THE INTERNATIONAL BREAKFASTS YOU SHOULD BE EATING

Fresh bread, rice porridge, green plantains, or muesli. How will you start your day?
Did you know that there are some places where they actually sit down for breakfast? Where it’s not eaten on the run, on the go, or on anything but the table? And that some countries’ breakfasts are based on centuries of fine-tuning the grains, fruits, dairy, and yes, even meat, that are readily available on ample farmland and not on what marketers and advertisers have told them to eat? It’s true. These places exist!

In my quest to discover alternatives to the standard American breakfast, I asked questions of five people who spent the majority of their lives elsewhere–Bosnia, China, the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, and Sweden–before moving to the States. My small study reinforced some of what I already suspected: other countries pace their meals, use less sugar than we do (especially at breakfast), and, for the most part, prioritize lunch.

Some of what I learned surprised me: there’s no fear of bread or dairy or meat or even sugar, as long as it comes naturally from fruit. Eggs seem a-okay, too, though I suspect they were from local farms, not massive operations. Some of what I learned harked back to things I’ve heard along the way: breakfast and lunch, not dinner, should be the bigger meals so your body has time to digest before going to sleep. There’s also a general antipathy toward cold water. (I had first heard this from my host mother during my study abroad in Spain, who told me that a king returned home from war, drank cold water, and dropped dead. Apparently, the country stopped drinking cold water after that.)

Overall, the international approach to breakfast seemed to be exactly what many American marketers and processed food companies have long been hawking but not necessarily delivering: balance. The traditional breakfasts can knock out several food groups in the pyramid without overdoing any of them. They trend toward savory or, at the very least, not sweet. They are designed to be savored at a table and not in the car or walking to work. They certainly aren’t meant to be ignored altogether.

How can we bring a little bit of the balance and tradition home? Read on.

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Yes, You Do It Too

Oh, man. What a ride. I sat down to write this post several days after it was “due.” I have, of course, been putting it off for days, finding other activities (and non-activities) to fill my time instead of following through on what I’m supposed to be doing.

I had been meaning to share a word with you that would give a name to that thing you’re undoubtedly already doing. It’s the perfect descriptor of the thing you know so well, the word that would help you band together with your fellow humans who do the exact same thing.

Procrastin-eating.

It’s the act of eating instead of doing whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing.

But here’s the rub. Despite my eureka moment nearly 10 years ago, the internet got to spreading the gospel on this one first. Now, the word’s just a Google search away and the concept pops up on Wiktionary, in Shape magazine, and on Today.com. And though I’m fairly certain that I registered a Tumblr account for the name nearly 8 years ago, I no longer own it. Plus, I never could figure out Tumblr.

A search through my email yielded the Tumblr registration but no trace of the page name. A quick look at procrastineating.tumblr.com proves that I either registered something different entirely or, at some point, gave up the name. A little bit more digging in the annals of my email and voila: maybe I came up with an even MORE perfect word for my particular style of procrastination.

Procrastin-kneading.

Yup, there it is. The art of finding something to bake and/or knead while you should totally, definitely be doing something else.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem like the internet has caught on yet, despite the oodles of food bloggers and bakers in the world.

So get to it. Get to procrasti-kneading with your favorite recipe or with something brand spanking new. At the outset, you may feel that gentle tug that says, “You should be doing something else…” but when those hot chocolate chip cookies or molten brownies come out of the oven, you’ll realize it was the best decision you’ve made all day.

Be a Person Who Eats Salad at Home: The Vegend’s Mustard Dressing


My family sat down to dinner together almost every night when I was growing up. The food was always homemade and always bountiful–usually a meat dish, a potato, and some sort of steamed vegetable concoction from frozen food giant Birdseye. We lacked for nothing, except for one thing: salad.

We just didn’t have it.

Despite my mother’s attempts to serve up healthful and “cancer-fighting” foods like steamed Brussels sprouts, she never once put salad on the table. It’s not that she didn’t eat it–at restaurants, she’d have the blue cheese-slathered wedge salad that was de rigueur–she just didn’t serve it at home.

