Counter Action: Banana–maple granola

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Yes, it’s still Sugar-Free January.

Yes, I know maple sugar is technically a sugar. My dad’s a diabetic, and people are forever coming up to him at church potlucks and saying, “I know you’re diabetic, so I made these cookies especially for you. They have no sugar, just maple syrup.”

Pro tip? Don’t be that person. Google is your friend.

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Further pro tip: Do be the kind of person who thinks ahead in December, and specifically resolves to give up all refined sugars in January except for maple syrup.

See, I’m taking care of you. We all need a little diet-cheating now and again, and if that cheat is all-natural and comes from a tree, all the better.

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This was the break room today — arrgh, so tempting.

This granola will make your house small aaahhh-mazing. It’ll make your boyfriend’s (or girlfriend’s) nose twitch and heart soften. You’ll sit down to hot bowls of granola, straight out of the oven, and wonder how you both got so lucky.

Granola: It’s what’s for dinner.

Banana–maple granola

(Modified for Sugar-Free January from Minimalist Baker)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats (not the quick kind)
  • 1 c. chopped nuts (whatever you have on hand; I used a mix of walnuts and pecans, but sunflower seeds or honey-roasted peanuts would be nifty too)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 T. cinnamon
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/3 c. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 overripe banana, smashed

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients in large bowl.
  2. Turn out onto baking sheet (lined with parchment paper if you’re like me and don’t like doing the dishes). Spread evenly over baking sheet.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees F 25–30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring once or twice to break up clumps. (Unless you like clumps. Clumps can be good too.)
  4. Serve straight out of the oven with milk and fruit, or room-temperature with the same. Enjoy!
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Counter Action: Taco tater-tot casserole

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There are some recipes that are all fancy and pretty and lovely. Those are the recipes you trot out for birthdays and baby showers and in-laws. Things like cherry–almond muffins, and grapefruit–olive oil tarts, and chocolate–tahini challah buns.

Wait. Why are all of my examples sweet things?

Dang Sugar-Free January. It’s got me all muddled up. Last week I ate a freakin’ banana and it was almost too sweet for me.

A banana. I know. Send help.

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“Ba-na-naaa …”

This taco tater-tot casserole is not pretty, but boy howdy, is it yummy. In fact, those are the two reasons I never got a picture of it: I couldn’t figure out a way to pretty it up, and a whole 9″x13″ pan disappeared in about two days.

I know. I have a problem. But when it’s a cheesy, meaty, spicy, filling, hot-dish problem … that’s a problem I can handle.

So, no picture today. And no written recipe, either, since I wouldn’t add a thing to the original. Instead, please enjoy the very pretty picture above of Castelmezzano, Italy, and then go on over to The Girl Who Ate Everything and check out the original recipe for taco tater-tot casserole.


Image credit: Castelmezzano from 12019 and minion from Alexas_Fotos, both on Pixabay.

Counter Action: Pomegranate–chocolate pie

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Do you ever think of something, get excited by how innovative it seems, and then learn that it’s been done before?

I remember learning about McCarthyism in middle school, and realizing with glorious excitement how similar it was to the hysteria surrounding the Salem Witch Trials. Someone should write a book about that, I thought immediately. Someone should write a book with those two historical events in parallel. You can imagine my frustration when I discovered, some years later, that a brash young upstart named Arthur Miller had already done that.

Similarly, a few years after that, I was delighted to find out how deliciously pomegranate seeds paired with dark chocolate. I have discovered something amazing, I thought. I have discovered a bold new flavor combo that no one has ever tried before.

Oh, the insolence of youth. Not only was I not the first one to try this, but Trader Joe’s, I quickly found out, had already released a pomegranate chocolate bar.

But no matter. Just because something has been done before doesn’t mean we can’t try to improve upon it, right? That’s what I attempted to do with this pie. The slight tartness of the filling … the mouthfeel of the whipped cream … the sweet saltiness of the chocolate crust … if you’re looking for a bold dessert to bring to a party, I’ve got just the thing.

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Pomegranate–chocolate pie

Ingredients:

  • Pre-made 9-inch Oreo cookie pie crust
  • 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 c. pomegranate juice
  • Whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or pomegranate seeds to garnish

Directions:

  1. Combine sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and pomegranate juice. (Would a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder add even more depth of flavor? Try it out and let me know!)
  2. Pour into pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15–20 minutes, or until the middle of the pie stops jiggling.
  3. Garnish with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or pomegranate seeds. Serve with coffee.

