Friends With Benefits...

In recent years, I've made a surprising realization about myself. For most of my life, I considered myself to be an introvert, because I found it uncomfortable to socialize with strangers, and was never really the outgoing type. When I started living on my own, however, I discovered that I genuinely hated being alone. Growing up, my parents were always around, usually sitting in the same room of the house together. My mother always refused to let me have a television in my bedroom, for example, because she didn't want me holing up alone in there day after day. I was seldom alone in college either, with roommates and friends constantly around, and available to hang out at all hours. 

When I started living on my own, however, loneliness quickly became a fixture in my life. It was difficult to get my old suburban friends to venture into the city for a visit, and without a car, it was hard for me to make the journey north to see them. My first job was short-lived, and I found myself spending long days in my apartment, going days at a time without seeing another human being. I was miserable, and probably even a little depressed. It wasn't until I started working at the History Museum and began to make friends at work that I started feeling like my old self again.

It finally dawned on me that I must be an extrovert, and that extroversion and shyness are not necessarily mutually exclusive. I'm at my happiest when I have people around me, and I am energized by spending time with my friends. Contrast this with Justin, for example, who enjoys spending time with me, but is exhausted by spending time around large groups of people, and who needs plenty of alone time in his "man cave" to be truly at peace.

Now that I'm unemployed again, I once again find myself fighting off the effects of loneliness, as I sit alone in our apartment all day sending out resumes and applications, so I've been trying to make entertaining a priority, even though money is tight. We've been having my former coworker, Jess, and my old college friend Brad, over for game nights ever since the two of them hit it off at our Fourth of July party. Brad has an extensive collection of board and card games, and through him, we've developed an obsession with Cards Against Humanity, a card game that is similar to Apples to Apples (which I played on a near weekly basis during college), but with a raunchy, grown-up twist. It appeals to my warped sense of humor, so we've been playing it on the regular since our game night tradition started.

We had Jess and Brad over tonight, and I wanted to have a little something on hand for them to snack on while I was putting the finishing touches on dinner. Naturally, I turned to my Pinterest board, where I've saved a number of snack ideas for Justin, who always wants to eat the minute he gets home from work. Hummus is one of his go-to favorites, and although it's finally starting to grow on me a bit after living with him for about nine months now, I felt like he needed more variety in his life. 

I'd spotted a recipe for a dip made of carrots and accented with Moroccan spices a while back, and suspected that Justin would love it, given that it was supposed to be spicy, and he's a bit of a chili head when it comes to challenging himself to eat ever spicier dishes. I was drawn to it this week because carrots were on sale at Dominick's for 50 cents per pound. Since I had all the other ingredients on hand already, I could put an exotic appetizer on the table for a buck. Healthy and affordable? Sign me up!

Since Justin enjoys making his own hummus, and I was busy with some kitchen tasks of my own, I put him on carrot dip duty. The most labor intensive step involved boiling the carrots until the water evaporated and a thin layer of caramel developed on the bottom of the pan. Other than that, it was just a matter of whirring everything together in a food processor. Though I wasn't a fan, one taste had Justin completely smitten. It was also a huge hit with our guests, who were requesting the recipe right off the bat. Plus, it made a ton, so it would be a perfect dish to make if you were planning on entertaining a larger gathering just our four this evening. So, here by popular demand, is the recipe for our spicy Moroccan carrot dip:

Moroccan-Style Spicy Carrot Dip
adapted from Serious Eats

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1 tablespoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons ras el hanout (a Moroccan seasoning blend)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated on the medium holes of a box grater
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 c. green olives, chopped
2 tablespoons harissa, or other spicy red pepper paste, or more to taste
1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place carrots in a large saucepan and cover with water by 1/2 an inch. Add sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is a golden blond caramel color, about 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and immediately add half a cup of water. Transfer carrots and caramel to the bowl of a food processor.
2. Add ras el hanout, garlic, ginger, capers, olives, and harissa. Pulse until the carrots are roughly chopped, 6 to 8 one-second pulses, scraping down the sides of the processor as necessary. With processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Season to taste with more salt.

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