Southern Comfort with Isabel Estes, RN

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Meet Isabel, my new-ish neighbor and old-ish best friend.

We met as wee little freshman at NYU, where we had the misfortune of being placed in what was largely considered to be the shittiest dorm on campus. Truly. Despite the fact that the carpets were dusty, the walls were peeling and (according to myth) the elevator shaft was haunted…we did have the good fortune of being randomly assigned as roommates. The rest, as they say, is history.

Even though we’ve been friends all these years, we actually haven’t lived in the same vicinity since we were twenty. After a year or two of light pestering, I finally convinced her to move into the neighborhood when she was in the market for an new place a few months ago. The other week, she invited Ryan and I over to celebrate her new kitchen by helping her (well, Ryan helped…I just took photos :D) prepare a full, proper southern supper.

Isabel is half Chinese, her mom hailing from Hong Kong. Her father, on the other hand, is a southern boy with deep roots in small-town Georgia, where she spent idyllic summers as a kid feeding hummingbirds in her grandparent’s backyard and learning how to cook with her grandma. To celebrate her southern heritage, she made us deviled eggs, crispy fried chicken, smokey collard greens (my favorite) and a southern-styled mac n cheese that you slice into like cake. It was truly a feast. We chatted about how her magical childhood summers in the south, growing up biracial and how her grandma inspires her today.  

More after the break!

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Taiwanese “Empanadas” with Caryn Hsu of Hemsmith

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Caryn and I have been friends for a few years now. We met through mutual friends and bonded over our love of drunk eating (and cooking), amongst other things. She’s a fellow cat lady who has one of the smartest kitties I’ve ever seen! (Chicken knows how to walk on a leash! On the street! In New York! What!?) Recently, she’s added onto her family by adopting an adorable, deaf pup from Egypt named Moose. Sounds like the most charming sitcom ever, no? I mean, I would totally watch it.

In addition to having the cutest pet posse ever, Caryn is also the founder and creative director of NY based brand Hemsmith, creating dope minimal essentials for your forever wardrobe. All the pieces are handmade right here in beautiful NYC. Do yourself a favor and go check them out here.

Recently, Caryn and her little family moved into their new apartment in Long Island City, just a few blocks away from her factory. About a month ago, she invited a few of us over for an informal, impromptu housewarming…and to make us her favorite childhood food:韭菜盒子, which directly translates to “Chive Boxes” in English. She first described them to me as a Taiwanese Empanada…in which I emphatically responded “when and where?”

Over a tasty dinner of these gigantic, hand-held dumplings and homemade buffalo fried chicken, we chatted about her thoughts on growing up in Taiwan versus the US, environmentalism, her foray into composting as a hobby and why these Chive Boxes are so special to her. Special shoutout to our friend Cassie Lam, founder of Akin, for joining in the conversation. More after the break!

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Zereshk Polo, Iranian Chicken and Rice by way of Armenia with Larra Haftevani

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Larra and I met through work. We became fast friends, bonding over our shared interest of hip hop and cats. Mostly cats, but also a lot of hip hop.

This girl is one of the biggest hustlers I know – not only does she work full time, she also recently landed a new job in marketing while getting her MBA at the same damn time. She also has a bumping social life and can cook like a fiend. How???

The other weekend, Larra graciously invited me over to her home in Williamsburg to cook me her mother’s Zereshk Polo. This dish is magical. Native to Iran, basmati rice and chicken are simmered together with saffron and studded with raisins and dried barberries (think of them as really small, really tart cranberries).

The key to this dish, she taught me, was to infuse saffron in hot water, creating a mind-blowingly beautiful deep-golden-orange hued “tea”. She used this tea to season different components of the dish separately, which gave the rice a delicious floral aroma and deep yellow tint. After she was done cooking, she melted butter (!!!) into the tea and drizzled it on top of the rice. Unbelievable.

Over copious amounts of red wine and plates full of Zereshk Polo, she told me about her family’s journey to LA from Iran by way of Armenia, and why this dish means so much to her. More after the break!

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The Ritual of Dumpling Making with Tanya Chen of Buzzfeed

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The other weekend, Ryan and I took the trip to Astoria to visit our friends Tanya and Billy. The agenda? Dumplings.

I’ve known Tanya (@tanyenorth) since we were freshmen in college. She’s currently the Deputy Social Editor at Buzzfeed and is and when she’s not on the hunt for the latest breaking news sourced via the internet, she’s usually rock climbing or debating current events with our friends over far too many bottles of red wine (Cotes du Rhone, SVP).

For a self proclaimed “non-cook”, Tanya makes some pretty damn good dumplings. Here, we try to make them like her mom did growing up. That proved to be no small feat, as asian moms never seem to use exact, if any measurements (“just a little bit of that, a pinch of that, you’ll know when it’s right”).

More after the break on our day making dumplings together, and why the ritual of making them is so special to Tanya.

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