Most people look at Rocco and think that he's a scary-looking German Rottweiler but, to me, he's a wonderful person. I love him so much. We got him four years ago when I first moved to the ranch in Three Rivers. For whatever reason, even though I've never had one before, it was in my heart to have a German Rottweiler. I'd read that they were courageous, intelligent and expressive–and also incredible protectors, which was important to me because we were living so remotely.
The breeder selected him for us based off an interview over the phone. I thought that when we got there we'd get our pick of the litter, but instead we were asked to be seated in the office as they carried him out to us–a little furball with giant paws, awkwardly stumbling around. Unlike your typical hyper and yappy puppy, he was as quiet as a church mouse. We still call him "the Buddha puppy" because he's been nothing but calm, conscious and contemplative ever since that first day. In fact, everyone is always surprised by how quiet he is. You'd almost think he was mute! He began talking only recently and only when he's in the car and knows we're going to the beach. He starts whining, as if to say: "Hurry, Mommy! I want to run around and play!"
The funny thing about Rocco is that he's very ritualistic. Every morning, he signals to our other dog Maya that he's ready to be groomed. She dutifully licks his face and nibbles around his neck–sometimes up to fifteen or twenty minutes! If she finishes too soon, he nudges her with his paw and tells her to continue. Then, he saunters out to the edge of the terrace and takes in the view of Tomales Bay. He just sits there and gazes out quietly. You can tell that he likes having the breeze flutter beneath his floppy ears because he closes his eyes and relishes it. We've even spied on him taking private walks through the garden and smelling the roses. (My boyfriend's sister says he reminds her of the bull in The Story of Ferdinand who would rather smell flowers than partake in bullfights.)
He sincerely believes that he is a human being. If there's a low chair around, he'll sit on that instead of the floor. And if I'm sitting on the floor, he'll sit on my lap. Sometimes he just wants me to hold his hand and give it a squeeze. His inner body clock is amazingly punctual. He always comes to me at six o'clock, on the dot, to let me know that it's dinnertime. Sometimes he appears at 5:55 p.m. to give me friendly reminders. When I take him down to the bay, he gets in the water on his own and paddles around for pleasure. He has a mind of his own but is also an obedient listener when he feels like it–usually when there's a treat involved.
Like an only child, he constantly pines for attention. He'll sit at my feet and blink his eyes until I acknowledge him. If I purposely ignore him, he'll start huffing and stomping around. He watches me cook in the kitchen and asks me to show him what I'm chopping by lightly pushing my leg with his paw. Even if it's a clove of garlic, he wants to have a sniff. He's very observant and engaged. He likes to follow my boyfriend around the property to help with whatever he can. If my boyfriend is digging up something from the ground, Rocco will start digging too. If my boyfriend is pulling up something, Rocco will find something to pull up too.
Rocco's presence is an absolute joy to have around. He makes me laugh so much. I talk to him as I would with any other person and he responds in his own way. I can't imagine my life without him. Sometimes the thought of one day losing him creeps in and I feel a pang in my heart. He's my little darling. I realized I haven't mentioned him yet on this blog and that's just a travesty because he's such a big part of my life! So, now you know about Rocco!
My boyfriend has been in Copenhagen for the past month and a half and my stepmom once called and asked if I felt scared or alone. Hah! I never feel lonely or bored, dear Stepmom. In fact, there's nothing I enjoy more than being alone, which means I could #singlegirldinner for eternity and be just fine. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I can never decide. (Also probably why this blog will never die.)
If I'm cooking for others, I tend to compose comprehensive menus with multiple dishes, which can be time-consuming and many times makes me wonder what in the world I got myself into. (I chronicled some of my recipes on an alter-ego cooking blog when I lived at the ranch.) However, if I'm cooking just pour moi, it's usually a one-dish wonder that's easy to throw together. Bachelorette-style cooking, if you will. Sometimes it's just a matter of me assembling a plate of nibbles.
I don't think I could think of a more boring cut of meat than the bland ol' boneless skinless chicken breast–essentially a solid block of protein–but it's the perfect blank canvas when you're watching what you eat. (As I recall, it's also favored by city bachelors.) Honestly, I used to think they were so limiting for some reason. What else could ya do aside from poachin' 'em, bakin' 'em, grillin' 'em... Poundin' 'em out and breadin' 'em... Stuffin' 'em... OK, I guess you could do a number of things with 'em.
I just never found them to be particularly interesting. *shrug* Healthy, yes; interesting, no.
In an effort to spice things up, I reached for my tin of Ethiopian bebere spice and put it to work in this curry-inspired tomato sauce concoction. There's garlic, ginger, red onion and jalapeño in it, so there's no shortage on flavor here. The chicken breast, which I've cut into strips, is enrobed in this jubbly-wubbly sauce with every bite. For good measure, I add a few crunchy spiced chickpeas for texture and garnish with chopped chives. This might be gilding the lily but I also give it a good lashing of additional hot sauce which, I'll admit, feels a tad more bachelor-y than bachelorette-y
3 tablespoons of ghee (preferably 4th & Heart’s Himalayan Pink Salt Ghee–the best!)
