Rust Belt Ode

It's a funny thing, returning to the place you grew up. Time brings inevitable change; separation tinges the familiar with a slightly foreign hue. You feel suspended in a strange limbo, being both out of place, and at home, at once. But inside that space dwells the opportunity for new appreciation, a chance to pause and refocus your perspective. You see things differently each time you come around, becoming aware that both you and this place are alive, evolving. Bonded by a shared root, growing in different directions, but vines forever tangled.

Cleveland, OH: During a recent visit, I spent a lot of time downtown and felt a particularly heightened sense of things I had long taken for granted (or perhaps failed to ever notice in a meaningful way.) The patina of its bridges, a vestige of the city's steel-driven past. The way that massive barges still navigate the crooked Cuyahoga with a confounding nimbleness. The riverfront, lined with charming, history-studded buildings aching for a revival. The food market that I trolled as a kid, with its heckling fruit vendors, its rows of kielbasa, pig heads, Eastern European pastries. The urban growth (literally) sprouting by way of city farming initiatives. The neighborhood sidewalks littered with Midwestern autumn. There's an authenticity to the place. A loyalty. A forlorn beauty. A sense of community that's rooted in Rust Belt strength. And scorned sports teams. And lake effect.


Water: A Statement & Sketches

"You can't trust water. Even a straight stick turns crooked in it." - W.C. Fields

Water. A capricious substance lacking consistent shape or color. Both reflective and transparent. Equally strong and still.

Mirrored on its surface, the physical loses its materiality, shifting instead into an amorphous mess of melted colors. Patterns are built upon transience, arrested for an instant before flowing into endlessly new designs.

This fickle reality fascinates me as an artist, compelling me to create photos and paintings that expose a glimpse of the physical world through a liquid lens. Work that evades a singular reading, instead slipping between solidity and fluidity, representation and abstraction.

Despite being frozen within a moment, the images resist any one fixed point or form. A chance to rest escapes the eye, which instead skims the surface, riding the moments of flow.

Ambiguity manifests as one path flows into another, tributaries feeding off each other -- floating, sinking, merging, repeating -- what is seen less important than the inexhaustible process of seeing it.

[Above: A collection of photo sketches for canvases unborn.]


A Glimpse of July + A BBQ Sauce

Summer is an unrelenting spell of bounty, from the soil, from the sea. It's a time where you find yourself up to the gils in edibles so fresh, all they require is a little finesse (typically nothing more than a little salt and olive oil) to make them sing. Sometimes you just want to eat herbs by the handful. You start feverishly making preserves, because you know you won't find blueberries this good in November. It's a time when I most lament my lack of a grill (all I want to do is toss everything onto an open flame), so I have to improvise to satisfy that taste of summer. Burgers on an indoor pseudo-grill don't live up to their charcoal-tanned counterparts. But five-hour, low-and-slow-cooked pork shoulder? Now we're talking. And when that molten meat is doused in a bourbon-spiked barbecue sauce, you've got some serious finger-licking "summer cookout" fare. And hey, you can still eat it outside, even if you didn't cook it out there.

Pulled Pork with Bourbon BBQ Sauce
(Adapted from The Boys Club)

For the pork:
1 pork shoulder (or pork "butt") - about 3 lbs
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp white pepper
2 Tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried oregano

For the barbecue sauce (yield: about 2 cups):
1 cup tomato ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp mustard powder
1/3 cup Bourbon
1/8 cup pure maple syrup
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp Tabasco sauce

Combine dry rub ingredients in a bowl and massage well into pork shoulder. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 5 hours (preferably overnight). Remove pork from refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking. Preheat oven to 250 dgF.

Heat cast iron skillet over high, place pork shoulder in pan, and until it is brown on all sides. Cover skillet with aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook for 4-5 hours until pork is falling off the bone. (If boneless, you can tell by probing with a fork).

Meanwhile, make the bourbon barbecue sauce. Combine ingredients in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until thickened. Allow to cool and store in refrigerator until ready to serve.

When pork is done, remove skillet from oven and place meat in a large bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes, then use two forks to shred the meat into strands. Add about 1 cup of the barbecue sauce and toss with pork. Serve with buns, slaw and extra barbecue sauce.


Summer Sketches

Sketches. I've been cooking sans recipes a lot lately, so I apologize that I can't offer precise measurements, but nonetheless want to give you a jumping-off point for the photos above. Trust in the ingredients, they will guide you. From top to bottom:

Watermelon-Fontina Melts with Dill: I have a thing for grilled watermelon. And since broiled cheese makes everything better, the pairing was only natural. The simple, summery appetizer/dessert/snack/side lends itself to a range of cheese and herb combos. Get creative with it. Heat broiler. Slice watermelon into wedges, top with sliced fontina cheese and freshly chopped dill. Broil until cheese is brown and bubbly, about 8 minutes.

