SIX MONTHS LATER…/ RECIPE: SHEPARD’S (AKA COTTAGE) PIE, March, 2016, Manhattan, NY

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I’ve never been very good at keeping resolutions. One year for New Year’s not so long ago I decided to give up my bottled water habit – I have a thing for Evian – it just tastes better – but I knew bottled water was bad for both the environment and my wallet. I was so proud of this decision I flaunted my resolve to my friends and roommates, bragging how easy it would be, how much money I would save. By January 8th I’d totally caved, walked around the corner to Hana Food and indulged in a $3 bottle of water. When a roommate came home and caught me in bed with that tall drink of water, I humbly confessed, “I gave up.”

This year (of my birth, not the calendar), instead of setting resolutions I set goals. I realize that benchmarks are a more feasible alternative to my ambitious and perhaps unrealistic resolutions. But if you read my last post (from SIX MONTHS ago) you probably noticed that I have set A LOT of goals. Eating better, working out, writing more, traveling, success! I mean, I know I had a whole year ahead of me but I also have much I need to accomplish. I must say I’ve done pretty okay on some of my goals. Six months into my twenty-eighth year (okay, technically it’s my twenty-ninth) year I thought this would be a good time to evaluate my progress and finally update my blog. First and foremost, I GOT MY FUCKING DRIVERS’ LICENSE – something I’ve been putting off for 12ish years (I mean, I am a New Yorker, crazy good at the subway and a top-notch passenger), but an adult needs driver’s. Now I just need to master stick shift… I also renewed my passport, which will help me attain future goals! I’ve already pampered myself with a two-week vacation in Hawaii (travel blog-post coming soon) AND a trip to Uruguay (blog posts about both coming soon!). I’ve reshuffled my restaurant staff and have been booking parties left and right. At one point I was working out daily, though recently my work out schedule has dwindled, but hey, that’s way better than my exercise commitment over the past few years, which was never.

Going forward I plan to focus more on my blog and my diet. So here I go blogging about my eating habits AND sharing a super cozy recipe for the last cold nights of winter! Cold grey weather almost guarantees poor diet choices. The homemade pastas at my restaurant have been beckoning me with their delicious sauces and fresh meats and vegetables. I’ve also imbibed a fair amount of booze. But over the past few months I have to remind myself that I don’t have to be perfect. Everything in moderation is my mantra now; not exactly the Party Girl Plan, more like the Party Girl Plan Lite (but still pretty heavy). If I want to have gnocchi for lunch I’ll have a salad for dinner, not only because salad is the healthy choice but also because I know those greens will help my body digest the gnocchi, and TBH I really like salad. Smoothies in the morning instead of bagels. Dessert once (or twice) a week instead of every night and usually homemade. And for good measure, I’ll throw in a Pilates class here and there. It’s sweater season and I’m feeling good about myself and so should you!

In honor of the cooler weather and my dabbling with indulgence today I’m sharing the recipe for my mom’s Shepard’s Pie. I know, with a name like Isabella Gambuto you’d think I’m 100% Guido, but alas that conclusion is flawed. My mother is Jewish, of South African and English decent. My Grandmother Patricia is a very proper Londoner (accent, marmite, Sainsbury’s Red Label tea, keep calm and carry on and all that). This recipe is my mom’s version of one of her grandmother’s signature dishes. Though classically made with lamb, mom now makes hers with ground turkey and the rest of us make it with ground beef, which in the UK they call Cottage Pie. But this one is my recipe and I’m going to call it what I damn well please! Caramelized onions and seasoned ground beef, topped with layers of peas, roasted sweet potatoes and creamy mashed potatoes, all covered with grated sharp cheddar and baked in the oven. It’s the perfect one pot meal, great for a crowd or family dinner. Preparation is a little time consuming but totally worth the effort. It’s also even better the next day! I mean, I’m pretty sure this recipe could win a Shepard’s/Cottage Pie competition, if such thing existed…

 

FullSizeRender-3.jpgSHEPARD’S  aka COTTAGE PIE

Shepard’s pie is pretty much an entire meal – meat, potatoes and veggies – stacked into one delicious casserole. I apologize for the so-so photo – I made a super fun GIF of all the layers but an too computer illiterate to figure out how to post it on wordpress (help?!).

Serving size: 8-10 people. This is a good dinner party dish!

