The daylight floods my kitchen. The sun sends yellows rays through my blinds that streak across my cabinets, counters, and walls. Coffee is keeping warm in a Chemex on the stove. A pan of gluten-free cake that I made last night sits on the counter. It’s enticing me to come eat it all in one big gulp. The sink is clean with no dishes and only a little bit of soap residue. The dishwasher has a little blue light indicating that the contents are washed and dried, ready to be put away. Poetry magnets are stuck to the side of my fridge and on the front cling photos of the past year — portraits of my brother, my pup saydee, and my Love, a poem, some post cards. There is also a running grocery list, so I don’t forget what I need the next time I make a trip to the store. Succulents sit in the window seal, basking in the glow and thriving even though it’s 32 degrees outside. My pantry is full, stocked with almost all the necessary ingredients to make anything on the fly: bags of flour, sugar (both cane and brown), baking soda, chocolate chips, honey, canned tomatoes, chicken stock, bread, onions and garlic, a handful of different dried pastas, oils and vinegar, chips for snacking, Cheerios for breakfast, peanut butter and jam, marshmallows, an assortment of teas, and a tub of hot cocoa powder. My fridge is fairly stocked with the necessities, too: milk and creamer, orange juice, butter (tons of butter), eggs, carrots and celery, navel oranges, heavy whipping cream, lettuce and baby tomatoes, condiments (ketchup, mustard, and mayo), yogurt, lemon juice, the remnants of a bottle of sauvignon blanc, leftover soup from last night.
I sit here, writing this at my kitchen island. Fresh purple flowers sit in the middle, bringing color and life to my kitchen in mid-winter. A small piece of paper that says “Strong convictions precede great actions” props itself against the base of the vase. It came from the fortune cookie I had on the second day of the new year.
I’m writing in this space where I cook food to feed my family and myself. I’m writing this at the beginning of the new year. My life isn’t perfect, and I am deeply flawed. I learned a lot in the past year, and there is a lot to know ahead of me. Yet I’m here in this space that is somewhat tidy, somewhat lived in, somewhat peaceful — I feel at home.
So initially, I was going to write my second A Week in Meals, but this week was Thanksgiving. And this year, I was tasked with shopping and cooking the majority of my family gluten and dairy side of our thanksgiving meal. (Part of my fam eats gluten/dairy-free, and they took on their menu.)
I spent two days prepping and three days cooking. Overall, I think I cooked/baked 15 dishes.
Needless to say, we did not run out of food. Also, needless to say, I didn’t do much other cooking than thanksgiving cooking last week. I ate takeout a few times — both for my sanity in the kitchen and so I wouldn’t be tempted to dip into the dishes I had already finished. (Thank you, Enzos Pizza and Great Wall Chinese.) So for the most part, the things I ate right up until the holiday weren’t that blog worthy. So instead, I’m focusing this blog post entirely on the prepping, baking, cooking, and eating of Thanksgiving.
Most of my family was out of town right up until Thanksgiving, which is why I was tasked with the job of cooking. But I didn’t take it lightly. Deep down inside, I have always wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
I’m not a professional cook, despite the fact that I started this series and constantly post about food on Instagram to aspire to be like DrewBarrymore, Joy the Baker, or Alison Roman. However, I have seen Thanksgiving as the holiday that all the foodies and cooks have heart eyes over. It’s the holiday that is all about the cooking and the food and the eating until your hearts content. Cooking in my apartment kitchen, using all the tools and cookware I’ve compiled, just felt right. It felt exciting, fulling and brought me lots of joy overall.
Not pictured in these photos was the transportation of all the food from my apartment to the house where we had Thanksgiving, then from the house to another house with a fridge that had enough room to store all the food. It was a challenging feat, but we did it.
Over the half a week I cooked, I made my kitchen messy. I cooked leeks and greens gratin, apple tart, green bean bake, cranberry sauce, challah bread, deviled eggs, and pumpkin bread. Actually, I baked the pumpkin bread twice because the first time, the bread leaked all over the bottom of the oven and smoked up my entire apartment.
Note to self: always have a leak tray in case of these specific situations, especially when using a rented oven.
On Monday, I worked a really long day to take Tuesday off and use it as preparation day and baking day.
When Tuesday came along, I woke up early and took a grocery store run to get all the last minutes of ingredients I needed; then, I spent the day prepping and baking.
