2012.

Hey there, blog world.  It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

So here’s the thing.  I’ve been cheating on the whole plate.

I love this blog.  It’s been with me through a host of major life changes.  It’s brought me some incredible friends.  It’s helped me remember some delicious restaurant experiences and catalogue some of my favorite recipes.  It’s been my internet home for two and a half years.

In those two and a half years, I’ve done a lot – a lot – of growing up.  And well, in that time, I think I’ve outgrown this blog.

Recently, I’ve been posting short highlights of my days over at a simple, personal space: lesliebrandnewyork.wordpress.com.  There is some cooking and some dining and some farmers market shopping over there.  There is also theater and dance and books and writing and thrifting and moments with friends and family and much more.  It’s sort of a virtual scrapbook, and it feels like the right internet place for me to hang out, at least for now.

I won’t be shutting the whole plate down, so the words, the recipes, and the photos will still be around should anyone want to peruse the archives.

I just want to say thanks to everyone who has followed me, from day one or day 700.  I’ve been so grateful for your comments, emails, and silent support ever since I began this little blog.

I have a few food photos that never saw the light of day, and these meals were too delicious not to share.

chestnut soup with duck leg, pumpkin seeds, and pumpkin seed oil at mas [farmhouse] for mom’s birthday

chocolate hazelnut torte with sweet potato sorbet at northern spy food co on a sunday evening with anna and danielle

duck breast with sansho, fennel, and kiwi at do or dine during a crazy adventurous dinner with megan

mushroom egg toast with parmesan, chives, and arugula salad at colonie after a sunday morning hot yoga class with sofia

butternut squash and apple cider soup.

raw brussels sprout salad with hazelnuts and cheddar; butternut squash and cider soup.

I think my biggest personality fault is trying to do too much.  I have a lot of interests, and I like to indulge them all.  My relationships are important to me, which means maintaining an active social life.  I want to do well professionally.  I want to learn.  I need to sleep.

Every week, I try to do it all.  I try to cook and dine and read and write and see art and see my friends and do yoga and stay active and run my errands and answer my emails and go to work and keep my apartment clean and…yeah.  You get the idea.

Sometimes, however, one item on my to-do list has to take precedence.  Two weeks ago, the theater I work at reopened after the first renovation in its history – a history that dates back to 1923 – and I found myself with work-related commitments nearly every evening for two weeks straight.  In week one, my dinners ranged from an 11PM appetizer of spinach cannelloni with a glass of champagne to leftover passed hors d’oeuvres to a hummus sandwich eaten in a subway car.  Office politics grated on me.  Work stress happened at 9PM one Saturday night.  This wonderfully full and balanced life that I try to lead disappeared under special events and ticket envelopes and lists of VIPs.

And yet, one night I told myself, “You are not doing enough.  That book you are reading for pleasure hasn’t been opened in eight days.  You’ve been to two yoga classes in twelve days, and that’s been it in the way of exercise.  You paid too much money for a cab home to Brooklyn; you forgot your lunch on the kitchen counter and now you have to buy it.  You need to set up appointments at the schools you might want to attend next fall.  You also really need to get your eyebrows threaded before a Frida Kahlo situation sets in, and your laundry basket has spilled over into not one, but two piles on the floor.  And you miss your friends, and god it’d be nice to go on a date, and wouldn’t you also love to have a long phone conversation with your mom and dad?”

But at the end of another fourteen-hour day, all I could do was lay in my bed and watch the pilot episode of Felicity on Netflix.

Which is when I realized: I last watched the pilot episode of Felicity when it premiered in 1998, and I was 12 years old.  And now I’m 26, and I wasted 45 minutes of my life watching something that entertained me 14 years ago when my only responsibility was my homework and practicing the melody of my Haftorah for my upcoming Bat Mitzvah.

Welcome to my brain since October 24th.

Halfway through the craziness, I got one day – a Sunday – to take a breather.  In the afternoon, I met my friend Shayne for a cup of tea and a couple hours with our respective writing assignments for the fiction class we are both taking.  The next day I would have to work, but the theater would mercifully be dark, so I’d have the evening off.  I planned to finally go to a yoga class that night.

