Category Archives: Uncategorized

Opa! (Boomer): A Dinner Party Reimagined

They say that the dinner party is dead. Something else that Millennials have killed along with golf and casual dining establishments. As a HungryGinger, I will surely not shed a tear when and if places like TGI Fridays and Outback Steakhouse go under, but I take exception to the idea that the dinner party will share their fate. In fact, I believe that, unlike many relics of our baby boomer parent’s lives, the dinner party is adapting to become a new and possibly better expression of itself. Alison Roman is throwing casual get-togethers in her Brooklyn apartment and Instagramming the shit out of it. Hell, she even wrote an entire cookbook around the idea. I’m sold. 

The dinner party does not have to be a three course affair beginning with bruschetta and ending with Baked Alaska (though it certainly could – there are no rules!). It can be a series of small plates, snacks and dips with some fun veggies – watermelon radish anyone? Or it can be a themed potluck where everyone also brings a bottle of wine (and takes a Lyft home). As I have negotiated my way to my mid thirties, the dinner party has become more and more appealing. I long for the structure of a sitdown gathering with friends, but don’t necessarily need to be burdened with the responsibility for several courses. I’m paying into social security that will be bankrupt when I am old, so I should be able to do damn well what I please when it comes to dinner. It is this feeling (and several drunken non-dinner party nights with friends) that gave rise to the first annual Greek Solstice Cook-a-thon.

At times of merriment, a friend (who is Greek) and I, would wax poetic about Greek food. We would discuss the finer points of Avgolemono soup (when IS the best time to add the egg enrichment?) and baklava (so. many. layers.) and tell ourselves that sometime soon, we would have a Greek themed dinner party and he would teach me and our friends his ya-ya’s secrets. Finally, this year, around about the Summer Solstice, we followed through. There were eight people in total which is enough people for a lively gathering but not so many that the party could potentially separate into groups. 

 

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About a week out, the Greek friend (Stevie) posted some classic recipes that he was thinking of making and we divided the recipes for the mains between the two of us. Other attendees took on appetizers and dessert (which could be made ahead of time) and we picked a dish that everyone could help make the day of – Spanakopita!

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We did a lot of pre-prep so that when we all got together, we weren’t stuck in the kitchen instead of socializing. I also did a signature cocktail that could be mixed ahead of time so that we had something tasty to drink while we cooked.

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The Grapevine:
4 cups white grapejuice
1 cup vodka
¼ cup lemon juice
2 tsp Grenadine
*Thanks NYT Cooking Community Facebook Group for the recipe!**

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And a party isn’t a party without some appetizers to go with the drinks (we don’t want to be completely smashed for the meal). My friend Louisa, fellow blogger and foodaphile made a delicious garlic dip made with potatoes and homemade pita chips.

 

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Once everyone arrived, we pulled the thawed phyllo dough out from the fridge along with the spanakopita filling I had made the night before (in an 11pm frenzy). Stevie showed us how much filling to use (less than you would think) and how to fold and seal the tiny packages of deliciousness. We took turns filling and folding and filling and folding. Everyone did a round and all improved so that by the end, we were practically pros. Yaya would have been proud! 

 

Then into the oven they went. Additional dishes including chicken rolls, Keftethes or Greek Meatballs, Green bean casserole and baked fish with raisins. And of course a greek salad with crisp cucumbers, olives, feta and tomato. This was a true feast and by the time we got to the baklava (purchased from a local Greek establishment…we aren’t masochists), we were stuffed and everyone got some leftovers to take home. Next time, I will definitely provide To Go containers for everyone so that we don’t have to play tupperware roulette.

 

Overall the experience was great because it was more participatory than a traditional dinner party. I felt less like I was putting on a show (with all the attendant stress) and more like we were a group of merry honorary Greeks – a beautiful amalgamation of old world tradition and modern collaborative spirit. What is sweeter than that?

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Podcasts for what life throws at you

We live in a world fraught with uncertainty, sadness and, well, dirty dishes. Here are some of the podcasts that have helped me navigate it all.

