There Are Brighter Things Than Diamonds Coming Down the Line

During the past year Jason has been sick. He tried to manage his symptoms on his own for a long time, and somehow served as editor to various publications, organized academic conferences, and got one of four spots in one of the best theological PhD programs in the country while feeling pretty terrible. And we forged ahead with our lives together in New York as best we could.

Suddenly, two weekends ago, his symptoms turned into a crisis and we ended up in the emergency room two days in a row. Jason could barely speak for himself and I tried my best to get him proper care while fighting to keep my spot at his bedside as “the girlfriend.” While filling out forms on the first morning a male nurse (who was chewing on a toothpick!) had the audacity to suggest Jason was simply stressed out by his schoolwork. “Burnin’ the candle at both ends, are ya?” he said while Jason sat in a chair slumped over and shaking with his hair covering his eyes. It was one of the saddest and most frustrating moments of my life.

After our weekend in the ER I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I made countless phone calls to doctors, ran back and forth from the drug store, and made futile attempts to get Jason to eat and drink. Every ailment became the most important part of my day. I began to see how different life is for people whose loved ones are sick. All of my problems seemed childish and insignificant. I didn’t care what I was wearing or how I looked, and I forgot to eat. I lived on bad coffee and stupid iPhone games, lacking the focus to read even a magazine.

Eventually, Jason’s condition started to improve. And while he’s still not feeling great he’s miles away from where he was. We’re making baby steps toward getting him treatment. I’m starting to care about silly things like cardigans and pumpkin carving and local pastured eggs again.

Saturday was the seventh anniversary of the first date Jason and I went on in Kalamazoo. Seven years ago we went for coffee. We saw the Mountain Goats play a show. This Saturday we saw the Mountain Goats play in New York. (They couldn’t have had better timing with their tour schedule.)

Before the show Jason said he wanted to take me shopping for our anniversary. We stopped for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants on the Upper West Side, Le Monde, for croque madames.

After lunch we took a cab to Midtown and ended up at Tiffany’s, where I picked out my engagement ring. The afternoon was sweet, classy, and romantic. Of course, the evening concluded with live music, the foundation of our relationship.

I couldn’t be happier but still can’t believe the roller coaster we’ve been on over the past week, from the ER to Tiffany’s. In sickness and in health. I’m marrying a seminarian. For ever and ever. Amen.

Jacob’s Pickles

The Upper West Side is becoming more of a happenin’ place lately. Earlier this month on a Saturday night a few friends and I headed to Jacob’s Pickles, a new restaurant that features a variety of small batch pickles made here in New York.

The decor is very modern Americana with its wood paneling, exposed bulb lighting, farm tables, and flour sack napkins. The glassware is heavy on the mason jars – a little self-consciously hip, but I like it.

Several people ordered fancy cocktails and I mooched. I was a fan of the Kentucky Porch Sipper – refreshing yet heavy on the bourbon, which can be dangerous when making a meal almost entirely out of pickles.

Jason ordered the Sage Manhattan and was pleased, though not so much with the playful teasing about his “Cosmo” from the rest of our party due to shape of the glass. (It’s traditional I know, but still!)

Sarah, our resident Southern person, ordered some biscuits. The biscuits themselves were a little dry, but the mini squeeze bottle condiments were super fun. I think jam and honey with butter would make a piece of cardboard taste good.

As a group we sampled every pickled thing in the place, including special sours, hot sours, candy red beets, sweet and spicy carrots, sour green tomatoes, thyme jalapenos, dill green beans, and pickled eggs. Everyone dug the green tomatoes and gingery beets.

I’d never tried pickled eggs before and thought these were pretty yummy, ┬ájust like hard-boiled eggs in infused vinegar. Jason wants to make some of his own now.

We also tried the homemade meatballs, which were simple but well done, and complimented the sour pickles with their savoriness.

The only real downer of the night was our waitress. Though not very attentive, she was friendly enough until the very end when she tried to run off with the $50 we submitted along with our cards to pay our gratuity-included bill. Yes, splitting checks can be annoying, but not $50 on top of a 20% tip annoying. She acted really weird when we asked her for our cash back, leading us to believe she was trying to pull one over on us. We’re not that stupid, and we certainly weren’t drunk as half of us weren’t even drinking. Boo.

Jacob’s Pickles is located on Amsterdam Avenue between 84th and 85th.

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Refried Beans

Refried beans: not the prettiest food to photograph. But for me they’re a staple. I happen to love all things vaguely Southwestern, so refried beans end up in quesadillas, tacos, salads, and even sandwiches (tortas!). My beans may not be the most traditional, but they’re super tasty and even good for you. Lately I’ve been eating them in tostada form on top of a heritage blue corn tortilla from Hot Bread Kitchen which has been crisped in a bit of oil. I top my tostadas with tons of delicious chopped tomato from my CSA!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter
1 large white onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
3 cups cooked pinto beans (Mine were previously frozen. Learn how to cook ‘em here.)
3 cups chicken stock (Also frozen. Make yer own.)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt, to taste

Procedure:

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chili powder, and cumin, and continue to cook stirring frequently for 3 minutes until aromatic.

2. Add the beans and stir to coat with spices. Deglaze with the stock, then add the bay leaf and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer uncovered 45 minutes to an hour, until about half the stock has evaporated and your beans are starting to poke through the liquid.

3. Remove the pot from the heat. With a potato masher, mash the beans to your desired mashed-ness. I leave a few whole, but break up most of them.

