Year Round

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Quinoa Bowls with Roasted Vegetables | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

As I recover from my lack of cooking, I am easing back in with my favorites, my go-to’s, and things I realize I should have shared with you.

I think it was around Thanksgiving that I first had some variation of this bowl. It’s a simple equation, really, and one you’ll find all over the internet. Cook a grain (or combination of grains), top with vegetables and/or proteins, and season with sauces. What I like best about them is that with minimal effort, you can feed yourself anywhere from four to six meals with only about two hours of effort. They have become a go-to in our house: I add a soft boiled egg at breakfast or crispy baked tofu at dinner. I add greens to make it more of a salad, or whatever roasted vegetables I might have lurking in the depths of my fridge that need to be finished up, or some smoked salmon from the farmers market. The point is, this is endlessly riff-able and endlessly people-pleasing.

Here are a few other recipes I use for topping my grains and sauces:

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Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrot Ginger Dressing

Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrot Ginger Sauce/Dressing | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

When I was younger and we went out to a sushi restaurant, my parents would make us order a salad. This salad was usually mostly iceberg lettuce, topped with a neon-orange clumpy dressing, and I loved it. I loved how crunchy and bright it was. I hadn’t really thought about that dressing until a year or two ago when Saveur‘s recipe for it popped up on my Facebook feed. I made it immediately and was SO HAPPY.

These days there is always a jar of the stuff in my fridge since it can be used for pretty much anything. How do I use it? Most often to top my grain bowls with whatever random assortment of vegetables and proteins I’ve got around. I love using it to dress a simple salad with whatever greens I have in my fridge (romaine, baby kale, and baby spinach are the usual suspects) and topping it with sesame seeds. Or I drizzle it over my lazy breakfast of crisped leftover rice and a fried egg, plus some hot sauce and everything bagel seasoning. The point is, if there is an opportunity to use this dressing, I do.

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Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies

Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peanut-Butter Filled Chocolate Cookies | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

To say I have been feeling uninspired would be an understatement. Ever since our fridge stopped working 2 months ago (it was finally replaced. That’s correct, we were without a working refrigerator for almost 2 months) I have just not been itching to be in the kitchen like usual. I think of a recipe and start to research, and I feel like I see it in twenty places and it doesn’t seem worth me developing it myself. When I do think of a recipe that I can’t seem to find, I can never quite get myself to actually make it. Other things intrude into my kitchen time. I decide I would rather paint or read or nap.

So I decided to wade back in with someone else’s cookies. Deb Perelman’s cookies, to be exact. I feel like since she started doing press for her most recent cookbook, Smitten Kitchen Every Day, she has been on fire. There was a time when I would go to Smitten Kitchen and nothing would quite catch my eye, but these days? These days I feel like everything she posts is just for me. I kid you not, a couple of weeks ago I googled “Korean short ribs instant pot” and the next day – THE NEXT DAY – she posted exactly. what. I. was. looking. for. It was bizarre, I felt like she was a god that had heard my prayers!

Her siren voice was calling and I decided to answer in the form of these peanut butter filled chocolate cookies. I agree, it’s a weird thing when a blogger posts another blogger’s recipe. But I needed to get back in the kitchen, and these were the ticket. I had a sunny afternoon alone in my house, so I turned on my favorite baking Pandora station and enjoyed myself for the first time in a while. Sometimes all it takes are some really good cookies, you know?

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Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Rooibos Tahini Ice Cream | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

A week before Christmas I almost cut off a large chunk of the tip of my thumb. I won’t get into the gory details, but here’s what I’ll say: don’t rush, and be careful when it comes to the combination of frozen produce and very sharp new knives. Ok? The next day, our refrigerator broke. It took two days to get someone to come look at it, and now we are waiting until January 8th for a part to come which will hopefully (please please please) fix it. In the meantime, we had two coolers outside plus a very mini fridge in our basement, plus a kind-of working refrigerator that our friend graciously gave to us. Did I mention that we were not only hosting Christmas dinner but also had my in-laws staying with us for the week?

