About Kelly

Kelly grew up in the suburbs of Boston, mere minutes from the Atlantic ocean. For several years she lived in New York City where she found the two loves of her life: Publishing and David. She moved to the Twin Cities for her husband, and eventually managed to pick up the pieces of her career as well. Although she’s learning to appreciate lakes, she misses the ocean ferociously.

Author Archive | Kelly

German Apple Cake

usThe best part about getting married in an apple orchard is that we get to return to our wedding venue every fall to pick apples.

Autumn is my very favorite time of year. Not just for all things pumpkin flavored, or the cooling crisp air, or gorgeous foliage (although all that is super wonderful). No, fall is my favorite because it stirs something in my blood. It wakes up a restlessness in me, makes me view everything with fresh eyes. It’s a season both melancholy and electrifying and it makes me feel alive and awake.

I worried a bit, when we first moved here, because fall is such a quintessential New England thing. How could autumn anywhere be as soul-stirring as it is in New England? In the land of perpetual winter, would fall even make an appearance?

Yes. There is fall in Minnesota. It may be short-lived, but it’s here.

bump

Last weekend David and I spent the morning at the apple orchard where we were married. We walked through the woods and among all the apple trees. We wandered past the gazebo where we spoke our vows, and the hidden, shady nook where we spent our first few moments alone as husband and wife. We ate apple cider and fresh donuts and sat on wooden benches at the top of a hill over looking hundreds of apple trees and talked about how we’ll bring our daughter here next year, and each year after that, and tell the stories of this magical place where Mama and Papa got married.

We left the orchard with a modest armful of apples, and when we got home I made this cake.

apple cake

 

German Apple Cake

This recipe has been in my recipe box so long I no longer remember where I first found it. I know I tweaked it a great deal over the years. It is immensely forgiving and adaptable (brown sugar, cranberries, nuts!). And delicious. It’s one of David’s favorites.

This is a coffee cake, a snacking cake, a so-close-to-a-muffin-you-can-eat-it-for-breakfast cake. You can dress it up with a caramel sauce or a cinnamon glaze if you’re feeling jazzy, but we usually just sprinkle it with powdered sugar and chomp away.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 3/4 cup applesauce
  • 1 1/4 or 1 1/2 (depending on your sweet tooth. I like it with 1/4) cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups apples – peeled, cored and diced

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Grease and flour cake pan (or bundt pan, or glass dish–whatever. This works well no matter what).
  • In a mixing bowl; beat oil, applesauce, and eggs until creamy. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat well.
  • Combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and ground cinnamon together in a separate bowl. Slowly add this mixture to the egg mixture and mix until combined. The batter will be very thick. Fold in the apples by hand using a wooden spoon. Spread batter into the prepared pan.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool fully, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This cake keeps very well covered at room temperature for a few days, but it will get more moist (which I love) as time goes by. You can also store it in the fridge for a week, assuming it will last that long.

slice

Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Food

Not All Bad

Yesterday I came home to a letter informing me that my therapist is resigning. Today I forgot to take my nausea medication. My To Do lists (both personal and professional) are a million miles long, and I don’t even know where to begin. It has been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day around here for what feels like every day since ever.

It’s really tempting to wallow in my misery at this point. I could tell you about how yesterday I somehow had cat shit encrusted on the bottom of my shoe and couldn’t get it off no matter what I tried, so I spent the entire day slinking around the office smelling like cat shit. I could tell you about how putting together a baby registry is the most daunting, exhausting thing on the face of the Earth, which I did not at all anticipate. What about the fact that my husband is devoting himself fervently to his job, working 12 to 14 hour days and beyond, and is still so dedicated to getting his program off the ground that every setback cuts him to the core. And it kills me to see him so exhausted and stressed out, and yet be too exhausted and stressed out myself to be able to be the kind of supportive wife I really want to be.

Basically, things are discouraging at Chez Van Sant right now. And we are drowning in our guilt. The baby room is still full of unpacked stuff and laundry and random furniture and zero actual baby stuff. Guilt. We abandoned our household budget for the summer and are now dreading the thought of updating our spreadsheets because we let it go so long. Guilt. We are severely out of touch with friends and family, both local and long distance. Guilt. Chores, healthy meals, and running errands are just not really happening. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

We are in survival mode, and only just barely surviving.

