An Ode to Anthony Bourdain (feat. Banana-Rum Icebox Cake)

I’ve started this post over and over. A lot has happened in the past month and a half. I got married. I went on an epic mini-honeymoon road trip. We had a second reception in my hometown, right next door to my high school’s prom. I couldn’t decide on whether I wanted to write about my wedding cake, or make a top 5 list of the things we ate on our honeymoon, or whether I should just steam ahead and write about what I was cooking.

And then Anthony Bourdain died.

I always forget how torturous baking can be in the summer in Indiana, whether or not you have air conditioning. No matter what you do, the oven turns the entire apartment into a sweatbox. There’s an icebox cake cookbook that I’ve been checking out of the library for the past couple years, but I’ve never made any of the recipes.

This year, I’m determined. There are so many good options. A Milk Dud cake. A black pepper rum cake. Peanut butter cup cake. Lavender-blueberry.

What I decided on: banana-rum cake.

I’ve loved Anthony Bourdain for a very long time. Over the past few years (that, interestingly enough, coincide with the years I spent at my last job), I lost track of him. I think part of me had given up on him. I was tired of seeing and hearing about the world through the lens of a snarky white guy. I was disappointed with his choices to do things like hang out with Ted Nugent. I was tired of the “bad boy” thing, of the Hunter S. Thompson-inspired aesthetic thing. Of all the testosterone and macho stuff.

In the last few months, I began following him and his girlfriend Asia Argento more closely on Instagram. I watched as he vocally and strongly supported Asia, particularly at the Cannes Film Festival when she publicly accused Harvey Weinstein of raping her. I watched as he supported the #MeToo movement, and modeled what it looked like to be a self-reflective man who realizes that he’s been contributing to rape culture. He asked himself why the women in his life didn’t feel comfortable enough to come to him with their stories of assault? He asked himself not only what he did, but what did he let happen? What did he let the men around him get away with?

The technically-late-spring weather here has been erratic. One week, it’s unbearably humid, sunny, and in the mid-90s. The next week, it’s overcast, humid-ish, stormy, and in the low to mid-80s (which feels a whole lot better than a humid 95 degrees, trust me).

This week is a stormy one, which means it’s cool enough for me to cook. So I started to caramelize bananas.

The bananas had been ripening on the counter for the past week or so, so they had lots of brown spots. I sliced up six of them, then threw them into a large sauce pan that had a nice chunk of nearly-browned butter in it.

Yes, I have a shitty red, plastic cutting board that has been with me for the past 10 years. I want to get rid of it, but I also love it?

Yes, I have a shitty red, plastic cutting board that has been with me for the past 10 years. I want to get rid of it, but I also love it?

As soon as the bananas hit the butter, the sweetest and best smell filled the air. I love the smell of browning butter and I love the smell of bananas. I didn’t know that, together, they make a knee-buckling aroma that I would gladly swaddle myself in for the rest of time.

After letting the bananas soften up a bit, I put in some brown sugar, a healthy glug of spiced rum, and a pinch of salt. Caramelizing things is the best thing.  

It feels important for me to tell you that the day Anthony died, I made boxed macaroni and cheese for dinner. I also made an avocado cream out of yogurt and spices (and avocado), and a lime sour cream made with lime zest and spices. I ate the mac and cheese along side my veggie burrito leftovers, and topped them both with that lime sour cream.

I took my weird, oddly comforting meal to the living room and ate it while I watched the Manila episode of Parts Unknown. I had never seen it before.

At the beginning of the episode in a voiceover, Anthony says, “Filipinos are, for reasons I have yet to figure out, probably the most giving of all people on the planet.”

I began crying into my weird sour cream and mac-and-cheese dinner, and I didn’t stop for the entire episode.

Next: the pudding. I threw sugar, cornstarch, salt, whole milk and heavy cream into a saucepan, whisked them all together, and then whisked an egg in. Then I turned the stove to medium-high and whisked the mixture constantly.

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While doing all this, I listened to Anthony Bourdain’s 2011 interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He must have recently done the Ted Nugent episode, because he talked a little bit about it. About how, in all his travels, you can always find something in common with someone, no matter how different your worldviews are. Those common things are usually food and drink. He talked about how he had argued with Nugent and gotten him to agree that Michelle Obama’s lunch meal program was a good thing.

Three years ago, in a pre-45 world, I would have written this whole thing off. I would have said (and did say) that it wasn’t enough. Ted Nugent is a pretty disgusting human being, and he’s said some unconscionable things.

As it stands, it’s still not enough. But I also wonder, with the world we live in today, would Anthony have done anything differently in the same situation? Would he still have agreed to do the segment? Would he have leaned harder into difficult conversations? Would he have felt an obligation to try to straighten out Nugent, white dude to white dude? Would he have felt there was something at stake?

After the pudding thickened and began to bubble, I did a final frantic 45 seconds of vigorous whisking and then took it off the heat. I mixed in another healthy glug of rum, some butter, and vanilla extract.  I set it aside to cool a bit, next to my cooling-to-room-temp caramelized bananas. (My room temp was probably 83 degrees, so *shrugs*. Was that the temperature the cookbook authors had in mind? Probably not, but that’s how shit goes in my house.)

The day Anthony died, a friend sent me a New Yorker piece written by Helen Rosner. It’s a beautiful piece, and one of the best ones written in memory of him.

In it, she outlines exactly why I gave up on Anthony all those years ago:

“I asked him, point blank, if he considered himself a feminist. His answer was long and circuitous, what I’d come to think of as classic Bourdain: more of a story than a statement, eminently quotable, never quite landing on the reveal. He talked about his sympathy for the plight of women and gay men, his formative years as a student at Vassar, his forceful resentment of the “bro food” movement with which he remained entwined, and his unwavering support for reproductive rights. “I don’t know if that makes me a feminist,” he said. “It makes me a New Yorker. Doesn’t it?”
— Helen Rosner

Honestly, Tony. What’s so hard about admitting to being a feminist? For all his “bad boy” stuff, he could sure avoid actually answering a question.

After chilling my mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for about 10 minutes, I took them out, loaded them into my stand mixer and poured in a whole bunch of heavy cream. I whisked that creamy stuff at a medium speed until it just started to thicken, at which point I threw in another healthy glug of rum, some powdered sugar, and some vanilla extract. I turned the stand mixer up to a medium-high speed and meant to whip the cream until it formed stiff peaks. I’m pretty sure I overmixed it a hair, but it still tasted amazing.

And then: construction.

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The day Anthony died, I read so many Twitter and Instagram tributes, and so many from Black folks and people of color and women. They talked about how he didn’t exoticize or appropriate their culture. How he turned the cameras on even the “ugly” things, like politics, race, culture. About how he never presumed to know more than the people who cooked for him. How he never said ‘no’ to any dish. How, when he visited our home countries, we felt seen and validated.

And so often, more than I was expecting, he was described as “kind.”

So I took my brightly colored 8x8 baking dish and poured in a generous layer of boozy pudding, then lay some graham crackers on top.

Then came a layer of caramelized bananas. Then a layer of pudding. Then graham crackers. Then bananas again.

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I should have stopped there because the dish was full to the top. But I went against my instincts. I poured more pudding on top. It began to spill out the sides a bit, but I carried on. I plopped my slightly-overmixed boozy whipped cream on top, and that’s when things started to get real messy. As the laws of displacement began to the place (that’s the official scientific name for it, right?), pudding started to dribble over the walls of the dish and all over my kitchen table.

Before putting saran wrap over the top, I set the baking dish precariously inside a slightly larger one, so that the pudding that oozed out would pool somewhere that wasn’t all over the top shelf of my refrigerator.

