Wednesday, May 7, 2014

French lentil salad and several lifetimes away

I have a feeling that I can only compare to running into someone I really liked once. Something akin to "I'm sorry I never wrote back, you know. You look good. Really good."

Except, I guess I knew you'd be here. It's not exactly an accident. I just needed to be in this place again, almost two years later. I'm not going to promise to keep up this time. I don't know how to fill in all of the space between us and I wouldn't know where to begin anyway. No one's ever accused me of being succinct or a particularly good summarizer. 

The campaign ended. That year was heartbreaking and fulfilling in ways I should have expected but didn't. It was hard to justify an appetite for something light after something heavy. You don't need my explanations, I don't know why I'm bothering. I want you to know that I still think about this a lot. That even if the way I work is mostly relegated to shorter bursts in other places, it started here. And I just missed it today. 

I'm about a month from 31. Peony season and all that. I bought a place. I finished up the kitchen last week and it's gorgeous. There's a whole wall of books and records. You'd love it. Of course I have some pictures. My life in politics was short-lived and I'm back at an agency. I'm not saving the world every day but I travel a lot and I work with a few like minds. 

It also gives me flexibility, which is good because my mom has cancer. That's been the last seven months. It's tough stuff but we're close and I feel like I've gotten a chance to be the daughter I always wanted to be. As though my place in our family never really crystallized until shit hit the fan. She's been a wonder to watch and her last chemo session is scheduled for the aforementioned 31st birthday. 

So that brings us to this and I wouldn't have kept you here if I wasn't planning to feed you. What are we having? Why, the same thing I've had for lunch for the last four days: French Lentil Salad. I'm not a creature of habit, so that repetition should tell you something. Most of the components for the salad are laid out above, pre-toss. The cookies/various jars are in the photo above because I was making a point about mornings. I remember the start of "the morning person project." I guess it worked.

Note: I added meat to this because it was headed to a carnivorous household. Take out the sausage and it's not only vegetarian, it's vegan and gluten-free. You can have it all. I based the bones of this recipe on the one over at In Pursuit of More but changed the dressing and added a few things.

French Lentil Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
8 servings (lasts for days in the fridge)
1 cup French green lentils (any lentil will do, I just like these)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium golden beets, ends removed
2 1/2 TB olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, stem end trimmed, then shredded into ribbons
3 apricots, sliced thin off the pit
4 dates, pit removed and sliced to a similar thickness as the apricots
5-6 basil leaves, sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
Optional: 1 package Spencer's herbed pork bangers

3 TB Dijon mustard
Juice of one large lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1.) Soak your lentils according to package directions. Shoot for at least three hours and, lest you be intimidated, this is literally pouring a cup of lentils into 2 1/2 cups of water and walking away. Do it before bed, do it first thing in the morning, it's easy.

2.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil, then toss your sweet potato and red onion with 2TB of olive oil until it's evenly distributed and everything's a little shiny, then season lightly with salt and pepper.

3.) Separately, tear off another piece of foil and add your beets. Gather the sides, then drizzle the last 1/2 TB of olive oil over the top and pinch the ends up very don't want any hot oil to be able to escape.

4.) Put both the tray of onion and the beets in the 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, stirring the pan vegetables at the 15 minute mark. Now would also be a good time to drain your lentils, refill the pot with another 2 1/2 cups of water and bring it to a boil once there, lower it to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes or until the lentils are just tender. Drain them and add a splash or two of the vinaigrette so the lentils soak up some of the acidity.

5.) Once the vegetables are done, pull them out to cool, including venting the foil packet for the beets. They'll be hot, but use a paper towel to rub the skins off, then set them aside on your cutting board.

6.) If you're using sausage, this would be the time to fry them up. Get them evenly browned then cut them into small rounds when you're done.

7.) Time to add it all together, then toss with the dressing. It's great fresh, when some of the pieces are still warm, but it's wonderful after it's been marinating for a couple days, too. I think this would also make a great side dish for a lunch or party. Tis the season.

It was so good to see you. Let's not do the thing where we each say we should do it again soon, but no one calls. I'll just trust that it will happen again because it's important. And just in case it takes awhile, let me tell you about a few latest favorite things, a couple represented in the photo above.

Weck jars: Yes, they're cute. But they're also non-toxic, easy to store, cost effective, versatile, and people tend to give them back to me when I gift edibles. Sometimes they're even re-filled with something delicious.

Fleur: My neighbor this past year and a good one. A monthly stroll into that shop all but saved my mental health over the course of a brutal Chicago winter. A shop filled with fresh flowers, great paper products, and brass animals. What could be better?

Malazan Book of the Fallen: A beast of a fantasy series but beautifully written. Ten books. Hundreds of characters. I started reading it with a friend about two weeks before we knew about the cancer and escapism is a real and wonderful thing. Highly recommended for George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss fans.

