(Not A) Comprise Beef Stew (GF)


A couple of weekends ago, I had a really lousy Saturday. I know woke up cranky and that my bad mood lingered, eventually ripening into full-blown indignation by midday. I picked arguments with my husband over trivial issues. I’m pretty sure I resurrected a few larger challenges that we’d put to rest long ago. Slight irritation festered as I tidied the house and changed diapers. Somewhere towards the afternoon, we sat down and worked through the funk. In an attempt to salvage the evening, we agreed on a series of compromises – this show instead of that movie, this meal instead of that other dish that I wanted but he didn’t. Now, I don’t always cook dinner. In fact, my husband probably cooks more often than I do, and we order out more often than that. But some nights, you just want the feeling of working towards something, so I offered to cook, and we settled on beef stew.

That’s how we came to eat this particular dish for dinner, and it’s why I’m here writing this story now. Before I began cooking, I texted my friend, whom I’d been venting to all day. She was managing her own series of frustrations and disappointments. We shared a laugh over the ridiculousness of expectations and the ease with which moods and plans go astray. At the end, she dubbed this dish “Compromise Beef Stew” and made me promise to blog about the whole ordeal that led to its creation. I agreed, and here we are.

The best part of this whole story is that by the next day, when I sat down to actually blog about the whole thing, I’d forgotten the entire content and context of that anger. I have absolutely no idea what upset me or why we disagreed. No clue.

And isn’t that beautiful, actually? That if we allow ourselves to bend a little, compromise, and ultimately let go of our expectations and frustrations, we can come out the other end pleasantly surprised?

In the end, the stew turned out to be really, really delicious. It satisfied in the way that only compromises can — where the surprise is the joy, because what you got wasn’t what you wanted, but was somehow what you needed after all.

Although this stew definitely doesn’t comprise on flavor, it’s come to represent to me the satisfaction that comes from working to find common ground. This stew begs to be eaten on a cold winter’s night, preferably beside the fire with a glass of red wine and hours of conversation on the horizon – but it’s also really comforting at the end of a frustrating Saturday, right before you settle in with your bestie to binge watch The Great British Bake-Off.


Just as there are gaps in my memory of the rotten morning that led me to make this stew, there are also gaps in my recipe. For some reason, I didn’t write down all my ingredients and steps – just some of them – so I’ve had to walk myself through making this ten times in my head just to get this post finished. Fingers crossed that I haven’t left out something major.

  • 1 chuck roast – should be somewhere in the ballpark of 3-4 lbs
    • You really want the chuck roast to be well marbled. Lots of fat = juicy, flavorful, tender meat. Also, you really want to specifically get a chuck roast. Other cuts just don’t perform as well.
  • 1 tbsp Canola Oil
  • 2 slices of thick bacon
    • Making this stew made me pause and reflect on just how often I cook with pork. The answer is a lot. A lot a lot. I’ve got lots of Muslim and Jewish friends who don’t eat pork, and if you don’t eat pork for one reason of another, you could leave out the bacon and instead use some other animal fat as the base. Butter or Canola oil could possibly work. I do think that the bacon adds a layer of flavor and complexity, but the bacon itself isn’t actually in the stew. Once I rendered the fat, I made a BLT. Yum.
  • 1 tsp Uncle Roy’s Flowers of Scotland seasoning
    • This has been rebranded as Rabbie’s Scottish Seasoning. Now, you could make this stew without this seasoning, but it really does add something special, and I think every pantry should have some of this and Rabbie’s Ayshire Meadows (formerly “Uncle Roy’s Moffat Meadows”). Here’s the duo. For any of my Savannah-based friends, The Olfactory Company at 15 West York Street sells these spices.
    • If you don’t have this spice blend, you’ll want to sub in some additional herbs for flavor. I recommend:
      • 1/8 tsp each of rosemary, basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, tarragon, thyme and a dash of allspice
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt – plus additional salt for the meat and possibly more salt to taste
  • 1 tsp black pepper – plus additional pepper for the meat
  • 2 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika ( I always use this brand)
  • 32 oz (4 cups) beef broth*
    • *Here’s the thing: I didn’t make a note of how much beef broth I used. Sigh. I don’t know why I do this to myself. I think I used one 32 oz box – so 4 cups – but I’m not sure. I’ve checked at least ten different recipes from Google, and some call for as little as 2 cups, others call for as much as 6 cups. I’m guessing 4 cups feels right. If it seems to be too little liquid, add some more. You can always laddle out excess later.
  • 3 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 or 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup gluten free flour for coating the beef
    • You could easily sub in regular flour if you’re not gluten free. I have an allergy, so I have to use gluten free flour.
  • 1.5 lbs (24 oz) bag of small, round white or yellow potatoes – leave them whole
    • I used White Delight potatoes because that’s what the grocery store had in stock. Any small white or yellow potato should work, though.
    • Most stews call for russet potatoes, and they work well as they cook down and thicken the sauce. However, I really enjoy how succulent and flavorful these potatoes become – like potato flavor bombs for your mouth. Plus, you don’t have to cut them up – just toss them in whole. Since this recipe calls for a roux to thicken the base, if you use chopped russet potatoes, I recommend halving the roux quantity and seeing if the stew is thick enough before adding more.
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 cups carrots 
    • I used baby carrots because I was feeling lazy and happened to have them, but regular carrots work just as well. I just cut the baby carrots in half – again, because laziness. Cut them to whatever size works for you.
  • Approx. 1/4 cup red wine to deglaze the pot (I used Merlot because I had some on hand)
  • 16 oz package baby bella mushrooms, chopped into whatever size makes you happy
    • I pretty much quarter them since I love a hearty chunk of mushroom.
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, cut into quarters
    • You could mince the garlic if you prefer. I like the more noticeable nibbles of garlic.
  • 1-1.5 cups fresh pearl onions, peeled, with the ends trimmed off
    • Ok, so this is totally optional, but it does add a delicious layer to the stew. I love onions, so I wanted to showcase them – not cook them down into the base, which is what happens to the diced onion noted above. Also, I happened to have these pearl onion on had. Frozen might work (and will be a lot less labor-intensive), but I haven’t tried them. If you try frozen pear onions, let me know how it works out.
  • Blonde roux for thickening the stew
    • Heat 4 tbsp butter over medium heat, and once melted, whisk in 4 tbsp gluten free all purpose flour until the roux is a light brown.

