Lagniappe: Where The Hell Did The Last Three Months Go

Things that have happened since my last post:

  • I graduated university! Finally! I've worked nonstop for two years with a full course schedule every semester to finish my Bachelors degree before 25 passed me by. It's August 30th now and 26 is rounding the corner but WHO CARES! I'm done!

    I also did it magna cum laude, because why *wouldn't* I want to make my life more challenging by writing a thesis during the shortest semester of the year? (Because I'm an obsessive perfectionist and I physically cannot help myself.) I'm a big giant nerd and actually had a lot of fun researching it and learning more about the millennial market group (of which I am a member) and social entrepreneurship ventures HOLY JESUS I sound so nerdy. You can read it here, if you want.
  • I moved out of Gainesville! Finally! No offense to my college town but I'm a city girl at heart and also they call it 'The Swamp' for a reason and WOW it's terrible. I am now officially a resident of New York State in the greater NYC area and plan to begin banging on Bon Appetit's door in short order. A girl can dream. (HR people, if you're reading this, I promise I can write without curse words!)
     
  • I went on a roadtrip with my best friend and our two dogs! We hit all the best restaurants in Savannah, Charleston, Asheville, and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle. (Pics on my Insta.)
Doggos!

Doggos!

  • I collapsed in a heap! It was difficult to give myself permission to feel burn out from working my ass off nonstop for two years, but let me tell you, burn out is a very real thing. I feel the mojo coming back though and am really excited about getting back to writing and working. MONNEEEYYYYY!

Coming up: recipe for Swedish meatballs, recipe for crispy chicken with lemon and oregano, recipe for shepherd's pie, restaurant reviews from Savannah, Asheville, and Bay City NY, and more shit I love. Like YOU! Thanks for reading.

Posted on August 30, 2016 .

Shit I Love This Month: May 2016 (Laaaaaaate)

In case you missed it, last month I started a new monthly feature lazily titled "Shit I Love This Month". It's just a way of me sharing some of the cool new foodie-related things I discover each month that you might *also* find cool. None of these people pay me. It would be nice if they did.

Here's the shit I loved in May!

  •  Bread & Butter Pinot Noir 2014: Honestly I don't care enough about wine to be so particular about which year is better than any other year; it just so happens that this has been the year on all the bottles I drank in May. This stuff was BOGO at Publix (which is the BEST way to discover new wines, by the way) so I gave it a shot and I absolutely loved it. It's light and juicy with a nice berry flavour and a smooth finish. Currently my favourite red wine, and *perfect* for Game of Thrones nights.
     
  • Pandora's "Chill Out" radio channel: it's been kind of hectic around here recently, so I've been using some quiet grooves to help my mind calm down in the evening as I'm enjoying my nightly glass. I flipped this one on by accident and simply love it.
     
  • Fromager d'Affinois: I accidentally stumbled onto this cheese at my bi-weekly trip to Dorn's Liquors, my new favourite wine-and-cheese haunt and I honestly don't know whether to curse or celebrate that day, because this shit is delicious and also has a 60% fat content.

    Honestly though the first time I had this cheese I had to sit down on my couch and really take a few moments to think if it was, in actual fact, better than some sex I've had. People say that all the time -- "It's better than sex!" -- but I don't know if y'all are just having a whole lot of boring sex or if you're just exaggerating. Either way when that rich, oozy deliciousness hit my tongue the phrase popped into my head and I had to really...sit...and think...

    Guys, yes. It's that good.

    (Some! I said some sex I've had! Not all, calm down.)

    It's very similar to a double-creme Brie, except richer and more flavorful with an almost buttery texture. It goes well with everything, PLUS it isn't crazy expensive. FIND IT!!! If your local cheesemonger doesn't have it they can probably order it for you; if not, snag it here.
  • Soju: My latest flavour of the week introduced me to this Korean liquor a couple of weeks ago and I've been oddly hooked ever since. It's somewhat similar to vodka in that it's virtually flavourless, with a texture somewhere between sake and vodka, and it's really nice to sip on ice. Be careful though, as one internet person described it as so:

    "Soldiers in Korea would describe it as being a drink you can drink while sitting down and not feel a thing, but once you stand up, you will be done. I forgot who my wife was after a bachelor party with soju."
     
  • Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil: It's no secret that I'm a big salad eater and recently I've moved away from chicken and beef in favour of more fish, and while I know you're not supposed to eat tuna more than twice a week blah blah blah I love this shit.

    It's the least expensive of all the "tuna in olive oil" brands and to me also the yummiest. Even better, it's wild caught on the line so it's safe and sustainable as well. Tuna tinned in olive oil tends to have more omega-3's and has a vastly superior texture to that watery soggy mess that is standard tuna mush. Go get you some.
     
  • Heirloom Tomatoes: YYAAAAASSSSS summer is here and that means tomato season is BACK! Tomatoes are one of my favourite foods but I'm picky about getting flavourful, good quality ones. Those mushy pale red things in Walmart just make me super sad. But now, the heirlooms are back in all their red, orange, yellow, green, and purple glory. Spots! Stripes! Bumps! They're beautiful. *insert heart-eyed emoji here*
Posted on June 13, 2016 .

Lekker: Swiss Chard Pasta Carbonara

When I was living in Italy last year the most torrid love affair I had was, predictably, with food--specifically pasta carbonara. I'd had it before of course, but it turns out I'd only been exposed to seriously CRAP carbonara, the kind made with dusty Parmesan cheese and heavy cream.

NONSENSE. That shit is NONSENSE, let me tell you.

True carbonara requires no cream and uses only freshly grated Parmesan (or a mix of Parmesan and Reggiano or Grana Panada), egg yolks, and the starchy pasta cooking water to create that luxurious, silky sauce. And of course there's pancetta involved, which never hurts anything.

The great thing about carbonara too is that it's made with simple ingredients you probably have on hand already: pasta, pancetta (or bacon), eggs, and cheese. That's it.

The recipe I'm laying down today is a riff on classic carbonara for two main reasons:

One, I had picked up some stunningly beautiful red Swiss Chard that I wanted to incorporate primarily just because having at least ~something~ green in a pile of rich pasta makes me feel better. Plus, the slight bitterness of the greens fantastically offsets the richness of the egg yolk and cheese.

I also subbed bacon in place of pancetta since I had some leftover from whipping up a batch of my Bacon Braised Collard Greens earlier in the week. Depending on where you live, bacon might also be easier to find than pancetta--and more affordable.

This bitch takes less than 30 minutes to throw together. LET'S GOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Swiss Chard Pasta Carbonara
serves 2

WHAT YOU NEED
8 oz (1/2 a 1 lb box) of spaghetti (or fresh spaghetti if you can get it)
4-5 large leaves of Swiss chard
1 large garlic clove, crushed and minced into the tiniest possible pieces
2 green onions, very thinly sliced
4 egg yolks (save the egg whites to scramble up and give to your dog, or put into your weirdo egg-white-only omelettes)
4 strips bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch-ish pieces (don't bring your fake maple bullshit in here for this)
1 cup freshly grated cheese, either Parmesan, Grana Panada, Reggiano, or some mixture thereof
Salt & pepper, freshly ground

WHAT YOU DO
1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to boil, and cook the pasta until al dente. DO NOT DRAIN OR RINSE. You gotta cook the pasta while multitasking with steps 2-4. You can do it. I have faith in you.

2. While the pasta is cooking, slice the chard into thin ribbons. Do this by folding the leaves in half lengthwise and slicing out the tough red stem, then rolling the leaves into a cigar shape and slicing into narrow ribbons.

3. In a medium sized frying pan, cook bacon over medium heat until lightly crisped. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and drain fat from pan, save for a few teaspoons. In the bacon fat, fry the green onion and garlic for one minute just until fragrant.

4. Add the sliced chard to the pan and fry for only a minute or two, stirring often, until bright green and slightly wilted. Add the cooked bacon. Turn heat to very low.

5. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks thoroughly until light yellow and thin in texture. In order to avoid the yolks becoming scrambled when you add them to the rest of the ingredients you'll need to temper them. It's simple: just scoop about 1/4 cup of the starchy pasta cooking water out of the pot and slowly trickle it into the yolks, whisking quickly and thoroughly.

