Getting Lucky

Getting Lucky
By Michelle Swift
Published in January 2013 issue of Flavor616

The New Year, 1/1, is a universal day of symbolism for new beginnings and fresh outlooks. Globally, on this day, people take auspicious measures to assure prosperity, good fortune, happiness, love and success. Depending upon who you are and where you are from, these measures may also determine what you eat. Even if fate is stronger than a bowl of Hoppin’ John, at least you’ll have a happy belly right?

Don’t take any chances, to get lucky this New Year’s, gorge on one or all of the following auspicious foods:

Pork: Any kind of pork will do—be it, suckling pig, carnitas, or ham hocks. Pork is a sign of progress and moving forward. (Fowl are unlucky because they scratch backwards, signifying setbacks.)

Legumes: Beans, lentils, peas and basically anything circular are lucky because of their resemblance to coins (= $$$). Brazilians eat black beans, wear white and hop on their right foot into the New Year.  Filipinos take the circular reference to the next level and even wear polka dots.

Greens: Cabbage, kale, collards, and sauerkraut all represent folded green cash. Southerners in the USA get a triple dose of luck in a bowl of Hoppin’ John involving pork, greens and black-eyed peas.

Noodles: Do not cut or break your noodles—slurp them! This is crucial. Noodles signify long life. Cut them, and your life is shortened. It is customary to slurp noodles with gusto in Japan.

Fish: Go forth and multiply! Fish are symbolic of fertility, abundance, and moving forward. Germans and Poles always have pickled herring at New Year’s.

Grapes: Popular in Spain and Portugal, 12 grapes are eaten—one for each month of the year. If grape number six tastes a bit sour, expect a shaky month.

Let Them Eat Cake!: Baking cakes with a hidden good luck charm or coin is traditional on New Year’s, especially in Greece.  The lucky one who bites into the piece with the charm or coin is bestowed good fortune.

Here’s to getting lucky in 2013!


How to Determine if an Avocado is Ripe

In the veggie aisle at the Rodriguez Market, elbows deep in avocados in search of the ripe one, the perfect sense between firm and soft, the bright green flesh that Mexican’s refer to as, poor man’s butter.

A man must have been standing by watching my ritual avocado act before approaching me and asking, “do you want to know the secret?”

The Technique:
He told me to pick the nub/stem off of the top of the avocado, if it’s green the avocado is ripe, if it’s brown you’ll find  brown flesh inside.

This avocado is ripe!
This avocado is ripe!

Ripening Technique:
A tip for speeding up the ripening process for under-ripe avocados:  Place the avocados in a paper bag with a ripe banana or apple.  Within 24 hours they will be perfect for eating.
Ripe bananas and apples release a lot of ethylene, the hormone that triggers ripening in mature fruit.

Prevention of Browning:
When the flesh of the avocado is exposed it tends to turn brown quickly.  This is due to an enzyme in the avocado which causes the fruit to brown when it comes in contact with oxygen.  To prevent browning try adding a fresh squeeze of lime or lemon juice.  Another way, is to immediately immerse cut avocados in ice-cold water for up to 4 hours or simply run them under cold water to preserve the green coloring.

Guacamole, the quintessential dish we all turn to when presented with avocados, never looks the same way twice.  Regional tastes and personal preferences abound, guacamole can take on many guises.  I enjoy changing up my guac yet, I typically turn to cilantro, onion, jalapeno and lime juice.  The following is a recipe for smooth not chunky guacamole from Zarela Martinez

Zarela’s Guacamole
You can watch Zarela make this recipe here

2 avocados, mashed
1 tomato, chopped
1/2-1 jalapeno (seeded or not)
1/2 white onion, chopped
Fresh cilantro, chopped to taste
Fresh oregano, chopped to taste
Juice from 1 lime
kosher salt

In a bowl mash the avocado until smooth.  Add the tomato, jalapeno, white onion, cilantro and oregano, mix until combined.  Before serving squeeze in the fresh lime juice and season with kosher salt.

How do you make your guacamole?

Green Goddess

The last grilled cheese I ate was so DELISH, I’m trending a kick. I do recall mentioning that I could survive on bread and cheese! Texting a photo of my previous Tomato, Avocado, Spinach Grilled Cheese to a friend (because all the cool kids share photos of their dinner) sparked another spin on grilled cheese that he had stumbled upon. The Green Goddess Grilled Cheese, green it is and GOOD. I made it the next night and approve.

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese
Green Goddess Grilled Cheese

Green Goddess Grilled Cheese Sandwich


based on all those gorgeous green goddesses out there…

makes 1 sandwich


2 slices bread (we used a white bread, but one filled with lots of different whole grains and seeds would be *awesome*)
2-3 tablespoons Green Goddess Herb Pesto (recipe below)
2 slices mild white melty cheese like mozzarella
handful fresh baby spinach
¼ avocado, sliced
2 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled
olive oil (and butter if you’re so inclined)


Spread about 1 tablespoon of Green Goddess Herb Pesto onto each slice of bread (2 tablespoons total, but if you’re sensitive, go light, the pesto is STRONG).

