supper club

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Last night was the first ever supper club – an informal dinner party that some of my Brooklyn friends (those of us who live in Park Slope/Prospect Heights/Prospect Lefferts Gardens) have decided to have once a month.

About a month ago, my good friend Clayton (who is also a member of Harvard Sailing Team) moved back to his old street in Prospect Heights, after living in far away Sunset Park for a few years. Since two of our other best friends live on the same block as he does, and since his boyfriend lives just a few blocks away, and since I live just on the other side of the park, we decided this was the perfect reason to start getting together to have a dinner party from time to time.

Each month a different apartment will host the party, and Kevin and I got to host the first one! During the party last night, we drew names out of a hat to see who would host the next month. So in November, our friend Tim will host the next Supper Club.

I’d say this new tradition is off to a fantastic start.

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Everyone made something to contribute to the feast last night, which was so fun and family-style. I, as the host, made the main course. Faryn and David were responsible for the appetizers, Clayton volunteered to make dessert (he’d just been apple picking and had to find something to do with 30 apples), and Sara brought ingredients to make one of her favorite drinks: butterbeer. (Yup, from Harry Potter!)

The appetizers were amazing. Faryn prepared a savory treat, a recipe borrowed from our friend Marina, complete with figs, prosciutto, goat cheese, argula, lemon juice and olive oil. These were incredible.

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David’s appetizer was sauteed asparagus with a little onion, garlic and seasoning. It was also incredibly good. And I didn’t even think I liked asparagus!

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We all devoured the appetizers in a matters of moments, laughing and chatting while we stood in the kitchen. I think we’d all been saving our hunger for this feast, so by the time everyone arrived at my apartment, we were all ravenous.

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Sara’s butter beer was the hit of the party. Everyone who’d never tried it before raved over it, and everyone who’d read Harry Potter said, “This is exactly what I thought it would taste like!”

It’s so easy to make: just a splash of butterscotch schnapps and then you fill up the rest of the glass with apple cider. So yummy.

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After enjoying some conversation and game-time in the living room, we finally sat down to the main course – veggie lasagna, chopped salad, and garlic bread.

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Everyone seemed to really enjoy the lasagna, which was healthy and filling. It’s a very simple recipe that I’ve used for dinner parties past. It uses carrots, zucchini and a lot of spinach. And of course, CHEESE!

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My plate:

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And I went back for another half piece of lasagna. Because I couldn’t resist.

After some more living room time – chatting, debating, drinking…

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…we finally cut into the real treat of the evening, the apple galette.

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Clayton made this delicious pastry treat entirely from scratch, based on Martha Stewart’s recipe for a plum galette.

It was so flaky and flavorful, I enjoyed every single bite – a la mode, of course.

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Supper club was a great time. And I’m looking forward to the next one. Nothing like getting together with a group of close friends and eating a huge, multi-course meal that we’ve all lovingly prepared together.

Happy Halloween, everyone!!

after one work week

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Before I write this post, I wanted to mention that I’ve gotten a couple emails from readers recently who want to see more photos of me on the blog. Hm! This surprised me to hear, but I appreciate the feedback. I’m not sure I’m going to start adding a lot of photos of myself as a regular thing, but I’ve saturated this post with them, at least. If you don’t wanna see my face over and over, skip this entry.

Today marks the end of my first week working for myself.

My last day at the desk job was in mid October. And once I was finally free and clear, we had a big ol’ party, and then I took a vacation. It was blissful.

The vacation involved spending an entire week right here in New York doing next to nothing. Naturally, the days still got filled up – I cooked, baked, hung out with friends, saw shows, exercised, grocery shopped in the middle of the day – I didn’t end up doing much lolling around. But it was still time very well spent. I felt relaxed, in control, peaceful, content. And even though I had to constantly remind myself that this wasn’t just a vacation week from my desk job, but actually the beginning of an entire lifestyle change, I was thrilled and grateful every time I remembered.

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True to my word, I woke up on Monday morning of this week, the vacation week having ended, and got to work on my own stuff. No more laying around watching TV or drinking beer with friends at 4:30 in the afternoon. (Although if I had a strong urge to do that, I’d probably check with my boss to see if it was okay. And she (me) would probably say, HELL YES.)