Counter Action: Vegetarian meatloaf with apricot barbecue sauce

“What is that?”

“What’s in it?”

“… uh. Okay.” *backs away slowly*

You may be looking at this recipe through narrowed eyes. You may be tempted to skip it altogether. Perhaps you remember an unfortunate encounter with a veggie loaf that jiggled when you poked it.

This veggie loaf is 100% jiggle-free, I promise. Unlike my middle, which appears to have gained 14 pounds in the last year.

I know. What the heck. And I’m not even pregnant. I would make excuses, but … there just aren’t any excuses to be made. I’m just going to have to cut out whole milk and Chick-fil-A and orange rolls and all the other joys in my life.

This veggie loaf will help. It’s full of eggs and walnuts and breadcrumbs and other good things, and the barbecue sauce is tangy and sweet. Perfect for a cold winter evening.

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Vegetarian meatloaf with apricot barbecue sauce

Ingredients:

Loaf:

  • 1-1/4 c. breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped or grated
  • 1-1/2 tsp. sage
  • 3/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 3 T. dried parsley
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten

Sauce:

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 6 T. apricot jam
  • 4 T. ketchup
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano

Directions:

  1. Mix breadcrumbs, walnuts, salt, onion, sage, cheese, garlic, parsley, and eggs until combined. Transfer to loaf pan.
  2. Combine oil, lemon juice, apricot jam, ketchup, brown sugar, salt, and oregano. Spread over top of loaf.
  3. Bake at 350°F until knife inserted in middle comes out clean (could be 40+ minutes). Enjoy with potatoes and something green.

Browned butter banana bread with toasted pecans

Do you remember meeting your significant other’s family for the first time?

Do you remember what you wore? How nervous you were? Whether your significant other gave you hope, or reasons to fear?

(“Aunt Jeannie will be there. She … um. Well. You’ll see.”)

I just met my boyfriend’s parents and brother last month, and now that Christmas is here, I’m slowly meeting everyone else. The aunts. The uncles. The best friends and their girlfriends/fiancées/wives.

It’s been interesting. They’re all fiercely protective of my boyfriend, as well they should be. They’re all lovely, sweet, welcoming people, but I’ve been doing some serious PR work on my own behalf, let me tell you.

Fortunately, part of my strategy is baking, and everyone loves baked goods. For my first visit, I took apple crisp, which swifly disappeared. For this visit, I took banana bread. I accidentally left the eggs out, but you know, the bread still hangs together pretty well.

Just like this relationship will, I hope. Just like my relationships with this family will, going forward.

Here’s hoping.

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Browned butter banana bread with toasted pecans

Ingredients:

7 overripe bananas, mashed

1/2 c. buttermilk

2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. butter, browned

4 c. flour

1-1/4 c. sugar

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 c. chopped pecans, toasted

Directions:

  1. Dice butter into small saucepan. Cook over low heat until just barely nutty-brown. Remove immediately from heat.
  2. Combine butter, mashed bananas, vanilla, and buttermilk.
  3. Toast pecans over medium heat in medium saucepan, stirring frequently. Remove when toasted, and combine with flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
  4. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, and stir to combine. Pour into two loaf pans.
  5. Bake 60 minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool before removing from pan and enjoying.

I’m still here!

Fully two years later, I’m still here — and slightly pained to see how relevant my last post still is. (Really, America? C’mon.) But enough of that. How are you, my lovely 98 followers? How’s life? What’s the last thing you baked? How long has it been since you’ve eaten pie?

If it’s been less than a few hours, it’s OK. This is a safe place. We don’t judge here.

As for me … I’m doing better. I finally admitted to myself that I have depression and anxiety, and got my butt on (four separate) medications. That kicked my brain in the right places and brought on a bunch of good, healthy changes. I found a new job that I really love, and ran a half marathon, and started getting along better with my family, and got a 97% match with a guy on OKCupid who I have now been happily dating for … let’s see … a month and twelve days, officially.

You see the kind of difference these brain pills can make? The commercials aren’t lying. Holy Moses, do I feel better.

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Literally my brain at the moment. Meadow, flowered hat, the whole nine yards.

