22 May

Chrissy grandmaYesterday, this world lost one of the greats: my sassy, vivacious, tough-as-nails Grandma Rita.

Her love of dogs, gambling, and gossip (though she maintained she was merely “sharing information”) are well documented, but my most cherished memories of her will be how much she supported my writing–she read every word I ever published in The Hoya, bought every copy of Newsweek in Sugar Notch the summer I worked there (even when I didn’t have a byline), and always laughed at the jokes no one else found funny on this little blog. Even after I became a nurse and writing was no longer in my career path, there was almost never a phone call that went by without her reminding me, “You are a tremendous writer, you know,” and then, a crescendoing giggle, “And funny as hell.”

She was also the first person outside of the immediate family to meet MrKef, and I’ll always be grateful for how immediately and warmly she embraced him as part of the family. They bonded over paczkis and poodles, and he was an admitted and unabashed favorite of hers.

Here we are on our sort-of-secret first wedding day with her, because I couldn’t imagine getting married without her:

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And while I could go on and on about her, I’ll leave you with this absolutely-typical email she once wrote me, after she saw on the Facebook that I had gone to a shooting range, subject line: Annie Oakley:

chrissy—-so pleased that you have taken up the fine art of target shooting.  I told Jeannie and she was thrilled–she and I in our younger years were on rifle teams we competed every sunday.  Jeannie was a sharpshooter and all the guys wanted her on their team.  she never missed a target…….. she was one lady not to tangle with.  It is a great way to spend a day/////  hope all is well with you….the puppy is teething and driving this ole lady nuts.  To date he has eaten/chewed my new boots , the electric wire on my fan,one of Rose!s throw blankets last night he was very quiet, I was thrilled, after awhile I checked him he had my cell phone, chewed all the leather from the case top and bottom===we checked he did not make any calls.  Have a great day.  Love you                       rita and ryley

Two Books to Blow Your Hair Back

18 May

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There is no way to talk about this book that will do it justice– just go read it. It was recommended by pretty much everyone in the book world (NYT Best Seller, Amazon’s 2014 Book of the Year, Darling of Oprah’s Book Club), and none of them were wrong. I loved this book so much I walked to and from the grocery store instead of driving just so I could read it while I walked.

The novel follows a family as they deal with the sudden loss of their teenage daughter, Lydia. They’re a biracial family (a dad who’s Chinese American and a mom who’s white) in nowhere Ohio in the 1970s, and Lydia’s death opens the wounds long-since incised on their relationships. Honestly, there’s no point in saying anymore– the strength of this book is not in its plot but in how carefully Ng guides us through the history of a family via one very specific period. It’s definitely one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.

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Last time I wrote about what I was reading, I was about half way through Consequence: A Memoir by Eric Fair. When I told people I was reading it, no one was surprised–my general literary interests are (in this particular order): identity politics, oppression, and stories about those who complicate oppressive identity politics. So the account of how egregious human rights abuses like Abu Ghraib became common place in Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty much a no-brainer on my bookshelf.

But this book should be required reading for everyone, even if oppressive systems ain’t your bag. I wrote last about how much I admire the way Eric Fair does not exclude himself when providing examples of cowardice, corner cutting, and callous disregard for human life and dignity. As I finished the book, I also came to respect his outright refusal to make a work of torture porn–there are no prolonged waterboarding scenes, no full pages of gory details. Instead, there are plain statements of fact that serve as an illustration of how in the hell we got here: forged resumes, faked credentials, and private corporations more than willing to look the other way in order to cash in on their lucrative government contracts. It’s an indictment of the military industrial complex and an endorsement of the military, a call to action and a plea for de-escalation. It asks as many questions as it answers, and complicates what we know with the simple statement of how much the American public does not know.

Next up: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. It’s DC Greek Easter and then finals so it may be awhile… let me know if you’ve read it, too!

Greek Easter 2016: Starring Calliope, Gregory, and Jane.

16 May

Usually, my Greek Easter emails start with a picture like this one, which shows the care with which I transport nearly my entire kitchen up to my grandfather’s house for a weekend of cooking with JetSet in a kitchen that hasn’t actually been used in this millennium.IMG_5914But this year, the family Greek Easter celebration actually starts many weeks before the Pascha, when I skedaddled up to JetSet and KimmieKef’s very-well-appointed kitchen in NY for some very special preparation.