This week it was finally time to focus on my own projects and to do what I set out to do when I told my old job that I was quitting: Pursue work I’m passionate about. So far, it’s been interesting. And awesome. And, at times, challenging. But I’m all in all, I’m loving it.

As I mentioned, I have decided, not surprisingly I suppose, that the bakery my girlfriend and I have been working to get off the ground since the spring, can now use some of my more focused attention. Faryn and I began building Fanny & Jane when we were both working full time, and it was hard to fit it all in. We spent lots of late nights and weekends and early mornings organizing our little business.

Before I left my desk job, I wasn’t sure if I’d want to focus some of my energy on the bakery or not.  But now that I’m here, it hasn’t taken long for it to dawn on me that the business we’ve been tirelessly setting up for ourselves would be the perfect way for me to spend my time and earn some extra money.  Besides, our recipes are burning holes in our desk drawers – why not really go for it and sell some sweets this holiday season!  So that’s exactly what we’re going to do.

And that’s precisely what most of my week this week has involved.

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(This is Faryn and me. Photo by the gifted photographer, Eric Michael.)

I spent a relatively leisurely day on Monday at the computer, emailing with Faryn, working to build our new website, complete with an online shop (which we hope to launch in the next few days!), and generally organizing myself around the idea of spending now until December 20th, more or less, baking and shipping and invoicing and baking. I took a long break in the middle of the day for a run, and I got a lot accomplished. All in all, it was a delightful day “at the office,” where my coworkers are two sleepy cats and the sunshine is right outside my front door.

Heaven. And exactly what I’d wanted and imagined when I daydreamed of quitting my job a year ago.

The rest of the week, however, wasn’t so luxuriously ideal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not stuck in an office. And “anything but the office” has been my motto for quite some time.

But I don’t have it all quite figured out yet.

My sleep schedule has been screwy, finding me wide awake at 4am, and having to take a nap here or there in the middle of the day to catch up.

Harvard Sailing Team and Baldwins rehearsals and shows were added back into my life this week, where, miraculously, I didn’t have any rehearsals or shows during my vacation week. That’s something that happens maybe only twice a year – a week without any shows. So those things became part of my schedule again this week – not a big deal, but something to work with.

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(This is my good friend Meg and me during one of our Baldwins improv shows. Photo courtesy of the incredibly talented Keith Huang, who is also a good friend.)

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(This is me during the Harvard Sailing Team Holiday Special last December, doing a sketch with my friend Adam. This photo is also courtesy of Keith Huang, who has never taken a bad photograph.)

Not to mention, the large amount of baking I’ve gotten done this week – fulfilling several orders from Faryn’s coworkers and our friends and family. This has not been the first week that I’ve had to bake during every free moment this year, and it will not be the last. But it was the first time I was doing it instead of a full time job – baking when I would have otherwise been answering phones at reception or signing for fed ex packages.

Of course, I loved that. That, again, is why I quit. Because I imagined myself doing things like baking all day, instead of filing paperwork or sending faxes. But getting organized and staying within a baking schedule was something new and sometimes difficult.

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(That’s me standing in my mom’s kitchen in Illinois in the spring, in the middle of a long day baking sweets for my aunt’s surprise birthday party.)

A common struggle I’ve heard from people who’ve left their jobs for one reason or another is that you imagine you’ll have all this time. And then the days pass and they get filled right up and suddenly you’re busier than you’ve ever been, even though you’re no longer going to an office for 9 hours every day. I’ve had the exact same experience this week. Where did the time go!?

And I’m choosing to find a way to make peace with it all. Because I didn’t quit my job to be all stressed out and upset over how many fun, easy, cool things I now get to do all day long. Fitting them all in takes finesse, but the rewards are great and I will learn.

Forgive me if I’m repeating myself from earlier posts this week. I just needed to reiterate this for myself.

Financially, I’ve done pretty well for myself this week, which is excellent. It’s only week one, but it’s a good feeling to know that money is still coming into my life, even when I’m not a salaried employee.