And yet, I want to force myself to see past that. In high school I was a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (in a persona that was both authentic and cultivated in equal measure. A lot of it wore off in college) and kept a lot of journals, different books for different things. One that carried on in different formats throughout the years was some sort of gratitude journal, or list of things that made me happy. I used to ask people to swap stories of the three best and three worst things that happened to us that day. Often times the “best” things are small. On extraordinarily shitty days you need to really dig deep to find something positive to say amidst all the, well, shit. Sometimes the positive thing is literally, “I made it through the day without stabbing everyone,” but at least that’s something.

It would be easy to tell myself that NOTHING GOOD EVER HAPPENS ANYMORE and a lot of the time, lately, I feel like that’s the truth. But it isn’t. Good things continue to happen, even now, and here’s the proof:

Good Things, Lately

  • David and I are reading the Harry Potter series aloud to each other again and there are no words to describe how gleeful this makes me.
  • My nails have been really long and strong and awesome since I got knocked up.
  • When she’s not being a total bitch our cat is really cute and hilarious.
  • This morning I left the house without eating breakfast and there were bagels and cream cheese waiting for me in the office!
  • I did the dishes and cleaned the kitchen last night and I am ridiculously proud of that fact.
  • It really feels like fall, now, and fall is my very favorite season.
  • We have cookie butter and coconut cookie thins.
  • Baby Van Sant is healthy and active.
  • My husband comes to kiss me goodbye every morning when he leaves for work, even though I am still mostly asleep.
  • Our new couch was delivered, so now I get to sit next to David and snuggle him for a few minutes in the evening, instead of sitting in folding chairs apart from him.
  • I have cooked twice in the last two weeks: baked peach halves with almond crumble, and baked ziti with homemade sauce.
  • On Saturday night David and I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch When Harry Met Sally and laughed and cried and held hands. The best line of that whole move is, “I want you to know… that I will never want that wagon wheel coffee table.”
  • I got a surprise letter from an old friend recently. A real letter. In the mail.

Seeing them all written out like that makes me feel a bit better about things. Even though all of that was spread out across weeks and weeks and interspersed with lots of terrible stuff, at least I can still muster up a collection of things that make me happy.

 

Posted by on September 17, 2013 in Personal

Anniversary

beaming

A year ago today, I married David in an apple orchard.

Was it the best day of my life? I hope not. I hope my life is long, and full, and shared with my wonderful husband and the family we’re making together. I hope there are so many more best days. September 1, 2012 was pretty damn magical, though.

My first year of marriage has been challenging. David and I dealt with the rigors of grad school, stressful yet rewarding job situations, moving to a new apartment, and a difficult pregnancy this year. Although in some ways I wish our first year as newly weds could have been more laid back, the external challenges really knit us together in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

stolen beer and sunsets

We were together for five years before we got married, had lived together for three years, and had weathered some Big Things in our shared time. I didn’t expect marriage to change me so much, or to change my relationship with my partner in such concrete ways. But it has.

I know how to be vulnerable without entirely surrendering my sense of self now. I know how to identify and articulate the things I want and need. I know how to make space for another person in my life, a person whose needs sometimes come before my own. I know what it’s like to pursue my goals, knowing that there is a person who supports me every step of the way. I know how to love another person fiercely, even when I am cranky, even when I am angry, even when it means doing things I really, really don’t want to do. I know how to be someone else’s champion, to push him toward his dreams, to hold him back against burn out, to put my goddamn iphone down and actually listen to him when he is talking even if he has told me this story before (this last one is still hard). I have a deeper understanding of both selfishness and generosity. I know how to make one very special man laugh until he cries.

If I’ve learned all that in the span of just one year of marriage, what things can I learn in 5 years, 10, 50? I look forward to finding out.

hugs that can't wait

Marrying David made me better. A better partner, absolutely, but also a better person. And that’s not just because David is awesome (although he is) but it’s because I care a whole hell of a lot about my marriage. I put time into it. I reflect on it. I actively work to make it stronger.

At our wedding, I walked down the aisle staring at David the entire time, moving toward him with a magnetic thrum in my core. When I reached him, I hugged my father briefly, shoved my bouquet into my sister’s arms, waved at my mom, and then flung myself at my almost-husband. David, always a rule-follower, whispered to me, terrified, “Are we supposed to do this yet?”

“I don’t care!” I sobbed into his shoulder, half laughing, half crying, up on my tip-toes. His arms instantly circled around me in the tightest hug.

