Choosing Sides by Tara Mataraza Desmond | Umami GirlTHE TAKEAWAY. One of my favorite parts of not eating meat these days is the opportunity for foods traditionally relegated to the side of the plate to take center stage. A lot of our dinners now are essentially a bunch of sides without a main, and I love it. There’s room for lots of variety and creativity, and with a little skill (or a little gentle guidance) it all comes together harmoniously. Whether or not you’ve got a main dish at the center of your plate, Tara Mataraza Desmond’s new book Choosing Sides: From Holidays to Every Day, 130 Delicious Recipes to Make the Meal will infuse your meals with inspiration and balance. Family and friends will wonder when you received your advanced culinary degree. And the best part is, it will all be very easy.

THE DIRTY DETAILS. This book packs a lot of information, flexibility, and recipes into an efficient, well-designed package. As the title suggests, there are side-dish recipes special enough for the holidays and simple enough for weeknight meals. As Tara notes, there are lots of ways to use this book as a resource depending on your needs: browse the chapters organized by type of side dish and type of meal; use the Main-Course Pairings chart to select side dishes, let the “Try With” and “Alongside” suggestions with each recipe guide your choice of main dish and other sides; or, of course, get busy with the index to discover ideas for an ingredient you’d like to use. The accessible writing style, smart layout and super-appealing graphic design make it seem both possible and pleasurable to try new riffs on old classics and brand-new flavors. I think this book would appeal to a wide audience, from entry-level cooks in search of guidance to accomplished chefs who will appreciate the variety and sophistication of Tara’s ideas.

THE LOVELY AUTHOR. Tara Mataraza Desmond is a widely published Philadelphia-based writer, recipe developer, and all-around stellar individual with a funny, relatable way of writing about food and life. She also co-wrote Almost Meatless: Recipes That Are Better for Your Health and the PlanetWhen our older daughter was little, her school encouraged the kids to call every other student a “friend,” whether you knew them or not. It resulted in a lot of stories about “a friend that I don’t know.” In a different way, the internet has made Tara a friend that I don’t know. I really like her, but we’ve never met. How’s that for a disclosure?

YOU HAD ME AT… Honestly? This book had me from the clever title, a perfect example of that rare kind of pun that doesn’t make you feel the need to exfoliate after hearing it. And there are anecdotes interspersed throughout the chapters, like the one that starts with, “Motherhood is a gift and a thief. It dumps forth perpetual joy and demands silent selfless surrender at every turn. This dawned on me over a bowl of mashed turnips.” Also, there’s a sushi salad. And a backyard pickle jar. I mean, c’mon.

HOW TO GET IT. Procrastinating on Thanksgiving or Thanksgivukkah menu planning? Why not let the very well-priced Kindle Edition save the day? Planning for everyday life, or cooking and gifting for the December holidays? The slender but sturdy hardcover would make an excellent resource and an equally excellent gift. But wait, there’s more! Umami Girl is GIVING AWAY one copy of Choosing Sides. LEAVE A COMMENT TELLING US YOUR FAVORITE HOLIDAY OR EVERYDAY SIDE DISH before noon eastern time on December 14, 2013. Contest open to residents of the United States.

Carolyn xx


  • LOVE sides!!! :)
    My favorite party GO-TO Side?! — Jalapeño Popper Dip (which has a much more fun name at our house…)
    However, our new favorite side is roasted veggies… usually brussels sprouts, red pepper, red onion, broccoli and some portobello mushrooms…tossed in olive oil… with garlic and sea salt. We are eating a LOT more veggies around these parts lately!ReplyCancel

  • Alex

    Pissaladiere tarte with kalamata olives standing in for anchovies. Much easier than it looks and super tasty.ReplyCancel

  • Jackie

    I made cream-braised Brussels sprouts one fateful Thanksgiving, and now I’m not welcome without it. :) It’s rich, but superb!ReplyCancel

  • Jo

    Roasted sweet potatoes, for sureReplyCancel

  • Clare Cossio

    Red quinoa salad with black beans, avocado, red onion and cilantro. My family devours this side every time I make it and I’ve had many friends ask for the recipe when I’ve taken it along to a BBQ. Delish and healthy!ReplyCancel

