Something like this

For whatever reason, it has become abundantly clear to me, this week, that summer is LONG gone, fall is about to wear out its welcome, and winter is fast-approaching.

Maybe in your part of the world you’re sitting out in the still-warmish sun, wearing your flippies, and still enjoying the leaves falling, changing colors. Maybe you’re wearing your jacket (the one you can barely call a jacket because it’s so damn thin), but the gloves are still packed away, and maybe you’re trying to squeeze in another grill-fest or make another batch of iced tea. Maybe your scarf is just an accessory, rather than a neccessity.

If that’s you, please shush yourself. I’m quick to report that I’d be extremely jealous, and if you were in front of me bragging about your gorgeous weather, I’d contemplate punching you in the groin, and if you were on Facebook I’d highly consider de-friending you. I’m that jealous, people. It’s weeks like this that I wonder why I don’t live back in the south, or in California, or New Mexico, or freakin’ Jamaica.

Have I told you I can be a bit dramatic? It’s not really that cold…and to be perfectly honest, what troubles me most about this weather is the fact that I’ll soon have to start wearing socks every day, and every night I go to sleep. I hate socks. I like to expose my wonky toes to the world, donning sandals and flats, and even flippies although those were put away a month ago, thank you.

Yesterday, I reached into the depths of a closet and out came one of my gramma’s handmade quilts. And even though I hated the fact that I was cold enough to need it, once I wrapped myself up in it, I sorta had a change of heart. I was warm, and I was home, and in a matter of moments I’d be gobbling up a bowl full of this soup.

This soup, I tell you. When you have flavors of curry and coconut and lime at your tongue, you realize the weather outside doesn’t matter much.  You realize that one of the many inherited blankets you have in your possession is oh so comforting, and even though the sandals are no more, the gloves much needed, and the snow not far away, it doesn’ t quite matter as long as you come home – to something like this.

Coconut Red Curry ‘Hot Pot’ w/ Braised Chicken & Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2010; serves 4 as main, 6 as first course

time commitment: less than 1 hour; 30 minutes active time

a traditional hot pot is an ultra hot bowl of broth where the meat is generally thinly sliced and cooked tableside in the pot. the meat here, as well as the ‘shrooms, is braised prior to serving, but the Thai flavors are still present, still tasty.

printable version

ingredients
2  14 oz cans  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 stalks chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
5  (1/4-inch) slices fresh ginger
2 Thai chiles
1 1/2  T  red curry paste
1  (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
8  oz  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1  (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1  T  Thai fish sauce
2  t  brown sugar
1/3  c  thinly diagonally cut green onions
3  T  fresh lime juice
6  T  coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5  oz  uncooked wide rice noodles

instructions
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; add curry paste, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken; cook 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Add coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in onions, juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain (if your noodles are like mine and the package writing is in another language, this won’t help… rice noodles are generally soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 3-4 minutes; cook noodles right before serving, and not in advance). Add noodles to coconut milk mixture. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4-6 bowls; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.

No Place Like Home

Visits to North Carolina are quick and to the point, event-driven, and filled with obligation (not that we mind, of course). So much so that we often times forget that NC was at one time home to us, and not just our parents and friends.

A couple of weekends ago, we remembered.


Even though home for now is in Chicago, North Carolina was where I learned to ride a bike, where my feet trudged through the sand and shells every summer of my childhood while looking for sand dollars and conchs, where I fell in and out of love with boys, and where I learned that life is what you make it, wherever you make it. It’s who we make it with that counts.

You reach a point where you think all of your friends are married, and then you reach a point where they all start their own families. We keep realizing that it isn’t as uniform as it seems – they’re still getting married (hence this past trip), they’re still having or not having kids, and sadly some are parting ways – for better or worse isn’t always as easy as it seems, it appears.


Sometimes we realize that we’ve grown apart – perhaps it’s the distance, or the difference in career choices (or lack thereof), or maybe we just mature at different rates (some of us, ahem, more slowly than others). Either way, we’re still friends, and that’s what counts.

I can’t say if we’ll ever live in NC again. Shoot, I can’t even say where we’ll be in two or five or ten years, for that matter. But what I can say is that, while home is wherever we choose to settle down for the time being, North Carolina will always be home-home. It will always be special for that reason and so many more, and we will always look forward to the visits back – even those visits when we say goodbye to someone we love – because it’s those visits that count.

This recent weekend was one of those trips – another wedding, another visit with our respective families, and another drive or two between Raleigh and Greensboro. This time, we stayed until Monday, catching an early flight home just in time for the work week. It’s something I think we’ll make a new tradition, as we found ourselves with an extra day – a “freebie” of sorts.

We finally got to eat at The Pit, a lauded spot for eastern-NC BBQ, and for the first time in 8 years, we wandered through our old campus, reminiscing on things that were the same, all the while remarking about all those that were different. We met up with more of the fam and people-watched at the State Fair while eating fried cookie dough and the best ice cream around – from our alma mater itself. We spent time with some of the kids, who seem to grow in feet rather than inches. I had dinner with friends. We drove past our old apartments, old dormitories, old hang-outs.


We saw Autumn in the South – leaves falling, crackling beneath our feet, reminding us once again, that this – North Carolina – is home-home. There’s no place quite like it, and that’s what counts.

Apple Hand-Pies
chiknpastry recipe, makes 6 pies

time commitment: ~2 hours (most of which is inactive time)
other: dough freezes easily. to use frozen dough, let sit in fridge overnight to thaw.

don’t get me wrong – I love fried treats from the fair, but one can only eat so much in one month, right?! these hand pies are baked instead, but they’re just as charming. the dough makes enough for two pie crusts, so you can save 1/2 of it, or double the filling for double the hand pies. i like the idea of getting another pie dough out of my efforts, so I freeze the other half for later.

the crust is very similar to other crusts I’ve used before, but I swapped out half of the AP flour for spelt flour for a whole grain twist and a nuttier flavor. the shortening has also been reduced a tad.

printable version

ingredients
crust
1 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 1/4 c spelt flour
1 T sugar
3/4 t salt
1 stick (8 T or 1/2 c) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 T (1/4 c) chilled vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
up to 1/2 c ice water

filling
1 large granny smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
3 T agave nectar
1/4 t cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 t lemon juice
1 egg, lightly beaten
turbinado, or “raw” sugar, optional

instructions
crust
pulse flours, sugar, and salt in a food processor to blend. Add butter and shortening and pulse repeatedly until small pea-size clumps form. Add 1/2 of ice water and pulse until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. (alternatively, this can be done by hand or using a pastry blender, but it’s gonna take longer!) Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until needed. (You can keep it in the fridge for 2 days, or even freeze it and let thaw overnight. But, let it sit out for a few minutes to soften before you are ready to roll it out.)

filling
combine all ingredients (apple through lemon juice) for filling. cook over med-hi heat in a small saucepan until some of the liquid dissolves and the apples cook but remain crunchy. remove from heat and cool completely.

assembly
roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round (as i said above, i freeze the other round for later). using a 4 7/16″ pastry cutter (or whatever size you want, really; can also use a plate if you don’t have a pastry cutter), cut as many disks as possible, then repeat the process by rolling out unused dough until you have 6. you may need to chill the dough again if it gets too warm.

position rack in lower third of oven. measure out a heaping tablespoon onto one side of each round (total amount is somewhere between 1-1.5 T). brush entire edge of each round with beaten egg, fold half of dough over to make a half-moon shape, and press edges together. seal edges using the back of a fork. move to baking sheet and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

preheat oven to 400. brush entire top of each pie with egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar, if using. bake @400 for 20-25 minutes. remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes before digging in!