And then we got married.

laughter and tears

croquet

be excited!

kisses & smiles

the luckiest

Photos:

 All photos in this post were taken by our wedding photographer, Kate, of KNG Sommers Photography. I cannot recommend her enough; she is bad ass. If you’d like to see more of our wedding photos, I have a ton shared on FB, or you can search Instagram hashtag #vansantwedding (having an instagram hashtag was a last minute idea on my part, and it was one of the very best ideas I ever had).

Posted by on September 1, 2013 in Personal

Halfway

935089_10151773598361282_734884967_nI’m 20+ weeks pregnant. Halfway. It still sucks. 

I’m still vomiting on the semi-regular (it’s down to about once a week because I caved and am now on anti-nausea medicine. Still. Vomiting once a week and feeling like you might vomit six times a week is a shitty way to spend your weeks).

I can feel baby moving now, which is actually pretty cool, but not cool enough to make up for the fact that virtually every other thing about pregnancy is hell. I’m seeing a therapist and that’s been extremely helpful. At my last session she was commenting about the fact that at least I didn’t seem so sad anymore, not like when I first started seeing her a few months ago. And she’s right. I am mostly no longer sad. Instead I am just irritated all the goddamn time.

I am so tired, and no amount of sleep is enough sleep. I am starving all the time, but all food–except for toast and jam, for some reason–grosses me out on some level, so I never really want to eat. Despite this, I’m still gaining weight. I am showing. I have a noticeable bump, and I have really complicated feelings about it because it’s not all high and perfectly round and pinterest-worthy. It’s kind of lopsided, to be totally honest. I have a lopsided baby bump. 

I’m not wearing maternity clothes yet, because 90% of my wardrobe consists of empire waist dresses, and they are still serving me well. Mostly. But I am getting uncomfortable, and I know that maternity clothes are inevitable, and it’s time for me to give up the ghost and get on with it already.

Being halfway through does not feel like a victory to me. It feels like I will be pregnant for the rest of my freaking life.

We moved into a new apartment recently, a two bedroom, so that we will actually have a nursery. Decorating the nursery is always something that pre-pregnant me thought I would really enjoy. Actually-pregnant me could not care less. Colors? Themes? Furniture? Whatever. Right now the baby’s room is where we put all the stuff we don’t feel like unpacking yet. I’m pretty sure this is a problem, and one we’ll have to deal with in the next 20 weeks, but right now my care-o-meter is not even on.

It’s also hard, because I know that things are really not objectively that bad. I am ok. I am healthy. The baby is healthy. My husband and my family and my in-laws are all awesome (to everyone who helped us move and helped us clean our apartment and pack and everything else over the last few weeks, I cannot thank you enough. We would be screwed without you). I’m not spending several hours a day weeping anymore, and that’s progress.

I thought things might be better by the halfway point. And really, they are. Things are better. But they’re not how I imagined they would be. I am still not enjoying this. And I still really really wish I could.

Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Personal

Pregnant.

positiveDavid was washing the dishes and I was two sips into my glass of wine and I knew I was pregnant. All of a sudden. Bam. I knew.

The wine tasted a little funny. Not bad. Just wrong, somehow. I was warm and tired, and instantly I just knew I was pregnant. Even though I hadn’t missed my period yet. Even though I wasn’t nauseous or sore. I knew.

So I did what I often do when I’m on the cusp of something huge; I tried to talk myself out of it.

I spent hours dithering over whether or not to go out and buy a pregnancy test. I’d taken them before, in recent months, when I’d convinced myself that I felt nauseous, or fatigued, or any of the other entirely vague symptoms that can indicate early pregnancy. And all of them had turned out to be negative, and I was never really surprised.

In the end, I knew I was pregnant this time. I just knew. So David and I piled into the car and drove down to CVS to buy a test (digital; I was not about to panic over whether a line was faint or not really present, thanks), all the while I kept up a constant stream of chatter about how I was putting us through all this for nothing, because I probably wasn’t even pregnant.

But I was.

Once we had the test in our possession, I felt better. I also waited at least two hours before taking it, much to David’s dismay. Instead I left the test in my bag, put on my pajamas, and got on the couch to read. I read for a long time. Finally, David nudged me and asked if I would please, please go take the test so that we could go to sleep already. So I did, and it turned positive almost immediately.

Shaking, I capped it, washed my hands, and carried it wordlessly out to David and shoved it in his hands.

The first words out of his mouth were, “I can see your pee.”

Then we cried and laughed and kissed and were deliriously happy for the next two weeks.

At which point my symptoms kicked in, and pretty much everything since then has sucked.