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin wedges, layers separated
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced or grated
1/2 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes (canned)
1 bay leaf
Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped
3 tablespoons Ethiopian bebere spice
2 tablespoons of plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1-inch thick strips
Salt, to taste
Saffron Road’s Crunchy Chickpeas in Bombay Spice flavor
Fresh chives, chopped
Splash of hot sauce of your choice (optional)
1. Melt ghee in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, red onion, ginger and jalapeño. Season with a sprinkle of salt. Sauté until golden and fragrant. The edges of the onions should be browned.
2. Pour in the crushed tomatoes. Add bay leaf, chopped cilantro, Ethiopian bebere spice, smoked paprika and dried red chili flakes. Bring to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to medium and continue simmering, scraping up any browned bits. Cook until sauce thickens, about 10 minutes.
3. Add plain Greek yogurt or sour cream to the sauce. Stir until evenly incorporated.
4. Add chicken strips to the skillet and cook on low heat, partially covered, for 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt if necessary.
5. To serve, spoon chicken onto plate and garnish with a few crunchy chickpeas, chopped chives, and a splash of hot sauce.
*Would taste amazing over rice or with warmed flatbread, however low-carb options include sautéed greens with garlic, mashed cauliflower, or Miracle Noodles. I like to sauté chopped kale and garlic in ghee or olive oil with a sprinkle of vegan parm/nutritional yeast until it gets a bit crispy.
I once joked that my life in New York could be summed up like this: "Work, work, work and avoiding carbs." It wasn't until I moved to the ranch almost five years ago that I slowly began embracing breads, pasta and potatoes again. I became, shall we say, less obsessed with being skinny. There was no pressure because I was living remotely. I went through phases of enjoying everything and then inevitably "reigning it in." For the most part, everything balanced out. As I'm inching up towards a new age bracket, though, I've come to the realization that I have no choice but to be more consistent.
I recall reading about Helen Gurley Brown's radically restrictive diet and how she maintained it her entire life. For starters, she counted her almonds, faithfully ate canned tuna fish for lunch, and considered sugar-free Jell-O a heavenly dessert. According to her, it was just a matter of willpower and discipline. I believe she was 105 pounds up until the age of 97. Although she was extreme, she was definitely onto something.
I know that I function best with mostly protein with a bit of non-starchy vegetables and broth yet I often get side-tracked. (My weak points include pasta and noodle dishes, chicken tenders, starchy side dishes like mashed potatoes, rice or French fries, and flaky pastries.) Some people do well with vegetarian- or vegan-based diets or having smoothie bowls and juices. I just needed to focus on eating what was right for me.
A few weeks ago, I went on a diet of just poached chicken breasts and baby zucchini, dipped in a homemade saffron aïoli, while sipping the poaching liquid on the side. Sometimes I switched out chicken for salmon. My stomach started flattening out. It was kind of amazing. I wondered if I could consign myself to this routine for the rest of my life.
But then it got a little monotonous.
I was missing a certain vibrancy to my meals. A little spice. A fresh burst of flavor. For some reason, I started craving fish tacos. And it dawned on me that I could make fish tacos–without the tortilla.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not laying claim to this invention. "Fish taco salads" do exist, however, they usually contain a whole slew of ingredients like black beans, cheese, corn, tortilla strips, etc. My version is pared back to a smoky ancho chili-rubbed cod with a snappy slaw of finely shredded red cabbage and a luscious avocado crema. (Obviously, this would be delicious folded into a warm tortilla, if you so desire!) After weeks of plainly poached foods, this meal was a fiesta on my tastebuds!
For the cod:
1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. cod filet, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon canola oil
For the red cabbage slaw:
1/2 small red cabbage
1/2 small red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped scallions
1/2 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
For the avocado crema:
1 very ripe avocado
2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt or sour cream
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
A few slices of jalapeño
Drizzle of Sriracha
Drizzle of honey
Sea salt, to taste
1. Slice cod into 1-inch thick strips and place in a bowl. Season with ancho chili powder, fresh squeeze of lime juice, kosher salt and canola oil. Rub with hands until evenly seasoned. Let marinate for 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, finely shred the red cabbage and red onion. (Helpful if you have a mandoline. If not, by hand is fine!) Place in a medium-sized bowl and add chopped cilantro and chopped scallions. Dress with distilled white vinegar, olive oil and sea salt. Toss well with a pair of tongs. Set aside.
3. In a food processor, add all the ingredients for the avocado crema and whiz until well-blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Place in refrigerator until ready to serve.
4. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and cook marinated cod for 1-2 minutes, then flip to the other side. Cook until opaque and flaky. Cooking time may vary according to size of the strips of cod. Make sure it's cooked through.
5. To serve, use tongs to place a heap of the red cabbage slaw in the center of each serving plate and place a few pieces of cod on top. Add a dollop of the avocado crema. Serve.