After coffee and bagels, the first thing we did on Saturday was check out the campground's pond. The 10YO wanted to catch frogs and couldn't even conceive of going on any mountainous treks until he had engaged in a battle of wits with any and all amphibians in the low-lying vicinity. The frogs and their fat tadpoles proved elusive at first, but we entertained ourselves catching little aquatic salamanders (or newts) for a while instead.
With a happy 10YO in tow, we adjourned for lunch (PB&Js and hummus wraps with cucumbers, peppers, and feta), and prepared for the afternoon's activity: scaling Mount Monadnock. The 7YO wasn't up for the challenge, so Husband occupied him at the campsite with various micro-engineering projects, ball playing, book reading, and napping endeavors befitting them both. Meanwhile, the neighbors, the 10YO, and I drove to the ranger's station to begin the four- hour hike. And that's when things got a little dicey.
Let it be known: I did no research on this mountain. All I knew was that the Neighbors' first grader had climbed it last year. Good enough for me, I thought. Note to self: a first grader's physical fitness and technical skills are no longer a suitable benchmark for me. No, apparently, I have the hiking skills of a kindergartener—perhaps even a preschooler—because I barely made it up that mountain in one piece. The walking part was fine, even the steep walking part, even the very steep walking part, but then came the rock-climbing part. The part where you're on all fours scrambling up these rocks and boulders only to reach another boulder, and then another boulder, and then another. Don't we need ropes and shit for this? Crampons? About halfway up the 3,165-foot mountain, I began to suspect I'd made a horrible mistake.
At some point while scrambling up yet another steep pile of sloping rocks on the White Dot trail, my internal compass went totally out of whack. I lost my sense of vertical and horizontal. All of a sudden, I felt the pull of gravity coming not from underneath my feet, where it usually does, but diagonally from the only flat ground I could actually see: the tree-carpeted overlook to my left and 1,500 feet below me. The pull was slow but steady, like alpine undertow. The more I backed against the rock I had plastered myself against, the more it seemed to be pushing me away. The world felt like it was tipping me over and emptying me out into the dizzying vacuum of open air over the precipice. I pleaded for my neighbors to come speak to me in gentle, soothing tones until the blood returned to my brain again and I was able to accept that the only way not down was up. From then on, I tried to keep someone else between me and the overlook. It's a miracle I have any photos at all. For future reference, this is about how much of a buffer zone I need between me and the edge of a mountain to safely avoid an emotional breakdown.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Monadnoc
I did eventually make it to the summit in case you're wondering, right behind the 10YO and my neighbors (including the pint-sized veteran). My reward was to nestle into the lowest spot I could find and decimate a chocolate power bar while quietly rocking. The reward for the 10YO was pool after pool of tiny tadpoles. That was a surprise! What are they doing up there on top of a mountain? I was grateful, though, because I needed a rest and the 10YO needed a psychological boost for the hike back down again, which was, in his own words, gruesome, despite taking the less steep White Cross trail.
When we got back, the neighbors made quesadillas on the camp stove and we grilled bananas with chocolate and dulce de leche over an open fire. Nothing has ever tasted so good!
Notions of summertime lemonade stands are what first drew my eye to this book. But those are actually preserved lemons on the cover—the salt-cured citrus fruits that brighten Middle Eastern stews and summer salads. That's what I like about this cookbook. It's a mix of the familiar and the unexpected using the fresh summer produce we hold so dear.
Author Yvette van Boven is a caterer and cafe-owner who lives in Amsterdam and Paris, but the food reflects the many summers she spent in the French countryside with her photographer husband Oof Verschuren. The photos in Home Made Summer are half the fun, depicting European bars and boulangeries, lively street scenes, and lush, misty greenhouses and gardens. Her recipes are real, fresh, and inviting—not stodgy. Like van Boven's previous books, Home Made and Home Made Winter, this one has the same quirky design and playful style. Her own drawings are peppered throughout the book, and she displays a penchant for making funny faces in photographs: proof she doesn't take herself too seriously.
Some recipes I've dog-eared include: tomato salad with goat's milk ricotta, coriander, and basil oil; buttery corn risotto; quinoa salad with fava beans, turnip greens, and preserved lemons; and watermelon granita. The crab cakes with paprika mayo I made last week were excellent, and I'll be sharing that recipe in my next post.