I despise being pregnant. It is nothing like I imagined it would be. I feel so angry and sick and sad. And ashamed of myself. Because we want this little baby so very, very much. We will love this baby so fully and fiercely when he or she gets here. And yet I am so furious about everything that’s happening to me right now. I don’t know how to hold such powerful and conflicting feelings inside of me simultaneously.

Today I hit 13 weeks, which is considered the second trimester by almost everyone (if you’re one of those people who claim the switch doesn’t happen until 14 weeks, don’t talk to me).

I am still sick. I have been sick for seven straight weeks now. My best friend has a chronic illness. She’s been some level of “sick” every day of her life since she was about 12 years old. Although she experiences discomfort or pain almost constantly she’s learned to adapt, and she has a fulfilling, adventurous, amazing life. And even though I know she doesn’t mind, that she would never dream of comparing the two situations, I feel like a jerk when I complain to her about how pregnancy is destroying me. How I am sick every day, and can barely leave my bed, and can’t remember what it’s like to feel normal. Compared to some women, I’m not even that sick. I have never needed to be hospitalized for dehydration. I have so far resisted prescription medication, though it’s been offered to me (and at this point, honestly, I’m probably going to give in). Intellectually I understand that there’s the possibility that it could be so much worse.

It helps that I have an amazing support system. David is incredible. He comes to every prenatal appointment with me, holds my hand and never, ever laughs at me when I cry while getting blood drawn. He runs all the errands, does all the chores, brings me food (assuming I can actually eat) and glasses of water and hands me things that are on the far end of the coffee table when I am lying on the couch in agony and cannot fathom leaning forward to reach for them myself. He reads aloud to me until I fall asleep, rubs my back, leaves me little love notes around the house to cheer me up. He tells me I am doing a great job. He acknowledges that my pain and fears and sadnesses are real.  He makes me laugh even on the hardest days. He reminds me–simply by his constant, generous presence–why I wanted to have a baby in the first place. And I could not ever imagine doing this without him.

But there is an element beyond just the physical, for me.  At my last appointment, my midwife asked how I was handling things, emotionally.

“It’s been…rough,” I admitted. And then tears just started leaking out of my eyes. I have been crying a lot since getting pregnant. Several times a day, often inexplicably. I feel a lot of stress and anxiety about leaving my apartment and seeing people who are not David. I get nervous that I am going to start feeling horrifically sick in public, and will start lashing out at people if they try to help me. I have no reason to think this is going to happen. I’m not usually the lashing out type. But at the same time I feel lonely. And just sad. Really sad, a lot of the time, with a large dose of frustration. And while there’s something to be said for the fact that my hormones are 100% haywire right now, I am also just having a hard time coping with all the rapid changes going on in my body and in my life. So my lovely midwife referred me to a therapist, and I have my first meeting next week. This, more than anything else, has actually made me feel better.

I am not a monster. I am freaking the hell out, but that’s because I’m pregnant and that’s actually really chaotic and enormous and a lot to deal with. I am inundated with a lot of complicated feelings, and I need to sit down with someone who can help me sort that stuff out. I think until my midwife responded to me as though the way I’m feeling is 100% ok, and understandable, I believed that there was something deeply, fundamentally wrong with me. I am not a glowing, benevolent, serene pregnant woman. I am a weepy, terrified, pukey pregnant woman. Apparently that is actually totally fine. I wish someone had told me that months ago.

Real talk: while I think therapy is going to help me tremendously as far as sorting out the way I’m feeling, I don’t expect to miraculously begin loving the experience of being pregnant. It’s weird and uncomfortable. I’m only 1/3 of the way through, and already it has lasted way too long for me. I pretty much expect that I will continue to hate the whole thing (heartbeat via doppler and seeing the ultrasound was magical and amazing and the only exceptions I’ve found so far. But as soon as the screen went dark and the picture faded, the magic was over and the misery was back). But at least I no longer feel like something’s wrong with me for not enjoying myself.

Anyway, that’s why the blog’s been dark for so long. Family and friends and the internet have known about the pregnancy for a while, now, but I just couldn’t summon the energy or the courage to write anything. With any luck, this will get me back into the swing of things.

(If you’re a woman who loathed being pregnant, I would love to hear about it. Solidarity! If you’re a woman who loved being pregnant, I envy and admire you. Yay for all pregnant women!)

Posted by on July 3, 2013 in Personal

The Ban Has Lifted

So last week I gave up all internet and screen usage in my free time. The first day or so was difficult. I kept carrying my phone around the apartment on Monday night, even though I wasn’t going to be using it. At least three times I clicked on the instagram icon out of habit and had to catch myself and put my phone down and walk away from it for a few minutes. The whole thing seemed sort of stupidly pointless at that time. I was cranky.