6. When the pasta is finished cooking to al dente, use a slotted spoon or tongs to transfer it from the cooking pot into the frying pan and remove from heat. Now this is where it gets quick and dirty, hang with me:

Add the grated cheese, egg yolks, salt, and pepper to the pasta/bacon/chard and stir or toss quickly. Is the sauce is looking too thick at this stage, drizzle in a bit more of the pasta cooking water. Move the pan back onto low heat and keep stirring constantly. If the pan gets a bit too hot and it's looking like the yolks may scramble, remove the pan from heat immediately and continue stirring quickly and gently. After about 2-3 minutes the sauce will thicken and coat the pasta strands to a beautifully glossy shine. Serve immediately and devour.

Traditional Italian cooking of pasta, when sauce is required, calls for finishing the pasta in the saucepan so that it can properly coat the strands. Serving pasta with sauce dumped on top is NOT the way to go. Give this method a try and you will not regret it.

Posted on April 28, 2016 .

Lagniappe: Shit I Love This Month: April 2016

Sometimes I discover cool shit that I think other people might enjoy. E.L.F. cream eyeshadows are great but they don't really belong here, so I'm starting this new feature on the blog called "Shit I Love This Month" to wrap up all the neat-o potat-o food type stuff I found that y'all might like.

Without further ado, here is April's wrap up!

  • Pandora's "Hipster Cocktail Party" channel: the name makes me gaaaaaaaaaaagggggg but the channel is just SO damn good. It's a great mix of the classics like Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney mixed in with complementary modern stuff like Vance Joy and Zarif, perfect for an actual cocktail party or just to have on while you cook. I've discovered several new favourite artists since having this on in the background. Case in point: "Booty Swing" by Parov Stelar.
     
  • Trader Joe's Cypriot Pyramid Salt: my current obsession is salt (I have black lava Hawaiian salt and hickory smoked sea salt on my counter right now too) and I especially love this stuff. It is sort of pyramid shaped, with thin, nearly translucent flakes that have a fantastic crunch to them. It has no particularly different taste, just salty, but the shape and texture is just so weird and interesting I can't help but love it. It's the perfect crunchy finishing salt for salads and on top of eggs. If you don't have a TJ's nearby you can snag some here on Amazon.
  • Jell-O Shots: I totally forgot how fun these are and how much people love them! I recently made some for a friend's baby shower (because *I* can still drink), blue with little fish gummies inside them to match her "under the sea" theme, and even retired accountant grandmothers couldn't say no! Generally speaking I find Jell-O and gelatin disgusting but chances are if you put vodka in something I will like it. I'll be experimenting more with these over the summer, starting off with these watermelon jello shots.
  • "The Beach House" Sauvignon Blanc: This is my go-to summer wine, and at $7.99-$9.99 a bottle it's affordable for everyone. It's crisp, uncomplicated, and clean--and when ice ice cold, perfect for a hot humid day. And, hey, it's from South Africa just like me!
If you're  following me on Instagram  you would've seen my raving about this last weekend!

If you're following me on Instagram you would've seen my raving about this last weekend!

  • Trader Joe's Scandinavian Swimmers: I SEE YOU HERE, TJ'S. Good luck not getting sued by Swedish Fish over this one, but LORD I hope you don't because these things are like ~crack~. I'm not a huge gummy or candy fan but everyone who's tasted these goes nuts over them, myself included. There's blue dolphins, red lobsters (ADORABLE), yellow seahorses, and orange rockfishes, all flavoured and colored with completely natural ingredients like apple and black carrot. They're a steal at $2.99 a bag but if you don't live near a Trader Joe's you'll be forced to pay through the nose here on Amazon.

And with that chewy goodness, I take my leave of you. There've been other great discoveries this month but I gotta keep you guys coming back somehow, right?

SPEAKING OF, why don't you show me some love by following me on Instagram for lots of yummy food pictures and cute dog videos and then liking our Facebook page, because consistency is key.

Posted on April 24, 2016 and filed under Lagniappe.