When you have mindless chores to do…

As a neat/clean freak (and currently unemployed person), I end up cleaning the house pretty frequently. It’s not like I’m down there scrubbing the baseboards with a toothbrush or dustbusting behind the fridge…I AM NOT A MONSTER, but I do like to keep things relatively clean and tidy. I find that I am more relaxed and productive in a clean environment and if I space it out into manageable pieces over the course of the week, it doesn’t seem so daunting. Some people like to listen to music while they clean but I generally listen to podcasts. Comedy podcasts are great because they are generally more entertaining than knowledge-packed, so I don’t feel the need to stop and write stuff down for later every three minutes. I also like serialized fiction podcasts because, like audiobooks, you are just listening to a story and, unlike audiobooks, they are broken down into discrete parts, easily consumable over several short sittings. They may even have a recap before each episode. A few “Cleaning Companions” that I recommend are below:

2 Dope Queens – Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams are the best friends we all yearn for. They are funny. They know a ton of amazing, hilarious people and they don’t take BS of any kind from anyone. Their podcast consists of them just shooting the shit, hanging out with their friends and having incredible comedians on to do stand-up. They tape their shows in front of an audience in Brooklyn and occasionally travel to other cities. I am seriously considering starting a GoFundMe to bring them here. They are that good.

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Homecoming – Homecoming is a psychological thriller of the old-timey radio serial ilk. It has phenomenal voice acting from the likes of Catherine Keener,  David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, David Cross and more (Michael Cera was on the last episode I listened to!). There are two full seasons out so far and it is so well done, from the acting to sound editing that you almost feel like you are watching a movie…but you’re not. You are scrubbing some unidentified gunk under the toilet seat. It’s magic! It’s productive escapism!

When you are feeling sad or anxious…

As I mentioned previously, the world can be a sad, uncertain place and we can be sad, uncertain, anxiety attack in the soup aisle having individuals. Sometimes we need to know that we are not alone.

Terrible, Thanks For Asking – Sometimes, the glossy world created by social media and societal expectation, can make it seem like everyone else is doing better than you. I mean, YOU didn’t spend the day apple picking, then curled up by a roaring fire drinking mulled wine. YOU didn’t hike that gorgeous trail (“Eight miles each way!” “Feeling the GOOD kind of tired now as a chicken roasts in the oven and Hendrix on the turntable”). YOU stared at the cat in bed for an hour before moving to the couch to binge on Hemlock Grove. I mean we all have those awesome days every now and then and you can bet that most of us want to get that high from talking about it on social media and getting positive feedback. I am certainly guilty of this, just as I am guilty of the other…(Hemlock Grove…seriously a good show, guys). The point is, we have shitty days and great days and most days are just, meh. It’s the human condition. Terrible Thanks for Asking is a great reminder that everyone else is having those shitty days, weeks, months too. And that is pretty comforting, almost like mulled wine.

The Hilarious World of Depression – Hosted by John Moe, an NPR guy who is depressed and not afraid to talk about it, this podcast also provides an element of “You are not alone” comfort plus a lot of entertaining, intelligent celebrities being brutally honest about their lifelong struggles with depression. Margaret Cho works out to beat depression, Wil Wheaton finds medication most helpful (and for the record is not trying to be cute with that single L. His mother spelled it that way on an early hastilly written note to his father and it stuck). Most of the guests are comedians and all have been through the ringer and come out the other side intact – ish. And that -ish is a perfectly fine state. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

When you want to sound smart and/or politically savvy at an upcoming holiday party/family gathering…

Yes, friends, the holidays are almost upon us. While Summer may have been the time for happy hour margs on the patio, reliving epic camping/beaching/Eclipsing adventures, or (if you live in Washington or Oregon) bitching about the smoke and the latest Trumpian Tweet, Fall and Winter are for more weighty matters. Maybe you have an office party that you would like to win by talking intelligently to your boss for five minutes, allowing you to thoroughly enjoy the shots of high-end Mezcal on the company’s dime mere moments later. Or perhaps you finally want to show your mother that, while you still can’t keep a houseplant alive, you have coherent things to say about gene therapy. Try these on for size:

Waking Up With Sam Harris – Sam Harris is a guy who went to Stanford in the 80s, took MDMA, dropped out, spent 10 years studying consciousness around the world, went back to Stanford, graduated and got a Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

What, that’s not enough to get you to listen? OK, this is a very smart but chill person who talks about DEEP shit and complex political issues in an approachable way. And he talks about these things with equally smart people. He will say some things that will make you uncomfortable that you may not agree with completely, but he says them in a way that will spark intelligent debate rather than make you run for your bed with visions of acrimonious comment threads seared into your brain.

