 

I have adapted a few mantras throughout the year. They go through rotations, and some of them are quite profane ("I don't fucking care if you like it") or offensive ("Go die in a fire") or kind of confusing ("I can't tell you what it is. I can only tell you what it feels like") or just plain silly ("Fetch me out that doodle doo"). But the most constant, and most powerful sentiment I can evoke about this year is this: LIFE IS FOR THE LIVING. 
It's been a delirious, rollercoaster year, and I would have done myself no favors by not opening my arms and embracing this mad adventure. I don't always understand it and I don't always like it, but most of the time, it's pretty awesome.

The final conclusion is that DNY 2011 was a resounding success.
I am ASTOUNDED by all the intelligence, talent, grace, and beauty by which I am surrounded. I am a little ashamed at having not previously appreciated how lovingly I am cared for by you, friends, and am grateful that I will no longer be making that mistake in the future. You are all wicked awesome chefs and I look forward to the amazing things we will all cook up together.

2012 has a LOT to live up to.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Delicious Old Year

2011 ended with what is easily the best New Year's weekend I have ever had. There wasn't a single moment when I was not happy, comfortable, relaxed, and completely full of delicious food.

I hosted Family Dinner on Friday night. Thrill brought crab cakes with the spiciest chipotle mayo. O travelled from Philly, Janna came in from Texas. KB, Sara, Ryan, Carrie, and Bahn completed the ensemble. I made pasta for the first time from scratch. Homemade Orcchiette with Cauliflower, Kale, Sundried Tomato and Sweet Sausage. We did not accomodate for vegetarians. 

 Saturday, Janna and O and I all slept in then spent the laziest day possible getting coffee and baking these:
An impossibly simple Cherry Tomato Tart and Black Bottom Cupcakes.
It's very possible that these two things are the most delicious that I personally made all year. This tomato tart is literally 5 ingredients, and because two of those ingredient are heavy cream and butter, it is unbelievably decadent. The Black Bottom Cupcakes could not possibly be richer and still be edible.

We took advantage of simple and lazy pleasures: Watching TV together, eating the everything, and very slowly preparing for NEW YEARS' EVE. 
Of which no decent food pictures exist, so let's have a list:
Tater Tots with homemade Sage Aioli
Maple Cheddar Fondue
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Buffalo Chicken Dip
Spicy Crab Dip
Sweet Bites Cookies (thanks, Emily)
Crudites and Boursin Cheese
Deli Wraps
And More Champagne than I have ever ever seen in my life.
I can not imagine anywhere else i would have rather been. Pierogies

Sunday is when DNY finally came full circle. 
Pork and Sauerkraut, Brussel Sprouts with Pecans and Cranberries and Bacon, and with Thrill, Aaron, Kelly, and Katie. 
We watched football and ate ourselves nearly into a coma. 
The most beautiful things I have ever seen in my entire life.

Thank you to every silly mustached one of you. Happy New Year, indeed.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


For the last several years, I have been too poor to take any time off from whatever terrible job I happened to be working, so I would either bring my parents here or journey to the Poconos for less than 24 hours. Both of those scenarios were less than ideal and usually ended in tears. You see, for whatever reason, my family has desperately wanted to but has never been able to institute a successful Christmas tradition. We have tried and tried to develop a special Dilionian brand of Christmas and it has just never stuck. Our hearts were never in it. Or maybe our attention spans are just too short for us to remember what we wanted to canonize. 

This year, I took a different approach. Due to our impending trip to the Lesser Antilles (stay tuned!), we decided that Christmas apart was probably the best solution for everyone. So I offered to sing a few gigs, watch a few friends' pets, and piece together my own strange Christmas trifecta.

Part 1: I'm Dreaming of a Verde Christmas

Though we never need an excuse to prove how fabulous we are, K and AJ and I never pass up an opportunity to be amazing together. After a quick gift exchange which proved that my friends know absolutely everything about me (I got a magnetic spice rack! and a seasonal cookbook that literally says "SAVOR THE BOUNTY" which is now my new catch phrase!), we took our impeccably dressed selves to the newest addition to the Penn Avenue Corridor: Verde
I had visited Verde with KB and Sara during its soft opening. Though we were unable to order any food (wtf) we took full advantage of the margarita list. They were absolutely delicious, the bartenders were fabulous, and we witnessed a tableside guacamole assembly. I was very eager to return. 