Serves 6.

Liquid Gold

I don’t drink a lot of milk, mostly because it’s food for baby cows. A little in my coffee is perfect. The occasional raw milk cheese? Yes, please. But recently when I stopped by the Greenmarket at Columbia University and saw people clamoring for Ronnybrook’s creamline chocolate milk, I thought I’d try some.

Like a true Olympian, I drank half of a bottle after a morning workout. It was like having chocolate ice cream for breakfast. So fatty and rich, there was a significant coating left on the inside of the bottle. This stuff is sweet, but would you really expect anything else from chocolate milk? It tastes like being a kid.

Delicious.

Sauerkraut

In the mid- to late 1800s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, German immigrants living in tiny (often windowless) apartments in tenements introduced the delights of sauerkraut to many Americans. New Yorkers still love sauerkraut – in their Reubens, and on their dirty water hotdogs. Unfortunately, nowadays the pickled stuff is made with vinegar. Traditional sauerkraut was fermented with salt and the microorganisms on the outside of the cabbage. Thought it’s more difficult, sauerkraut can even be made with no salt, just cabbage and cabbage alone.

An excellent book I just read, 97 Orchard, tells the story of how kraut came to the U.S., as well as a bygone trade. A krauthobler, or “cabbage-shaver,” went door to door shaving cabbage for Lower East Side women who prepared for the winter by making tons of sauerkraut. The cost was just a penny per head.

Once the cabbage was shaved, the housewife took over. She scoured an empty liquor or vinegar barrel and lined it with whole cabbage leaves. Next came the shredded cabbage, which she salted and pounded, layer by layer, until the barrel was nearly full. Now she covered the cabbage with a cloth, then a piece of wood cut to the size of the opening, weighing it down with a stone. Left on its own, the salted cabbage began to weep, creating its own pickling brine. Once a week, the housewife tended to her barrel, rinsing the cloth to prevent contamination and skimming the brine.

Lacto-fermentation (breakdown with the help of cultured lactobacilli) preserves food as well as its nutrients. According to Sandor Ellix Katz’s Wild Fermentation, some new nutrients are also created: “As they go through their life cycles, microbial cultures create B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin.” Raw sauerkraut aids in digestion through the introduction of beneficial microbial cultures to the digestive tract. So not only does it taste delicious, it’s really good for you.

You will need:

2 small or 1 large head of cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
3-4 tablespoons sea salt

Procedure:

1. Salt the sliced cabbage in layers. With clean hands, massage the cabbage until it begins to release water.

2. Tightly pack the cabbage into a glass or ceramic container. Weight the top to allow the developing brine to come to the surface. My friend David recommends using plastic bags filled with water, as they can form to the surface completely to ensure anaerobic action. If the liquid doesn’t cover the top in 24 hours, add a little salt water just to cover.

3. Let the microorganisms do their thing. Try tasting the sauerkraut after one week, two, and three. Skim any scum that comes to the surface. When the kraut is fermented to your liking, just put it in the fridge and it can last for months.

Makes about 6 cups.

The Original Lemony Beets

In the beginning, this blog was a journal of my efforts to eat healthfully and run consistently. I was following in the footsteps of some of my favorite healthy living bloggers who continue to successfully post once or twice daily with snapshots of foods eaten and descriptions of workouts completed. I soon learned, however, posting nearly the same thing daily was not for me. I wanted more thoughtful content and beautiful photos detailing my adventures in New York and beyond, and encouraging healthy eating inspired by quality ingredients.

I hope my recipes will encourage some to try new things, if only for the satisfaction of having created something that could have come from a box or can, but is so much better, cheaper, and more aesthetically pleasing simply because it did not. In culinary school we were encouraged to stop buying anything packaged, from mayonnaise to pasta, because we had the tools and basic knowledge required to create those things for ourselves using fresh, raw ingredients. I believe even the most amateur home cook should be able to do the same with a little motivation, the investment of time, and above all, patience.

With that, I give you the recipe that inspired my blog’s name change from “Run Emily Run” to “The Lemony Beet.” Last year at this time I would have said I didn’t like beets. I once expressed my dislike to a few classmates at the Natural Gourmet and everyone looked at me like I was crazy! It turns out, I LOVE beets. Before attending NGI I had only eaten beets from a can – the sad, gelatinous-looking kind that can be found in plastic bowls on crushed ice at many Midwestern salad bars. As soon as I ate my first boiled and seasoned lemony beet prepared in my own kitchen, I was hooked.

Ingredients:

1 large bunch of beets, washed well with leaves removed
1 lemon, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Procedure:

1. In a saucepan, cover the beets with cold water and the juice of 1/2 lemon to help preserve color. Go ahead and squeeze the juice, seeds and all, into the pot, then throw the rind and pith in with the beets. Bring to a low boil. Cook at least 40 minutes covered, flipping the beets at least once, until a fork can be easily inserted deep into the center of the beet with no resistance. Cooking time will depend on the size of your beets.

2. Drain the cooking water and run the beets under cold water until they can be handled comfortably with bare hands. Take your beets and, over a colander beneath a cold running faucet, rub the skin to remove. (In a professional kitchen I use gloves to prevent the juice from staining my fingers without monopolizing precious sink space, but I find this method works just fine at home.)

3. Cut the beets into large pieces and dress with juice from the other half of the lemon (about 2 tablespoons), olive oil, and salt. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Serves 2-4.