So, who wants it? I've got one copy to give away in the name of summer and the only question is: to whom? To enter this raffle, just leave a comment on this post about your favorite homemade food you can't wait to make this summer. Entries must be received by midnight EST on Thursday, June 20 so the winner can be announced on the summer solstice, which is this Friday, June 21. Don't let the warming temperatures make you sluggish or you'll miss it.
I guess we'll start with baseball. Somehow, I became assistant coach of the 7YO's Little League team, which is hilarious since I barely know the rules of baseball. I can hold my own in a recreational setting, but only because Husband staged an emergency intervention in my mid-twenties. Basically, he couldn't be seen with a girlfriend who played the way I did. I'm very grateful for his tutelage and only wish that any one of my gym teachers could have taken a minor interest in my athletic development because I think I could have had a future in baseball. (Maybe.)
Anyway, I was promoted from "helpful parent" to "coaching staff" mainly for my disciplinarian tendencies—meaning my willingness to yell at kids for the most minor infractions, like climbing the fence of the dugout and rifling through the garbage cans. Things naturally progressed to whacking each other with their gloves and hats, whipping bottles of Gatorade at each other, and spouting language that would make this sailor-girl blush. I did politely ask them to stop, for the record. Their response: "We don't have to listen to you! You're not the coach!" Emboldened, three of the other boys yelled, "Yeah! We don't have to do what you say!!" and then proceeded to kick the bats down off the fence one by one.
At this point, my son distanced himself from the pack and wisely put his hands over his ears after which I unspooled a verbal lashing the volume and length of which set a new personal best for me (and perhaps for any military personnel in attendance as well). This was in the middle of a game, by the way. When I was done, everyone in the field, bleachers, and surrounding playground was frozen, our whole team was sitting quietly on the bench, eyes glued to their cleats, and the coach of the opposing team had peed his pants. Our coach quietly came over and placed the team's baseball cap on my head and I've been a fixture in the dugout ever since. I haven't had to raise my voice again.
That brings us to yesterday. We had a game against a tough team earlier in the week and got absolutely routed. We lost by several powers of ten. The kids were pretty disappointed. To raise their spirits, I decided at the last minute to make some blondies for their next game. There wasn't much time, but I figured I could get them in the oven, run up the street to meet the kids at the bus stop, be back to get them out of the oven with time to spare, let them cool, package them up, and go. That was the plan. I checked it backwards and forwards. Satisfied, I threw the batter into a pan, shoved the pan into the oven, and ran out the door.
Without my keys.
I heard the lock click just as I realized my fatal error. Ugh! That's okay, I thought, there's still 26 minutes to go before they're done. Longer still before they start to smoke. How much longer, I wasn't sure, but surely the bus wouldn't be late. (The bus was late.) Surely, there would be some open windows on the first floor when we got back. I always have some open windows on the first floor. (There weren't. Only second floor windows were open—all of them.) Surely, my neighbors, who have a copy of our key, would be home. (They weren't.) And so on and so forth through all of my usual backup plans, even though I don't think I've ever locked myself out of the house even once previously.
Eleven minutes and counting.
I called Husband to notify him that he married a dumbass. He could be home in an hour at the earliest. Crap. I was going to have to call the fire department like we did that other memorable time. There was no way around it besides breaking a window and risking lacerations. I'm not good with blood. I phoned our friend up the street, who's a firefighter, and asked if he had any tips on breaking and entering one's own home. He said he was calling in a truck.
Me: No, wait, I think I know where a ladder is!
Him: You don't need to be climbing any ladders. I'll call in a truck.
Me: Oh, god. Not again.
Him: It'll be fine, Tammy.
Me: Okay, maybe just a small truck.
Long story short, a BIG truck (and the cops!) arrived within minutes with their fancy ladders, broke in through a second floor bedroom window, and unlocked the front door just in time for me to pull the blondies out of the oven perfectly done. I thanked them sheepishly and promised them no more last-minute baking. I'm pretty sure they've heard that one before. (Plus, my fingers were crossed.) Thanks again, Waltham Fire Department! I really mean it!
So, how does the story end, Tammy? Did the kids win their baseball game and savor their victory over a pan of moist, delicious blondies?
No. They lost by one point. And one of the players had a nut allergy I didn't know about so the blondies never made it out of the car. (WHY DID I PUT NUTS IN THE BLONDIES??? NO ONE KNOWS!!)
The kids played a great game, though. Afterwards, I drove the whole plate of blondies over to my firefighter friend instead. Next time, I'll just pick up some brownies at the store on the way to the game. Or maybe just stay in bed that day.
