Easy Weeknight Grain Bowls

As it turns out, a watched pot does boil.

I learned this as I stared at the water in my little green Le Creuset saucepan for the full 10 minutes it took cold water to reach a rolling boil. I wish I could say I watched the water as part of some advanced culinary experiment requiring the utmost concentration. Nope. Just thinking, or trying not to think, as I awaited my dinner of Annie’s mac’n’cheese.

When I left for college eight years ago, my dad gave me one piece of advice: “Make sure to spend some time alone.” It seemed strange wisdom at the time, but here I am, 26 and inundated by social media images, ads, updates, and notifications. It’s rare to find a moment truly alone, with my brain turned off.

 

I’ve really struggled with social media. I’ve wondered, why am I not a perfectly toned fitness instructor/wellness guru who vacations in St. John, takes sunrise hikes up volcanoes in Hawaii, and then crafts perfectly frothed matcha lattes in hand-thrown ceramic mugs? Why is my kitchen not pure white and hung with an array of gleaming copper cookware, with whimsical plants tucked in every crevice? Why is my pantry not comprised of a thousand perfect jars storing every grain under the sun and my counter not adorned with a bowl of figs? Why am I not thinner/more successful/prettier/happier etc?

Sitting outside one afternoon this summer, I picked up a copy of the New Yorker and opened to this:

Before the Internet, you would just sit in an armchair with a book open on your lap, staring into space or staring at a decorative broom on the wall—kind of shifting back and forth between those two modes of being. About ten minutes in, you’d say you needed some water, then wander up to the kitchen, where you’d get caught up staring at a refrigerator magnet. Then, for no reason, you’d do a little dance. You’d wonder if you should expand that dance right then and there. “Maybe I’ll direct music videos,” you’d say to yourself. But you’d have no way to follow up or to look it up; you’d just be standing in the deafening quiet of your kitchen at midday, alone with your thoughts… Then you’d walk outside and squint at the sky, just you in your body, not tethered to any network, adrift by yourself in a world of strangers in the sunlight.

I picked up my phone and quit Instagram. And Facebook. And Snapchat. And felt an immediate sense of peace. A low-grade, ever-present cloud of anxiety lifted. I breathed deeper. I fell asleep on the back porch, my feet propped up on a stucco column, my book open on my chest. I awoke to the sound of bees vibrating in the thyme, birds dipping and twittering in the surrounding treetops, the steady rasp of crickets, and the occasional rustle of leaves in the swooping breeze. I watched the light play on my sunburned arms and examined a bug bite on my ankle.

I had no idea what time it was. Sumac branches swayed haughtily above their long-suffering trunks. Suddenly, I was unburdened from the ominous promise of attention or lack thereof. There were no notifications on my phone, no dull race of the heart for a “like” or a follow. I was at ease. I felt at home in my own body. The trees beyond the grass undulated in an ocean of dappled light, moving as if from within to the beautiful pulse of the now.

After two blissful social media-free months, I decided to get back on Instagram. I missed sharing photos and getting inspired by the thousands of talented cooks and bakers sharing what they love most. I clarified my intentions for the app, reminding myself about the good things it has to offer. A space to share, rather than compare.

So for now, I’m hear to say that when it starts to weigh on you, just ignore it all. Put down your phone, go outside, and stare at a flower. Share things, post things, but do it for you. Despite how many paleo toppings you can put on your smoothie bowl or how many followers you gained this week, the only thing that matters is whether or not you can be by yourself in the silence, maybe watching a pot boil, and smile to yourself. Make time for yoga, and stretching, and breathing, but don’t beat yourself up for not being a bronzed yogi who does headstands on black sand beaches at sunset in Bali. Sometimes balance means pasta for dinner three nights in a row. And when you feel like feeling healthy, make yourself a yummy, loving, cozy, grain bowl with lots of delicious ingredients.

And then get an ice cream after dinner.

If you take time on a Sunday to prep a few basic components, you’re set to mix and match all week. Just pull a few Tupperware containers out of the fridge, assemble your bowl, and curl up on the couch for some Netflix and a nice glass of wine.

  • Cooked Grain: Try brown rice, quinoa, barley, or farro
  • Protein: I usually opt for something vegetarian, like black beans, hard boiled eggs, or greek yogurt
  • Raw Greens: My favorite is spinach. It’s affordable and lasts longer than most greens.
  • Roasted or Cooked Vegetables: Roasted sweet potato, squash, broccoli, or sautéed greens
  • Sauce/Dressing: Use your favorite salad dressing, or opt for something heartier like roasted eggplant dip or hummus
  • Something Umami: Like feta, parmesan, or pickled radishes
  • Something Crunchy: Nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or toasted quinoa

P.S. These comforting veggie bowls also make for an excellent weekday lunch!

