Author Archives: Marisa

My Working Self

I sometimes wonder what I was thinking, choosing this life as a food writer. I spend my days trotting a path between kitchen and desk, doing battle with piles of produce, always trying to imagine them into new combinations and applications. The dishes are endless and the words necessary to tell the tales never come as easily as I wished.

I think about my previous life, working in an office, going to meetings, dashing downstairs to grab a salad before returning to my desk, and I am filled with perverse longing. I was desperately unhappy there, but at least the physical work of it wasn’t so unrelenting. The kitchen sink stayed clean for days at a time. I was occasionally praised for my ideas. There were other people with whom I got to share the work.

However, as I reflect more, I realize that I’m exactly where I should be. The idea of turning myself over to whims of an employer again feels dangerous and despairing. All I have to do is brush my imagination over the possibility, and I know that it would break me to try that again.

I was never able to be my full self at work. It was as if I had to put a piece of me aside in order to walk into the office building. I always envied my co-workers, who seemed to be able to occupy the entirety of the personalities while sitting in front of their company-issued machines. It was impossible for me. Every evening, as I left for the day, I would gulp the outside air and try to shake off the feeling of constriction.

The dishes, my poky old stove, and the struggles with words that I face every day don’t feel so dire in comparison to that putting aside of self that I did each day.

Summer in the City and Time Travel

During my early childhood years, my sister, mom, and I spent a portion of every summer in Philadelphia. The three of us would take up residence in my grandparents’ den, sleeping on an array of foam mats and pull-out couches that were made up at night and put away again come morning. Some years, our visit would be no more than a week or two, other years we’d be there for a month or more.

The years when we stayed for many weeks, my grandmother would enroll us in various day camps, so that we’d have structure and entertainment. She and my mom would shop, have lunch, visit relatives, and take walks around the city. In the evenings, we’d either have simple meals made at home by my mom and Grandpa Sid (Tutu did not cook much), or we’d walk to Little Pete’s or Mandarin Palace so that no one had to bother with the dishes later.

Though my sister and I would be reminded to be on our best behavior every time we visited, the apartment was like a second home and we treated it as such. We helped ourselves to the after dinners mints stashed in the bar when no one was looking, and we dug through Tutu’s closet, looking for shoes and hats to use for dress-up. When we had energy to burn, we’d slip out into the hallway and run up and down it’s block-long length until we were panting for air.

For the last 14 years, I have lived in the very same apartment where I spent those happy summers. The den where we once slept is now my husband’s domain (though the same couch still stands sentinel) and though much of the art on the walls remains the same as in their day, the traces of Sid and Tutu diminish with every passing year. However, both building and the neighborhood at large still harbor wisps of the past strong enough to regularly stop me cold.

My most recent bout of time travel happened yesterday. After a very long, cool spring, the heat and humidity of summer is here, draping itself down around the city like a sheer, damp scarf. I had walked to Trader Joe’s to pick up milk, fruit, and a trio of romaine hearts, and was on my way home with reusable bags balanced on both shoulders. Bangs damp and frizzy, and tee-shirt sticking to my back, I was singularly focused on getting through the back door and into the blessed relief of the air conditioning.

As I crossed the threshold of the building, I was hit with heady, memory-laden cocktail of scents. There was the slightly metallic tang of the cooled air as it met the steaminess of outside. A hint of griddled onions from the food truck half a block away. A whisper of garbage from a nearby dumpster. The ineffable medley of cleaning products and 50-year-old building.

The collection of those city scents made my head tumble and pull, as if the gravitational center of the universe had shifted slightly. I felt as if I was being thrust out of my life in 2016 and backwards 30 years into my seven-year-old self. Just for a moment, I slipped back three decades. I stopped walking, wanting to stretch the feeling and hold on to the possibility that behind me walked my mom, the same age as I am now, and my grandmother, still living, breathing, and offering fashion advice.

