black bean + kabocha chili

black bean + kabocha chili

The past few days have been good days for chili in Austin, with temps dropping below 32 in a city that does not know how to handle the cold. I figured I better take advantage of the fleeting cold weather the only way I know how – cook up a bubbling pot of hearty, warming goodness.

black bean + kabocha chili

I’ve also eaten more bacon in the past month living in Austin than I have in my entire life. Bacon is not something I’d particularly like to be eating more of, but when the smell of bacon floods your house every time you walk in the door, it’s pretty irresistible…

This is thanks to my new flatmate, who enjoys bacon as his main food group, along with an avocado and sweet potato here and there. Continue reading

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August for dinner

calabacitas con elote y chorizo

I’m finding my eating habits to be more and more in tune with the seasons as I grow older. Except for chocolate, which will always be in season to me.

Growing up in a rural area and seeing everything around me blossom, fruit and die in cycles with the seasons has certainly made me aware, as has working on an organic farm, having local food so easily available, and tasting the difference between sweet corn grown 2 miles away versus sweet corn from the opposite coast in the dead of winter. Although it’s been hard to learn that I can’t have it all whenever I want it, anticipating the summer months and watching my edible garden grow makes in-season produce that much more special. It’s like my mom used to say when I asked why she couldn’t make her amazing Christmas cookies all year long — “because then they wouldn’t be so good!”

Now it allll makes sense.

The good things are certainly worth waiting for, especially when it comes to juicy sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes and zucchini in the summer. I enjoy this dish as soon as the first sweet corn arrives at the market and for as long as the season lasts. It was one of my blog’s early recipes: Calabacitas con elote, or Mexican Zucchini with Corn. The past few summers we had enjoyed it as a side dish, but this year I’ve decided to take advantage of its versatility. The sautéed squash, corn and tomatoes are such a simple combination, but something about them simmering together in their ripe juices with a little fresh oregano gives the dish a rich flavor I can only describe as purely summer.

calabacitas con elote y chorizo

Lately we tried adding local pork chorizo from our neighbors at the farmer’s market, which was a delicious way to make a one-pot meal — and quite the rich & hearty one. For a lighter option you could add pulled chicken, taco-seasoned ground turkey or tofu, or black beans to the mix for a filling and nutritious entree. Another thing I want to try is using the veggie dish as a taco or enchilada filling or adding a little broth to make a summery soup. So many possibilities for this simple dish! Continue reading

Back home to comfort (food)

egg<3

It’s always something I look forward to after travelling: returning to my kitchen and to my comfort food. Comfort food – often synonymous with indulgence food – for me is actually the healthy, nutritious, veggie-full meals we eat in our house*. It’s comforting because it satisfies both mind and body, and I crave it when I’m away from it for too long. Traveling in a country like Colombia, where green vegetables are not (at all) the forefront of the cuisine and I’ve eaten one-too-many deep fried empanadas ….makes me long for the salads, stews, curries, fritattas, stir frys, and all other veggie-centered dishes that are a regular at home.

*don’t get me wrong, ‘comfort food’ to me also means all things chocolate ;)

I also return home inspired by the many foods I’ve sampled, techniques I’ve observed, new spices and textures and flavors I’ve discovered. So I’m off the plane and anxious to cook, whether it’s Colombian arepas or a comforting veggie-ful lentil curry.

Here’s a little bite of the food in my life since I came home… just a little detox from empanadas, fried plantains, queso, queso, and more queso.

quinoa falafels over greens & carrot-orange-ginger juice

Quinoa falafels with tahini sauce via Sprouted Kitchen, & fresh carrot-mango-orange-ginger juice

kabocha squash lentil curry

I-could-eat-this-every-day Kabocha Squash Lentil Curry via Pinch of Yumover kale with toasted naan

Jamie's sourdough boule

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My sister’s sourdough boules… maybe ate a little too much of this, but who can resist warm, crusty, chewy, fresh baked bread?!

sourdough boule with apricots + almonds

homemade butterfingers

And in lieu of store-bought Easter candy, we made homemade vegan butterfingers, which blew us all away with their spot on texture and peanut buttery goodness. Continue reading

Smitten with Salento

birdwatching & coffee sipping at Sacha Mama, Salento

If there’s a place encompassing my idea of perfection in Latin America, it would be the town of Salento. In this little coffee town of Quindio, Colombia, everything is just right.

the lovely town of Salento

The town itself is quiet, but not sleepy. People there are super friendly, but not in your face or pushy. The colonial-style buildings are colorful but not flashy. The main street in town is lined with local artisans selling beautiful handcrafted goods (woven sweaters and ponchos, copper jewelry, pottery, sculptures, planters, etc) – not plastic keychains and cheap souvenirs. They grow the best coffee in the world, and they’re in love with it. Aside from the pure coffee that is grown, roasted, and brewed by the people who know coffee best, local shops sell coffee-infused everything – cookies, caramel (cafequipe), liquor, chocolate-coated beans, you name it.

I never expected to encounter a landscape so utterly ideal and flawless – but here it is. Any direction you look, lush green mountains roll into the distance, scattered with palms and tropical flowers and trees, dairy cows and horses. Needless to say there is ample space to hike and run and stretch your legs, which will surely be strong and toned with all the steady hills and winding dirt roads. If this were a town in the States, no doubt it would be taken over by young outdoorsy hippies like many Colorado, Oregon, and California towns these days (not to be stereotypical ;) But instead it’s populated with local artisans, coffee farmers, cowboys, and the small population of backpackers who come (often staying longer than planned) and go.