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On the morning that Tony died, I took out my copy of A Cook’s Tour. It’s an old edition, and it’s dog-eared and well-worn. I flipped to the passage where he wrote about coming to the devastating realization of the impact of the Vietnam War on the country that he was clearly falling in love with. He wrote about the loathing he felt for the U.S. and its mindless destruction, and the loathing he felt at himself for his complicity in the U.S.’s actions and his privilege as an American tourist in Vietnam. I remembered how I felt when I read that passage. How he had put words to all the anger and helplessness and rage I felt when I had traveled to Thailand. When I read A Cook’s Tour, I finally felt like I wasn’t alone. That I wasn’t asking too much by wanting to see everything and acknowledge everything when I traveled or read about travel or watched someone travel somewhere. It wasn’t too much to ask to see the whole damn picture. It was okay to have complicated feelings and still see the world, engage with it.

Tony wasn’t perfect. He has said several things over the years that I still cringe thinking about. But he was human, in the best possible way. Which means that in these past three or so years while I was busy giving up on him, he was evolving as a person. While I wasn’t paying attention, he became a person I could stand behind again, look up to.  

After 24 hours, the banana-rum icebox cake was ready. And good lord, is it boozy and incredibly delicious. I eat a piece and feel a warmth in my chest, like I’ve just done a shot of bourbon in a Wild West saloon. Sweet, but not too sweet. So much booze. It’s the perfect treat for these hot days.

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I love the end of Helen Rosner’s article. She wrote:

“The last time I saw Bourdain was a few months ago, at a party in New York, for one of the books released by his imprint at the publishing house Ecco—of his many projects, his late-career role as a media rainmaker was one he assumed with an almost boyish delight. At the bar, where I’d just picked up my drink, he came up and clapped me on the shoulder. “Remember when you asked me if I was a feminist, and I was afraid to say yes?” he said, in that growling, companionable voice. “Write this down: I’m a fuckin’ feminist.”
— Helen Rosner

The things that I have made in honor of Tony in the past week, whether inadvertently or purposefully, have been incredibly strange. The Annie’s boxed mac and cheese with lime sour cream. This banana-rum icebox cake. He’s not particularly known for being a desert kind of guy. I’d like to think that he’d appreciate all the booze in it. I know I do.

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In a way, Anthony ended up modeling my ideal of human behavior. He was imperfect, flawed in so many ways. But he was self-reflective. He looked inward without flinching and with nuance. He held himself accountable. He spoke out about things that matter. He was endlessly curious, asking questions and really listening to the answers.  He traveled just to travel, but he also traveled for the people. To let them tell their stories. To show his viewers that they shouldn’t be afraid of the world, to pay attention to people and their food. To always say ‘yes’ to whatever is put in front of you.

I should end there. I'll leave you with this interview that Anthony did with Fast Company. I'm 90% sure that the answers he gives them are not what they're looking for. Their questions want quick, superficial, easy responses that they can turn into sound-bytes. His answers are long, reflective, and incredibly deep. That is, I think, the essence of Anthony. To never give an easy answer, to always take in the bigger picture. To examine not only that we're here, but to look back with nuance at how we got here.

Rest well, Tony. Thank you for everything.

This Week's Recipe:

My Top 5 In-No-Particular-Order Wedding Rom-Coms

This Friday Bites has nothing to do with food, but everything to do with what is currently occupying all my energy these days: weddings. By the time you read this, I will be in Vegas, bachelorette partying in a pool that is also a shark tank (?!) with my very best friends in the whole universe. I'll be a little over 24 hours away from marrying the love of my life, after being together for 9+ years. (WHAT?!) It's an exciting time, and it's also one that's full of details, timelines, obsessing over things like wedding veils, travel steamers, and my "dream" nails.

In the middle of all of the wedding planning I’ve been doing over the past couple weeks, one of my besties texted me to ask what my favorite wedding rom-coms were. I haven’t consciously been keeping a mental list of my favorite wedding rom-coms, but with ZERO hesitation, I listed off my top 5.

And so, the inspiration for this non-traditional edition of Friday Bites: my favorite wedding rom-coms, in no particular order.

27 Dresses

I realize that by putting 27 Dresses as the first in this no-particular-order list, I may lose a lot of you, and I don’t care. I love this movie. Katherine Heigl plays a woman who has been a bridesmaid an obscene amount of times (27 times, to be exact) and unironically loves weddings. James Marsden plays a cranky, cynical journalist who is stuck writing up fancy wedding announcements for a national newspaper. Can you even imagine the shenanigans these two get into?

Sure, this one is full of un-feminist tropes: the woman who spends her life caring for others and always putting herself last, and she isn’t bitter about it (mostly). The curmudgeonly dude who doesn’t believe in marriage, blah blah blah. Intellectually, I know it’s all wrong and silly and stupid. But goddammit, when Judy Greer’s character slaps Katherine Heigl in the face after Katherine whispers after her dreamboat boss (played by Ed Burns), “I love you, too,” it makes me laugh every time. And the “Bennie and the Jets” scene? Forget it. Have fun with your eye-rolling, I’m going to be over here singing about electric boobs with Katherine and James.

The Wedding Date

This one…this one is pretty terrible, I’ll admit it. Debra Messing plays a woman who hires a male escort as her date to her sister’s wedding and help her brave a minefield of ex-boyfriend sightings and fucked up family dynamics. Dermot Mulroney plays the male escort, who’s full of charm (obviously), wisdom, and romantic one-liners.

I don’t know what it is about this movie that technically makes it fall flat or why I continue to love it so much in spite of that. I just want Debra Messing’s character to blossom and be her best self. I want her to admit her love of Air Supply and belt out “All Out Of Love.” I want to believe in the chemistry between Debra and Dermot. I want to believe the dreamy one-liners. This one misses the mark in a lot of ways, but I kind of don’t care. I love Debra and I love Dermot, and this movie has enough funny moments to keep it as one of my fave rom-coms.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

If you haven’t already watched this movie by now, I can’t help you.

Just kidding. But honestly, this one is so good.

Julia Roberts plays a food critic (a-HA! There IS food in this edition of Friday Bites after all!) whose best friend, Dermot Mulroney, is a handsome sports writer. A million years ago, they made a pact to marry each other if they hadn’t found love by a certain age. On Julia Roberts’ pact birthday, Dermot tells her that he’s found the love of his life and they’re getting married. Julia realizes she loves Dermot, and the rest of the movie is dedicated to Julia plotting to destroy her best friend’s relationship. This movie has everything: Karaoke! Plotting and scheming! Devastating good looks! A gay best friend! Julia Roberts’ laugh! A bread truck car chase scene! Slow dancing! Etc.

This was one of the first rom-coms I loved and watched over and over again, and I’m not sorry about it. It’s also one of the few rom-coms whose characters (and audience!) don’t always get the ending they want, but the one they need. I’ve always loved that about this one. And also, this was the world’s introduction to Dermot Mulroney, and I don’t think the world was ever the same. Am I right? I’m totally right.

Wedding Crashers

This might be surprising, but it’s hard for me to pass up a Vince Vaughn movie. Swingers? Love it. Four Christmases? I might hesitate, but I’ll watch it. (I actually don’t remember this movie all that much, if I’m being honest.) The Break-Up? One of my favorite movies EVER. Wedding Crashers? I will say YES to this movie every time.

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two D.C. lawyers who spend their free time crashing weddings and sleeping with women. One weekend, they crash the holy grail of weddings (a politician’s family!) someone falls in love, Will Ferrell makes an appearance, Vince Vaughn is Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson is charming, Bradley Cooper plays a convincing DUDE, Rachel Adams plays sweet and uncertain really well, some questionable things are said and done, etc.

It’s a rom-com with enough silliness and raunchiness for the dudes (I say ‘dudes’ as a non-gender-specific aesthetic. I hope you know what I mean) among us, and enough sweetness and romance for the sensitive hearts. I have a little bit of both in me, and Wedding Crashers strikes the balance. It definitely has its problems, but whenever I just need to have a good, ridiculous laugh, Wedding Crashers is it.

