Two years ago, I had that cinematic bathroom moment everyone knows by heart. You know, the one where the girl pees on a small plastic stick and thereby uncovers one tiny truth that will snowball into something huge enough to change several lives--she's about to become someone's mother. That was my literal first thought after seeing the positive result, the idea that someday, someone is going to say 'Mom, come here'...and they're going to mean ME. I remember studying my face closely in the bathroom mirror, examining every crease and pore, waiting for the mother within to reveal herself. Impending parenthood wasn't a surprise (we had recently decided we were 'trying,' or at least not not-trying), but it was a shock to every cell of my being nonetheless.Read More
Welcome to the great master bath makeover of 2018! Huge results for under a hundred bucks? Yeah, that's our comfort zone over here. First of all, I won't call this an "after" reveal per se (let's call it a "during"), because as you can clearly see, our little ugly duckling of a master bathroom still does have some transformation ahead of her. In a perfect world, I'd go full HGTV Hulk on this room, sledgehammering out the yellowing cultured marble slabs and the 80s motel-chic mirrored cabinet and Hollywood strip light all in one righteous blow. But because we live in the real world (HGTV producers, call me!), other rooms in the house have taken precedence in our renovation so far, leaving our bedroom and bathroom mostly untouched--until now! Eventually we'd like to come up with a whole new concept for the room that turns our sad, windowless master bath into a tiny, flawless oasis, but until that day, our solution is a mini makeover that involves paint.
Lots and lots of paint.
To understand where we started when we bought this house two and a half years ago, though, let me state that this bathroom started out painted a high-gloss, vibrant orchid purple, so in a sense we've already conquered one visual demon. But the tile is cheap ceramic, and the vanity is a particleboard and laminate builder-basic cube, slightly warped from water damage and topped with old-fashioned cultured marble. It needed a lot of help, even if (for now), that beauty is only skin-deep. Ready for the "before" pics? Brace yourselves.Read More
Pity the poor pumpkin. It gets dragged out and plopped into everything the instant the calendar page flips over from August to September, and it suffers a nonstop barrage of unlikely pairings pretty much straight through until December. Pumpkin spice latte! Pumpkin lager! Pumpkin breakfast cereal! Pumpkin yogurt and jello and risotto and air freshener and pet shampoo! ENOUGH. And then, poor pumpkin, it gets placed back on the shelf for the better part of a year and everyone forgets about it, unless it's to say something like, Ohhhhh no, not pumpkin, I am SO SICK OF FREAKING PUMPKIN. Hashtag BASIC.
Not me. I am a year round, card-carrying Friend of Pumpkin (currently organizing local chapters in a town near you).Read More
All my hummuses (besides being a hilarious dip-themed idea for a soap opera) are pretty nontraditional stuff. In the past, I've made roasted beet hummus, rosemary white bean hummus, black bean hummus, carrot hummus, spiced sweet potato hummus, and this particular recipe for edamame hummus on countless occasions. Considering the word hummus itself stems from the Arabic word meaning "chickpeas," I'm not really sure any of these ought to actually be called hummus? All the same, this edamame version (with its lemon, garlic, olive oil and a hefty dose of tahini) actually comes closest to a traditional recipe, so I'm doubling down on its hummus status.
The most important thing you need to know about it is that it's delicious smeared on toasted black sesame & scallion flatbread, carrot sticks and radish slices, and it's so seductively fragrant you'll most likely start eating it out of the food processor while it's still warm. I rarely see a bowl survive to the "fully cooled & in need of storage" stage--especially now that I have a voracious baby who has claimed this as one of his favorite foods--which makes it one of my proudest accomplishments. Pair this with enough fresh veggies & bread and it's a meal in itself! Is "dip for dinner" a thing, or did we just invent that right this very second? YES, YES WE DID.Read More
I created my first website, a personal blog, nineteen years ago.
The internet was in its infancy then and seemed...empty, like a echo chamber into which I could shout--or mumble towards my Converse-clad toes--my adolescent rants. Google didn't exist, social media was still a futuristic fever dream, and no one had any idea that "blogging" would someday be a legitimate profession. No one was listening! I could pound out thoughts and send them off into the void relatively confident that no one would ever see them, and it was GLORIOUS. I taught myself enough basic HTML to customize my site by right-clicking other sites that I liked and viewing their source code....and I taught myself from a book.
