I didn’t expect to come back from a trip to the Southern coast of Western Europe with a new idea about carrot cake. I wasn’t sure there were any. But I did. Here’s how it happened. One day, on the way to see some more Gaudi in Barcelona, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant, La Pubilla, in Gracia, across the street from the Mercat de la Llibertat. Throughout our trip, the restaurants near the markets seemed to have the best food, and as the kind of tourist driven by her stomach, I find solid consolation in eating lunch directly after browsing market ingredients that don’t make sense to buy if you don’t have a kitchen. (As it goes, we did have an apartment with a kitchen in Barcelona, but we wanted to be out and about, not at home. I did cook (burn) these padron peppers, though.)

So much of the time around here, comfort food starts with the butter-bread-cheese trifecta or consists of just one thing–pizza–that I forget a whole other subset of soul-satisfying noshes, those based on rice. Donburi are just that: perfect, rice-based comfort food. At restaurants, they’re hard for me to order, since there are usually other important items on the menu that take precedent, like katsu and Japanese curry. Good thing then that they’re perfect make-at-home cuisine, unlike the deep-fried katsu (a mess!) and the delicious Japanese curry (a mystery of a recipe!).

Roasted Chipotle Pecans

Posted by on Thursday May 21st, 2015

People who know me know I’m not much of a snacker–I like meals too damn much to ruin my appetite for them–and yet when I read this couple of sentences in Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal I slapped my own forehead and felt like a judgmental jerk for not seeing the obvious about a good, social snack, not the half granola bar in your desk drawer but rather the sort of nibble you serve to friends when they come over and gobble up yourself when you are the friend being hosted.

“Offer something small to eat as soon as anyone enters your house,” writes Adler. “It needn’t be sophisticated.” To her, that’s radishes or crudité, olives baked with lemon peel, simple crostini made from stale bread, “or toasted nuts, or halved soft-boiled eggs sprinkled with salt or topped with slivered anchovy.”

And why do this?

You will have provided the greatest hospitality you can, acknowledging the quiet gurglings we all have and never bother to tell anyone about*: we’re supposed to be hungry three times a day. When you insist whoever crosses your threshold is hungry for an olive all of the time, you permit hungers outside the thrice daily ones prescribed.

*This might in fact apply to people who don’t discuss the state of their stomachs with their sisters on g-chat.

It’s just so warm, this sentiment. We feed people not just to assuage hunger, but to make friends and loved ones feel good.

As for that toasted nuts suggestion, I’m all aboard. But while plain toasted nuts, especially pecans and cashews and hazelnuts, will delight even dietarily restricted guests, I think we can do better a lot of the time. By tossing the nuts with two Tabasco hot sauces, these toasted nuts have a ton of flavor. One sauce is fruity habanero, the other smoky chipotle. The combination might ignite your mouth, but as soon as the flames subside, you’ll be reaching for the next portion of this very good, very addictive snack. If you’re hosting a barbecue this Memorial Day weekend, don’t forget to offer some small bite before you throw the burgers on the grill. It’s the hospitable thing to do.

This post is sponsored by Tabasco as part of TABASCO® Tastemakers program. You’ll see more recipes in the coming months, too. All opinions, as always, are my own. Thanks for supporting the sponsors who keep BGSK delicious!

Summer is the season of eating outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that city dwellers can’t make great barbecue inside, in our little, backyard-less apartments. In fact, the oven is a seriously great tool for turning whole pork butts into the best possible pulled pork sandwiches.  I’ve got a guide up today on First We Feast that shows you just how to do this. Check it out here.

A Dream Small Kitchen

Posted by on Monday May 18th, 2015

One of the oddities about doing the big girl/small kitchen life in New York City is how long you live as a renter. Though it feels like being socked in the gut when you think too deeply about real estate value vis-à-vis ever growing up and owning an apartment, there’s a lot to be said for renting once you get into the rhythm and find a good landlord. You have less responsibility, less stress, less fear of commitment in your daily life. This can be a good thing.

Of course, then again we renters have to face a lack of flexibility in decoration. We’re not going to tear down our walls or redo our kitchens. And so we make do with what we have (which is really not so bad!), and we dream.

Except, honestly, I never dreamed all that much about my perfect small kitchen. I’ve worked in studio kitchens and suburban kitchens, my mom’s kitchen and strangers’ kitchens. At the end of the day, I like my space best, even though it’s small and hardly customized to me. So, when it came to envisioning the perfect small kitchen, I needed some help with the dreaming part, not to mention the design.

Fèves aux Lardons

Posted by on Thursday May 14th, 2015

Pairing your book with your trip is an important task. Even when my backpack is stuffed and I know I won’t have oodles of time to read because I’m going to be visiting every church in Barcelona, I have to pack at least a mini bookshelf. Although racing through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy while sunning (ok, shading) on the beach may be an impossible combination to beat on the life satisfaction meter, one of my favorite ways to forge a successful match, in general, is to overlap a book’s setting or subject with the place where I’m heading.

Here are a few of my favorite combinations from past trips:

A flyover-state road trip + Ian Frazier’s Great Plains (to be supplemented with a visit to South Dakota and a read through On the Rez)

A bike around Provence + Peter Mayles’ A Year in Provence (Provence, 1970 would be a good one too)

The Sacred Valley in Peru + Mark Adams’ Turn Right at Macchu Pichu

Morocco + Tahir Shah’s The Caliph’s House

A couple weeks ago, I was collecting possibilities for our recent vacation to France, Spain, and Portugal (about which more soon) when I saw I’d missed the mark in terms of locality. The book I was already reading took place in North Carolina and the one on deck would transport me to Dubai. But then, at the last minute, I borrowed an audiobook from the Brooklyn Public Library, another Peter Mayles one but this time a novel called The Marseille Caper. Halfway through the actual journey, we boarded our train from Barcelona to Marseille, and I pressed play.

I am back! The last six weeks have taken me on three trips in a series of rejuvenating, wonder-filled days, and I feel refreshed, ready to dive into the big projects I’ve cleared my schedule for. Travel holds a different purpose for all of us, I think, but to me, being elsewhere presents the opportunity to observe how other people live their lives. I like architecture, art, and museums; I love food; I like biking and walking and sipping wine at lunch. But most of all, I want to watch the people, gauge their routines, and take in the character of a place.

And maybe that’s what’s most refreshing to me, the pop of the bubble of our own habits and outlooks with the reminder that there are so many ways to go about a day, including a whole lot of hanging out in outdoor cafes and squares in the evening, the way people do from Cuba to Marseille. We don’t have enough of that.

Coming home, of course, means a return to routine, and a lot of that is downright good no matter what everyone else around the world is doing. Cooking again is especially good. Last night, our first night back, as we struggled to stay awake, I made my signature braised broccoli with pasta, a dish that’s less pretty than this one but that takes cues from the same everyday need for something simple and rustic that also contains plenty of green. I’ll share that recipe here with you one day–it’s a great one, if ugly. But first, this bowl of slurpy cool ramen, which I made before we left. Half inspired by pesto pasta, half by ginger-scallion noodles, the concoction is rich, bright, spicy, and smooth.