Things got better as the week went on. I felt a lot calmer, more serene, and more relaxed (interesting! Since I so often claim that fiddling around on my phone “helps me relax”). I read more, I played board games with David, we cooked together. My ice cream hardened up beautifully and we ate plenty of that. We took walks in the evening and started reading aloud to each other again (we’ve been doing this since we started dating, and it was put on hold for the final 9 months or so of grad school). I spent time being quiet.

ice cream

I had to take our car in to the dealership last Wednesday and wait around for them to complete $700 worth of repairs. I thought going without my phone for those long three hours would be torture, but I actually ended up loving the uninterrupted reading time.

I did really look  forward to coming in to work each day, where my screen ban (including internet) was lifted. But although it’s now four days past the end of my experiment, I still haven’t watched any tv or movies (which means I’m dreadfully behind on Mark Watches, and that does make me a little bit sad) and I can’t say I miss it very much.

I’m definitely playing with my phone again, but not nearly as much as I was before going screen free. All in all I’m really happy with the experiment, and feel much better about letting screens into my life again on a moderate basis.

Plus, I return just in time for the long-awaited return of the fantastic Allie Brosh, of Hyperbole and a Half!

Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Personal

Our Lazy Weekend and Going “Media Free”

toast!David’s final grad school class was on Wednesday. I fell asleep on the couch waiting up for him, but had had the foresight to decorate the apartment with a cheesy Graduation Party Decoration Kit from Target and chill a mini bottle of prosecco  I picked up on my way home. I woke up when he came through the door, and we had a sleepy, heartfelt toast to his awesome accomplishment.

His graduation ceremony isn’t until mid-May, so we’re mired in a bit of a nebulous wait until then, even though he has no other requirements to complete; he’s finished, but not finished-finished. Still, the relief has been buoyant and immediate. Even though I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about it I don’t believe I truly understood how burdensome graduate school has been for the two of us until we were suddenly free of it. In only a handful of days things have swiftly changed for the better, and not a minute too soon!

All weekend long I kept referring to it as “Our Lazy Weekend” even though, truly, it was anything but. We went to a Twins game on Friday night with the members of David’s cohort, and then out for drinks afterward. On Saturday we went food shopping, stopped by a liquor store, a record store, and a bike shop, David worked on his bike at home, I made an ice cream base, and did a load of laundry. We cleaned the apartment (including heavy duty stuff like the bathroom), and ate three home-cooked mostly healthy meals. In the evening we had company over and stayed up far too late (at my insistence) playing Carcassonne and drinking craft beer. On Sunday David and I indulged our mild hangovers and slept in until 8:30, showered and then had breakfast in bed, read books and magazines for a few hours, then got up and watched the free game of the day on mlb.tv (Red Sox!) while bustling around the house. I baked a loaf of oatmeal molasses sandwich bread and churned my ice cream, David took his bike out for a spin in the afternoon and made us dinner. I ironed while listening to The Splendid Table podcast. We were in bed ready to pass out by 9:30. It was awesome.

photo (39)photo (29)

“This is the best weekend I’ve had in the history of ever,” I said to David as we were sitting on the couch, waiting for the promised afternoon thunderstorm that never arrived. “Except maybe our honeymoon. But otherwise, best weekend ever.

And it really felt like it was. First of all, David was actually around. Not at the library for hours and hours. Not chained to his laptop working on papers or presentations. With the exception of our wedding and one or two major holidays, this is the first weekend that David and I had “off” in twenty-one months. It. Was. Glorious.

And aside from the baseball game? We really didn’t spend too much time in front of screens.

Ok, yes, I instagrammed some (I’m addicted) and refreshed facebook a lot, because my phone never really went much farther than my hand or my back pocket. But I didn’t spend hours on it playing games–something I’ve done all too much in the last 21 months. In the brief snatches of free time that we did have during grad school, David and I got in the habit of using technology to “de-stress.” We watched several seasons of West Wing, Top Chef, countless other competitive cooking shows. We downloaded games and apps onto our phones and fiddled with them endlessly. We completely and totally zoned out, and did it with the excuse that it was more relaxing than doing anything else (not true) and that it helped us unwind and connect after all the frantic hours spent working and studying (also not true).