We ordered a pitcher of margaritas and the guacamole, because what could be better than dinner AND a show? We followed it up with Pozole, Swordfish Tacos, Chiles Rellenos, and a Pear and Carnitas Tamale that still haunts my dreams to this day.
The food was as fresh and exciting as the company I was keeping.
We then all went back to my house (conveniently two blocks away) to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with Janna and discuss its potential as an allegory for a young man's coming out story (I'm looking at you, AJ). Rudolph the Red Nosed Gay-ndeer. 

 Part 2: Brucemas

At this point, I'd like to pause and say how touched I am by how many of my wonderful friends invited me into their homes and families to share Christmas morning with them once they found out I was to be here alone. I felt so loved and I appreciate the invitations with my whole heart. So please don't take this the wrong way, but I really wanted to spend Christmas with Bruce Bogtrotter.
I have this... habit? inclination? tragic flaw? of being in love with K's cat. When she goes out of town, I basically move into her apartment to be with him, and God bless her beautiful heart for not finding that as creepy as it probably is. 
Everyone else would probably find my Christmas morning to be completely unremarkable. I slept in a little. I went for a run in the beautiful clear crisp weather. I watched Nightmare Before Christmas. I opened my Christmas stocking. I smothered Bruce with my love. I made myself some of my favorite foods.
Eggs in a Basket with Roasted Red Peppers, Apple Chicken Sausage, and Pears.
Honestly, I don't think I could have been happier. What more does this girl need?
At least one more thing:

Part 3: Silent Night, Manoli Night

I have been told that my adopted family, the Manolis, are people that I am lucky to have in my life. 
True words have never been spoken. They are kind and gracious to me, and I think the world of them.  
Every holiday I spend Chez Manoli is the same: We talk a lot, we cook a lot, we swear a lot, we laugh a lot, and we eat a lot. Thanksgiving, Father's Day, Christmas... it doesn't matter. We know exactly how to celebrate.
Prime Rib, Sugar Glazed Ham, Mashed Potatoes and Stirfried Vegetables
This picture most certainly does not to this meal justice. Also, the rum brownies and bread pudding are (not pictured) were incredible.

I invite you now to Savor the Bounty.

Monday, December 26, 2011


 Red Lentil and Lamb Ragu with Pecorino Cheese
I made this for a dinner party Friday at which I massively overestimated my friends' appetites, leaving me with a fridge full of leftovers. I had had a whole jar of lentils in my cupboard that I finally decided to put to use, having never cooked with lentils before in my life. Some sauteed garlic, onion, carrots, diced tomatoes, and a boatload of dried herbs later, I ended up with a potful of this.

So, I ate this bowl as a recovery from a 7.5 mile run in 20 degree weather on my Monday off from work. Had you said to me a year ago "Bethy, you are going to use your Monday off from work to run 7.5 miles in 20 degree weather, and you are actually going to enjoy it" I would have told you to shut your filthy mouth. Then I probably would have taken a nap because the exertion would have tired me out. And yet, here we are.
This was just what I needed.

The Whirlwind

We're coming to the end of the year here. 
And it's been a gangbusters coupla weeks, DNY wise.

Saturday Morning Buttermilk Pancakes with Homemade Blueberry Marmalade
Something about the simplicity of pancakes is fascinating and comforting to me. They aren't terribly difficult to make, they're quite common and in this case not very fancy. Maybe it's nostalgia, maybe it's the fact that you need to invest some time in them, maybe it's the fact that you can trick yourself into thinking you're baking, maybe it's the carbo-load, but something about making pancakes is special. No matter what the rest of the day holds, no matter how difficult the week behind you was, a quiet Saturday morning becomes remarkable when you have a good friend, a good cup of coffee and a little time to spend together over breakfast.

Ground Beef and Zucchini in Tomato Sauce over Bulgar Rice, Yogurt and Roasted Cauliflower Salad, Salad with Hot Sauce and Oregano from Istanbul 
This was my temporary cure for the post partum performance depression that Messiah has left me with.  In a whirlwind lunch with Tim Marquette, during which we had to cram 3 days worth of talking into 15 minutes, I found myself staring at this beauty, which lasted me for the rest of the day due to its sheer volume. I dream of being able to cook this well. Spicy but balanced, full and bold but not overwhelming, simple but interesting.

