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If I had a food philosophy, it could be summarized by the following: fast, fresh, local, anti-convenience.

I tacked the last part because fast, fresh and local food is available from many of our neighborhood restaurants; you can have it hand-delivered within minutes. But the anti-convenience gene makes me want to make it from scratch.

I make just about everything from scratch. Why bother with Organic Avenue’s ginger beet juice when I can make it at home with way more effort and virtually the same cost?

This might perplex people, but those who like to make things by hand will sympathize. I’m talking to you pasta-makers, bread-bakers, and ice cream-churners. We take the labor-intensive route, but in the end, I always think that food tastes better when it’s made at home.

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When we moved to our apartment in Chelsea, eating out wasn’t a choice. Our kitchen renovation took months, leaving us to either starve or find sustenance in the neighborhood. Which, when you’re living in New York City, isn’t the worst problem to have.

Momoya, a Japanese restaurant on 7th Avenue, quickly became a favorite. To the point where I had to institute house rules about switching who got to choose location.

To this day, left to his own devices, Rodney will order every delivery meal from Rocking Horse (chicken burrito, hold the watercress), and make every date night reservation at Momoya.

There, we get the same thing: tuna tarte, spicy tuna rolls, tuna, tuna, tuna, maybe a little bit of salmon to keep the peace.

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The odd thing about our love affair with tuna is that we rarely eat it at home.

Foragers Market is just a few blocks from home making it our go-to destination for groceries. The downside is that although Foragers carries the best roast chickens in the city, its smaller footprint (compared to Whole Foods just a few blocks over) means that they don’t carry certain items, including fresh seafood.

But, here’s the great news. I recently came across a new service called Our Harvest which delivers greenmarket produce (the kind of stuff that you’d normally find exclusively at farmers’ markets), fresh meats, fish and artisan – right to your door.

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A confession:

I, Jessica, lover of all things seafood, defender of raw oysters, cult follower of everything clam, have never liked mussels.

Sure, I’d order the occasional restaurant bowl, but it was less for the moules, more for the frites. The problem with mussels (not “muscles” friends – I’ve seen that written frequently, which warrants this important PSA) is that if they’re one microsecond past their peak of freshness, they become just plain wretched.

Which is how I’ve eaten them on too many occasions. Even at high-end restaurants where mussels should be held to higher standards. Sometimes a whole bowl is tainted, but most often it’s the one long-dead mussel bomb in an otherwise fresh bowl that can ruin the whole experience.

But it just so happens that on a balmy afternoon in October, we visited The Ivy in LA and my feeling about mussels was about to change.

Let’s backtrack a few days so that I can fill you in on how we found ourselves there.

Rodney and I had just started our second year of school at Berkeley and had thrown a legendary party to break in the new apartment. Reams of students and new acquaintances had poured themselves into our tiny space and we’d stayed up late into the night drinking and chatting.

On nights like these, you often end up with a string of new best friends; some of whom you never see again. Some of whom you do.

Our friend Teddy fell into the second category. Introduced through Rodney’s good friend from college, we immediately hit it off, demanded that he come to our upcoming wedding in Mexico, and promised to visit him in LA.

I was excited for our drive from San Francisco to LA. Rodney and I mapped out our trip, planning to take the scenic route down Highway 1.

Our weekend finally upon us, we took off, hip hop filling the air, and steered our way down through Carmel and the Santa Barbara wine country. We even decided to camp out overnight and I got to use my latest purchase: a thin piece of fabric that was marketed as “the world’s smallest sleeping bag”. Translation: world’s coldest sleep-deprivation chamber.

As dinnertime neared on the second day of our drive, we pulled into a gas station in Calabasas, California. From there, Rodney called Teddy and told him that we’d be arriving at his place in 30 minutes. We were in great spirits. Rodney pumped gas; he spoke with another friend or two while he topped up the tank. I strolled around and craned my neck, hoping to catch sight of Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.

And then it dawned on Rodney that with all of the sunshine and good times, he’d missed a crucial detail and filled his tank with diesel.

This, I might add, was no ordinary tank. We were driving our Chevy Tahoe, affectionately known as “the beast”.

For the record, if this ever happens to you, cancel your plans for the next few hours because you’ll be spending them on your back, laboriously siphoning expensive fuel out of your vehicle drop by drop.

We arrived at Teddy’s house at 11PM. The dinner that he’d prepared had long gone cold. Not the best way to christen a friendship. So we did what any good houseguest would do and attacked his wine supply.

The next day, sheepish and hungover, we were in the mood for grub and desperately wanted to give Teddy some space.

Teddy steered us in the direction of The Ivy, which at that point was popular with the movie execs. We somehow finagled a table and nestled into our patio chairs. Once again I craned my neck in search of celebrities, which, in LA, is akin to spotting monkeys at the zoo but with less giddy pointing.

I can’t remember whether we saw anyone of interest; but I do remember my lunch: New Zealand green mussels in a green curry sauce.

