Goodbye Marine Corps; Moving to New York // Also, Olive Oil Toast

olive oil toast

So, the funny thing about blogging for what now feels like a long time is that I feel I have to tell you everything. I can’t just say, “Hey, I’ve moved to Schenectady! And I have a kitchen with a teensy strip of pegboard and cabinets with awesome blue knobs. And in my corner cupboard I have a lazy Susan on top of which sits ANOTHER lazy Susan. And I have a pear and an apple tree bearing fruit in my backyard. And I have a landlord that advises me to get a cat because the mice and squirrels sometimes take over the house. I love her.”

I can’t just mention these things without offering any explanation. If you don’t want to listen, just scroll down to the olive oil toast. It’s a particularly handy thing to know how to make if, say, you’ve misplaced your toaster or are considering downsizing. It’s also about my favorite thing to eat these days.

OK, so, when I was a freshman in college, there was a boy, Ewan, who lived on the first floor of my entryway. Several times a week when I passed his room, I would spot him on the floor of his room in his dark green sweats and t-shirt doing push-ups and sit-ups. The scene always struck me as odd but I never gave it much thought. “Ewan’s intense,” I would think, as I, without a worry in the world, would skip up my steps heading to my room, hoping perhaps to find my roommates and maybe convince them it was time to go get some fro-yo.

It pains me to admit how clueless I was in the fall of 1999. The dark green getup should have been a giveaway. I would later learn that Ewan was in training to be a Marine Corps Officer, and even later learn that shortly after college Ewan would lead a platoon of Marines to Iraq.

The truth is that I couldn’t have told you a thing about the military until the fall of 2006, when Ben decided to withdraw from medical school and join the Marines himself. In January 2007, I drove Ben from Philadelphia to Quantico, where we said the first of many goodbyes and where Ben began Officer Candidate School, the first phase of a year-long training regimen to becoming an infantry officer.

During that year while Ben moved from OCS to TBS to IOC, in addition to learning a lot of acronyms, I continued working in Philadelphia, I started blogging, I stayed busy. It wasn’t so bad. I so looked forward to jumping on that Chinatown bus every few weekends to meet Ben in DC, to eat at 2Amys, to visit my grandmother in McLean, and to eventually return to Philadelphia.

And then things got really exciting. An assignment to Camp Pendleton meant a cross-country drive. We bought Roadfood and planned our itinerary accordingly. Some of you might remember this 10-day drive, highlights being Mahnomin porridge at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis and everything we ordered at Cafe Pasqual’s in Santa Fe. And some of you might remember the day we arrived in southern California and ultimately San Clemente, where we lived for three years.

It has been a wonderful journey. The Marine Corps has taken us to the land of avocados, lemons, fish tacos and breakfast burritos, where we bought wetsuits and booties and pretended to surf, where Ben deployed and returned twice, where Ella was born. The Marine Corps then brought us back to the east coast, closer to family, closer to what felt like home.

And it’s now time to move on. I’m sad my children will never remember Ben as a Marine, but we are happy with all of the decisions we have made these past few years and feel particularly at home, though it has only been one week, being back in the northeast. Now, before I get too sappy on you, I just want to share a few phrases I have learned over the years. I don’t know that they are specific to the Marine Corps, but I think about them often and think you might enjoy them, too.

One is none, two is one. This is my favorite. I like to use it on Ben when he questions why we have a dozen bottles of dishwasher detergent stashed under the sink and 16 rolls of paper towels in the hallway closet.

Adapt and overcome. Self explanatory.

Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Ella likes to use this one on me when I’m having a freakout while strapping her into her carseat.

As fast as you can, as slow as you must. I think about this while I’m chopping onions.

Go big. I love this one, too. It means “be bold,” but not in the sense that you should do daring things. For example, say you’re going to be late. Instead of just telling your friend you’ll be there in 15 minutes when you know realistically it will be 30 minutes, just go big: Tell your friend you need at least 30 to 45 minutes. It will be better for both of you.

Time spent on reconnaissance is never wasted. Raise your hand if you’ve ever found yourself experiencing extreme buyer’s remorse while dining in a tourist trap. It takes no time to do a little research, and the upshot is almost always worth it.