Bend It Like Beckham

So, technically, Bend it Like Beckham is not a wedding movie. But it has a wedding IN it, and that’s good enough for me.

Parminder Nagra plays an Indian girl in Britain who idolizes David Beckham and dreams about playing football (or “soccer” for all the ‘mericans reading this) professionally. The dream begins to come true when she meets Kiera Knightly, who invites her to try out for a girls’ team coached by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. She makes the team, but has to walk a tightrope between her obligations to family, their expectations for her future, and her own goals and dreams.

I fucking. love. this. movie. I loved this movie when it first came out because it starred Indian women, and even though my own culture and theirs are vastly different, it still felt like I saw myself on the screen. A fellow brown girl trying to live up to her family’s expectations but wanting to pursue a path that might disappoint them. Growing up in a culture where family bonds and obligations are strong and inescapable. And crushing on a white guy who kind of doesn’t get it, but kind of does, and is cute, so why not?

Honestly, the story of my life.


Last but certainly not least.

Kristen Wiig, a failed baker (a-HA! More food!), plays best friend and maid of honor to Maya Rudolph, who just got engaged. The whole movie is the most hilarious shenanigans: Kristen Wiig’s character is honestly all of us, as she tries to do all the things a maid of honor does, but keeps getting outshined by Rose Byrne’s character, a snooty rich woman who is clearly competing for the title of best friend and maid of honor.

This movie is everything: it’s about best friends, it’s about making new friends. It’s about dancing to your favorite ‘90s jams with your bestie whenever and wherever. It’s a cautionary tale about eating rare meat and then getting horrific diarrhea in a fancy bridal shop after. It’s about how well Jon Hamm plays a douchebag. It’s about finding your footing and direction when you’re feeling uncertain about your place in the world. It’s about knowing the exact ratios of ingredients to make exactly ONE cupcake. It’s about finding your voice and being confident in it. It’s about breaking old patterns and receiving the love that the world brings to you.


WELL! I’m getting married tomorrow, and then I’m going off the grid for a bit, so no Friday Bites next week. I’ll be back the week after, and I will talk about all the food I ate (what if I dedicated a whole post to my wedding cake?! or the second reception we're having in my hometown?! or our reception meal?!), and I'll talk all about what's coming next.

The Plague, Birthday Donuts, and Labors of Love

So, here’s what happened: I woke up on my second to last day in Nevada with my throat on fire. It was as if some kind of tiny rat had crawled into my sinuses and used the inside of my face as its clawing bag. Everything inside my face felt swollen.

For the last two days of my visit, I was on the maximum dosage of DayQuil and NyQuil, just so I could make it through the day without collapsing into a heap somewhere and screaming for someone to just rip my sinuses out. And when I traveled back to Indiana, I was heavily dosed on DayQuil and kept my fingers crossed that my sinuses were clear enough to keep my eardrums from exploding.

When I finally got home, all I did for the rest of the week was sleep, eat, and watch television. That’s how you know I’m actually sick: my body forces me to do nothing but sit around and watch my favorite romantic comedies, guilt-free. I guess you could call my love of romantic comedies a guilty pleasure, but I don’t feel guilty about them.

I dragged myself out of bed for a wedding dress fitting that first Saturday after I’d come home, and I barely made it through. I felt entirely like shit, a cough had added itself to my symptoms, and I couldn’t even muster up excitement for my dress.  Afterward, I came home, changed into sweats, and fell asleep on the couch for 4 hours.

Finally, I went to urgent care after another few days of feeling like shit, and after M and my mom bugged me repeatedly to go get checked out. The doctor put me on an exciting 14-day rotation of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and codeine cough syrup.

I finished up my cycle of antibiotics two weeks ago, and I finally, FINALLY feel 100% like myself again.

So, being ridiculously sick for almost 3 weeks has meant no Friday Bites (though, believe me, I tried to write them). It’s meant no writing at all. I’ve been cooking, but haven’t had the wits about me to document my dishes properly.

It also means that instead of spending my post-plague time preparing action-packed Friday Bites posts, I’ve been wedding planning instead. Since emerging from my plague-cocoon, I’ve been doing almost nothing but wedding planning and cooking.

More on weddings in my next post.

For now, I’m celebrating chocolate. Chocolate, chocolate, chocolate.

And birthdays. And good friends. And chocolate.

I am not saying anything new by saying that baking is a labor of love. I bake for the people in my life that I love the most — my family, M, my friends. I used to be shy about sharing my baking with friends because I was afraid that whatever I made wasn’t good enough. I don’t know at what point that changed.

When I bake, I am thinking of the person for whom I am laboring, whether they are near or far. My fondness for each person goes into the whisking, the kneading, the mixing, the scooping, the shaping, the cooling, the sprinkling, the glazing. It probably also goes without saying that I don’t bake for just anybody.

One of my very closest friends’ birthdays is 3 days after mine. She’s a fellow Aries, and she is one of the best people I know. For her birthday this year, I made Joy the Baker’s double chocolate cake donuts.

When I discovered I could bake donuts instead of deep fry them (I am wary of the deep fry), it was game OVER. I have Joy the Baker to thank for that. For a period of time, I made all kinds of donuts, including browned butter and pistachio ones (also a Joy the Baker recipe).

The recipe I return to the most, and the one that gets the most requests, is one for the double  chocolate donuts.

Donuts are so magical. If you’re making cake donuts, they’re really easy to make.

I whisked together all my dry ingredients: flour, dark chocolate cocoa powder (Joy’s recipe calls for unsweetened cocoa powder, but I love the depth of flavor that dark chocolate cocoa brings), baking soda, salt and brown sugar.

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In a separate bowl, I whisk together buttermilk, an egg, melted butter and vanilla extract. I love the smells that come out of this particular bowl at all stages — the tanginess of the buttermilk, the smoothness of that butter, and the punch of sweetness from the vanilla. YUM.

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After the buttermilk, egg, butter, and vanilla are whisked to smooth, you pour them into the dry ingredients and fold the wet ones in with a spatula. Fold everything together until combined into a glossy, dark, and glorious cake batter. My batter was a little bit dry, so I added a splash more buttermilk to soften it up.

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Then, using a spoon, I spooned the batter into a well-greased donut pan. This is probably the trickiest part for me, and the reason why I didn’t get a photo of it — because my hands, somehow, got covered in batter. After wrestling the batter into the pan, I popped it into the oven for about 11 minutes.

After taking the donuts out and waiting for them to cool, I made the glaze by mixing together powdered sugar, more dark chocolate cocoa powder, salt, coconut milk and vanilla extract.

This is not a picture of the glaze, but it IS a picture of the donuts waiting to BE glazed.

This is not a picture of the glaze, but it IS a picture of the donuts waiting to BE glazed.

Honestly, the glazing and the sprinkles are the funnest part of donut making (aside from licking the bowl). The glaze makes the donuts look so dressed up and classy. On its own, with just the glaze, the donuts look amazing. The sprinkles though…they make these donuts a party. Every time I use them, I get so excited. I also feel like I’m being transported back to the ‘90s for some reason. If someone were to film me every time I made these donuts, they could probably put together a montage of me saying, “YAAAAYYY!” every time I throw sprinkles on the donuts.

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My favorite part of baking is the act of giving the finished product to a loved one, whether it’s M or a friend, or my mother, or whoever. I boxed these donuts up for my friend in a cute little cupcake box, wrote her a card, and put it in an envelope that matched the donuts’ sprinkle party perfectly.

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I made 10 donuts — 6 for my friend, and 4 left-overs for M and me. By the end of the evening, those 4 donuts were settled very comfortably in M’s and my bellies. I love sweet treats, but I don’t like sickly sweet ones — the dark chocolate cocoa powder made these babies just the right amount of sweet.

By the time I post this, there will be only 5 days left until our wedding. (!!!!!!) Stay tuned for a super fun wedding-themed Friday Bites this Friday. It won't necessarily be food-related, but it will have LOTS to do with weddings.