Sportsman's: Shares a name with one of my favorite bars in college but what they lack in fried pickles, they more than make up for in Amaro. Checkerboards for tables, strong drinks, and great company on both sides of the bar. 

Hedley & Bennett apron: Discovered at Sportsman's on one of the bartenders and I just had to have one. I was especially smug when I saw a pile of my favorite chefs wearing them this week. It's sturdy but lightweight and there are plenty of pockets. It's also gender neutral enough that I can offer it to someone else in the kitchen every once and awhile.

Humboldt House: Claire's outfitted basically my entire condo in gorgeous vintage rugs. I'm not the only one that appreciates them. She shares my love for teak and Scandinavian ceramics and hot damn do I love that shop.

Cellar Door Provisions: A tremendous new addition to Logan Square and a place I sneak off for breakfast or lunch whenever the opportunity arises. I love everything and I never leave without a loaf of their house bread, which I've taken to gifting.

Aesop's Breathless oil: When we hugged earlier, this is what I smelled like. Found it in Venice over the winter and haven't looked back.

Monday, October 1, 2012

La Boda Bañuelos

I’ll admit that I knew in December that this corner of my previous life would collect a bit of dust this year. And I won’t attempt to catch you up on the ten months since. That’s a project for November 8th and beyond (subtitled “An Instagram Story”). In short, it’s been the single hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. The people are deeply affectionate, determined, and challenging in equal, tidal portions. And we have an election to win in 36 days--my lucky number, as it happens. With that kind of countdown comes the knowledge that there are still miles to go until we sleep. If you’re looking to help, I built this: http://OFA.BO/TKTC

What brings me back here is a wedding. I’m tempted to call it a piece of my past life but as important as this campaign is and as much as everyone on it has to be ready to sacrifice on a personal level…some things are going to rise above the all-encompassing nature of life on a very serious deadline.  

The ultimate example, in my case, being the marriage of my best person, Miss Molly McGuffin Wynn, or, as of this publishing, Mrs. Molly Wynn Banuelos. It’s a long (and blessedly direct) flight back to Chicago from Guadalajara and in-air wifi has yet to come to Volaris. In the company of clouds, it’s easy to spot silver linings and this post is it.

Below is the speech I (more or less or wine) gave at Saturday night’s reception, along with a few selects from a beautiful weekend about 90 minutes deep into the mountains outside of GDL. A note that half the fun of the weekend was being surrounded by a beautiful set of co-conspirators.

It’s also an excuse to tell the best real life love story I know. Maybe that’s cheesy enough to choke on but I’m a sap and it just couldn’t have happened to two better people.

Special thanks to Abby and Paco for helping me to sound like I even remotely speak Spanish. 

Buenas noches. Por favor disculpen mi español. Lo que digo en este momento es lo único que se decir. Me llamo Jessi y vivo en Chicago. Molly y yo crecimos juntas. Estoy segura que vamos a seguir creciendo juntas durante los años que vienen. Asi es nuestra amistad. Quiero decir que estoy tan contenta de estar aquí. Y, a la familia Bañuelos, quiero decir gracias. Gracias por criar a este hombre, que hace tan buen pareja con mi mejor amiga. Me gustó inmediatamente--y a Molly tambien.

This seems like the appropriate time to switch back to a language I'm a little more familiar with. Molly is the linguist of the two of us and she's not in any position to be cleaning up after me this time. I'm Jessi. Molly and I grew up together. I expect that we will be growing up together for the rest of our lives. Having thanked the Banuelos family in Spanish, I turn to the Wynns who have been a second family to me for legitimately half my life.

Molly is the best person I know and I don't think you'll find much argument from my table on that point. She is slow to anger, incredibly kind, and generous of spirit/in spirit/with spirits. She is a person who for my entire young adult life has been the one I have pushed my luck with. The one encouraging me to "lean into it." She is to your credit.

I've been promising to tell the story of how Molly and Jaime met for a couple years now. It's been apparent for a while that this opportunity would arise so I've been excited to tell one of the best stories I know. My best friend met the love of her life while sitting on the front steps of a flower shop in the midst of a witching hour. "Witching hour" in this case can be defined as "the hour at which Molly and I have had two bottles of wine and are now cackling at each other's likely not very funny jokes. Say 12-ish on a December night in Chicago. To summarize, a witching hour not unlike the one we’re facing now, under very different circumstances.

Molly was in Chicago visiting from Minneapolis and the two of us had taken ourselves out for dinner at a French place, bien sur, and treated ourselves accordingly. We were establishing our next moves for the evening when, down State Street, came a pair of objectively handsome gentlemen, rattling off conversation in a romance language of undetermined origin. Judgments were made and suddenly your two adventuresses relayed a shout of "Viva Italia!" in a manner better suited for a soccer field.