Lagniappe: Power Up Your Produce

Spring is here and it's the time of fantastic renewal and change and fresh starts and blah blah blah. I love it. I love having the doors to the balcony thrown wide open, feeling the fresh breeze waft in, and listening to my 21-year-old neighbours shout loudly to each other in the parking lot in an attempt to convince women to have sex with them. Magical. I really do love it.

Aaaaaaanyway the last six months of my life have been a rollercoaster to say the least, where the peaks are highs of incomparable thrill and the lows are basically just being catapulted through a literal storm of shit at 85 mph.

But now it's spring, the time of change and *upgrade*, and since that dumpster fire is now behind me I am super stoked about all the new and exciting things coming up.

In light of this concept of upgrading, I'm here today to talk to you about your fridge! That mechanical container of wonder that holds within itself a world of new possibilities. I love the fridge. I also love what's inside it. So let's get on to upgrading your fridge game, yo.

Just as a disclaimer, I haven't been paid by any of these companies to toot their horns. I never endorse stuff I don't personally love and it doesn't matter to me if I get paid for it or not. It would be sweet as ~hell~ if they DID decide to pay me, though. It's grace@lekkerandliquor.com by the way. Just...just in case. (And if you think I *might* like your stuff, e-mail me and let's talk!)

EGGS
If you’re used to buying the standard white-shelled cheapest-you-can-get orbs of sadness, I can’t stress enough how much BETTER the organic* free range** pastured*** varieties are.

I KNOW I KNOW dirt-worshipping-tree-hugger blah blah blah but seriously, listen to me for a second. The yolks of the fancy pants eggs are this incredibly deep, bright orange with so much flavour—not to mention more vitamins and minerals. When compared to the anemic and pitiful pale yellow yolks of the usual cage farmed eggs, you’ll realize pretty quickly it’s a no brainer. You’ll probably have the best shot at finding fresh pastured eggs at your local farmer’s market or CSA, but most grocery shops now carry at least organic free range varieties.

*In order to earn the USDA “organic” stamp, the chickens are to be fed only organic feed and are certified to be free of antibiotics.
**The term “free range” has a looser definition and generally indicates that the chickens are not caged and can move about "freely" with "access" to the outdoors, but it could be as a member of a horde of 5000 all try to squeeze out through a cat flap for as little as 5 minutes in the sun per day.
***Pastured/grass-fed is what you’re ideally going for; this means that the chickens have ample access to the outdoors where they can be their natural chicken-y selves. That means scratching in the dirt, eating insects, getting sunshine, and being an overall healthier chicken. Better chicken, better egg.


CARROTS
Did you know that carrots come in multiple colors like purple, yellow, and white? In fact, carrots were grown in these colors for hundreds of years before the standard orange we know was developed. If you’re making a salad or some roasted vegetables, the extra colors make it so much more visually interesting! Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods (and even Publix now, if you're in the south) often carry them, if you have one of those near you.

CUCUMBERS
Standard cucumbers are boring. Their overly waxy peels never seem to get clean enough, and generally they’re just a sort of light green soggy mess with lots of bitter seeds. Enter: English cucumbers. Long (generally between 10-14 inches) and slim and usually shrinkwrapped, these bad boys are nothing like their boring cousins. With no seeds and a firm flesh they’ve got a fantastic crunch and snap to them, making them the perfect upgraded addition to your salads.


TOMATOES
I get that there are a ton of varieties and it can be annoying to stand there in the produce aisle and try to decide, so you just grab the nearest red thing and get out of there. But if you’re making a tomato-heavy dish like Caprese salad, a tomato basil salad, or any salad really, spring for heirloom tomatoes. They come in tons of colors (orange, bright yellow, green, purple, white, striped, and polka dotted) and odd shapes for maximum visual appeal.

LETTUCE
Stop being a sad sack with that iceberg bullshit. Yes it’s cheap and crunchy but it’s also colorless and useless from a nutritional standpoint. At least upgrade to Romaine lettuce, but also explore the spring mixes, the Boston lettuces (gorgeous, and BOMB on burgers and perfect for lettuce wraps), the Bibb lettuces, and the sweet & crunchy blends. It’s a big wide lettuce world out there, my friend. And most of them now come pre-chopped and pre-washed in bags, making it truly convenient for even the laziest among us.
 