The TED Radio Hour – There are SO MANY TED talks out there and who has the time to mine them for pithy facts to impress egghead uncle Jeff, your boss, or that barista who reads The Economist on her breaks and is not impressed by your sportsball trivia? NPR has the solution for you. Timely, themed podcasts that combine TED talks plus bonus interviews with the speakers into a neat little package of knowledge. For example, I just learned that playing video games is by definition the opposite of depression! Don’t believe me, check it out here. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of useful facts for life, love, and monetary gain.

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Well, I have lots more of these for you, but I will save them for another time. I hope you are inspired to listen to a podcast or two next time you have a chore to do, are feeling down or want to be inspired!

Fruits of the Nightshade and the Royal Herb

This summer, we got our garden planted a little late and my attitude towards tending our little dirt patch was more Laissez-faire than dedicated care. Stuff did grow. We enjoyed tender lettuces in many a salad and mint in many a cocktail. The Kale had some sort of blight from the start, which I made minimal effort to investigate and fix. I mean, it’s kale. Not something to get too worked up about in my opinion. It will be mixed into my mulch pile later this month and have a second life. C’est la vie. But, the REAL star of every summer garden is always the Tomato. Whether it be Plum or Grape, Roma or Zebra, garden fresh tomatoes smell better, look better and taste better than your average grocery store variety. Just pluck one directly from the vine on a hot day and you will know what I mean. Smell the peppery tomato aroma emanating from the vine, sink your teeth into the fruit and absorb the very essence of the season. Ahhhhh…

This is lovely when you get your plants in the ground early enough and tend to them lovingly throughout a solid two months of sunny days and warm temps. This is Seattle, however, and we get about a month of really nice weather and then there are days like today, when the rain falls and your half-ripe tomatoes sit dejectedly on the vine. Don’t get me wrong, we got a few rounds of ripe, delicious fruits of the nightshade but not the hoped-for haul that we could turn into a delicious sauce to brighten our plates in the dead of winter. This has been noted in my garden journal and next year I hope to do better.

On a happier note, it’s pretty much impossible to screw up another summer staple, basil, or the Royal Herb. Basil can be grown in the garden or in a pot and as long as you keep it well hydrated, it will yield more herb that you will know what to do with. A brief note on watering. Many herbs, like rosemary and thyme (the woody ones, as I like to call them), like to dry out from time to time. They like to be slapped around, told they’ve been bad, neglected a tiny bit. It makes them stronger and more herby. Basil, on the other hand, is a true princeling. He must be kept in moist soil and pruned regularly or he will go chop off Ned Stark’s head or something. But really, the leaves will be dry and narrow rather than round a succulent and he will go to seed all over the place. Ok, I’m done with the weird sex metaphors now, but seriously, if you put a modicum of effort into growing your basil, you will reap the rewards. And that, to me, means pesto pesto pesto! So far I’ve done two mass harvests (where I cut actual stalks, leaving one set of leaves for future growth), eaten two delicious pesto meals and frozen several portions for later. If I play my cards right, I can keep harvesting until it freezes!

Pesto is one of those “no recipe” recipes. Oil, basil, salt, parm and some sort of nut (usually pine nuts) are all that is required. Some people also add garlic and some add lemon juice. It’s all about what you like and what you have around the house…aka the BEST kind of recipe! Toss all your ingredients into a food processor or blender and voila! For my pesto, I drew on recipes from the New York Times, Kitchn, and Simply Recipes. They are all pretty similar and are good to look over to get an idea on proportions. In one batch, I used raw pine nuts and in another, I toasted them. I plan to add some lemon juice to a third and see what that tastes like.

I learned a lot about gardening and the very different requirements for plant care this summer and hopefully, I can bring these lessons to my garden next year so that it is bigger and better. For now, I will be making pesto and coaxing the last of the tomatoes to ripen and to gild a couple more salads before they give up the ghost.

