Tag Archive: restaurant


Weird things are known to happen in my kitchen. Especially around breakfast time.

When I walk into the kitchen at 7:30 in the morning before a 9:00 shift at the Writing Center, the choice is obvious. I go straight to the cabinet and grab a granola bar, then contemplate how I’m going to tough out being hungry for about two hours before my lunch break. That early in the morning, that’s about the only thing I can stomach. There’s just something about the morning that murders my appetite. Eggs have always been my mortal enemy, and I seldom have a desire for anything bigger than a bowl of cereal, a cup of yogurt, or a piece of fruit.

Then, I graduated—and became a night owl.

Forget breakfast. If I wake up at 9:00, it’s 11:30 by the time I get hungry, practically lunch time. Sandwich. Soup. Give me anything before I pass out at the keyboard because now, I’m finally awake enough to feed myself, no longer distracted by YouTube or Sherlock Holmes, no longer preoccupied by packing or by proofreading. The need is immanent, and I reach for the first thing I can get my hands on, not because I’m apathetic but because I am desperate to shut my stomach up before it growls loudly enough to register on the Richter scale.

My first Monday off from graduate school, I got up around 9:30 with the flavor of liberty in my mouth. Strangely enough, I was already hungry. I stretched once and walked downstairs, heading for the only thing I would dare eat for breakfast that morning.

The night before, my friend from Chile and I went to The Italian Oven, a local gem where I have spent many celebratory meals, including one to celebrate Gracielle passing her cumulative exams. And then, of course, there was my mom and I, who were unfamiliar with the geography of Mt. Pleasant when we traveled there for our tour of the campus, but since it is one of the best places to eat in town and is conveniently located on the south end by the freeway, we didn’t even give eating there a thought. Besides, we both should have been born Italian.

On this particular grip with Gracielle, Hailee went with us. I had three weeks to move out, and I was running out of food, which I had no desire to buy more of. Besides, I needed to celebrate my thesis defense… again. That’s the sort of thing I felt like celebrating repeatedly. It meant moving on, graduation, no hitch in the plan–until that damned e-mail about formatting that came in today.

Then, I had an idea, one based on years of not eating breakfast for breakfast.

Breakfast Cannolli

Behold, the 1,000-calorie dessert/breakfast.

I ordered a strawberry cannolli to go, and I made a rather lavish breakfast out of it, parked in  front of my television watching season three of Psych in my pajamas. No guilt, no urgency, no frugality. Every bite was a smooth reminder of the ending. This would be my last trip to The Italian Oven. Even now, sitting here and writing about that impulsive breakfast cannolli, I consider my conclusion in Mt. Pleasant to be sudden like a drop-off in the ocean floor. I was prepared to leave two weeks before my actual departure, but when it finally did end, I stood in the empty apartment and listened to my footsteps hammering off of the white walls and the clean floor, unimpeded by the dust of thirteen weeks of chaotic thesising and classwork.

Before then, I had never eaten a cannolli for breakfast, and if I ever do again, I will think of the empty footsteps and the week of sweet celebrations and all the people I knew who are(n’t) there anymore. I will remember the relief that followed the urgency, and I will smile.

Unusual things just tend to produce that reaction.

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Last week, I was at a local organic food store with my colleague and friend Elvira. In the one and a half years that I have lived in this town, I have resisted the urge to purchase some red lentils from them. Finding that resistance significantly weaker than in the past, I purchased two pounds of them for use in future culinary expeditions. After filling one of my canisters with them, I reflected on my first encounter with this strange little legume.

“What are you cooking, dad?” I asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Lentil soup.”

“What in the heck is a lentil?” I shamefully admit that at the age of twenty-one, I had not heard of a lentil.

“It’s a bean.”

“Oh.” If it was a bean, then it was acceptable. After all, I happen to have an affinity for beans. “What else is going to be in it?”

“Well, I’m using red lentils because they have a thinner skin, and I’m going to put some Andoullie sausage in there.” I could tell he was excited because the pitch of his voice had gone up a bit, his eye brows were raised, and his mustache tried without success to hide his smile.

“Sounds good. I can’t wait to try it.” And try it, I did. For years afterwards, I begged him to make another batch, but he never did. He made Italian lentil soup once, which was not quite as good because it contains panchetta and I am not a huge fan of bacon. During one trip home, I finally got the Middle Eastern version of the dish at a restaurant called Ya Halla. There are no words to describe this euphoric bowl of pureed lentils and chicken broth. It had distinct undertones of cumin and coriander. I think there may have been turmeric in it. Whatever the combination of ingredients, I knew there was no going back from that little slice of paradise, found at a table with no one else but my parents. As for my own lentil soup, it had a lot of growing to do. I decided I must pay a true homage to this particular dish, one that I only became familiar with in my early adulthood.

Lentil soup was not the first soup I cooked when I moved out. I tried my hand at it several times before getting the knack of it, adding chicken and kale for good measure, then finally discovering coriander and throwing it into the mix. Batches have gone to sick coworkers and fed a visiting friend from home, and even if it was a relatively recent culinary discovery, I still have an inexplicable affinity for lentils that no one in my family understands and I can’t even properly verbalize. There is just something quaint about these hearty packs of nutrients that appeals to me. I feel akin to them somehow. Maybe it’s the fact that I remember my dad when I eat them even if I happen to be knee-deep in my thesis while I’m swallowing a bowl of it. Maybe I am something like a lentil, a small bean with thin skin who would have no skill in writing if not for my friends holding me up, their thoughts steeling into my head at random times when I’m eating alone. Maybe the lentils represent time, each bean a savory moment that nourishes my mind, or maybe these lentils are my mind–maybe each lentil is a grain of knowledge in my head that, without other grains, is nothing more than a dry and hardened fact. These facts only become something when they are immersed in the stock of experience, combined with a flourish of root vegetables, and seasoned with the smoke and citrus of the everyday.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that they taste really good.

Chicken and Red Lentil Soup for the Sole

Ingredients

  • 3 baby carrots, diced
  • ½ stalk of celery (or a few smaller ones), diced
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 ¼ cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 chicken strips, frozen
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cumin, separated into two 1 tsp servings
  • 1 ½ tsp coriander, separated into one 1 tsp serving and one ½ tsp serving
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water

Directions

  1. Add olive oil to pan. Saute celery, onions, and carrots for about 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add 1 tsp cumin and ½ tsp coriander to vegetables. Saute for an additional 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add stock, water, lemon juice, remaining cumin and coriander, bay leaf, black pepper, and chicken strips. Simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are thoroughly cooked.
  4. Remove chicken pieces and bay leaf. Puree about 1 ½ cups of the lentil mixture in a food processor or blender (you could also use an immersion blender for this). Add to the remaining soup, turn the burner on low, and combine.
  5. Discard bay leaf. Shred chicken strips with a fork and return to pot. Stir in and simmer an additional five minutes.
  6. Just before serving, add an additional dash of cumin and coriander (because they are excellent).

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