Prior to graduate school, we occasionally used to have what we affectionately referred to as “Media-Free Nights.” We’d ditch our phones and the internet entirely (we don’t have tv, so that wasn’t a problem) and spend the evening with each other’s faces. This weekend reminded me of how NICE that was. And then this morning Meg of A Practical Wedding had a fantastic post about unplugging, which also reminded me that today is the start of Screen Free Week.

I’m in.

Here are my personal rules for the week:

  • I will eschew screens from 5:00PM to 8:00AM Monday through Friday. No Netflix, no browsing the internet, no Facebook, no twitter, no (gulp) instagram. No Words with Friends. No Bejeweled. No Angry Birds. No blogs. No laptop. No desktop. No screens.
  • I CAN do the following on a computer: use iTunes or Pandora.
  • I CAN do the following on my phone: talk on the phone (weird, right?!), respond to texts, use functional apps that help facilitate my days (alarms, calorie counter, weather, songza, google maps). I can also use my phone to take pictures, but I can’t post them anywhere, or edit them (ha! Like I ever do that), or play with them in any way.
  • For the purposes of this week my Kindle Touch doesn’t count as a screen (I can’t do anything except read on it, anyway).
  • I will be using internet at work because aspects of my job require it. I am going to try hard to limit my internet usage to strictly work-related things, but if my coworkers email me a buzzfeed article about extra-cute stuff, I might end up clicking on it.
  • My phone is scheduled to automatically go on Do Not Disturb mode (with phone calls allowed) from 5:00PM to 8:00PM–no notifications will hopefully ease my pain.
  • No screens at all for the entire weekend.

I’m excited! (But also feeling twitchy already). I’ll report back next week and let you know how it goes! (And I may have scheduled a post to go up later in the week, but it’s already written, so I don’t feel like that will break any rules).

Are you participating in Screen Free Week at all? Are you as addicted to instagram as I am?

soft serve style

Posted by on April 29, 2013 in Personal

Pita & Tzatziki

Gyros, or sandwiches

Our poorly-lit homemade version of Zorba’s delcious gyros.

I lived in Astoria (a popular residential neighborhood in Queens) for four years and that’s where I learned to love Greek food.

Astoria is packed with Greek diners, cafés, and upscale restaurants, but I really fell in love with Greek food at a hole in the wall place called Zorba’s. In good weather David and I ate there weekly at least. We sat outside in rickety metal chairs that scraped the uneven pavement, our massive overflowing plates crowding the plastic tabletop. We sat in the lingering heat of the evening with supremely generous glasses of wine and ate.

I am a person who finds something I absolutely love on a menu, and then insist on ordering it every single time. I always got the same thing at Zorba’s: a chicken souvlaki platter with pita and extra tzatziki sauce. They served their pita sliced in triangles. I’d stuff each precious slice with the spiced, marinated grilled chicken, some feta, a tomato or cucumber or two, a few french fries, and then slathered the entire thing in tzatiki. A perfect, perfect bite.

Zorba’s is definitely one of the restaurants I miss most in New York, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to recreate those simple, heavenly flavors. Luckily, I’ve come pretty damn close.

Tzatziki

My own recipe, after much trial and error
Yield: Quite a lot

Ingredients:

  • 2 Cups of plain Greek Yogurt (I use an entire tub of Fage Total, which–at 17.6 ounces–is just over 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1 Tablespoon of lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Fresh dill (I can’t give you a measurement on this. I use a LOT. Like… 1/4 cup. A few Tablespoons will probably suit you just fine).
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

  • Place cucumbers in a strainer and add salt, tossing to coat. Set aside and let the cucumbers drain for at least one hour and up to three hours. You want to pull as much moisture out of the cucumbers as possible so that the tzatziki stays nice and thick instead of getting runny.
  • Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients and let the mix chill in the fridge. One the cucumbers have drained, blot them with a paper towel and gently fold into the yogurt mixture. You may eat immediately, but flavors will meld beautifully overnight. Best served chilled. Will keep tightly sealed in the fridge for one week.