Finally, the Lifefactory Glass Bottle giveaway is now closed. The winner is Allison Moss. I have emailed you.

Ella and Ben

pegboard

awesome blue knobs

kitchen

apples

pearsaliwren

Ella & Graham

Last Friday, my mother and I found ourselves famished at 10pm. It had been a long day of driving (for me), greeting the movers (for my mother), and unpacking (for both of us), and about 10 seconds after we threw the children in their rooms, we decided it was time for some beer and food. We soon discovered we could find neither the bottle opener nor the toaster and would thus have to, wait for it, “adapt and overcome.” We jammed the bottles into a latch plate to pry them open and fried the bread in olive oil in a cast iron skillet stovetop. Beer and bread have never tasted so good. We made several batches of the olive oil toast that evening, and I have continued to make it every day since even after locating my toaster. I have been using a jalapeño oil from the Temecula Olive Oil Company, which offers a nice kick, so feel free to season with some crushed red pepper flakes if you like that sort of thing.

Olive Oil Toast
Serves: As many as you like

a few slices of stale bread
olive oil
nice salt, such as Maldon or Fleur de Sel
crushed red pepper flakes, optional

Note: If you want to doll this toast up a bit, spread it with a soft cheese (goat is nice) and top with arugula. No need to dress the arugula.

1. Coat a cast iron skillet with a nice layer (go big) of oil. Place bread slices in a single layer over top. Heat over medium heat until bread is golden, about five to eight minutes. Flip. Season with nice salt (and chili flakes if using). Heat until second side is golden.

2. Remove from heat. Eat.

pears

127 Comments

  1. Hi Ali-
    Thank you for the beautifully written update on your move. I especially loved all the pictures of your family. We were thinking about you tonight as Jay made your fresh corn polenta and I devised a fresh veggie concoction to go with it. The polenta has become a summer favorite – a great use for fresh, sweet corn.
    We wish you joy, growth, good health, adventure and discovery in this new phase of your lives. With love…

    Reply
    • Ruth! Hello! It is so wonderful to hear from you. I have had a packet of photos on my counter to send to you for months…this week I will! I am so happy you are still making the fresh corn polenta. I love it this time of year, too. I would love to hear about the fresh veggie concoction you serve with it. Sounds delicious. Thank you for your kind words. Sending lots of love!

      Reply
  2. Long time reader, first time commenter. Your blog is wonderful. My husband retired after 22 years from USMC, and I can say a few years out that you’ll never forget it. And you are better for it. And your kids will be glad to have their Daddy, who will always be a Marine.
    Thanks for sharing, and happy, happy journey to you.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Ashley. And wow, 22 years. That is truly amazing. Thank you, and thank your husband, too. I hope what you say proves to be true, and I trust you that it will. Seven years doesn’t really compare to twenty-two, but I do feel that these few years will forever shape our lives. Thanks so much for your wishes, and thanks so much for writing in.

      Reply
  3. Ali,

    We miss you guys already. I hope you are getting settled in just fine. We will have to have some skype time to keep up with you, Ben, and the kiddos especially when Caleb gets here in December. Please tell Ella she smells like a carrot for me.

    Jason

    Reply
  4. I have been following your blog for a few months when I stumbled on your blueberry buttermilk cake on pintrest. My family has appreciated several of your recipes. I would like to welcome youto upstate NY and hope that you enjoy it as much as I do.

    Reply
  5. Ali,
    You never cease to amaze me! Driving alone for over 9 hours with a three year old, one year old and four month old is no small task! And how you still find time to cook, take beautiful photos and write this entry is beyond me! So glad we had the chance to play with your delicious kiddos for a few hours in Philly! Mi casa es tu casa anytime. Xoxo. Ash

    Reply
    • Oh Ash, you are the best host ever. It was so so wonderful seeing you and your adorable family. I truly hope we can get the kiddos all together again sometime soon…Wren needs to coo at you a little more. Big hugs to you! xoxo

      Reply
  6. Alexandra, thank you so much for your writing here :) I make so many of your recipes and I’m sure will continue to be inspired with every new one. I often send family members or coworkers to your site for recipes of something they’ve enjoyed eating! You’re incredibly good at life!