I’ve learned that I need to be gentle with myself. Just because I have many more available hours in my day now doesn’t mean that I can and should pack them full and expect to accomplish everything under the sun. I cannot make promises to people that I can’t keep in terms of my time just because I’m no longer working a desk job. I cannot create a To Do list that is ten miles long and then feel disappointed, rushed, and stressed when it doesn’t get completed. I cannot be unrealistic with how much I can fit into a day. And I cannot start shoving aside the very things that I require to feel whole – like exercise, yoga, sleep, eating healthy food – in order to make everything fit into its place. I skipped a couple workouts this week and I don’t have the “I’m so busy with this stupid desk job!” excuse any more. The only excuse I have now is that I chose not to make the time for myself. It’s eye-opening to realize that the desk job wasn’t the only thing – and maybe not even the main thing – keeping me from spending my time how I wanted to.

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I’ve also been reminded this week that nothing is perfect – that even this time, which is, in theory, one of the most exciting times of my life, will still have unpleasant aspects. I will still be running late to things sometimes, and I will still have to break promises sometimes, and I will still oversleep and be upset with myself for half of the day over it sometimes, and I will still overeat sometimes, and I will still not do things perfectly sometimes. It’s life.

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(Me, just after waking up, in Charleston, SC on a trip last year with Harvard Sailing Team.)

Beyond those challenges though, this has also been an amazing week, and the net result of all this is that I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my adult life.

I realize that might sound like a grand statement, but it’s true. My life from ages 17-21 sucked, to be blunt. And then, as I improved things slowly but surely, I had to swallow the bitter pills of young adulthood that we’re all faced with: working jobs I hate, living in apartments that are crappy, living paycheck to paycheck. And as earnestly as I tried to find happiness within those unpleasant experiences, it’s not until now that I’ve finally found myself in a place where I can take matters into my own hands, where money doesn’t dictate what I do day in and day out, where I finally feel all the pieces falling into place in ways that I only dreamed of when I was 21 years old and despondent over the mess I’d made of my life.

Things are so good right now. This is all so good. I’m spending my days and nights baking sweets, taking photos, rehearsing comedy, exercising, cooking, and commuting around New York City. And I’m not broke and I’m not overweight and I’m not unhappy and I’m not uninspired and I am about to turn 29. And it’s just so incredibly good.

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(Kevin and me in Florida last year.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean up my apartment and start making a huge feast of veggie lasagna, chopped salad and garlic parmesan bread – some of my very best friends are coming over tonight for our first monthly Western Brooklyn Supper Club (which is basically just the members of Biggest Loser Club getting together to eat dinner, instead of getting together to watch Biggest Loser). I can’t wait to hang out with my friends on this HallowsEve!

Thank you again to everyone who has been so incredibly supportive and kind toward me throughout the experience of leaving my job and starting a new life. I cannot thank you all enough for your readership and for your cheerleading. I could not do this without you. And I would not be where I am right now without the experiences and friendships that writing this blog has brought into my life. So, thank you.

baketown

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I think I’ve gotten myself a bit more on top of things today. I’m not feeling quite so rushed and nuts, which is fantastic.

I did end up a dropping a ball, though. I couldn’t help Maggie and Adam move this morning. I had to put some finishing touches on the cake I made last night, and it took a lot longer than I expected it too. And then I had to deliver the darn thing. Thankfully, I think Adam and Maggie had plenty of help today, at least that’s what Adam told me when I apologized for not being able to make it. I really did feel awful about it, but sometimes you just have to let some balls drop. It happens. I’m going to bring them a homemade sweet treat and hope that all will be forgiven.

Some of you’ve probably seen the above photo before, especially if you’ve been to our Fanny & Jane website. I took some photos of the cake I baked yesterday, but haven’t had time to upload them yet, so this shot of our Chewy Chocolate Graham Bars will have to suffice.

I’ve been baking like crazy – got a few more orders done today, in fact. But I was also able to squeeze in a run. And I’m going to do some yoga as soon as I publish this post. I refuse to be overwhelmed by my own unemployment. I didn’t do this so I could stress myself out with my To Do List. I’m just not willing to operate that way. So I’m doing my best to make it all work, while staying mentally calm.

