Merry Listmas 2014: The Food

Merry Listmas 2014: The Food

Before the calendar turns to 2015, let’s reminisce about the finer things that food in 2014 had to offer (click on the picture for recipes and blog posts).

Favorite Sandwiches:

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Main Attractions

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Favorite Pasta Recipes

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Favorite Bread Recipes

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Favorite Sides

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Favorite Soups

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Favorite Salads

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Favorite Breakfasts

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Favorite Desserts

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Some Other Favorites of the Year:

Favorite Restaurant Hot Sauce
Little Greek’s version excites. It burns. And it is made from carrots. Can it get any more fabulous than that?

The Always a Bridesmaid of Food
Apples. I’ve always enjoyed a good sour apple. I’ve even pushed it off the deep end into a pile of peanut butter at times. This year I used a lot more apples in savory dishes than I ever had before. I found myself strangely craving the depth and dichotomy they bring to fall dishes.

Best Banh Mi
Green Mint Asian Grill’s Tofu Banh Mi

Best Vegan Biscuits and Gravy
The Corner Store

Best Fruit Drink
Naga Tea (and it ain’t close)

Best Breakfast Restaurant Concept:
Alright, let me pitch it. We’ll take an old saw mill and turn it into a restaurant. Then we will put huge griddles on the table and let people cook their own pancakes. Vegan? No problem, we’ll have a batter for those weirdos. Gluten free? Let’s do a batter for them too. Vegetarian breakfast meat? We got you covered. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House knows how to make breakfast unique and fun.

Best Roti (Whatever the Hell that is)
I didn’t know what a roti was, so I never sought it out. Thanks to one of J-Fur’s co-workers we were treated to a Caribbean cuisine experience courtesy of Caribbean Crown. It was here I tasted my first roti (sort of like a thick burrito). It was here that I returned for my second, third and fourth rotis as well.

Worst You Get What You Pay For Restaurant
Cigar City Brewpub, Prime Bar and Gio Fabulous (tie). My hard earned cash didn’t seem to go as far at these three places. The food, especially at the Brewpub, was good. It just wasn’t worth the price.

Best Vegan Sandwich
The VLT at Cafe Hey. I’ve made many a VLT at home and it just never tasted as good as Cafe Hey’s version. Is it the Lightlife Bacon they use? Or does the secret lie in the Cuban bread it is served in? Guess I’ll have to do a little more investigating in 2015.

Loveliest Lunch Date
Ciccio Cali. The lunch prices give you a chance to taste the wonderful array of flavors that the menu offers without feeling ripped off. Their night time prices get a little to rich for my blood.

Worst Brunch
Ciccio Cali. I’ve never actually eaten brunch here. I only say this because they pull their wraps off the menu during weekend brunch (the most likely time I would be visiting). Because of that, I never eat Ciccio Cali (except during the summer when teachers have off school).

Best Vegan Pizza
Cappy’s deep dish with artichokes and spinach, hold the cheese. They know me at Cappy’s because this pizza is a unique one and I’ve ordered it so much. It is so worth every last bite.

Best Woodfired Pizza
900 Degrees Woodfired Pizza. I don’t ever do Woodfired Pizza but on the one occasion I did this year 900 Degree is where I went. It was much better than I expected.

Most Inventive Donuts
The Frosty Llama. Fresh, warm and a variety of flavors. Some of the profits also goes to build schools and they have awesome decorations and t-shirts.

What Breadsticks Should be
Olga’s Bakery. These don’t look like any breadsticks I’ve ever seen before.

Most Tatery Tots
Brick House Tavern and Tap

Most Mundane Place I Ended Up Again and Again
Eatery 41. I just want to go to Capital Tacos for the food. My co-workers want to go here for the space. I usually lose out.

Yummiest Vegan Treat
365 Caffe Italiano Fruit Gelato. It is so creamy I have a hard time believing it is vegan. But I’ve asked. Four times.