Anyway, we got through all of this just fine. We got through it well, in fact. There were no stitches or trips to the emergency room, just lots of gauze and finger cots and trips up and down our basement stairs and re-freezing ice packs. And at the end of all of this (well, technically it’s not the end since our fridge is still busted and my finger is still bandaged up), an ice cream maker appeared on our doorstep. It was one of those times when you rack your brain to remember, “What the heck was my latest Amazon purchase?” But no, it was just my wonderful father-in-law. Maybe it was an additional Christmas present or a very nice host gift. My mother-in-law is one of my only family members who religiously reads this blog, so I’m sure she’ll show this to him, and hopefully, it will make him smile.

Of course, then I had my in-laws in mind when I was thinking of what recipe would be the first in my newest kitchen addition. I was researching and researching recipe ideas, feeling frustrated that I couldn’t quite find what I wanted, and then this one popped into mind. You see, my mother-in-law was the one who got me drinking rooibos tea. I had tried it before, but it wasn’t until my regular trips to Chicago, sitting around sharing a pot, using her cute little strainer, that I started really liking it. It’s now a staple in my tea collection and one that we drank a lot of while they were here. And because I can’t leave anything alone, I decided to add tahini, bringing a sweet nuttiness to the earthy flavor of the tea. You can make this without the tahini, and it would be good. But I recommend trying the combination – I think they suit each other.

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Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Kale & Sweet Potato Soup | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We’ve turned on the heat. On the afternoons when the cold is seeping into my bones I nudge the thermostat up a couple of degrees. We’ve had four fires in our fireplace. Jonah even acquired one third of a cord of wood (which is a lot). I am drinking tea most mornings. The leaves are fiery red, more neon than I remember them being in years past. I think I’m so excited about all of this because I missed fall last year. I’ve always loved fall for many of the usual reasons: sweaters, tea, cozy gatherings with family and friends. But this year it all seems bigger. Last year we went pretty much straight from summer in Portland to more summer in Thailand, and then straight into winter in Germany. I missed my favorite season and some of my favorite ingredients.

But having more appreciation isn’t the only thing that’s different. There have been little things in our day to day lives that have altered since we started making this home. It seems silly, but I used to be very particular about leftovers, and often didn’t really like eating them very much. These days I am a leftover guru: combining bits from different meals to make something completely new and also really good (if I do say so myself). I am working on going with the flow more, and am getting better every day. And this season I am determined to confront my mediocre feelings toward soup. It’s not that I hate soup at all – I don’t even dislike it. But there is always something I would rather eat (the exception to this is matzoh ball soup). But with a new kitchen, a new dutch oven, and a new perspective on leftovers, I’m going to conquer soup.

I made this decision over a month ago when we arrived in Chicago for our wedding. Once we hauled our suitcases into the living room at Jonah’s parents’ house after a long day of travel, my mother-in-law asked if we wanted something to eat. She scooped rice into a bowl and topped it with this light coconut broth, simmered kale, and sweet potatoes. There was a healthy pinch of cilantro, and she got out the hot sauce for us to liberally drizzle over. I took one bite and was convinced that I needed to re-examine my relationship with soup. I ate this for the next three days for lunch, secretly sneaking into the kitchen for a slightly early lunch so I would get to it before Jonah’s family finished it off. It was selfish, but I couldn’t help myself.

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Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Parfait Parfait: Peach Parfait with Graham Cracker Crumbs

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Peach Parfait | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

We give each other a hard time in my family. Really. Nothing is off limits, and boy do we know how to push each others’ buttons. My sisters, for example, can get me more angry than anyone in the world. But the other side of this is that when we give each other compliments, it really is the most heartwarming thing. Getting a sincere compliment from my sisters or my parents is one of those things that gives me the warm and fuzzies. But back to the giving each other a hard time thing. My dad has all these -isms. These things he says and we give him quite a hard time for. I won’t share all of them here because he might kill me (if he happens to read this post), but one of my favorites that is relevant to this story is when he says, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.” This is almost always in reference to some intricate, fantastic dish he has cooked. It goes like this: either we are on the phone or sitting down to dinner, and he tells me all of the steps it took to make the dish in front of me or that he made for dinner last week. And then, no matter what I say, he follows it up with, “You know, it wasn’t actually that hard.”