Hungry Ginger Recommends August 3 Edition

First post of the re-imagined Hungry Ginger Blog. Starting pretty basic here because I know myself. Check out my new About tab where I talk about where I’ve been and some of my goals in life and for the blog and find below, a few of the things that are making me happy this week.

Eats

Start your day with a smoothie! Grocery stores and farmers markets are bursting with delicious fruit! Peaches, blueberries, apricots, oh my! Throw a banana, sliced peach, two handfuls of blueberries and several strawberries (why not keep the greens on? It’s all getting blended up anyway.) into a blender. Top with coconut water, kefir (more probiotics than your average yogurt – Web MD has the deets http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/why-is-kefir-good-for-me#1) and juice (I love to use Morning Blend by R.W Knudsen). Blend ‘er up and you have a great start to your day!

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Step away from the Netflix. It’s too hot to be inside anyway. Sit on your porch, or in a park, or air conditioned bar/coffee shop and read this book: Theft By Finding (http://www.davidsedarisbooks.com/theftbyfinding.html). You will laugh at David Sedaris’s witticisms and observations of humanity while simultaneously marveling at the sheer amount of acid the dude dropped in the 70’s. You will think, if David freaking Sedaris spent his early years that messed up and dirt poor, there IS hope for me yet.

Oh yeah, exercise

In Seattle currently, it is too darn smoky and hot to go for that run. The gym is always an option if that’s your thing, but if you like FREE like ME, I have another suggestion. Yoga with Adriene on You Tube (https://www.youtube.com/yogawithadriene). Close all your doors and windows and you basically have a free hot yoga class!

Tasting around Denver

I’d been to Denver, Co once in my life and the main thing I remember is that we visited a Celestial Seasonings store. Yes, I was a 40 year old teetotaler at the age of 12. This time, the Ween reunion show was a great excuse to get better acquainted with this mountain town. We arrived at the Brown Palace Hotel close to midnight and went straight to bed but not before I snapped a pic of the old hotel’s creepy “The Shinning-esqu” lobby.

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Brunch the next morning was breakfast in bed, which was meh and not photo-worthy and definitely not worth the $70 price tag for room service. It was nice to lounge around in robes for an unseemly amount of time though. Around 2pm, we ventured out, got coffee and sunglasses. What is this crazy orb in the sky?!?

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All that walking around in the “Mile High City” really worked up an appetite so we headed to Illegal Pete’s  in LODO for burritos. Illegal Pete’s remind me of Seattle’s BIMBOS CANTINA with better food and even fewer fucks given (if that’s even possible). I got the Green Chili Burrito as recommended by Andrew who, left to his own devices, would probably eat every meal at this place while in Denver. It was quite tasty as was the Hornitos shot with a Tecate back, natch.

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Then, we were off to the Ween show! VIP, bitches! Chocolate and Cheese Fountains!

The show was amazing, of course! The love and excitement were palpable and the cast of characters lively!

We ended the night relatively early so we could have a full day on Saturday.

For Brunch, I discovered a restaurant with many kinds of Benedict and a veritable plethora of Bloody Mary and Mimosa variations. Perfect. It was called Sassafras American Eatery and the wait was an hour so it must be good! We bided our time at a nearby bar called prohibition. which, as the name suggests, had excellent cocktails. We even ran into some folks going to the second night of the Ween show!

Brunch, finally! Can’t go wrong with fried oysters smothered in hollandaise and topped with a sprinkle of bacon!

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A post brunch nap was definitely called for so I relaxed in the room for a bit while Andrew puttered around town. When we finally met up, it was Jaymos and romance.

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I kept the Jaymo and passed along the rose to this handsome devil.

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Being that it was the day before V-Day, many restaurants were slammed so we walked around a bit and admired the lights and the hometown pride. Go Broncos! Sportsball stuff!

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Finally we snagged a pair of corner bar seats at a fancy Spanish restaurant called Rioja. Our meal started with the “Rioja Picnic” a delicious mix of charcuterie, cheese, bread, olives and other delights. Clearly not picnic basket portable though. To its left is their take on French onion soup. The fussiness of the presentation 100% made up for by the deliciousness of the broth!

