Comfort Foods

i love trader joes cookbookWhen I was in college I had a vegetarian friend who ate the same thing every single day for lunch, “a meatless burger.”  It wasn’t a chewy veggie burger or a hearty black bean burger. Oh, no, her meatless burger consisted of lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a single slice of American cheese piled neatly on a hamburger bun. Every day for four years. It was tragic.

It’s too bad Andrea Lynn’s new book, I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook: 150 Cheap and Easy Gourmet Recipes wasn’t out then. I would have bought it for her. She would have loved it, especially the chapters on “Sandwiches & Salads” and “Vegetarian Main Meals” that include tasty options such as Almond Butter and Banana Sandwiches, Teriyaki Tofu with Baby Broccoli.

All of Lynn’s recipes feature Trader Joe’s signature products, so you won’t have to trek from market to market searching for items. It’s really a one-stop-shopping cookbook ideal for both cash- and time-strapped college students. And kitchen novices. And working moms and dads. And anyone looking for easy recipes and trying to save money.

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casserolebook.jpgI taught myself to cook over 7 years ago and I imagined over those first culinary delights that I’d eventually become better at the art. Alas, it seems my initial joy at creating lovely meals for my man has never really progressed past the basics of following  a recipe and, over the last year, become something of a drag. For those of you whose job it is to get dinner on the table every night, I’m sure you share my pain in coming up with new and tasty ways to cook the same old ingredients. (Working at a food zine has only contributed to my malaise.) I used to enjoy the process of preparing a new dish, but now I find myself more and more disappointed with the results. Mostly because the ½ hour of eating rarely justifies the hours of cooking. Not that my food comes out bad, it just isn’t as extraordinary as I continually hope it will be.

My inherent laziness and current lack of enthusiasm compelled me to purchase The Best Casserole Cookbook Ever, a fairly large tome of over 500 recipes that require very little effort to convert everyday items into comfort food. My husband, who rarely comments on my cooking, has been loving dinner lately. Partly because the meals are simple and hearty (he's from the Mid-West, nuff said) and partly because the mess left behind – I cook, he cleans – has been quite minimal. A win-win situation for him. There’s just something about throwing a bunch of ingredients in a pot, walking away and returning a few hours later to a scrumptious, yummy meal that’s really working for me right now. Plus, it makes the house smell wonderful for hours.

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house-for-blog-300x300I’ll spare you the tale of Work, because that would seem like I’m complaining. I am not. Lots and lots of things have changed in the past few months, all great things that are keeping us really busy. Perhaps the biggest thing is that we bought a house. A lovely beautiful California Spanish-style home built in 1928, and it could not be more California if it tried. It’s sweet, quaint, and I’ll share some before-and-after photos just as soon as we’re done with decorating, which at this rate should be by 2037.

Although we moved in 3 months ago, we’ve had no time to enjoy the new digs. In fact, these past two weeks have been the first time we’ve been home together with a somewhat regular schedule, and all those things one does are starting to happen again: cooking dinner, sitting on the couch, grabbing a book and sitting next to a window and reading, organizing a garage. I am loving these life activities, and with the way things have been they are just like mini-vacations to me. I never thought I’d say that but it’s true. And considering what’s happening to a huge chunk of the country right now, to have a regular life with a roof over one’s head and working utilities is a blessing. A huge blessing.

This morning I’ll be able to do something I’ve wanted to for a long time: I will make breakfast. In my new kitchen. For us. Novel, ain’t it? But this breakfast will be the first that doesn’t involve two slices of bread and a razor thin smear of Marmite. It will be leisurely, satisfying, and made from The Picky Palate Cookbook: 133 Recipes for Even Your Pickiest Eaters by Jenny Flake.

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ihopThis spring, during a trip to Long Island, I managed to fullfil one of my lifetime travel ambitions.

Yes, I would like to one day look at the dusty pyramids of Egypt. Yes, I hope that I will eventually stand in some remote part of Alaska and stare, mesmerized, at the Northern Lights. But for me, this time round, it was all about a house. Or rather, an International House. Of Pancakes.

That's right: my inner list titled 'experiences I would dearly like to have during my life' included breakfast in a branch of IHOP. You see, I am a collector. Not of stamps, or coins, or copies of old NASA magazines, but of breakfasting experiences. I love the first meal of the day. I love how it is at once a meal and a ritual. I love that it gives us a chance, before the spell of sleep is forgotten, to sit and savour some of the most delicious and yet pleasingly simple foods available. I love to think about what all this means.

For eight years I have run a website, The London Review of Breakfasts, whose sole purpose is to take breakfast more seriously than anyone else – comically seriously, some have alleged. It contains accounts not just of my breakfasts, but the breakfasts of others; dispatches from cafes, diners and restaurants sent from places like London (where I'm from), the USA (breakfast-serving joints anywhere from California to Ohio), Malawi, Denmark, Mongolia, Haiti…

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serve-yourself-cover1.jpgThis quick book review will most likely be biased. I’m cool with that. And I’m owning my bias in a big way, here’s why:

1. My husband works out of state several weeks a month.
2. I am from Texas. Mr. Yonan is from Texas.
3. Mr. Yonan is affable, sweet and smart, and has a chapter on tacos.
4. Tacos.

While 1 through 4 are major reasons why I love this book so much, they’re not the only reasons why Joe Yonan’s Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One is currently rocking my kitchen. I met Joe, the Food & Travel editor for The Washington Post, in person last year at IACP when I was presenting a talk on food photography. You can imagine my surprise when we started chatting about being from small Texas towns, and if you’re from a small Texas town there are some things that only others could from Texas could understand and appreciate. Plus Joe spent time in Austin, my 2nd hometown, so you can see the affinity I have for Joe.

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