…But first, we bought bikes. Both JetSet and KimmieKef are turning 33 this year and, because they have a healthy relationship to numerical symbolism, decided that they should complete the TRIfecta by competing in the NYC TRIathlon (is my banging you over the head with the symbolism giving you a headache?). So, we spent some time with Jesse at Togo Bikes and got them all squared away for some cycling.

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Do either of those photos really need qualifying? I think not.

A few hours later, we walked into their apartment to find a kitchen full of chopped onions, minced garlic, and two expert chefs: Calliope and Georgios. JetSet and I have really gotten good at most Greek cooking staples, but one juggernaut has eluded us: spanakopita. So, we called in the experts from Calliopes Real Greek Food for a lesson in getting that flaky-dough, leafy-green genius juuuuust right.

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We also made some amazing leg of lamb (or so I’m told), imam baildi, and tiropita.

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And then, it was spanakopita time. Calliope guided us through the easier-than-we-would-have-guessed process of making the dough, resting the dough, rolling the dough, and–finally– assembling the dough into a pie.

The secret? A dough whose flour:oil ratio no one who cares about grams of fat wants to know.

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It also helps if you measure in teacups rather than measuring cups and focus on opening the dough rather than rolling it out– this adds to the authenticity of the whole thing.

Under Calliope’s careful guidance, the TerrorTwins + KimmieKef turned out an unimpeachably impressive spinach pie:

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I’d love to cut right to the Greek Easter family celebration, but first, some antics… like truffle popcorn in ceviche juice:

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An exercise in paying no attention to the people behind the curtain:

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And, of course, #shareashark

Not the actual picture to protect those slayed by Jane Danger’s wrath.

Okay, so now we can fast forward a few weeks and JetSet and I were making a mess in our grandfather’s kitchen in preparation for the big meal.

… but obviously that didn’t mean the shenanigans were over. The moment below is our celebration of  our first solo spanakopita, which we both agreed was on par with Gregory’s.

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If you’re a real Greek you will know this is not necessarily the highest of praise. If you’re Greek-American, you will think we are the best cooks on the planet. No matter who you are, your theory that we are freaks of nature has been confirmed by this picture.

For the first time ever, we finished all our cooking on Saturday, with time to spare! We headed up to an Orthodox monastery for Easter midnight service, where we accidentally disturbed strict gender roles by standing next to each other and I was accused of being a man because I wasn’t wearing a skirt.

After all that cooking and confusing the Orthodoxy, I was pooped and ready for some sleep. Before I knew it, it was lunch time on Sunday!

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Our pies weren’t nearly as perfect as the ones we made with Calliope (but they definitely qualified as χωριάτικη).

JetSet won the game life by combining by turning the tiropita into dessert–twice!

First, the left over filling + blueberries:

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And, the next day, warmed with a drizzle of honey.IMG_5941

Once KimmieKef had her second serving of baklava, Greek Easter 2016 was a wrap. Less than a week until I do it all again in DC!

Sweat Box DC Review

4 May

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If you’re into fitness/working out in DC and the internet algorithms have been doing their job, you have probably been inundated with Sweat Box ads across every social media platform on God’s green earth. Never one to miss a new workout, I signed up for the first class on the opening day  to see what this was all about.

Like a lot of boutique fitness studios, most of Sweat Box’s hype is self-driven. The instructors are called “Bosses,” there are all kinds of complicated lighting schemes in the studio, and the front desk staff wishes you a haughty “good luck” as you enter the studio. None of this is too surprising, though–  the studio is an offshoot of Vida, the fashion show masquerading as a gym with memberships ranging from $94-$129 per month. Whatever.

Anyway, the check in area doubles as the locker room (protip: they’re the ones you can set your own code to, so need to bring your own lock), but do know that there’s no actual changing area except the single spa bathroom, so come ready or early. It also gets a bit crowded between classes when one group is coming and the other is going–so if, like me, you are not into any scene where Lulu-clad fitness freaks stand around sizing one another up, just come dressed in your clothes with 3 minutes to spare and head right into the studio. Yes, you know what I’m talking about:

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ANYWAY. The workout itself is similar to interval training and is set up similar to an Elevate or Barry’s, but, instead of separating the class into separate cardio and strength groups, you have your own little station that has a TRX setup, a set of dumb bells, and an awesome stationary bike. The class consists of three strength circuits alternated with ~5 minutes of work/recovery on the bike. The bike was really the interesting/novel part of the the whole thing– you answer a series of questions on the bike computer to get your Functional Threshold Wattage (FTW), and then the computer lights up in either blue, green, yellow, or red to indicate the “zone” you’re working in relative to that FTW.  Again- I am not that into gimmicks/gadgets, but I actually found this to be super helpful in maximizing those short spins and kept me working hard better than the usual 1-10 scale of spin classes. It was also REALLY accurate… when my instructor–err, Boss– said that, “By the end of class, Red should feel like you’ll die if you do more than 30 seconds,” he was spot on.

