Harvest and Honey

An open-ended love letter, culinarily inspired.


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an ethiopian meal & an urban hike

Doro Wot Doro Wot Homemade Injera Bread, Misir Wot and Fossolia Homemade Injera BreadDoro Wot, Homemade Injera Bread, Misir Wot and FossoliaHomemade Injera Bread, Misir Wot and FossoliaDoro Wot (Ethiopian Chicken Stew)

Fifteen minutes. That’s approximately how long it took to find a parking space. Five minutes. That’s exactly how long it took for me to figure out that the call-to-pay-to-park parking meter was malfunctioning. Ten minutes. That’s approximately how long it took to find another parking space. America’s capital city seemed bound and determined to keep us from having our nice morning outing, but with a little perseverance and a display of some better-than-I-expected parking skills, I did it – rather we did it – my two children and I. Although I was about ready to head home before our actual outing even began, I loaded Easton and Elle into their respective seats in the tank that is otherwise referred to as a “double stroller,” lathered them up with sunscreen, gave Elle an apple with which to calm her “rumbling tummy,” and forged on. Up and down the streets of Washington D.C. on a crowded Summer morning we went. Yes, merrily and literally we rolled along, with Elle offering cheery “hello’s” and “oh, hi there’s” to every single being with whom we shared a sidewalk, be it man, animal, or statue.

“We’re hiking, Mom! We’re hiking!!” Elle declared, completely thrilled at the thought.

“No. No not really, sweetie.” I started to correct her as I slowed the stroller to a stop to grab her a cup of juice that I’d stashed in one of its thousand storage compartments.

“This isn’t really a hike at all. It’s just a walk; a walk through the city …” I explained, thinking that it was about as far from a hike as any outdoor walk could hope to be. I watched as the smartly suited business men and women passed us by, clutching their obligatory Starbucks; some giving Elle a “hello” in return. I revved up the stroller again, as the smell of diesel fuel from an idling truck parked in a nearby loading zone began to intensify. From the large gray, cracked sidewalks, bespeckled with old chewing gum to the black asphault that stretched up and down Calvert Street as far as our eyes could see, we seemed surrounded by anti-nature. Elle waved to her reflection in the large window of a shawarma shop.

“Look, Mom! It’s meat on a grill! They’re camping!” she exclaimed. “This is a really nice hike we’re taking.”

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I stopped myself before trying to explain, yet again, the difference between a hike and a walk. She’s not confused here, I realized. She’s pretending. It dawned on me, as I watched Elle point at things and nod her head in satisfaction, that she was completely lost in her own world. She was getting a kick out of this “hike” that we were on and who was I to squash the make believing? As they say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

So we continued on our stroll and as we wandered up and down the city streets, I began to see what she was talking about. There were indeed many hike-like things that we passed on our way …

Like flowers.

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And bicycles.
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And fish.
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And a watering hole …
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… with it’s very own waterfall.
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And even a friendly fellow hiker …
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 As we rounded the corner to make our way back to the car, I realized that I had parked right in front of a restaurant where my husband and I had one of our first dates. How did I not notice this when I pulled up? I wondered this, and chalked up my lack of observational skills to the frenzied parking-paying-sunscreening ordeal that unfolded immediately upon our arrival. Nearly thirteen years ago, Lucas took me to the Meskerem restaurant, one of the most popular Ethiopian eateries in a city whose most popular genre of international cuisine is Ethiopian. A very memorable and distinctly unique dining experience, I will never forget how amused we were as we took our seats on the floor of the Meskerem and were served multiple courses of delicious stewed meats and vegetables inside the large, deep drum that was expertly filled with fresh injera bread. It was wonderful.

 

I positioned my phone to snap a quick photo to send to Lucas, documenting my serendipitously coincidental choice of parking spots, when I noticed the large “for lease” sign hanging in the restaurant’s front window. My heart sank. Closed?!? How can it be closed?


“Whatsa matter, Mommy?” Elle wondered aloud.

