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My most prized kitchen possession is not actually mine; it’s Jill’s.

The item in question is a Dutch oven that originally belonged to Jill’s maternal grandmother: black as soot, heavy as hell, with an interior seasoned smooth through decades of use. It’s no painted enamel looker, but as far as cooking utility goes, I’d put it up next to a $300 Le Creuset any day.

I made my first batch of gumbo in it; I was so nervous that I’d screw up my first real roux, but the comfort of knowing that the pan had much more experience in the matter than I did allowed me to keep my cool and take that roux right into the deep chocolate territory where it belonged. Just this morning, I baked bread in the same Dutch oven I used last night to make the biryani pictured here. Perhaps I am not exactly who Jill’s grandmother might have imagined would be using her heirloom pot, but I like to think that I could win her over with my ability to coax good food out of it to sustain, nourish, and delight my family—just as she did.

On a related note—if you are from the American South and care at all about food, please read this thoughtful, well-researched piece from The Bitter Southerner: The Seven Essential Southern Dishes. I read it aloud to Jill on our way down to our friends’ farm for a pre-Thanksgiving gathering; we delighted in the author’s spot-on descriptions, learned things we didn’t know about the food we love, and took issue with some of her choices—which she encourages folks to do. It’s worth a read, or an accented read-aloud. If you’ve still got relatives hanging around, I imagine it will provoke some lively debate and the telling of good stories.

TURKEY BIRYANI Source: Anita Jaisinghani via The Houston Chronicle

I first clipped this recipe from the newspaper (so old school!) in 2010; the chef behind it is the proprietress and chef behind two of Houston’s best restaurants, Indika & Pondicheri, and I have long been an admirer of her talents. Since then, this biryani has become a post-Thanksgiving tradition—we love it because it both uses up leftover turkey and creates a whole separate set of flavors from the ones typically associated with Thanksgiving. Plus, it’s a repurposing that doesn’t create another highly-caloric meal, but is still wonderfully delicious and can easily feed a crowd if you’ve still got houseguests or family in town.


*The original recipe calls for you to cook 1 cup of black beans to use in the recipe; I cheat and substitute canned beans.

*Please, please do not substitute another kind of rice for the Basmati; it is essential for the biryani to have the proper taste and texture. If possible, find imported Basmati rice from an Indian grocer—it should be extremely long-grained and fragrant. It makes all the difference.

*My mom, who is a fountain of culinary knowledge that I fear I will never fully manage to tap into, insisted that I add whole black cardamom pods (sometimes called false cardamom—larger than the green cardamom that you’re probably accustomed to seeing) and dried mace flowers (which, I learned, come from the nutmeg tree) to the biryani for authenticity’s sake. You will likely not have these things on hand—I didn’t—but should you, or should you wish to acquire them, wrap them in cheesecloth (to make them easier to fish out) and toss them into the rice as it cooks.

For the rice:

2 cups basmati rice 3 cups water Small pinch saffron, soaked in a bit of warm water 2 tsp salt 2 T butter 2-3 bay leaves 2 cinnamon sticks

Rinse the basmati rice in cold water 3 times, or until the rinsing water is no longer cloudy. Soak the rinsed rise in warm water for an hour; drain.

Bring the rice, 3 cups of water, saffron, salt, butter, and spices to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover the pan. Cook the rice for another 8-10 minutes, or until all of the water is gone. Take the rice off of the heat; fluff gently with a fork and set aside.

For the turkey masala:

2 large yellow onions, finely chopped 2 T butter 4 cups turkey meat, chopped or pulled (original recipe calls for leg meat; I used both dark & white) 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped 2 T ginger, grated fine ½ cup plain yogurt 1 T chili powder (I used chipotle chili powder—you can use whatever blend you have on hand) 1 tsp. turmeric 1 tsp. salt 1 T garam masala 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

Optional but highly recommended garnishes:

a handful each: toasted, chopped cashews, pomegranate seeds, chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to low—for me, that’s 170°.

In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and saute the onions over high heat until they start to sweat. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally until they are a dark golden brown. Add the turkey, garlic, and ginger, and cook on high for a few minutes.

Fold in the yogurt, chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 8-10 minutes. Remove the Dutch oven from the heat, then stir in the garam masala. Add the black beans in an even layer, then spread the warm rice on top and cover with the lid.