In order to do this yoga session in my living room, I’ll probably end up being a little late to Faryn’s girl’s night birthday drinks. (Her birthday is on Saturday – Halloween! – and we’re having eleven parties in her honor between now and then.) (I’m kidding.) (Am I?) I’m looking forward to seeing some of the ladies in my life tonight, and to celebrating sweet Faryn. And I plan to be all yoga-glowing by the time I get there. I wish the trade-off for my yoga session wasn’t that I will be late, but again, sometimes you have to let some balls drop. This is just how my busy day has worked out, so be it.

I’m so excited to finish our new Fanny & Jane online shop. I hope to have things up and running in just a few days! Just in time for the holidays. I’m already getting orders for people’s seasonal parties and events. It’s awesome.

Check back tomorrow, when I hope to put up a post about my first official week as a self-employed almost-29-year-old. (My own birthday is November 7th. No idea what I’m doing yet.)

Until then, here are more sweets to stare at, our signature Red Velvet Cake Bites. These are definitely our biggest seller.

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things are revving up

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It’s 3:30am and I’m up. I’m nocturnal. I always naturally have been. My grandmother is too. (Except then she still wakes up at 6:30am. I do not.)

This is a photo from a Harvard Sailing Team photo shoot back in March, I think. The talented photographer and delightfully nice guy, Eric Michael, photographed us for half a day. (He also takes great photos of my best friends, Billy and Adam, for their hip hop comedy duo, Snakes.)

That’s me in the photo, taking the picture, Chris on the left and Clayton on the right. We’re all being weird.

So, today was another long one. It was raining today. I went to a therapy session, met Kevin for lunch, finally bought a Halloween costume, then I came home and baked a cake.

Next on the agenda was to head back out to see Kevin’s improv show and perform in my own. Disappointingly, I tried to do some yoga before I left and I ended up not having enough time to finish the podcast I was listening to. It’s only 25 minutes long but I just didn’t have time. Boo. That was unfortunate.

After the improv shows, which were funny and silly, I came home, baked another double batch of cake and made a big batch of frosting. Kevin frosted the first cake (God bless him) and then I wrote “Happy Birthday Charlie” on it. And then we cleaned the kitchen up. And here I am.

And I am wiped out.

In other news, here’s another behind the scenes photo from that HST shoot.

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This is Adam and Chris.

My friend Dave emailed me yesterday and asked if I could bake a Fanny & Jane cake for his friend’s birthday in two days. That’s a rush order, especially since I have three other orders this week to work on. Had I still been working at the desk job, I almost certainly would have said no. But because, theoretically, I have the time, I was able to say yes. It was fun to bake the cake and much better work than sitting at a desk.

Suddenly, I feel busy.

Tomorrow I’m helping Adam and Maggie move, then doing more baking – have to finish my three other orders, and then we’re having girls birthday drinks with Faryn.

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Faryn, left. Me, right.

Friday evening is our new Brooklyn Supper Club – at my house – and in addition to cooking, I have to deliver Fanny & Jane sweets during the day.

Saturday, Halloween, I’ll have the day totally free. Yes! And then I’ll go perform in the Oddbody show and the Harvard Sailing Team show.

On Sunday, we rest.

It’s interesting to me now that I sit down to write about this – I’ve realized something. Yes, that’s a good amount of stuff, and yes, I have to run around to a lot of different places. Frankly, that might be the most exhausting part. Everything you do in this city requires a solid 10-25 minutes of walking to get there, even if you take the subway. You still have to walk to the subway, and up the stairs and down.

You know this. Why am I telling you this.

The point is, it can be exhausting running around this city. And I felt exhausted today. And when I sat down to figure out a schedule for myself for the next few days, since I have lots of little things to accomplish, I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to organize. Also, cutting short that yoga session today really bummed me out. I shouldn’t have done that.

But, ah ha, it’s still all better than the damn office! Of course it is. I’d gladly run around this town doing these things – helping my best friend move, delivering sweets for my bakery business, performing in comedy shows, going to therapy – any day. It’s great, really.

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This is Billy.

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This is Adam.

So I’m going to stop fretting about “much I have to do” in the next few days, because really? I don’t. It’s not that much. And everything I do have to do is fun.