That's what this groovy cheese board is made of: Slate. Husband got it for me for Mother's Day so I can showcase my precious, precious cheeses. Want one, too? Visit Brooklyn Slate.
As for the cheese, this one is from Point Reyes Farmstead in California. I've been slowly working my way westward with the cheese-sampling, if you must know—a sort of manifest destiny of cheese. Don't hate, East Coast locavores. There's plenty of blue cheese here, too: Bayley Hazen blue from Jasper Hill Farm (VT), Ewe's Blue from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company (NY), Berkshire Blue, and Great Hill Blue (MA). But sometimes these are so popular that the local store runs out, in which case there's no reason to let perfectly good non-local cheese go to waste (she says as she tallies another mark on the underside of her cheese board with soapstone chalk. Only 923 more cheeses to go!)
I had some leftover beet purée from the wedding cake last week, so I made the kids some chocolate beet cupcakes. To continue my education in wedding-appropriate food-styling, I practiced decorating them with frosting flowers: anemones to be exact.
This is another Martha Stewart special. But unlike the infernal truffle eggs, you don't need rigorous professional training to pull these off. You do need a pastry bag with a special petal tip (like Wilton or Ateco 104), which I just happened to have in my old culinary school baking kit. Watch this video for tips on how to pipe the petals. Surprisingly, I found the petals turned out more delicate and defined when I worked quickly and didn't worry so much about the technique. Now that's the kind of decorating I can really get behind! Then, you let the frosting chill until firm, slice some blackberries into circles, brush a little blackberry juice in the center, apply a blackberry slice smack dab in the middle, and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Did the boys appreciate my girlish renderings? Of course not. But they ate them anyway!
Who got married? Nobody, yet. I'm making a wedding cake for a friend in November and let's just say I need a little practice. I've never made a wedding cake before. I've never had any desire to make a wedding cake before. But you do crazy things for friends, so I thought I'd better do a few test runs so I don't ruin her wedding by mistake. (Sure, she says she doesn't care how it looks—only how it tastes—but take it from the woman who ended up buying two wedding dresses because she thought, who cares about the stupid dress? You WILL care. You'll care a lot.)
Test Run No. 1 was last week's Waltham Fields fundraiser. They needed dessert to feed a crowd and I needed someone to eat 100 pieces of cake—someone that's not me—so it worked out well. Since it was a farm fundraiser, I stuck to vegetable-themed cakes, for which I have many awesome recipes if I do say so myself. The bottom tier was carrot cake, the middle tier was chocolate beet cake, and the top tier was butternut squash cake, all slathered in cream cheese frosting. Waltham Fields donated all the veggies. I donated many, many curse words as I attempted to assemble the whole impossibly heavy thing and then fit it into my refrigerator.
The process of baking the cakes went fine, though six cakes in one day was a new record for me. The assembly is what takes forever. You have to trim the cakes to be perfectly flat and level, shaving off microscopic crumbly layers over and over because you keep making things worse. You have to whip up at least five batches of frosting. Each tier is a double layer cake, so you fill and frost two stacked cakes for each tier. (Some bakers cut each layer in half horizontally so each tier has four layers, but I was suicidal enough as it was. Plus, that's the wrong frosting-to-cake ratio in this case.)
I like to apply a crumb coat to layer cakes, which means you apply a really thin coat of frosting all over to trap the crumbs and then refrigerate the cake until the frosting stiffens to lock them in. Then you can apply a final crumb-free coat afterwards. Sounds easy, right? NOT!!! It's really hard to get the frosting to be completely flat and wrinkle-free. It doesn't want to be that way at all. Every time you lift up your icing spatula, it leaves a mark. And every time you set it down to erase the previous mark, it leaves another mark. It's an endless maddening cycle, but, whatever, I did the best I could.
Here's the real problem, though. Once you get all of your cakes nicely frosted and you're feeling fairly proud of yourself, how the fuck do you then stack 20-pound cakes on top of each other, all perfectly centered, without leaving draggy marks in your nice frosting job as you pull your fingers out from underneath? Can somebody please tell me? Because I'd really love to know.