You can also use a heart rate monitor (has to be a MyZone), though my instructor didn’t focus very much on that. There are two screens in the studio so you can keep track of it yourself, though if you are really into HR training you should pick a spot right in front of the screens because otherwise they are hard to see.

The class was tough, and the instructor Isaiah kept us on cue and upbeat. The moves were easy enough to follow and I loved that it was a focused class (shoulders/chest) rather than total body. I was tired at the end of class but not totally pooped. I found the workout tougher on strength than cardio, and would probably pair this with a run in the future.

Pros:

  • they bring you a cool towel at the end, and this is heaven
  • great strength training with great attention to working the same muscle(s) in different ways
  • good instructor (mine was Isaiah) who read the room really well and pumped us up when we needed some pep and pushed us further when we needed a kick in the pants
  • nice, spacious setup with everything you need for class in one spot
  • awesome way to mix up your workout routine

Not My Favorite:

  • kind of a scene, though this may dissipate as the novelty wears off
  • tough to see the screens where heart rate and other data is displayed
  • a lot of bells and whistles, which I know jazzes some people up but kind of turns me off… just give me the workout, man!
  • high price point ($29-$39/class, depending on number of classes purchased)– I would pay $30/class for SolidCore because it is the world’s most insane workout… this was not that, and should be priced lower accordingly.
  • no locker rooms/shower– I sort-of snuck upstairs to use the main Vida showers (which are AH-mazing, btw), but I’m not really sure I was supposed to, so plan to shower somewhere else.

Bottom Line: I’d go back if I were really in a rut or if a friend really wanted to try it out, but I don’t see this becoming part of my regular routine.

A Book I Read, A Book I Dropped, and a Book I am Dying for You to Read

26 Apr

You can check out the first two books I’ve read this year here.

What I Read: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

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If you haven’t read anything by Murakami before, I suggest starting with his shorter fiction (you can start with his not-at-all-shabby number of New Yorker contributions)– his books often have long asides that are immensely enjoyable but don’t necessarily contribute to the narrative arc, and  his take on magic realism is what I imagine an LSD trip would feel like. In general I am not into anything even remotely fantastical, but Murakami’s command of readers is unmatched: he envelopes us in a world we can swallow, one where words and symbols are both plain and profound, then inverts it just enough to remind readers that he is in the driver’s seat–and we WILL be enjoying this ride.

Anyway, if The Interestings is about a group of childhood friends who stuck together through life even when they shouldn’t have, CTTAHYOP is a mediation on what happens when that group of friends is gone.We meet our protagonist in his mid-30s, an engineer with a lifelong self-prescription for colorlessness struggling to connect to a world of whose hues remain apparent-but-out-of-reach to him thanks to an abrupt and traumatic transition from the comfort of childhood to the confusion of early adulthood. Murakami gives us a few foils to Tsukuru, who guide him (and readers) through flashbacks and side stories in exploration of why he can never quite cross out of black and white Kansas to find the brilliant shades of Oz. If that synopsis is oblique, I’m glad– I love not knowing what Murakami’s books are “about” and just letting the familiar-yet-foreign world he creates unfold before me.

What I Dropped: Outline

I almost never don’t finish books–but when the pie chart of your time has only the teensiest sliver for leisure reading, there’s no time for words that don’t blow your hair back. I wanted so much to like this book: it’s about a British woman who goes to Greece to teach writing after a divorce… writing, Greece, and reinvention are pretty much my favorite themes. But the structure of the book made it difficult for me– the narrator actually has no narrative at all, rather she merely moves us from person to person as the characters she meets tell their stories rather than hers.

It is likely that I will go back and try this book again–the writing is compelling and there were some spot-on and hilarious depictions of Greeks–but I just never cared enough to keep moving through the book. Cusk was able to carry each story on its own, but failed to compel readers (or at least this reader) to continue from one to the next. Anyone read this? Should I keep going?