When I was in Seattle last month, he and I were at the store shopping for dinner, and he mentioned he wanted to pick up whipping cream for leftovers of a dessert he had made a couple days before that, you guessed it, “wasn’t actually that hard.” I, of course, did not believe him. Especially when he claimed it was called a parfait parfait, which in his often jumbled speech, became farpait farpait. Imagine the two of us, wheeling our cart up and down the aisles of the store, giggling and spouting “farpait farpait” at each other – it was a sight. But we got home, ate dinner, and then were treated to this dessert. The sautéed fruit topped with salty, sweet, buttery graham cracker crumbles, and freshly whipped cream convinced me quickly that this dessert was worth whatever effort it required. It was so tasty that I made it for a dinner party last week to find that he was right: it really was one of the simplest desserts I’ve ever made. Did you hear that Dad? YOU WERE RIGHT.

The beauties of this recipe are two-fold. First, it can be easily adapted with whatever seasonal fruit you have on hand. In the coming weeks, I’ll be making it with plums, then apples, then maybe even some grapefruit wedges, rhubarb, berries, you get the idea. Second, having this graham cracker crumb on hand, I’ve found is both tempting and useful. Being able to just sauté some fruit and whip some cream and voila, dessert, is pretty great. Plus it isn’t so bad sprinkling a tiny bit on my morning yogurt, fruit, and granola either.

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The Glass Slipper

Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

I have attempted to start this blog post a few times now. It’s proving a bit challenging, for a few reasons I think. First: do you, dear reader, really want to hear me go on and on about one of my best friends? Maybe you will think it’s sappy, or maybe you don’t really care. And that’s ok. Who am I to judge? Second: it’s really hard to nail down all of the things you love about a person. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, what with all the BIG LIFE STUFF happening around here. My badass, fearless, stunning, hilarious people are making moves, and it kicks ass.

Two of those people got married three weeks ago. Mac & Carmelle were friends of Jonah’s when he and I started dating, and so I ended up spending a lot of time with them. After a couple years, we moved in together (there was never really a question that we would), and we ended up living together for four years. Living with friends is always dangerous, but I wasn’t extremely close with these two when we moved in. I had enjoyed some long talks with Mac, because that’s what he does, but I’ll be honest: I was nervous about living with Carmelle. The woman knows what she wants and how she wants it, and often times two headstrong people living in the same house doesn’t go well. She instituted the chore wheel – perhaps the best invention – and always let me know when I hadn’t cleaned the stove well enough. But I found out she also was down to bake a cake together or listen to some pop hits from the 2000s. She always knew all the words to every song Jonah and I performed, and I would often hear her listening to our latest cover on repeat in her room. We moved into a bigger house and added a couple roommates, we continued to grow closer, and I realized that, without knowing when it really happened, she had become one of my closest friends. It wasn’t surprising, really. She is an incredible listener, she laughs easily, and she isn’t afraid to make fun of herself (or you, for that matter). She always invites you to share her meal, her shoes, even her tequila. It was from Carmelle that I learned a lot about having staples in your fridge at all times from which you can make a full meal, and that it’s ok to just eat the cookie dough instead of baking the cookies. In addition to storing about 80% of our belongings when Jonah and I left the country last year, we lived with Mac & Carmelle for about a month and a half before we departed, and we lived with them again for a month when we returned. There was no question that we would. Instead Carmelle told us our room was ready when we were ready to come home. It is unspeakably challenging to go from seeing everyone every single day of your life to not at all, and saying farewell to them was certainly the most challenging of our goodbyes.