The other problem was that the finished cake was so heavy, I literally could not lift it. I couldn't do it! You may remember how much trouble I had carrying a regular-sized carrot cake a short distance last year. I've been working out, I swear, but the cakes keep getting bigger. I don't know how much this cake weighed (my kitchen scale doesn't go up that high), but here's a quick estimate based on the ingredients I used: 10 pounds of sugar, 5 pounds of cream cheese, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of vegetables, 3 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of oil, 2 pounds of eggs, 1 pound of nuts, 1 pound of chocolate, and the board weighed 3 pounds. If I know simple arithmetic, that means the cake must have weighed at least 455 pounds. Luckily, Husband is strong. (I'm pretty sure he was sore the next day, but he'll never admit it.)
Here's another thing I learned: disassembling and serving wedding cakes is an unbelievably messy process. There's a reason why they take the cakes in the back to slice them: There's cake and frosting flying all over the place. I think the caterers who observed my amateur cake-wrangling skills were horrified. Once you take the tiers apart to slice them (and you need to do that or else you'll end up with an engineering disaster), the frosting in between the tiers gets suctioned right off by the cake directly above it. That means half the pieces end up with no frosting at all. Mind you, I had a GIANT bowl of leftover frosting back at the house that I could have used, but I didn't think I'd need it. None of my Wedding Cakes for Dummies books I took out of the library mentioned the bald cake part. They were all, bring a little frosting for last-minute touchups!, so I brought my little sandwich baggie of frosting that I then had to smear across 45 pieces of cake in a nearly invisible layer.
This is why you need test runs.
Anyway, all three layers were moist and delicious, and the cake as a whole didn't come out half as hideous as I thought it would be. I went for the rustic, spackled look, as you can see, adding a little texture to the sides to hide imperfections. I should probably practice piping frosting embellishments one of these days, but, for now, I'm just glad I have another 3 or 4 months before I have to do this all over again for Test Run No. 2.
(and, if you're wondering, no, those are not Martha Stewart's stupid truffle eggs. They're Jordan almonds, the ubiquitous Italian wedding favors, which just happen to work perfectly for springtime cakes.)
I think we could all use a party to lift our spirits, don't you? If you happen to be in the Boston area, Waltham Fields Community Farm is having their annual fundraising fete this Friday 4/26 at the Charles River Museum of Industry. There will be local food, wine, music, and a silent auction for all kinds of great stuff, like restaurant gift certificates, local art, shares at nearby farms, and sports tickets. It's like eBay but for a good cause (and what you buy doesn't turn out to be a piece of crap!).
This year, the food will be prepared by JJ Gonson and friends of Cuisine En Locale, and I will be making some kind of giant cake for dessert. What kind of cake? Well, I guess you'll have to come to find out. It's always a good time. For more information or to buy tickets, click here.
I'm still processing all that happened here in Boston over the past week, from the tragic bombings that killed three and wounded nearly 200 300 at one of the country's most historic and beloved sporting events, to the shoot-out in my old Watertown neighborhood that began with the murder of a young police officer and led to the death of one bombing suspect, to the subsequent lock-down of our community as the second suspect was eventually, thankfully apprehended. I'm still in a daze of anguish, confusion, and relief.
I attempted to write something about this several times last week, but none of it came out right. A long moment of silence seemed more appropriate. Now, as I sift through all of the facts and personal feelings that come out of a tragedy so close to home, I'm left with more questions than answers. I've been a fanatical spectator of the Boston Marathon for as long as I can remember, cheering myself hoarse almost every year (this year, we decided to take an extra day to visit family instead). For me, Marathon Monday is a day to celebrate our independent spirit and for people from all over the world to come together and reward each other's personal perseverance. It's an event where the spectators are every bit as important as the runners themselves. In fact, I would argue that the Boston Marathon is less about actually fulfilling a dream as it is about the dream itself. Maybe your dream has nothing to do with running 26.2 miles, but you can bet that after the full-on love fest that is your average Boston Marathon, you'll be inspired to challenge yourself in your own way.
What I want to know is this: Of all the goals to aspire to when education and opportunity are on your side, what kind of twisted, tortured mind only strives to maim and kill innocent men, women, and children?
I'm so proud of the way law enforcement and our community spontaneously— and rather improvisationally—came together for the common good, but my heart still feels such loss. Like most people I know, I'm torn between the need to grieve and empathize and the need to carry on with my daily life. Maybe there's a way to do both? Every single year after the Boston Marathon, I start running again. It doesn't matter how ineptly I go about that task or for how long. I do it not because I want to run the Boston Marathon; I'm content to watch the race from the sidelines. I run for two reasons: because it makes me stronger, and because I believe in dreams. This year, I'll add a third reason. I'll run for those who are recovering from their greatest challenge, yet. I know others will be running for them, too—probably every single person hoofing along the Charles and huffing through neighborhoods across the nation, in fact.