INGREDIENTS

2 LBS ground beef

1 large Spanish onion, chopped

2 tbs olive oil

1 beef boullian

1 cup water

3 large sweet potatoes

4 large potatoes

1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)(I know, a lot of butter)

1/4 cup heavy cream (yea, I never said this was particularly healthy)

1 bag frozen peas

1/2 cup sharp cheese of your choice SHREDDED (I used a mix of parmesan and white cheddar)

salt and pepper

***heavy bottomed pot like a Le Creuset 

PREP:

  1.  peel potatoes and chop fourths. place in a medium pot and cover with water and bring to a boil. once water has boiled uncover pot and lower heat to a simmer and let cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes. once cooked, drain water and mash with butter and cream. salt and pepper to taste.
  2. while potatoes are boiling prick your sweet potatoes with a fork two or three times each and place on a tin foil lined baking sheet. put in over and heat to 425 degrees feranheit. bake for 30-45 minutes, until fork tender. once cooked, scoop out roasted potatoes and discard skins, salt and pepper to taste.
  3. while your sweet potatoes are roasting heat a large pan with olive oil and brown ground beef. make sure to drain any liquid released from beef from the pan – do this by covering your pan and carefully pouring out excess liquid into a bowl. you can discard this excess liquid
  4. once meat is nice and browned set removed from pan and set aside. add onions into same pan and sauté, making sure to pick up any little bits of beef stuck to the pan (that’s flavor baby!) you may need to add another glug or two of olive oil here. cook until tender and sweet about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and turn down heat to 400 degrees farenheit.
  5. add meat back in with onions, throw in beef boullian cube and cover with water. let cook until water is fully reduce and taste. if too salty or too dry add another 1/2 cup of water and let reduce again. salt and pepper to taste.
  6. the final step before layering your pie is to defrost your frozen peas! this can be done in the microwave, a steamer or a shallow pan filled with 1/2 inch water. just make sure to drain any excess liquid post defrosting!
  7. at this point you should have all five (YES FIVE) components of your pie ready and waiting! In your heavy bottom pan layer your ingredients in this order: : beef and onions, peas, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes. Make sure you are evenly spreading the sweet and mashed potatoes.
  8. once put together it’s time for your final finishing touch: CHEESE! sprinkle the cheese of your choice all over the top. also feel free to add a couple pats of butter if you’re feeling crazy!
  9. once fully assembled place pie uncovered into oven (which should still be heated from your roasting) and cook uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until cheese is melted and the top is lightly browned. Let cool at least five minutes and then dig in!

***Optional eating advice — I like the mash my pie all together, unto a big ugly mess, that way you get a bit of beef, peas, sweet and mashed potatoes in every bite! But that’s just a suggestion!

And now a smattering of photos from the last half year of my life just because!

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2 MONTHS POST SURGERY – THE PARTY GIRL PLAN / RECIPE: CHOPPED BABY KALE SALAD WITH CHILI CUMIN CHICKEN, April 2015, Brooklyn, NY

It has officially been two months since my surgery! The swelling and intense pain are almost entirely gone – I still have cramps and the occasional bad day if I push my body too hard. My surgeon says the procedure went flawlessly. He removed all the lesions, but, like cancer, endometriosis cannot be cured. Without treatment I’m succeptible to a relapse at any time. Because hormone therapy is the only medical option to stop the disease from coming back I just went through some tough decisions that I’m going to discuss on the blog today.

My surgeon recommended another hormonal IUD. This option involves the least amount of hormones because it is centralized right where the disease occurs. As I briefly discussed in my last endometriosis post – having the previous IUD inserted was the most painful experience of my life, arguably worse than the surgery itself. I was not keen on going through that again. But it was better than the other options. Hormone replacement pills (not birth control pills) would mean three times as many hormones and would almost definitely make me gain weight (way to play my vanity card, Doctor!). Hormone shots or a progesterone implant were too permanent – I couldn’t remove either if my body didn’t react well to the dosage. My surgeon was super gung-ho about the Mirena IUD and explained that my last one was situated low in my uterus and was rubbing against all the endometrial scar tissue that just happened to be clustered in the same place. This was why not only the insertion process but the entire month with the IUD were so incredibly painful. He guaranteed an easier sonogram-assisted insertion this time so he could actually see that it was in the right part of my uterus.  I still wasn’t convinced.

The boyfriend grew up in a homeopathic home – no vaccines, no over-the-counter medicines- and he is one of the healthiest and strongest people I know. When deciding what my next steps should be in this healing process I turned to his parents, specifically his father, Theo, for advice. Theo is a massage therapist, juice enthusiast, reike master, and a genuinely awesome, extremely healthy man. When I was first diagnosed with endometriosis Theo found this homeopathic website forum for women with the disease. There were a handful of cases where women had completely cured themselves of the disease by going on a diet similar to the cancer diet (no meat, no legumes, no sugar, no alcohol, no fun), alongside a juicing, supplement and yoga regiment. While these stories were incredible and inspiring, to be honest, I didn’t know if I could give up one of my greatest loves – FOOD – to cure this disease. Many of the stories were from women with stage-four endometriosis, whose only option after numerous surgeries was a hysterectomy. I’m still in my 20s, I love meat, cheese, pastries and BOOZE. I knew I couldn’t follow a strict enough diet to actually cure my disease.