 

I told her this was a restaurant that her Daddy took me go a long time ago, and that it was not open any longer. There was something noticeably sad about the emptiness inside the former dining establishment, a stark contrast against the lively, colorful scene that unfolded as we walked through its commanding wooden door all those years ago. I’m not sure yet why the Meskerem permanently closed that door, maybe the rent became too high, or the customers just stopped coming  … or perhaps they are simply moving to a new location. Whatever the reason may be, I drove away that day filled with inspiration and a renewed curiosity about Ethiopian cuisine. It looked like we wouldn’t be going back to the Meskerem, at least not any time soon, so I resolved to bring the Meskerem to us.

 

“Thanks for a great hike, Mom.” Elle said in the car on the way home.

“You’re welcome. We’ll do it again sometime soon, okay?”

“Okay. But you should wear better shoes next time.” 

Duly noted.

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 RECIPES

 

The recipes below reflect some of the most popular dishes that you will find all over the country of Ethiopia, the Doro Wot (stewed chicken), Misr Wot (red lentils) and Fossolia (green beans, carrots and tomatoes) being staples on both restaurant menus and in home cook’s kitchens. Largely characterized by their inclusion of the Berbere spice blend, these dishes are both inexpensive and simple to prepare. You can easily make the spice blend yourself yourself if you have a spice grinder or coffee grinder, but you can also order it online here. As for the injera bread, I think it is safe to say that your Ethiopian dining experience would be far from complete or authentic if you skip out on this thin, sponge flatbread. Used in place of utensils, injera requires only three ingredients and is easier to make than pancakes – delicious and absolutely worth doing. 

NOTE: the previously emailed blog post regarding macaroons was published in error! Apologies to my subscribers for that. I suppose that was bound to happen at some point. Thanks guys.
Homemade Injera Bread, Misir Wot and FossoliaHomemade Injera Bread, Misir Wot and Fossolia
For the Doro Wot (Ethiopian Chicken Stew):
*adapted from Marcus Samuelsson

 

INGREDIENTS:

 

4 tbsp. butter (Ethiopian spiced butter, nit’r qibe is idea here, but regular unsalted butter works great as well)
2.5 tbsp minced ginger
4 red onions, sliced
5 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons Berbere spice mix
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
4 cups chicken stock (you can use water if you prefer, as it is more traditional)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
8 chicken drumsticks
Salt and pepper to taste
4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)

 

DIRECTIONS: Heat the butter in a large (6-qt.) saucepan over med-low heat. Add the ginger and onions, and cook (stirring frequently), until very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for five more minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

 

Add the Berbere spice mixture and the chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring, until everything is reduced and darkened, about 10 minutes.

 

Add 4 cups of chicken stock, the cardamom, and the chicken pieces. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, covered, until the chicken is done – about 45 minutes to an hour. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and continue to cook the sauce until it has reduced, about 20 more minutes. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with the hardboiled eggs, if desired and some injera or other flatbread. Note: I like to serve extra sauce on the side as well.

 

For the Misir Wot (Ethiopian Lentil Stew):
*adapted from Marcus Samuelsson

 

Ingredients:

 

1 cup red lentils
4 tbsp butter (or spiced Ethiopian butter, called nit’r qibe, if you have it)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Berbere spice mix
1 small tomato, cored and chopped
Salt to taste

 

Directions: Rinse the lentils in a sieve under cold running water and set them aside.

 

Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds.

 

Add the reserved lentils, 1 tbsp. of the Berbere spice mix, the tomato, and 3 cups water to the saucepan. Reduce the heat to med-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and the lentils are very tender and soft, about 45 minutes (red lentils, unlike other varieties, get very soft and mushy when cooked – this is what you want here).

 

Stir in the remaining Berbere and season with additional salt to taste (season generously here). Serve right away with injera bread.

 

For the injera bread, I followed Saveur’s recipe and it worked beautifully.

 

For the Berbere spice mix, see here

 

For the Fossolia, I followed the Berebere Diaries’ recipe exactly, and it was one of the tastiest vegetable sides I’ve made in a while. Would also be great with pasta, we’ve decided …


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the baked brownie

The Baked BrownieThe Baked BrownieThe Baked BrownieIMG_3516The Baked BrownieThe Baked Brownie

After standing in line for what seemed like an eternity, I’d finally made my way up to the very front. The sounds of men, women, and children shrieking in delight were ringing loudly in my ears, and I had a momentary flashback to the last time I stood in this exact spot, the front of the line at the famed Vortex roller coaster.  I was 11 then. This time, I was 27.