I hope the injured will still keep the dreams they're so entitled to, even if it takes a little longer or a different path to achieve them. It's pretty clear that everyone in this whole fucking city will be cheering them on every step of the way.
To donate to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and aftermath, please visit OneFundBoston.org.
I looked up the other day and this is what I saw.
I see wild turkeys in the yard all the time. There's a substantial slope back there, so the turkeys are right at eye level. Sometimes they stop and peer in at me, especially if the windows are open and I'm making a racket. I'll be singing to myself and suddenly I'll look up to see a turkey or two staring back at me looking even more confused than usual. Everybody's a critic.
But this time the windows were closed and I wasn't singing. Mr. Turkey was pacing back and forth, staring at me through the window, clearly agitated, tail feathers straining. Can he tell I'm making chicken? Is there a poultry alliance I'm not aware of? I continued chopping my vegetables. Meanwhile, he proceeded with his very important turkey business, whatever that might be, which appeared to involve nothing but pacing and staring at me through the window for 15 more minutes. I searched his beady eyes. Is he mistaking me for a suitable mate? He continued pacing and staring, pacing and staring, tail feathers fanned and vibrating. I cranked open the window and yelled out: Shoo, Turkey! I'm not available!
That only seemed to encourage him. Typical.
Then I went into another room to get a better look. There she was: a female turkey perched on a fallen tree a short distance away. She had been out of view of the kitchen window. She was preening herself nonchalantly. Clearly the show wasn't intended for me at all.
I'll admit I was a little disappointed. That was the most male attention I'd gotten all week.
You know what I'm talking about. Back in high school, everything is poised to get better. The braces will be pried off soon. The glasses can be traded in for contact lenses, maybe even the kind that turn your muddy eyes a cool shade of aquamarine like a mood ring. You're finally easing up on all the Aqua Net (step away from the can of hairspray, Tammy). The ugly duckling becomes a swan and all that crap. Meanwhile, you're making a little cash throwing together sandwiches on the weekends and you feel real smart with that diploma in your hand.
The world is yours for the taking!
In high school, you can't wait for college. In college, you look forward to getting out of college because all this studying is putting a damper on your social life. Plus, you want a fun job with a decent paycheck. You want a mode of transportation besides your own two feet. Dates at fancy restaurants. A place to live that's not a dump. Vacations. Soon you have some stuff, and you like your stuff, but you want something more. You want love. You want a family of your own. Then you get a family of your own and, for the whole first year, you can't believe what a horrible mistake you've made. No more dates at fancy restaurants. Your place becomes a dump. Vacations take on an entirely new and unwelcome meaning. Sometimes you wish you'd just stayed home.
But then you learn to stop being so selfish all the time and things gets better. Your family becomes your whole life. Does anyone else have kids as awesome as yours? NO WAY! IMPOSSIBLE! And then you realize something. Your kids are halfway through their childhood already. They're going to spend the whole second half hating you. And then they're going to leave.
They say you get better with age, but in what way specifically? Nicer? I don't think so. If anything, I'm getting more crotchety and even less charitable behind the wheel of a car. Wiser? Uh-uh. By my calculations, I'm getting stupider by the day. I've always been a wee bit forgetful, but this is ridiculous. I left my coat somewhere last week. At the library? At Walgreens? Where? How did I not notice my coat was missing? True, it felt colder, but all that ran through my head was: That's New England for you. One minute you're toasty warm in your nice winter jacket and the next minute you're shivering by the parking meters fumbling for change while the icy wind sucker punches you in the spleen and there's no logical explanation for it whatsoever. (I still haven't found it, by the way. My coat. It's puffy and gray with a big hood.)
The other night I looked in the mirror and realized that it's all downhill from here. This is as smart/healthy/attractive as I will ever be for the whole rest of my life. And, I'll be honest, the bar didn't seem very high.
Is this what a midlife crisis looks like?
This recipe is stupefyingly simple. I don't even use stock anymore, just water. It's silky and surprisingly sweet. Snip a few chives on top and you have something tasty and healthful to warm you up on a chilly spring day when your coat is nowhere to be found.