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Then it was Venison with butternut squash, mustard greens, fregola sarda, pickled sultanas, pecans and fig-sage purée for Andrew and octopus farfalle with preserved Basque chiles, piquillo peppers, tempura preserved lemons, gremolata and a caper-chile emulsion for me!

Too stuffed for dessert but still room for old timey cocktails at Green Russell where we dipped our toes into Denver’s craft cocktail scene and were impressed, if a bit bemused by the “Speakcheesyness” of it. While Seattle seems to be slowly growing out of its arm band and bowler hat phase of cock-tailing, Denver is still firmly enmeshed. But, to quote Seinfeld, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

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Then, late night room service with a bottle of bubbly for and fruit plate for Valentine’s Day.

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We had a great time in Denver! It had a very small town feeling but with a lot of eating and drinking opportunities, which is what truly matters to this Hungry Ginger. And valuable lessons were also learned. Cocktails a mile high lead to hangovers a mile deep. They’ve got to have something for that at Celestial Seasonings, right?

 

Branching out and it tastes so good!

My go to cuisines are French and Italian, probably because of my undying love of cheese and butter, and the fact that these are what my parents, who both taught me how to cook, generally tended towards. This year I want to branch out and cook different types of cuisine, specifically various Asian cuisines. I started a little bit last year, cooking some recipes from 660 Curries, an immense tome that Andrew bought for me years ago. He gave me an ultimatum…cook twice from this book before we move or else it’s going to Goodwill. As December of 2015, I had cooked exactly zero recipes from this cookbook, so I was a little freaked out. The thing that had stopped me thus far was all the sub recipes. For any given recipe in the book, no matter how simple seeming, there seemed to be at least three sub recipes. They ranged from simple, like garlic and ginger paste, to more complex spice mixes (there are 4 different kinds of garam masala you say?). Finally, one Sunday when I was feeling rested enough to tackle a couple recipes, I made some ghee (clarified butter, yo…not too complex), whipped up about 8 tablespoons each of ginger and garlic paste (most recipes call for one tablespoon of each so I froze the remainder), bought some generic garam masala (let’s not get too crazy here people) and I was off! Of course I picked two Indian takeout faves, Chicken Tikka Masala and Saag Paneer. It took about three hours in all and the flavor ended up being pretty close to some of my favorite Indian places…although I have a suspicion that many places add cream to their sauces (the recipes I used only called for the clarified butter) which really does give them that richness.

My Indian adventure happened in December and to continue my culinary education, I recently purchased Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes and on Saturday, in preparation for a party which required a decent foundation, I whipped up one of their fried rice recipes. Whenever I cook rice for a recipe, I usually cook more than it calls for and freeze the extra for just this type of situation. Fried rice is actually better with day old (or more if it’s been frozen) rice. The day prior, I defrosted about three cups of rice, made sure I had the ingredients (the “strangest” ingredient for this particular recipe was fish sauce, which I already had for some reason, kicking it in the back of the pantry) and 30 minutes later, we had some delicious fried rice. I have to say, I could get used to this! I’m not even missing the cheese and butter!

Mind v. Internet: Organizing my culinary brain

In my journeys in and out of the internet, I am always reading, saving and bookmarking recipes, little tidbits of information that I find useful and interesting/informational articles. I use Pocket, which is an amazing app that is, shockingly, free! I have had the app for over a year and have saved and read so many articles (thousands?) using its interface and have yet to reach the limitations of the free version, which is rare with “Freemium” apps. Pocket is especially useful for saving recipes that I find on the blogs that I follow on Facebook, culinary people I follow on twitter and food articles that I find in the NY Times cooking section. It also has a search function so if I want to make a rice recipe to go with chicken but can’t think of one or don’t want to scroll through my article list, I just search for “Rice” and everything with the word “Rice” in the title shows up.

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I can also tag things to help organize them so if I am looking for a quick meal, I choose “quick” and recipes for quick meals show up. I do the same thing, to a lesser extent with other types of articles but this is especially effective for recipes.

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My brain, like the internet, is a MESS so it’s nice to have this nifty app to help make sense of it all! I might upgrade at some point because I actually feel a little guilty getting all of this for free!