Back in 2014 when I started this blog, I was at a transition phase, both professionally, and with my relationship with food. Prior to that, my beliefs about food and eating were very much informed by the traditional, weight-centric model of nutrition I had been taught in school. I thought of food as good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, and while I wasn’t 100% certain what it looked like, I believed there was a “right” way of eating. While I said - and truly believed! - that all foods fit, I also believed you had to plan and compensate to make room for them. And while I understood on a logical level that body diversity exists, that didn’t stop me from considering weight loss as a goal of nutrition treatment, on putting limits on what body sizes I thought were OK.
After moving from an inpatient clinical job to work as an outpatient dietitian at a large medical center, I began to have experiences with patients that chipped away at my old belief system. You know that chart of what you think you know versus what you actually know? Well, I was basically falling off that (steep) cliff of knowing nothing, realizing the whole paradigm that I had been taught under was deeply flawed, while also not knowing what other paradigm there was. I cannot overstate the drama of this quarter-life crisis.
Around the same time, I started watching reruns of Antony Bourdain’s No Reservations after work while I was cooking dinner. They always had reruns on the Travel Channel the same time I was cooking, and it was the perfect background noise - I could tune in and out as my headspace allowed. Watching his shows provided me with a sense of comfort, and reminded me there was so much more in this world than my daily anxieties.
It also exposed the chasm between my eating habits and my values. I would watch Bourdain laugh with new and old friends over plates of stinky cheeses, crusty breads, and local wine. I’d watch him wander through food markets, tasting bites of local street food, immaculately prepared through muscle memory by cooks who had spent decades making the same dish. I’d watch him put his heart into preparing a dish that appropriately honored a culture and it’s local ingredients.
Then I’d go back to chopping carrots for whatever vegan quinoa conglomeration I was preparing that night.
(This is the point where I pop in to say I promise we’ll bring it back to the focaccia.)
When I first started my food blog, I thought it was because I needed a creative outlet in a job where I was feeling stuck and professionally unfulfilled. Now I look back and realize that by forcing myself to come up with words to put out in to the public for consumption, what it really did for me was provide an outlet that forced me to critically think about the way I’d been talking about food and eating. I had to formulate a new philosophy, as I tried to put words on the internet that I felt like I could stand behind. It brought to light and forced me to challenge my old diet rules, as I had to consider why would I use this ingredient swap if the old one actually tasted better? Basically, this blog helped me rediscover the joy of eating.
Now, granted, healing wasn’t exactly linear - there were some detours. Around the time I was consuming all things Bourdain, I was also voraciously consuming Michael Pollan’s work. And while I still appreciate a lot of what he wrote, it was quickly absorbed by diet culture and turned into this seemingly rational monster called clean eating. Since I just watched the Game of Thrones finale, we’re gonna go with a GoT metaphor here: clean eating is Daenerys. At first it seems liberating, as it chips away at a corrupt old paradigm. It feels like you’ve found THE ONE TRUE AND RIGHT WAY OF EATING, so you go along for the ride, convinced it’s the correct path. Then all of a sudden it’s slaughtering half a million innocent people with a fire breathing dragon. Maybe I stretched that metaphor a bit?
Eventually, this little blog with the hideous blogger template I bought off Etsy for $25 bucks grew, and I was able to turn it into a nice little chunk of my business. I started a private practice, found these new paradigms called intuitive eating and health at every size, and started learning and writing more about it, eventually getting certified. Now when I look at that chart of what you think you know vs what you know, I feel really confident about what I know, and at the same time see SO much out there that I don’t know, but I feel excited and hungry to learn it.
But with that, writing about food has felt a lot less interesting to me. When you know that eating is about SO much more than food, it makes you question the value of putting out another recipe for pasta. I knew I wanted to use my blog to highlight all foods, but when it came to recipes, sometimes I felt like I didn’t really know how to talk about it. As my private practice has grown to where I’ve needed help (yay for Kate and my intern Brianna!), and as I’ve taken on other projects, there’s been a lot less headspace for being creative with writing.
A couple months ago, I discovered Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a docu-series starring Iranian chef Samin Nosrat, as she explores the four elements of cooking by traveling to different locations and highlighting how each element is incorporated in local cuisines. Nosrat is just the most charming individual, and such a generous host with zero ego on display, which lets her guests really shine through. Ummm, can we get more women hosting shows???
