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Samoan Tropical Salad

Summer can’t come soon enough – the heat of sun on my shoulders, the way my skin smells with sunscreen on, hot evenings under the stars. So today we’re going to Samoa. There’ll be drippy sweetness: papaya and cantaloupe. There’ll be richness, too – buttery avocado and moody – almost bitter – spinach. And to finish it all off? A puckering of lime juice – as bright as a Samoan seascape.   Typically known for rich, coconut milk-laden recipes, this Samoan salad is a healthier twist on island fare. The version I based mine on even won a Samoan recipe challenge! I chose this salad for sentimental reasons – something to set the scene a bit for the release of my new book Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness. I went to Samoa 2 months before I was born (as a real life stowaway, I suppose). Scientists believe our taste preferences can be affected by what our mother’s ate while we were gestating. I like to think I carry a bit of Samoa with me today. It was an …

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Salad Niçoise

There’s nothing like a mid-winter picnic, especially if Salad Niçoise is part of the equation. The other day my daughter asked if we could eat dinner outside. It was sunny, the temperature in the mid-sixties. My answer? Most definitely. We bundled up – each in a cozy sweater – and set up our colorful spread on the scraggly winter landscape. For the Salad Niçoise, I took my inspiration from Julia Child and piled on delicately steamed French beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, and everything deliciously funky: Tuna, olives, capers and a few anchovies (for salty chew). A handful of crackers with cheese completed dinner (though a hunk of crusty bread would be nice, too). My husband flashed us all back to his “Mr Picky” days as he struggled to down one solitary anchovy. He did the work but remains unconvinced of their merits. My daughter escaped the challenge since she’s a self-proclaimed vegetarian, focusing her efforts instead on the vegetables and cheese (for protein). As for myself, I ate everything. While we enjoyed our meal, the sun sunk behind our neighbors’ rooftop (taking the warmth with …

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Fattoush, a Levantene Salad for Kahlil Gibran

“The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding … the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.” – Kahlil Gibran The best teachers’ lessons stay relevant long after their deaths. Such is the case with the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931). Often, when I’m at a loss for what to do, I’ll pick up his book The Prophet. Despite living a nearly hundred years ago, his wisdom still disarms me. That’s just one of his many beautiful lines. I love the idea that the fresh produce we eat not only becomes a part of us, but improves us – brings us to life. The work of modern nutritionists back up Gibran – this is not just poetry, it’s science. So this week I’m making him a salad. A salad enjoyed in his corner of the world (Gibran was born in Lebanon and, even after living in the United States, chose to be buried in Lebanon). Here’s the museum they built in his honor: This salad celebrates …

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Mexican corn on the cob | Spiced Elote

A well-roasted corn kernel is smoky.  Chewy. Juicy. Irresistible. This much, Mexicans know. Some elote are cooked for hours inside clay ovens. They sit over shimmering coals until their bright yellow kernels turn deep, toasty brown and their husks turn brittle.* More simple recipes speed up the roasting process, but have triple-decker toppings: salty cotija cheese, rich mayonnaise (just enough to make the cheese stick), and smoky ancho chili powder. Then the whole cob is sprinkled with cilantro and a good puckering of fresh lime juice. The end result is an ear of corn that is practically a meal in itself. Ultimately, the lime juice is what sold me on elote. Even a single, tart wedge does wonders to bring the richly spiced corn into relief… though I found myself squeezing much more on each cob. One bite satisfies me almost as well as a good margarita does. My version of elote takes extra limes into consideration as well as an interesting technique from America’s Test Kitchen – adding the ancho chili powder before grilling in order to bloom the flavor. …

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Homemade Balsamic Figs | Entertaining the Italian way

A daydream worth dreaming

Cobblestone alleys flanked by weathered walls. Hilltop churches. Sunlight warm on fig trees and grapevines.  This is the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Deep in the cellars there’s Parmesan, balsamic, and prosciutto aging. They slumber in the dim recesses, the nuttiness and salt growing bolder, rounder. Waiting for the perfect moment to shine.

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Spicy Vietnamese Slaw + Extreme Compassion

Extreme Compassion Stopping to move a wandering worm off the sidewalk. Helping a baby bird that fell out of it’s nest. Not walking by with indifference. This sort of extreme compassion is a thing that some of us – with our busy, distracted lives – strive for imperfectly. But there are others – startlingly kind souls – who live and breathe extreme compassion. Last week I went to the tailor – a big deal for me since I know how to sew. But I have a dress – a dress with lace, three layers, and a hidden zipper. I love this dress but it needs to be 2 sizes smaller. This project is totally out of my league. Wendy’s tiny, crowded shop is located in a remote basement shop of an art deco building in downtown Tulsa. Little Ava and I circled the whole property 5 times before we phoned Wendy, defeated. Two minutes later she appeared: a bespectacled Vietnamese woman in cherry lipstick. As she led us down to the basement she crooned “So pretty” in …