As soon as I was back and had everything squared away, I started cooking. I worked quickly to keep the butter in the pie dough cold. I baked the pumpkin bread. I chopped apples. I boiled the chicken stock. I gave delicate time and attention to the challah. On Wednesday, I had to work a half-day. But I also finished the rest of the pies. I prepped the leak and greens gratin and green bean baked. I whisked up the cherry whip my mom loves. I chopped, whipped, and ladled the delicate but firm yolks, mayo, and relished into egg whites to make deviled eggs. And then packed everything into my car and headed to my mom’s house.
On the actual day of Thanksgiving, all I had to do was bake the mac and cheese, top the gratin and green bean casserole with toppings and toast them in the oven, make gravy, and heat everything else up. Oh! And the charcuterie board! I can’t forget about curating the charcuterie board.
Several dishes made it to the table that I will try my hand at again. I didn’t have enough elbow noodles for my baked mac and cheese, so instead, I used penne. I thought this would work out just fine, but since they were bigger than an elbow noodle, they weren’t as soaked in the cheese cause and became a little too crispy. I used my homemade chicken stock in the gravy, but even with the thickener added, it was still too runny. I placed the sugar cookies a little too close together on my small baking sheet, and they ended up melding into one another in the oven, turning into square cookies instead of round ones.
There were a few places where I felt like I succeeded, though! The challah bread turned out sweet and exquisite. When I was cooking the chicken stock on the stove, I sat the bowl of rising dough near it, and it rose perfectly, the most perfect I’ve ever seen bread dough rise. And the braid turned out imperfectly beautiful. (I will always make chicken stock and bread together from here on out.)
The deviled eggs turned out a smash — I found this natural dill relish that, at first glance, looks bland but is packed with flavor. Then I topped them all with dill and smoked paprika.
I’m also rather proud of the pies and the second batch of pumpkin bread. These are a staple we have every Thanksgiving, but just making them in my kitchen from scratch using the techniques I’ve taught myself over the last year was fulfilling.
So I have some places I’ve improved, some areas I still need to work on. It might not have been a perfect Thanksgiving meal, but it was a satisfying one — and I think everyone’s stomachs were full by the end of it. Overall, I’m happy my family made it back home just in time for the holiday.
How was your Thanksgiving? What was your favorite thing to cook, bake, or eat?
P. S. — The Friday post Thanksgiving, my Love and I have made a tradition where we make and eat “Ross’s sandwich” with all our Thanksgiving leftovers. Although our recipes might differ slightly from Ross’s coveted sandwich, we make sure always to include the “moist maker,” a third piece of bread in the middle of the sandwich that is soaked in gravy. It’s always a win.
Welcome to the first “A Week in Meals,” a littel collection of some of the things I ate or cooked within past seven days.
I started this project, first of all, because I wanted something to look forward to posting on Sunday. I wanted a dedicated topic to cultuvate over the week and then complie together.
The second reason I started this project is because I’ve had the urge to write about the things I’m eating and cooking. Sometimes when you get those nudges to do something, you just have to follow it and see where it takes you. So here I am. Welcome along for the ride.
I actually made a lot of food this week instead of eating out, which has become a bad habbit of mine. This little project was inspirtion to stay in, see what I have on had in my pantry, and cook.
One thing I noticed while compling this post together was that I cooked a lot of pasta (which isn’t particularly a bad thing). I also advenured a bit and roasted a chicken, which as so much fun.
I will say, that I’m working on the way I’m taking photos. I love photography and have taken many photographs in my time, but I’m still getting around learning the best ways to photograph food (esecailly what lighting to use in my first floor apartment). So bare with me as I lean into the creative process and learn as I go.
And now, without further ado, my week in meals…
I made Pea Parmesan Pasta from Ella Risbridger’s cookbook Midnight Chicken. Along with the starchy, creamy parm sauce and peas in this dish, I roasted cherry tomatoes. They fit in so well. On Sunday, I did a lot of writing and had some family over for the afternoon, so instead of staying up and making an elaborate meal, I just made this simple pasta dish that worked as a quick, 15 minute comfort food.
Similar to my Sunday night meal, I made pasta with parmesan but instead of peas and tomatoes, I used kale. The boiled kale was soft and silky in this dish and I just love the pop of color it adds along with the neutral pasta and parm along with the blue willow dish. (Does anyone else use fancy dishes to make their food more presentable, just because?)