What I’m Dying For You to Read: Consequence: A Memoir

Holy moly. I’m about 1/2 way through this book right now and am not ready to wax poetic, so I’m just going to make the case for you to read this book so I can talk about it with you. On its face, Consequence is Eric Fair’s account of his time as an interrogator at Abu Graib–but truly, it is an indictment of the many, many systems that created conditions ripe for the abuse and horror of the prison. Fair takes his time getting there–as I said, I’m about half way through and we’ve only just gotten to Iraq– but no words are wasted. The writing is sparse and plain, and Fair moves us from his early childhood to his decision to deploy as a contractor to Iraq with only as much attention as a particular phase of life requires. He is objectively critical, and lays out events with only as much edification as he thinks is required to make a point. There are no tirades, no rants, no pontificating–just the facts as this conservative Christian man from Pennsylvania saw them. Most impressive is the way Fair does not shield himself from the light of his own investigation: he indicts himself and his own moments of cowardice just as searingly as his cavalier colleagues, indifferent supervisors, and clueless community members.

I’ll write again when I finish it. Please please let me know if you read this, too!

The Honeymoon is Over: ManSpreading and Moonshine

22 Apr

There’s a test on Monday, which means, of course, that there’s a long post today. A friend reminded me that I never actually told the story of how my dear husband manspreaded his way through Montenegro, which is not actually that much of a story… but in the interest of not leaving my readers hanging (and of delaying studying just as long as humanly possible), I figured I’d wrap up this honeymoon run down.

At last update we were in Dubrovnik, Croatia enjoying the good life of dapper cats and pizza-only diets. We decided to take a day trip to Montenegro, and dutifully got up early to meet the bus. The next ~2 hous looked like this:

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Which is to say that MrKef spent the bus ride pleased as punch, talking about what a great ride this was… while my American-sized  self squeezed into the half of my already-too-small seat that he wasn’t occupying. For those not familiar with manspreading, a word from the Metropolitan Transit Authority:

When I suggested that he was taking up way more space than was allotted to him he simply got a wry smile and said, “What? I’m a big African man. I need to spread out.” This is when I wondered whether I could get an annulment in Montenegro.

I decided to take a little nap, and when I woke up, we were in Montenegro! Our day trip started with a tour of the Bay of Kotor, which was about as stunning as can be:IMG_4723

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We had a quick stop for lunch, where the sun was shining and the shitznel was huge.

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IMG_4689The server absolutely judged us when MrKef finished his plate, but no one gave one bit of mind to it–MrKef was in his happy place (and I was sitting safely ACROSS the bench from him, so I had all the space I wanted).

Next, we headed over to the Old City of Kotor. It was supercute and full of charm:

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There was the option to climb up two miles of stairs (no…really) in the 98 degree heat, but we opted against it. But if you’re headed there and want a preview, follow the stairs alllll the way up the mountain to the top fort in this picture below– definitely a hike meant for the early morning.

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Here we are, unhiked and unsweaty:IMG_4714

And, apparently, it was Shark Week in Kodor:

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After an hours-long wait at the border (and a harrowing drive down a very narrow one-way street that left MrKef in awe of European bus drivers), we were back. We made reservations at one of the nicer restaurants for our last night (which had a beautiful view and ambiance, but didn’t change anyone’s life), then headed back over to Buzzabar and — of course– Bodega to wind down the night.

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We were so sad to wake up and know it was the last morning– we had been having so much fun just hanging out, seeing the sights, and soaking up the sun. We decided to ferry over to Lokrum for our last day–it’s a teeny island ~500 meters from the Dubrovnik port, so we could spend most of the day on the island and still make our evening flight.

There’s a rumor that the island is haunted because some monks cursed it after being evicted by Italian royalty (#squadgoals). We didn’t see any ghosts, but we did see just about everything else– for being pretty small island, there’s an amazing amount of diversity: cliffs, botanical gardens, succulents, and tons of peacocks!

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Eventually, it was time to trek back up alllllllllllll of them stairs and make our way to the airport. Now, before I continue with this story I want to acknowledge one point: MrKef is an infinitely better human than I am, and he exercises more patience, temperance, and good naturedness in any given minute than I have in my whole life combined.

HOWEVER.

After a long, hot week of trekking up 379 stairs each way to and from our AirBnB, MrKef was DONE. He did NOT want to climb up every mountain, take a shower, and then get sweaty 2.5 seconds later in the clothes he was going to have to fly in. Having dated him for 5 years, I had barely even seen him peeved and suddenly, we were in Terrible Twos Tantrum mode. Thank god I had the good sense not to go TMZ on him and film the whole thing, as we might have had a very short marriage… but I did really think about it.