A note on the cooking apparatus: I recommended using an enameled cast iron dutch oven. I have a Le Creuset dutch oven that one of my best friends bought me as a present years ago, and it’s perfect for this stew. I know that they are expensive, though, and you don’t have to use one. You also don’t have to have an expensive dutch oven like a Staub or Le Creuset. Any enameled, cast iron dutch oven would work. If you do have one, though — or if you have the means and desire to buy one — trust me that it makes a difference in the quality of the stew. Cooking the stew in the oven heats the contents from all angles, resulting in succulent, buttery, incredible meat and tender potatoes and veggies. I’ve used a crock pot, and Instapot, and a regular stainless steel pot on the stove. The oven-based dutch oven method by far produces the best results.

If you do end up cooking the stew on the stove top, the cook time should stay pretty much the same. If you use a crockpot, 10 hours on low should work.

These spice blends really are amazing. I use them all the time in stews, soups and marinades.
Yummy herbs – Flowers of Scotland blend, bay leaves, thyme.
Completed mise en place.


  1. To prepare the meat, sprinkle the chuck roast liberally with salt and pepper.  I like to pat the salt and pepper down to help it adhere to the meat. Do not cut up the chuck roast. Then, coat the whole chuck roast in the gluten free flour, again, patting it down to help the flour settle onto the meat.
    • Now, most recipes will have told you to cut up the chuck roast into cubes first and then coat it in flour. Here’s the reason I’m telling you not to do that. One problem I noticed over the years I’ve spent trying to perfect a beef stew recipe was that no matter what I did, the beef in my stew always came out a bit tough. I could cook it for crazy long amounts of time on low-low heat, but it never mattered. The meat would still be just that little bit tough – not juicy and tender like I desired. I’ve tried crock pots, Instapots, dutch ovens, and stainless steal pots. I’ve cooked it in the oven and on the stove, and still, the same issue. Last winter, I got tired of the disappointment and decided to do some research as to what was going wrong. The verdict? Cutting up the meat and flouring it before searing it was resulting in overcooked meat before the beef even went into the pot for its long simmer. There are a number of great articles about this online, so I’ll spare you my own less-qualified explanation of the whole problem. In a nutshell, the bottom line is that it’s really hard to sear the meat properly so that you lock in the flavor without beginning to essentially steam it if you cut up the meat. Now you could sear the chunks in teenty, tiny batches to properly manage the searing, but who has time for that.
  2. Put the 1 tbsp of Canola Oil in a non-stick pan and heat it over high heat. Once the pan and oil is hot, sear the whole chuck roast on each side. Your meat should have a beautiful, golden brown crust. It shouldn’t take long. Maybe a minute on each side – maybe even less. Just keep an eye on it.
    • To sear the meat, you want high heat. Incidentally, that’s why you want to use Canola or another oil that’s able to withstand high heat. Take the time to let your pan get nice and hot. I use a non-stick pan because I’m just not talented enough to not burn the beef in the dutch oven. You do you. Theoretically, you should be searing this beautiful chuck roast in a the pot you use to cook the stew, but I can’t ever make that work, so here we are.
  3. Set aside the chuck roast. You want to let it rest for at least 10 minutes. While the meat is resting, preheat your oven to 325 F and begin working on the rest of the stew.
  4. Heat your dutch oven on the stove over medium-high heat. Once the pot is hot, cook your two pieces of bacon until they are nice and crispy. Remove the bacon to a separate plate and snack on it as you cook the rest of this stew, because why not. Yum.
    • If you are talented enough to not destroy your chuck roast attempting to sear it in the dutch oven, you’d ideally brown the meat in the bacon fat, then soften your onions, then your other veggies and spices, and finally you’d deglaze the pot at that point. But, since I’m not capable of executing that set of steps, here’s my next step…..
  5. Toss the chopped up medium onion into the bacon grease and saute until the onions are beginning to carmelize.
  6. Add the garlic and saute for another minute to release the flavor. Deglaze the pot with the red wine. Be sure to scrap up all the delicious bits. Turn up the heat a little and allow the red wine to cook down a bit.
  7. Add the following ingredients to the wine-onion-garlic mixture:
    • 3 tsp tomato paste
    • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
    • 3 or 4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
    • 3 bay leaves
  8. Add the beef broth to the wine-onion-garlic-etc mixture. Bring the broth to a boil and then turn down to low, allowing it to gently simmer.
  9. Return your attention to the pan where you seared the beef. Add the 2 tbsp butter and warm it along with the remaining oil over medium heat.
  10. Once the pan is hot but before the yummy flour bits burn (don’t let that happen; when in doubt, lower the heat), add in the remaining veggies (except the potatoes):
    • 3 celery stalks, sliced
    • 2 cups carrots, chopped
    • 16 oz package baby bella mushrooms, chopped
    • 1-1.5 cups fresh pearl onions
  11. Once the veggies are just beginning to soften, add the remaining spices and mix everything together, continuing to saute the veggies for another minute or two.
  12. Add the veggies to the simmering broth in the dutch oven. Add in the potatoes, give everything a nice stir, and turn the heat even lower. You’re basically just keeping things warm while you shift your attention to the meat.
  13. That beautiful, browned chuck roast you’ve been resting? Now you want to cut it up. Slice it into approximately 1-inch cubes, and add those cubes to the other stew components in the dutch oven. Give everything a good stir to mix the elements together.
    • You’re going to thicken this stew with a roux later, so don’t fret over the fact that all your meat won’t be coated and seared on every side. I promise it’s ok. If it makes you feel better, you can sprinkle a little additional flour on the meat, but resist the urges to try and brown it more. I promise it will be ok.
  14. Now that you’ve got your symphony of delicious flavor composed (who says puns are dead? lol), put the lid on your dutch oven, put it in that oven you heated to 325 F, and go do something cool. You’ve got time, since this will cook for at least 3 hours.
  15. After 3 hours, check the stew. The beef should be buttery and tender and delish – we’re talking basically melt-in-your mouth tender. If it’s not quite there, give it another 30 minutes. Otherwise remove the stew from the oven and set it aside.
  16. Make your blonde roux (see steps above in the ingredients list), and then add it to the stew. Stir to incorporate for about a minute, until the stew thickens.
  17. Adjust salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve hot.
Gorgeous chuck roast, coated in gluten free flour.
Bacon cooking in my dutch oven. Please note how it’s starting to burn. Truly, I have NOT mastered this dutch oven game.
The stew, after 3 hours in the oven but before the roux is added.
Scrumptious stew, post-roux thickening.
The finished product. Definitely not a compromise in taste.