On one slice of bread, add 1 slice of cheese, sliced avocado, crumbled goat cheese, spinach, second slice of cheese, then top it with second slice of bread. Press together gently.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan over medium low heat. (If you want to use butter, add it to the oil and let it melt). Add the sandwich to the oil and cook until bread is golden brown. Press down on the sandwich lightly, then flip the sandwich over and cook until second side is golden brown.

Green Goddess Herb Pesto


1 clove garlic
1 (or 2 if you’re ballsy) anchovy fillet (in oil)
½ small shallot, chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
handful chopped fresh Italian parsley
handful chopped kale
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 tablespoon chopped chives
¼ cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste


Pulse garlic, anchovy, and shallot in food processor until chopped. With the food processor running, add lemon juice, parsley, kale, tarragon and chives. (It won’t process very well yet, don’t worry).

Very slowly drizzle in olive oil until kale and herbs get sufficiently chopped and everything is the consistency of a pesto. You may need more or less of the olive oil depending on how big a “handful” of herbs is to you. You can also turn off the food processor and push herbs down the side of the bowl with a spatula every once in a while.

Season to taste with salt and pepper (You probably won’t need too much salt if you used 2 anchovies).

(This makes a lot, but you will use it all for other things. We added more olive oil to make it back into a salad dressing.)

Banoffee Pie

When Juliet {Kiera Knightley} pleads with Mark {Andrew Lincoln} at his doorstep in Love Actually, for video footage from her wedding day, she bribes him with a box of banoffee pie. The moment she uttered the words, “banoffee pie,” I knew I wanted to try it. You see, I have an affinity for words and banoffee is one that strikes me. It rolls off the tongue in a playful manner and it’s a made up word, stemming from banana and toffee. Cheers to the British for bringing banoffee to our language and dessert to our bellies.

My banoffee moment came when a friend returned from a holiday in Dublin. I was invited over for a Dublinesque dessert….and what to my wondering eyes should appear? A BANOFFEE PIE!!! Ecstatic to finally fulfill my quest of filling my belly full of banoffee, I was most obviously, overjoyed.


For those of you unfamiliar with banoffee pie make some. It is quite good and hardly requires baking, plus bananas are good for you.  It’s namely a brown-butter-biscuit-base, dulce de leche, bananas, whipped cream and chocolate.

Banoffee Pie
Banoffee Pie

Banoffee Pie

9oz graham crackers

4oz butter, melted, plus extra for greasing {add browned butter for a rich taste}

14oz dulce de leche {Nestle makes a can which can be found in Latin markets called: La Lechera Dulce de Leche}  otherwise, use a can of sweetened condensed milk and follow these instructions:

All you need is a can of sweetened condensed milk and a pot of water. Remove the label from the can and add two holes to the top (either with a hammer and nail or a simple can opener) to prevent the cans from exploding. Place in a large pot with water (enough to reach almost the top of the cans). Bring the water to a simmer and cook until that beautiful golden color is achieved. There’s no stirring required here, but be sure that you keep adding water to the pot as it has a tendency to evaporate. If you want a soft dulce de leche, cook for three hours; for a harder one it could take up to five.

3 bananas, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp sugar

½ pint whipping cream, whipped until soft peaks form

2 tbsp grated dark chocolate

Place the graham crackers into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the melted butter, mixing well to combine.

Place the mixture into a lightly greased 8-inch loose-bottomed cake pan and press down into the base and up along the sides. Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

To make the whipped cream, use a chilled metal bowl. Place the sugar into the mixing bowl and add the whipping cream. Whisk just until the cream reaches stiff peaks.

Spoon the dulce de leche over the biscuit base, and then cover with a layer of sliced bananas. Spoon the whipped cream on top and decorate with grated chocolate.

Slice into wedges and serve.

A Childhood Classic, Grown Up

Grilled Cheese. Buttery toast and tangy melted cheese fused together to create the ultimate sandwich. The sandwich of childhood memories with pairings of tomato soup.  The go-to for comfort and warmth. Step away from the Kraft Singles and spin this versatile classic into your own creation!