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups water (or veggie stock)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cored*, diced
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Sauté the chopped onion and celery for 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Don't let the vegetables brown. Add the garlic and sauté for 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the water or stock and the parsnips. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnips are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool and purée in a blender or with a stick blender until perfectly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 2 or 3. The recipe can be doubled (just be sure to purée the soup in half-batches if using a blender).
*Some parsnips have a woody central core that runs from top to bottom. To remove it, I usually just slice the peeled sides right off the core, which is a slightly different color. (Then chop up the sides and discard the core.) But if you're not sure exactly where or how big the core is, you can also quarter the parsnip the long way. Then you can see it a lot better. Just trim along the interior edge of each quarter with a paring knife to remove it.
Look at me all professional! I just made myself some sweet business cards through MOO even though I'm not sure what I do here constitutes legitimate business. But, hey, as long as you guys keep showing up, they might let me keep writing books and if that's not the awesomest business plan, I don't know what is.
In my earlier professional life, I was always too shy to give out business cards, if I had any at all. Perhaps I was worried people would be intimidated by my high-powered career titles like Administrative Sorceress. Executive Ass-Kicker. Editorial Ninja. Kung Fu Fact Checker. Trust me, the last thing you want in your entry-level position is someone with strong opinions about serial commas and an overactive sense of justice.
The truth is, I was more afraid that if I gave out my real business cards, which sadly never reflected the appropriate amount of badassery I brought to the table, somebody would immediately ask me for a cup of coffee. Because even though technically people weren't supposed to do that anymore, they still did. I wonder if that's why I never developed a coffee habit? Because I got so sick of grown adults asking me to get them coffee when they already knew where the kitchen was and they presumably learned how to pour their own beverages at some point in their hazy past. Can't you see I'm too busy with this very important filing to get you coffee? If these dumb forms don't get filed in the right place, you're not going to be able to find them later and who's going to have to deal with your caffeine-fueled rage? Me!
You know what nobody likes? An admin assistant with fricking attitude.
Ah, but soon I'll be a published author with fricking attitude. A published author who can't make a decent cup of coffee, but who, despite the state of the rest of the house, has the neatest files you've ever seen. (And business cards!)
I had a Martha Stewart moment yesterday, however brief. The kids had written a cute poem on the refrigerator door with magnetic poetry, and I wanted to feature it on my blog for Easter. I decided to recreate Martha's blue-marbled white chocolate-covered truffle eggs seen here so that: a) I'd have an artsy image to go with the words; and b) I could eat some decent chocolate on Easter for a change.
However, the eggs didn't turn out so well. I don't know what kind of sweatshop Martha runs over there that produces truffle eggs so perfectly egg-shaped with marbling so perfectly sharp and well-defined yet appropriately whimsical, but I finally understand why her original recipe called for three pounds of white chocolate. You'll need that much or more if you hope to achieve anything even remotely egg-like. Even then, you still might end up with what resemble misshapen lumps of gorgonzola. If you have the patience, dedication, and skill for such a task, I suggest you turn your sights to med school.
Eff that. I coated the rest of the truffle eggs in cocoa powder and called it a day.
As much as I like my usual flatware, I'm getting a little sick and tired of seeing the same spoon in every single shot for the past seven years. I found this pretty serving spoon at a thrift shop in amongst the grubby, mismatched utensils thrown together in a bin. Now that it's spic and span, you can look forward to seeing that spoon in every single shot going forward.
The napkin-sized swatches came from the remnant pile at the local fabric store for pocket change. You may see them again. Your job is to pretend they're expensive linens. And the marble slab under last week's bagels was a Craig's List freebie. All I had to do was carry it away (no small task, as it turns out).
Sometimes having a shoestring operating budget is kind of fun!
Okay, guys, you asked and I listened (nearly a year later). I finally got my blog's RSS feed converted into emailable form. And by "I," I'm referring to the good folks at Mad Mimi because "I" am incapable of such a thing.
If you'd like to receive new blog posts by email, you can sign up here. No, this is not a ploy to get all of your personal information so I can spam you to death with farmer's market propaganda. I don't want all of your personal information, trust me. Keep that shit to yourself. The only thing needed is your email address. The only propaganda I promote is the usual combination of good food and silliness. My only goal is to get through the week alive, same as you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
If you do sign up, keep in mind that you may need to click a link at the top of your email in order for the images to be visible. Assuming you want the images to be visible. I'll leave that up to you. As for the rest of you, if email isn't your preferred method of blog engagement, just continue to tune in the usual way, same bat time, same bat channel, which is right here whenever the hell I feel like posting.