As I complained to Shayne that I can’t seem to get a handle on life when work is so busy, she said to me, “You need to take a night off.  Go home tomorrow night.  Make soup.”

The next night, I didn’t go to yoga.  I went home, opened a bottle of wine, and covered my kitchen counters with vegetables from end to end.  I ate a beautiful meal, and I went to sleep early.

For the rest of the week, I had this soup.  Work was still crazy and I never got to yoga and I didn’t read my book and my to-do list didn’t get shorter.  But I felt better.  And I think, now that life is calm again, I am beginning to learn that every week, I don’t need to do it all.

♦♦♦

butternut squash and apple cider soup [serves 4]

  • 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into 1″ cubes
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 t curry powder
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1.5 c apple cider
  • 1.5 c low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1/2 c whole milk
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • few pinches sea salt

1) In large pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until golden, about 10 minutes.  Add garlic and saute 30 seconds.  Add curry powder and cinnamon and sauté 30 seconds.

2) Add squash, apple cider, and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.  Squash should be very tender.  Remove from heat and let cool.

3) In batches, pureé soup in blender or food processor.  Return to pot.

4) Stir in whole milk, lemon juice, and sea salt to taste.  Simmer 5 minutes.  If necessary, add water to reach desired consistency.  Serve warm.

dear twentysomething, you’re not old.

first helpings on rosh hashanah day one:  chickpeas in star anise and date masala; roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme; challah; green beans with ground almonds, garlic, and butter; quinoa-walnut pilaf

homemade baklava for dessert

rosh hashanah day two: halibut with red pepper and olive tapenade; quinoa-walnut pilaf; green beans with ground almonds, garlic, and butter; roasted carrots and parsnips with thyme; snow peas with lemon-tarragon butter.

first helpings of yom kippur break-fast dinner: mom’s famous cheese blintzes, honey-glazed wax beans, arugula salad with a mustard vinaigrette, mark west pinot noir.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah this year, a friend of mine gave birth to her first child.  She is the first of my real friends to be a mother.  When I received the photograph, I could barely believe that my middle school cafeteria buddy had officially started her own family.

Whenever I receive news such as this – someone from high school is engaged, pregnant, married, promoted, published, a PhD – the statement is generally accompanied by the exclamation, “God, we’re getting old!”

I’d like to know: if we twentysomethings are already old, what will we be in 20 years?  In 30?  In 50?

Last week was my 26th birthday.  I don’t feel old.  Actually, I feel quite young.  I was given an excellent bill of health on a recent doctor’s visit.  I like to think I’m pretty strong.  Most of the time I have tons of energy, keeping me going through long and full days.  Three weeks ago I started a 10-week writing course, and I was just as alert and engaged in class as I had been at work during the day.  I was out celebrating my 26th year past 4 AM, and yet somehow I still rallied myself to meet my Brooklyn neighbor Megan for a late morning run in Prospect Park.

I am not old.  Old is my grandma, whose hands always shake, who can no longer walk her dog past the end of her street.  Old is the recipe for my mom’s blintzes, a part of our family for generations.  Old is my apartment building, with its chipped paint, its cracked countertops, its creaking doors.

Back in my first semester studying abroad, my classmates and I used to discuss in awe the ancient European cities we visited throughout those four months.  Their histories went back hundreds and hundreds of years, while our native United States was barely more than two centuries old.  And then I went to Turkey and to Israel, and I saw landmarks that had been around for millennia, and even Europe seemed young.

Old is not 22 or 26 or 29.  We’re babies.  We’re just getting started.

All around me, my peers are knee-deep in post-baccs that will lead them to grad school, beginning to study for the GRE, or wrangling with their first jobs post-grad school.  People are moving in with significant others, getting engaged, or even having children.  This doesn’t mean we’re old.  It means we’re old enough.  Old enough to do all of this and more.

I recently made a rather big decision [hint: it starts with "g" and ends with debt].  It was just two years ago that I realized I wanted to switch my career path and go back to the performing arts, and now I am confident in saying that I want to devote my life to them.  If I were old, I would be nearing the end.  But my life and my career are just beginning.