Oh and I’m going to make more time to do yoga. Period.

work and play

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I still don’t know what I’m going to be for Halloween! Eep! I have a Halloween-style improv show tonight. And I also have two shows on Halloween evening itself – The Strange Box of Dr. Oddbody Presents Camp Baldwin, which is improv comedy in the style of horror movies (it’s good and scary!), and the Harvard Sailing Team Halloween Special, which should be a pretty spooky time too. (Go to www.thepit-nyc.com for details.) After those shows are over, we’re all heading back to Faryn’s apartment in Brooklyn because Halloween is also her birthday! So we’ll get our party on in funny costumes. Oh boy.

But before I get to do all that, I have to bust through two solid days of baking, baking, baking. I have a LOT of Fanny & Jane baking to do today and tomorrow. I’m looking forward to it, but it’s also my first time trying to really organize everything so that I’m not tearing my hair out or staying up until 6am in order to get everything done. So I’m a little anxious about how best to make it all happen.

I suppose the best thing for me to do is just get started!

daily dessert

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Okay so maybe these look a bit odd close up, but they’re amazing. I promise.

I had a long day outside the apartment today – missed a yoga class because of a slow midday train, grocery shopped and had lunch in the city instead, babysat for an awesome 4-year-old kid for a couple hours, went to Harvard Sailing Team practice, and then to Biggest Loser Club to watch the show with my friendies – certainly nothing to complain about, and another good day, but a long one.

I’m finally home now and it’s late, but before I go to bed, I wanted to tell you about a super easy, yummy sweet treat I made earlier this week: No Bake Cookies.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make these, and I absolutely love them. I still remember the blue and white ceramic plate she’d sit them on in the fridge. They’re a family favorite. And they’re incredibly easy to make.

There are many varieties of No Bake Cookies out there, so if you like the one you know, stick with that. But if you want to try something new (or if you love peanut butter like I do), give these a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

Best of all! It’s another Grandma Rose recipe!

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Grandma Rose’s No Bake Cookies

1 stick regular oleo (or butter)
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1/2 cup milk
1 cup chunky peanut butter (creamy is fine too)
3 cups quick oats
1 tsp vanilla

Bring the oleo/butter, sugar, cocoa and milk to a boil over MEDIUM heat. Continue boiling for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add peanut butter, oatmeal and vanilla. Stir quickly. Drop by spoonful onto wax paper.

If they don’t harden immediately, you can put them in the refrigerator to firm up.

I’d like to note that in addition to the butter substitution, I also used vanilla soy milk instead of regular milk, because that’s all we had. And I used regular oats instead of quick oats, also because that’s what we had. The quick oats are probably better for this recipe – the regular oats were still pretty “raw” once they were mixed into the rest of the ingredients, but I didn’t really mind. They changed the consistency, but not the flavor. So I say, use quick oats if you can, but if not, you’ll survive.

My favorite part of my grandmother’s recipe is that she’s written, “Eat yourself,” which you can see if you look closely at the bottom of the notecard, meaning I should eat them all myself. Haha. I genetically inherited my love for peanut butter from this woman.

Oh and I ate about ninety spoonfuls of this batter before I even let them harden into cookies. It’s that good. PEANUT BUTTER, PEOPLE!

day one

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Today was Day One.

My vacation week is over. I was employed by myself today. I woke up, “went to work,” took a couple breaks, and then I stopped for the evening. It was pretty great.

So what, exactly, am I doing?

Well, today I did a lot of work on Fanny & Jane, the new bakery my friend Faryn and I have been building for the last few months. In March, we started toying around with the idea of opening a bakery, we began taking it really seriously a couple weeks later, and since then, we’ve been growing ourselves into a small business, having done NYC Fashion Week events, wedding showers, and corporate and private occasions. Plus we’ve received a regular stream of orders from our incredibly supportive friends and families! Thanks, everyone!!

All of our orders so far have been due to word of mouth. We haven’t done any marketing or even pushed our website because it wasn’t set up for online purchases.

But that might all be changing soon! I think we’re going to make a go at expanding business a bit this holiday season! After our e-meeting today, Faryn and I are hoping we can “open” an online business and be ready to take holiday orders beginning November 1st.  That’s just a week away!

(Keep an eye out because we’ll have special deals for my blog readers!)

