Friday, June 3, 2016

Satiating What We Long For


      People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don't you write about the struggle for power, and about security and about love, the way others do?

      The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it -- and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied -- it is all one.

      I tell about myself...and it happens without my willing it that I am telling too about the people with me and their other deeper needs for love and happiness.

      There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk. And that is my answer, when people ask me: Why do you write about hunger, and not wars or love?

                                                                                                                                          --  MFK Fisher

      Nearly a crowned nurse, having been trained and educated in a city that faces the consequences of a long lost economy and the impossibly evil clutch of substance use, offering my faithfully-returned readers a recipe for muffins seems like a feeble act. What I've learned in the hospital rooms of Baltimore and from its people who defy injustice by their resilience should not surprise me, considering my faith: that after the vital signs have been taken, the medicine administered, the pain acknowledged, the surgery performed, the dressings changed  -- people love and can and will talk about food.

      Remarkably, for all of the mysteries of our minds and bodies that we may not understand, we do know what our palates yearn for. To bake a muffin that provides the anticipated sweet without being excessive, the surprising tart clench from buttermilk and the robust chew of whole grain is to have something honest and unpretentious to offer, satiating what we long for.

Millet Muffins with Buttermilk and Cinnamon
adapted from Cafe Fanny and Blue Wave Pastry

      You can certainly substitute ingredients to make these gluten free or vegan. Also, though it's not absolutely required, giving the millet a good rinse prior to grinding it will help reduce any of its natural bitterness.


2 eggs
1 and 1/3 c brown sugar

10 T melted unsalted butter

1 and 1/4 c whole millet (often found in the bulk section of grocery stores)

2 3/4 c all purpose flour

1 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon

1 and 3/4 c buttermilk


      Preheat your oven to 350F and grease a muffin tin tray.

      In a food processor or with a mortar and pestle, grind the millet until it's just slightly broken up from its whole-grain ball form, about ten seconds -- you still want plenty of crunch and texture.

   Beat together the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the melted butter, half of the buttermilk and the millet.

      Stir in the dry ingredients and remaining buttermilk. Mix gently and not too much -- over-mixing makes muffins flat!

      Spoon the batter so it fills each muffin tin three-quarters of the way full. Bake for 20 minutes or until an inserted tooth pick comes out clean.

      Remove from oven, run a knife around the edges and let sit for 10 minutes before inverting the tray to remove the muffins. Let cool and enjoy with coffee or tea.

Yields: about 18 muffins
Prep time: 20 minutes, tops
Bake time: 20 minutes

Writing by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Ought to be Considered


      You can see what is beloved in my poetry or recipe books based on the pages that are tear or ingredient stained. Occasionally, you might find a page that has both -- which is a good sign; a poem read aloud while cooking or a recipe that causes an emotional surge is one that ought to be considered. Perhaps the icing on the cake is when a binding is so worn that once taken off the shelf, the book falls open to a certain page as if to either bask in accustomed attention or to offer a warm, homecoming embrace.

       All of these markers of appreciation can be found on pages 267 and 268 of Judy Rodger's tremendous compendium of recipes in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, underneath the modest title "Lentils Braised in Red Wine". There isn't much which heralds more promise of warmth and protection than a pot of lentils simmering on the stove. The smell of their steady earthiness that fills the kitchen and seeps under doorways with a peppery lift nearly takes your coat and boots off for you. The steamy booziness from the wine dries any raindrops lingering on your shoulders and the flavours are so inherently pleasing that the cares of the day are replaced in a matter of mouthfuls.

Pinot Noir Braised Lentils with Bay
hardly adapted from Judy Rodgers

      French lentils (lentilles du Puy) maintain their structure as they cook and can be found most markets that sell dried beans and grains. If you have trouble finding them however, simply substitute green lentils -- the dish might get a bit mushy but will still be delicious. The lentils get more wonderful as time goes on -- add a splash of liquid to re-heat or enough liquid to turn the dish into a hearty stew with a few handfuls of already-salted roasted squash and quickly blanched kale. 