I stood there, feet frozen to the sloping ramp, alive and well in two different eras.

Soon enough, the doors slid open again to admit a neighbor and the spell was broken. My feet carried me forward into the lobby and back into the last day of May, in 2016.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

For the last year, Scott and I have been looking to buy a house in West Philadelphia. It’s more my plan than his, though he is now a willing participant in my campaign for larger, slightly less urban digs. And while the move to a home with doors that open directly onto the outside and a kitchen large enough to hold more than two people is what I want, I confess that I will miss living in a place that holds so much of my family’s history. And it will be these unprompted tumbles back in time that I’ll mourn the most.

Cat Naps on the Floor

I have always been able to nap when tired or just overwhelmed. In high school, I used to escape to my car or tuck myself into the sound equipment closet for a quick 15 minutes. In college, I’d dash back to my room or stretch out on an obliging couch for a little between-class snooze. During my years as a nanny, I could always manage a little siesta while my charges watched TV next to me.

At my very first real job, we had an unused office that held ancient files and I’d often tuck myself halfway underneath the desk during my lunch hour in order to rest my brain and catch 20 minutes of shut-eye. Once, my supervisor walked in during a nap, saw me laying there, and offered a string of babbling apologies while backing out. We never spoke of it.

These days, I work from home and have any number of cozy places to take uninterrupted cat naps. However, when I feel the need to take a rest, I prefer to stretch myself out on the floor behind my desk, set an alarm for 18 or 20 minutes, and close my eyes.

Now, as floors go, ours is quite comfortable. Though the carpeting is getting on in years, it was the top of the line when my grandparents installed it in 1986 (good lord, my carpet is about to turn 30), so it’s not as if I’m settling down on hard wood or linoleum.

But the thing that’s so nice about opting for the floor rather than the bed or couch is simply what it communicates to my body and mind. It says that this is just a short term rest. Don’t dive too deeply, just let go for a moment. Relax quickly so as to maximize your sleeping time. And When it’s time to get up, there’s no cozy comforter encouraging me to flip over and sleep some more.


california shrubbery
Sitting in front of my computer, eating a messy late lunch out of a serving bowl, the thought occurs: I didn’t eat enough figs this summer. Thinking back, there is only one that is memorable, which seems a shame. I am grateful that that fig was an exceptionally good one.

It was plucked off a heavily laden tree while on a meandering walk with my cousin Serena and her baby Lamar. I was in California for a weekend of professional happenings and booked myself a little extra time to see these particular members of my family.

Serena spotted the tree first, it’s branches reaching out from a fenced backyard. I pulled a sticky fig off the tree and offered to share it with her, but she had found her own. We stood there in wordless companionship, eating these ripe, impossibly sweet figs, and feeling appreciation for the wonders of Oakland.

*The picture above was taken on that walk, but is not of the fig tree. I was too engrossed in the eating of the fig to take a picture.

Mid-July 2015

For the last month and a half, I’ve had a note on my to-do list that reads, “Apt. 2024 post.” Each time I rewrite the list, I carry it over to the fresh page and work away at all the tasks around it. Still, I keep it there as a reminder that this blog is here, waiting for me.

When I do eventually make it to this space, I am grateful and feel such relief in allowing myself to tumble onto this virtual page.

The last few months have been intensely full (substitute the word years for months and that statement would still be true). I turned in the first draft of my next cookbooks in early May and have now made it through two rounds of edits and the photo shoot. I have one last bit of editing to do and then I won’t see it again until galleys.

There is a part of me that still can’t quite believe that I’ve now written three books. The person I was when I started this website would be amazed at the future that lay in store for her.

Scott and I are still living in the apartment, but have been looking for a house to buy in West Philly. The market is tight and inventory is low, so I keep my eyes peeled for possibilities and hope that they don’t go under contract before we can see them.

