Vietnamese Cilantro-Mint Eggplant

A plate with grilled eggplant marinated in cilantro lime Vietnamese sauce

Today’s Musings:
Beware of Prince Charming; he’s quite possibly a sociopath.

Confession time – I watch my fair share of true crime TV and documentaries, from Netflix’s An American Murder, the Family Next Door to Dirty John to Dateline to old reruns of Cold Case Files.  In fact,  if I can’t sleep,  true crimes are my go-to bedtime stories.  This became a habit during my career as an Event Manager.  Hotel television in other countries is often a handful of terrible shows, usually in the country’s native language.  However, no matter where I’ve traveled, I can usually find a channel playing back-to-back episodes of Forensic Files. At a half-hour each, they are just long enough to provide the necessary background noise to send me off to dream land.  And, although I’m unsure if it’s intentional, true crime hosts tend to possess a soothing voice – Keith Morrison, Lester Holt, Bill Kurtis, Peter Thomas – that jettisons me off to snooze-land within no time.   Yes, this does mean I sometimes crawl under the covers clutching a kitchen knife or can of mace.

I’ve noticed these stories, predominantly wives or girlfriends who have been conned of their life savings, murdered, or had some other atrocity committed upon them by their partner, initially described their perpetrator as “charming.”  Hello, Ted Bundy. Interviewers of the unsuspecting neighbor or love interest will hear, ” I just don’t understand it. He was so charming! “

 Having dealt with my own “charming” partner who eventually exposed himself to be a liar, philanderer, and psychological abuser, I often relate closely to these women, going from feeling cherished in the first month to changing the locks on all the doors during the final days.

I’m not alone in recognizing “charming,” a word little girls grow up believing describes the perfect man, should actually be a big ol’ red flag.  A simple Google search of “Charming Beware” or “Charming Red Flag” shows that charming behavior is often a precursor to abuse, be it physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of these.  In fact, there’s a name for these men – Charm Syndrome Man. 

“Dave was a charming, outgoing, hands-on dad.”

Sandra Horley, author of Power and Control-Why Charming Men Can Make Dangerous Lovers writes, “…women invariably remember the charming side of their partners, the side they fell in love with. They describe them as loving, tender, funny and considerate. More often than not, they explain that between bouts of abuse, their partners revert to being charmers. They can beg forgiveness, smother them in affection and promise they will never behave badly again. And because the women still care, they agree to give them just one more try…. The word “charm” has cropped up again and again. At first it seemed astonishing, but soon repeatedly, I was making the connection between these two apparent opposites, charm and abuse, which seemed to run like two threads intertwined into women’s lives. It might be the charm of Dr Jekyll or the abuse of Mr. Hyde, and just as in Stevenson’s novel, the activities of Mr. Hyde are protected by the character of Dr Jekyll.”

Interviewer: “Was Tom charming?”
Victim’s Best Friend: “Very charming. Larger than life!”

Charm is, essentially, an affect employed to convince the outer world that this person is a good egg.  If this man is truly of good character, no affect or convincing is needed.  True character will shine via their deeds and consistent right actions.  When recalling my healthiest relationships, the words I use to describe my partners would be “kind,” “loyal,” “dependable” and “thoughtful.”  Prince Dependable, however, doesn’t have the same ring. 

Today’s Recipe:
I couldn’t get the flavor of the cilantro-mint sauce from this Bahn Mi recipe out of my head. I knew it could be delicious used in various recipes. It’s quite tasty drizzled over sweet potatoes or used as a marinade for eggplant.

Vietnamese Cilantro-Mint Eggplant

  • Servings: 4 main or 6 as a side-dish
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Marinate Eggplant slices in this flavorful sauce and grill or bake in the oven. Don’t forget to serve with additional sauce on the side for drizzling.


  • 2 large eggplants, cut into ¾”thick rounds
  • ½ cup mint leaves, loosely packed
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed, plus more for sandwich
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • Juice from 2 limes
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sambal oelek chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt


  1. Preheat grill or preheat oven to 400° F. Combine all ingredients except eggplant in a blender and blend until smooth.
  2. Set aside ¼ cup sauce. Toss eggplant in remaining sauce making sure eggplant is evenly coated. Grill or roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until eggplant is soft and browned around the edges.
  3. Drizzle with reserved sauce and serve.


Chermoula Sauce and Marinade

Chermoula Sauce with Chermoula Sweet Potatoes and Chermoula Eggplant

“Julie, It’s me, your heart. Are you listening? Those butterflies doing aerials in your stomach?  Ignore them. Those quiverings are merely reactions to the chemicals surging through your system right now, making you feel ‘in love’ – no relation to real Love, with a capital ‘L.’ Love is MY domain.  The saying may be, ‘Trust your gut,’ but believe me, when it comes to Love, let me do the talking. They call it ‘Matters of the heart’ for a reason.  I empathize, at the first sign of butterflies, you bloom in response.  Suddenly, rather than hiding in your house in your old, ratty yoga pants all day, you feel buoyant and sexy as you strut down the sidewalk.  You are transformed into Ms. Personality, sharing light banter with the grocery store clerk and the bank security guard as you run your errands.  The warm sun shines brightly upon you, although we both can see the sky is grey and cold.  You can’t concentrate, giggling to yourself as you recall sweet nothings whispered in your ear and the electricity of his touch along your skin. This fluttering in your gut inspires you to buy sexy, expensive lingerie, sign up for a Pilates class, throw out those cookies, and cut out all those naughty carbs. (It’s a conundrum for me – I’ll benefit from a healthier diet, but I want you to eat better for yourself, not because the butterflies coerced you).