ARUGULA/RUCOLA/ROCKET
Speaking of greens, if you enjoy a standard spinach salad on the reg or often stir it into soups for an extra nutritional boost, give arugula a try instead. Also known as rucola or rocket, this peppery green has a visually interesting shape and a sharper flavor than most lettuces. One of the simplest and most sophisticated salads you can throw together is a pile of arugula leaves sprinkled with pine nuts and freshly grated Parmesan, tossed with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. SEXY. (Also incredibly delicious tossed with a bit of Parma ham, burrata cheese, olive oil, and S & P.)
 

PARMESAN
And while we’re at it, PLEASE for the love of god stop using that powdered stuff in the green canister for serious food. It’s fine for the childhood dish of buttered noodles but when it comes to chic salads, pastas, or basically anything else, buy a wedge of the good fresh stuff (the best comes from Italy of course) and grate or shave it fresh. You’ll be amazed at the difference, and it keeps in the fridge forever when wrapped tightly in clingfilm.
 

MOZZARELLA
Since I’m on a roll here, who likes mozzarella? Everyone. If you don’t like mozz it’s probably because you’ve been eating the wrong kind, and by that I mean: cow’s milk. Did you know that mozzarella was (and still is, in Italy) originally made from the milk of water buffaloes? HOLY SHIT what a difference it makes.

Buffalo mozzarella (or mozzarella di bufala) is definitely harder to find than the bovine variety but I’ve found it in some Publixes in the south, Trader Joe’s up north, Whole Foods sporadically, Wegman’s regularly, and at Dean & Deluca. Most local private cheese shops will also special order it for you if you ask nicely.
(Sidenote: All that said, I'm going to ruin your life with some utterly bizarre buffalo mozzarella news. Click here.)
 

PICKLES
First of all, why is Vlasic’s spokes-animal a stork? What do storks have to do with pickles? Anyway it doesn’t matter because Vlasic pickles in all their gray-green glory are the absolute worst, and you should be eating Claussen pickles instead. Look for them in the refrigerated section, usually by the cold cuts because they’re cold cured and never heated so the cukes retain their INCREDIBLE crunch. No, I’m not being paid by Claussen to say this, so, ey-yooooo, if they felt like hooking me up with a lifetime supply I would be totally down with that, you’re welcome Claussen.

Oh, and pickles are fucking cucumbers, by the way. I recently had to explain that fact to a grown man. They are pickled cucumbers. Bye.
 

And now to round out the list, two of the absolute basics:

BREAD
Nothing says “I am still a freshman in college” louder than a bag of spongey soft white nothing bread. As a grown ass adult you should know by now that it holds absolutely no nutritional value for you, but if you still refuse to go the multi or whole grain route at least switch it up with some other, more interesting white breads: sourdough, Tuscan pane, French baguette, ciabatta, and boule come to mind. Oh, and don’t keep bread in the fridge. I’ve never understood why people do this, but it dries it out more quickly.
 

BUTTER
If you’re a die-hard butter lover (as opposed to the chemical shitstorm known as margarine, which NO ONE should be eating), try upgrading from your usual sticks or tub to Kerrygold Irish Butter. Oh baby. Oh YEAH BABY. This stuff is GOLD, so I get the name. I swear it’s unlike any other butter I’ve ever tried. Sweet and salty and rich and creamy with no lardy or oily aftertaste it is my Achilles heel, and spread onto warm crusty French bread it is absolute nirvana.

This article has to end now because I’ve drooled all over my keyboard so much it’s starting to make weird sparking noises, but go forth you sexy and sophisticated ladies and gents! First the fridge, then the world.

This has been reprinted with permission from an article I wrote for the rad folks over at The Magnifier, a division of VaynerMedia.

Update 2018: Regrettably, The Magnifier no longer exists.

Posted on April 11, 2016 and filed under Lagniappe.

Liquor: It's For Your Health: The Whiskey Old Fashioned

I have great news! In addition to the work I do here on my own site, I was recently taken on as a regular writer for The Magnifier, a men's lifestyle site, for their food & drink section. Huzzah! I'm really enjoying it, and wanted to share with you my most recent piece.