Radioactive-looking Buffalo Cheese Fries
 Blue Burger
When Liz lived in Pittsburgh, we made Silky's in Bloomfield our second home. Liz and I lived together for a much too short period of time. I love her because she makes me laugh harder than is physically possible. She's my ray of sunshine.
Now, she lives in Delaware now and I miss her every day. Luckily she stopped in Pittsburgh on her way home, and we were able to grab dinner at our old place. It's still good. And the waitress was really interested when she heard us reading excerpts from "What Your Birthday Reveals About Your Sex  Life"

Shrimp Grits from NOLA
Every time I go to Nola (which, admittedly, is a lot) my order usually comes down to a choice between Shrimp Grits and whatever else it is that I end up ordering. The last day of work before Christmas, I went to lunch with Jess and Aidan, and finally didn't hold myself back. The sauce is very spicy and flavorful, the shrimp tender, the grits creamy. I kind of want some right now. 

Carrot Cupcakes and Cream Cheese Icing
Another baking frenzy, while playing a game of "Drink the Eggnog" with my friend Gordon (it's a pretty great game). This time, I made cupcakes for my two bosses who both happen to love carrot cake and happen to have birthdays 4 days apart. The cakes were much less sweet than other carrot cakes I've made, but the richness of the icing balanced their spice. They aren't much to look at, but they were a big hit!

Not Pictured:
Family brunch at my house, Buffalo Chicken Dip at Mario's Eastside with Liz and her friends, the crazy soup making spree I went on the other night with Michael Painter resulting in Avgolemono and Spicy Red Lentil soup

As they say, Sharing is Caring. 

Monday, December 12, 2011


This is the most scrumptious and least stressful Thanksgiving that I can remember. K, her sister, Katie and I all pitched in and made ourselves a complete feast. I wrestled the turkey, K schooled us in Phase 10, Bruce gazed wistfully at the food, and Katie wore a Tim the Enchanter cap with as much finesse as is humanly possible.

Spice brined turkey with cider gravy, pear and sausage stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes with goat cheese and fall salsa, garlic and rosemary mashed potatoes, southern style greens, braised brussel sprouts with bacon and shallots, personal ginger pumpkin pies with toasted coconut, and some lovely white wine.

I have so much to be thankful for this year.

Post Pearlfishers Pizza Pandemonium

Hooray for alliteration.

I was in need of some serious fun after Pearl Fishers, so K masterminded a plan for her friends to get together, make pizza, and play games after the Sunday matinee. She gathered some good friends (myself, AJ, Camilo, Lauren and Joe) who hadn't had a chance to all meet together, and we pulled out all the stops.

K made a simple dough, Camilo proved himself to be a master sauce distributor, and we all piled on the toppings with aplomb.
We had a little bit of everything: Spinach Sausage and Ricotta White Pizza, Pineapple with Red Sauce, Sausage Pepper and Onion with Red Sauce. My favorite, with Bacon and Mushroom, was eaten too quickly to be pictured. 
The only food I had in my house was a dozen eggs and a boatload of condiments, so my contribution to the festivities was deviled eggs
And yet another permutation of Bethday cakes, this time in cookie form
I like that the white chocolate chips make them look like big delicious buttons.

We played a game called Wise and Otherwise, in which everyone tries to complete a not-very-well-known quippy saying from another country and vote on the best answer, Balderdash style. Either because we are all hyper-uncompetitive people (unlikely) or because none of us could be bothered to decipher what the rules were, we ended up just completing the phrases and reading them out loud. We came up with some gems:
In Egypt: "Live in a place, pull your brain through your face"
In Mexico: "A good cock will crow, a bad one will too, it just takes a little longer, meng"
In Sweden: "Whoever has the longest fingers bork bork bork bork"
In Greece: "A child is like a camel's neck: something something Penn State"
In Jamaica: "When crab no have hole, bobsled bobsled bobsled"

It was a great way to wind down after a successful yet stressful performance: playing games with funny and charming people, making and consuming a ridiculous amount of homemade pizza.