“Ma’am? Umm, excuse me, ma’am? Are you going to ride? Are you okay?” The ponytailed, teenaged boy stared at me as I stood there, too nervous to push through the metal turnstile and take my seat in the car.

“Actually, on second thought,” I muttered, “I think I’ll just sit this one out, or something …”

Excuse me … pardon me … coming through … sorry! Excuse me … 

My lengthy wait had produced an unexpected result. Rather than boarding the car and enjoying the 2-minute ride of death, I meandered my way back through the curvy line of eager roller coaster enthusiasts, trying hard to avoid making eye contact with anyone. What a chicken! I thought to myself, embarrassed by my choice to retreat at the last minute. I could ride this thing when I was 11 but apparently I’ve turned into quite the scaredy cat at my ripe old age of 27. That, or it was the brownie I ate in the car on the way. Yes, that might have been it. I should have never taken a bite of those things. Stupid magic brownies …

The Baked BrownieThe Baked BrownieThe Baked Brownie

The Vortex had long been a legendary ride at Ohio’s King’s Island amusement park, a coaster so great and impressive that it’s reputation traveled far and wide … even down to my small hometown in Kentucky. Growing up, Summers came and went with local kids chattering excitedly about their various trips, plans, and family vacations that were scheduled for the precious few months ahead. For many, a trip to King’s Island – a mere two-hour drive straight up I-75 – was always a fixture on the season’s grand itinerary. I went a few times as a kid, and was excited to make the trip up to Cincinnatti again as an adult with some friends, one sunny Saturday afternoon in May.

After a welcome stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee and “fuel” we made the drive up to King’s Island, making a collective mental note to stop at Skyline Chili for 5-ways on the ride home. If you’re unfamiliar with the cinnamon-spiced specificities of Cincinnatti-style chili, and/or what makes up a classic 5-way, here’s a quick glimpse  –>  (http://www.skylinechili.com/ways.php). After a quick two hours in the car, we started seeing signs for the park – a place so well marked you could probably find it without directions, a map and/or the ability to read. You can’t miss it. The drive always seemed so much longer when I was a kid, proving yet again that time travels at a very relative pace.

The parking lot of a large, Summertime American amusement park is not for the faint of heart, to be sure. What with their overwhelming size, seemingly endless number of aisles, and rows upon rows of glimmering hot vehicles full of chipper, colorfully tank-topped patrons. I can almost feel the heat radiating off of the asphalt now as I write this. Yes, the King’s Island parking lot is probably the least amusing thing about the amusement park. But we came, saw and conquered it; a worthy price to pay (in addition to the actual price we paid) for a day of good old-fashioned, thrill seeking fun.

The Baked BrownieThe Baked BrownieIMG_3547The Baked BrownieThe Baked BrownieIMG_3549

My decision to take a bite of that “magic” brownie, to which they are famously referred, wasn’t really a decision at all. Some of the guys in the car on the way happened to mention that they’d thought it would be hilarious and amazing and the best idea ever to whip up a batch and nibble on them prior to going to the park. Having literally zero clue as to what they were talking about, my experience with magical brownies  – or magical anything for that matter – being non existent, I took them up on their offer and took two measly little bites. What can I say? I love brownies.

I can’t say with 100% certainty, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that those two bites of brownie had something to do with my sudden wave of fear and anxiety as I inched closer to the front of the Vortex line, which was the total opposite of the intended effect, I believe. I stood there in line, contemplating my own mortality and also how great the hamburgers and hot dogs and nachos at the concessions stand next door smelled, and just totally bowed out. Done. Finito. I chose LIFE! Because I was sure, had I opted to ride the giant roller coaster that day, that something would most certainly go dreadfully wrong and I’d be a goner. A technical malfunction! An explosion! An inexplicable yet inescapable tornado! Darn you brownies. How dare you ruin my day of fun? I should’ve known better, I suppose. I’d like to say that I knew better, but alas, such was not the case. I guess I can chalk this experience up to … well, experience. Life is full of them, I hear. Little learning opportunities. What did I learn with unquestionable certainty that day? I’d say it’s obvious at this point:

Friends don’t let friends eat magic brownies before going to amusement parks.