With gratitude,

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Shortcut Zereshk Polow & Saffron Morgh

Various stages of yum….

The first time I ate zereshk polow, I was at a sleepover at Memory Box Mom‘s house. We were 13 and just planting the seeds of our now 24 year old relationship (yay! our friendship can legally drink and soon will be able to rent a car). I remember Sam’s explanation of the dish and the labor-intensive process necessary to prepare it. She portioned out an enormous, vibrant, sauced-to-the-nines chicken breast and a heaping serving of barberry-infused rice, tinted tantalizingly golden by a healthy infusion of saffron, onto my plate. I took in the colors and thought of sunsets – the kind of Chicago sunsets that Sam and I used to marvel over on her front steps while eating watermelon and talking about boys. It was all at once amber and ocher, vermilion and russet – a whole spectrum of warm colors.

Real talk, it was a lovely plate of food. I really enjoyed looking at it. And then I ate it.

Heaven, I’m telling you, tastes like this: the shock of the tart barberries, the buttery warmth of the rice with that suggestion of flowers and honey that saffron imparts, and the savory chicken rich with spices and lifted by a hint of lemon.

In my memory, there was a fresh herb salad, hunks of creamy feta, cucumber seasoned with mint, and a massive bowl of pomegranate arils that still impresses me to this day (Sam’s dad is an absolute genius of pomegranate preparation; he can perfectly seed a dozen in the time it takes me to do one). Afterwards, we drank steaming hot Persian tea with a hard sugar cubes held between our teeth and dainty nan-e nokhodchi in our hands for dunking.

Now, I have a feeling that my brain may have combined several nights into one, but no matter – the food was amazing. I fell in love with Persian food that night. 

Needless to say, that meal was wonderful – memorably so – as were so many of the others meals that I had the pleasure of enjoying at Sam’s house. Her mom is a talented cook, and I hope to one day be able to produce food just half as delicious.

Dinner 1999
Samira, her fabulous mom, and me back in 1999 – so we were 16 or 17-ish at this point.

Full disclosure: this version of zereshk polow is not as stun-your-tastebuds gorgeous as the time-consuming, labor-intensive traditional version that Sam’s mom served us that night. This is the easy, make-it-on-a-Tuesday night version that is much quicker to prepare while retaining most of the super-yummy soul of the dish. What you lose here is the nuanced uber-perfection of the rice – and the crunchy tadiq, which is one of the best parts of the traditional dish but which I don’t know how to shortcut.  Making Persian rice is a delicate art, one that can’t really be rushed. Plenty has been written online about the fine nuances of zereshk polow preparation in much better blogs, so I won’t even attempt to outline those steps here. Still, I totally urge you to try making the full-fledged version someday when you’ve got the time and patience – or find a great Persian restaurant (or make some awesome new Persian friends). Although the rice in this version is still really tasty, everyone should try the real deal at least once.

Me? – I’ve made the polow following the proper steps before, but I don’t always have the time or energy, so this ends of being my go-to more often than not. I can actually thank Sam for this recipe on many levels. Her mom’s recipe forms the base for the version below, although I’ve made some tweaks over time – largely due to the fact that I lost the actual written recipe years ago and have been working off my memory and palate ever since. Additionally, Sam is the one who gave me permission to let go and just make  a quicker, easier take on the rice – which in turn freed my mind to accept making this more often, a change for which my husband is still grateful.

Ok, chatting. Let’s get down to business….


General items used in the entire dish:

  • Saffron Water – you’ll use this for both the rice and the chicken
    • To prepare, take 1 large pinch saffron (approx 1/2 tsp) and grind it in a mortar and pestle with 1 tsp sugar and a pinch of salt. Don’t worry about getting the saffron completely ground down – you just want to break it up a bit, which the sugar-salt mixture helps you accomplish (I like to use both because I think it works better than just sugar or salt). Mix with 1/4 cup just-boiled water and let it stand for a few minutes (at least) before using.

For the rice:

  • 2 cups long grain basmati rice 
  • 3 cups water 
  • 1 tbsp salted butter 
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • 2 tbsp Saffron Water 

For the zereshk (barberries):

  • 1 cup zereshk (barberries), cleaned (pick out any stems or stones you might find) and soaked in cold water for 20-30 min
    • Zereshk (barberries) can be hard to find at a physical store unless you live somewhere that has a Persian grocer. The good news is that you can buy them on Amazon. This is the brand I usually buy.
  • 3 tbsp salted butter 
  • 4 tbsp saffron water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the saffron morgh (chicken):

  • Approx. 3.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into roughly 1 inch pieces
    • This dish is usually made with whole, bone-in pieces of chicken. It’s gorgeous that way – very tasty – but I’m partial to the ease of the boneless thighs and the juiciness of all dark meat. I tend to make my chicken curry this way as well, for the same reasons. If you want to use whole pieces of bone-in chicken or white meat or both, it will work just as well, but you may have to adjust the cooking time a bit to ensure the chicken cooks fully.
  • 1 large yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste 
  • 4 tbsp canola oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 6 tbsp Saffron Water
  • 2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1.5 tsp sumac 
    • Middle Eastern stores and some grocery stores that sell more exotic items will have sumac. If not, you can also buy it on Amazon. Pro-tip: You want to select the sumac that has a deep red color. Don’t buy the stuff that looks black or dark brown.
  • 1.5 tsp Advieh 
  • 2 tsp salt – plus to taste
  • 1 tsp Black pepper – plus to taste
  • Approx. 1/4 cup water
Saffron ready to be ground up with sugar and salt. This is about half of what I ended up using, as I was still trying to measure ingredients from memory.
Infused saffron water. So pretty. As with the photo above, this is actually half the batch I used because I measured incorrectly the first time.
Advieh, turmeric, saffron….
Zereshk (barberries), soaking in the sink.


