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Inspiration Café

October 17th, 2012

Hello there, hard to believe but here I am my friends… not with a new recipe yet ‘cause it is been hard to cook and photograph at the same time.  I’ve been in that kind of mode where you eat while cooking, with very short time to breathe in between, still trying to figure where does my time go. I know I am busy but giving a second look, it seems I am not producing a lot.

So, no recipes but I decided to come back anyway and share a project that is very touching to me, the Inspiration Café .  In fact, the Café is just a piece of something that started in 1989 with Lisa Nigro and grew into a much bigger organization, the Inspiration Corporation.

I got to know their work in February, through my photojournalism class, and was really moved by their history and mission to increase self-sufficiency, self reliance and dignity in the city of Chicago. Today they provide case management and referrals (for services like healthcare), employment preparation, vocational training, housing and a healthy living for people in need. But it is through the Café, the core of the organization, that more than 3,000 people a year, affected by homelessness and poverty, are getting the chance to experiment the deep significance of what really means to be fed.

The Café provides daily breakfast and dinner four times a week through a restaurant-like setting. Participants in those programs get the right to frequent the place at least eight times a month. But for me, what really stands the restaurant apart from many soup kitchens or meal centers is that out there people are called clients and get, despite the limited menu, the chance to place their own order. Volunteers-waitresses attend requests and guarantee the food is on the table in a proper time.

It is nice to see the kitchen works quite smoothly, without neglecting the tensions and stresses a restaurant kitchen is known for. At the end everyone, employees, volunteers and participants sample what is to be part of a real food service and, in my opinion, ends up outperforming most high end restaurants in a play where food is meant to feed and restaurants to gather.

You can look at some pictures here and check more about their work on their website: Inspire yourself!







all images ©amandaareias


It feels really weird around here lately. We are walking towards the end of our fourth year in the States and the friends we made during this period are now leaving.  First you feel happy for them, for the new possibilities in their lives; but suddenly you realize they are actually LEAVING!

I know it is something to expect when you are a student living in a university environment right? And that is a familiar feeling I have been experiencing since my college days. But still, it is hard to get used to it.

The aggravate factor is the majority comes from a different and sometimes pretty distant land. We had friends moving from the neighborhood to the next city, some moving to Pittsburg and others returning to Guatemala, Puerto Rico and even Philippines. When are we going to meet again? Who knows?

All I know is I’ve been learning a lot with all these good people and their different ways of seeing and tasting the world. The time we spent together – that now seems like it has not been enough – was sufficiently strong to carve lasting memories. For many, many times these memories were built around either a table or a fire place. I ate pupusas with Xenia, drank coquito made by Ana and was introduced to s’mores by Bianca.

Of course all these friendships go far beyond the world of food. But still, I am a strong believer of something I have told you before: people we love will always be present through the tastes of the food we ate together.

Ok, I better stop now. I am missing my friends very badly….


Part of this recipe was given by my friend Donna from Filipinas. I was looking for something different to go along with my fish and she kindly made me this Chinese inspired ginger and garlic sauce to go along with the recipe.


. Saute garlic, scallions and ginger in the olive oil.

. Add chicken broth, soy sauce, sherry, sugar, oyster sauce and bring to a boil.

. Simmer to reduce the sauce for about 15 minutes.

. Blend together cornstarch and water.

. Add to simmering sauce and cook about 30 seconds more.

Donna’s note:
You can also substitute 1 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce for the sugar and oyster sauce.
You can add 1/2 tsp. chili sauce (sriracha or chili garlic sauce) for a spicy sauce


Now, prepare the fish. I make this recipe a lot, sometimes using tilapia, sometimes swai, and can’t give you enough reasons for you to give it a chance. It is easy, quick, gluten free, tasty and, the most important, baked, which makes it a super healthy option for any meal.

Corn flake crumb combined with sesame seeds give it an extra crunchiness and help to keep the fish moist. Oh, and if you opt for swai there is no need to toast the sesame seeds, just increase the final baking time in 5 minutes.


. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

. Season the fish with salt, garlic, lemon zest, black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

. Combine sesame seeds and corn flake crumbs in a shallow plate and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper.