Anyone else out there plagued by relentless hiccups? Or hiccoughs, if you prefer? In my younger life, I tried every possible cure: holding my breath, spoonfuls of sugar, having someone jump out and scare the shit out of me. Nothing worked until eventually I'd pass out from exhaustion.
But surely, I thought, surely there must be some way to interrupt the infuriating cycle of spasmodic insanity short of tasering my diaphragm into submission. Lo and behold, in the spring of 1994, I found that solution in the most unlikely place: A hostel in the northwest corner of Spain. There, a stranger noticed my plight (and by noticed I mean she was hideously inconvenienced by it). I believe it was the owner of the hostel, though I honestly can't remember because I dismissed her advice almost immediately. She said to clench a pencil between your teeth while drinking a glass of water and voila: hiccups gone.
I mean, really, what kind of medical advice is that?
Naturally, I assumed it was quackery, but every hiccupping person has his or her breaking point. Eventually I gave in. What could it hurt, right? I located the nearest writing implement and bit down on it as instructed. Then I took a swig from my water bottle. Or tried, at least. It's surprisingly hard to drink water when you're unable to fully close your mouth. Water streamed down the front of me until I burst out laughing, spraying the whole mouthful all over the room.
The hostel owner was obviously in on some kind of practical joke. Is there anything more fun for Europeans than tricking dumb, potentially drunk Americans? Probably not. Or maybe my Spanish wasn't as good as I thought. Maybe she had simply said "drink some water" and had offered me a pencil to write down this important advice. Perhaps the pencil was all in my imaginings. STUPID PENCILS!!!
That's when my friend noticed that my hiccups had stopped. I froze for 15 seconds. She was right! They were GONE!!! I was so happy, she snapped a photo of the momentous occasion:
See the relief in my eyes? And the water-splattered bedspread? (I knew this photo would come in handy someday!)
Over the course of that trip, my hiccups returned a few more times, as they are wont to do, and each time the trick worked immediately (if messily). Since then, I've gotten no closer to mastering the art of drinking water with a pencil in my mouth (or pen or magic marker), but I don't care because it never fails me. I'm sure there's a logical explanation for why it works—something more to do with physiology than fairies—but I'm no scientist. All I know is the past 20 years have been virtually hiccup-free. Not bad for an obscure Spanish home remedy.
I was in a bad mood the other day, so Husband sent me out of the house to get some fresh air and a gallon of milk. In one of the aisles of the grocery store, I saw a little boy sitting in a shopping cart.
He stared at me.
I smiled brightly and waved.
He held up a package of wooden spoons.
I made expressions indicating I approved of his treasure.
I was charmed!
He was still winking when he made a sort of clicking noise with his mouth. Then I heard a tremendous explosion, masterfully improvised, as he fired his makeshift weapon at my face.
My eyes went from soft, wide doe-eyes to the razor-thin slits of an angry snake as I registered the betrayal.
He appraised me with a look of smug victory.
I was suddenly filled with white-hot rage. My muscles began twitching under my poofy winter coat. A feeling of suffocating tightness came over me as I realized my body was expanding at an alarming rate. The seams of my coat burst. The fabric shredded all around me to reveal skin that was now a sickening shade of green. I had the sudden urge to rip those wooden spoons out of his hand and snap them over my muscular knee. I wanted to grab his Hostess cupcakes out of the carriage, tear open the package, and squeeze them until the creme and mangled cake crumbs extruded greasily between my fingers. I wanted to pull all of the six-packs of soda off the shelves and smash them onto the floor so hard that they exploded into hundreds of angry geysers. Then, amid the spray and chocolate wreckage, I would stand over his terrified little face and say in a very slow, very low voice:
But instead I kept on walking. Walking, walking down the aisle with my milk and my tattered clothing dragging behind me, walking right by his mother who didn't seem to mind that my virtual brains were splattered all over Aisle 7. Which is too bad, because he's likely to do that again, and I'm one of the saner individuals at my supermarket.
This was supposed to be part of my Tuesday Tease series of lazy photo posts, but then it suddenly became Friday. No problem—I changed the title to Friday Freeze. Seemed apt. Then Friday came and went. Now it's Saturday. Saturday Sneeze strikes me as too disgusting of a post title to be paired with a bowl full of yellow snow, so you're stuck with the outdated title (and an image in your mind that you probably wish you didn't have). You're welcome!