I’m fairly perceptive and I’m convinced that dopamine and norepinephrine, these chemicals promoting this blissful, ‘in-love’ feeling, must also confuse and discombobulate your brain as well, ensuring you’ll forget (once again, may I remind you) the rest of the story.  Why can’t you recall that you’ve experienced this giddiness before – dozens of times? Why must you, me, and the rest of the organs residing within you, be swept away into this land of butterflies and candy-coated rainbows when, soon enough, the clouds of reality will cast their shadows over this romantic scene again?  Don’t you remember re-reading your old journal a few weeks ago?  I do – I constrict at the thought!  On its pages, in your left-handed scrawl, you captured the metamorphosis from ‘bright new love’ through ‘struggling with difficulties’ to ‘sadness’ and finally ‘heartbreak,’ when I’m shattered into a million pieces.  There’s your gut-induced butterfly life-cycle in ink on paper – and spanning less than a year.

Do you forget this pattern because, should your brain fully grasp how swiftly the fluttering turns to catastrophe, you would avoid this biochemical trap again?  Can the butterflies ever foretell an ending other than sorrow? Put your trust in me, dear Julie.  Listen to your heart, rather than the butterflies.  I’ll find you true Love.

– Always, Me”

Today’s Recipe:
Chermoula, a North African sauce and marinade, is traditionally used to flavor seafood, but is also delicious on red meat, chicken, and vegetables, like the sweet potatoes and eggplant above. It’s North Africa’s answer to chimichurri.


Garlicky, tart, earthy Chermoula works as a marinade and sauce for fish, chicken, or veggies. Add it to mayonnaise for a flavorful sandwich spread.


  • ½ cup fresh cilantro
  • ½ cup fresh parsley
  • ½ cup mildly-flavored olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • ⅓ cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Chermoula can be refrigerated for a week.


Garlicky Chermoula pairs perfectly with sweet potatoes. It’s the culinary Venn diagram of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.


  • 1 ½ lbs. sweet potatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
  • ¼ cup Chermoula sauce, plus more for drizzling


  1. Preheat oven to 400°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine sweet potato wedges and 3 Tablespoons chermoula.
  2. Bake for 15 minutes, flip wedges over and bake for another 15 minutes until tender.
  3. Drizzle additional chermoula sauce over wedges before serving.

Pickled Golden Raisins

Two half-pint jars of pickled raisins

“Are there raisins in it?”

Why is this always the first question anyone asks when I offer up homemade oatmeal cookies or carrot cake? What’s wrong with raisins? I enjoy raisins in both bakes, but usually leave them out if I’m sharing, in an effort to appease the large raisin-hating crowd. Why are raisins so polarizing? Is it their flavor – who could hate a little pop of fruity sweetness? Is it their texture – a bit dry, chewy and gritty, if not prepped properly (I always re-hydrate my raisins before using)? Is it their appearance which can often resemble a rat turd? Regardless, I’m a huge raisin fan, especially plump, juicy golden raisins, which I enjoy adding to dishes both sweet and savory.

One of my favorite ways to sneak raisins into a savory dish is by pickling them. The first time I was introduced to pickled raisins was at the now-defunct Lincoln restaurant in North Portland. They were scattered over simply-roasted cauliflower and were a culinary epiphany, adding a complex pop of sweet, tart, herby, fruitiness to what would have otherwise been a rather boring side dish. That night, I wrote down “pickled raisins” in my food notebook and, upon returning home, sought out a recipe to try myself, which led me to this slightly adapted version of Suzanne Goin’s recipe.

In addition to pickled raisins’ fruity tartness, this recipe also includes a bit of herby rosemary and spicy heat. For those wondering how you would use pickled raisins, besides the roasted cauliflower I mention above, here are a few other options. I’d love to hear your ideas as well.

– Scatter over any meat that pairs with fruit, such as pork or duck
– Throw in tagines or any Middle Eastern or Moroccan chicken and rice dishes
– Include on a cheese board for a unique addition
– Add to stuffing
– Sprinkle over roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots
– Include in salads like kale or grain salad
– Add to coleslaw
– Pimp up your standard chicken salad

Pickled Golden Raisins

  • Servings: Two half-pint jars
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Pickled raisins add a complex pop of sweet, tart, spicy fruitiness to roasted meats, roasted vegetables, and salads.