Keep warm in a low oven for at least 15 and up to 30 minutes. Before serving, mix the biryani together very gently with a spatula, then top with garnishes.


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November 25, 2015

Everyone keeps talking about how “the holiday season is upon us,” but in my house, it’s been here for a few weeks already.

We celebrated Diwali on November 7th, returning to an annual tradition that we skipped last year to focus on the weddings of dear friends. This year, we were able to celebrate our own marriage in conjunction with Diwali—something I never would have predicted at this time last year, but which dovetailed nicely with the holiday’s themes of light shining in the darkness and the promise that righteousness ultimately prevails.

Our house was packed—even more so than planned, thanks to the rain—babies were passed around, (catered!) food was consumed, toasts were made, and we were spoiled by the love and good wishes of friends and family, some of whom flew in from out of town for the occasion.

Yesterday was my birthday, and tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and were I to try and list all of the things for which I am grateful, I’d never get the rolls or the pie made! But one thing I can say is that I am thankful for these days that we set aside, these rituals that bind our years together, and the opportunity to be here right now, acknowledging what is all around me—leaving the planning and scheming and to-do lists for another day. I hope you have the chance to spend time doing the same; I am so grateful for your readership and your presence in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!


recipe from Chowhound

I served this punch at Diwali—it scaled up nicely—and may have been more excited about my very first ice ring than anything else!  I know, big nerd.  But the punch was a hit; it all disappeared by the end of the night. Punch is so great for a party or big gathering, because you can assemble all of the ingredients ahead of time, and because it always makes a festive occasion feel more festive.

This one is brightly colored, not too sweet, and dangerously drinkable! I will be making it again today for Friendsgiving, and at least once more between now and 2016—I highly recommend it for any holiday gatherings you may have planned.

For the ice ring: Small bundt pan or saucepan ½ cup pomegranate seeds 1-2 limes, thinly sliced Water, boiled & then cooled (this will keep the ice from being cloudy)

For the punch: 1 ½ cups pomegranate juice (I used Pom—be sure to get a brand with no added sugar) 1 ½ cups rum (you can go fancy with something aged, or keep it simple with a basic white rum) ¾ cup simple syrup ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (don’t use the shelf-stable bottled stuff! Either juice your own or find some fresh juice in the refrigerated case at Whole Foods or an equivalent retailer) 1 tsp. orange bitters (I am lucky to have a homemade bottle gifted by a friend—if you don’t, or don’t want to buy one, you can skip this OR add some fresh orange juice/zest to mimic the flavor) 2 bottles brut Prosecco or other sparkling wine, chilled

At least one day beforehand, make the ice ring by layering the pomegranate seeds & lime slices in the bottom of the pan of your choice. Cover with cool water and place in the freezer until solid. You can mix the punch base—juices, rum, simple syrup, & bitters—ahead of time and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. When it’s time, remove the ice ring from the freezer, loosen it with a little warm water, and slip it into your punch bowl. Pour in your pre-mixed punch base, then top with chilled Prosecco. Serve to a happy crowd!

*All of the pictures in this post are courtesy Audrey & Lauren, my wonderful friends/students who served as photographers for the night!


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November 5, 2015

I didn’t like Rebecca at first.

We were placed in the same room, along with two other roommates, our freshman year at Rice, and my first impression of her was of someone cold and distant. My mom, however, whose white-witch premonitions I should have known by then to trust, told me, “You two are going to be friends.” And like every story that includes a pronouncement from my mother, she was right. By October of that year, we were inseparable.; that was fourteen years ago.

Back then, whenever we would talk and dream about the future, the conversation would include some impassioned version of the following: “We have to pursue our art, not put it on the back burner such that we turn fifty and realize we haven’t spent time doing what we love the most!” We pledged to support each other in our various pursuits—writing for me, visual art for her—and you know what? We have.

Anyone who’s tried knows how hard it can be to carve out room in our lives for artistic pursuits, but Rebecca and I have one advantage—we have each other. We have held each other’s hands (literally and metaphorically) through the process of figuring out how to pursue our craft while also working jobs, grieving parents, getting married, and becoming parents ourselves. Through it all, we have been each other’s sounding boards, cheerleaders, and gentle pushers.

Which is why I am so, so excited to share Rebecca’s latest venture with you. Last year, she teamed up with a former colleague of hers, Jenny, to create Pigmint Paper Co., and already they are producing stunning letterpressed paper goods, including invitations, announcements, and custom stationery, a sampling of which is pictured here.