Are you still feeling that whiskey vibe from St. Patrick's Day for your Sunday Funday today? Why don't you give an Old Fashioned a try!

DD-Drinking-7.jpg

“We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had.” -Don Draper, Mad Men

Don Draper: the suave and mildly unbalanced man we all love to hate on Mad Men, always on the verge of some existential crisis or another. Usually that involves having  an Old Fashioned in hand to keep the worst of it at bay. But while there’s certainly no need to be teetering on the edge of sanity to enjoy a drink, you could take a cue from Mr. Draper and take a swig of his signature drink: the whiskey Old Fashioned.

This drink dates way further back than Don in the 1960’s. In fact to a whole other set of 60’s: 1862, to be exact. Jerry Thomas' Bartenders Guide: How To Mix Drinks was published that year, which features a recipe for something called an Old Fashioned Holland Gin Cocktail that involved crushing a lump of sugar in the bottom of a glass along with two dashes of Angostura bitters and a bit of water, a lemon peel, a piece of ice, and one jigger of Holland gin. A small bar spoon was given to the patron to lazily stir and further dissolve the sugar as one drank.

Now if the only Old Fashioned you’re used to is one loaded with oranges or mandarins, is made sickly sweet by a pre-packaged mix or Sprite, and topped with a toxically red maraschino cherry, then Jerry Thomas’ concoction won’t look much like an Old Fashioned to you.  But in fact, the first published iteration of the whiskey Old Fashioned is exactly that same recipe as Thomas’, except with whiskey instead of gin (obviously). A fella by the name of George Kappeler gets the credit for this in his own bartering book Modern American Drinks, circa 1895.

Direct theft of Thomas’ idea? It might seem like it, but in the world of cocktails there are no patents and little joy in secrecy. Plus, drinks evolve all the time based on what you have available—necessity is the mother of invention and all that. Which happens to be the only reason I can find to explain the existence of a White Russian.

The simplicity of this four ingredient cocktail—booze, bitters, water, and sugar—is a ripe jumping off point for creative additions and riffs. But it’s to the ‘old fashioned’ fuddy-duddies that we owe the name: precisely because when they ordered, they wanted to make sure they were getting the old fashioned four-ingredient classic and none of those modern flourishes from those young whippersnappers.

If you’re not yet familiar with Angostura bitters, you’re about to level up. While there are approximately 14 billion different kinds of bitters out on the market now, Angostura remains the original and the classic. Originally developed by a German doctor in Venezuela as a digestive aid around 1824, the recipe of herbs and botanicals is a closely guarded secret. Yes that’s right, I’d like to stress that the original purpose was medicinal; to soothe an upset stomach, and Americans quickly caught on to the benefits—but Angostura bitters are a bit of an acquired taste, and so they tempered it with a bit of alcohol, sugar, and water to help the medicine go down. Sound familiar?  And that tenuous connection, ladies and gentlemen, is how I explain away my nightly dosage of Old Fashioneds. It’s for my health.

There are many ways to enjoy an Old Fashioned. If that classic martini is a little too elegant for you, try ordering a traditional Old Fashioned the next time you’re sidled up at your favorite bar. (Keep in mind that because of the widespread prevalence of orange or cherry additions you may have to specify the exact four ingredients.) In my opinion, it’s just as classy and sexy as a martini with the added benefit of being more portable—all the better for socializing as a ‘Man About Town’. While there are endless varieties of Old Fashioneds that differ from one bar to the next, do try the classic a couple of times before you decide you don’t like it. If it turns out you’re not much of a purist, by all means, go run naked straight into the Old Fashioned Playground.

Wait. No. Don’t do that. Just keep your clothes on (for now), and go nuts trying different varieties until you hit on one that you like. I personally prefer an orange peel instead of lemon in mine, or a bit of maple syrup instead of sugar as the sweetener. If you are a purist after all, that’s great! An Old Fashioned is after all one of the best cocktails that allows a good whiskey to shine. Just don’t be a pretentious twat about it. Literally no one likes that guy at the bar who points out that you’re drinking the “wrong” version of the drink. Use this knowledge I impart to you for good, young padawan, not for snotty ‘oneupsmanship’.