On Potlucks, Being Brown, and Belonging in the Desert

About an hour after getting off the plane in Reno, my mother started handing me food to “try” on the 2.5-hour drive back to my hometown Winnemucca. Since I got off the plane, I’ve been eating Gilmore Girls-quantities of food in the sometimes-indecorous style of Nigella Lawson. For those of you who are not fluent in either of these languages I’m speaking: I’m eating a lot of food and I’m stuffing it into my face without giving any fucks about looking demure.

I haven’t made anything this week. But I have eaten incredible amounts of good food. My mother’s birthday was last Saturday, and her friends threw her an impromptu potluck lunch.

I often describe Winnemucca’s location as being “the literal middle of nowhere,” not out of derision, but because it’s a little bit true. I guess you could describe any town in Nevada, excluding Reno and Las Vegas, as being in the middle of nowhere.

(Fun fact: Nevada has more ghost towns than actual towns. That might explain why I love spooky stuff so much.)

When I was growing up here, as I’ve written about before, I hated it. There weren’t any coffee shops until I was a junior or so in high school. There weren’t any bookstores or music shops or anything. There were only casinos, restaurants in casinos, Walmart, the public library, the volunteer-operated thrift store Poke-N-Peek, and one or two small clothing stores.  

What this town did have, though, was an unexpected and healthy (for the town’s size) Filipino population. My memories of Winnemucca are full of Filipino parties and potlucks. I met my childhood best friend, Chris, on Halloween night at a Filipino party when we were around 6 years old, and we’ve been BFFs ever since. (Our BFF status was cemented that very night in a very strange and inexplicable way, but that story is for another time when I can explain our weird behavior. Which will probably be never.)

Nevada seems like a great empty expanse in the western U.S. (and in a lot of ways, it is), but I grew up surrounded by people who (kind of) looked like me, and helped me know who I was and where I came from. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky this was. To be familiar with the cadence and sounds of Tagalog and Ilocano, to know the smell of every good food and every stinky one, to know that every person has their own adobo or pancit recipes with their own trick or twist. To have a best friend who wouldn’t blink at the “weird” food you ate and wasn’t intimidated by large groups of Filipino women talking away in Tagalog.

Look at these skinny brown kids. Taken during a Filipino party in the early days.

Look at these skinny brown kids. Taken during a Filipino party in the early days.

What was on the menu for my mom’s potluck lunch this year: ceviche, a spicy Thai yellow curry, pancit, papaya salad (drooooool), fried chicken, mini quiches, squash pancakes with a vinegary garlicky sauce (more drool, especially with that sauce!), rice cooked with coconut oil and coconut milk (but not quite full-fledged coconut rice), cassava cake, meatballs, guacamole, baked beans with cocktail sausages (I’m dedicating an entire post to that dish, I promise you), marinated chicken breast strips, and fruit.

I haven’t even gotten to the cake yet. (More drool.)

And this potluck was smaller than last year’s. Can you even imagine? (No, no, you can’t.)


A year ago, my mother had been on her cancer treatment for about 5 months or so. At that point, the cancer was responding so well to treatment that her tumors were shrinking down to almost nothing. It was the best possible news we could receive, and we were all relieved. Things were slowly going back to normal, but I didn’t want to get too comfortable because I knew that things could go pear-shaped at any moment. Cancer can be a real shitshow in that way. So I flew home to spend a few days with my mom for her birthday. That’s when I learned that her friend was organizing a big birthday party for her.

My mother is notoriously late to everything. She was two hours late to her own birthday party that year. And why? She was busy cooking like 5 extra dishes because she was worried there wouldn’t be enough food. (I had also been roped into cooking two dishes, somehow. I honestly don’t remember what they were — a spicy chorizo and shiitake mushroom soup and maybe browned butter chocolate chip cookies?)

This is one of two photos I took at the party that year. This is that chorizo and shiitake mushroom soup, presented in a styrofoam bowl.

This is one of two photos I took at the party that year. This is that chorizo and shiitake mushroom soup, presented in a styrofoam bowl.

By the time we arrived at the party, people had started to lose hope that my mother would ever show up. There was already a ton of food brought by the guests, and my mother and I just added more to the spread. It was excess of the best kind.

Looking back, I didn’t really take any pictures. I was just happy and thankful for my mom’s health, and that so many people had come to celebrate her. The party was big and loud and joyful. People from every aspect of my mom’s life were there. Church friends, volunteer friends, Avon friends, Filipino friends, Thai friends — the gang was all there.

The complexion of the Filipino party in Winnemucca, Nevada, has changed since I left here nearly 14 years ago. (!!!) It doesn’t feel accurate for me to call them Filipino parties anymore. Though there has always been a large Latinx community and there is still a steady Filipino community, there are more kinds of brown people: Cambodian and Thai are the newest communities (to me) to grow roots of some kind in this area.

Often, when I come home, it feels like I can finally relax and take a big breath of fresh air. For me, that feeling has always been more about the landscape than anything else. In this town, I’ve always walked the tightrope between feeling at home and feeling like an outsider. These days, I still feel at home, but also know that people who are current residents have a hard time believing that I grew up here.


Now though, when I come here, I know that I will be around more brown people than I’ve ever been around in Indiana. I will feel more able to take up space as a woman of color here in rural Nevada than I do in Indiana. Even when I live in a college town that boasts an international appeal.

I haven’t even mentioned the birthday cake yet. It was perfect. The cake itself was spongy and light -- and the frosting! I’ve been telling everyone I know about it. It was a strawberry whipped frosting — so light, and fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. Most frostings I’ve tasted are heavy, both in texture and sweetness, but this one was divine. I honestly cannot stop thinking about it.  

Where was it made? A local grocery store.


I don’t want to make rural Nevada seem like some kind of magical oasis. Don’t come to Winnemucca expecting to eat all this great food and attend great parties.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are visitor to this town, you will not see the things that I see. You will not see all the people that I do, and you will not be able to eat the food that I get to eat when I am here. If you visit Winnemucca unaccompanied by a local, you will not remember anything about it except maybe the McDonalds, or the fact that the Burger King overlooks the cemetery, or that we have a giant (and I mean, truly giant) “Welcome to Winnemucca” marquee perched on the border of said cemetery if you come into town taking the West Winnemucca Boulevard exit off I-80.

The point of all this, I guess, is that no matter how small the town, how white it seems, how incredibly desolate it appears to be — we’re out here. We’re feeding and caring for each other. We’re creating and thriving our own communities when the larger world makes us feel like we’re walking a constant line between belonging and forever being seen as an outsider.

I don’t want to speak for anyone else. But this is what I’ve experienced and felt and remembered.

Sometimes, I worry that I’m remembering all this with a heavy filter. I worry that I’m forgetting all the bad shit. Not everything was or is amazing. I know that. I still get stares everywhere I go here. If you happen to accidentally interrupt a bingo game, you will get some intense glares. I can't find dried figs anywhere in town, which is maybe the most egregious insult of them all.

But memories are memories. Feelings are feelings. Delicious food is delicious food. The heart knows when things are good.

Also: happy birthday, Mom!

Bread, Bread, Bread.

Friday Bites is coming to you a few days late. I guess technically it’s a “Monday Bites,” at this point, but here we are. I spent my writing days last week running wedding errands and traveling across the country to visit my parents. Since I booked a 12:30pm flight, I thought that I would have the gumption and energy to write either on the 4-hour plane ride to Vegas, or during my 4-hour layover there.

Unfortunately, all I had the energy to do was sleep, eat, read a romance novel, and ignore the uber-Christian wedding party that surrounded me on the plane. (They talked over me, handed each other jelly beans and inspirational literature in front of my face, and, at one point, a bridesmaid crawled over me (without permission or even acknowledging that she was being rude AF) so she could sit next to the bride for 5 minutes while the groom used the restroom (he, on the other hand, was very polite). What did they talk about for that 5 minutes? SCRIPTURE. Whyyyyyy.)