To prepare the rice base:

To make the rice ready for cooking, wash it very thoroughly with cold water. I like to soak it in water with some salt for ten minutes or so before rinsing, although this isn’t strictly necessary (and if you have a lower quality basmati rice, it will actually make the rice break a bit when you cook it).

As I mentioned earlier, the process of making the rice for zereshk polow can be really labor intensive, so what I’m sharing here is basically a shortcut. The skinny? You’re just making basic rice in the normal method. Add the 1 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of butter to a pot. Melt the butter in the olive oil over medium heat. Once melted, add 3 cups of water and 2 tbsp Saffron Water and bring to a boil. When the liquid is boiling, add the rice. Bring the water back to a boil, put the lid on the pot, and reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 minutes. After the full 20 minutes has passed, check the rice to ensure it is cooked properly. Remove from heat and set aside.

To prepare the zereshk (barberries):

Melt 3 tbsp butter in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter is fully melted, add the 1 cup zereshk and 4 tbsp saffron water. Sprinkle with 1 tbsp sugar and 1/4 tsp salt. Saute until the zereshk are plump and the Saffron Butter has infused the berries – probably 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

To combine the final zereshk polow (barberry rice):

Stir the cooked zereshk into the cooked rice. If you have any remaining saffron water, go ahead and add it. Sprinkle with sumac and serve hot.

To prepare the saffron morgh (chicken):

Heat 4 tbsp Canola oil over medium heat in a large nonstick frying pan. Add the onions and saute a few minutes to soften. Then add the garlic and saute for another few minutes until the onions are translucent.

Turn up the heat to medium-high. Push the onions and garlic to the sides of the pan and add the chicken (moving aside the onion mixture allows the chicken to directly heat the heat). Turn the chicken a few times to sear some of the pieces (you won’t be able to get them all, and that’s ok), and then mix in the onions and garlic. Add the 3 tbsp tomato paste, 6 tbsp Saffron Water, 2 tbsp turmeric, 1.5 tsp sumac, 1.5 tsp Advieh, salt and pepper and combine fully. Saute for several minutes, turning, until the chicken begins to look evenly cooked on the outside. Add the 1/4 cup water and lemon juice, turn down the heat to medium, and allow the chicken to cook for about twenty minutes, turning every few minutes. Keep an eye on the stove. Every appliance is difference, and you may need to turn down your heat a bit.

Also, a word of warning: turmeric and saffron are like staining machines. They’ll stain your hands, your sink, your clothes, your counters. Be prepared with paper towels or a rag and cleanser nearby, to wipe up any spills as they happen. As I’m clumsy as the day is long, I also take precautions by wearing something that I don’t care about staining.

After 20 minutes, check several pieces of chicken from different parts of the pan to ensure they are cooked through. Remove from the heat and serve with the zereshk polow. Yum!

Zereshk and rice, ready to be combined.
Combined rice and zereshk.
The final shortcut rice product (sprinkled with sumac).
The finished saffron morgh (chicken), ready to be served.
The easy, shortcut version of a classic pair: zereshk polow and saffron morgh.
My plate right before I devoured my food.

Happy dining,

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Lucky New Year’s Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup


I love a good soup. Infinitely forgiving, enhanced by improvisation, requiring minimal cleanup – making soup is my kind of cooking. I’m also a sucker for traditions – especially holiday traditions that are steeped in history. This recipe combines the ease and comfort of soup-making (and soup-eating) with time-honored tradition promising good fortune. Plus, it’s winter – Lord knows stewing some greens and veggies in bone broth ain’t gonna hurt your immune system. You really can’t beat this soup for some hungover, post-partying comfort.

Living in Savannah for 20 years certainly influenced my palate and my sense of history – you can’t help feeling closer to the past when this is your hometown:

If I ever win the lottery, I want my house and yard to be just like this. Maybe this soup will bring me a winning ticket. Come on, big money!
I will forever miss strolling through Forsyth Park and the Savannah’s many squares during the holidays.

In the American South, it’s pretty much a given that most everyone will be eating some variation of the same meal on New Year’s Day: collard greens, black-eyed peas, some form of pork (usually ham), and corn bread. These foods are meant to bring good fortune in the new year, and it doesn’t hurt that they are super yummy. Each ingredient is symbolic, and their powers are only amplified when eaten in concert. Collard greens represent all that cash you’ll want in your wallet as you face another year, and black-eyed peas stand in for coins. Some traditionalists count out exactly 365 black-eyed peas – one for each day of the year, but just incorporating them is enough to grease the wheels with Lady Luck. Cornbread is the color of gold, and the more you utilize pork in the meal, the better your chances for a lucky year, as pigs symbolize forward motion (and also pair really well with collards and “field peas”).

Usually, all these symbols end up on the table separately. The collards greens are slow-cooked with ham hocks and fatback. Black-eye peas show up in the form of Hoppin’ John, and the cook’s favorite pork – maybe chops or a boozy ham – will take center stage on the table.

But that’s a lot of dirty pans and a lot of focused effort after a long, champagne-fueled evening. Also, soup rocks – and you get to utilize some Christmas leftovers nearing the end of their shelf-life. So here you have my tasty twist on the classic Southern New Year’s table.