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Zimbabwean Pumpkin & Squash

Everywhere I go, I see the rust, orange, and gold of pumpkins and squashes. Some smile from my neighbors’ front stoops. Some have been tagged for this year’s Thanksgiving pie or pumpkin pancakes (Hello, Russia!). Even Pinterest looks like a digital pumpkin patch of late. All this for good reason. These beautiful gourds are autumn. They represent breathless hikes to pick out the biggest, the gnarliest, the cutest in the bunch. But for all that, I can only look at so many pumpkin recipes before my eyes glaze over. Until Zimbabwe. In this southern African country, gourds are served up in fun and fresh ways. In my wildest dreams I never considered putting peanut butter with butternut squash. But my goodness… it works! Here are three recipes from Zimbabwe to add interest to your global fall fest. 1. Roasted Acorn Squash with Cheddar & Corn Oh man, oh man, oh man. Seriously. I’d be proud to call this lunch any time of day. This recipe was originally made with a “gem” squash in Zimbabwe, which I can’t obtain in Oklahoma. …

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Fresh Corncakes with Cheese | Cachapas

“There’s nothing hidden between heaven and earth.” Venezuelan Proverb Nothing hidden indeed… except, perhaps the cheese inside a steaming, hot Cachapas. Brittle autumn days require an extra slathering of comfort. Ooey gooey cheese-filled corncakes, a.k.a. cachapas fit the bill nicely. Think of them as the South American version of pancakes. The cakes are made with just two ingredients: corn and masa harina, plus the requisite sprinkling of salt and pepper. There’s a simplicity to the recipe that means a batch can be made as easily at midnight as in the afternoon. Which means you can stovetop travel to the beaches of Venezuela any time you like. While you can make cachapas with fresh corn in the fall, you can also use frozen corn any time of year. Corn gives the cachapas sweet overtones. Masa harina – a flour made from hominy, the big-kerneled cousin to corn – binds the mixture together so the corncake holds its shape (all the better for topping with ooey gooey cheese!). Speaking of cheese, the key to the cachapas is to sprinkle them …

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Green Papaya Salad

  What do you do when you’re running low on inspiration? Do you sip a cup of tea, take a walk, paint, write a poem, cook something? Or do you freeze up, unable to create? Writing a book for the last several months has had an interesting effect on my brain-space. The book is incredibly daunting and takes all my creative juices. I find myself sopping through my house like a wrung out rag. I once read that we are only capable of making a certain number of decisions each day. After that time, we’re pretty much worthless.  Sometimes, after a particularly long book writing session, I can’t even decide what pajamas I want to curl up in to decompress.   Thankfully, the world is a resource. It’s a constant inspiration. Remember, even on those nights you’re too tired to pop popcorn, the world is there, whispering sweet nothings to you. Inviting you to try something different. And so here we are… today, Vanuatu is doing the whispering. Since I spent yesterday grating a mountain range of …

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Sweet Potato Simboro

It only takes five minutes of grating sweet potatoes to make me wax poetic on the brilliance of the food processor. Friends, I certainly don’t have biceps of steel. Most days, I don’t even see my biceps beneath the jiggle. Today’s recipe for Simboro gave them a work out. I first learned about Simboro from a reader named Benjamin who spent some time in Vanuatu. This comforting side dish is made with a grated starch, like cassava, sweet potato, or yam, wrapped in “island cabbage,” then simmered in coconut milk. As much as it pained my muscles… I treated the grating like a ritual – a rite of passage – a way to imagine myself in Vanuatu telling tourists “THIS way to the beach.” Thirty minutes later, only my pride had kept me from pulling out the food processor. Because, the fact of the matter is that the sweet potato could just as easily be run through the grater attachment on your food processor, then ground finer in the processor bowl to achieve similar results… leaving …

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Coronation Chicken Finger Sandwiches

Let’s be real. Any chance I get to play dress up with my daughter, I take. Like last week, when we wore fancy hats and had a British tea party, complete with coronation chicken and coronation egg salad sandwiches.  Coronation chicken was invented in 1952, for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. She was twenty-five years old. Her coronation was the first one to ever be televised, and she dressed for the occasion. Her amazing gown was embroidered with symbols of the commonwealth, including food, flowers, and more. Elizabeth’s coronation gown was commissioned from Norman Hartnell and embroidered on her instructions with the floral emblems of the Commonwealth countries: English Tudor rose; Scots thistle; Welsh leek; Irish shamrock; Australian wattle; Canadian maple leaf; New Zealand silver fern; South African protea; lotus flowers for India and Ceylon; and Pakistan’s wheat, cotton, and jute. (Wikipedia) Fact: no tea party is complete, if the queen isn’t in attendance. If not in person, then at least in spirit. The royal wave adds just the right flair. Even when served as dainty “finger” sandwiches, coronation chicken salad is big, bold, and curried. You’ll find it worthy of any …

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Ukrainian Beet Salad | Salat Vinagret

  Well, hello. Today we’re biting into a very pink salad. There’s not a lot of pink food I can think of besides strawberry ice cream. There’s certainly not a lot of savory pink food. Unless you live in Ukraine, where beets reign supreme. Beets are one of Ukraine’s most beloved root vegetables, and for good reason. They’re packed with fiber, vitamins A, B & C, magnesium, and iron. When they’re not mixed up in borsch, beets make their way into salad vinagret.  This salad is a vegan meal unto itself as it includes potatoes, carrots, peas, and sauerkraut. Some recipes swap the peas and sauerkraut for white beans and chopped pickles.   Salat Vinagret is funny, because there’s nothing vinegar about it. In fact, there’s no dressing added. The only “tang” comes from the sauerkraut, and the only seasoning from a bit of salt, pepper, and oil. Done and done.  The simplicity of this salad makes for a great summer supper, or autumn side dish (perhaps next to a few slices of pot roast). We …

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