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

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

 

Lost, Found & Faith

Point Reyes Presbyterian Church – January 28, 2018

Point Reyes Presbyterian Church – January 28, 2018

"Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." –John 3:5-8


I never understood what Christians meant by being "born again." The concept itself defied all logic and reason. Didn't Nature dictate that we were all once born through our mother's wombs? How, then, was it possible to be born again? What did it mean to be "born of the Spirit"? 

Earlier this year, God answered my questions by having me directly experience what I had so deeply doubted: I was baptized. And, yes, it is possible to be spiritually born. (I felt it myself, although, I realize that some things are better understood through experience rather than explanation.) 

The Spirit does indeed blow wherever it pleases. It can come upon you when you least expect it, as it did for me. You don't know where it comes from or where it's going, but when God is calling, you know it's Him. And then, when you look at your life, it starts to make more sense. 


"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'" –Luke 15:4-6


He found me.

Let the Night Stay Young

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After spending a full day perusing booths upon booths of international galleries at Art Basel last weekend, we were invited to a group dinner in the old town of Basel. The pleasant summertime temps and lingering daylight were further enjoyed by the fact that we were dining al fresco in a cobblestoned square surrounded by quaint Swiss buildings. It was, by all measures, a perfectly fine gathering. There was a mix of familiar faces as well as new–exhibitors (them) and spectators (us). The conversations ambled along in an entertaining enough manner yet marked with the expected distance of a professional tone. As the evening winded down, everyone gently indicated in their own way that it was time to return to their hotels.

"I have to pack for my flight in the morning."

"I've had a long week."

"It was so busy today. I can't wait to go back and decompress." 

But, then, somebody decided to strike that dreadful, off-key chord: 

"Wait, let's get a nightcap after this! C'mon, we're in Basel! Let's check out the scene! Where should we go?"

Cue the silent groans and grumbling heard 'round the table–all except by the perpetrator, of course.

Some nights are ripe for spontaneous extensions into the wee hours of the morn; others, however, are not. The key in distinguishing between the two involves being highly attuned to the underlying vibes of the people around you. Don't be the oddball who, after a lovely dinner, insists on one more nightcap when the group is clearly ready to call it a night. (The absolute worst suggestion I've encountered is when someone desperately tried to round a group into going to a karaoke bar.) This will only lead the evening into inevitable decay.

You'll find that the people to whom you said "It was nice meeting you" at the end of dinner have now become–to your dismay–the people you never ever ever want to meet again. And by this point, they're asking for your contact info.

Trust me, the best thing to do is depart on the heels of the night's crescendo. Abandon any fear of missing out and leave on a high note. Preserve whatever mystery was in the air. You don’t have to become new besties with the person who sat across from you. In most cases, it's best to let the night stay young.