4 T plus a splash of olive oil

1 medium onion, finely diced
3 carrots, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
sea salt

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 bay leaf
a few pinches of dried or a sprig of fresh thyme (optional)

1 and 1/4 c French lentils
1 c plus a splash of Pinot Noir (or other dry,  lighter red wine)

4 c hot water, vegetable or chicken stock


      Bring the water or stock to a hot temperature on a back burner and have a ladle or mug nearby with which to scoop the liquid when needed. You may not need all of the warmed stock -- the ratio of liquid to lentil is ever-changing.

      In a medium sized Dutch oven, heat 4 T of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery and a few pinches of salt and saute for 5 minutes until the onions are becoming translucent. Add the garlic and saute for a minute more.

      Add the bay leaf, optional thyme and French lentils and stir to coat with the vegetables. Add the cup of wine and enough hot liquid to just cover the lentils. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed before adding more stock, as you would if making risotto.

      Continue this process until the lentils are beginning to split and are soft to the bite. Season with 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt, a splash of wine (a quarter cup or so) and another swirl of olive oil (2 tablespoons). Let simmer for another few minutes before removing from the heat. Using discretion, add more salt if necessary -- sometimes the lentils can be thirsty for it.

      Serve alongside lemon roasted potatoes, underneath a poached egg with a dollop of dijon or atop garlic rubbed toast.

Yields: enough for 6 (meals or people)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 - 45 minutes, mostly unattended

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Batch [That] Verged on Sophistication


      Few things herald the taste buds of my Americana holiday season like a sugar cookie. Few things, in fact, have ever measured up to the bones of this cookie recipe -- the one that my family makes each year from a tattered, butter smeared Tasha Tudor cookbook. Historically decorated with sprinkles or bright blazing glazes, it wasn't until this year that the batch verged on sophistication with the poppy seed addition, a reminder of the surprises that can come from the things (and people) we may tuck away but continue to cherish.

Poppy Seed Sugar Cookies
from Tasha Tudor

      You can certainly leave out the poppy seeds and still have something remarkable! Feel free to substitute vegan alternatives for the butter, milk and eggs.


1lb unsalted butter, room temp
2 cups of sugar

2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract (or the scrapings of one vanilla bean)

5 cups of plain flour
1/2 t of salt

1 tsp of baking soda dissolved in 3 tbs of milk
3/4 c poppyseeds 


      With a whisk, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. With a wooden spoon, mix in flour and salt, then the baking soda mix and poppy seeds.

       Form into a ball, wrap in saran wrap/something bag-like and chill for 30 minutes.

       Preheat oven to 325F.

      Do whatever you want with the cookies: roll them out and use cookie cutters, tear off bits to form a rustic cookie, or even a rounded tennis ball shape pressed in the center with a spoon.

      Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on shape/size -- they should be slightly soft when you pull them from the oven. Let cool for a few moments prior to savoring with a cup of tea or glass of milk.

Yields: about 2 dozen cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 10-15 minutes

Writing by Adria Lee | Photography and Styling by Amy Pennington

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Newfound Glory


      I was listening to Mary Oliver read from one of her poems the other day and gulped, shifting uncomfortably in my chair, when I heard her say: Do you need a little darkness to get you going?/ Let me be urgent as a knife, then, / and remind you of Keats, / so single of purpose and thinking, / for a while, / he had a lifetime.

     Thus being forced to brush up on my Romantic poetry history by recalling Keats's early death at age 25, I continued to sit, staring out the window as the breeze blew through the still-green leaves and the cicadas raged on like summer would never end, thinking about this abandoned corner of my world. There have been no shortage of discoveries on my end and yet when I sit to write about them, only sparks come from my fingertips -- never enough to get anything coherent to take flame and I think, "Oh, never mind, I'll do it later". Why do we fall silent? Why do we let our tasks and obligations rise up around our throats and keep us from singing? 