That whole brain chemistry situation is a major reason I stopped blogging, because, uh, I wasn’t cooking. I know. Gasp, faint. I lost my appetite for over a year. It wasn’t pretty. I could be persuaded to eat a turkey sandwich here or there, or a piece of toast and a mandarin orange for dinner, but making mayonnaise or chicken broth or mozzarella cheese from scratch, as I have been wont to do? Fuhgeddaboutit.

So what does a food blogger do when she doesn’t eat?

Drop off the radar for two years, apparently. Sorry about that. A better person would have found a way to blog through it all — “12 Spins on the Classic Turkey Sandwich That Will Blow Your Mind,” or something. But I am not a better person. I’m me. And you lovely 98 people, for some reason, have chosen to stick with me through the silence.

So thank you for that. I have been cooking again, and I will reward your patience by resurrecting this blog at some point. It might take me awhile. It’s not a great time of year for natural lighting or seasonal produce, and truth be told, I’m still testing the limits of my new and improved appetite.

But I have been eating, and I think that’s a great first step. Onward and upward!

If you want a sneak peek into my fridge, here’s what’s been on the menu this week:

Spicy Chicken Sweet Potato Meal Prep Magic Bowls from Pinch of Yum. Does even this recipe look like too much work? Then don’t dice anything — toss the chicken breasts whole with olive oil and storebought Cajun seasoning. Bake the sweet potatoes whole. Get pre-cut broccoli segments from the store. Make it easy for yourself.

Honey Ginger Tofu & Veggie Stir Fry from Pinch of Yum. I used baby carrots cut up into segments, plus a container of snow peas from the produce section. Easy-peasy.

And coming up next week …

Crockpot Chicken Wild Rice Soup from (yes) Pinch of Yum. With maybe sliiiiiightly less butter, because I’m a spoilsport like that.

Vegetarian Meatballs with Apricot Barbecue Sauce from an old church cookbook I have. The barbecue sauce is ta die fer, as the Pioneer Woman would say. This is one of my favorite comfort foods. I can’t wait.

Until next time!

~ Sonya Sombra

 


Image credits: Meadow from jill111 and yaks from Pixel-mixer on Pixabay.

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Obligatory Baby Yak of Goodwill. D’awww!

6+ Ways You Can Support Your Local Muslim Community

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Some people think a job should be a reliable source of income. Others think their job should continue building their professional skill set.

Fortunately I’m independently wealthy (ha), and I gain my skills by plugging into the Matrix every night. So really, I just go to work to learn more about humanity.

For example, the administration recently sent out a mass email informing us that attendance at this year’s holiday party is mandatory.

Apparently that’s a thing.

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I have a sudden urge to wear this shirt to the party.

Perhaps more somberly, I’m now watching the news a lot more, thanks to the TV opposite our front desk that blares CNN every minute of the workday.

And guess who’s been featured heavily on CNN in the past few months?

If you answered “The Dalai Lama” or “Puppies and unicorns”, (a) you’re watching a different CNN, and (b) I want to know how to access it. I was referring to Monsieur Trump.

Oh, Trump. Trumpity Trump Trump.

I’m not going to lie: the desire to crack a joke about his hair is almost overwhelming. But then I remember that part of being a good feminist means not perpetuating the terrible tradition of judging people’s worth by their appearances. So I’ll let John Mulaney say it for me.

Jokes fade, however, in light of this insidious trend of painting the whole of Islam with the same terrorist brush, and vandalizing mosques, and committing violence against Muslims, and generally getting F’s in both Compassion 101 and Elementary Rational Thinking for the semester.

Fear not, though: the semester is now over. A new one is beginning. We can do better.

So looking ahead, what can we non-Muslims do to let our Muslim neighbours know we value their safety and civil rights?

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I googled this question a few weeks ago and got basically no pertinent results, so this is our chance to be more current than Google. Oh, yes. Relish this moment, my friends, and if you have more thoughts about how to support one’s local Muslim community, chime in below.