I feel like I function on two levels these days. On one plane, I am focused on all the things I hope for – a bigger space, the chance to grow a human, the opportunity to write more books without quite so much hustle in the selling. But on the more mundane level, I let all of those hopes go in order to be satisfied with where I am and what I have. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, but works nonetheless.


50 years

Our apartment building is turning 50 years old this year, and to celebrate, the board is throwing a party. Invitations have gone out and nearly every time I ride the elevator, someone turns to me and asks, “Are you attending the anniversary gala?”

Each time, I smile, nod and say, “Yes! My husband and I are both looking forward to it!”

The questioner is always satisfied by this answer and then goes back to sorting their mail or digging their keys out of a pocket or handbag.

However, each time I’m asked, there’s always a longer answer that wells up inside of me. It’s too much information for an elevator ride and truly, these people don’t want the long answer because they’re really just making conversation. But this is what I want to say.

This building is inextricably linked to my family history. Five generations of my family members have walked through the lobby (from my great-great Aunt Sue to my nephew Emmett). There has never not been a moment in the life of this building when I did not have a relative (or two) living here.

My grandmother lived here for more than 1/3 of her life (from 1966 to 2002) and now I’ve done the same (2002 to 2015 and still counting). My mother lived here when she was in college and you can still see traces of the orange paint she slapped on the bathroom walls during a period of mono-induced psychosis. My Uncle Wallace, who at that time was called Robbie, lived in the den when he was going to law school.

Throughout a big chunk of my childhood, my mom brought my sister and me to Philly each summer for a week or two (and once for seven). We slept in the den, road bikes down the hallway, and went to summer camp at 4th and Pine. You can still see the spot on the carpet where I spilled cantaloupe soup in the hallway.

I realize I’m just one cog in the larger machine of the building, but it has been instrumental in shaping me into the person I am. Of course I’m going to the party.

The Great De-Fuzzing

the defuzzer

There is currently a seasonal capsule wardrobe movement afoot. All across the internet, bloggers are editing their clothes down to just 25 or 30 pieces and then sharing all the different outfits they can create with the pared down selection. It’s an exercise designed to create freedom through limitations and remind one that more isn’t always better.

I applaud those who are able to winnow down to two or three dozen items. In all honesty, I probably don’t wear much more than that on a regular basis, but there’s something about creating restrictions where none are necessary that makes me chafe. And so, this blog post isn’t about my decision to pare down. It is, however, about one small thing that I gleaned from all this capsule wardrobe reading I’ve been doing.

In a nutshell, one thing people are discussing is that an inevitable result of narrowing your available items of clothing is that more pressure is put on the garments that remain in rotation. The pieces you are wearing will need extra care. But that’s okay, because in the end you’ve still got less to tend for. That means there’s time for things like hand washing, overnight airing, and fuzz removal.

March 6

Now, like I said before, I’m not trying to do a capsule wardrobe. But the idea of spending just a little bit more time taking care of the things I have struck me. And so, I’ve been making a point of hand washing some sweaters that were long overdue. I’ve done a bit of mending (a pair of socks with a year old hole took three minutes to repair). And I’ve mercilessly tackled all the pills and fuzzies that dot my knits and woolens.

To that end, I bought myself a brand new fuzz shaver. I had a travel sized one years ago, but it was of limited utility. This new one is like a race car in comparison (though the fuzz collection space could be bigger). I’ve been shaving fuzz from everything within reach.

I groomed a beloved sweater I’ve had since college and it looks much revived. A new thrift store find got the treatment and now looks like it’s straight off the rack. And this morning, I didn’t let Scott leave for work until I ran my little fuzz shaver over the pills dotting the cotton zip-up he was wearing (it’s surprisingly effective on occupied items).

It’s the little things that please me most.

No Sign of Spring Yet

sitting in the sunny spots

I walked to Rittenhouse Square earlier this week with my camera, hoping to find some sign that winter was on the way out and spring might soon be on its way. All I found was ice, snow, and thin patches of sunlight. Despite the cold, I found that I could still take pleasure in being outside on a day when the sun was shining.