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Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Carrots with Tahini Sauce + Hazelnuts | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Disney dinner | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

It was a mashup. A mashup of colors: neon orange, sunset purple, creamy yellow. A mashup of recipes: lots of research, a few ideas, a smattering of ingredients already in the fridge. And a mashup of an event: bachelorette party meets Disney princess themed meets actual edible meal. My best friend’s bachelorette weekend was a whirlwind of events and cocktails (coming soon to the blog, don’t worry), celebrating this wonderful woman and her marriage to another one of my best friends. I’ll get all sappy about them in the next post though. I was tasked with throwing a Disney princess themed dinner party at my house – we dressed as Disney princesses, there was a photobooth, lots of Cinderella-blue (her favorite princess), pumpkins, and more. Above you can see the table and some of the princesses with Cinderella herself at the head of the table, plus the wonderful Moana using her oar to keep all the bees off our fish.

In my effort to create a feast that was edible and kind of went together, I fudged a little bit – Arial probably wouldn’t normally eat salmon, she’d be friends with the salmon. So this was my riff on Rapunzel’s carrots and hazelnuts (in the movie she eats parsnip and hazelnut soup) topped with Jasmine’s tahini sauce. It was my favorite dish at the dinner, and I was happy to find some of the tahini sauce leftover in my fridge a few days later. So I recreated it here – there may be less Disney flare, but there is just as much flavor.

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Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Asian Hot Sauce

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Asian Hot Sauce | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

My cooking these days feels torn. On the one hand, we’ve been having people over for dinner all the time and when we do, I take it as an opportunity to make those dishes that are just a bit too much of a production for any old night with me and Jonah (i.e. anything from my newest and also favorite cookbook Six Seasons). On the other hand, when it is just me and Jonah I tend to turn to what I have in the fridge. This is a great practice, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally buy the same things for weeknight dinner staples: I pick up some tofu, mushrooms, peppers, leafy greens, onions, occasionally some sweet potatoes, and a bulb of fennel if I’m feeling fancy. These ingredients most often turn themselves into a rice or soba noodle bowl because, well, we love Asian flavors, and it’s simple enough that we don’t have to think about it too much before it can become dinner. But the key to any good rice or noodle bowl is the right sauce.

In my recipe box that sits in my spice drawer, I’ve got at least 3 different asian marinades/sauces. They all have roughly the same ingredients, with a couple extras thrown in or substituted. They are ingredients that are used almost daily in my kitchen: soy sauce, rice vinegar, sriracha, garlic, lime juice. Occasionally there will be honey or maple syrup, sesame oil or miso. But this sauce, the one below, it’s different. Instead of being the base sauce for a meal, it’s a sauce that I keep in a small jar in the fridge. I drizzle it on a plate of food when it needs an extra kick, that beloved tingling on the lips, the gentle burning on the edges of your tongue. It’s not too hot – you can still taste all the ingredients in it because the heat is just at the right level where the flavors don’t get lost. I put it on noodles and rice bowls, but I also put it on fried eggs in the morning, orzo salads that need a little jazzing up after a few days in the fridge, and an afternoon snack of avocado. It has gotten to a point where I like to always have a jar on hand, should the need for it arise. And the need does arise. It always comes in handy.

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Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle

Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Hummus Three Ways: Basic, Balsamic, and Chipotle | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

There are some foods that have such a sense of place. For me, scallops take me back to the first time I gathered the courage to taste them – my dad had doused them in a carrot sauce – on the back patio of my childhood home. Deeper n’ ever pie takes me to my mom’s kitchen. Beer bread takes me to my apartment, senior year of college, my friend Rosie and I standing in the kitchen, waiting impatiently for the bread to cool so we could eat a slice. Annie’s mac n’ cheese takes me to the early days of my relationship with Jonah, standing in his college kitchen, scraping the pot of the tangy cheese sauce to procrastinate on our studies.