 IMG_6202

Pita

Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Yield: 8 pitas

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour (bread and all-purpose work equally well. Up to half–no more–can be whole wheat)
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients until a shaggy dough is formed.
  • Knead by hand (10 minutes) or by mixer (5 minutes) until dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be overly wet or sticky, nor should it be incredibly dry. If you need to add more water, do it one Tablespoon at a time.
  • Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover (shower cap!), and let rise for one hour. It should be close to doubled in size.
  • Divide dough into 8 pieces (you can weigh them out if you want to be super accurate) roll into balls and cover with a clean, very damp towel. Let sit for 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a baking stone, this is an excellent time to use it. If not, find a large, flat cookie sheet and stick it in the oven.
  • Roll out one dough ball into a roughly six inch circle. You want the dough to be thin, but not TOO thin. If you can see through it, start over–you’ve rolled it out too much.
  • Place the circle on a piece of parchment paper (not wax paper, not aluminum foil) and put the whole thing in the oven directly on your stone/baking sheet. Bake for anywhere from three to five minutes (check it at three, if it hasn’t puffed, let it go two minutes more. If it STILL hasn’t puffed, take it out and enjoy your delicious flatbread. We’ll fix the problem in a minute).
  • If you first pita doesn’t puff, your dough is either rolled out too thin, or else it’s not moist enough. In which case, roll out the next piece, and then spritz it with some water. A spray bottle is perfect for this, but if you don’t have one handy just shake a few drops of water onto the dough with your fingers. Don’t over do it and soak the poor dough, you just want to get a little extra moisture on there. Pop it on the parchment paper, and into the oven it goes.
  • Repeat for all 8 pieces. If the pita isn’t going directly into your mouth as it comes out of the oven (and I wouldn’t blame you if it did) wrap it in a clean towel to keep it soft. Once pita has completely cooled it will keep in an air-tight container at room temperature for a week.

PUFF

While you could certainly just combine the pita and tzatziki and call it a day, we also love to make gyros and other sandwiches, Greek-style nachos, and use tzatziki as a dipping sauce for fries or crudités (or just a spoon, because really? It’s that good). YUM.

Greek Nachos! Ground lamb, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and tzatziki on toasted pita chips.

Greek Nachos! Ground lamb, tomatoes, cucumber, feta, and tzatziki on toasted pita chips.

 

Baked, seasoned fries with tzatziki

Baked, seasoned fries with tzatziki

Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Food

Boston

I have never lived in Boston. I grew up on the North Shore, and I went to college out of state before moving to New York City and then finally St. Paul, so I never lived in Boston.

I had friends who lived in Boston. I dated guys who lived in Boston. In dorms on Boylston Street. In an apartment at the corner of Charles and Pinckney, just a block from the river. Over by Fenway and way out in Jamaica Plain. I spent my summers there, my winter nights. In bars, in alleys, sprawled out on the esplanade. I’ve cried until I thought my heart would truly break in that city. I’ve laughed at least twice as much.

My first memory is of being with my grandmother in a T station, singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star with a busker. I was wearing a pink dress.

I have walked the Freedom Trail. I have stumbled  through the streets after last call with the full finality of summer’s end in the air. I have driven up on the city’s skyline after too many months away and seen the holy glow of the Citgo sign and smiled, because that is when I know I’ve come home.

I had family and friends in Boston yesterday. Some of them were working, some of them were watching the marathon, and I know a handful of people who were running it. Everyone that I know is safe, and still I am so heartsick for them. I am devastated for those whose loved ones are not as fortunate as mine.

I never lived in Boston, but I always believed that someday I would. My life has taken so many turns, and I know now that living in Boston is one of my dreams that will never come true. I will never live in that city. But I will always call it mine.

Boston is the city of my heart; its streets are etched on my bones. There are no better people, no people more ferociously loyal and fiercely loving, than the people I know there.

I am so fucking1 proud to be from Massachusetts.

I love that dirty water.

photo (27)

 

  1. It’s a post about Boston. You really think I was going to make it through without swearing?
Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Personal

Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough: Take One

We make pizza at home. Even as a child I remember doing this with my family. We would buy frozen pizza dough, and after school I would set it on the countertop to thaw. We stretched it to fit our rectangular baking sheet, slathered it with sauce and shredded cheese, and bam. Pizza.

I still make pizza at home, but over the last few years we’ve gotten more adventurous with our toppings. That, and I make the dough from scratch now. I started making bread in 2008, when I still lived in New York. I didn’t own a stand mixer or a bread machine, so I did it all by hand. I made a loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread, and to my surprise I got two perfect loaves the first time out. I’ve had many failures in bread-making since then (if you’ve ever browsed my facebook photo albums you know that I can’t make a French baguette for love or money. Some of those failures are pretty epic). Bread may be temperamental, but it’s not difficult to make. Having been lucky with my first loaves of bread, it was no big deal to start making my own pizza dough. I started making it every once in awhile. Then we moved to Minnesota, and I started making it a lot.