Spaghetti alle Vongole: One of my favorite quick weeknight meals. Literally like 6 ingredients: clams, white wine, garlic, olive oil, pasta, herbs. If you like shellfish and spaghetti, this one must be in your arsenal. Recipe adapted from Tasting Table

Diablo Granola: My approach to granola is based on a rough framework, but infinitely variable. I rarely make it the same way twice and don't really measure, so I urge you to experiment with ingredients and amounts til you hit your stride with it. I'm currently obsessed with adding cayenne to my batches, I love the hit of heat amidst the sweet roasted crunch. But if you're not a fan of spicy granola, this recipe is just as good without. In a large bowl combine several cups of oats with a combination of nuts and seeds (feel free to use whatever varieties you prefer -- I happen to like a combo of dry roasted pepitas, sunflower seeds, crushed cashews, chia seeds and quinoa for this particular version. I also like to add some ground flaxseed and unsweetened coconut flakes.) Sprinkle dry ingredients with a spice combo of cinnamon, cardamom, paprika, cayenne, and a dash of salt. (Start easy on the cayenne, you can taste and add more gradually.) Stir dry ingredients to combine. Add a heavy drizzle each of olive oil, molasses, and maple syrup. (I probably use about 1/4 cup of each, but don't take my word for it, you may need to taste and adjust to preference). Stir to coat evenly. Bake at 290dg F for 30 minutes, stir, and bake another 10-15 until golden brown. (You can skip the mid-bake stir and your granola will be clumpier). Let cool completely before serving/storing.

Lemony-Cumin Pinto Dip with Caramelized Onions: This was the result of a pantry/fridge purge and proved to a be a winner. Great alternative to hummus if you want to switch up your legume dips... Heat olive oil in a skillet; when hot, add 1 sliced vidalia onion and cook over medium heat until caramelized. In a food processor combine 12oz pinto beans (drained and rinsed) with freshly chopped chives, dill and parsley. Add a few teaspoons ground cumin, zest of 1 lemon, juice of 1/2 lemon and several glugs of olive oil. Process until smooth; season with salt and pepper, and adjust flavors as needed. Top with caramelized onions and serve with chips or pita.


Crispy Chickpea and Dill Barley Salad

Last weekend I went to a barbecue and -- aside from the 40 lbs of ribs gracing the grill -- one of the dishes that stole the show was a chickpea and green bean salad created by my esteemed colleague Alison Roman. A simple ode to the season, kissed with just the right amount of fresh dill, it's one of those dishes that arrests your palate with its flavor. Here I riffed on the concept, adding grilled fennel and snap peas to my salad, tossing in some barley to bulk it up, and rendering my chickpeas crispy for textural interest. I anticipate I'll be playing with this theme quite often this summer...

Chickpea and Dill Barley Salad with Grilled Fennel & Snap Peas

3 cups mixed greens and herbs
1 1/2 cups cooked barley
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2-3 cups snap peas
1 fennel bulb
1/4 cup (or more) freshly chopped dill
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Ground ginger
Salt and pepper

Heat grill to medium-high (alternatively turn on broiler if using oven). Wash fennel bulb and remove fronds and top stems. Slice along the vertical into about 1/4-inch slices, keeping the base in tact. Season both sides with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Wash snap peas, pat dry, and drizzle with olive oil. Grill (or broil) fennel and snap peas (separately) until charred slightly. (Fennel will need several minutes on each side, snap peas can be tossed periodically to ensure an even char). Set aside, and when the fennel is cool enough to handle, chop it roughly.

Spread rinsed chickpeas onto a sheet pan and put under the broiler for about 8-10 minutes, until brown and crispy. (Give the pan a shake halfway through cooking).

For the lemon-ginger vinaigrette, juice 1/2 lemon and add a drizzle of honey and 1/2 tsp ground ginger. Whisk with olive oil until preferred taste/consistency is reached (I like a 1:1 ratio of lemon juice to olive oil). Season with salt and pepper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 3 cups mixed greens and herbs and about 1 1/2 cups barley (I had some grain already cooked, but should you be starting from scratch, you'll need about 45 minutes for the barley to cook. Farro or another toothsome grain could be a great alternative here). Add in the grilled fennel and snap peas, crispy chickpeas, and about 1/4 cup or more freshly chopped dill. Drizzle with vinaigrette, season with salt and pepper, and toss. Let sit about 5 minutes, garnish with more dill as needed, and serve.