In the days leading up to my trip, I decided it was time to make something completely new to me: bread. While searching for Great British Bake Off cookbooks at the library, I stumbled across Paul Hollywood’s new cookbook, A Baker’s Life. Depending on your tastes, Paul Hollywood is either an attractive man or a creepy one. For some of us, he’s a little of column A and a little of column B.

Regardless of how you feel about Paul’s blue eyes or the cryptic looks he gives GBBO contestants, this is a beautiful cookbook. He writes about growing up the son of a baker, and includes lots of pictures from his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. The book divides the recipes into sections, beginning with childhood favorites or uncomplicated bakes and then progresses into more and more involved recipes. Paul does a lot of explaining between chapters, which is always my jam. He says novice bread makers should start with soda breads and then go from there.

So, I started with his Caramelized Onion Soda Bread. Easy enough.


Have you ever caramelized onions before? Like, really caramelized them? It takes a hundred years.

Okay, maybe not that long. Maybe it takes an hour or so. I’ve always heard that actually caramelizing onions takes a long time, but when you’re actually caramelizing, you start to realize that maybe you should have started doing this much earlier in the day. Maybe you should have started this at a time when you’re not super hungry and maybe you shouldn’t have thought that you could also make a soup that needs at least 90 minutes to simmer tonight.

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Did you know that, when caramelizing onions, you throw in brown sugar at some point in the process? I didn’t. It’s magic. At Paul’s suggestion, I also threw in leaves from “two bushy sprigs of thyme.” Which, who knows what that means. I’m not Barefoot Contessa enough to just pluck two fresh sprigs of thyme out of my garden. Not yet, anyway.

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Cooking those onions slow and low, though, pays off. When the onions start to get soft and juicy and golden is when you start smiling and stop being upset with yourself for your errors in time management judgement. This shit is going to taste GREAT, you whisper to yourself.

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After the onions are done and cooling on a plate, you start your dough. It’s simple: two kinds of flours (plain white and whole wheat), baking soda, and buttermilk. Paul advises that you mix everything with your hands. He doesn’t tell you whether you should actually knead the dough or not? And he also doesn’t tell you if it’s possible to “overwerk” soda bread? I can’t remember the details of that particular episode of GBBO.

What I do remember is that you have to make the cuts in your dough fairly deep. Why? I can’t remember that part. I just remember that Mat the firefighter in season 3 didn’t make the cuts in his soda bread deep enough and he got schooled on it by Paul during the judging. I wasn’t about to make that same mistake.


Paul says the soda bread should be ready in about 35 minutes. You should be able to tap the bottom of the loaf, and it should sound hollow. I made my cuts too deep maybe, and the loaf began to break in half when I tried to pick it up. When it did, I could see that it wasn’t baked through yet. Also, the bread was really hot, and I don’t have what Nigella Lawson calls “asbestos hands” yet.

I finally took the bread out after 50 minutes or so. I did what Mary and Paul do on GBBO, which is cut a slice out of the middle of the loaf and press a finger into it to feel the texture and see if it springs back.

So I did it, too. It didn’t spring back. The outline of my finger stayed molded into the bread.

I’m not quite sure what went wrong — did I put too much oil in with the caramelized onions? Was there just too much moisture from the onions in the bread? Did I not mix the onions into the dough well enough? Was my conversion of Paul’s Celsius oven temps to my shitty American Fahrenheit oven off? Did I overwork the dough?

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I don’t have any answers. I don’t know what happened to my soda bread. I do know, however, that despite it all, that bread was delish AF, and I ate at least two and a half slices while I was cooking soup and then ate another slice with my soup.

The caramelized onions have a deep, complex, savory sweetness that is unlike anything I’ve eaten before. Honestly, caramelize onions the right way whenever you get the chance — it’s worth it. You don’t have to put them in bread. You can put them on a burger, or eat them on their own if that’s your thing, or whatever. They’re incredibly delicious, and I’m converted.

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Though I’m home with my parents right now, stuffing myself with all kinds of good food (guess what this Friday’s bite is going to be ALL about), I miss that caramelized onion soda bread a little bit.

Okay, a lot.

This Week's Recipe:

On Comfort: Chicken Soup, Chocolate Cake, and Ani

This week has been full of paradox: sunshine and non-stop rain, feeling stuck while also feeling propelled forward, feeling exhausted and also feeling energized, weather warm enough to not need a jacket and needing a jacket, enjoying my favorite feminist musician and being annoyed by the douchy white guy behind me. Instead of getting frustrated, I’ve been trying to accept the contradictions. Embrace all the things that are opposite but true at the same time.

I did double duty and frontloaded my week by making two things in one night. Who am I?!

The craving for something brothy and healthy struck again. M requested a chicken soup of some kind, so I pulled out an oldie but goodie: Immunity Soup from the January 2017 issue of Cooking Light. (I was actually looking for a spring vegetable chicken soup, but had to settle for this one this time around.) Indeed, another soup that purports to boost your immunity. It certainly can't hurt.

When the weather is 70 degrees one day, and cold enough to snow the next day, it feels like my body is constantly trying to find its bearings. Am I warm? Am I cold? Do I need to wear 4 layers and wool socks today or can I show off this cat print short-sleeve shirt I just got? Am I feverish or is it allergies? Am I achy from sickness or am I sore from yoga? It’s impossible to tell these days.

This soup starts out with your favorite soup base layers: a tablespoon or two of oil heated in a Dutch oven (or heavy-bottomed pot), then diced onion, sliced carrots and celery tossed in. I used olive oil, but you might use whatever you’ve got — vegetable oil, canola oil, whatever. The sizzle of the veggies as they hit that oil is so satisfying, along with that continual sizzle as they cook gently, getting soft and releasing their juices (*insert a sly Nigella look here*) into the pot.

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As I chopped and diced and minced the veggies, I decided to turn on some of my favorite Ani DiFranco tunes. Ani has been a part of my life since I was 16 or 17. I don’t actually know how many times I’ve seen her live. Her music has been formative for me in so many ways — politically, emotionally, artistically, interpersonally, worldview-ally. Her music was friend to me through hard times, and was, at times, one of the few things to get me through whatever darkness I was in.

Next comes the pound of sliced mushrooms (I got pre-sliced ones this time around, though I usually don’t mind buying a pound or so of them in bulk and washing/drying/slicing them myself) and 10 entire cloves of garlic, minced. I may have thrown in an extra 2 or 3 cloves because however much garlic a recipe calls for, it usually isn’t enough for me.

Toss these into the pot, and let the mushrooms release their moisture. Savor that sharp smell of the garlic and let it fill your kitchen. I mean, you don’t really have a choice.

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I sang along to every single Ani song that came into my kitchen that afternoon, though I haven’t listened to many of them for years. I haven’t forgotten the airiness of Both Hands or the clipped turns of Swan Dive and those lines about pulling out your tampon and splashing around in shark-infested waters. The ambitious moodiness of Gravel (“I stood out on the porch, thinking ‘Fight, fight, fight at all costs’/ Instead, I let you in, just like I’ve always done/ and I sat you down/ and offered you a beer” and “Maybe you can keep me from being happy/but you’re not going to stop me from having fun”). The raw anger and anguish of Dilate.

Next come the chickpeas, the broth, the thyme, and the bay leaves. Stir, and bring it all to a boil. Once it begins to boil, throw in two pounds of uncooked chicken breast, along with some salt and crushed red pepper flakes. Turn the heat down, cover and simmer for about 35 minutes.

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The very first time I saw Ani perform live, I burst into tears as soon as she stepped onto stage. The song she started that show with was “Shy.” I started crying and didn’t stop until 20 or 30 minutes later. The sobbing was uncontrollable; I didn’t know it was coming and when it came, it hit me like freight train.