Pizzas we’ve made: olive oil, potato & scallion, white sauce, asparagus, bacon, & eggs; tomato sauce, mozzarella, & venison pepperoni; tomato sauce, assorted veggies, & mozzarella; Margherita pizza.

 

Minnesota doesn’t have good pizza. I apologize to everyone I’ve just offended. If there’s an excellent pizza joint you think I’ve over-looked, feel free to let me know about it in the comments, but be aware that I grew up outside of Boston and then moved to New York and I promise you that the bar is very, very high. In the three and a half years that I’ve lived here I have yet to find pizza that hits the spot (see also: bagels, Chinese food).

Now, don’t misunderstand me. My homemade pizza is nowhere near as good at the professionals back East. But I’m determined to make it as close as I can get. Hence, the Quest for the Perfect Pizza Dough. I’ve tried half a dozen pizza dough recipes over the years. Some of them are great; some less so. But I never keep track of which is which, and it’s about time I started. David and I make pizza from scratch on Friday nights, and I plan to try a new dough recipe each week. I’ll report back here with the recipe and the results.

I suppose I should mention the things that I believe make a great pizza crust–since I’m sure there’s a lot of varying opinions. I’m a pizza crust LOVER, so I have high expectations. I want a dough that’s easy to work with, the produces a flavorful crust that blisters and bubbles up along the edge of the pizza. Sometimes I am in the mood for something crispy, but floppy pizza can be ok, too (I’m the type of person who folds her slices in half before eating).

First up?

Smitten Kitchen’s Rushed Pizza Dough

Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
Yield: Dough for one pizza

photo_1I love Deb Perelman, and I love all things Smitten Kitchen. Her website is my go-to resource when I’m feeling stuck or uninspired. I was so, so excited when her cookbook was released this past fall. She’s got two pizza dough recipes in there, this “rushed” dough, which comes together comparatively quickly, and a “leisurely” dough, which requires an overnight rise in the fridge. I decided to try the “rushed” dough first.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 Cup warm–not hot–water (I always need more than this).
  • 1 1/4 tsp yeast
  • 1 1/2 Cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more to dust the counter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Olive oil, for coating the bowl

Directions

  • Turn oven to warm (200 degrees) for five minutes, then shut it off.
  • Pour the water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it stand for 5 minutes. The yeast will start to bloom as the granules expand. This is called “proofing” the yeast, and is done to make sure that the yeast is still alive.
  • Add flour and salt and mix until a shaggy dough forms (if you find you need more water to keep it together, as I often do, add warm water one tablespoon at a time. Don’t overdo it). If using a stand mixer, knead for 5 minutes with the dough hook. If kneading by hand, flour your counter lightly and go for ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic when its ready; tacky to the touch, but not sticky.
  • Drizzle a little bit of olive oil into a bowl, and place your dough inside, rolling it around in the oil so that all sides are coated. Cover your bowl (tip: a shower cap is the absolute best thing for this. Cheap, reusable, and SO MUCH EASIER than struggling with saran wrap. I keep half a dozen shower caps in my kitchen at all times) and place it in the oven for one hour. Make sure the oven is shut off!
  • Remove the bowl from the oven. The dough should have risen until almost double in size. Press a finger gently into the dough; if the dough remains indented and doesn’t spring back right away it’s ready! Gently press down on the dough to deflate.
  • Roll, toss, or stretch to your desired shape, top with deliciousness, and bake (usually at your oven’s highest heat, for 10-12 minutes)

Verdict

This dough is designed to be done quickly, and the number one rule of breads is that time = flavor. Flavor was lacking, here. David described it as “neutral” but I’m going to go ahead and call it bland. My other main complaint about this dough is that the outer edge of the crust just did not rise at all. I’ve made this dough a few times recently, and that’s been a consistant problem every time. I am a crust-loving gal. I want to get to that pillowy, bready crust at the end of each slice, and it’s just not happening here.

I did love how quickly this came together, and although it was disappointing it wasn’t offensive, or anything. I’d keep it on the back burner for weeknight emergencies, but the quest for the perfect pizza crust continues!

Toppings

We topped this pizza with olive oil, fresh ricotta, grape tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, bacon, and fresh basil. This was delicious and fresh, a perfect reminder that spring IS on the way, even if there’s still snow outside. (Yes, it’s still snowing in Minnesota. Yes, it’s mid-April). The toppings made up for the lackluster crust; I’ll use these ingredients to top more pizzas in the future!

Do you have a pizza dough recipe you think I’ll love? Leave a comment and let me know, or shoot me an email! This quest is serious business.

Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Food