As I work towards my professional goals, my friend that is now a mother will see her daughter say her first word and take her first step.  Her little girl will go to first grade, write her first essay, have her first kiss, take her first college class.  That doesn’t sound like an end to me.  It sounds like a lifetime of beginnings.

On my dad’s 61st birthday last year, he made the comment that with every decade, his life has gotten better and better.  I love that perspective.  It means we can’t ever really be old, because there is always something undiscovered ahead.

a weekend in the woods.

Last weekend, my friend Danielle and I took a drive up north to visit our friend Anna in coastal Massachusetts.  After nearly four hours, we found our GPS directing us off the paved main road and onto a path made of dirt.

Signs perched between the trees and marked with Anna’s family name guided our car along at just a few miles per hour.  A few cautious minutes passed, and the trees opened into a clearing, revealing her house, her porch, and a pond off in the distance.  Danielle and I looked at each other, our eyes lighting up.  Serene didn’t begin to describe this northeastern oasis.  It was going to be a good weekend.

Over the next 36 hours, we three ate meals on the porch, a canopy of trees above, the quiet water below.  We hiked through the woods, stopping to gaze out at the water and snap a handful of silly photos of ourselves.  We sipped wine as we cruised across the pond on a motorboat, fleece coats protecting us from the chill in the wind.  We filled our hearty appetites at a new restaurant, ending with spoons digging into a gooey chocolate chip cookie and melting vanilla ice cream.  We stopped to gaze at the Mayflower and that famous rock, and we inhaled the scent of salty ocean air.  We devoured a large pizza as we talked and talked and talked.

I’ve long been fascinated by the places different people come from.  I first met Anna in Boston, and we have since dined together in New York and DC, but this was my first true experience on her turf.  Like the town itself, her home is full of history.  You can’t help but feel the presence of the generations that have survived winters and enjoyed summers on land that the first colonists called their new home.

Anna mentioned that Danielle and I seemed to really “get” Long Pond, and I’m sure my Connecticut childhood – my New England roots – played a role.  I am a city girl at heart, but spending a weekend in this area of the country always feels like coming home.

things that are not related to food [mostly] #3.

Highlights from mid-September and a bit before.  Last week mostly involved a lot of drinking and ended with a bad cold.  It’s unfortunate when that happens.

Meal: An oldie but goodie – I never shared photos from my last meal at Northern Spy last month.  If there’s one restaurant in the universe that I feel truly “gets” me, this one is most definitely it.  For starters, they shop at the Union Square and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets, just like me.

two salads: white peaches, padron pepper, mint, and honey; purslane, corn, blueberries, and ricotta salata.

mussels in white wine-tomato broth with grilled bread

duck fat fries with malted spiced yogurt

vanilla roasted peaches with dark chocolate sorbet and shortbread

goat cheese cheesecake with blueberry sorbet

Book: One True Thing
This is one of those books that is wonderfully written and hits a little too close to home when you realize, “Whoa, you never know, this could be me.”  Twentysomething overambitious New Yorker drops everything and moves home when her mom is diagnosed with cancer.  A good read.

Movie: Midnight in Paris
Ok.  Every now and then a movie comes along that is so perfect, I can’t stop thinking about it for days, nights, weeks on end.  This was one of those movies.  The characters, the story, the costumes, the setting, the writing – it all just came together and made magic.  Please go see it.  I’m going to own it the second it comes out on DVD.

Play: Sweet and Sad
To anyone who thinks theater is unaffordable: every ticket in the house for this play was $15.  The action takes place on September 11, 2011, and while the story was about much more, seeing this was the best thing I could have possibly done to grapple with the gravity of the past ten years.  The run apparently sold out, so I’m glad we were smart and snagged tickets when we did.

Other Stuff: Brooklyn Book Festival and The Cloisters
I wrote about the book festival earlier, and I’m still on a literary high.  The Cloisters visit was a Saturday afternoon family activity, and while the medieval art on display at the museum isn’t my favorite period [by a longshot], the views of Manhattan and the beauty of the surrounding park were incredible.  I rarely go uptown [and by uptown I mean no farther than my office below Central Park], but this trip brought us all the way to 190th Street.  Uncharted territory that was well worth the trip north.

Share with me what you did this week!