Little Sister Links:

  1. If it’s starting to feel like Fall in your corner of the world, do yourself a favor and make this incredibly delicious vegan rice pudding from my best friend’s blog.
  2. I had a dream that I was taking a college course with Molly Yeh. What kind of university was that an how can I sign up?! Aside from both being ex-classical musicians living in the midwest, Molly and I also share an obsession with tahini. Soul sisters? I think so! Check out her recipe for tahini caramel apples.
  3.  I’ve been loving my slow-cooker lately! Do you have one? I’m coveting this new cookbook.
  4. How Instagram is ruining comfort food, according to Nigella Lawson.
  5. As if we needed one more reason to love Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen…

Little Sister Kitchen Goes (Mid)west!


One week ago,  Sam and I loaded all our worldly possessions into our car and said goodbye to the East Coast. After a brief stop in New Hope, Pennsylvania, we drove  14 hours straight, all the way to Madison, Wisconsin. We snacked on flaming hot Cheetos that turned our fingers an alarming shade of red, listened to hours of Harry Potter and S-Town, communicated in fake languages, and made too many bad puns to count.

As rolling green hills made way for farmland, the sky got bigger and we could see the rain coming a mile off. We drank sickly-sweet Frappuccinos, mastered the art of cruise-control, and crossed the border into Michigan just to say we did. We ate the worst meal of our lives in South Bend, Indiana, blasted the Dixie Chicks, and watched the sun set over Chicago. 

We watched with disbelief as our remaining time winnowed slowly from 18 hours to under an hour to 20 minutes, and then we were crossing the Mississippi and pulling up to our new apartment.

That first night my sister and brother in law brought takeout Indian food. We spread a beach towel out on the floor and drank wine out of mugs. My niece careened around the empty, echoing living room, trailing Basmati rice and trilling with joy. My sister passed me a bite of garlicky naan and Minneapolis already felt like home.

Naturally, I started baking while our whole apartment was still in disarray, with boxes everywhere and no furniture to speak of. I wanted to test out a vegan cake, in honor of my dearest friend Kiara, who just so happens to be a vegan-yogi-goddess-rock star, and who is getting married next week!

The simple lemon cake recipe from BBC Good Food yields a surprisingly light and airy crumb (yes, I am becoming Mary Berry) and is a simple enough canvas for a more decadent filling. For the latter, I used Minimalist Baker’s recipe for vegan lemon curd, which is made from coconut cream and gives the cake a little tropical twist. Make sure not to let the curd boil—just get it to bubble gently—or it won’t thicken properly. Mine ended up way too runny, but was delicious all the same!


This frosting recipe, from Loving It Vegan, resulted in a more of a glaze, which was actually fantastic. If kept in the fridge, the whole cake tastes like a perfectly-glazed, lemon-curd filled doughnut…that just happens to be vegan?!

Yes, please!

Little Sister Links:

  1. There are at least 1,000 reasons I love living in the same city as my sister. One of them is this podcast that she recommended.
  2. Being in the Midwest has me craving fresh corn, and I want to celebrate the last of the season with this foolproof salad from Ina Garten.
  3. On our second night in the twin cities, Sam and I ate here and experienced paprika-brown-butter-whipped-crispy-fried-chickpea-adorned hummus nirvana.
  4. What cookbooks are you loving lately? All of mine are currently still in a box being used as a coffee table, but here’s one I have my eye on.
  5. Quick, someone talk me off the ledge and out of buying this ridiculously overpriced (yet arguably practical?) kitchen mat!

Strawberry Wedding Cake with Swiss Buttercream Frosting


The first day of June started appropriately enough with the smell of barbecue smoke wafting through our open window. The night before, we turned off our rain-themed sound machine to find a good old fashioned thunder storm raging outside. Water splashed in fat droplets as we pressed our noses to the screen, drinking in that elusive smell of imminent summer. Spring in New Haven took its sweet, abundant time this year, with day after day of heavy iron-grey skies and sputtering clouds that finally gave way to cherry and magnolia blossoms. The peonies in our back yard burst into a beauty so extravagant, their own stems sagged with the weight of it.


These glorious first days of summer also marked my first professional baking assignment: the wedding cake for our roommates and best friends, who got married right here at our house in East Rock. The cake, (strawberry, six-layers, topped with Swiss buttercream frosting), fit Mike and Shea perfectly. Watching them cut into it, surrounded by loved ones, I felt unexpectedly proud and deeply fulfilled.


I won’t bore you with the entire process, as I doubt you are in the market to bake a wedding cake at the moment (let’s just say the amount of butter and sugar involved in all phases of testing this cake was nothing short of staggering), but should the urge ever strike you, Deb from Smitten Kitchen will walk you through the entire process with a kind and gentle hand.  I based my layers on her Pink Lady Cake and used her phenomenal Swiss Buttercream recipe as well. The frosting is easy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and works on any cake.