To prepare for November 1st, I’ll need to spend some time this week building our new website and setting up our e-commerce. I’ll also be baking several orders that need to be ready by Friday. Faryn’s got a few things to handle too.

I’m excited.

To be 100% honest, when I left my job ten days ago, I wasn’t sure whether I’d want to focus on the bakery over the holidays or not. I’d figured we either needed to really go for it, or shut down over the holidays completely. And I didn’t want to push myself in any specific direction until I was ready.

But it was just a couple days out of my old job and into my vacation last week that I realized – what better way to spend some of my energy this fall, and what better way to earn a little extra rent money, than to put some focus on the bakery for a few months?

I love to bake, I enjoy working on our business, and as soon as I wasn’t working full time for someone else, the stress of trying to fit it all in miraculously lifted. And instead of “I can’t do it all!” I thought, “I’m going to have more than enough time to do this.” In fact, it will be a great way to structure some of my days.

I didn’t quit my job for the bakery. But now that I’ve quit, I’m glad the bakery is here for me. We’ve been working on it steadily, sometimes a lot, sometimes not quite as much, for the last six or seven months. And right now seems like perfect time to expand the business and grow our expertise a bit. The opportunity to experience The Holiday Season with Fanny & Jane will be an exciting new challenge for us.

After the holidays, we’ll reassess and decide what next steps to take. I already know we’re doing our signature red velvet cake bites for a wedding in February… One thing at a time though. Right now, the season is upon us! Yesssss, I love the holidays. I cannot wait to create some new festive, delicious treats to share with everyone.

So until January, when we’ll probably close up shop for a couple weeks, I’m going to be baking! I’m still going to work on my own projects as well – freelance writing, blogging and guest blogging. I honestly don’t know where owning this small bakery business will take me, so I’m looking forward to finding out, while carving out plenty of time to follow my other interests too.

I’m also going to, as I’ve mentioned, really tend to myself during this time. I know that doesn’t necessarily fall under the category of “pursue work I’m passionate about,” but it’s just as important to me. And I have to devote time to it every day.

Today for example, I went out for a run around Prospect Park in the afternoon. It was another stunning, perfect day and I was happy as can be to have unlimited time to spend exercising in the sun. THAT is why I quit my job. The desire to spend my time in ways that make me happy is what inspired me, 10 months ago, to set my sights on something beyond that desk. And I fulfilled that dream for the first of what will probably be many times, today.

After my run, I had a late lunch, took a break to watch some Oprah, finished up my work day on the computer, then enjoyed a nice, long shower and headed into the city to meet up with Kevin for a movie date. I worked from 10am to 6:30pm today, with probably a total of 90 minutes “off” in between. That feels much healthier to me than my old 9 hour office days with an hour commute on either end of it.

As I got on the train to head into Manhattan just before 7pm tonight, I realized, had I still been at the desk job, I wouldn’t have even been done with work for the day yet.

I’ve gotten my life back. And I’m having fun discovering a new direction.

still learning to cook

I spent much of my vacation week cooking, as you can imagine. In fact, I’ve made so much food that I have to stop cooking for a few days so we can catch up on the leftovers!

I made an easy stir fry – something I’d done before, but always with prepackaged stir fry veggies, not with veggies I selected and prepared all by my lonesome. This time, I just picked out a bunch of veggies I thought I’d want in the stir fry, sauteed them up with a little bit of garlic and olive oil, browned some small pieces of chicken in another pan, mixed it all together with about a tablespoon of stir fry sauce I had in the fridge, and served it all over instant brown rice.

The best things about this dish, besides the fact that it satisfied my Chinese take-out craving, were that we had two days of leftovers (it didn’t look like much food when I first cooked it, but those veggies filled me up fast!), I was able to use up a bunch of peppers and onions that were begging to eaten, and it got me to eat cauliflower and broccoli, two kinds of veggies I tend not to like.

On the menu this week in Jen Learns To Cook Simple Meals Most People Figured Out How To Make Well Before Their Late Twenties:

Smoky Chipotle and Black Bean Chilaquiles, a recipe from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book. I think they’re basically glorified vegetarian quesadillas. Yes! Latin American food! My very favorite to the extent that I was probably born in Mexico and my mom neglected to tell me.