The idea for Pigmint began when Rebecca asked Jenny, “If you could do anything five years from now, what would you be doing?” When Jenny replied, “Graphic design…and letterpress!” a seed was planted, which the two revisited a year later over brunch.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What would happen if we started doing what we would really love to be doing?’ Jenny recalls. “What I thought was still a daydream quickly turned into reality when I put in my notice a month later and found myself attending a letterpress workshop with Rebecca!” Pretty soon, they had purchased a letterpress machine named Clara and had it shipped from Oregon to Texas, where they hired a crane to move the thousand-pound machine into Rebecca’s house!

It’s so inspiring to see these ladies dive in headfirst, and take the risk of building something new out of their shared love for creating beautiful items that enhance people’s lives. They have put thought and effort into every detail, from using only the best oil-based inks and 100% cotton paper to incorporating the lace from a bride’s dress into her wedding invitations. And whether it’s monogrammed stationery, baby/bridal shower invitations, or birth announcements, each card is printed by hand on Clara the letterpress!

I’m biased, of course, but absolutely guarantee that you will have the very best experience working with Rebecca and Jenny. They produced this year’s Diwali party invitation, which I couldn’t be happier with—not only are we celebrating the Festival of Lights at this year’s party, but also our legal marriage, so I wanted something extra-special. They delivered, wouldn’t you say?

Rebecca and Jenny would love to work with you on creating a custom photo card for your family for the holidays or a package of personalized stationery, which makes an excellent gift.  The ladies at Pigmint have generously offered a discount code for Blue Jean Gourmet readers to use when placing orders between now and the end of the year—use HOLIDAY10 to receive 10% off any purchase; offer ends 12.31.15.


Please go support these fantastic artists & businesswomen!


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October 28, 2015

My mom has religiously read The Sun magazine from cover-to-cover since I bought her a subscription about a year ago. Occasionally, she passes issues back to me, with pages dog-eared to indicate “Read this,” and now I do the same to you, pointing you to this piece, “The Geography of Sorrow.” It is a powerful conversation—technically an interview—that cuts wide swaths through issues such as our cultural responses to grief, the impacts of trauma and shame, and the power of ritual. All in all, the piece makes a lot of damn sense while also being quite beautiful. Can any of us writers hope for much more? To make a lot of damn sense while also being quite beautiful?

At one point, the subject of the interview, Francis Weller, quotes Kahlil Gibran: “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”  The quote appears as part of a discussion of our cultural compulsion to narrowly limit what feelings we will acknowledge, instead choosing to numb or deny in order to keep ourselves from fully experiencing our lives:

“In this culture we display a compulsive avoidance of difficult matters and an obsession with distraction. Because we cannot acknowledge our grief, we’re forced to stay on the surface of life…We experience little genuine joy in part because we avoid the depths.”

Our relentless emphasis on positivity and insistence on seeing “the bright side” of things has the unintended effect of keeping us on life’s surface, like the buoyant toys Shiv tries unsuccessfully to force to sink to the bottom of the bathtub. Why is it that we are so afraid to go under, when under is where the depth is, where the gratitude originates, the only place wisdom can be born? As a parent, I want to make sure that my son has the courage and trust in himself to confront the darkness of things, whether inside himself or in the world around him; I want the same for my students.

And that, of course, means being willing to dive in myself, and to let them all see me when I do.

BAKED RICOTTA Recipe barely adapted from Apt. 2 Baking Co.


2 cups whole milk ricotta ½ cup Parmesan cheese (I used shredded mixed Italian cheese, because that’s what I had) 3-4 T olive oil, plus more to finish 2 T chopped fresh herbs (I used rosemary & oregano), plus more for garnish Zest of half a lemon ½ tsp. salt & generous grinds of black pepper, plus more to taste

Preheat oven to 350°. Stir the cheeses, olive oil, herbs, zest, salt & pepper together until smooth. Tur the mixture out into an oven-safe dish and bake until everything is warm and beginning to brown on top, approximately 20 minutes. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil and garnish with additional herbs, if you wish.

I served ours with toasted slices of this homemade bread (with a cup of rye substituted for AP flour, to add a bit of heft). We all gobbled it up this way, as part of dinner of meatballs and glazed carrots, but baked ricotta would also make a wonderful party spread with crackers and olives. I plan to recreate this during the holidays!