It’s worth noting that collard greens and black-eyed peas can go really, really wrong, and both benefit from tried-and-true traditional cooking methods – namely cooking them in pork fat, adding a little vinegar for balance, and cooking them patiently to avoid a mouthful of bitterness. (Pro-tip: add a pinch or two of nutmeg whenever you’re cooking greens – collards, kale, chard, etc – it’ll enhance the flavor.) This soup incorporates those lessons, and you get the bonus benefit of all the vitamins that cook out of the collards but remain in the broth (called “pot likker” for obvious reasons…yum…).


Ok, so here’s the deal. I’ve never, ever measured anything for this soup, and I completely forgot to try to do so this year. All the measurements below are guesses, but the good news is that this recipe is super forgiving. This soup is rustic, so have fun with it and don’t worry about perfect amounts. I promise it’ll still be yummy. The same advice goes for the knife work. Go easy on yourself and chop things are large as you want. I love a chunk of onion, so I can get pretty lazy with this. I’m pretty sure that one day, I’ll just toss in a whole onion and call it a day.

A note on the ham stock: I make my ham stock using the bone from my Christmas ham, and I just freeze the stock until I need it. It’s really easy. I just put the bone in a soup pot, fill that bad boy up with water, and add a couple carrots, an onion or two (depending on whether the onions are large or small), a couple stalks of celery, a few cloves of garlic, and two bay leaves. Simmer covered for four to six hours (seriously). Remove the stock from the heat, allowing it to cool, skim off the fat, strain out the solids, and voila! Best thing about making the stock is that it’s so forgiving. It’s great for cleaning out the fridge. Got some random parsley or thyme that you don’t want to throw way? Add it to the pot. Have a few leftover carrots? Toss them in, skin and all. You even leave the skin on the onions and garlic, so this is literally the lowest effort cooking you’ll do all December, but you’ll feel really cool and impressive when you mention you’re making your own bone broth. See how fancy that sounds? Go have fun with it.

  • ~4 cups collard greens, chopped into approximately 1 inch rectanglesOk, I usually use one bunch of collard greens, but when I bought them this year, the bunches were smaller, so I used two.
    • To prepare the greens, soak them in cold water in the sink for a couple of hours, then gently but thoroughly scrub/rinse each leaf under running water to remove any stubborn sand and dirt. When chopping them up, make sure you remove the stems and ribs. 
  • 8-10 cups ham stock (can substitute with chicken broth in a pinch)Ham stock works best, but you can use chicken broth or beef broth if you don’t have any ham stock available. Just keep in mind that store-bought broth will be saltier than the homemade stock, I wouldn’t recommend adding salt until the end, when you can taste the soup and gauge what it needs. Also, if you opt for beef broth, keep in mind that it’s going to change the flavor much more than chicken. I’ve made no-pork collard greens for my Muslim friends in the past, and beef broth works really well with the greens in that context, but here, it could overpower the other flavors. Proceed with caution.
  • 2-3 cups ham, cut into roughly 1-inch cubes Leftover Holiday Bourbon Ham is perfect for this. Also, cut the ham into whatever size chunks you want. You really can’t mess this up.
  • 6 pieces thick-cut baconOk, so the deal is that you’re just cooking the bacon and reserving the grease to cook the veggies and greens. You could use lard or some other form of animal fat instead. Traditionally, collard greens are usually cooked with fatback or ham hock, and this is method is just a variation based on (A) what I tend to have in my fridge (read: bacon – nom nom), and (B) since this is a soup made with ham stock, I think the bacon works just as well.
  • 2 (16 oz) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsedSo, you can totally use dried black-eye peas here. I’m usually in the clutches of post-Christmas malaise at this time of year, so I’m not organized enough to remember to soak and prep the black-eye peas. If you are, go for it.
  • 1 large onion (red or yellow works), large diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 carrots, choppedI usually go with 4 carrots because I like carrots – and I tell myself that the extra veggies balance the wealth of fat I dump into this soup. Also, I’m from the “more is more” school of cooking. I can’t help myself.
  • 2 cups celery, choppedI usually end up using 2 or 3 stalks plus the “heart” of the celery bunch, leaves and all.
  • 1-2 cups button mushrooms, chopped (optional)
  • 1 small bunch Italian parsley, roughly mincedOk, so the story here is the I had an entire bunch of parsley in my fridge this year that was 100% going to spoil if I didn’t use it, so I said to hell with it and used the same thing. I was lowkey afraid that the parsley would overpower everything else, but honestly, it was fine. You in no way need to add this much, but you can if you find yourself with a bouquet of parsley, you don’t have to let it wilt in your veggie bin.
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • ~1 tbsp Texas Pete Hot Sauce
  • ½ tsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup heavy creamGo with your gut here. I like a lot of broth, and I like a healthy amount of cream to enrich the soup and balance the greens. I’d start with a cup and just taste it. If you feel more cream would enhance the flavor, pour in a little more.
  • Salt and pepper to tasteBecause I don’t salt my ham stock, I end up adding a significant amount of salt at the end. My advice would be to gently, cautiously salt the veggies as you sauté them, but don’t add anything more. At the end, just keep adding and tasting until you hit your saltiness sweet spot.
Look at those beautiful veggies. Mmmm……
Getting ready to remove the center “rib” from these collards. Also, isn’t this cutting board beautiful. It’s made from reclaimed wood from Savannah’s historic buildings. My husband bought it for me at The Paris Market & Brocante – a Savannah gem that’s so worth the visit.
My mise en place. I’m totally obsessed with prep work these days, as it makes the actually cooking so much easier when the stove is on and suddenly the baby is fussing. An ounce of preparation, as they say….