Then I spoke to a family friend, Halina, who is a gynecological-endocrinologist, i.e. a fertility doctor. I mentioned my interest in a homeopathic remedy. I told her I wanted to find the cause of my disease – stress, diet, lack of sleep, and she chortled. Endometriosis doesn’t have a root cause, she told me, I couldn’t cure it with diet and exercise alone. If I didn’t intervene soon with hormone therapy I ran a high risk of reoccurrence that would lead to more surgery and, even more frightening, a very real possibility of future infertility. My chat with Halina ultimately led to my decision to get another IUD, along with a new diet and lifestyle. My surgeon kept his promise about the second insertion; it wasn’t anywhere near as painful as the first. All I needed was one day off and a couple days in stretchy pants to recover. It’s been five weeks now and I’ve had some pain, (nothing compared to pre surgery cramps) and am hopeful for my future. Now I can focus on my new “diet” and general lifestyle changes!

When I was first trying to decide which healthy lifestyle path to take I looked at two popular diets – Paleo and the Whole 30. My bar manager, Megan, had been Paleo for a month, was feeling amazing and lost 13 lbs (which I didn’t even think she needed to loose). Another girlfriend of mine and one of my blogger crushes, Elsie from A Beautiful Mess, had similar experiences with the Whole 30 diet. Both intrigued me but neither would work for me as a sustainable eating plan. No condiments, dairy, whole grains, or alcohol ever?! I could do that for 30 days but what about the rest of my life? I wasn’t doing this to lose weight, I was doing this to get heathy. I had to find a way to eat well without depriving myself. And so I created my own diet plan pretty much based off  Michael Pollan‘s book In Defense of Food whose motto is  “Eat Food. Mostly Greens. Not Too Much. I’ve cut almost all processed foods from my diet – no flour, nothing from a box, only whole grains, little to no dairy (and mostly goats’ milk products)) and whenever possible organic/antibiotic free/free range. I allow myself organic condiments such as tamari/soy sauce, sesame oil, miso paste, vinegar, raw honey and maple syrup. Over the past two weeks I cut all carbs  (just to see if I could) and it went extremely well – though I found myself missing quinoa and my Ezekial bread avocado toasts. I’ve still been drinking alcohol (almost always in moderation, minus a couple fun nights). I’ve cheated a couple time – at a friend’s engagement party I had a tiny little pig in a blanket or a bite of the boyfriend’s Philly cheese steak – but always small amounts and I have never felt guilty.

What I like about my non-diet diet plan, or if you will, The Party Girl Plan, is that it’s easy, sustainable, and allows me to continue eating foods I love. I don’t feel deprived, hungry and have almost entirely lost my cravings for rich foods and sugar! This coming from a girl who would eat a bowl of pasta and day and at least one package of sour candy in bed every night (with the boyfriend…) I feel healthier, stronger, and so far I’ve lost 10 LBS, plus my bowel movements are incredible! If you’re looking to change your diet, this is a great place to start.

In addition to eating well, I’ve started to move my body more. After lying in bed three months straight it feels so good to take walks and be on my feet. I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy or run yet so I’ve started practicing yoga, which I always thought I hated. BIG THANKS to my girlfriend Karla, who, along with our friend Ashley, runs Sync Studios, a Yoga and Cycling Studio in Williamsburg. Ashley has taken time out of her own busy schedule to do privates with me until I get my strength up. Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be confident enough to take classes. And when I’m feeling super strong the boyfriend and I want to do Insanity (we’ll see if that actually happens!).

From now on I’m going to try and share recipes that are Party Girl Plan friendly! Below I’m sharing a recipe for a super filling chopped baby kale salad that has been a staple of mine these past two months. Feel free to switch out the butternut squash for any other type of squash or sweet potatoes – also if pistachios are a little too expensive (I steal them from my parents’ house)(Sorry parents!) pepitas work well too. And one last shout-out before I share; the chicken in the salad is inspired by a fellow Fieldston Alum/food blogger/healthy eater Pheobe Lapine, from Feed Me Pheobe. My good friend Lily turned me on to her blog and it has so many yummy healthy recipes (my favorite is her Carrot-Ginger dressing!) you should definitely check it out.