That trend would continue every time I saw Ani, and it seemed that she always opened with a song that was particularly meaningful for me in the moment.

As I started making the frosting for Nigella’s Dark and Sumptuous Chocolate Cake, I could feel the sobs building in my chest as I sang along to Fire Door. I still knew every word and belted them out along with her as I combined water, espresso powder, cocoa, brown sugar, and butter in a saucepan, heated, and stirred.

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These songs felt like a homecoming. They felt like being able to finally breathe big and full in a completely safe space.

And then something happened. It occurred to me, as I was mixing the dry ingredients for the cake and checking on the soup, that I was a different person listening to these songs. The songs that got me through my adolescence and early and mid-twenties were still gorgeous and clever and everything that I remembered them to be — but I understood each song differently. I was hearing each song through ears of wisdom? Experience? Through a body and mind and heart that had finally found dry land after weathering storm after storm in a shitty, disintegrating lifeboat? I related to each song completely differently. It’s like… looking back and realizing that when I was in my teens and twenties, I thought I knew what Ani was talking about. And now, in my early 30s, I see that I actually didn’t know shit back then, but I do now.

I guess that’s just part of being a human. Growing up. Maturing.

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The Ani concert was the centerpiece of my week. Everything revolved around it. I braced myself for the tears and the swells of emotion.

I was excited, for sure. But this time around, the sobs stayed put wherever they were hiding out. Ani opened with Names and Dates and Times, a song that I actually don't know all the words to (*gasp*). She played Napoleon and Shameless and Anticipate and To The Teeth and Hypnotized and My I.Q. and Not a Pretty Girl. She played a lot of newer stuff that I didn’t know.

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The crowd was also different from any other Ani show I’ve been to. The Ani shows I’ve been to have been attended by mostly women and women-identified people. Dudes in the audience have been few and far between. In between songs, people shout things at her, like, “We love you, Ani!” The audience usually sings along so loudly that she has to stop at least once and tell everyone to stop so she can hear herself play.

At this show, some things were the same. Audience members kept yelling “We love you, Ani!” People recited My I.Q. along with her so loudly that she had to stop in the middle and say, “Oh, honey, you have to let me do this one.”

But a lot of things were different. Someone yelled, “I love you, Annie!” (Ani responded, “It’s Ah-ni, but thank you, I feel the love anyway.”) Men were everywhere. A drunk-off-his-ass douchebag know-it-all guy sat behind us and talked loudly over Gracie and Rachel, the opening act, and then continued his tone-deaf, useless commentary during Ani’s performance. When Ani sang, “I’m gonna take all my friends/ and I'm gonna move to Canada/ and we’re gonna die of old age,” he shouted, “Yeah! Let’s go!” (I stopped myself from turning around and saying, “You’re not invited, bro.”) Some people got up to leave immediately after Ani finished the main set, not realizing there’s a thing called an encore because you should and will never get enough of being in the same room with her.  

After the show, I stopped by the merch table to buy a t-shirt. When I made my way through the crowd, made eye contact with the merch table person and bought my shirt, I had apparently “cut” in front of a group of (white) women. After we left, M told me about all the passive aggressive shade they had thrown in my direction while I was buying my shirt.

One woman had said, “WELL. You know what happens when you ASSUME…”

Yes. I do know what happens. I get to buy my Ani t-shirt before you.

(Also: like, please. There are no lines at merch tables. You see your opening, you get in there and buy your shirt before they sell out of your size. It’s not hard. How many times in my 32 years have I waited politely for everyone to go before me, and when I finally get to the front, the t-shirt I want is sold out of my size. Sorry, not sorry. Get yours. I'm gettin' mine. Like Ani says in 32 Flavors, "I'm not between you and your ambition." What a metaphor/analogy this shit is in so many ways.)

After the soup simmers, covered, for about 30-35 minutes, you place the chicken on a cutting board, shred it, and dump it back into the pot. You take a bunch of kale, rip it into smaller pieces and stir it into the soup. You let it all simmer for another 5 minutes or so. It’s done when that kale is wilted just a little bit.

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Now, this cake. Nigella’s instructions tell you to make the frosting first because it needs time to cool. She says that the time it takes to make the cake, bake it, and let it cool, is the perfect amount of time to let the frosting cool. I’ll be honest — I had my doubts. When I couldn’t wait any longer to finish the cake, I took a look at the frosting and shook my head. “Nigella, I don’t know about this. This frosting seems a little stiff.” But I gave it a stir and poured it over the cake.

It was perfect.

On Nigella’s instruction, I joyously decorated with chopped pistachios. No edible rose petals or edible flowers even, but just the pistachios were perfect.

(Baking notes: Nigella's recipe is vegan -- she uses coconut butter and coconut oil. I, however, love regular butter too much to go vegan, so I used regular unsalted butter and canola oil for this recipe, and it turned out just as dreamy.)

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This week seems to have been all about comfort — the food and music of it. Chicken soup, chocolate cake, Ani. They all came as I remembered them, but with twists. Chicken soup with mushrooms, chickpeas, and chili pepper flakes. Chocolate cake with espresso and salty, savory pistachios on top. Ani with the same good songs (as well as new ones), a wiser me, and a weirder crowd.  

It’s good to go home. To bring your older, wiser self there. To love the same things, and to love how they’ve changed. To love the same things, and love them differently.

Ani sings in Good, Bad, Ugly, "Strangers are exciting/ Their mystery never ends/ But there's nothing like looking at your own history/ in the faces of your friends." It feels a little bit like that, but...different.

I'll end this week's Friday Bites with some vintage Ani. Happy eating, happy cooking, happy being, y'all. 

This week's recipes:

Banana Cream Pie, Miso Salmon, "Mole" Tacos, and Instinct

FINALLY. It is here. (At least, it was here.) That blasted Banana Cream Pie.

After I posted last week, I realized that I was actually ready to make the damn thing. My bananas had been doing the last of their browning in the freezer, so when I woke up on Saturday morning, I took them out to thaw.  


If you know me at all, then you know that I follow recipes TO. THE. LETTER. In order to be able to cook any recipe with any amount of confidence, I need exact measurements, exact ingredients, exact equipment. None of this a pinch of this, a splash of that nonsense. If the recipe calls for baby bella mushrooms, but the store only has creminis? Forget it — the whole thing is ruined. If the recipe says I need to use a chinoise, but I only have a regular ol’ mesh strainer? You best believe I’m ordering that unwieldy chinoise off of Amazon.

This is why I love the Milk Bar cookbook. Christina Tosi writes with so much of the detail that I crave — not only is she very specific about the ingredients and equipment and temperatures, she also is very specific about why each of these details matter. I love that I get to learn exactly why all of these things matter to Tosi, so I can figure out whether it matters to me. Sometimes it’s a matter of chemistry; sometimes it’s a matter of preference.


So I started off with making a chocolate crumb on Friday night. I mixed dark chocolate cocoa powder (which, I’ll note, was NOT the fancy Valrhona cocoa powder that Tosi insists on) with some salt, a little bit of sugar, some flour, and some melted butter. Once it all came together to make little clumps of dark chocolate-y goodness, I spread it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and popped that bad boy in the oven for about 20 minutes. Once it cooled down after coming out of the oven, I put those little flavor nuggets in a Tupperware container and hid them (because they were in danger of getting snacked on until they disappeared into M’s and my bellies).


The next morning, I used the chocolate crumb to make the pie crust. I threw the crumb into the food processor to grind everything down to a sandy mixture, and then mixed the sand with some melted butter. Once the mixture held its shape, I transferred it to my pie dish and smooshed it around until it resembled something like a pie crust. (This is only my third pie crust ever -- these kinds of pie crusts have lots to teach me about patience, presence, and a gentle touch.)


And then came the banana cream part. Those god damn bananas were so slimy, and smelled sweet with a hint of rot. It sounds alarming, but I put all my trust in Tosi and threw those bananas in my blender along with heavy cream, milk and some other stuff.


