tweaking taco night


I’ve been gravitating toward far simpler food during this pregnancy. Though I’m in the home stretch now, my appetite still comes and goes, and the only dishes that reliably work for me these days are straight-up comfort food, meals that are strongly evocative of my youth: simple pastas, mac and cheese, and Mexican food by way of Eagle Pass, Texas and Detroit, Michigan.

I grew up with taco night – and I’m willing to bet many of you did, too. And despite my heritage, I’m also willing to bet our taco night looked pretty much the same as yours: that familiar cardboard box of crispy taco shells, the packet of dry seasonings to mix with ground beef, little bowls of crunchy lettuce and diced tomato alongside. It was an easy weeknight dinner, a meal we all loved, and while I haven’t bought a “taco kit” in years, I still find myself craving those flavors and that satisfying crunch.

But I’m trying to pack as many vegetables as possible into my meals, too, both for the nutrition they bring to the table, and because everything at the market is just so good right now – and that’s how a recent taco craving morphed into this salad. It’s got a little bit of everything I wanted – crisp and crunchy vegetables, savory meat and beans, sweet summer corn, and a creamy, smoky dressing, punctuated with salty strips of crackly baked tortillas. This is a late summer salad that combines some of the best tastes of childhood with the fresh, bright flavors of the season.

taco (salad) night

my favorite taco salad (serves 4 as a main dish)
several leaves crisp romaine or butter lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces
seasoned ground beef (recipe below)
1.5 cups drained, cooked beans – black or red, just make sure they taste good
½ cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup fresh corn kernels – off the cob
1 cup zucchini – cut into matchstick slices
1 cup seeded and diced fresh tomato
½ c sliced scallions/green onions
½ c sliced black olives
crispy tortilla strips (recipe below)
creamy cotija dressing (recipe below)

Place a layer of lettuce leaves on a big platter (or on individual plates). Using a slotted spoon, add a layer of the seasoned ground beef, then the beans. Sprinkle grated cheese over. Layer on the remaining ingredients, drizzling a bit of the dressing on as you go, and finishing with the crispy tortilla strips. Serve with additional dressing alongside.

seasoned ground beef
1 T neutral oil (I like to use grapeseed)
½ cup finely grated white or yellow onion
kosher or sea salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 t ground cumin
1 t dried marjoram
½ t ground chipotle
½ t cayenne pepper
½ t smoked paprika
½ t sweet paprika
1 lb. lean ground beef (I use a locally-farmed Angus that is 90% lean)

Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and cook until softened. Add the garlic and spices, and cook a few more minutes, until fragrant. Crumble the beef into the skillet and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Continue cooking until the meat is well-browned, adjusting the salt and other seasonings to taste. Set aside until ready to use.

crispy tortilla strips

crispy tortilla strips
6 corn tortillas
1-2 T neutral oil
kosher or sea salt

Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil. Stack the tortillas and cut them into ¼-inch thick strips. Scatter strips on the baking sheet, and toss with oil. Toss again, then back, tossing occasionally, until crisp and browned, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and set aside until using.

creamy cotija dressing
juice of ½ lime
¼ t kosher or sea salt
⅓ cup prepared mayonnaise
⅓ cup creme fraiche (or sour cream)
½ cup finely grated cotija (or pecorino) cheese
½ t smoked paprika

Combine the lime juice and salt in a small bowl, stirring until the salt is dissolved. Add the mayo, creme fraiche or sour cream, the grated cheese, and paprika, and whisk until well-combined. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Refrigerate until ready to use.

bouncing back


We are finally… finally beginning to emerge from nearly two weeks of fierce battle against The Crud. Despite our best efforts at staying healthy, trying to strengthen our immunity by frequent hand-washing, liberal doses of homemade chicken stock, and, for two of the three of us anyway, getting flu shots, we were stricken, and hit hard. I suspect our recent trip to DC had something to do with it – it seems whenever we’ve traveled anywhere in the winter months, we always come down with something afterward.

cousins at play

As sick as we’ve been since, that trip was so worth it. We got to spend some long-overdue time with my parents, as well as my brother, his lovely wife, and their two adorable little ones. This was the first time Julian got to meet his cousins, and they got along famously.

escarole, wilted

On our first night in town, the entire clan ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our hotel, a mostly unremarkable place with checkered vinyl tablecloths and an encyclopedic menu. But one dish we ordered stood out in my memory – a side of white beans and escarole which we actually ordered for Julian, but which we adults ended up polishing off.

Dinner: January 23, 2013

White beans and escarole is a pretty classic combination, probably most familiar served in soup form, but this take was different: the escarole was braised with a bit of tomato, and the whole thing was studded with plump little black olives. They were an unexpected addition, and we loved how their brininess mellowed in the cooking, rendering them lush and fruity, a wonderful complement to the bitter greens and creamy beans.