Vegetarian Restaurant of the Year
Capital Tacos. One of my ex-co-workers constantly took to Facebook to bitch about how Capital Tacos messed up her take out order over and over. After the fourth or fifth time, she announced that she was boycotting them in favor of Moe’s or Tijuana Flats. I figured that any place good enough for her to boycott is worth me checking out. I researched the menu and realized they had two vegetarian options. Immediately Z-Bot and I loaded into the car and drove all the way over to Land O’ Lakes to check it out. Once inside, the whimsical little restaurant stole my heart. From its homemade sodas, unique flavor combinations, map with pushpins to mark how far you’ve traveled to eat there and furniture made from wooden palettes, I was in love. I wanted to like the place without even trying the food. But ultimately, that is what I was there for. I wasn’t making the drive just for the decor, I needed the food to be good as well. I ordered the portobello burrito and purchased an avocado one to take home to J-Fur. It only took a few bites for me to realize these burritos are top notch (and that anyone willing to give them up for Moe’s or Tijuana Flats must have a real aversion to things that taste good). The only burrito in Tampa that comes close to equalling the flavor of these two is the tofu version at Taco Bus. Everything else, pshaw…child’s play. Capital Tacos chips and salsa, the former which is served in an IKEA bucket, and the guacamole are my favorites in Tampa. There is no where I’d rather eat chips. No guacamole I’d rather have. And no salsa (although I do love that red sauce from Taco Bus). I’ve visited Capital Tacos ten times this year. That is no small statement considering it is about a thirty minute drive from my house…one way. That is why it is my restaurant of the year.

Cook: Back Alley Pasta

Cook: Back Alley Pasta

DSC_0220I spent a large portion of my childhood in the back alleys. These alleys were dim, smoked cigarettes by the carton and blasted Billy Ray Cyrus from their speakers. They had big hair with lots of hairspray, rolled pants and coffee that came from vending machines. They also sold french ticklers and other weird sex items in the bathroom. I watched North Carolina lose in the final four a couple of times in these alleys, learned the meaning of erect and backed down from not a single dare.

One particular night, a cold one in the middle of December, I remember hitching a ride with a couple of guys to the local Pizza Hut. I talked big. “Man, I’m so hungry. I’d eat anything. Even anchovies.” A large guy with a bad sense of humor called me out on it. He ordered me (and himself) an anchovy pie. Everyone else went for nice, normal toppings like pepperoni, mushroom and sausage. When the pizzas came, I tried to slyly get my hands on something other than the pie covered with black fish. But the big guy wouldn’t let me. He kept needling and needling. So I ate those damn fish. One by one I forced the slices down, slime and all. I made it out of there in one piece and returned to the alleys. This time though, I wasn’t there for fun. I was there to vomit all those fish back up. At that moment, I vowed never to eat anchovies again. And I haven’t.

Last week I made a pasta dish based on a Nate Appleman recipe. Wouldn’t you know it that the flavor of the sauce came from those little stinking fish. Not to fear. A bit of powdered seaweed and tamari combine nicely to provide a salty, fishy, vegan alternative.

Back Alley Pasta (adapted from a Nate Appleman recipe)
(printable version)

-6 sun-dried tomatoes
-1/4 cup olive oil
-1/2 cup almonds, toasted
-2 nori sheets
-1 Tbs. tamari
-1 Tbs. fresh basil
-1/2 tsp. fresh oregano
-salt (to taste)
-1 lb. pasta

1. Cook the pasta according to directions.

2. Place the nori sheets into a spice grinder. Grind them until the have turned into a fine powder. Mix with the tamari. Set aside.

3. In a food processor, mix the tomatoes, olive oil, almonds, nori mixture, basil and oregano. Process until everything is just blended.

4. Drain the pasta reserving 1/2 a cup of cooking liquid. Add the cooking liquid to the food processor and blend until everything is relatively smooth and nicely mixed.

5. Stir the sauce into the warm pasta. Eat it.

My back alleys sound a bit like this.