But what struck me most is the joy with which she talks about food. To me, her show is the most perfect example of the joy of eating. Food is so much more than fuel - it is science, culture, comfort, family, nourishment, pleasure, art, and patience all wrapped up into a tasty package. And she highlights that as she laughs over tacos topped with a variety of tacos with tongue-scorching levels of heat, tears up over aged parmesan and soy sauce, and (in one of my favorite scenes) makes Ligurian focaccia, with tons of olive oil, and dough painstakingly dimpled by hand to create olive oil puddles and a perfectly crispy crust.
(This is also where I pop in to say this is not her recipe for focaccia. You can find that here).
Watching that series forced me once again to think about what the joy of eating means to me, and more specifically, what it looks like to promote the joy of eating with the food writing on my blog. I don’t think the joy of eating is pushing myself to put out recipes just to get out content for pageviews or to stick to some arbitrary posting schedule because that’s part of your income. When I write about food, I want to be really excited about it, because frankly, that’s the kind of writing about food that I want to read.
Anyway, this whole post is a very long winded way of saying that’ll I’ll be posting less often, because I really want to concentrate on putting out quality content when I do. And it’s hard to feel excited about creating recipes and writing about food when it feels like a thing on your to-do list. When I do share recipes, I promise it will be ones that I am REALLY excited about, accompanied by writing sharing WHY I am so excited about it, starting with this easy no-knead focaccia, loosely inspired by Samin Nosrat’s focaccia.
I’ve been making variations of Jim Leahy’s no-knead bread and pizza dough for almost a decade now, until recently when my friend Willow from CJ Nutrition sent me some of her sourdough starter (after I accidentally killed the first sourdough starter she sent me. RIP Clint Yeastwood). I’ve been experimenting with that and getting better at sourdough baking, but I still love the ease of a good no-knead dough, which you just have to mix up in a bowl and let sit in a warm room until ready to bake. The hands off technique makes baking fresh, crusty loaves just a bit more approachable.
To make this easy no-knead focaccia, you don’t need any special skills, just time. Don’t worry, it’s hands off time. And actually, I find this recipe works really well for weeknight cooking, as you can whip up the dough in the morning, let it ferment all day, then bake at night. The slow fermentation creates a focaccia loaf that has the perfect amount of chew spotted with yeasty air bubbles, and the hefty pour of olive oil soaks up into the bottom to make a crispy crust.
As I learned on Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, in Liguria they turn up their noses to focaccia topped with anything other than a drizzle of olive oil and flaky salt. But I just love pockets of deliciousness like roasted garlic cloves and tomatoes in my bread, as well as a hearty oregano dusting over the top. Feel free to use sun-dried tomatoes, olives, or caramelized onions if you like.
Easy No-Knead Focaccia with Roasted Garlic and Dried Tomatoes
Makes 1 loaf
Adapted from Serious Eats Easy No-Knead Roasted Garlic Focaccia
1 head of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast (if using dry active yeast, increase to 1 1/4 teaspoons and dissolve in 1/2 cup lukewarm water, subtracting 1/2 cup water from what’s listed below)
Scant 1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup store bought or homemade marinated oven-roasted tomatoes (I used antipasta tomatoes from Trader Joe’s, but feel free to use any oil-marinated sun-dried tomatoes)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
A pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes
In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, salt, yeast and water until well combined and no dry flour remains. Cover with saran wrap and place in a sunny room or in the oven with the light turned on to let the dough ferment. The dough should rise to almost fill the bowl.
While the dough is fermenting, roast the garlic. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel the outer paper from the whole garlic head. Slice the bottom end off the garlic head to expose a little bit of each clove, while still keeping the head held together with the top part. Drizzle with olive oil and wrap it up with a small piece of foil. Place in the oven and roast for 40 minutes, until cloves are tender. Refrigerate until ready to bake the bread. Once cooled, carefully squeeze the garlic cloves out.
After dough has risen, scoop it out into a casserole dish with olive oil drizzled over the bottom. Turn the dough over to cover with olive oil. Press down the dough to fill the dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise again for about 2 hours.
When ready to bake, head oven to 500 degrees. Using your fingers, press the dough down to fill the dish, allowing some of the extra oil to cover the top. Scatter the garlic cloves and tomatoes over the top of the dough, and press into the dough with your fingers.
Place bread in the oven and bake 17-19 minutes until the bottom is crisp, and the top is lightly golden.
Store in a brown paper bag at room temperature for a couple days. Refresh any stale bread by warming it in a 350 degree oven.
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