 

RECIPE

It was almost impossible for me to resist posting this, my favorite brownie recipe of all time (and also Oprah’s, apparently). The famed Baked brownie hails from Baked NYC, and has legions of adoring fans. I tweaked the recipe to suit my own tastes, as I tend to prefer semi-sweet chocolate as opposed to using only dark and I like a bit more brown sugar in the sugars ratio than the original recipe calls for.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dark, unsweetened cocoa powder

11 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (the original calls for dark chocolate, if you prefer)

1 cup unsalted butter, cut into 1″ pieces

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup dark brown sugar

5 eggs, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the sides and bottom of a 9″ X 13″ glass or light colored baking pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving some hanging over the edges as a “handle” (this allows for very easy removal).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and cocoa powder.

Place the chocolate, butter and espresso powder in a large bowl (glass or metal) and set this over a saucepan of simmering water (this creates a water bath that will gently heat and melt the ingredients together without burning). Tip: the bowl should be bigger than the saucepan, so it can rest on top. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally as it melts, until the butter and chocolate are totally melted and smooth. Turn off the heat but keep the bowl over the water. Add the sugars and whisk until completely combined. Remove the bowl from the pan and let it sit for a few minutes, if needed, until the mixture is room temperature.

Add three eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining two eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir to combine. Don’t overbeat, or you’ll have cakey brownies.

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through the cooking time. Test with a toothpick for doneness, ensuring that the center of the brownie coats the toothpick with a few moist crumbs. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares and serve.

You can store at room temp in an airtight container for up to three days.

 


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to crab or not to crab

Fresh Crab Cake Sandwiches with Spicy Tartar Sauce and Homemade Sesame Seed BunsIMG_3406IMG_3416Fresh Crab Cake Sandwiches with Spicy Tartar Sauce and Homemade Sesame Seed BunsIMG_3273Homemade Sesame Seed Buns

Jockey. Librarian. Dermatologist. Britney Spears. What do these things all have in common? Probably not a whole lot besides the fact that they were all typical responses given by me, at one time or another, to the age-old question: what do you want to be when you grow up?

For me, this list could go on and on, with dream jobs and various professions that ebbed and flowed right along with whatever phase I was was in at a particular time in my life – as is the case for just about every child on the planet, I would imagine. However, there was one “when I grow up” job that seemed to always have a placeholder beside it’s name – it was permanently dogeared – even when I entertained alternative options, like becoming the next Britney Spears or opening my own small chain of restaurants that ONLY served variations of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Yes, becoming the future editor-in-chief of Southern Living Magazine seemed, to me, to be the ultimate dream job. I figured that this job title would allow me to flip through the pages of the ubiquitous Southern glossy as much as I darn well pleased, and get PAID FOR IT. I spent an inordinate amount of time reading SL when I was growing up, but mostly just the last bit of each issue … because as any culinarily curious Southerner would tell you, that is where all of the magic happens. Continue reading


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where the honeybees go

Raw HoneycombLemon Cheesecake with Chamomile Glaze and Honeycomb Two WaysLemon Cheesecake with Chamomile Glaze and Honeycomb Two WaysIMG_2758IMG_2799IMG_2795 “No! No Mommy, don’t go outside. There’s lots of bees out there!”

Tugging on my shirt sleeve with a look of complete desperation in her big blue eyes, Elle’s plea for me to stay in the house, in avoidance of the buzzing, stinging dangers that lurked outside had become something of a daily ritual recently. She experienced her first bee sting this summer, and with it came the understandable hesitation to ever venture into the great outdoors again. I’d reassured her that there were not many bees, that they would leave her alone and that it was safe to play outside, but she stuck to her guns. I’ve never known anyone who enjoys being outside more than my daughter – it is truly her happy place – so the fact that she’d recently become content to stay put inside all day, quietly reading books and making things out of Play-Doh, was an indication of the true extent of her new fear of bees.