So while we may owe the recent resurgence of the Old Fashioned in popularity to Don Draper and Mad Men, the next time you order one know that you’re taking part in a much older American tradition—and after all, it’s for your health.

Reprinted in its entirety with permission from the publisher. Original article can be found here.

Posted on March 20, 2016 .

Lagniappe: Happy Religion-Based Culinary Abstinence Season!

**Note: I really did write this on Ash Wednesday, but then Calculus came into my life to ruin it and everything else I love.**

And by that I mean, today is Ash Wednesday and the kick off to the Lenten season before Easter! Lent is of course a Christian religious occasion, one wherein adherents typically give something up for the period in order to honour Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the desert, or alternately as a form of penitence. Different denominations of Christianity practice this fast in different ways: committed Greek Orthodox members abstain from all animal products, alcohol, and caffeine; Catholics avoid meat except for fish on Fridays; some denominations use a "Daniel's Fast" and other individuals just choose to give up something they really love, like chocolate or coffee or alcohol.

It's been YEARS since I last fasted, but last year my Greek boyfriend at the time set the example by going vegan for his Orthodox Lent period. I was impressed with his commitment to the tradition and intrigued by the culinary challenge. I've been both a vegetarian and pescatarian (where fish and shellfish is the only form of meat consumed) in the past, and am largely dairy-free in my day-to-day life--but I've never taken the plunge to being a full vegan. I love cheese too much!

However, after the sheer non-stop indulgence of the holidays I gotta say I am REALLY excited to do this vegan cleanse for 40 days. I'm looking forward to the challenge of coming up with really yummy dishes that even meat lovers will enjoy while at the same time letting my body re-boot into a healthier, cleaner state.

I plan to post the best recipes I develop here, but don't fret--I believe that vegan cooking shouldn't be that much more complicated than regular cooking because it should be more accessible to more people. Give it a shot for a Meatless Monday, or if you're fasting for Lent too and want to share recipes, post in the comments!

So, what are the rules? Vegans don't consume any animal products at all so that's no meat, eggs, dairy, chocolate, or honey--also no mayo (contains eggs yolks) and nothing with chicken broth in it. It's amazing how much I have to focus on reading food labels--you'd be surprised how often animal products sneak into places they shouldn't be! SUPER strict vegans even avoid some vegetarian products (like "fake cheese") that contain small amounts of casein, a protein derived from milk. I'm not being that strict, but I'm choosing to follow along with basically everything else.

"No meat?! But how will you get any protein?"
I disliked this question when I was a vegetarian and I don't much care for it now--come on guys please tell me you know enough about nutrition to know that THERE ARE OTHER SOURCES OF PROTEIN RIGHT??????? And not even that garbage tofu stuff (tofu sucks) but like, beans! Lentils! Nuts! Quinoa! Green peas! Oatmeal! Chia, pumpkin, and hemp seeds! Now I get that I'm not a muscle building dude so I definitely need less protein than some other people, but there are some super famous and super fit and super hot celebrities who are also vegan, like Carrie Underwood, Natalie Portman, Mike Tyson, Woody Harrelson, Olympic runner Carl Lewis, Venus Williams, and Mac Danzig of the UFC. It'll require a bit more thought and preparation on my part, but it can be done.

"Dairy! I could never in a million years give up dairy, I love ice cream and cheese too much. And chocolate, too?!"
Yeah, I was pretty bummed to remember that chocolate actually counts as dairy--God help me in about two weeks--but I've been mostly dairy free for years. I don't eat ice cream but when I have a craving I go nuts for So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream which, if you haven't tried it, is just as rich and delicious as regular ice cream. I've never liked yogurt or cottage cheese and I can easily do without sour cream so that takes care of that. I already use a non-dairy creamer in my coffee, Earth Balance vegan spread as butter, and Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original Almond Milk whenever I need milk (which isn't often). But cheese...oh CHEESUS! At any given time in my fridge you can usually find, at minimum: feta cheese, gorgonzola or bleu cheese, and a thick wedge of Parmesan or Grana Panada. Very very often some extra sharp cheddar, Brie, goat cheese or even those delicious little Babybels will work its way in there as well. I. LOVE. CHEESE.