Okay, so after work on Tuesday I got a huge jolt of energy and I funneled it into making a roasted chicken. I already had a whole chicken in my fridge waiting to be used at some point. I was really inspired by Ella Risbridger this week and her recipe for midnight chicken was wonderful, to say the least. The recipe did call for fresh chili, which the grocery store was out of, so instead I used bell peppers and it was still delish. The recipe also make a honey lemon ginger tea that tasted like a hug in a cup. The use of minimal tools and using my hands mostly for the recipes was grounding and a way to really connect with myself after a long day. This recipe will be on the docket to make many times again. Plus, this chicken fed me for the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, I had eaten a lunch with my brother and by the time dinner rolled, I wasn’t too hungry. I still wanted a bit to eat though, so I turned on a pot of water to boil and made deviled eggs. These little nuggets of creamy yolks and soft egg whites were the perfect thing to eat in anticipation for Thanksgiving dinner, which was just over a week away.
I didn’t get a good photo of my homemade fettuccine pasta. The whole process of making noodles is enthralling and requires your whole attention, and then eating them is so comforting that you forget to take any photos. Making pasta is therapeutic—from kneading the dough to slowing feeding it through the pasta maker, flattening it out one notch at a time. I added some of the leftover roasted chicken from Tuesday and make a chicken and noodles dish. My love and I ate the meal by candlelight.
Friday was another busy day wrapping up the workweek. But I made two things that I’d like to share. The first was my morning latte made with eggnog and cinnamon. My goodness was this a perfect combination for the holidays. Being the first time I had eggnog in coffee, I don’t know if I can go back to regular creamer until the new year.
The second thing I made on Friday was this chicken sandwich on a toasted sourdough bagel. I added mayo, roasted tomatoes, and smoked gouda cheese on top of some more leftover roasted chicken. It gave me the energy to slide across home base as I finished up my work week.
On Saturday, my love and I adulted as we ate leftovers from the week with in the midst of Christmas music and holiday decorations. We put up my first Christmas tree in my little apartment, which was a joy to do. Our leftovers consisted of the homemade pasta and roasted chicken from Thursday and a gigantic burrito from Blue Cactus from Friday night.
And that wraps up my first “A Week in Meals” blog. If you’ve read this far, thanks for following along. These weren’t the fanciest meals or photos ever published on a blog; but honestly, the food itself matter less than the solace I found cooking and sharing the meals with the people I did. Even among a busy week, these small meals were a bright spot that led me to feel more connection to myself and my loved ones.
I’ll see you back here next week with another around of “A Week and Meals,” which will include Thanksgiving dinner! In the meantime, what food have you been cooking and eating? Who have you shared a meal with this week?
Tonight’s dinner: grilled chicken with fusilli pasta in a creamy herb sauce.
After a busy workday, I realized that last night and into today marks one month of living in my new apartment. For a small impromptu celebration, I grill chicken and cook pasta. I used my favorite copper pot and blue enamel cast iron. I drink a tinge of wine that I’ve had leftover in my fridge. Fresh flowers in autumn colors are in the middle of my kitchen island. I lit a lit candle. Dishes are in the sink. A blue sky is waiting for me to step out and take an evening stroll.
On August 1, 2020, I sat down in a little cafe in the heart of Franklin, IN. With an abundance of coffee and pastries by our sides, my Plus One and I wrote for six hours straight. He wrote a movie analysis and I wrote this, a little reflection on life and lemons. We were participating in a competition, hosted by the Franklin Creative Council, called Art to Finish — a challenge to create something from scratch within a six hour period and in the location restraints of the downtown courthouse square. Six hours seems like a long time, and it is, but that day I was tired and I didn’t have that creative spark that I normally like to have when I sit down for a long stint of writing. Nevertheless, we wrote. Very unexpectedly, I was awarded second-place in the adult writing catagory for When Life Gives You Lemons. Maybe it’s just my inner critique or perfectionism, I know it’s not the best it could be. When I read back through it a week later, I want to add, edit, and polish it up, make it perfected. However, I’ve given it thought and to preserve the challege — the time and location constrants that we were given — I’m posting this here in it’s original form it was created, untouched from that specific day. I’m so greaful for the oportunity to have had six straight hours to do nothing but create something souly from my immagination. It’s flaws and imperfections are apart of it’s story and charm.
