The Story of Rocco

Me and Rocco.jpg

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!

Rocco.jpg

Chicken in Ethiopian-Spiced Tomato Sauce with Crunchy Chickpeas

Chicken in Ethiopian Spiced Tomato Sauce.jpg

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

For garnish
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.

Ancho Chili-Rubbed Cod with Red Cabbage Slaw & Avocado Crema

Cod and Cabbage Salad.jpg

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!


Serves 2

For the cod:
1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. cod filet, pin bones removed
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
1/2 lime
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
1/2 lime
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.

 

 

Jane's First Date

FullSizeRender.jpg

Jane was feeling despondent about her date with Todd. She planned on deleting the Tinder app from her phone but, at the encouragement of her best friend Ann, Jane decided to swipe right on someone who sent her a Super Like. This wasn’t her ideal way to find her relationship but times had changed. After all, she’d been with John since freshman year of high school—for fourteen years, to be exact. Though they both had a thriving career, they’d fallen prey to a stale routine that involved going to work, taking their beagle Howie for evening walks and binge-watching crime documentaries on Netflix.

Jane knew things were really starting to unravel when they started working on jigsaw puzzles during the weekend, which was just a way for them to do something together without talking as they'd run out of the fodder necessary to feed a conversation. Midway through their second puzzle project (a 1,000-piece one featuring deep sea creatures), John simply said “I can’t do this anymore.” He moved out to his brother’s apartment that week and took only his clothing and personal belongings. There was nothing left to discuss–he even gave Jane full custody of Howie. Although she herself was neither sad nor angry, his unemotional approach stunned her.  It was as though John had evaporated into thin air.

One day, as she was swiping through profiles on Tinder, she came across someone who looked vaguely familiar. With Ann’s help, they were able to determine that his name was Thomas and he was the older brother of one of John’s co-workers. She recalled seeing him at one of John's after-work events a year or two ago. Thomas had chiseled good looks and worked as a management consultant for a top firm. He posted photos of himself at a London pub with work buddies, hiking through Swiss Alps, and on vacation in Tulum. Ann playfully nicknamed him "Captain America." Thomas was the upgrade that Jane needed from John. She swiped right, but there was no match to be had.

That night, she dreamt that she was on a beach in Tulum and ran straight into Thomas' arms. He whirled her around on the shore as waves lapped at their feet. The best part was that, when he looked at her, he looked so deeply into her eyes that it stirred her soul. Jane couldn't stop thinking about Thomas. He was on her mind constantly, so when she saw him on the same subway car later that week, she was uncertain whether it was just a figment of her imagination.

But there he was, standing by the door, tall and handsome in a crisp shirt and jeans, looking down at his phone. Her breath was caught in her chest. She had just come from a hot yoga class and looked sweaty and plain. She secretly wished that he would look up and see that there was an empty seat on the bench in front of her, but he got off at the next stop. Still, she thought of this chance meeting as a sign. They were destined to be together. When she got home, she decided to play into the momentum and send him a message on Facebook. She felt bolder and braver than ever before: Hi, We have some friends in common and you look like a nice person. Would you like to meet for a cup of coffee sometime? Jane  

After a week with no response from Thomas, Jane started to miss John. She spent her nights reorganizing all the drawers in their apartment and found his old high school yearbook and a troll doll from his childhood. She texted him about it as she would were he an acquaintance–casually and with an upbeat tone.  But when she didn't hear from him within the hour, she wrote: If you don't come and pick them up by Sunday, I'm throwing them into the garbage.

John never told her she was beautiful or that she looked nice. He was never really affectionate either, now that she thought about it. People used to think that they were brother and sister. She looked in the mirror and examined her face from every angle. The bump on the bridge of her nose bothered her more than ever before, a trait she inherited from her father. She had to get a nose job or else she'd be lonely for the rest of her life. She was absolutely sure of it. 

It was at this particularly low point when Ann suggested she consider the guys who sent her a Super Like on Tinder. They weren't exactly the cream of the crop but they had already shown an interest in her which eliminated any of the work from her end. From what she could tell, Todd looked like a nice enough guy. They were the same age and he worked in digital marketing. His profile picture featured a black-and-white photo of him at a wedding. He was caught in profile, holding up a flute of champagne and laughing. He appeared to be making a toast. She swiped right. 

They chatted a little bit here and there throughout the week. Their conversations weren't wildly interesting but she felt comfortable with the pace. They discovered that they grew up two towns away from each other in New Jersey. He had been sharing an apartment with his best friend in Williamsburg for the past two years and was now looking for his own place. One night, when they chatted, he told her he was at a local dive bar for trivia night. Then, at some point, he said that if she wasn't doing anything on Wednesday after work, they could meet at this little Italian restaurant that he liked. It was halfway between her place and his. 

Jane had nothing to wear. She had been a homebody with John for so long that she either had clothes for the office or a bunch of random t-shirts and sweatpants. Ann let her borrow a floral dress which she ended up wearing with sneakers. 

Todd was already there when she arrived. He was a lot shorter and rounder than she imagined. His t-shirt and hoodie made her feel slightly overdressed. They gave each other a hug before making their way to the table. He ordered a sausage pizza and a beer while she chose spaghetti pomodoro with a glass of red. It was a cute and casual place. He asked her how work was. She told him that she was a junior producer at an agency that did video content creation. They were working on some projects for the U.S. soccer team. He said that his agency did an online campaign for them once. It occurred to them that their work might intersect somewhere down the line, so that helped further along the flow of conversation. 

When the food arrived, she noticed that Todd was eating rather fast. In fact, he was eating so fast that his cheeks were flushed and his breathing slowed. She found this off-putting and deliberately twirled the strands of spaghetti slowly around her fork before bringing it to her mouth, as though this subtle cue would help him to recalibrate. He'd already scarfed down three slices by the time the server came around to ask how everything was. Meanwhile, she was barely halfway through her pasta. Then, to her horror, he took his fork, reached across the table, and began eating from her plate as he continued to talk. 

At the end of dinner, he suggested that they order the trio of gelato. She told him she was full but he insisted and ordered one anyway–"to share."  He ate all of the chocolate one before she could get her spoon in. As they sat there, Todd delivered a soliloquy on why he believed that splitting the check was the mark of true equality in a relationship. She hid her annoyance and silently counted down the minutes until she could leave. When the server brought the check, she handed her credit card over, along with Todd's. She managed to feel more distant from this stranger after having dinner with him than before.

Jane walked home briskly afterwards, dodging passersby, wrapped up in her own thoughts. She had no expectations for that evening, and yet it still disappointed her. Howie greeted her at the door with his tail wagging. She kicked off her sneakers, took out her phone and deleted her Tinder account. Then, she threw herself onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. That night, for the first time ever, she let Howie sleep on the bed.