       The eggplant might have the solution. Dark purple, of all colors, and provocatively shaped, eggplants take some convincing. Eaten raw, they're an offensive offering. They require patience; when salted with foresight, the eggplant become less thirsty for the olive oil it craves and roasts with integrity of structure. With care and precision, this spongy vegetable yields to heat and becomes velvet at the final moment, making a wondrous addition to a sandwich or curry. If you find yourself lost for words, as I have over the past few months, charring an eggplant over an open flame will reveal a whole new world and leave you scrambling to your rooftop to sing about this newfound glory.

Charred Eggplant Baba Ganoush
inspired by and adapted from Judy Rodgers and Yotam Ottolenghi

      Don't hover over the eggplant if you are faint of heart -- sometimes little cracks appear that sudden steam escapes through that could cause a fright. Let it char and get black! Your whole kitchen will fill with the smokey aroma -- that's when you know you're doing it right. If you don't have a gas stove, you could also do this under the broiler of your electric stove but please don't do it atop an electrical range.


1 medium eggplant

1 clove of garlic, crushed
1/2 c full-fat Greek yogurt or Vegenaise (a bit less if you're using traditional mayonnaise or aioli)
2 T olive oil
2 t pomegranate molasses (available in Middle Eastern markets or sections of grocery stores)
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 t sea salt
a few cranks/pinches of freshly cracked black pepper

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped


      Turn on one of your gas stove burners to a medium flame. Place the eggplant directly on the stove grate over the flame for about 10 to 15 minutes, rotating every few minutes with a pair of tongs. The eggplant should be blackened all over and slightly limp -- it's fine if it's releasing some liquid. Set aside to let cool.

      Meanwhile, place the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir to combine. 

      When the eggplant is cool enough to touch, scrape out the flesh and discard the charred skin and stem -- don't worry if some of the skin has stubbornly remained -- it's safe to eat. Chop the eggplant flesh until you have almost a paste and then add it to the mixing bowl. Mix well and taste -- add more salt or a drizzle of pomegranate molasses if it needs a lift. 

      Garnish with parsley and serve with toasted pita, roasted squash, or alongside a crudité platter.

Yields: baba ganoush for 6 or 8, depending
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook (charring) time: 15 minutes

Writing and Styling by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington

Sunday, May 24, 2015

To Clasp One's Hands Together

       Like pesto or mashed potatoes, every cook has a special trick up her sleeve or specificity to her palate that makes a creation especially her own. My gastronomical pilgrimage has lead me to construct an altar around the capabilities of both buttermilk and umeboshi vinegar and a tolerance (and then unbound joy) for combinations such as a kim chi and tahini toasted sandwich. For some reason though, I never bothered to give chimichurri a try, which, if in a darker mood, would indicate that I've wasted thirty one years of my life.

      Known as the condiment for the famous Argentinian barbecue, chimichurri is my ambassador for South America. At its most basic, it is an aromatic vinegar-based sauce, mellowed by olive oil. A blackened jalapeno adds fire while the muddled pungent herbs eddy about, giving strong reason to clasp one's hands together with a sense of awe. There's no wrong pairing with it; traditionally used as a tabletop condiment or to baste grilling beef, it is a revelation folded into aioli or hot roasted potatoes, spooned over grilled asparagus or into a bowl of steaming rice.

Chimchurri Sauce
adapted from Judy Rogers

       To get the full effect, make sure that whatever food you're dressing with the chimichurri has already been salted adequately, especially meat or potatoes. The sauce will keep in the fridge for a week, although it likely won't last so long.