I won’t describe the rest of the process because it would be tedious and probably boring for you. The highlights, though: heating the cream mixture slowly on the stove and whisking the hell out of it and also feeling like I was on the Great British Bake Off. Blooming gelatin for the first time ever. The heavenly smell of the banana and the cream and the butter, all combining to create something magical. Using food coloring for the first time in literally decades.

The final product was divine and well worth the wait. The banana cream was packed with banana flavor (from only two bananas!) and sweetness with a hint of butteriness. Paired with that salty dark chocolate crumb crust to cut the sweetness a bit, it was a perfect-tasting pie.


The pie was demolished in two days.


I love Nigella Lawson and her show, Nigella Bites. (And, as I write this, I’m realizing that I’ve been inadvertently inspired to name this project after her. Honestly, I didn’t mean to do it, but it’s a lovely homage, I think.)

Nigella is deserving of her own ode entirely, but I’ll briefly say that I had no idea who she was until about a month ago. I had an episode of Iron Chef America on in the background, and became captivated by one of the judges, who turned out to be Nigella. I asked M if he’d ever heard of her, and he looked at me like I’d just asked him if he'd ever heard about a delicious treat called chocolate. So we watched the entire second season of Nigella Bites (it’s all we could find on YouTube or any streaming service), and I proceeded to fall in love.

Now, if you don’t know about Nigella, here’s what you need to know: she’s not a classically trained chef. She started out as a journalist and somehow fell into having a cooking show. She delights in the process of cooking, as well as the end result. For her, taking the time to run a finger over the “crocodile skin” of a bowl of capers as she pours them into a bowl or marvel at the brilliant red “jewels” of pomegranate seeds as she drops them over a platter of shredded pork is as important as the finished meal itself. She emphasizes that the process of cooking should bring you as much joy as eating it does. In Nigella Bites, she does not give the viewer exact measurements and she does not measure exactly, except when she bakes. She adds spices to her dishes without measuring, and tells you, “Don’t be apologetic with the spices.” I actually don't know what that means, but I like how it sounds.

If you know me, you might think that Nigella’s style might drive me nuts. And in an earlier version of my cooking self, she might have. Now though? I love her.


All this is to say that I fucked up no meals this week, and one of the meals that I did not fuck up was Nigella’s Miso Salmon recipe from the Simply Nigella cookbook. While I was making preparations, I muttered something like, “Nigella says I need xyz for this, buuutttt…I’m going to do this instead.” M looked at me and said, “Whoa. What’s going on here? Look at you, going off script!”

What can I say? Nigella gives me confidence.

Since we bought double the salmon, I doubled the marinade with no problem. And then — and then — I improvised the sides. I cooked up some quinoa with leftover vegetable broth and some smashed cloves of garlic. I sautéed some on-the-edge kale and seasoned it with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

The salmon was perfect — the miso, fish sauce, soy sauce, and garlic all combined to make a dish that was savory, with a depth of flavor and salt that only umami can give. It was so delicious, and so easy to make. It also felt healthy. You know those meals that just feel satisfying and clean? This was one of those.

Alas, I took no pictures because I was too busy eating. I’m terrible at writing about food, aren’t I?


My other success of the week was Slow Cooker Chicken Mole Tacos from the January 2018 issue of Cooking Light.

I’m 100% aware that the stuff I made is not mole. BUT! It’s still super tasty and was so easy to make. I simply salted a little over 2 pounds of chicken thighs and put them in the slow cooker.

Then, in my food processor, I put a can of whole tomatoes, a diced onion, smashed cloves of garlic, some chopped semi-sweet chocolate, raisins, toasted sliced almonds, chicken stock, cumin, cinnamon, adobo sauce, and chipotle chiles.

Nowhere in the recipe did it say, “Oh, by the way, this is a lot of stuff and you might need to process this shit in two batches.” I also ignored the maximum liquid fill line on my processor because who pays attention to that stuff anyway. I turned the processor on, and the mixture leaked out of the lid and all over my counter and the base of the processor. So, I'm here to tell you that you should pay attention to those markings. Unless you really enjoy cleaning red sauce out of every nook and cranny in your prep space, which I do not.

And then I poured everything into the slow cooker, put the lid on, plugged it in, and turned it on low. 8 hours later — tacos. They were delicious. The sauce is not mole, but it really wants to be, which is to say it is more like a hearty smoky salsa sauce with mole-esque undertones.

The result? Tasty-ass tacos. The recipe makes a lot of extra sauce, and I’m excited to use it in something else. (More cooking improv?! Who am I?!)


While making food this week, I thought about instinct. Trusting my gut and my knowledge.

The banana cream pie wasn’t perfect. The filling didn’t hold its shape, even after a good chilling in the refrigerator. As soon as we cut a piece of pie, the filling oozed all over the plate. It oozed deliciously, of course, but oozed just the same.

The recipe had told me to heat and whisk the cream until it became a really thick glue, almost like cement. I whisked until my arm got tired and then kept going, and the mixture wasn’t thick like glue, but I thought it was good enough. I thought about continuing to heat and whisk, but I didn’t want to overdo it. I had a conversation with myself in the kitchen: “Should I keep going? No, I’ll stop here. Well, wait. Yes, maybe I should keep going. Hmm… no, I’m going to trust myself. This is good enough.”

Instinct isn’t coming out of the womb knowing how to do everything right the first time. So much of what we call “instinct” is just trusting your gut, your knowledge, your resiliency and ability to learn. It’s trusting your gut and what you know, and knowing that if you fail, you’ll figure out how to get it right the next time. Or the time after that, or the time after that. We get “instinct” from learning from others, from following directions, but also, paradoxically, from taking risks. The only way we can develop a gut instinct and build our knowledge is to learn the basics, make mistakes, adjust, and try things over and over again.

While I was heating and whisking that banana cream, my gut feeling wasn’t correct and neither was my knowledge. But that’s okay. I’m already planning the next banana cream pie, and, fingers crossed, it’s not going to fall out all over the place.

More Disasters, Stubborn Bananas, and a Meditation on Creating as a Response to Violence

Wow, y’all. I have not fucked up this much food this many times in recent memory.

I started this week off with a Nigella Lawson recipe from her cookbook, Simply Nigella: Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp.

It sounds amazing, right? I was so excited to make this and then eat it. My mouth watered just imagining the umami flavors of the soy and oyster sauces fusing with the sweetness of the cinnamon and cloves to create a flavor bomb of awesomeness.

What I made was the exact opposite of that. I had double the noodles and double the shrimp, so I thought I would just double the sauce, which has large quantities of light and dark soy sauces (??? I don’t know the difference ???), oyster sauce, a concoction of dark soy sauce and brown sugar, pepper, chicken broth concentrate, and water.

I thought I had everything under control. I marveled at the darkness of the sauce and the smell of the garlic and ginger and the cinnamon sticks and the star anise as it simmered and bubbled in the pot. It truly smelled incredible. Then, I dumped in my shrimp. I stirred them around and realized I had made a huge mistake. The shrimp were so coated in the sauce that I wouldn’t be able to tell when the shrimp turned pink because the sauce was so dark.

I shrugged and thought, oh well. Shrimp don’t take too long to cook, and when I put the noodles in, they will soak up the sauce, the shrimp will turn back to a normal color, and everything will balance out.

I dumped the noodles into the pot, and they also turned dark. The more I tossed the ingredients together, the more everything simply turned full dark, no stars.

And not only was every ingredient of the dish just the same shade of dark, they were amazingly, incredibly salty. I tasted one shrimp and thought it wasn’t too bad. When I ate an entire bowl, though, I had to chug water every couple of bites because I was afraid of shriveling up like those aliens in The Faculty

Even through the saltiness though, I could taste the sweetness of the spices. I could taste what the dish was like under all its darkness.