Today it's easier than ever to be a vegan or vegetarian as more and more companies provide alternative products, but a lot of them are based on processed soy. They're also considerably more expensive. My goal is to focus on natural whole foods and avoid the processed stuff as much as possible. THAT SAID, I know there are going to be days when I'm craving cheese and to be honest some of the substitutes out there are DELICIOUS. I'll post about the best new products I find in case you're interested in giving them a try!

At any rate it's time for my avocado toast breakfast, so I will bid you adieu and keep you posted on my progress. Cheers! (Yes, wine is vegan, because wine is proof that God still loves me and wants me to be happy, even without cheese.)

Posted on February 12, 2016 .

Lekker: I'M BACK BITCHES! (Also: Classic Shrimp Ceviche)

Wheeeeeee! Hello everyone! It's been so long since I logged into this site that I forgot my password, but DAMN it feels good to be back!

My last post was an announcement of a break I needed to take from the site due to my struggles with severe anxiety and depression. I am *so* pleased to announce that with the new year I seem to have turned a corner in my recovery, and I'm feeling great. Not quite 100% yet, but I'm feeling MUCH more like my usual buoyant, ridiculous, and energetic self with a whole lotta space for adventure this next year.

AT ANY RATE, part of feeling like myself again is being excited about delicious food and I have a good one for y'all today. My Dad turned 60 on Friday and to celebrate, my brother and his girlfriend and I threw him a Latin American themed dinner kicking off with a Classic Shrimp Ceviche appetizer.

If you're not familiar with ceviche get ready to try something new because it's absolutely idiot proof (no cooking required!) and quick to throw together. Ceviche is made via the process of using an acid (traditionally lime juice, though I've seen some other recipes use vinegar or other citrus juices as well) to "cook" seafood along with a few additional simple ingredients, served with tortilla chips or warm tortillas.

"But it's not cooked! It's raw seafood, isn't that going to make me sick?!"

Shut up, do you eat sushi? Right, newsflash, that's raw fish, and this isn't even raw fish. The seafood is "cooked" by the acids slowly denaturing the proteins, leaving the seafood with a firm and opaque appearance exactly as if it were cooked by heat.

Tilapia, halibut, and shrimp are common choices for ceviche but personally I find tilapia disgusting since the vast majority is farmed in Asia where the use of chicken feces as a food supply is common practice. Shrimp on the other hand is one of my favourite foods and I find it accessible and easy to work with in a quick ceviche.

So anyway, enough blathering! It's taken me longer to write that intro than it'll take you to actually make this.

Classic Shrimp Ceviche
makes 15-20 servings--though I don't even know how to classify this kind of "serving"--whatever, look this'll very easily serve 6 people as an appetizer, okay?

WHAT YOU NEED
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails removed (If you're going to go fresh, make sure they're REALLY fresh--they shouldn't be squishy or smell fishy. It's perfectly okay to go frozen, too, just thaw them completely under cold water before beginning)
1-1.5 cups of freshly squeezed lime juice (DO NOT USE BOTTLED. I will disown you. Make an effort for once you lazy lout.)
1 avocado, diced small
5 or 6 ripe plum tomatoes, diced small
~1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves (no stems)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt & pepper, to taste
Optional: 1 green onion, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
Optional: 1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped, or to taste

WHAT YOU DO
1. Dice the raw shrimp into smallish pieces--don't go nuts, just like, cut one shrimp into three pieces and that's well good enough. Toss them into some non-metal bowl and cover them with the lime juice. The juice should just cover them. Stick them in the fridge and let them marinate for about 3 hours, tossing occasionally.

2. At the 3 hour mark you should notice that the shrimp is opaque and firm. Add in all the other ingredients and toss until very well coated. If you want to add more lime juice, go ahead. Throw it back in the fridge and let it chill out for another hour or so, then serve! I dig serving it with tortilla chips, but you can use whatever you want because this is a free country.

Unless you're reading this from Russia.

LLClassicShrimpCeviche

Cerveza optional but highly advisable.

LLClassicShrimpCeviche2

--Tig

Posted on January 19, 2016 and filed under Lekker.