    Thank you also for this sweet peek into your life, family and those beautiful fruit trees. I hope your new adventure is the best thus far! We had friends from here in Oregon (Portland) that recently moved to Schenectady. I can’t believe you recently had a baby, moved house AND manage to keep blogging AND feeding and caring for a family…. I am just amazed :) Here’s to the next chapter!

    Reply
  7. Alexandra,
    I love this! Glad I took the time to read it. You’ve had quite a journey- and happy for you that you got to live in one of the best places in the US, San C! If you didn’t know- we moved to Moscow, where we will be for two years before moving to another country, and so-on… So I will copy your phrases, and I know they will come in handy. “Adapt and overcome” is going to be a constant theme here! Your kids are adorable. Best of luck in NY.

    Reply
    • Julie, I can’t believe we never got to see each other before heading our separate ways! I have been following you on Instagram, so I did notice you were in Moscow, but I had no idea you had moved there…so exciting! I am envious of your travel, and as much as I love it here and hope to be settled for at least a few years, I still love the idea of living abroad for a year or two. You are going to have amazing experiences. Can’t wait to see them! Best of luck to you. Sending lots of love!

      Reply
  8. Alexandra,
    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now and just now took the time (kids are back in school!) to update myself. What a beautiful story to share and yes I do love to read these personal stories because after a while you always wonder who the person behind the blog is. Thanks for sharing and good luck with settling in your new home which looks so nice with the porch and the fruit trees. Greetz from Ohio!

    Reply
    • Dorothea — it’s always so wonderful to hear from you. I can’t believe school has started for you! I found a little school here for Ella and Graham but it starts after Labor Day. I’m looking forward to getting into that routine, but otherwise, we are feeling nice and settled already. Thanks so much for writing in.

      Reply
  9. I am making your mother’s peasant bread today and decided to check your website. Lo and behold olive oil toast which appears to be made from peasant bread. A few months ago I did not have croutons for our salad so sliced your bread long ways and toasted it in olive oil and sprinkled it with alessi dipping spices. It was delicious and unique in that it was not your typical square croutons but crouton fingers. Thank you for sharing your recipes. You have a beautiful family and I wish you all the best.

    Reply
  10. i’m brand new to your blog .. i came via pinterest with the delicious looking Prosciutto & Gruyère Croissants.. they look divine.. the pastry looks fab. as does the olive oil toast ! I must give them a try.
    thanks

    Reply
  11. Hi Ali! I’m so glad I can keep up with you here! I always love your posts and your photography just gets better and better!! So great to see your beautiful family grow up – if not in person then at least virtually. A bit jealous you’re back in the Northeast, but we just moved to a real sweet old house about 20 minutes from Napa, so life isn’t all bad :) Give my best to Ben!

    Reply
  12. What a journey! And thank you for sharing. You and Ben certainly have been on quite the adventure. I love hearing about your house – the pegboard (!) the fruit trees (!!) – and about how you’re settling into a a new adventure. Your kiddies absolutely kill me with their cuteness, I can’t even handle it. Looking forward to reading more about your new life in upstate NY (funny enough my dad was born in Schenectady).

    Reply
  13. First of all, as a former Marine myself, thank you and your husband for your service. I am new to your blog, and am slowly catching up while watching football and eating pulled pork!
    Seems we have been chewing some of the same dirt – I was also stationed at Pendleton, just outside of San Clemente! And I currently live 3 turns (and about 15 miles) from the front gate of Quantico! A high school friend of mine just retired from the Marines as Major Darren Crow, and a former XO of mine is a Col in special ops, Kelly Alexander. Don’t expect you to know the names, but as small as the Corps is, it’s not out of the realm of the unexpected!

    I will try the olive oil bread, on your bread recipe that I made this morn, and will definitely use the pepper flakes, as that is my version of Tobasco!

    Reply
    • John, hi! So sorry for this late reply. I didn’t have any wi-fi access while camping…probably best that way :) So fun to hear your story, or the abbreviated version anyway. We have loved every place we have lived, but I don’t think any place will compare to San Clemente. Hope I get back there for a visit sometime soon.