Our sweet AirBnB host must have known something was afoot, because once we got up there she rushed to get us a beverage. I, on the other hand, rushed to get into the shower first so MrKef could have a cool drink and a time out. Here’s me, in the makeshift bathroom our host graciously fashioned for us because the next guests had already arrived:

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Unbeknownst to me, our host was winning MrKef’s heart in the while I tried to find the modest way to shower outside. She brought over some water and a Sprite bottle. MrKef started drinking the water and was interrupted by our host, who picked up the Sprite bottle, poured a swig into his glass and said, “This is how men drink water.” Turns out, it was moonshine she had made herself!

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I, of course, came out of the shower and took a HUGE gulp of what I thought was water, and watched as MrKef giggled through my choking and spattering. That ish will put hair on your chest.

Two minibreakdowns later (one from MrKef about waiting for the bus and the other from me about paying an airport check-in fee), and we were up in the air. Bye bye, Dubrovnik!

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For the final stop of our honeymoon, we did a grand tour of our families in England. We left sunny, 75-degree Dubrovnik and landed in 45-degree Manchester (where all the freakish Brits exclaimed upon exiting the plane, “Thank god it’s cold again!”). But while the weather wasn’t ideal, the company was– MrKef’s Aunt and Uncle took us right to the center of all things wonderful: an all you can eat Indian buffet.

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MrKef and his uncle stayed up all night drinking whiskey, and I went directly to bed after all those samosas. The next morning I woke up early to get in a great run on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, which is even cuter than this picture would suggest:

We did some social sightseeing, and even got to see the famous cliffs!

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Of course, we made great use of the selfie stick:

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Even though it was a way, way , way too-short visit, it was great to finally meet MrKef’s favorite uncle and his family. We can’t wait to get back soon!

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Next, a bus trip to London to spend time with my brilliant cousin and HER family, which sadly I have no pictures of because we came very late and left awfully early… but know I am related to Britain’s most beautiful baby.

…and then, it was really over. We had to head back to reality. But not before I finally convinced MrKef to take a duck-face selfie… or maybe that’s just our “so sad it’s over” face–I can’t quite now recall.

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A final note–  can I say for the record that I think I looked kind of cute in my traveling clothes for once? I had to complete my selfie education and take a bathroom shot.

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And that, my friends, finally brings the Ndjatou World Tour blogging series to a close. We LOVED Dubrovnik and would pick it again for our honeymoon spot in a heartbeat!

Soy-Sesame Broccoli with Carrot Noodles

12 Apr

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The moment pretty much everyone has been predicting for two years has come to pass: work + grad school +triathlon/running training has finally cut into my cooking time–majorly. I used to try and find a recipe that included a ton of home-made components and hard-to-find ingredients and now… my search for recipes has been limited to the following queries:

  • Can I find all the ingredients in one store, in one trip?
  • Can I just add meat (and/or rice) to it so MrKef will eat it?
  • Is stirring the most difficult part of the recipe?

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, well… you might not be seeing it on CuK until June 2017 when Chef Kefi, RN becomes Chef Kefi, PNP-BC and never has to take another friggin final again.

ANYWAY, here’s a veggie dish I made on Sunday and have been enjoying throughout the week. I love how colorful it is, but mostly I love how easy it is.

Soy-Sesame Broccoli with Carrot Noodles

Ingredients

–For the sauce

  • 4 TBS coconut aminos
  • 3 TBS water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS vinegar (rice or white)
  • 1 TBS Sesame oil
  • 2 tsp Chili-garlic sauce (or any hot sauce)

–For the noodles

  • 1-2 lbs carrots, washed and ends chopped off
  • olive oil

— For everything else

  • 10 oz broccoli (or more if you’re a broccoli monster like me–but if you add more broccoli, make a bigger batch of sauce)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 7 oz cole slaw mix or shredded cabbage
  • 1/2 c toasted cashews
  • 1 package tofu, drained (optional)


Assembly

  1. Mix together sauce ingredients. Pour over tofu and broccoli and mix well. Set aside.
  2. Use a spiralizer or a peeler to make very thin “noodles” out of carrots.
  3. Heat a drizzle of olive oil over med-high heat. Add carrot noodles to pan and cook until desired tenderness (I do ~ 4 minutes). Remove carrots from pan and set aside.
  4. Regrease pan with ~1 TBS olive oil and add garlic over med-high heat. Saute for about 1 minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add broccoli/tofu, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Add carrot noodles and cole slaw/cabbage, and saute until heated through. Toss with cashews and serve warm.
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