So I grew up thinking that salads were for restaurants, where they could source oodles of toppings–potatoes, fruit, beans, cheese, nuts–at scale, and where things like arugula, kale, baby spinach, and frisee were in the hands of specially-trained chefs.

I carried the no-salad-at-home tradition into adulthood until I met the Vegend, whose at-home salad skills far surpass any human’s. His base is almost always arugula, which can last quite a while in the fridge. (Plus, just before it’s gone bad, he whips it into unbeatable pesto.) His typical toppings include farro, roasted peppers, tomatoes, corn, chickpeas, and avocado. Hard boiled eggs, butternut squash, potatoes, and string beans also join in on the fun.

He tops off the salad with a mustardy dressing that’s so good you’ll want to dip it, spread it, and pour it onto everything you’ve got. We’ve described it here.
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The Only Hamentashen Recipe You’ll Ever Need

My list of “gateway goods” to this whole baking thing could be quite long. There’s the apple pie I made from Epicurious.com way back during what felt like the advent of the internet. There are the rocky road brownies I baked with my mom, who guided me with a recipe handwritten on an index card. And those marshmallows I made from scratch, with gelatin, before I understood what gelatin was.

And then there are the hamentashen.

Hamentashen are triangular-shaped dough pockets (“taschen” is German for pockets) most often filled with fruit preserves. They’re eaten as part of the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which falls anytime between late February and mid-March. Nowadays, you can find hamentashen at many bagels places and supermarkets year round, especially in Jewish areas. I’ve eaten them in plenty of locales, including in Rome’s Jewish ghetto where they’re called Orecchiette di Haman, or Haman’s ears. (Haman is the bad guy in the story of Purim.)

Despite their availability, I have made over 200 hamentashen each year for the last 20 years. Let that sink in.

Each of those 4000+ hamentashen have been true to one recipe: the one on a ditto handed out by my nursery school over 30 years ago. When something is this simple, this buttery, and this satisfying, there’s no need to mess around.

Because of the butter, this version is more reminiscent of a shortbread cookie than those you might find at the local bagel shop, where they might use oil. If you’re following the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), you won’t want to serve these with a meat meal. The cookie is tender and melt-in-your-mouth crumbly, but sturdy, too. Importantly, the baked version freezes well for those times after the holiday when you need to get back into the Purim spirit. A 15-minute defrost on the counter will render them as good as freshly baked. (Note, bake extra and freeze!)
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Valentine’s Day Results: When Life Gives You Carrots, Make Carrots Four Ways

It happened! Our second annual Valentine’s Day challenge. If you’ve read our previous post you’ll know that last year, the Vegend and I started a Valentine’s Day tradition that is more creative and less expensive than any restaurant meal we could have.

The simple premise–I determine which ingredient he should use and he determines mine–has forced us to push the boundaries of our usual (delicious) meals, be thoughtful in our execution, and try new things. I’m here to tell you that last night’s results were astounding. So astounding, in fact, that I ate a good portion more while I was cleaning up. Now, that’s the sign of a good meal.

I had challenged the Vegend to use carrots in our main course and boy, did he deliver. He presented carrots four ways and each way was a nod to something we’ve eaten or cooked before. First up, he pickled carrots in rice wine vinegar, ginger, shallot, honey, and salt, a delicious trick we had first seen at Brooklyn Grange’s Veggiepalooza 2017 but had not yet tried. A quick toss in sesame oil, carrot greens, and scallions provided a tasty and colorful start to the main meal.

The main dish was mind-blowing. Three more ways of carrots, each distinct from each other and, if I’m being honest, a party in my mouth. The sweet roasted carrots with homemade chimichurri (cilantro, parsley, shallot, jalapeno, red wine vinegar, salt, and olive oil) made me want to slather chimichurri on everything. Everything! I didn’t even know I liked chimichurri!

The carrots with yogurt sauce (Greek yogurt, lemon juice, olive oil, lemon zest, carrot greens, scallions, roasted cashews, and salt) were inspired by Canoe Hill in Millbrook, NY, whose own carrot-yogurt-cumin combination wowed us just a few weeks ago.
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Steal This Valentine’s Day Idea

Eggplant and Cherries

I’m going to be real with you: the Vegend was my first (and now only) Valentine. Any previous “relationship” somehow started directly after the day and certainly didn’t last until the next one. I stormed the theater with a group of ladies to see He’s Just Not That Into You on V-Day 2009 and considered doing the same, solo, for 50 Shades of Grey in 2015. A typical February 14th had me silently cursing flower delivery guys for reminding me of my status. I know it wasn’t their fault; I never did respond to their catcalls.