  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 dried chile de arbol, stemmed and crumbled
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • ½ pound golden raisins
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 2 small rosemary sprigs


  1. In a small saucepan, toast the mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until the seeds just start to pop. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half, about 8 minutes.
  2. Transfer raisins to canning jars along with spices in pan. Cover completely with remaining liquid in pan. Cool completely and refrigerate, turning jar occasionally. Use within a week.
  3. 3.. To preserve for longer than a week, use your preferred canning method.

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

3 jars of preserved lemons

You can file this one under any of the following categories:

    1. Recipes to make during social distancing that don’t require a special trip to the store
    2. Stovetop cooking that will scent your entire house with clean, lemony goodness
    3. Condiments that add a unique complexity to your weeknight standards

My prolific lemon tree is pregnant with fragrant fruit again. Unfortunately, this yellow-orbed bounty resides in my front yard – easily accessible for plucking from neighbors and fruit sellers alike. I welcome the neighbors; not so much those that profit from purloined pickings. Fully ripe in April, the bountiful tree is often stripped bare by July. While I’m sequestered at home, I’ve been staring through my front window at the pounds of pluckable citrus, chiding myself for not using this stretch of time to whip up a pitcher or two of fresh lemonade  before the fruit disappears.

Yesterday, a coworker (yes, a real coworker – not my cats) reminded me of another use – preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch that can’t be duplicated with lemon juice or zest. How could I forget preserved lemons – one of my top five favorite ingredients? In culinary school, during my final exams, my Moroccan-Spanish menu demanded jars of preserved lemons – for empanadas, for tagines, for a decadently rich dark chocolate tart. One of my favorite uses is simply adding preserved lemons to roasted fingerling potatoes.

I claim that this recipe doesn’t require a special trip to the store, but I also realize that most people don’t necessarily keep items like coriander seeds in their pantry. This recipe is great for substitutions – or leaving spices out completely. If you only have ground versions of any of the spices, use ⅛ or ¼ teaspoon instead. The only things you really need are lemons, kosher salt and water, although some of the spicy complexity will be lost.

Here’s a few of my recipes that call for preserved lemons:
Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon
Farro and Pomegranate Salad

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

  • Servings: 2 lemons, One 16 oz. jar
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Preserved lemons are an indispensable ingredient in Moroccan cooking and add a tart, salty, spicy, somewhat bitter punch to recipes.


  • 2 lemons
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick (about 3” long)
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns


  1. Rinse lemons and score peels down length of lemons, about 1-inch apart. In a saucepan, combine lemons, water and salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until the peel can be pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
  2. Transfer lemons to a canning jar, pressing down slightly to release a bit of juice. Reserve salt water in pan. Add cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, coriander seeds, and black peppercorns to lemons in jar.
  3. Pour reserved salt water over lemons, filling jar and submerging lemons completely. Seal with lid.
  4. Cool completely and refrigerate, turning jar occasionally. Allow lemons to rest for at least 5 days and up to 3 months. To preserve for longer than 3 months, use your preferred canning method.

NOTE: You may notice a lacy, white substance clinging to preserved lemons in the jar. It is perfectly harmless, but should be rinsed off for aesthetic reasons just before the lemons are used.

Roasted Red Pepper & Garlic Htipiti

Healthy Htipiti Spread
Researchers have discovered it takes a mere seven seconds to make a first – and lasting – impression.

I’m partial to the convenience and practicality of online dating – I can quickly weed out the jesus freaks, the ones who can’t string words together into a coherent sentence, the boring, the gym rats, men who live with their mamas. But still, sometimes I get it terribly wrong.

As he walked towards me, I know I’m wasting my time. What looked like “ska” in his profile, reads “dork” in person (and not the cute geek-chic kind). What read as manners on the page is really an obsessive adherence to gender roles. Once we sit down, I ask questions and he talks…about himself…I essentially interview him so he can hear himself speak. He drones on about his brainiac career, his adult children that attend MIT and Yale, about his expertise on every subject – homelessness, drugs, religion. There’s a brief pause in his self-aggrandizement to proclaim I can’t call myself an atheist since I haven’t studied the bible cover to cover (as, of course, he has). There’s mansplaining, condescension, boasting. I feel my V-jay snap shut like an abalone. I gulp down my scalding cappuccino and furtively scan the coffee house for the nearest escape hatch.

I long for a dating convention where it’s entirely acceptable for either party to walk out in the first few seconds without explanation – the seven second rule. All I think about for the next 44 minutes and 53 seconds is…I left my kitchen for this?

Roasted Garlic Htipiti

  • Servings: About 1 ½ cups
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A roasted garlic version of Greek Htipiti, similar to romesco and a healthy yet flavorful sandwich spread and dip. I've been eating a liberal dollop of this spread on my chicken, mushroom, and spinach wraps all week. Mmmm.


  • 8 roasted garlic cloves
  • 8 oz. feta, crumbled
  • 2 fire roasted red peppers (hand roasted or jarred)
  • 2 pepperoncini, stemmed and seeded
  • 2 scallions
  • Parsley sprigs from 6 stems parsley
  • Dill sprigs from 3 stems dill
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin


  1. Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse on and off about 15 times until well combined yet still slightly chunky. Use as a sandwich spread and a dip for toasted pita chips.