A BOOK. Like, on paper.
Pause and let that sink in for a moment, will you? Don't even think of going looking for that first blog, it's been scrubbed from existence (of the people currently in my life in 2018, only my husband has ever seen it). But still, it kindled a fire in me for blogging, although I still wouldn't have known enough to call it by that term.
I started another blog, and eventually another and another. Suddenly my quiet little world was not so quiet. I had readers, some even became friends (so long and thanks for all the golden memories, Livejournal). The anonymity that had once had seemed so attractive to me was set aside and I began to share a little more of my life with less hesitation every day. Because I'd also fallen head-over-heels in love with cooking at this point in my life, it was here that I began to notice something else: If I shared something as simple as a recipe in a post, it attracted a smattering of polite 'yum's and thumbs-up. But if I probed a little deeper and shared something a bit more human--a story about the creation of the dish, an interwoven thread of humor, a sudden realization about life--suddenly I was attracting a flock of real comments to that particular post. People stood up and began to introduce themselves in ways they never had on the straightforward recipe posts, opening up in surprising ways. I've been there, too, they said, I have struggled with that particular depressing thought, weird obsession, or confusion about how to cook eggplants. I learned to cook from Julia, Jacques and Lidia, too! I'm so glad you mentioned that, I thought I was the only one. And so on and so on it went. Now, actual friends were out there listening, and it was GLORIOUS!
Then came 2012....and ohhhh friends, it came in like a wrecking ball.
Over the course of a few months, I obliterated the previous version of my life basically down to ashes--leaving behind a soul-crushing job and an even worse marriage--and began building it up again from the foundation. I traded my home town for NYC without a plan in the world except to survive. I thought stress and sadness might swallow me alive, but they didn't. Everything felt broken, but in a way that hinted I might be about to re-form in a new shape. I had a suitcase, a borrowed camera, and some kind of vague dream for a new life that hadn't yet come into focus. What I don't remember having at that point was a burning desire to start yet another food blog, but of course, I should have seen it coming. Cooking had saved my life before, and would do so again and again--it was my lifeline to the world. In a tiny kitchen in Brooklyn, I began cooking again with a surprising amount of passion, and not long afterwards, Sweet Laurel was born.
I started small--tiny, even. When I first picked up a borrowed camera and started learning photography for Sweet Laurel, it was in shaky and narrow frames, each image typically zoomed in one one little thing. A bowl of noodles, a single flower, a scattering of autumn leaves. I was almost afraid to pull back and let anything else show. I shot dark, moody closeups of my plated dinners balanced on a board on top of the radiator in my cramped New York apartment kitchen. Rooting out the tiny moments of beauty in my everyday life, I relentlessly cropped everything else out of the frame, because while I was rambling around in my jobless and rootless state, everything that surrounded me seemed to be such a mess. Gradually, hesitantly (I am a truly slow learner), I started stepping back and widening the scene to include stories, characters and settings from my life.
A boyfriend, then a husband, then a son.
An epic cross-country move.
A catalog of feelings from inadequacy and worry to joy beyond description.
As always, sharing more and more with the community I found online turned out to be my light in the darkness. Four years since starting a tiny little blog called Sweet Laurel, I'm now ready to widen the scene even further, to focus on what's been hovering around the edges of the frame all along. Food, and the way it feeds our bodies, souls and families, will always be the beating heart of Sweet Laurel, but I'm making room for other topics as well. Beauty matters deeply to my soul, whether it's found in a perfect bowl of tomatoes, a perfectly-imperfectly curated home or artistic textiles. Motherhood matters to me as well, and it has swept into my life with the force of a tidal wave and left me changed--as it should. Managing a creative business, mental wellness, making time for doing sweet sweet nothing....all these things are topics I'm burning to talk about as this blog evolves and our conversation grows along with it. I'm counting on finding the same feeling of community that has always kept me coming back to each of these virtual homes I've carved out for myself over the years. There's a whole multi-passionate person (hi!) over here behind Sweet Laurel, and I'm excited and more than a bit nervous to start sharing more of her (because for better or worse, guys, I'll be sharing at the whole good-bad-ugly spectrum here), in order to connect with more of you in better ways. I'd love to find ways to be a light in the darkness for others who need it, whether you're seeking inspiration in your kitchen, your home, your business, your general wellbeing....I'm hoping we can find a way to lift each other up rather than falling prey to the comparison game.