But then the Vegend arrived.

After we moved in together, our date nights dwindled to appropriate levels–we were building a life together, after all, and that requires budgeting. So when Valentine’s Day came around and restaurant markups reared their heads, we decided to take a suggestion from my mother instead: “Why don’t you do a Chopped thing? You know, where they’re given the ingredients and have to come up with a dish?” This may be the only time the Vegend and I will agree with and accept motherly advice. We began plotting.

The rules were simple: I would give him one ingredient on which to base the main dish. He would give me one on which to base dessert. We’d have a full meal, half surprise, and on a budget. We both picked ingredients that were remarkably out of season–he offered up cherries and I offered eggplant–but we made it work. His creation–skillet eggplant parm (not breaded but still fried-ish)– and mine–upside down cherry cornmeal cake–were both delicious experiments and filled our apartment with wonderful scents. Also, leftovers for days.

Now, with a week left to spare, we challenge you to do the same. Gather your partner, your best friend, or a whole mess of acquaintances and challenge each other to whip up something delicious and homemade. It doesn’t have to look perfect or even taste perfect. It just has to be filled with love.

It goes like this:

    • If it’s two of you, decide who will tackle the main dish and who takes on dessert. The more people, the more parts of a meal you’ll get–amuse bouche, appetizer, soup, intermezzo, entree, dessert, etc.
    • Feel free to draw the ingredients out of a hat or just assign the ingredients to all involved. Each dish should be centered on a single ingredient.
    • Cook like nobody’s watching.
    • Take a photo and tag it with hashtag #iamvegend and we may repost your V-Day meal.*
    • Enjoy!

     

  • *If you happen to forget to take the photo before digging in, worry not. As long as there’s still food on the plate, we’ll consider your entry.

The Best Guacamole (Yes, It Has Apple in It)

Guacamole

When I was 10 years old, I had one of those experiences that should have forever soured me on all football-related things–I was hit squarely in my left eye with a football that was kicked in the other direction. I’m certain that the football’s final destination was preordained and wherever I stood that day, it would have found me.

Because of that, I never developed a particular love for that particular sportball and still don’t really understand the appeal. But I can appreciate an occasion to gather with people and snack. This guacamole is, of course, perfect for your “Big Game” celebration but you really shouldn’t relegate your avocado consumption to just the one time a year when everybody’s doing it.

While the humble avocado has been blasted as the downfall of the millennial generation, it’s also brought good fat, potassium, and vitamin K to the under-40 set. The avocado’s allure is so strong that Amazon’s first order of business after buying Whole Foods was to announce to the world that they would be dropping avocado prices by 29%. What’s more, avocados sustained me for the better part of the last five years, when my sister and I would eat toast and avocado every. single. night.

Your perfect, ready-to-go avocado should yield slightly when you press on it and should require no more than a butter knife to cut through the skin. This is very important. Under-ripe, too-hard avocados fight back if you try to eat them too soon. Just ask three (three!) of my friends, who, within weeks of each other, sliced their fingers and ended up with hospital-level injuries. I was nowhere near them but I still felt guilty. I was sure that some of my avocado love influenced their decisions that night.
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An Ode to the Test Kitchen–A Millennial’s Nightmare

Test Kitchen

The test kitchen is my nightmare. It scares me, what with its imperfect flavors and outcomes, its stumbles and messes, and mistakes laid bare. It’s as if a too-salty oatmeal cookie with over-bloated raisins is some commentary on the type of person I am.

It’s a place where I can’t be perfect, or even good first time around. The place where I’m meant to fail until I get it right. And really, I hate failing. I hate it so much, in fact, that sometimes I don’t even try. In the test kitchen, you have to try. Ugh. And fail. Double ugh.