When you can recall the exact details of a lunch that you ate 15 years prior, you know that it was good. The green-shelled mussels were impossibly fresh, and the coconut-based curry sauce was spicy, but not overpowering.

I think about these mussels often. I’ve dreamt about recreating them at home. New Zealand green mussel though, are hard to find. I’ve never seen them since – neither on restaurant menu nor in grocery store display.

The good news is that standard black mussels are easy to find. Making it easy for you to recreate this recipe in the comfort of your own home. It’s a glimmer our lunch at The Ivy, minus the guilt and shame. Plus it has the added benefit of some pickled shallots for added flavor. Triple win.

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The yin and yang of food blogging: let’s talk about yin first. Meeting loads of new people who are hugely passionate about food; pushing myself creatively to make better, more interesting, dare I say – more sophisticated – food…and perhaps most exciting, expensing a portion of my grocery bills. The yins are too plentiful to count.

The big fat whopping yang? My dependence on cookbooks took a backseat to this newfound creativity. Over time, my colossal cookbook collection has become an historic relic, more useful now as a work of art than a primary source of comfort and inspiration.

I still love cookbooks. I still collect them and tear into them eagerly as soon as they arrive from Amazon.

But after the initial reading, which from outer space might look more like a minute-long shark attack on an unsuspecting minnow, I put them aside on my worn oak nightstand. And there, they rest, collecting dust, waiting for a better time; a distraction-free moment when I can dedicate my full attention to reading the introduction, earmarking favorite recipes, and jotting down shopping lists.

My “to read” pile now reaches higher than my lampshade.

This time that I can never seem to find? I should probably admit to myself, right here and now, that it ain’t coming any time soon. At least not until my youngest is in middle school and can move herself independently from point A to point B. At which point my oldest will be in high school, and I’ll be up late worrying about boyfriends and missed curfews. Free time is looking bleak for at least another decade.

For now, I sneak 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, to sit back and relax with a cookbook. It’s not the leisurely page-at-a-time perusal that I lust for, but it’s enough to spark the teensiest bit of inspiration.

Which is how we’ve landed on hummus today.

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We’re talking squash again this week. Two weeks in a row, I hope this isn’t a fireable offense. What can I say, I’m passionate about squash. As if last week’s post didn’t convince you…

We stayed in New York this weekend since we had a few activities planned. One of which was the highly-anticipated feedfeed Market Day at the Union Square Greenmarket.

I first linked up with feedfeed on Instagram where they’re building a strong community of like-minded people who love to cook. Their website is growing, and is quickly becoming a go-to source for inspiration on a broad range of topics, from pies and soups to pancakes and smoothies. As the website evolves and becomes more searchable, its curated content will surely rival some of the biggest food websites today. I’m just happy to be a part of it all – as both observer and occasional contributor.

I was finally able to meet the founders of feedfeed – Julie and Dan Resnick – in person this weekend. Their Market Day event at the farmer’s market brought together a number of chefs, nutritionists, stylists and food bloggers and it was fun to chat with everyone about the changing food landscape.

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Social media and social platforms such as feedfeed are no doubt improving the way that food is cooked at home. Restaurant-quality food is making its way into home kitchens as home cooks become more innovative and experimental.

My food has changed immensely since I’ve become part of a community who cooks and then shares the output online. I’ve become more confident, and have started to take risks with my cooking. I’ve become intrigued by unique flavors and textures, influenced in large part by the global accounts that I follow – from home cooks in the Middle East to UK-based naturopaths, and minimalist-minded Scandinavian food stylists. Like a sponge, I’ve soaked it all in, eyes wide open.

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Mondays are usually reserved for CSA posts, but out of town last week and with a failed attempt at arranging an alternative pick-up, I was left with no vegetable share.

Which was a blessing in disguise because, especially on weeks that involve travel, my share gives me cold sweats when I get back to a mound of vegetables only to pick up another mound a few days later. So I luxuriated in a week free of obligations, even ordered pepperoni pizza one night, and made the best of it. I was happily reunited with my Week #12 box on Saturday, so friends, you will be seeing a new CSA post in all of its glory up on the site next week.

Until then, let’s talk grains…

One of my first posts on the blog was about sad desk lunches and my efforts to end them. Sadly, I experienced my last desk lunch only weeks after I wrote the post, after deciding that an office environment was no longer for me. Or “happily” I should say, because it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I can’t put a price on the family time I’ve gained, and the happiness I’ve found from building a career on my own terms.  That being said, splurging on prescription sunglasses owns a close second place on the best-decisions-list because, well…vision is important too.

One of the best meals to make for portability (aka the desk job) is a grain salad. I make these salads with increasing frequency as the weather starts to chill because they’re a perfect vessel for whatever vegetables that you have on hand – light and summery to use up the last remaining crops from August, or rich and hearty for all of the beautiful squash and root vegetables that are about to hit the markets.

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