  • Jackie Tatelman

    Simple home made applesauce made with organic mac apples, cinnamon and cardamon – no sugar, honey or maple syrup needed!I always think of my grand mother when I put those sweet smelling cooked apples through the food mill and out comes this pink puree of apples a perfect side.ReplyCancel

  • Janetd

    Crunchy, slightly salty roasted potatoes!ReplyCancel

  • Kathy

    Roasted cauliflower with a little romano cheese.ReplyCancel

  • Debbi Murray

    Mexicorn dip – corn, with mayo, cheese and jalapeños. I could just eat this as a main course.ReplyCancel

  • Lauren Doherty

    So many to choose from. I’m really a rice girl at heart, though, so I’m going to have to go with a nice pilaf.ReplyCancel

  • Theresa Materazzi

    Love the title of this book! Sides are always hard for me with the picky eaters in my house. Sigh! One of my most favorite Thanksgiving dishes is my onion and safe stuffing. The types of bread your choose make it so flavorful, pumpernickel and chibatta(sp?) add to that. And orange stuffed sweet potato and pecans. Sweet without adding anything, the orange just makes my mouth water!ReplyCancel

  • Brittany S.

    It’s so hard to choose just one! I’ll have to go with creamy mashed Yukon potatoes with a sweet potato mashed in the mix for added nutrients and flavor.
    This looks like a fantastic book to give me some much needed inspiration! Thank you for such a great opportunity!ReplyCancel

  • Abby

    I love anything I’ve ever made off the Umami Girl site, of course. For the purposes of this contest, I’ll go with the Farro with Broccoli and shitakes (you KNOW i love those shitakes…)ReplyCancel

  • Shelly

    Roasted asparagus drizzled with olive oil and parmesan cheese- yum!!ReplyCancel

  • Dani

    Brussels sprouts roasted with olive oil and lemon zest and them sprinkled with fresh Parmesan reggiano. I’m required to make it every year.ReplyCancel

  • I love sweet potato mashes! No marshmallows on it though. Just simple maple whippedReplyCancel

  • Gail Brown

    I love bread stuffing with onions, celery and sage topped with a little mushroom shallot gravy – Yum!ReplyCancel

  • Helen Marie

    My favorite side – how to choose?!
    Ok. I’ll choose. Classic bread stuffing with granny smith apples, onions and celery with herbs. Perfect with turkey & gravy!

    Thank you so very much for the giveaway!ReplyCancel

  • Carol

    My favorite side dish is roasted veggies: roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, red potatoes, broccoli, brussel sprouts – all delish and all devoured by my boys!ReplyCancel

  • Vicki

    Our family has a Bavarian Red Cabbage that is so flexible – it can be made in the microwave, slow cooker, or frying pan – we never have any to take home – between at table and care package left-overs, I always return home with an empty dish. Then, we make another batch for at home!ReplyCancel

  • Natalie Tolle

    Roasted red potatoes! YummmReplyCancel

  • Fun concept for a book! As for sides, I do like the candied sweet potatoes my sister in law makes for thanksgiving.ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for all of the entries! This contest is now closed. I’ll notify the winner and ship soon!ReplyCancel

View of Vatican City | Umami Girl

Sooo…we went to Rome. Not gonna lie, it was awesome. And easy. And totally Starbucks-free. Which I’m not saying to make you think I’m training to be an indie barista in Brooklyn or anything. It’s just that after hitting up the Starbucks in Prague like five times in three days last November no I didn’t yes I did, I’d pretty much settled on the inevitability of Starbucks being everywhere I’d ever visit. It seeped into my identity: apparently I wasn’t the kind of person who goes places that Starbucks hasn’t colonized. But then we went to Rome. And hey, no Starbucks. In addition to giving me a whole new sense of myself as a pioneer, it’s worth mentioning because the whole place feels homegrown in a way that’s all too hard to come by in major cities these days.

As per Cope-family usual, we showed up for a few days with a very loose set of plans and did lots of walking, eating, and stopping in to check things out when we felt like it. Newly minted pioneer or no, we’re rarely the ones waking up at dawn to summit the mountain or even get on the group tour bus that stops at every landmark. And we’re cool with that. Rome was cool with it too. They even let me practice my totally unimpressive Italian. If they laughed, it was behind my back, which is plenty good enough for me.