Stay tuned for some exciting news on the blog soon…It’s good to be back!

Little Sister Links:

  1. I made my second video!!
  2. I loved this list of the 100 greatest home cooks of our time.
  3. Olive oil? Lemon? Dark chocolate? This banana bread includes all of my favorite things…
  4. We were NEVER allowed Rice Krispie treats as kids, so I might just have to whip up this grown-up version to make up for lost time.
  5. Take a moment out of your day to read this poem.

5-Ingredient, 5-Minute Chocolate Bars

I’ve always had the opposite of a sweet tooth. As a little kid, I used to sneak sips of olive juice straight from the jar. I gravitated more toward taramasalata and extra sharp cheddar than Oreos or fruit rollups. My penchant for salt still disturbs many people in my life, including my brother, who has to avert his eyes when I’m applying salt at the table. Hey, it runs in the family! My grandma was known to salt everything from salads to grapefruit, and she lived to 92.

As I fall more and more in love with baking, I tell myself it’s just a side effect–you know, par for the course to sneak a spoonful of cookie dough here and there. But in the past two weeks, I’ve baked a chocolate babka, lemon poppyseed muffins, a grapefruit yogurt olive oil cake, peanut butter cookies, and a 3-layer strawberry cake with cream cheese frosting. I suppose I must confess–my proverbial tooth is sweetening.

Good thing I have a gym membership!

These days, even when I get home from work exhausted beyond the point of forming coherent sentences, my mind is already mixing batter, taking stock of the odds and ends left in my pantry, envisioning the next sweet treat I can force on my friends.

Recently while scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled on a photo of Erin Ireland’s puffed rice chocolate bar, made only with cocoa powder, coconut oil, and maple syrup. I rushed to my pantry and whipped up a batch in 5 minutes. I upped the maple syrup to balance out the coconut flavor and (of course) added a little salt.

These bars are SERIOUSLY delicious and perfect if you’re looking for a fun, easy, kitchen project, no baking involved. Chances are you already have the ingredients on hand!

All you have to do is mix, pour, add toppings, and chill. I opted for toasted cashews, sea salt, and rose petals on one bar and toasted quinoa and puffed rice on the other. But really, it’s up to you! Get creative with any odds and ends you have on hand. I’m already scheming about flavor combinations for my next batch…cardamom pistachio? Hazelnut brown butter?

The rich, velvety, not-too-sweet base has a fudge-y consistency and makes the perfect canvas for flavor experimentation. I guarantee these won’t last in your freezer for more than a day.

Have fun and let me know what you think!

Recipe adapted from Erin Ireland

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup pure grade A maple syrup
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Topping suggestions:

  • For my take on a rice krispie treat:
    • About 1/4 cup toasted crisp rice
    • About 3 Tablespoons toasted quinoa
  • For my rose-cashew bar:
    • 1 teaspoons crumbled rose petals (found in bulk at most health food stores)
    • 1/4 cup toasted cashews, roughly chopped

Instructions:

  1. Line a baking sheet, loaf pan, or any sized tart pan with parchment paper. If you want a thicker bar with a defined rectangular shape, use the bottom of a loaf pan. For a thinner, free-form bar, use a baking sheet.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the melted coconut oil, cocoa powder and maple syrup until smooth and fully incorporated. Stir in salt and vanilla.
  3. Pour mixture into your prepared pans and chill in the fridge for a few minutes (just to bring the coconut oil down to room temperature).
  4. Remove from fridge and sprinkle desired ingredients on top.
  5. Chill in freezer until firm, about 10 minutes. Break off a piece and enjoy! Store in the fridge if you prefer a fudge-y consistency, and in the freezer for a more brittle texture.

Little Sister Links:

  1. I made my first video!!
  2. Here’s my reading list for the foreseeable future…
  3. It’s officially Spring, which means…RHUBARB! Here’s some inspiration for baking with my all-time favorite ingredient. Rhubarb tarte tatin, anyone?!
  4. Planning a road trip? Keep this list handy for the best bakery in every state.
  5. Looking for an amazing food blog? Check out my friend Daniela, whose Mexican and Korean-inspired recipes are approachable, creative, and insanely beautiful!

Coconut, quinoa & cashew granola

During my senior year of college in the tiny town of Grinnell, Iowa, I lived with five other girls in a huge, rambling farmhouse on the edge of campus. Rent, if you can believe it, was under $200 a month. The house had creaky wood floors, no laundry, one working shower, and a terrifying basement I never set foot in (maybe there was laundry down there?!). I lived upstairs with Hannah, while Ellyn, Eliza, Carla, and Zoe lived downstairs. My room had five windows, two closets, and a small “office” (#RuralIowa). The tiny kitchen had about one square foot of counter space, but believe it or not, I couldn’t have cared less about food. While my housemates baked cookies and whipped up dinners that made the house smell heavenly, I was probably dipping Fritos in hummus in the student center grill. (You should try it sometime—it’s actually delicious.)