Hummus was never a food I loved growing up. I never understood why you would purée beans and then dip dry, bland pita chips in it. I would’ve rather eaten broccoli dipped in ranch, or Doritos, or almost anything else you would find hummus next to at the food table at whatever party you were at. It was cold, thick, and grainy, and seemed like a punishment to have to eat. I avoided eating it mostly until the past few years. I remember a hike that my dad and I went on, and we took a little tub of Sabra’s roasted garlic hummus to the top of Little Si outside Seattle and nearly polished the whole thing off. From then on, Sabra was the standard for me: rich, creamy, and smooth. At parties, I stopped avoiding hummus altogether, but I never really sought it out.

When I went to Israel a couple years ago, I knew I was going to eat the best hummus of my life. And I did, four times over. I ate hummus dusted with za’atar, hummus slathered in olive oil, hummus sprinkled with ground lamb and pine nuts, and hummus dolloped with roasted mushrooms. I would go back to Israel just for the hummus, eaten in the Jerusalem heat, watching the city bustle around me as I sat licking my fingers. When I got back from that trip, I started making my own hummus – I have become a snob about it, and I futzed with Ottolenghi’s recipe until it was as close as possible to the plates I scraped in Israel.

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Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage)

Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Sai Ua (Chiang Mai Sausage) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Well friends, this is the last post from my time in Thailand. Although I’ve been gone from the country for a month and a half now, the fact is that after this post I’ll be done writing about it, looking at pictures constantly, revisiting notes, and all that. But in a way I saved the best for last.

As a birthday present for me, Kylie and Walt got the four of us a class at Ton Gluay Thai Culinary Heritage, a cooking school that Kylie found on a blog all about life in Chiang Mai. They contacted Ice, the woman who runs the school, and got us set up for an afternoon class to take place at Ice’s house. The cool thing about this class is that instead of rushing you through making four different dishes, you pick one dish to make from scratch. One of the dishes we hadn’t yet made in any of our cooking classes was the infamous Chiang Mai sausage, or Sai Ua, that we had eaten (and loved) on many occasions. It was spicy and juicy, with strong flavors of cilantro and lemongrass. Now, I’ll admit that making sausage from scratch isn’t necessarily the most appealing thing to me – intestines have never been high on the list of parts I enjoy eating or handling. But I was determined to try something new! So the class was scheduled and we were on.

When Jonah and I pulled up to Ice’s house on our motorbike, she and her boyfriend Eric (from New Jersey) were sitting out front, waving us in. Perhaps the first thing you notice about Ice is her petite but incredibly strong frame – turns out she and Eric are starting a gym in Chiang Mai and do lots of weight training in their yard. But the second thing you quickly notice is her voice. Ice is Thai but studied in Scotland and has also spent some time in the U.S., and because of this her accent is fascinating and hard to place. The way she said “cool” was so great that eventually all four of us started repeating it after her. If you want too hear what I’m talking about, you can check out the podcast that Jonah and I have been making and listen to the episode that features Ice’s class.

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Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup)

When you think of Thai food, do you think of pad thai? Of rice noodles with a slightly ketchup-y sauce topped with too many bean sprouts? Or mild curries, full of almost mushy vegetables? Or do you think of fresh noodles with a tart and savory flavor, created by a mixture of tamarind and oyster sauce? Or curry paste pounded by hand, spicy and complex?

Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler
Tom Yum Koong (Hot & Sour Prawn Soup) | Serious Crust by Annie Fassler

Since I have been in Thailand, I have mostly enjoyed the latter kind of Thai food. Food that is packed with flavor, that has depth to it, layers of ingredients that have been combined with care, with knowledge. One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to take a cooking class, to learn these recipes and techniques. And, in the end, they aren’t as time consuming or confusing as you might think. The ingredients may be hard to find back home, but I can make do.

The day before Thanksgiving, I booked a cooking class for us and our visitors. There were eight of us total, and I thought it would be a good way to all spend a day together, doing something that we really enjoyed. Plus, it would almost be like Thanksgiving what with the hours in the kitchen and the overeating. We went with a company called AsiaScenic, and (after a little confusion) they picked us all up in a van and drove us to a market on the way to their farm north of the city.

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