I don’t really think Rome needs any help being inspiring, so allow me to present in fourth grade book report style a few of the things we saw and a few of the things we ate:

The Pantheon.

 Pantheon Rome | Umami Girl

Pantheon Rome II | Umami Girl

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  • Thanks for sharing your travel stories and stunning photos. It sounds like the whole family had a great time. I hear you. I think I’m getting too old for trends and really seek out real-life travel and experiences, not what the magazines or books might necessarily suggest.ReplyCancel

  • So glad you stayed in Trastevere! We did too, when we were there in 2000. Adds so much to the experience.ReplyCancel

  • LeslieHL

    Loved your insights and photos of bella Roma! So glad your family has another memorable experience…what a gift to your children! Baci!ReplyCancel

  • Thanks, ladies. xxReplyCancel

Gateway Green Smoothie | Umami Girl

If you’re teetering on the edge of the green smoothie swimming pool, curious to dip a toe in but not yet convinced, this is the green smoothie for you. As the name suggests, it’s a mellow, entry level substance that may lead to a future risk of consuming more hardcore versions of blended greens. It’s easy to make and easy to like. Low-risk, potentially big reward. C’mon, jump in! Get the recipe here on Serious Eats.

Carolyn xx


Meat LoverTHE TAKEAWAY. Maybe it’s just me, but no matter how comfortable I get with meatlessness in everyday life, a special kind of low-grade, persistent panic creeps in every time I volunteer to feed a festive crowd without a roast at the center of the table. This book is ideally organized to talk you off the ledge in that situation. Whether you’re a confirmed vegetarian feeding carnivorous guests or an omnivore catering to a crowd that includes some veg-heads, The Meat Lover’s Meatless Celebrations will help you feed them with abundance, variety, and balance. You can mix and match recipes or follow the suggested menus to the letter, whichever suits your comfort level. Usually a hashtag hater, I’ve been dropping little #VegetarianThanksgiving bombs all over the internet these past few weeks in an effort to help more people feel comfortable with a meatless Thanksgiving feast. If I had a bigger budget, I’d be sponsoring airdrops of this book instead.

THE DIRTY DETAILS. The book is organized by season, with recipes grouped into holiday menus ranging from just-for-fun (“Warming Up to Winter Wingding”) to traditional (Thanksgiving) to functional-yet-fun (Preserving Party). There’s also advice on stocking a meatless pantry, and a key showing which recipes are kid-friendly, gluten-free, dairy-optional, and vegan. Some of the menus feature a centerpiece dish, which might work best for guests used to a meat-and-two-veg approach to dinner. Others come together more like a buffet or a full-on vegetarian feast. And, of course, there’s always something sweet at the end.

THE LOVELY AUTHOR. Kim O’Donnel probably needs no introduction to many of you. She’s a widely read and much-loved food writer and chef who’s been offering us ways to eat deliciously with less meat for years. This book follows The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook, which, incidentally, would make a lovely and colorful holiday gift pack alongside this book.

YOU HAD ME AT… “My quest for a ‘feast without the beast’ put me back in the kitchen, where I’ve cooked up more than two dozen ways to eat and be merry for all kinds of occasions. You won’t find faux turkey or simulated hot dogs here but seasonal produce, legumes, whole grains — and plenty of ‘delicious first.’”

HOW TO GET IT. Both books are available in soft-cover and Kindle edition from the usual retailers and are, in my humble opinion, easily worth the small investment.

Carolyn xx


Serious Eats Juice and Smoothie GuidesWell, it’s officially autumn (or should I say “otter-m,” as only my kid from the British nursery school with the animal class names could think it’s called). This season we’ve been delightfully busy with all manner of old and new activities. More on all of that, plus vegetarian Thanksgiving and winter holiday inspiration,  in the weeks to come. Today I want to give you a long-overdue peek at a couple of posts I wrote for Serious Eats with some pro tips for making really good fresh juices and smoothies without recipes. You can find the Juicing Guide here and the Smoothie Guide here. See you soon.

Carolyn xx


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