1 jalapeno pepper

2 t fresh oregano
2 t fresh thyme
1 t fresh rosemary

1 c extra-virgin olive oil

3 T red wine vinegar
1 T sweet paprika
1 T fresh flat-leaf- parsley, minced
3 large cloves of freshly garlic, minced
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 to 3/4 t sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper


      Char the jalapeno over an open flame on your stove or on the grill. Use tongs or an appropriate kitchen tool to rotate the pepper so that all sides are blackened -- a minute or so. Leave it to cool and then remove all seeds and the stem and mince the blackened flesh.

     Roughly chop the oregano, thyme and rosemary to release the oils and provide surface area. This can also be accomplished with a mortar and pestle, if you've got them.

      In a small sauce pan, warm the olive oil over medium low heat until it is hot but not smoking. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the bruised herbs and remaining ingredients, including the minced jalapeno.

      Let sit for at least an hour before serving. You have the option of blending the chimichurri in a food processor or with an immersion blender if you prefer a less rustic sauce -- sometimes the larger pieces of bay leaf can be a bit much.

Yields: 1 cup chimichurri
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: hardly anything (but allow the sauce to rest an hour before serving)

Photography by Amy Pennington | Writing and styling by Adria Lee

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Burden of Science

      I once had a remarkable teacher who, in recounting the steps of the scientific method, stated that "the burden of science is that nothing is provable". "No theory," she continued, "is future-proof," and gave us the example of the "all swans are white" theory. In colloquial language, if someone has a theory, it means she has an intuitive hunch. In scientific language, if a theory has been established, it means that it has undergone experiments and tests in a controlled setting with both dependent and independent variables that lead scientists to widely accept that the evidence offers no better alternative than the stated hypothesis. 
      It sounds political, I know, which is why she called it a burden.

      My theory is that it will be fifty years or more before scientists will agree that most gluten free foods available on the shelves interfere dramatically with your blood sugar. Many non-Celiacs (an autoimmune disease in which there is an inflammatory response to the presence of gluten, sometimes so severe that it depletes the cilia in the small intestine) are gravitating towards gluten free foods because they believe it will aid in weight loss or help with bloating. By reading the ingredients on a loaf of gluten free bread, you'll see that it is just as energy (calorically) rich as a regular loaf of bread and, with a little math, that it has a very high glycemic index. The main ingredient in most of these products is sugar; potato starch and rice starch, processed forms of their more complex carbohydrates (sugar) starting points, are absorbed almost immediately into the blood stream, making the blood sugar content skyrocket (like with alcohol). Overtime, this can lead to any number of health issues, though best discussed away from a recipe blog.

      Indeed, you may be sensitive to gluten without having a diagnosed allergy to it but there are alternatives! Rice! Buckwheat! Millet! Sometimes though, a sandwich is necessary.

Flax Flatbread

      This was given to me by a customer at the Syracuse Real Food Coop, where I moonlight twice a week. He doesn't know where it came from, only that it's delicious and that it makes him feel good. I was sold immediately, especially after realizing the fatty acid content and the 7 grams of protein per slice.


1 cup flax meal
3/4 c chicpea (garbanzo bean) flour
1/4 c tapioca starch
1 T baking powder
1/2 T xanthan gum
2 t anise or dill seed (optional)
1 T dried minced onion (optional)
1 t sea salt
1 T olive oil
1 t molasses
3/4 c water
2 large eggs (or egg replacement equivalent)
2 T sesame seeds 


      Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

      Combine the flax meal, chicpea flour, tapioca starch, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, dried onion and dill or anise seeds (if using) in a large bowl.

      In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, molasses, water and eggs. Add to the flour mixture and beat hard with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to activate the xanthan gum (this will act as a thickener). The dough will be sticky.

      Spoon two equal mounts onto the prepared baking sheet. Using a rubber spatula dipped in water, pat the mounds into two 6-inch diameter disks about 1 inch high. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake until lightly browned and firm, about 22 minutes.

      Let cool on a wire baking rack.

Yield: two flat breads, enough for 8 people
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: about 22 minutes

Writing by Adria Lee | Photography by Amy Pennington