  • Cook the bacon until crisp – either in your soup pot or in a separate frying pan. Reserve all of the grease, and save the bacon for some other meal – you won’t need it for this soup.
    • The pot is a time saver, but I find the bacon doesn’t cook as well for me when I do it that way, so I generally take the extra step of cooking the bacon in a frying pan and transferring the grease to the pot. Either way, you’re after the grease here, so the bacon is a fun bonus. I tend to snack on it as I cook, because most of the time, it’s the afternoon, and all I’ve put in my belly since waking is black coffee and San Pellgrino. My husband and dog also enjoy this part, as they too receive a delicious portion of snack bacon.
  • Melt the butter in the bacon grease on medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until they are beginning to soften and become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and continue to sauté for another minute or two to release the flavor.
  • Add the carrots, celery, and mushrooms, and sauté for another several minutes. Once again, the goal here is to release the flavor and slightly soften the veggies.
  • Add the collard greens, and keep turning/sautéing for another couple minutes. You really want the fat and heat to work their magic on the greens a bit. They won’t wilt significantly the way kale or spinach would, but they should limpen a little.
  • Add the paprika, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, fresh parsley, and Dijon mustard. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, but don’t go crazy. You can’t take that salt back, but you do want to add some to help all the other spices along. Give the veggies and spices another minute on the heat to incorporate the flavors.
  • Add in the ham stock. There’s an art to this. I love a lot of broth in my soup, so when I’m adding my stock, I just keeping pouring until I hit a solids-to-liquid ration that makes me happy.
  • Add the black-eyed peas, Texas Pete Hot Sauce, and white wine vinegar. Bring the soup to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
  • Simmer for 45 minute to an hour. I recommend tasting the greens at the 45 minute mark. Collard greens can be very bitter if undercooked. If you’re tasting the bitterness, give it another 15 minutes and try again.
  • Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the heavy cream. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve hot with a side of cornbread.
Not gonna lie: I put SO MUCH butter on this cornbread after I took this picture.

I hope you love this soup as much as I do. May it bring you prosperity and good health in the new year (or whenever you choose to enjoy it).

Happy New Year,

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Happy New Year, everyone!

Holiday Bourbon-Glazed Ham

Ham is my favorite holiday main. Where turkey can go wrong so easily, ham is infinitely more forgiving. I love a good roast, but beef can be difficult to prepare for a crowd, particularly when I prefer my cow mooing and much of my family demands that it be burnt to a crisp. Lamb and duck are delicious, but a number of my relatives won’t eat outside the established boundaries of chicken-beef-pork-fish. Besides, ham makes the best leftovers. I love to eat my leftover ham at midnight, in front of the fridge in my bare feet while drinking orange juice out of the carton. Plus, there’s so much you can make with it. Ham salad. Split pea soup. Pasta carbonara with ham and peas. This Hungarian Bean Soup (Bab Leves) that I’ll be posting about in the near future because it is nom nom nom to die for.

So ham. Yum. You’ll get no complaints here.

Ham is both my Christmas and Easter go-to, and this recipe is my favorite – a foolproof crowd pleaser that is always tasty. When selecting your ham, definitely go for the fatty, bone-in cut. Spiral cut is ok, although I prefer to carve the meat myself. The bone is perfect for making a yummy stock, necessary for my Lucky New Year’s Collard Green & Black-Eyed Pea Soup, which you should definitely make on New Year’s Day or just, you know, whenever. Yum.

Also, please be advised that I don’t trim my fat. What can I say? It encourages so much flavor and keeps the meat succulent and moist. Plus, it’s delicious.

Hey, I own my gluttony. You do you, but for the record, I encourage this minor act of hedonsim. It’s the holidays.

Anywho, here’s the recipe. Happy gnoshing!


For the ham:

  • 1 beautiful, fatty, bone-in ham
  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • Bourbon
    • 1 tbsp bourbon for the rubdown
    • ½ cup for the pan
  • 2-3 tablespoons coarse grain mustard
  • 1-2 tablespoon prepared horseradish
  • ½ tsp powdered ginger
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 -12 oz can of Coca-Cola
  • 1 cup orange juice

For the glaze:

  • 2 tbsp salted butter
  • 1 tbsp bourbon for the glaze
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup orange marmalade (optional)


For the ham:

Preheat your oven based on the instructions provided with your ham. Generally speaking, the typical cooked hams that crowd the grocery stores during the holidays will usually require about 10 minutes per pound in a 325 oven.

Combine butter and 1 tbsp bourbon in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and allow bourbon to cook down. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Set aside and allow to cool.

Place the ham in a roasting pan directly on the bottom (not the rack) of the pan. With a sharp knife, score the ham in a diamond pattern.

To the saucepan containing the brown sugar reduction, stir in the coarse grain mustard, prepared horseradish, ginger powder and marmalade. Rub this mustard mixture all over the ham making sure to get into the crevices.

Add into the roasting pan the can of Coca-Cola, 1/4 cup of bourbon, and 1 cup orange juice. Tent the ham with aluminum foil.

Follow the heating directions for the ham. Baste occasionally.

For the glaze:

Combine butter and 1 tbsp bourbon in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and allow bourbon to cook down. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup of brown sugar. Stir in the orange marmalade. Set aside and allow to cool. (If this gives you deja vu tingles, it’s not you. You already did this exact same thing then you prepared the ham to begin roasting.)

For the final 20 minutes, brush 1/3 of the glaze over the ham, and turn up the heat – usually to around 375-400, although you know your oven, and you need to be careful not to dry the ham out. I find a lot of recipes are too aggressive with the temperature and duration they note for glazing, and a dry ham is an affront to good taste. I’d rather have a gooey glaze and a moist ham, but that’s just me.

In any case, continue to bake, adding the remaining glaze after 10 minutes. Be sure to watch that the glaze doesn’t burn, but instead turns a rich, deep golden color. Let the ham rest before slicing.


Wishing you lots of leftover ham for snacking,

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P.S. I am painfully aware that this post needs at least one picture, but for some reason, I can’t find one single photograph of this dish, and I’ve been making it for YEARS. Sigh. I’ll have to take one at Easter and update this post. Sorry!