  1. Check in with the Muslim community to see how you can support them.  In the process of writing this entry, I found this marvelous Facebook post from an American Muslim, detailing some things we non-Muslims can do.
  2. Education, education, education. I’m not going to lie: in sixth grade, 9/11 made me terrified of Muslims. Then my dad (a history buff and a pastor) came to my class to give us a quick introduction to Islam, and we were all like, “Oh, okay, we didn’t need to be scared.” So if you don’t know a hijab from a niqab — or if you’re like me and you thought Islam oppressed women until a friend gently corrected you — I recommend taking a few minutes every day to learn something new about the religion that 23% of the world adheres to. Not sure where to start? Reza Aslan is my go-to guy right now, but there’s also no shame in Wikipedia for the big picture. Here’s a fun fact to get you started: Nine majority-Muslim nations have signed the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and seven more have acceded to it (which essentially has the same effect as ratification). Who’s conspicuously absent from the list of supporters? ‘Murica.
  3. In your own circles, be That Guy. I know, I know — someone who habitually delivers warnings about the influx of Sharia law in the U.S. usually doesn’t appreciate being interrupted. But your interruption doesn’t have to be dramatic. Using that education from step #2, you can gently derail them with a pleasant “Actually …” or “I thought the same thing, but as it turns out …”
  4. Reach out to your local mosque. Tell them you’re glad they’re in the neighbourhood. Thank them for the charity work they do. Ask if there’s anything you can do to show your support — maybe their groundskeeping team needs another volunteer, or there’s a community dinner you could attend. If you’re a praying person, let them know you’re praying for their members’ resilience and safety. If you run some sort of local periodical, offer them some PR through an interview or a local interest piece. If they’re planning a fundraiser for a charity project, show up and support them.
  5. Respect their space. When I reached out my local mosque, I had grand dreams about what might happen as a result. They would be overwhelmed by my offer of support, and respond with oodles of gratitude! We could form a local interfaith alliance! I would go down in history as a pioneer in American Christian–Muslim relations! I’d forgotten, of course, that I am just one little fish in the big, big pond of interfaith conversations, and also that this kind of thinking is a form of colonial paternalism. I’d also forgotten that my local Muslim community is composed of human beings. With, you know, rights and stuff. Including the right to be left alone and decide their own PR strategy.
  6. Remember you have a vote. As this conversation on Islam in America continues to unfold, keep a close eye on who’s saying what, and let it inform your voting in the future. If you think your current representatives aren’t responding well, let them know you’re disappointed. (Not sure who to contact? This website will tell you.)

Any other ideas out there? If you’re a Muslim in a largely non-Muslim area, what kinds of support would you like to see?

[Bonus resource: WISE’s “100 Extraordinary Muslim Women, Past and Present” project. So cool!]

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Image credits: screen detail from charlemagne, Weird Al shirt from JSRDirect, Istanbul mosque from falco, and Medina mosque from omeng on Pixabay.  

No Carb Left Behind: The Finale

After a month of complications, it’s official: I’m currently at the airport, heading out of town tonight, bound for the land of humidity and alligator jerky.

What has the past month entailed, beyond the unconscionable shirking of my D.A. Days duties? Well …

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There were yet more heartfelt goodbyes to my favourite place on campus.

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I saw this sign and toyed with the idea of buying this coffee shop and renaming it either Schrödinger’s or Heisenberg’s. I’m still uncertain.

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I saw this delightful sign at the Seattle Pride Parade, which tickled me to no end. (If you can’t read it, it says “Mawage is what bwings us togeva today.”)

Speaking of which, if you’ll grant me a soapbox for a moment … I wrote about one benefit of pride parades last year, but I thought of another this year when I saw several local teen shelters and resource centers in the parade, many of which had a delegation of their teen patrons and volunteers. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be an LGBTQQIA teen, facing intense harassment and discrimination on a regular basis. Pride parades are one way we get to say to those kids, “We love you, and we’ve got your backs.” Because as the ever-inspiring Hannah Schaefer pointed out, at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what our opinions on sexuality are — these people are still coming out, and they’re still facing higher risks of violence and suicide and homelessness. If we prioritize our opinions over their lives, that paints us in a pretty ugly light.

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Yesterday’s news was that I moved out of my apartment and had to say goodbye to this guy. It was heartfelt. There were tears.

Granted, he was sacked out on a chair at the time, taking his 18th nap of the day. But I just know he’ll miss having someone to tickle his feet and call him The Dude.

The tabby in the picture, a.k.a. Bandersnatch Cutiebutt, couldn’t have cared less. As far as he’s concerned, my exodus means one less biped hogging the couch.

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After relocating to my friends’ house for the night, I spent today with these two entities. Meet Delia and Delbert, our contestants on this week’s episode of The Biggest Loser. They had eight hours to lose 9 pounds each … and what do you know, they did it, folks! Let’s hear it for Delta Airlines’ accurate scales!