Cook: Foccacia with Rosemary, Tomatoes and Onions and Sundried Tomato and Asparagus Alfredo Pasta

Cook: Foccacia with Rosemary, Tomatoes and Onions and Sundried Tomato and Asparagus Alfredo Pasta

ADSC_0338w yes, the life of being a dad. It has been a great ride. Hard to believe that just yesterday Z-Bot hit the eleven month mark (and my good pal BH hit the 34(?) mark). Time has certainly flown by. It hasn’t all been easy. Some nights, worn out by all the demands I’ve placed on my young and supple body, I’ve had to resort to eating cereal from a box. That’s right, not even cereal I made. Something mass produced in a factory somewhere. Those nights certainly sucks. But the alternative life, one without a smiling happy baby, would suck even more. Anywho, enough of this reflective mumbo jumbo (I think it is the cereal messing with my hormones).

This weekend marked J-Fur’s first Mother’s Day. To celebrate it, I made her some of her favorite foods. On Saturday I transformed my minute kitchen and dining room into a cramped Italian eatery. I covered the table with a red and white patterned tablecloth and began serving things like Vegan Foccacia with Rosemary, Tomatoes and Onions and Sundried Tomato and Asparagus “Alfredo” Pasta. I ensure you that I planned an elaborate Italian dessert as well but my young and supple body could bend no more. No worries. Our local Italian market had some pretty interesting cereals for sale so before collapsing in a heap on the floor I poured one of those into a fancy dish and called it dessert.

Sundried Tomato and Asparagus Alredo Pasta
(printable version)

-1 pound of your favorite pasta
-4 tsp. olive oil
-1 onion, chopped
-5 cloves of garlic, pressed
-1 cup of cashews
-1 cup hot water
-juice of a lemon
-1 Tbs. tahini
-1 Tbs. dijon mustard
-2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
-1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
-pinch of allspice
-salt
-black pepper
-2 Tbs. coconut oil
-1 bunch of scallions, chopped
-1 bunch of asparagus, chopped
-3 Tbs. sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
-1/3 cup frozen peas

1. Make the pasta according to directions.

2. In a small pan, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Sauté the onions and garlic until they are softened and starting to brown. Spoon them into a food processor. Save the pan.

3. Place the cashews, hot water, lemon juice, tahini, mustard, nutritional yeast, paprika, allspice, salt and pepper into the food processor as well. Process until everything is smooth and creamy.

4. Pour the cashew sauce back into the pan you used for the onions and garlic. Add the coconut oil and heat until it has melted and been incorporated into the sauce (if you like a thinner sauce, add some vegan milk). Reduce the heat just to keep it warm.

5. Drain the pasta. In the same pot, add the asparagus, scallions and sundried tomatoes along with the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil. Heat until they are tender crisp. Reincorporate the pasta back into the pot and stir to combine. Pour the cashew cream into the pot and toss the pasta until it is coated. Add the peas and stir to warm them. Nuzzle the pasta up to some fresh foccacia and devour at once.

This pasta/bread combo sounds a bit like…this.

Disappearing Acts: Mac and Cheese and See Emily Play

Disappearing Acts: Mac and Cheese and See Emily Play

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Man it’s been a rough month and a half. Who would’ve of thought vegan bloggers could be so deceiving. I don’t think they are doing it on purpose, they just want to get theres. If that means putting something out into the blogosphere that is a bit lackluster, well so be it. Hell, I probably have done it a few times myself. I just feel bad for Emily Ireland

Alright, let me back up a bit. Remember Emily Ireland? She is an English singer-songwriter who performs under the moniker See Emily Play. She once, right here on this very blog, compared her music to a Black Forest Gateau. She even provided a recipe to go along with it. Well Emily sort of disappeared for a while. I mean it has been two long, cold, years since we’ve heard from her. At first, people around here were concerned. We wondered what had become of her. Stories raged. Had she been kidnapped by pirates? Eaten bad Fugu? Had her tour van broken down somewhere in India and, due to bad luck with hitchhiking and a dead cell phone, she was forced to walk all the way back home? We kept calling and calling, nothing. We held on as long as we could but were finally forced to face reality. Write.Click.Cook.Listen had to move on. I remember how sad I felt as I lugged all those Black Forest Gateau pans to the trash bin. Tearing the posters off the wall was the hardest. Tears were shed for hours on end about that one. But wouldn’t you know it. Just as this place returned to normal and See Emily Play had been wiped virtually from our memories, she showed back up carrying a new song in her hand. And it was good. Damn good. She suggested that it should pair nicely with a mac and cheese. I agreed vehemently with her. Mac and Cheese and “What To Do” were a pairing made in heaven. Now I just needed the mac and cheese.