Things I Like to Make for Dinner

January 2

Despite being surrounded by restaurants (I can count eight on our physical block alone), Scott and I eat dinner at home most nights. The reasons for this are the standard ones. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and we generate less waste with home cooked food.

As the primary meal planner, I sometimes start to run dry on dinnertime ideas (it happens to the best of us, even those who make a living inventing recipes). Many years ago, a blogger I followed posted a list of her favorite dinners, in an attempt to create a well of ideas that she could turn to when she hit a wall.

After years of thinking it would be a good thing to do for myself, here is my list. The things we like to eat for dinner, in no particular order.

  • Turkey burgers (good side options include roasted sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, steamed and buttered broccoli, or cauliflower puree)
  • Turkey meatloaf
  • Teriyaki salmon with broccoli
  • Joy’s chicken and ricotta meatballs (eat over braised kale when being healthy, over pasta or polenta the rest of the time)
  • Roasted chicken, preferably on a bed of carrots and onions
  • Chicken soup (typically made the same week as the roast chicken above)
  • Ground beef soup
  • Chicken or beef fajita salads (topped with the roasted corn salsa from my first book. So! Good!)
  • Turkey tacos with cumin slaw
  • Oven-roasted nachos (that’s what pictured up at the top of this post)
  • Shredded chicken or ground turkey chili
  • Broccoli or cauliflower and cheese soup
  • Carrot soup with ham croutons
  • Sausage, kale, and white bean soup
  • Quinoa salad with lots of vegetables and feta
  • Beef meatballs with feta and red onion
  • Ranch steaks (they are little, quick-cooking steaks that I get from Meadow Run Farm and keep in the freezer. They defrost quickly and are perfect for nights when I didn’t plan well) with whatever sides are around
  • Broiled turkey kielbasa with braised cabbage with leeks and lemons
  • Pulled pork (braised in one part jam and one part apple cider vinegar)
  • Sauerkraut soup (If you have leftover pulled pork or braised brisket, use that instead of the bacon)
  • Split pea soup
  • Curried red lentil soup (I only make this when Scott is out of town, as he’s not a curry fan)
  • Tuna salad on salad greens
  • Beef stew
  • Pot roast (delicious and when I make it, I use a ton of vegetables and serve it on top of braised kale for extra greenery)
  • Mexican rice bowl bar (best for when we have guests who have different dietary needs. Line up brown rice, beans, crumbed beef or turkey, chopped lettuce, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, and avocado on the counter and let everyone build their own)
  • Cauliflower mac and cheese (sometimes made without the mac and with a tiny bit of bacon [turkey or otherwise] for a lower carb version)
  • Kale salad with avocado (this is another one I make only when Scott’s not home for dinner)
  • Fried rice with a ton of vegetables (made almost exclusively with leftover rice from Chinese take-out)
  • Spatchcocked chicken with Dutch oven broccoli (that Whole Chicken Project is a gold mine of useful recipes)
  • Tamale pie
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • No-cook pasta sauce
  • Pizzas made on a sunflower seed crust (these are a favorite when Scott is avoiding carbs)

And here are some things that aren’t currently part of my regular rotation, but I’d love to pull them in to our dinner hours occasionally. Though I’m not sure any of them will appeal to Scott.


January 8

It is brutally cold outside. According to my phone, it is currently 18°F and it will drop down to 16°F before the day is done. I ventured out earlier today to meet a friend and pick up a few groceries wearing my second heaviest coat (the very heaviest one is hard wear while walking) and have no intention of setting foot outside again today.

I am drinking hot, milky tea, have put on a heavy, army green wool sweater that has been with me since college, and have even turned the heat on for a little while (the heat that drifts in from our hallways is often enough to keep the apartment comfortable).

I feel intensely grateful for the tea, the sweater, the heat, and while we’re at it, the cozy home. May we all be so lucky.