ALSO special thanks to the boyfriend for taking these fun photos of me and Misses Loretta the dog on his new camera I got him for his birthday. Clearly it was a present for both of us!

Chopped Baby Kale Salad with Chili-Cumin Chicken, Roasted Butternut Squash, Pistachios, Chia and Hemp seeds in a Miso-Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette (What?!)

INGREDIENTS

For the Chicken:

1 chicken breast, chopped into bite size pieces

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp salt

tbs coconut oil

For the Salad:

about 2 cups baby kale

1/4 butter nut squash, roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper at 375° for 30 minutes

2 tbs pistachio nuts

1 tbs hemp seed

1 tbs chia seed

1 tsp really good flaky salt

For the dressing:

1 1/2 tbs melted coconut oil

2 tbs balsamic vinegar

1 small shallot, minced

1 tsp white miso

1 tsp maple syrup

PREP

1. cover chopped chicken in chili, cumin and salt and let sit for a couple of minutes. Heat pan and cover with coconut oil. Throw in spiced chicken and cook through, about 8 minutes, making sure you flip those little guys to get a nice brown on all sides.

2. while chicken is cooking make dressing, I recommend doing so in a jar, as it emulsifies the ingredients best. throw in shallot, oils, vinegar, miso, and maple syrup. shake vigorously and taste to make sure it’s just sweet enough!

3.to assemble salad- roughly chopped (I know, it’s already baby kale, but things taste better chopped, trust me), top with butternut squash, cooked chicken, pistachios, seeds and salt. drizzle over dressing (it’s rich you don’t need to much) ENJOY!

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GOOD OLD FASHION HOUSE PARTY, August, 2014, Bushwick, Brooklyn

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Hopefully by now you’ve all realized what I mean when I call myself a “party girl”. This blog is more about my adventures in dinner parties and fun gatherings than social escapades around NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I used to be the ULTIMATE party girl – I went out at least 5 nights a week – to bars,  warehouse parties, you name it. These nights usually included at least four vodka sodas with a splash of lime juice (VodSoLime) and dancing until the sun came up (bonus points if they played “Party In the USA“). In fact, the name “Party Girl’s Perspective” was thought up (by yours truly) after a drunken evening debate. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but I interjected with my own opinion, stating firmly, “Well, from a party girl’s perspective…” and my friends never let me live it down. I pretty much was the MOST FUN.

I even threw my fair share of (if I may say so myself) EPIC house parties (back in the day when I lived with three boys and our house was in a constant state of trashed). Even though I now live with FOUR boys (a little misses dog) my house tends to stay in a state of relative cleanliness and I hardly ever “rage”. Though some of my favorite party spots have shuddered their doors (RIP OG Coco66Paris London New York, and my very first apartment 541 Lorimer – which is now an AirBnb Hostel that YOU can actually stay in), the downfall of my party girl ways had way more to do with owning my own business, in particular my own bar. After working five to six days a week, serving drinks, the last thing I want to do is go out drinking after a ten hour shift (though, strangely this doesn’t have the same effect on my desire to cook in correlation to running a restaurant, TG). 

Now a days, I still enjoy a good evening out (though the boyfriend and my friends would agree that I should probably go out more) but I definitely no longer hold a “Party Girl” title. In fact, just last month, I was out and about on a Saturday night (at Call Box Lounge to be exact – I highly recommend you check out their website, by the way), when my good friend saw me and freaked out “OH MY GOD, you’re actually out! You never come out!”. She was totally right (and I was totally sober). SO when my roommate Al and his bandmate Taka wanted to throw a house party their band could play (it might have been just a little bit of my idea too) I was TOTALLY DOWN. We had only thrown two house parties since we moved in last August and it was time for me to show off the other spectrum (e.i. a RAGER) of my party planning abilities! Continue reading

BEACH DAY PICNIC, August, 2014, Fort Tilden, Queens, NY

To follow up on my last post, this one’s all about the day I made the boyfriend take me (and Misses Loretta the dog) to the beach! The boyfriend isn’t the biggest fan of the beach (even though he grew up in a beach town) and neither is Misses (which is mostly my fault for capsizing a canoe while I was holding her when she was just 3 months old and forever traumatizing her). Me, however, I LOVE the beach. I love swimming in the ocean, I love tanning, I love picnics! Beach over pool any day. I had only been to the beach twice all summer (once at the boyfriend’s little beach town, sans the boyfriend, and then once when we were in Cape Cod), so I was SUPER PUMPED to spend a day lounging by the sea before the summer ended. Continue reading