This is where the vegan blogs come into it. I searched and cooked and cooked and searched for the perfect vegan mac and cheese. All kinds of recipes laid claim to be the “best” “most amazing” and “most tantalizingly delicious” vegan version of every kids favorite boxed comfort food. But these were lies. Most of them were bland or weird or tasted strange or felt heavy or gunky. For a month straight I ate mac and cheese nightly. Nothing seemed to fit. Emily began calling. She asked if I had been captured by pirates, eaten bad fugu or suffered a bad car break down where my cell phone died and I was forced to walk for weeks just to make it back home. I ignored the calls, too locked in to my search for the perfect vegan mac and cheese. It seemed hopeless and I began to despair. It turned into an obsession, one I thought about all the time. Just as I hit rock bottom and decided to check myself into a psyche ward to help break the spell, I found what I was looking for, courtesy of Detoxinista. It was a mac and cheese version that was vegan and nutty and yeasty and void of flour which made for a much lighter dinner treat.

After nearly a month waiting and wondering, I was able to return Emily’s calls and tell her that indeed I had been successful and paired her song with an appropriate mac and cheese dish. It wasn’t easy, it definitely wasn’t timely, but in the end it was perfect. That’s all that matters.

Click: Bitches in the Morning, Chromeo Gets Jealous, Scorpion Topped Pizza And Other Things That Were So This Week

Click: Bitches in the Morning, Chromeo Gets Jealous, Scorpion Topped Pizza And Other Things That Were So This Week

What’s been on my radar for the last few weeks:

Music

Zella Day “1965”

Chance Waters “Bonnie” featuring the Griswolds

Pigeon “Settle In”

Say Lou Lou “Everything We Touch”

Escapists “Breaking It Up”

Dameht “I Love You Too”

Crozet “Hold My Weight”

Pool “Harm”

Twintapes “Everyday Chemical”

Eliza and the Bear “Brother’s Boat”

Shortstraw “Good Morning Sunshine”

Remixes

Kings of Leon X Ghost Wars “Use Somebody” (Gazzo Cover Remix)

Youngblood Hawke “We Come Running” (Ryan Crabtree Remix)

Videos

Bipolar Sunshine documents the final failing moments of a relationship while inquiring about something more in “Where Did the Love Go”

Ever attended a concert at an industrial park where they buildings shimmer with pureness? If not, Pool delivers this opportunity in their new video for “Harm”

The radio starts to cry over a soggy game of chess in the video for “Brother’s Boat” by Eliza and the Bear

Chromeo ain’t with the whole jealousy thing

“Dream” by Hello Phones

“Glow” by Elam McKnight

Recipes

Oatmeal Cookie Nutbutter from the Healthy Foodie

Spaghetti Squash Ribs from the Chubby Vegetarian

Vegan Green Chili Mac and Cheese from the Minimalist Baker

Cheezy Baked Polenta Fries from Fettle Vegan

News

The best vegan cheesesteak in Philly goes to…

Worst Countries to visit as a vegan

Top 50 Staples for a Vegan Grocery List

Diamondbacks Introduce 25 Dollar Corn Dog

Scorpion Pizza?

Moby explains his diet

Cook: Fried Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts

Cook: Fried Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts

DSC_6871Seven years ago I went to an open house cooking tryout to gain admittance to the most prestigious culinary school in Pennsylvania. I had pretty much cemented my spot in the upcoming cohort. There was only one small challenge left. I had to make Lasagna Bolognese from scratch. I quickly put together some homemade noodles and a sauce. I had my cheese ready to go. All I had to do was wait for the water to boil, drop in my noodles, pull them out perfect and I was golden. Easier said than done. You see, cooking pasta is my weakness. My one kitchen task I can’t get right. It isn’t because I don’t know how, it is more about how I can’t stand waiting for that damn pot of water to boil. I’ve tried everything to take my mind off the water and how slowly it makes its way to pasta readiness. Meditation, working out, sparklers and dog walks are just some of the things I”ve tried. Nothing seems to work. I always wind up standing there watching the water like a hawk. As soon as that first bubble breaks onto the surface, I toss in the pasta and start my timer. It always comes out too crunchy. Anyway, on this particular occasion, I changed my approach a bit and cooked the pasta longer than it needed. My Lasagna Bolognese turned out gummy. After one bit the head of admittance dropped my lasagna into a nearby garbage bin. He then stamped my admission form with the word “Declined”. My dream was over thanks to my inability to properly boil water.