I’ve always replied, bread and cheese when asked what foods I’d want to be stranded on a dessert island with.  I can’t explain why they marry well but they do and that’s all that matters. This particular night after a run and a late dinner-time I was craving  comfort food and veggies in a flash.  Adding tomato, spinach and avocado to the general mix of bread and cheese, was satisfaction. Melt your way to greatness by concocting your own twist to the classic grilled cheese.  If you want to try the Tomato, Avo, Spinach I promise its good:

Tomato, Avo, Spinach Grilled Cheese
Tomato, Avo, Spinach Grilled Cheese

Tomato, Avo, & Spinach Grilled Cheese
for 1

2 slices of good bread

A few pats of softened butter

1 slice of sharp cheddar

1 slice of Munster

2 slices of tomato (salted and peppered)

1/2 an avocado

A generous handful of spinach

Heat and oil/butter skillet. Butter one side of each of the bread slices.  Once the skillet is hot, place one piece of bread (butter side-down) on the skillet. Top with cheese slices, tomato, avocado and spinach.  Place the second piece of bread atop (butter side-up) and toast on low heat. I like to put a pan cover atop the sandwich to encourage, maximum gooeyness of cheese.  Grill until toasted, then flip and toast the other side.

Best served with a rendition of tomato soup.


What the heck is a hexaflexamexigon? Good question and one I asked myself when a friend passed along a video by Vi Hart from Kahn Academy (if you’re not familiar with Kahn Academy I encourage you to click on the link.)

Flexagons are multi-faceted geometric shapes created from a flat sheet of paper. The prefix determines how many sides a flexagon has e.g., hexa means 6 sides.


Hexaflexamexigons are my kind of flexagons because they are filled with food!


Vi encourages first time hexaflexagoners to begin with a strip of paper to master the folding skills.

Disclaimer:  Abide by this advice. Just because you like math and can cook does not mean that you can magically have your way with a tortilla folding it into 10 equal triangles, arranging it into a hexagon and stuffing it with guac and beans. If you do not heed this advice and end up with a hexaflexamexigon, I’m jealous and I congratulate you. Pathetically, I ate 3 mutilated tortillas the night that I attempted my hexaflexamexigon debut.

Check out Vi’s video, try your hand at playing with food and learning math too:
Flex Mex: Might as well.

Cuban Tempeh

Tempeh is a protein packed cake of partially fermented soy beans. Nutty in taste and characteristically versatile, tempeh takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked in. Additionally, the flavor and texture are enhanced by; steaming, marinating, blackening, slicing or crumbling into soups and stews. The following recipe was developed by a friend at the Sweet Life and is inspired by a Grand Rapids vegetarian namesake, Gaia.  Cuban Tempeh is a great way to enjoy a lingering weekend brunch:

Cuban Tempeh
Cuban Tempeh

Cuban Tempeh
from The Sweet Life

gluten-free, yield: 2
preparation: 45 minutes

1 package tempeh, cut in thin strips
1 cup vegetable broth
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
juice of 1 lime

1 cup brown basmati (or any other kind of) rice, cooked

1 can or 3/4 cup dried (soaked and cooked) black beans
1 tbsp cumin
pinch of salt

2 corn tortillas
your assorted toppings (lettuce, green onions, salsa, avocado, etc)

1. Marinate the tempeh in vegetable broth, chili powder, coriander, cumin, and lime juice for at least 1 hour.

2. While tempeh is marinating, cook the rice according to directions. Once rice reaches a boil, turn down to a simmer, set aside and prepare the rest of the meal.

2. Heat up a cast iron skillet or heavy bottom pan. Once hot, pour in marinated tempeh (with liquid). Bring liquid to boil then turn down heat to a simmer. The broth will evaporate as it soak into the tempeh. Cook until all the broth is gone and the tempeh has a chance to brown on both sides.

3. Meanwhile heat up the black beans. Stir in cumin and salt. With a masher, smash the beans until no whole beans exist. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place a corn tortillas on the bottom of the plate. Top with rice, black beans, and tempeh in that order. Then top with your favorite toppings.



Trying to eat real food but struggle navigating the aisles of processed edible items in the grocery store?  in.gredients in Austin, Texas is re-revolutionizing the food shopping experience by offering real food, no packaging and no waste.  Operating out of a charming, yellow bungalow–“in.gredients is a microgrocer with a broad scope of products in a small, efficient space.  We’re a “grocery store in scope” and a “convenience store in scale.”

in.gredients-- Austin, TX
in.gredients– Austin, TX

These products include a broad selection of local produce, meat, dairy, household cleaners, spices, grains and even craft beers in bulk containers.  Customers bring their own packaging and select just how much they want of each item, utilizing a tare station to weigh in goods and pay:



This business model of convenience and scale would allow in.gredients to open more micro-grocers in Austin neighborhoods.  A throwback to the neighborhood store, addressing an issue of few options for people to walk or ride a bike to purchase goods and food.

269470_421667944558945_1405990875_n560363_421983504527389_158048743_n385136_418172051575201_2036188784_nAmerica, known to be progressive and efficient has creative’s redesigning traditions and practices from a simpler time.  The idea behind in.gredients, offering local foods, being a neighborhood store where customers can use their own two feet to travel to, and no waste by having customer’s utilize their own packaging and take what they’ll use is nothing new, but it solves an issue that American’s are currently craving and that is what makes it innovative.