      You have me craving pulled pork! And I am going to go check out the cast iron cooking page on FB right now. Hope you like the olive oil toast…have MREs ruined Tabasco for you? Ben used to love Tobasco but is taking a break from it at the moment. THanks so much for writing in!

      Reply
  14. Your olive oil bread is how I use up the heels of my homemade bread, only I add garlic salt and cut them into cubes for the best tasting crunchy yet soft croutons! We’ve been known to eat them as a snack because they are so good warm from the skillet! Better than popcorn any old day!

    Reply
  15. hey alex,

    so i’m a total newb when it comes to cast iron skillets. where did u get yours and what kind is it? are there different ones and which is prefer? i’m dying to purchase one but i’m not aware where to start first.

    Reply
    • Kevin — this is a hard one to give advice on because the best ones are the old ones that have been used for years and have been properly maintained and seasoned over the years so they develop that nice patina that give them almost a nonstick quality. I was given two cast iron skillets from my mother, one of which she found at a flea market, one of which had been passed down from her mother. So, you can always keep your eyes pealed at flea markets/tag sales/antique shops, and if you see any with a nice smooth surface — which can be hard to identify sometimes — go for it. This obviously takes time, however, and if you are itching to get one it is not ideal. I do like Lodge cast iron skillets, too, and they offer good advice on seasoning/maintaing. I found this great post on The Kitchn: http://www.thekitchn.com/35-ways-to-love-your-cast-iron-skillet-190282 And I will keep my eyes pealed for any more helpful advice on this front online or otherwise. I will be in touch if I find anything. Hope that helps some!

      Reply
  16. It’s not every day your scrolling a blog and see the word “Schenectady” (I lived in the Stockade) My Grandfather has a farm in Latham and I am swimming in eggplant, he has a large patch of it and he doesn’t even eat it- he grows it because we do, which is how I happened upon your blog via a pinterest search for eggplant recipes. Looking forward to tricking my family with some eggplant faux meatballs. FYI He sells his produce at his roadside stand if your ever in Latham

    Reply
    • I must get to his stand! Where is it exactly. Seriously, I want to stop by. If only I were swimming in eggplant! :) I have been loving the eggplant recently but haven’t been too creative…mostly just been making ratatouille. So, do you have a faux meatball recipe you recommend? Would love to try. Thanks for the rec re the farmstand. Can’t wait.

      Reply
  17. It is funny – you just moved from close to where I live now to close to where I grew up! Congrats on the move – and can’t wait to see what you start cooking from the upstate NY bounty of fruits and veggies.

    Protip: hit Indian Ladder Orchards sometime soon for awesome apple cider donuts and apple picking. :)

    Reply
  18. I just wanted to tell you how much my family and I have been enjoying your recipes. Just this weekend, I baked both cheddar biscuits and pumpkin bread! I too was clueless about the military ( well, especially considering I am from Japan) when I first met my future husband who was a West Point Cadet in Montreal back in 1995. We have 4 more years until his retirement :) Military life is challenging at times, but we have lived & experienced many places in the world, and met so many wonderful people which we wouldn’t have otherwise. Though, may I say I am jealous of your fruit trees in your yards? We have never lived in a house with one and moved again before we could ever harvest any!

    Reply
    • Wow, how exciting! 4 more years! Congrats to you both and thank you for your service! I couldn’t agree more about the people and places life in the military has led us to. We miss that for sure. And funny you should mention the fruit trees: so, I basically picked the house because there is a peach tree in the backyard. When I arrived in mid-August, there was 1 — yes only 1 — peach left on the tree. I didn’t pick it because I wanted to show Ben, who was flying up that night. I ran out in the morning to show him, and alas, it was gone! The squirrels had gotten it! I cannot wait for next summer. Thanks for writing in, and all the best to you!

      Reply
  19. Hi Ali,

    I’m late to the party but these are some awesome sayings. I loved hearing about your husband’s time in the Marines and the pictures of your kitchen are beautiful.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Berta! Sadly, we’ve moved from this kitchen — looking at those photos is making me miss it. We’re hoping to do some sort of renovation here to get back some of that charm. We shall see.

      Reply

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