A few months ago, I got an email from Carla with a link to an old article from our college newspaper, the Scarlett & Black, describing our house dynamic and each member’s unique cooking style. Allow me to quote a particularly poetic paragraph:

While Leas cooks ‘random sh*t,’ Rodriguez’s style is ‘down home, whatever that means.’ Ochs likes ‘gourmet,’ but also ‘whatever’ and Eckland prefers ‘Southwest.’ Bauman enjoys a ‘Mediterranean diet’ and Mendel’s appetite can best be summarized by ‘cereal.’

…And, friends, it was true. I’ve always nurtured an undying love for cereal of all kinds, from Frosted Flakes and Reese’s Puffs to the “healthy” varieties called things like Harvest Yam Puffs and Ancient Maize Grains. I do not discriminate. My friends got used to me loading up my bowl with the dining hall’s signature granola and then methodically sorting through to remove the raisins one by one.

While I like to think my palate has developed slightly since my college years, I am still powerless before the supermarket cereal aisle. Luckily, I’ve figured out how to make granola at home to satisfy my nightly Cereal Course without all the terrifying additives, sugar, and unpronounceable ingredients. Made with olive oil, coconut oil, and maple syrup, this granola is nutty, crunchy, and toasty. It’s not too sweet, not too complicated, and has just a hint of salt. It’s perfect on greek yogurt or eaten by the handful from the jar. The key is toasting the ingredients before combining and baking them. This lends the whole thing a warm flavor and allows the coconut flakes to stay extra crunchy. (By “toasting,” I mean tossing in a skillet on high heat until golden.) Try it and let me know what you think!

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes, toasted
  • ½ cup raw unsalted cashews, roughly chopped, toasted
  • 2 ½ tablespoons uncooked quinoa, toasted
  • ¼ cup + 1 tablespoon good quality olive oil
  • ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil, melted
  • Hearty pinch coarse salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir to. Add olive oil, maple syrup, and coconut oil and stir to incorporate evenly.
  3. Spread granola evenly on two baking trays and bake for 12 minutes, stirring thoroughly every 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the granola to make sure it doesn’t get too dark. You want a nice, toasty, golden brown, so if this happens before 12 minutes, feel free to take it out early.
  4. Remove trays  from oven and place on racks to cool. Stir one more time and allow granola to cool completely before snacking storing.

Little Sister Links:

  1. “Eat what you love.” This Great British Bake Off alum is preaching some serious words to live by
  2. For those who geek out on the subject of caramelizing onions
  3. Have you ever baked a babka? This one’s at the top of my list!
  4. Also on my list is this mysterious 3-ingredient stovetop mac’n’cheese that comes together in under 10 minutes. Can you guess the secret ingredient?
  5. Currently my favorite snap on the internet.

The Little Sister Gift Guide: 5 Essentials for Every Kitchen

When it comes to the kitchen, I rely most on the simplest tools. I’ve rounded up a list of my five favorites. Ranging from $10 to decadent splurge, I depend on each with faithful adoration. I hope there’s something here that inspires you! I read somewhere that this lemon press is Ottolenghi’s favorite gadget. Simple and affordable, it’s fully worthy of the poetic lemon. GET THE FULL LIST!

Kitchen Conversations: Baking with Bridget

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that as a child I was a very picky eater. I wanted nothing to do with the seven fishes stew my mom served on Christmas Eve. I wouldn’t touch the sugar-dusted Linzer tortes my sister baked, taking some unfathomable offense to the texture of jam. My sister has always been worlds ahead of me in this regard. While I munched on sugar cookies and inspected the presents under the tree, Bridget was improvising with spices for her latest batch of gingerbread or glazing a freshly baked poppy seed lemon bundt cake. …KEEP READING

Mastering the Art of Eating Toast

This morning my boyfriend asked me politely to inspect a giant wasp buzzing ominously around the shower. With a deft and well-trained hand, I scooped the long-legged insect into a glass and carried her safely to the great outdoors. This is one of the many things my New Jersey boyfriend had to get used to when he signed on to date a girl from the Berkshires. …KEEP READING

Walnut & Salted Caramel Tart

The first snow is always sacred. This year it fell steadily and softly, without any wind, just in time for Thanksgiving. I’m sitting at home with a cup of tea, marveling at the silent white landscape. …KEEP READING

Sweet Challah with Salted Honey Butter

Sometimes I wonder if I’m 25 or 80. At the moment, I’m knitting and waiting for my tea water to boil. I spent the day baking. There was a time when I may not have believed that my future self would be such a homebody, but when I look back, the signs were all there. …KEEP READING