Whew. That was a lot to pack into one blog post. Rest assured, there is more to come!
In short, I am, and have always been, here for you.
Let's do this.
I have a hard time running straight ahead at a goal--any goal. I'd be a terrible running back (a football reference! Let's do this!). Sure, I can see down the path to where I'm supposed to be heading, but along the way I always seem to glimpse a shiny distraction I can't resist. I could change my major to architecture (true fact, I changed it five times); I knooow I'm growing my hair out, but I could chop it in a pixie like hers; I could go to grad school for creative writing; I know this is supposed to be pizza, but what if it was also kind of lamb vindaloo? I've never been able to resist a twist.
With that knowledge in mind, and the realization that I'll probably never be a great team sports player in my heart (it's okay guys, I've made my peace with it), these crazy, trashed-up nachos should come as no surprise. If ever there was a perfect blank culinary canvas to experiment on, it's got to be nachos. Invented in a Mexican border town for Americans by a Mexican maître d' in a hurry, they are about as far from authentic anything as it's possible to be. Broiled, melty grated cheese or luscious cheese sauce poured on top? Make them with crisp, restaurant-style chips or grocery store scoops? Toppings, toppings, and more toppings? Yes, yes, yes! It's all good, my friends. Nachos are endlessly forgiving.
When it comes to watching The Big Game, I've always unapologetically been in it for the snacks (and the commercials). IT IS KNOWN. For me, the Super Bowl is a time to flex a little culinary muscle and try out bold new snack ideas on a captive audience desperate for cheesy, spicy, crunchy goodies. Something happened while I was dreaming of nachos this time, though. I was distracted from my straight-ahead path by a bottle of gochujang chili paste, with visions of Korean-Mexican fusion (a combination that at this point has become a classic) doing end-zone dances in my head. Behold, the delicious twist of my dreams! Spicy, sweet bulgogi-style beef sits atop a layer of crunchy chips and a warm blanket of molten queso, with a sprinkling of freshly quick-pickled vegetables on top for extra crunch, color and zest. With a little prep work, this can be made and served the same day, which means there's plenty of time to get this crazy fusion fantasy into your Super Bowl spread!
3/4 lb beef round tip steak
2 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely minced scallion whites (save the green tops for later)
1 tablespoon gochujang chili paste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into ribbons with peeler
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 cups freshly grated mild cheddar cheese (don't use the bagged stuff, it won't melt as smoothly)
1 teaspoon gochujang
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
white sesame seeds
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion tops
Thinly slice steak and place in an airtight bag or container with soy sauce, scallions, ginger, brown sugar, gochujang, sesame oil and garlic. Toss until thoroughly combined and coated, refrigerate for three hours. Place carrots and cucumbers in separate small bowls, add one tablespoon of lime juice to each, toss to coat then cover and refrigerate.
To make cheese sauce, melt butter over medium heat in a small saucepan, sprinkle with flour. Cook, stirring frequently with a whisk, until the mixture has turned a light tan in color. Immediately whisk in milk and continue to stir often. When the sauce becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (think gravy), whisk in grated cheese a little at a time and stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat, whisk in gochujang.
Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium high heat, add marinated steak to pan in two batches, stir frying quickly just until done. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and set aside to cool slightly. To assemble nachos, spread out tortilla chips on a platter, then ladle on that cheesy, spicy goodness (reheat cheesesauce to a pourable consistency while whisking, if necessary). Spread out steak slices evenly on top of this. Remove quick-pickled carrots and cucumbers from fridge, pour off any excess liquid, then arrange on top of nachos. Finally, sprinkle with scallions and fresh cilantro. Serve and enjoy!