These goddamn bananas are driving me nuts. They are still ripening.

So still no banana cream pie this week. My baking fingers are itching to make something.

I’ll be honest. For the past week and a half or so, my body has been preparing to shed its uterine lining. (Yes, I’m going to talk about periods. Deal with it.) This means that my energy has been super low, my ovaries have randomly felt like they were trying to rip their way out of my body, and I’ve been hungering for moderately salty foods  (i.e. NOT the monstrosity I made of Nigella's recipe) and deeply chocolate foods. Sometimes, even at the same time. (Gasp.)  

On Wednesday, I could feel the cramps coming. It’s like watching a train come down the tracks really slowly. I can hear its whistle, I know it’s on its way, and I know I have only a brief amount of time before it flattens me on the tracks.

So I hurried and made this Spicy Beef Noodle Soup from the latest issue of Cooking Light. Cooking Light reports that the soup is immune-system boosting. It’s brothy, it’s spicy, it cleans out your sinuses. It’s got a million cloves of garlic in it (okay, fine, it actually has only 15+ garlic cloves), it’s got little nuggets of beef, crisp baby bok choy, and earthy mushrooms. It’s delicious.


Two hours after I finished the soup, my cramps hit. I spent the rest of the night on the couch with my trusty heating pad and a comfortably full belly.

Usually, when I mess up a dish, I want to forget it ever happened. I want to bury the recipe and my mistakes in a cemetery along with all my other botched things (food and otherwise). I usually make notes on the recipe for myself, for when I've forgotten the disaster at hand and want to try again. But that amnesia and ensuing motivation usually comes long after. Weeks. Months. Maybe even years.

I was so disappointed in my Thai noodles miscalculations. I was disappointed that I didn't get to enjoy what I could tell was a tasty dish underneath all that salt, and I was disappointed in myself for not trusting my intuition (which had been yelling and waving its arms at me frantically as I ignored it and continued to pour unthinkable amounts of salty ingredients into the pot).

This time, however, I wanted to get right back on the horse. I wanted to try again. I want to try again.

I’ve been waiting around for these bananas to ripen because I really want that banana cream pie. But it occurred to me that I don’t have to wait around to bake, just because the bananas aren’t ready. I can bake something else while I wait.  I don’t have to deprive myself of baking for however many weeks, just because these bananas are taking forever to rot.

So simple a revelation, and so duh, but, man.

And so, I’m ending on another culinary cliffhanger this week. I’m going to make a Nigella chocolate cake. I have no idea where I’m going to find edible rose petals for this thing, but I trust that I will find a suitable substitute somewhere. 

Who knows. Maybe next week’s Friday Bites will chronicle the making of a dark and sumptuous chocolate cake and the world’s tastiest banana cream pie. Here’s hoping.

I’ve realized that cooking is nice and all, but baking is what makes me feel like everything is going to be okay in the world. The precision and order of baking is comforting in times of chaos and violence, which is the world we live in. It's not a coincidence that my need to create something tangible and nourishing reared its head after I read the news about the18th school shooting of year. When I feel powerless and devastated, the instinct to do something comes.

There are so many things to do. Call your representatives. Protest. Petition. Lobby for change. Write op-ed pieces. Tweet angrily.

I often struggle with what feels like the most effective thing to do in the moment. What if the thing that feels best and right is to create something? To bake a fucking cake? Does it do anything to create something - a dish, a cake, a pie, a pastry, a poem, a blog post, an essay - and put it out there? What if you create it and put it out into the world with love and revolution in your heart and mind? Is that something?

Soup Disasters & Banana Cream Pie

Friday Bites is my new weekly blogging experiment, where I write and reflect on the food I’ve made during the week. It will be published every…you guessed it…Friday. Let’s see what happens.  

Do you ever get that feeling that you’re…full? Not full of joy or gratitude or feelings or whatever. I mean like, you’ve been eating lots of meat and cheese and carbs and you feel like you are just…full. Like kind of bloated, but fuller? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

When I get to feeling full in the way I just attempted to describe, I crave soup. Brothy soup. This week, I wanted to make some soups that were brothy but hearty enough to keep me satisfied.

So I went for Chrissy Teigen’s vegetable tortilla soup from her cookbook Cravings. It looked bright, healthy-ish, and tasty. I skimmed over the part of Chrissy’s recipe blurb that said the soup had “the perfect kick” and went about my business.

Without question, I chopped up an entire jalapeño and threw it into the soup pot (seeds, membrane, and all). A memory flashed through my mind of the time when, barehanded, I chopped up a fresh jalapeño from a friend’s garden, and the ensuing flames of pain that came when I got the jalapeño juice (alright, fine, the capsaicin) all over my hands and just inside the rim of one nostril. My fingers and nose burned for days. I wish I were exaggerating.

But I dismissed the thought because I would never make that mistake again. And anyway, store-bought jalapeños are fairly mild, in my experience.

As I measured two entire tablespoons of chili powder into the soup, the thought crossed my mind that this might be too much for me. I double- and triple-checked the recipe, and thought, “Okay. Two whole tablespoons? Really? Alright, Chrissy. I trust you.”

The soup simmered, and I fried up some tortilla strips with excitement and anticipation. My kitchen smelled amazing, and I was so hungry. When I finally got a chance to taste the soup, my mouth had exactly two seconds to enjoy the flavor before the spicy heat hit me. I felt like the chili powder had gotten into my sinuses, and my nose started running. I started sweating after two bites, and a few minutes later my eyes started watering. I felt like I was on an episode of Hot Ones, trying to make it through one of the hottest hot wings. I kept eating the crumbled cotija cheese because it felt so cool in my mouth. I started laying pieces of cold tortilla on my tongue. M poured me a glass of coconut milk (because the only actual milk in our house is saved for baking). My skin felt hot. I was turning inside out.

Now, what really bums me out? The “perfect kick” for Chrissy Teigen is 30 minutes of sweaty, teary torture for me and additional digestion problems that come by later at an unexpected time.

Thankfully, M can hang with the spice level of this soup, so it’s all his.

And because I’m sad about the soup, I didn’t take any pictures of it. Oops.  


I don’t know what it is about barley soups, but I can’t resist them. Beef barley, vegetable barley,  vegetable and beef barley, mushroom and barley. When I was a kid, I loved the Progresso beef barley canned soup and hogged them all for myself when my parents bought them from the store.

So this week, I made a mushroom barley soup using a combination of ingredients and process from The Kitchn and Real Simple recipes. (Look at me! I'm out here, just winging it!) There were no jalapeños in this recipe, no tablespoons of spice. Just some good old-fashioned onions, carrots, celery, mushrooms, and barley.

There’s not much to say about it, other than it was tasty, beautiful, and exactly what I needed on a Wednesday.



The real piéce de résistance of the week hasn’t been made yet, and it probably will have to wait until the weekend. What is it? It’s banana cream pie, recipe courtesy of Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar cookbook.

Why banana cream pie? Well, there are a few reasons.

  1. Banana cream pie is delicious. Why would I not want to make it?
  2. I’ve been watching the first season of The Mind of a Chef, and saw the episode where Christina Tosi makes a tasty-looking banana cream pie with ripened-to-black bananas. I was intrigued and, also, extremely on board.
  3. Last weekend, M told the story of the best banana cream pie he’s ever had. It was so good that since then, he’s measured all banana cream pies against That One Pie. I’m up for the challenge of making a banana cream pie that will blow that one out of the water.

But when we went grocery shopping, all the bananas — and I mean ALL of the bananas — were green. And not just yellow with a hint of green. They. Were. All. GREEN.

So I’m waiting. The bananas are in a paper bag, ripening extremely slowly. It’s the first time I can think of where the making of the delicious treat is not on my timeline — it’s up to the bananas.

So maybe I’ll get to make banana cream pie this weekend. Maybe I won’t. It’s really just up to the bananas.