 And they stopped. Because who wouldn't be curious at that point? And because the Universe is a strange and wonderful place, we adopted each other. Molly and I, Jaime and Armando. It only much later occurred to us that the Italians are unlikely to have sons named “Hai-may.” Or would think to summon me as “Yessi.“

We ran around Chicago with poor Sheridan, the Spanish teacher, who was likely suspicious all along. And it should have ended there. A funny run-in with a pair of tall, dark, and handsomes. Another city story to add to the collection. 

But it didn't end there.

Two continents, two years, and a surprisingly small amount of emails later, Molly had moved to Chicago after all. And I take a lot of credit for that. I found her an apartment, promised her meals and adventures great and small. But there was more to her city selection and I guess I knew that, even then. By not a small miracle, they had seen the goodness in each other immediately. She was here for all of a month before they found each other again and that was that. 

Since then, Jaime has been the guy who made enough Palomas for all of us. The one who manned the grill when it was raining, who could talk to anyone at the party, and whispered sweet nothings to the gato to get her out from under the bed. He is the kind of person who understands the importance of perfect pancakes, danced the night away with my mom at our friend's wedding, and he's the kind of man who took a bro OUT on the soccer field when he got too rough with Molly. Safe to say she’d do the same for him. 

I was lucky to be there the night you met. Even in the wine haze, the next day you were different. You had seen something. You knew something. And now here we are, five years later, and we're in the mountains outside of Guadalajara. You've just married the not-quite-Italian man we met on the steps of a flower shop after two bottles of wine. I'm looking at you now, knowing you're about to lean into whatever comes your way as a pair. And it’s going to be absolutely incredible. I love you both. Felicitaciones y los mejores deseos para ambos en el día de su boda.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Change Has Come and It Comes with Pie

Tomorrow I have the honor of doing something absurd- leaving a job I love while grinning to Cheshire proportions. Friday is my last day at Edelman after three and a half fantastic years.

All of this because Monday will be my first day on the digital team at Obama for America.

I’m joining the team to do whatever I can to ensure Barack Obama is reelected, as I believe him to be one of the single greatest agents for positive change my generation will know. I’m doing it because it absolutely qualifies as a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to be part of something *big*, on behalf of something I so wholeheartedly believe in.

And because this is still a food blog and this is how we celebrate… I baked a pie. I will save you from any self-assigned deep metaphorical meaning and just tell you it’s an apple pie topped with half blueberries and half cranberries and it was delicious.

Baked goods aside (for now), I have every reason to believe this could be the single hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. I’m on the brink of being fully absorbed into a challenge so rich that it will swallow me whole for the next year by every account, including that of my new colleagues. And yet I can feel myself humming in anticipation, ready to dig in, understand, and be useful. There is a very real chance that everything I've done to date has led me straight to this whether I was aware of it or not.

For the last few years I have had the supreme good fortune of filling a role at Edelman that more often than not felt tailored to me like a glove, and definitely the kind with the nerdy tip points for texting. I've spent the last three years reading stories and meeting the women and men behind them. I've watched voices from the depths of the Internet become credible and recognized voices of “the people.” There are days when I even feel like I had a bit part in setting up the loudspeakers.

Not to mention the adventures. One after the other after the next and I came home breathless and chattering nonstop. I met her! We ate there! We had the best idea! From Portland to Asheville to Austin to San Diego and New York, New Jersey and New Orleans, I was buzzing. And I was pinching myself all the while for being the one that got to connect the dots. For getting to do it in such fine company.

I work with a bunch of nerds and it’s the highest compliment I can think to give in this context. People with the wanton ability to geek out over feed readers, measurement theories and platform coding but it goes beyond that.

I’m talking about food policy wonks, letterpress junkies, women in waders in search of a quiet spot with all the fish. People who run marathons with hip fractures because you cannot stop them from moving and try at your own peril. Star Wars junkies, chorus girls, music nuts, a fascinating breed of style curators and even a NASCAR fan. There may even have been a few fellow kitchen witches, Gryffindors, cat ladies and bourbon lovers. Just maybe. They are the kind of people who rave rave rave on about that thing you must try because it’s spectacular.

I can’t underline the importance of working with people who are passionate. Who are excited and eager and, above everything else, they are curious.

How does that work? Can I take it apart and will there be something simple and true at the center of it? Yes? Then let’s go there.

Yes. Let’s. I have a good feeling that I’m not done with the nerds. If anything, the stakes may have just been raised. Now that the secret is out, you know where to find me in 2012. There’s work to be done and if you feel like helping, I will gladly take you up on that.

Be advised, I'll be asking for your vote as well.