And finally …

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… I saved the best for last in our No Carb Left Behind series: Kaffeeklatsch, in Lake City. I cannot recommend this place more highly. I lived within walking distance of it for two years, and I credit it with maintaining my wellbeing throughout grad school. It’s right under my friends, my family, and my counselor, and right above naps. They have amazingly moist cinnamon rolls, and super flavorful bread (try the Rustic White), and a modest yet sufficient tea selection.

And on Wednesdays they have chili. You guys. The chili. OMG. I never thought I was a beef person, but this chili has won me over, heart and soul. I’ll share my wannabe vegetarian recipe sometime. In the meantime, get yourself over to Kaffeeklatsch and try it yourself. Hitchhike if you have to. Hang-glide. Parasail. Steal Borrow your neighbour’s daughter’s horse. Camp out for 36 hours like you’re waiting to get into Hall H. Do what you have to do. Just be there on a Wednesday.

I’m now having trouble remembering why I’m moving away from this place. What’s that? Full-time employment, you say? Very well, I’ll board this plane. But don’t stop being awesome, Seattle — you can bet your buttons I’ll be back.

Southward ho!

~ S.

Counter Action: Watermelon–edamame salad

Next in our summer salad series, which is as much a dedication to seasonal cooking as it is a Hail Mary intermission between cheese-filled pancakes and homemade waffle cones, we have this easy blend of watermelon, snow peas, and edamame.

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And have you ever been told to put salt on your watermelon, to bring out the flavour? That’s what the dressing does, but through the vehicle of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Can life get better? I submit that it cannot.

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Watermelon–edamame salad

(thrown together with what I had in my cupboard; for added flavour, try Joy the Baker’s original recipe: Snap pea, watermelon, and edamame salad with sesame vinaigrette)

Ingredients:

  • 3 c. chopped watermelon
  • 2 handfuls snow peas, cut on the bias
  • 3/4 c. shelled thawed edamame
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Combine watermelon, snow peas, and edamame.
  2. In lidded jar, combine oils, mustard, soy sauce, and seasonings. Shake to combine.
  3. Toss salad with dressing to taste. Store leftovers covered in fridge for up to four days.

 

No Carb Left Behind, episode 2: U-District

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For the next installment of my food-centered farewell tour of Seattle, we travel north to the University District, home of the excellent Magus Books, a much-touted annual streetfair, and the unparalleled University of Washingon.

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Oh yeah, that’s my alma mater.

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Heck yes. Go Huskies.

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This place does have a formal name, but everyone just calls it the Harry Potter room. Early in the morning, before the tour groups start coming through, there’s no better place for a solo cup of tea and meditation on your philosopher of choice.

Anyhow, as you can see in the first picture, I chose Guanaco’s Tacos for a plate of rice, black beans, pickled slaw, and two zucchini–spinach–cheese pupusas (which, if you’re new to them, are a bit like stuffed pancakes made with corn flour). It was a fantastic meal, especially for the price, but really at the limits of my stomach capacity. Next time I think I might skip the plate and order one pupusa, a side of rice, and a side of beans.

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Just down the hill, at the University Village, there’s a branch of the inimitable Molly Moon’s. It’s a bit on the pricier side, which is why I hadn’t been there since last June, but worth the money for a special occasion. I love their Honey Lavender and Maple Walnut flavours, so this time, I took a chance on another of their year-round flavours, Salted Caramel. It was a bit salty on its own for me, but I can see it really shining alongside a scoop of Melted Chocolate.

I once looked at an apartment quite close to the University Village. I rejected it partly because I would have wound up being far too familiar with Balsamic Strawberry and Vanilla Bean, the scent of homemade waffle cones drawing me on like a siren song.

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“Scout mint … Scout miiiiint …”

These are by no means the only, or even the all-out best, places to eat in the U-District — I also love Shalimar for slightly formal (but still affordable) Indian food; Molly’s Café has some of the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had; and the District Market‘s excellent ready-made soups and sandwiches will always have a special place in my heart for welcoming me back to Seattle after a long early-morning flight from Alabama.

In short, it’s hard to go wrong with the U-District, food-wise. Whether you’re looking for a meal on the go or need a good place for a date, the U-District has your back.

If you live in Seattle, what’s your favourite food place in the U-District? Alternatively, what was your go-to food place in college?

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Image credit: Siren from Azumi79 on Pixabay.