Since that day, I have refused to make pasta. It brings back too many bad memories. When I had a desire for gnocchi this weekend, I decided to fry it instead of boiling it. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. No boiling necessary, no undercooked pasta to ruin my meal. Just gnocchi that tasted perfect. Here’s how it works:

Fried Gnocchi and Brussels Sprouts (adapted from Vegetarian Times)
(printable version)

-16 ounces gnocchi
-3 Tbs. olive oil
-3 cups Brussels sprouts, quartered
-3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
-2 Tbs. pine nuts
-salt and pepper (to taste)

1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in a large, nonstick stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi, and cook 4 to 5 minutes, turning often, until browned. Set aside.

2. Pour the Brussels sprouts and last Tablespoon of olive oil into the pan. Sauté  the sprouts for 5 to 7 minutes. You want them to be  crisp-tender. Add the garlic and pine nuts and sauté until garlic becomes fragrant. Pour the gnocchi back in. Heat for a minute or so stirring constantly. Add the pepper and salt. Serve at once, hopefully to the director of a culinary school.

It sounds like…

Cook: Sweet Potato and Eggplant Bacon Pasta

Cook: Sweet Potato and Eggplant Bacon Pasta

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This is the story history won’t tell you. It is one that I’ve uncovered only after countless hours of personal research:

When Christopher Columbus arrived in the new world (thinking he was really in India) he quickly set to work bartering for spices and goods that he could take back to the King and Queen. As Columbus traded some of his gold coins for a bag of salt, he noticed a slightly darker, reddish hued product beside it. He inquired about the spice in the bag. The Native American in charge of trading told him that it wasn’t available to the Europeans, at any price. Of course, when you tell a man no, this makes him all the more interested, and Columbus spent the next three nights devising a scheme to get his hands on the powder. He climbed a tree and began rambling about how he was an owl (hundreds of years later this comedic bit was reenacted by a drunk man in the northeast). The man in charge of protecting the red powder became spooked by the foreign language flying from the treetops. He left to get some help. In the meantime, Columbus jumped from the tree and swiped the bag of powder. When he was a safe distance away, he stuck his finger into the powder and took a taste. He nearly fell over in delight. This powder, whatever it was, tasted exactly like his favorite food…bacon. Christopher Columbus could not believe it. He returned to the ship and spread the powder on cod, potatoes, squash, beans, even cacao. Everything tasted like bacon. He brushed his teeth with it and poured some in his tea. It was all bacon, all the time. After Columbus realized what he held in his hand he immediately drew in the anchor and returned to Spain. When he presented the King and Queen with the new spice, they knighted him right there on the spot.

This is the legend of bacon salt. It is a legend that continues to grow today. J&D Foods is one of the foremost leaders in bacon salt production. Some say their recipe is one that comes straight from the Native Americans and has been passed on for hundreds of years. Others will tell you it is just a fine imitation. I’m not sure the real answer. All I know is if you buy the hickory, it is vegan, and spreading it on eggplant will bring you closer to god. Or, at the very least, Columbus.

Sweet Potato and Eggplant Bacon Pasta
(printable version)

For the eggplant bacon:
-2 Japanese eggplant, sliced extremely thin
-vegan bacon salt
-olive oil

for the pasta:
-2 medium sweet potatoes
-eggplant bacon
-1 red bell pepper, small dice
-1 red onion, small dice
-garlic clove, pressed
-1 cup olive oil massaged kale, thin cut
-16 ounces of pasta (I used tricolor rotini)

1. To make the eggplant bacon: cover the eggplant on both sides with bacon salt. Let sit for thirty minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a cast iron skillet until shimmering. Add the eggplant and fry on each side until browned and crispy. Set aside. Repeat until all the eggplant has been made. Make sure to reserve cooking oil at the end.

2. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes. Boil them in a big pot until they are tender, about ten minutes.

3. Add the sweet potatoes, red onion, red pepper, kale and garlic to the bacon cooking oil. Cook over medium heat, turning frequently to ensure uniform cooking and flavoring. Cook until all the vegetables are tender.

4. Make the pasta according to directions. Drain. Slice the eggplant into small chunks and add it to the pasta. Stir in the sweet potato mixture and season with additional bacon salt and pepper. Eat it.

What does this dish sound like?

Cook: Smoky Butternut Squash Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Cook: Smoky Butternut Squash Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes

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“I like my fruit and vegetables like I like my infections. Local baby!”
-Tender Branson

For years I’ve spent my weekends running up and down Morris Bridge Road avoiding alligators, snakes and high speed travelers. Over that time, I’ve watched Branchton Farms Farmers’ Market grow from a small, backyard operation into a much larger one. In its current form, Branchton Farms now has a cooling case, an enclosed area to store a cash register, a large roof overhead and four (or five?) large display shelves where they showcase local produce at a fairly reasonable price. Not everything on display comes directly from the Branchton Farms’ gardens. Some of the fruits and veggies are imported from local farmers in the area. While the resulting fruits and veggies may be smaller than ones grown out of state, the taste is much bigger. These little guys don’t have the mileage that those other fruits and veggies do.

Two weeks ago I reacquainted myself with the market. Instead of continuing my run past, I hung a right and jogged into their showcase area. I was very impressed with what they had going on. I fondled some sweet taters, ogled the greens and caressed the butternut squash. I vowed a return after I finished my run. When I made it back later in the day I was happy to see my sweet potatoes, kale and squash right where I left them. I picked up my stash (throwing in some peppers for good measure), checked out and headed home to get my cook on.

Those local greens and squash were joined together in perfect matrimony in a Smoky Butternut Squash Pasta that originated at Oh She Glows. I pretty much followed suit, except I added two tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes for a more sultry dish. J-Fur was down. I was certainly down. And I’m sure Branchton Farms would’ve been down too, if I had bothered to invite them over for dinner. Hey, I very well could’ve, after all they are local.

Hear the soundtrack here.

Cook: For Love of Spanish Onion Pasta

Cook: For Love of Spanish Onion Pasta

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I was digging around my grandparents’ attic recently and came across a little statuette like the ones they hand out at the Emmys. Attached to the back of it was a little card with the following story:

We were rivals from opposite sides of the globe, both competing for the same girl. He with his suave handlebar mustache and graceful flamenco walk spent his younger years running the streets of Pamplona. Sometimes he could be found running slightly ahead of the bulls, most of the time he trailed safely behind. I was a farm boy from Utah. Raised on sugar beets and Les McCann music. I thought I had a bit of an advantage. First off, I could cook. On more than one occasion what started as an innocent meal quickly escalated into something much more. I would say it was for no other reason than I could make olive oil sing. Second, and probably the much larger reason, is his smell. He reeked of spring onions. No girl wants to run through the fields holding hands with someone who smells like that right? But I was wrong. I saw them holding each other a few nights ago. I walked quietly by, hoping neither could see the pain in my eyes. But he did. Oh, he never misses anything. He smiled mockingly and said “Take this Señor.” He tossed me a Spanish Onion. I did what I always do. I took it to the kitchen and cooked.

There was no recipe posted on the statue but if there was, I’d imagine it would be something as simple and lovely as  this pasta:

For Love of Spanish Onion Pasta
(printable version)

-1 pound of pasta
-2 large Spanish Onions, small dice
-2 cups spinach
-2 Tbs. olive oil
-1 cup hot water
-2 Tbs. tomato paste
-salt and pepper

1. Make the pasta according to the directions on the box.

2. Meanwhile, in a big stock pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. With ten minutes left, drop in the spinach.

3. Dissolve the tomato paste in the cup of hot water. Pour that over the onion mixture and cook for ten minutes.

4. Combine the pasta and onion mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Eat all the way through your broken heart.

What does this dish say