The test kitchen invites others into my failures; there’s no squirreling them away for a rainy, self-loathing day. Taste testers abound and their one job is to tell me what’s wrong with my cookie or my soup or me. (Okay, maybe not me.) As I brace myself for honest feedback, part of me is hoping for a coddled appraisal, the kind to which I have been conditioned as a millenial. After all, I came of age with participation trophies and all-winners competitions. Grownups even awarded me a ribbon for the piano recital in which I refused to participate. (They really didn’t teach me a lesson with that one.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way (in the kitchen, in life…). I’ve accidentally used rancid oil in a challah recipe and forgot the sugar in the next batch. I’ve klutzily dropped a dozen eggs on the floor, which, as annoying as it sounds (and boy, is it annoying), is less troublesome than mindlessly using rotten eggs whites for meringue and only realizing it once they formed their stiff, glossy peaks.

Setting out to intentionally make mistakes and learn from them? That’s another thing altogether.
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Vegan Chicken Soup–A Deliciously Imprecise Approach

Vegan Chicken Soup

One of the biggest gripes about this whole plant-based thing is that food, in many families and in mine, means love. Therefore, when we give something up, it can also feel like we’re also giving up a little bit of the traditions and love that have passed through generations. The thinking’s not wrong–I’ve wrestled with the same feelings–but I do think that we can take the spirit of a dish, bring it up to date, and start the tradition anew.

Even my shtetl-born grandmother, whose American dream was realized with done-well briskets and too much food, was willing to adjust recipes to my ever-changing eating habits. After I gave up red meat, she willingly (I think) used turkey instead of beef for her sweet-and-sour meatballs. I can only wonder what she would have done with tempeh. (Actually, I’m fairly certain she would have said, “Oh, for God’s sake…”)

That an old-world bubbe would adjust to a newer world order said a lot about how much she loved me. It also showed me that traditions can morph and grow depending on the people around you. All is not lost because I no longer eat my grandmother’s meatballs; in fact, I can’t wait to figure out a vegetarian way to recreate them.

The Vegend initially set out to tackle a plant-based version of chicken soup one day last winter. His goal was to soothe my sick self while conjuring up the love and nostalgia we can feel from a pot of homemade soup (part of the healing process, to be sure). He considered the components of traditional chicken soup–chicken, veggies, dill–and how they each contribute to the overall dish. Without chicken, he wondered, what would flavor the soup?

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Brooklyn Blackout Cake (AKA Happy Birthday, Willa!)

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

My mother turned 70 a few months ago. That’s, like, a really big number. Since she’s made it this far, I decided that I’d make her a raft of desserts that she grew up eating and I grew up hearing about. Though the list is long–Slovakian crispies, Charlotte Russe, rugelach, and more–the one that’s come up again and again is Ebinger’s Blackout Cake, a three-layered chocolate cake coated in its own crumbs.

Ebinger’s was Brooklyn’s bakery of record before it closed in 1972, the very year my mother moved out of Brooklyn. (Draw your own conclusions.) Its cakes were legendary and history vaunted. I assumed that the Blackout Cake was relegated to history until I realized I could probably bake it.

To look up this recipe online is to step into a debate that, barring the invention of time machines, may never die. There are two components upon which everyone agrees: the layered cake is chocolate and it’s filled with pudding. The outside of the cake, however, is open to interpretation largely based on hazy, chocolate-addled memories. Many people swear that Ebinger’s version was coated in even more pudding, a delicious but less stable topping than, say, a frosting. Other recipes claim an outer shell of ganache.

For my version, the pudding won out. It was one fewer thing to make during an otherwise baking-intensive week and a simple clue about the original–it had to be consumed within 24 hours–led me to believe that there was no need for a shelf-stable outside.

I’ve combined the cake from Epicurious and the pudding from one of my favorites, Brown Eyed Baker, for the easiest rendition of this cake. This pudding doesn’t require eggs, which, to me, made it less likely that something would go wrong (ugh, curdled eggs). Make the pudding the day before so it has time to set.

The recipe bakes up two cakes, which you then split into four. Horizontally halving cakes has never been my strong suit so I was grateful to find that someone had invented these layer pans.*

This is now my most requested cake and the version pictured here is for one of my dearest friends. Happy birthday, Willa!
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