The climate is like none other I’ve encountered. There can be intense sunshine, cool fog, rain, lightning, and silver-lined, pillowy clouds all in one day. The tropical vegetation suggests it is humid and wet, but in fact the air is a perfectly comfortable not-cold, not-hot, not wet nor dry. It’s obviously the coffee plant’s ideal climate as well. The horses and dogs are hearty and well-fed. The cows here look genuinely happy – but really, how could they not be?

happy Salento cows

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest palms

It doesn’t hurt that the hostel I stayed (and then volunteered) at – set amid a 200-acre picturesque dairy farm – feels more like a big cozy house than a hostel; like a communal living space where everyone cooks together, plays together, and lounges together. It’s safe enough to walk the 15 minutes home down a dirt road by your lonesome after dark (and that’s not just me being risky, it really is safe). I’m usually cautious about carrying valuables with me, but this is the first place in Latin America I’ve felt good about taking my ipod with me on a run (in Colombia of all places, to all you skeptics ;)

And as if I couldn’t enjoy my stay in Salento any more, there is a cafe that will deliver brownies filled with a thick layer of homemade peanut butter, right up to the door of the hostel.

Pedro's coffee, from jungle to cup

Visiting Pedro’s finca, Sacha Mama, where we harvested, processed and brewed our own coffee, from jungle to cup :)

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12 days as a chef in Colombia

Casa Loma

Casa Loma: a wooden hilltop hostel in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia, overlooking the little town of Minca, the mountains, the coastal city of Santa Marta, and the Caribbean sea all at the same time. Sounds like a paradise, yeah?

view from Casa Loma

view from la Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, the world’s highest coastal mountain range

So when I found an opportunity to volunteer here in exchange for a tent and meals, I was in. And let me just say it’s a good thing the other volunteers and I knew anything about cooking, because we were in charge of serving breakfast and dinner to 20+ guests each day… not to mention the little town has no supermarket and neither the stove nor the oven in our 4’x5′ kitchen were adjustable.

It was a challenge, but certainly an enjoyable one  :)

Casa Loma eats

Breakfast mostly consisted of lots of local coffee, fresh juice, homemade arepas and eggs — not too hard. We rotated roles as the dinner chef each night, merely given the rules that the ingredients can be bought in town and to include a vegetarian option. Although I love cook and I do it all the time, when put on the spot about what to prepare for 20 guests (using the very limited variety of ingredients available in town)… my mind went blank! Continue reading

Even a trip to the ATM is an adventure, plus ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’

Gato Negro Cafe

the “gato negro” in front of Gato Negro Cafe

I really should have assumed that there would only be one ATM in the little fishing village of Taganga, Colombia, and that it would probably be broken. But I didn’t, and it was.

The closest one was in Santa Marta, a nearby bustling city I did not really have intentions of visiting. But I was out of money and kind of wanted to eat again during my last two days here so…. off to the city it was.

Public transportation to Santa Marta is in the form of big clattering vans, and unfortunately being the first one in, I got to ride in circles around town while the driver honked and yelled at people until it filled up. After a while I was starting to get the feeling my driver was a little insane. Sure enough after yelling something at another driver he pulled up next to, he jumped out and proceeded to shout and bang on this poor guy’s van. While more incomprehensible yelling followed, me and the Colombian man inside noticed our van rolling forward and heading straight for a wall. We yelled for the driver, who nonchalantly hopped back in just in time to jam the emergency break on, and jumped back out to continue his yelling. It was going to be an exciting ride. Continue reading

Colombian eats: la costa caribe

fruit cart in Cartagena
The Caribbean coast of Colombia – a place where the buildings are as colorful and varied as the tropical fruits, and the comida típica (typical food) is, well… starchy and fried.

Colombians sure do love their sugary fruit and jugos naturales (fresh fruit juice blended with water or milk and sugar) and I can see why. Living in the relentless heat of the coast – Cartagena especially – I found myself craving nothing but the hydrating juice and sweet flesh of a peeled-to-order mango on the street for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But when you’re eventually craving something savory and substantial and want to stay on cheap backpacker budget, your options turn to fried street food (tasty, but not sustaining) or the comida típica. This varies by region of course, but generally means ‘el menu del día’ (whatever the day’s menu happens to be), consisting of soup and juice with a plate of rice, french fries or patacones (fried plantains), “salad” (a few pieces of lettuce, maybe a slice of tomato if you’re lucky), sometimes beans, and your choice of chicken, beef, or fish. I surely like to try the typical food everywhere I go, but not many meals go by here before I feel my body thirsting for something green and not simmered in a pot of oil.

Even so, I continue to be in love with Latin American flavors — queso fresco, avocado, plantains, fresh salsas, beans, citrusy ceviche, arepas, tamales and everything else made with corn. Remember the pan de yuca I was so excited to discover the recipe for after I travelled to Ecuador? Yep, found them made fresh every morning in the supermarket I am currently staying 2 blocks from. And these guys are macho-sized – more like croissants – but just as tasty as I remember :)

Cartagena eats

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