Black Pork Belly Curry

Black Pork Belly Curry
Black Pork Belly Curry

Yesterday, I posted a recipe for my dad’s Sri Lankan deviled shrimp curry. That recipe was 100% my dad’s invention, and if you search for deviled shrimp recipes online, you’ll find a great deal of variation in general. Curries tend to be that way – particularly Sri Lankan curries, which (here in the USA, at least) are still almost exclusively refined in the realm of home cooking and less frequently found in restaurants. Every family seems to have their own version of the classics, refined by generations of men and women who spent lifetimes familiarizing themselves with the flavors. My dad was an excellent cook, and whenever I crave Sri Lankan food, I tend to first crave his flavors. After he passed away in December of 2017, I began the process of trying to archive his recipes. I’ve been collecting my own handwritten notes and collaborating with my mom, who learned most of his recipes and took over the cooking duties when he started having issues with tremors in his hands. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share these recipes as my mom and I work through them, so that you too can enjoy a little taste of my childhood home if the mood strikes.

This recipe isn’t one of those dad-tailored dishes. You see, my dad literally never made pork curry in my lifetime. The story goes that when he was a student back in college here in the states, the most affordable meat was pork. So he prepared pork curry all the time. Apparently, he ate the dish so often that once he finished his studies and had a decent income, he never made pork curry again.

The recipe below is actually an adaption of a dish my husband and I sampled during our 2015 trip to Sri Lanka. We were staying at a villa in the tea country when one of our relatives requested pork curry for breakfast one morning. What the chef created for him was exceptional – flat out one of the tastiest curries I’d ever tried. The fatty, salty meat combined with the piquant blend of spices to create a dish that was spicy, savory, sweet and rich. I could have eaten the entire bowl, but all I had was one, lonely taste – a taste that I’ve been chasing for three years. A few weeks ago, I think I finally, finally landed on a close version. This is that recipe.



  • 2 lbs pork belly, cut into ½ – 1-inch cubes

For the marinade:

  • 2 to 3 tsp ground black pepperI use 2, but I have tried 3, and it’s delish – just hotter than I like. Also, crushing/grinding your own whole black pepper adds an extra dimension to the flavor, but real talk, that’s more work than I often feel like – so regular, ground black pepper works fine.
  • 6 cardamom pods seeds 
  • ¼ tsp cardamom
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of Sri Lankan Roasted Curry Powder Here’s a link for online shopping in the USA: https://www.lokubox.com/country/usa/Currypowder/
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper (optional – adjust based on your heat tolerance)
  • ½ tsp ground ginger
  • 3 tsp tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp Canola oil

For the curry:

  • 2 tbsp Canola oil
  • 1 green chile, sliced
  • 1 inch of peeled ginger, minced – or substitute 1 tsp ginger paste (great if you’re tired and impatient, which I often am)
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ large onion, quartered and sliced
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • Salt to taste
  • 4-5 curry leaves


  1. Mix together the cardamom seeds, black pepper, curry powder, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, and ground ginger.
  2. Add 2 tbsp of this spice mix, the tamarind paste, and 1 tbsp oil to the cut pork and mix to coat. Leave to marinate for a few hours (up to 12 hours/overnight).
  3. About an hour before you’re ready to cook, remove the pork marinade from the fridge to allow it to warm to room temperature.
  4. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick wok or frying pan over medium heat.
    • Note: you want a pan with a lid (although in a make-it-work situation, covering that bad boy with a cookie sheet will get it done).
  5. When the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, ginger, and onions, and sauté until the onions become translucent. Add the garlic and sliced green chiles, and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the marinated pork and sugar, and stir to mix well. Add  ½ cup of water and bring this to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Finish the last 15 minutes uncovered.
    • If the curry is drying out, add a little more water. This dish has a drier gravy than many Sri Lankan curries, but it shouldn’t be totally dry. Lots of the pork fat will render as well, so chances are, you won’t need more water.
  8. Add the curry leaves and turn a few times to release the flavor/aroma. Taste the curry and add more salt if needed.
  9. Serve hot – or let it rest and serve it the next day. The flavors marry, and it becomes even more delicious.


Tastefully Yours,

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Dad’s Deviled Shrimp Curry

Plate of Sri Lankan Curries
Dad’s Deviled Shrimp, Black Pork Belly Curry, Jaffna Dhal. Please forgive the quality. I didn’t expect to blog about food, but I just happened to snap this picture of my plate with my ancient iPhone the other day….

This is not a traditional Sri Lankan deviled shrimp curry. There are many, many recipes online for more traditional versions (although spoiler alert: I’ve yet to find two that are the same), and most incorporate sugar and tomato in some form. This recipe is specifically my dad’s invention, and the flavor immediately takes me back to weekend meals with my parents. It could just as easily be called “turmeric shrimp,” but where’s the fun in that? Deviled just sounds like a better time.


For all measurements, use a teaspoon/tablespoon that you would set a table with – normal flatware, not a baking/measuring teaspoon/tablespoon. It’s the way Dad measured, and I haven’t measured out a converted amount yet.

  • 1 lbs jumbo shrimp (shelled, deveined & washed)You can use fresh or frozen, but don’t make the mistake I made last week and accidentally buy cooked frozen shrimp.
  • ½ heaping teaspoon of Sri Lankan roasted curry powder So, my parents have always just supplied me with my curry powder. Sometimes, they get it from Canada. Other times, a family memember goes to Sri Lanka and brings back packets of the homemade stuff. All I know for sure is that we use roasted curry powder, and my guess would be it’s usually Jaffna curry powder since that’s where my dad’s family originates. Here’s a link for online shopping in the USA: https://www.lokubox.com/country/usa/Currypowder/
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 large yellow onion, quartered and sliced
  • 4 or 5 cloves garlic, crushed with knife and cut in half
  • 1 tablespoon Canola oil
  • One green chile, sliced (optional)
  • 4 or 5 curry leaves


  • Toss the shrimp with the curry powder, turmeric and salt. Mix until evenly coated. Put in fridge and let marinade for at least a half hour.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or large, non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Bring down the oil heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Saute until softened/beginning to carmelize.
  • Add the shrimp and green chile to the pan. Sauté for approximately two minutes.
  • Put a little water (few splashes) into the bowl the shrimp marinade in to get out the remaining curry/spices. Add to the pan and finish cooking the shrimp. (Careful not to overcook.)
  • Remove from heat and add curry leaves. Turn a few times and serve.