When Life Gives You Lemons
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Can a saying be so cliché that it loops around to being original again? I guess it would depend on who you asked, but I’ll make the stretch and say yes, at least for this unusual year. For me, 2020 has been the year of the lemon. Within the past five months, I’ve made more with lemons than I have in all my 23 years. Not only have I made lemonade, but numerous recipes have called for the yellow citrus. Ever since I was little, I love cooking in the kitchen. From baking in an Easy-Bake Oven to creating dinners and pastry dishes in my suburban kitchen, I love the sights, sounds, and smells of cooking. Maybe it is just a way of coping through these times of uncertainty. Cooking and creating bright, zesty dishes to lighten the days at home have been a way to make the most with what this life has handed me.
Lemons are naturally acidic with a touch of tart sweetness by nature. Although the origin of the lemon is unknown, they are thought to have first grown in Assam, a region in northeast India, northern Burma, or China. Lemons have so many uses that they have entered into many cultures’ food and drinks. Juice, peel, oil, and leaves — all parts of the lemon can be used to create bright dishes. Here are the dishes I have made numerous times this year.
Lemon turmeric tea cake – This was my first lemon endeavor. I had been self-quarantined in my home for about 30 days, it was a rainy mid-week day and a pick-me-up was necessary for my mental health. I received Alison Roman’s cookbook, Nothing Fancy, in the mail from Wild Geese Bookshop, a local bookstore in Franklin, IN, in the mail just a few days before and took the opportunity to flip through its glossy pages. I landed on the lemon clad recipe that when baked in the oven, made my whole kitchen smell what I imagine would be the color yellow if it was a sent. Turmeric dotted the counter, lemons rinds were zested, then the fruit was sliced in half and juiced. In with the flour, non-fat Greek yogurt, sugar, eggs, baking powder, butter, and salt a batter thick yet smooth was poured into a parchment paper-lined pan. Before placing it in the oven for an hour, I cut thin slices of lemons and placed them on top of the panned batter then sprinkled it with sugar. When pulled out of the oven, the lemon slices caramelized and the became a citrusy crust. It sat in the middle of my kitchen counter as a symbol of brighter days to come. I cake the whole tea cake in less than two days.
Lemonade – It was a hot, muggy June afternoon when my Plus One and I broke out the stash of lemons in my fridge, sliced them open, and juiced them to make homemade lemonade. It was the first time either of us has made lemonade since we were kids. Using the juicer to squeeze the lemons took me back to the time I had a homemade lemon stand when I was eight, although I had to look up the ratios, of sugar to lemon juice to water. Most recipes I found instructed to boil water and lemon juice on the stove then add the sugar in until it dissolved into a thick paste. In that process, there was the multiple hour wait for the mixture to cool before serving. Being impatient and unwilling to wait hours for the lemonade to cool, we found one recipe online that said you could just add the lemon and sugar together and whisk until the acid from the lemon juice broke down the sugar. Which is what we did, and then we added water and instantly had room temperature lemonade that we could pour over ice and enjoy at our pleasure. It was a perfect way to spend the mid-June afternoon.
Preserved Lemons – In Morocco, lemons are preserved in jars or barrels of salt. One weekend in the middle of July, I decided to bring the salty and sweet citric acid ingredient into my kitchen. Preserved lemons require whole lemons, salt, and then additional elements to add hints of flavor. The lemons are quartered yet left attached at one of the ends, they look like yellow flowers starting to bloom. Each lemon is placed inside a jar until there are so many that the juices start to leak and cover the rinds. With lots of salt added into the acid and over weeks of preservation, the granules of salt soak into the cut lemons through osmoses, they become soft and the juice lightens into a semi-sweet liquid. The salt brings out the sweet flavors and light aromas of acidic citrus. In the end, I fit ten lemons into a 24-ounce Mason Ball jar, piling on the salt between each layer and then adding into it some bay leaves and peppercorns. The next step is to find an original Moroccan recipe for my newly made preservations.
Blueberry lemon pie – My latest creation that has lemons in the ingredients is a blueberry pie. In the cold butter, flaky crust sat blueberries coated in a concoction of flour, sugar, lemon juice, and zest. The tartness of the lemon brought out the deep essence of the blueberries. When baked, the juices boiled out of the holes and leaked onto the top crust. After chilling for 24 hours in the fridge to solidify the juices in a jelly, served with vanilla Häagen Dazs ice cream, the pastry was the perfect way to end a summer night under the stars and comets.
Over the spring and summer, I’ve made many more lemon dishes, but these are just the few that have stood out to me in my endeavor to create with lemons in my kitchen. This year has taught me how to take even the bitter things and turn them into something bright.