As soon as my appetite started coming back post-Crud, I began to crave this dish, and last night, I tried my hand at recreating it at home. With some toasted, crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this was a simple but satisfying meal I suspect we’ll come back to again and again.


Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives

one large head of escarole
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
Kosher or sea salt
one cup basic tomato sauce
two large cloves garlic
1.5 cups of cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Trim the escarole, removing the stem end and any wilted outer leaves. Rinse it well and set aside. Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the escarole and a big pinch of salt (it’s fine if a bit of water is still clinging to its leaves), and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the pan and let cook over medium heat until the escarole is mostly wilted and a bit browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato and garlic, stir through, lower the heat, and continue cooking partially covered for another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and thickened and the escarole is very soft. Stir in the beans and olives, add the red pepper flakes if using, and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into shallow bowls, with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, and toasted bread alongside.

merry and bright


Mike posted the following on Facebook the other day:

“2012: two surgeries for baby and a huge move for all of us. Plus first words, first steps, first foods. I mean, really, what a year.”

And that really sums it up.


The three of us have enjoyed a pretty low-key Christmas holiday, filled with plenty of good food, and more importantly, lots of togetherness. A little calm is so welcome after the year we’ve had.

chestnuts roasting

I have no idea what 2013 will bring, but I’m so glad to be ringing it in right back where we belong. I’m looking forward to settling in, to a year of growth rather than big change. We’ll see what fate has in store for us this go-round.


And to all of you, we wish health, peace, and happiness in the coming year. Our heartfelt thanks for sharing this wild ride with us.


Brooklyn, Brooklyn, take me in

It’s wild to think we’ve been back in New York for four months now. It was four months ago today, actually, that I returned to work at my old law firm, walking the same familiar corridors, gazing out at the same familiar view of the city stretched out for miles and miles from my perch on the 52nd floor.


I will never grow tired of that view.

I’m working with many of the same folks I worked with years ago, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a catch in my throat at hearing the words “welcome home” from co-workers here and in our other offices.


It really has felt like a homecoming, a return to a place that, in many ways, I feel I never should have left.


We had our reasons for leaving New York. We needed a break. We thought we were moving toward something… a home, stability, a safe and quiet place to set down roots and build a life. And it wasn’t all bad – our time in Rhode Island gave us Julian, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the whole entire world.

post-op blues

But there were big things, ugly things that happened while we were there, things that still cause a great deal of pain. The wounds have healed, mostly, but we still bear their scars.

There are times I wish we could get those four and a half years back.


When I left Detroit and my first husband in 2001, I swore to myself that no matter what happened in life, I would live with no regrets. “Everything happens for a reason,” as my beloved and very wise Grandma always says. I would learn from my inevitable mistakes; even the bad stuff holds a lesson. And yet…


Reentry has been hard. Much harder than I expected it would be. And while I am still absolutely certain that moving back to New York was the right decision for me, for Mike, for Julian, I’ve been struggling with what to do now that we’re here. What is this next phase of our life going to look like? How do we make this new life, this second act into everything we want it to be?


We landed in a neighborhood we knew next to nothing about, coming in, and which we have fallen in love with quickly and hard. We’re slowly establishing routines, gradually getting to know our neighbors and other parents and kids in the area, exploring the markets and greenmarkets and restaurants and bars in our new nabe, venturing out to revisit our old favorites and old friends when we can.


We’re shopping and eating our way around our new neighborhood and our new-old city, and we’re cooking our way through the rough spots, because that’s how we make connections, that’s how we persevere. It’s just what we do.


We’re settling in, hopefully for the long haul.

But I still feel like something isn’t quite right yet, and I can’t put my finger on it.


Maybe this is like seeing your high school sweetheart for the first time after being away at college… you’re still the same person you were before, and you still recognize the things you loved about him or her back then, but you also know that you’ve changed, and you are acutely aware of what’s new and different about yourself and that person you shared so much with.


Maybe it just takes time to figure out what your relationship is going to be like as a couple of adults, with four years of heartbreak and healing and loss and recovery and growing up under your belts. Being together is comfortable and blessedly familiar. It’s safe. But is it right? Is it meant to be, built to stand the test of time? I know who I am, now, but who are we together?

heart of the cauliflower

How do we move forward, and get back to that sweet space where we once were, where we fit together so easily and well?


Time will tell, I suppose. And in the meantime, we’ll be shopping and eating our way around our new neighborhood and our new-old city, and cooking our way through the rough spots, because that’s how we make connections, that’s how we persevere.

It’s just what we do.