Tastefully Yours,

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The Enemy of the Good

A favorite axiom of one of the VPs at the telecomm company I used to work for was, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Andrew didn’t invent the saying – this particular aphorism is usually attributed to Voltaire, although the idea of the “golden mean” existed long before Voltaire quoted an Italian proverb in  La Bégueule. Nonetheless, I will forever associate that quote with sitting at the board room table, sipping tepid coffee, fingers itching for a cigarette, while Andrew reminded someone (oftentimes me) to just embrace the Pareto principle and get something done. The point always came down to this: there’s some ideal situation where your project will move forward smoothly, your business case will prove out your next big venture, your novel will finally get written, you’ll give up carbs and couch surfing, and you’ll finally archive all your old photographs. But you can’t wait around for that ideal situation. You need to do something now, with what you’ve got. Figure out a workable compromise and get going.

We all know those, “if I just had ____, I could,” and the “as soon as _____ is finished, I will,” moments. They hold us back. They are a perfectionist’s catchphrases, and they fuel procrastinators across the globe to not do anything under the guise of trying needing to do everything to the optimal best.

I’ve been playing this game with myself about this blog. For months.

Seven. Damn. Months.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a perfectionist. Exacting. Thorough. Meticulous. Dedicated. I’m all of those things. Sometimes, those traits served me well in my career, but most of the time, the return on investment was scant in comparison to the physical, mental, and emotional toll of demanding perfection. Hell, I used to fix the formatting and grammar on my colleagues’ documents just because I hated managing through other people’s inconsistencies. Of course, the beauty of all the extra work that I did is that no one noticed or cared.

Real talk: I was killing myself over perfectly formatted spreadsheets and labyrinthine business plans all while managing the workload of at least five people in a normal company (no, I’m not exaggerating). In the meantime, I failed at carving out time for my writing, my relationships, or my health – all because I spent so much time getting my work exactly right.  That search for perfection was the perfect excuse to procrastinate. I mean, why bother doing anything if I couldn’t do it really well? 

So yeah, I was oftentimes the person who needed to be reminded to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good because in striving for perfection, I lost sight of what the company really valued and needed: getting shit done. No one cared if if my business case used brand standard fonts and colors. Accidental misspellings and inelegant summaries were fine. A new product built using 30 manual billing codes instead of the more efficient 16 automated codes was acceptable, even though it was a messier solution with more room for error, because it saved time and got revenue on the books faster. On and on. The moral was always just move forward. Make your deadlines. Get shit done.

There have many, many benefits to leaving behind that world and pursuing a new career path as a writer and consultant. But a major drawback of this massive lifestyle change has been that I’ve occasionally fallen back into old patterns without the constant demands of a dynamic industry to push me beyond my self-made constraints.

I’ve spent seven months thinking about writing in this blog and making excuses for not just writing something.

I was pregnant and my head was foggy….

I was tired, and I didn’t have the energy to write eloquently about my life….

I had an interesting idea for a topic, but I couldn’t get to it until I wrote ____ (fill in the blank) first.

I was going to post, but first I had to select and edit the photos – which meant that I really needed to finish archiving all of my cloud-based pictures first because blah blah blah. Lately, I’ve found myself waiting for the right moment to write my son’s birth story. I tell myself I’ll do it when:

… I’m not so tired…

… and I have some quiet time…

…after I’ve written at least one new short story draft so that my creative fiction always takes precedence….

I have a list of half-baked topics in my phone that were waiting on a similar set of prime conditions before they could bloom into actual posts. This is that list (mostly):

  • Stretching to Accommodate: Stretch Marks & Plus Size Pregnancy
  • The Best & Worst of What I Can Be (The Shock of Gestational Diabetes)
  • Aggrey’s Birth Story
  • New Mom, Old Lens: Examining a Lifetime of My Own Judgments
  • Silenced Narrator: Searching for the Voice in My Head
  • Living My Parents’ Lives
  • Counterfeit Adulthood
  • Moments Making: Visiting Dad’s Grave
  • Traditions New & Old
  • Hurricanes, Law & Order, and the Rituals of New Motherhood
  • Strange New Body (of Regrets) – The Way I Look & the Things I Did or Didn’t Do
  • Branding Parenthood & Personhood
  • Etc., etc, etc….

It got to the point that just looking at this list would hold me back – forget actually sitting down to do something.

You see the problem here.

Yesterday, I told my bestie, Samira @ https://memoryboxmom.wordpress.com/, that I was ready to shut this blog down for awhile because I just can’t seem to focus on it, and I have to dedicate my scant “free” time to finishing my novel, etc. Then, in her marvelous Capricorn way, she made some comment about her own commitment to writing at least one post a month, come what may, and I got to thinking that maybe I need to get out of my own way, get embrace the Pareto principle, and just do something. Take one little step forward. This is one of the traits I admire most about Sam: she just puts herself out there and tries.

Imagine that.

So here I am, writing this post. This post is my one, teeny tiny step forward. It’s neither the birth story I wanted to share nor does it touch on the profound changes that came with motherhood. I’m not writing about the art of writing or the joys of getting to know my son.

This post is a promise to myself. To try. To do what I can and accept what I cannot. It’s the first of many little steps I’m taking – towards completing my novel, towards improving my health, towards finding my way as a new mom.

So, I’m not going to proofread what I’ve written or agonize over syntax. It’s good enough. I’m not going to spend more than 60 seconds selecting a picture to accompany my writing, either. Hell, I’m not even going to edit that picture. In a few seconds, I’m going to just stop and hit the “Publish” button.

And I’m ok with that.

Until next time,

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P.S. Here’s my handsome boy in all his unedited glory.