“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so that some have entertained angels without knowing it” ~ Hebrews 13:2 | King James Version
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Here’s one thing you can do that's guaranteed to make your life a little happier: take a few minutes and do something outside of your normal routine. Take a different route home. Go outside and walk through the leaves. Smile at a stranger.
Better yet, ask them how their day is going
There's nothing better than a tidbit of someone else's life, as told by them. The possibilities for little sparks of joy and gratitude are endless.
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If you're ever in Des Moines on a Sunday morning, you'll find us at Principal Park. Me, in some variation of pajamas. And we go again and again because their breakfast is amazing. Order any variety of omelets, knowing they're huge, but you'll bring most of it home. Your future self will love you extra.
She's waited on us for as long as I can remember. But it wasn't until recently that we discovered her husband is from Ethiopia. “You're kidding,” I say. “My stepmom's parents were missionaries there for nearly two decades!”
Her eyes light up.
The conversation switches to food and the dishes they love to make at home. Those, like the Kik Alicha (The Veggie's second most popular recipe)
She shares the best places in town to buy injera and berbere. I make a mental note to ask for a favorite recipe. And now, a new friend.
One evening on our way back from the dog park, the loveliest woman happened upon the elevator. “We were just talking about our day. How was yours?” my husband asks. She paused ever-so-slightly and before sharing the good news. Her son-in-law become a US citizen (that very day!)
To celebrate, their family had just gone out for dinner. Tears filled her eyes. “I'm sorry, I've had a little too much wine. It's just that I'm so very happy”
I give her a hug
— — —
At an Oklahoma City nail salon, around 8:00 in the evening, I sip a smoothie and I find myself chatting with the woman next to me. She tells me the story of meeting her spouse after a terrifically poor haircut. That every day after he's marveled at her vast and inexplicable improvement.
At his vast and inexplicable luck.
And the time in New Orleans, when I took my first Uber ride and came away with the sweetest idea for dinner.
It’s the oddest thing, yes? We press a few buttons on our phone, and a stranger appears to drive us somewhere. At first, I thought the whole thing was awkward. Then a bit creepy. So in my attempt at easing anxiety, I decided to start a conversation.
A lot of the drivers, he tells me are immigrants. This is their second (or third) job; mostly nights or early mornings. I came away with such admiration. How hard they work to make ends meet for their families or the dream of a family.
As it turns out, his immigrated from Italy. We talked about the beauty of local ingredients in season and making great food with whatever is available. Not to mention, the nostalgia of childhood and a few of our favorite and familiar rituals.
He told me of his Italian grandfather's signature pasta dish, a roasted eggplant, mushroom, and zucchini sauce. He'd let the veggies simmer in marinara sauce all day, black olives for a salty bite, and freshly grated parmesan added at the end. Served alongside his grandma's signature dinner salad of iceberg lettuce, celery, tomato, and shaved carrots. A simple oil and vinegar dressing drizzled over the top.
“Heat up your oven and roast some eggplant, zucchini, and mushrooms. Cook up some pasta, whatever shape you have. Cook it up. Make a simple tomato sauce, and whatever you do, add a splash of red wine. Cook until the liquid reduces. Add the veggies and simmer. Serve it with a simple salad”
We made a variation for dinner last weekend. I’ll definitely be making it again.
Roasted Eggplant, Mushroom, and Zucchini Sauce
Roasted Veggies + Pasta
- 1 lb eggplant, cut into 1" cubes
- ½ lb zucchini, cut into 1" cubes
- ¼ lb mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 1" cubes
- ¼ cup olive oil + more for drizzling
- 12 oz pasta (any small shape will be great)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- pinch crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, depending on your tolerance for heat)
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 (28 oz) can crushed red tomatoes
- zest of one lemon (optional)
- 2 Tbsp brine-packed capers, drained
For Serving (Optional)
- grated ricotta Salata or Parmesan cheese
- fresh mint or basil leaves
Roast the Veggies
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- On the baking sheet, spread out eggplant cubes. Toss with 3 tablespoons oil and a strong pinch of salt. Roast twenty minutes
- Add the chopped zucchini and mushrooms to the baking sheet, drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil and a small pinch of salt. Give everything a quick mix with your spatula.
- Roast 15-20 minutes more until the veggies are very soft and the eggplant is golden brown
Cook the Pasta
- Meanwhile, cook pasta in well-salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
Make the Pasta Sauce
- In a saucepan, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt, and garlic. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute 30-45 seconds or until everything is fragrant (be extra diligent because you don't want the garlic to burn)
- Stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer, this takes just a couple minutes.
- Remove from heat and taste. If the sauce needs more salt to add it now. Stir in the lemon zest (if using)
Combine and Serve
- Add the veggies and capers to the pan with tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. How long it simmers is really up to you. It could be ready now, or I let mine go for thirty minutes or more on a slow simmer, stirring occasionally
- Serve over pasta with sprinkles of cheese and herbs