Prior to the fateful sting, she’d viewed bees as helpful little bugs who are responsible for providing the golden, deliciously sticky honey that drips from the peanut butter sandwich she eats almost everyday. The name of this blog wasn’t plucked out of thin air, after all. We eat honey on a daily basis in my house, in one way or another. It just always seems to make an appearance. In almost prayer-like fashion, Elle used to thank the bees for their hard work in making her beloved honey, saying with closed eyes and whispered words,”Thank you honeybees for this honey. It is my favorite.” Continue reading


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keep calm and carry a watermelon

IMG_3137 Watermelon, blue cheese & toasted pecan salad on homemade focacciaWatermelon, blue cheese & toasted pecan salad on homemade focacciaIMG_3243

In the average human lifetime, there are a handful of experiences that fall into the “Rights of Passage” category. A first haircut. A graduation. Getting the chickenpox. The first lost tooth. Learning the truth about Santa Claus.

These are all things that, inevitably, the majority of us will experience at one time or another (unless you’re my Dad and are seemingly immune to the chickenpox). For me, one of the more memorable experiences that would fall into this category was the night of my first high school prom. I’d spent the better part of the afternoon readying myself and, with my Vegas-esque floor length sparkly gown and enough hair spray in my ‘do to last a lifetime, I remember being excited and nervous all at the same time. Nervous not because I was anxious about my date – I went with a friend – but nervous because I tend to get that way when I know I’m about to check off a major line item on the Rights of Passage list.

I was jittery on my marriage day, shaky on the days each of my children were born, and a wreck as I prepared to take my driver’s test. None of these things made me nervous directly, it was just the fact that they were happening and that they were a big deal and that I was supposed to remember them to infinity and beyond that put my nerves all in a tizzy. To go from looking forward to something for so long to actually experiencing it can be a surreal feeling sometimes and apparently for me, my first high school prom was one of those times. So, what did I do to calm my nerves and steady my shaky hands? I guess I did what any self-respecting, well-adjusted 17-year-old would do … I quoted Dirty Dancing the whole night. Wait, what? Continue reading


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Triple Berry Red Velvet Baked Oatmeal

Triple Berry Red Velvet Baked OatmealIMG_2860Triple Berry Red Velvet Baked Oatmeal IMG_3081Triple Berry Red Velvet Baked OatmealIMG_2813

My brother was born on the fourth of July. Try as I might, I cannot imagine a better day on which to be born. Not in OUR calendar year, at least. You get automatic, built-in, don’t even have to lift a finger: barbecues, parties and fireworks. FIREWORKS for crying out loud. Year in and year out, without fail. It’s all pretty fantastic, if you ask me. A far better deal than the one given to my friend who was born on February 29. Poor guy only really gets to celebrate a true blue birthday every four years. That could be cool though, depending on your personality type, I guess.

I remember the night my brother was born. But the memories only come in small snippets, short bursts of clarity like you might see on an old black and white television set, as you wiggle and maneuver the antennas around to get the picture to come in, free from all the static. A little to the right … now just a tiny bit to the left. Good! Hold it right there. Continue reading


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one flew over the couscous nest (or, north african couscous salad with a homemade pistachio dukkah)

North African Couscous Salad with Pistachio DukkahPistachio DukkahPistachio DukkahPistachio Dukkah

When I was in college, I used to wear this purple t-shirt that said in big white lettering, “One Flew Over the CousCous Nest!” My Mom gave it to me. I think she found it in one of those mail order catalogues that have all sorts of random trinkets and gift-like items – kind of like Sky Mall but for your house. Ah, this will be PERFECT for Lauren, I bet she thought to herself, knowing the full extent of my food nerdiness even then, even at my “ripe old” age of twenty. I’d taken a pair of kitchen shears to that shirt, chopping off the ends of the sleeves and widening its crew neck to make it look like I’d plucked it from a vintage clothing rack in a town much cooler than my own.

I chose this shirt one morning in the Spring of my Sophomore year, as I was getting dressed for my job at the campus bookstore, and I distinctly remember glancing in my warped, full length mirror on my way out the door and thinking to myself, man, wouldn’t it be great if I landed a job where i could wear cut-off t-shirts and jeans to work every day? Now, as I sit here at my desk sipping from a coffee cup that is ironically perched atop a small pile of writing invoices from jobs past, I can’t help but smile at that notion. Dreams really do come true! Continue reading

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