. Dredge both sides of each fish file with this mixture and place them in a single layer, in a baking sheet.

. Bake for 10 minutes and that is it my friend!

For a complete meal I suggest you to serve the fish coated with the sauce in a bed of arugula and finely sliced radishes.

Italian heritage!

May 31st, 2012

Looking through my pictures I found these photos from a trip we did to Brazil at the end of 2010. And I thought “You know what? It is never too late to share memories, especially good ones”.

The pics were taken in an Italian restaurant in São Paulo, the Biondella Massas. It is not a sophisticated cantina, with a classy ambient and spectacular service. It is more like an everyday kind of restaurant and actually, the owners are known for their bad temper. But the food, ah the food…… pause, my mouth is watering…..

I would say Italian food in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, is usually something hard to forget. Italians helped build the city and they left, besides the strong accent, an amazing culinary heritage.

Biondella is not an exception: handmade pasta, amazingly fresh sauces and flavors that can blow anyone away. Rondellis are the one I miss the most, a lasagna kind of pasta filled with a variety of cheeses, sometimes chicken or ham, topped and baked with sauce of your choice.

It is not a touristic place and I don’t want it to be (***whispering: If you visit São Paulo, don’t miss the chance!!). If you don’t have plans to go there, well…you have got to try this recipe my friend!

Guacamole with a twist!

May 24th, 2012

Hard to believe but I am here again, in less than a week! I finished one more class a couple weeks ago and things are more relaxed know. With kids at home and one more road trip on the way, I know it is not going to last forever tough.

So, let me talk about guacamole while I can!! To start, I have to say every time I think about guacamole I think about this.

I can totally picture myself on the other side of Tiffany’s description, making faces for the idea of eating avocado mixed with salt, onions, tomatoes…. We used to have an avocado tree in the backyard and that was almost exclusively for smoothies.

We would share the excess with family and neighbors of course.  But I doubt it had been used in a different way.

Still, avocado with lemon and honey is the most powerful snack in my house but things have changed, oh how things have changed… if I have more than one avocado one the fridge, it is enough excuse to make guacamole instead.

The best thing about guacamole is it is a totally forgiving recipe, you can adjust the ingredients according to your taste and it will hardly go wrong. I love to play with the classic guacamole too, adding not so conventional ingredients. This recipe, for example, is a little twist on the classic, Asian Mexican flavor if I can say that.




1. Cut avocados in half. Remove seed. Scoop out avocado from the peel and put in a bowl.

2. Using a fork, mash the avocado. Add all the ingredients and mix well.

I particularly don’t use chili peppers but if you like a little hit, go for it.

Serve immediately with warm pita bread and be prepared to surprise everyone!


I posted on my Facebook page, a couple weeks ago (ok, maybe three or four) I had a pretty amazing adventure, documenting the “behind the scenes” of Gigi Verrey at WGN TV Midday News for their Lunchbreak segment. Finally, I am here to talk a bit more about her work and guess what? Share one of her recipes with you!!

Gigi is author of “Okay, So I Got Fat” and we have been working together in some pictures to promote her book and website. Telling you it has been a joy seems not enough.

After photographing (and eating) a few of her recipes I have to say, her food really reflects her passion for cooking, simple but boldly wonderful tasty food. And it doesn’t stop there, the bonus is all things she offers are well thought to put a balanced meal on the table and make we feel good about ourselves.

The recipes are based on what she calls “progressive meals”, where recipes can be doubled, transformed and used in multiple dishes. A yummy sesame crusted Tilapia, for example, can be turned into fish tacos on the next day and the roasted corn with hot paprika and cilantro from Monday becomes a creamy and comfort puree for Wednesday lunch.

It is basically tons of great tips for a better and healthier life in a simple and relaxed way. Who needs more than that?

The dressing for this salad, for instance, is just one of many variations for the single basic dressing she teaches on the book. The base, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt, gains another dimension when combined with just two new ingredients, sage and blueberries preserve.

Toss a good portion of arugula with these flavors and voilá, an amazing salad is created! And for a signature salad of your own, Gigi recommends also sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, apricots, dates or raisins.

To know more about these pictures and recipes visit

all images ©amandaareias 2012




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