In my forthcoming cookbook, there are several recipes for homemade snow cones. And by homemade, I do not mean pouring a package of powdered Kool-Aid over the snow. While the Internet assures me that this is a perfectly delicious way to enjoy snow cones, the Internet disappoints me sometimes. After experimenting with various homemade syrups, I came up with some excellent alternatives using seasonal winter fruits like citrus, pears, and quince (pictured is tangelo). I stored them in jelly jars in the refrigerator and then waited for the snow to come.
And waited and waited and waited. Mind you, this was last winter (2011/2012). The winter before that (2010/2011), we got 80 inches of snow. Last year, nothing. Well, maybe a few dustings here and there, but only enough to make one pitifully small grassy snow cone flecked with dirt and debris. Not appetizing. I thought about driving up to the mountains with a cooler. Instead I pulled out the blender. Bad idea. You can't make snow cones with a blender. Not with my blender anyway. Not unless you like soupy slush cones studded with frequent whole nuggets of ice. Yuck!
Finally, I broke down and bought a cheap $20 shaved ice machine. It worked well for testing purposes, producing an acceptable snow-like accumulation in small quantities. But I had yet to try my syrups over the actual cottony stuff from the sky. Until recently, that is. And, oh, it's such a treat!
Following up on my trip to Philly, here's a peek into the photo shoot for my cookbook, Wintersweet. Above are food stylist Ricardo Jattan and his assistant Curt working on that day's recipes. Below is Steve Legato, photographer extraordinaire. The shoot took place in his spacious, light-filled studio.
How it worked was this: Ricardo and Curt would make the selected recipes (about 40 in all) in the studio kitchen. Amanda, the book's art designer, coordinated with Mariellen, the prop stylist, to select the right plates and props from several tables' worth of platters, bowls, plates, trays, and linens. Ricardo, a successful movie production designer who does food styling in his spare time, would artfully arrange the dessert on the chosen serving vessel, selecting just the right honey-roasted pear to feature (known as the "hero"). That includes making sure the caramel drips seductively in all the right places and the nuts are scattered attractively. It's trickier than it looks. Here Amanda is razzing Ricardo for trying to sneak an unwanted mint garnish into one of the shots.
Meanwhile, Amanda and Mariellen set up the appropriate backgrounds on the set: sometimes old cabinet doors or boards, sometimes fancy papers. Steve adjusted the lights and made various other calibrations that I can't even begin to understand.
Photos were taken, adjusted, cropped, snapped again, adjusted again, props swapped out, frosting dabbed just so, snapped again, etc., etc. You might start with something like this:
…and end up with something like this:
See the swirls in that napkin? Those are not accidental. This is why I will never amount to anything as a food stylist. I unceremoniously plop the napkin down right after using it to smear some ketchup across my face.
Mmmm, whoopie pies! Frankly, I was in my glory sitting back and watching everyone else do the hard work. I didn't have to lift a finger. The process was fascinating to watch, and I had so much fun. Such a nice and talented group! A huge thanks to the whole crew, as well as my editor Kristen Green Wiewora at Running Press and my agent Melissa Sarver.
I know you're probably tired of hearing me drone on and on about this, but I cannot WAIT to see this book!!
Why Philadelphia in February?
It was the site of my dessert cookbook's photo shoot with Philly-based Running Press and Steve Legato Photography. Just between you and me, I wasn't going to miss that experience for all the tea in Boston's icy harbor, snow be damned, Amtrak train cancellations be doubly damned, school cancellations be triply damned. I fishtailed my way down my barely plowed street at 5 am on Monday and flung myself onto the first southbound train that came my way. Six hours later, I woke up in Philly.
This is the view from my little hotel, The Independent, which I loved (wood floors, high ceilings, close to all the great restaurants). I didn't have much daylight to work with for sight-seeing, but I did manage a fair amount of walking before and after the shoot through the Old City and Rittenhouse Square.
Philly reminds me a lot of Boston with its brick and cobblestone sidewalks in some quarters and streetcar rails grooving the pavement in others. The architecture is similar, too, with pretty little row houses lining the streets, but with more brick than brownstone and simpler, straighter lines. The urban vibe seems grittier and funkier than Boston, though, and certainly more diverse. There seemed to be painted murals around every corner. The grid system of an urban plan (roads chronologically numbered in one direction, named after trees in the other) is very easy to navigate by foot, and the drivers don't rev their engines if you're still in the crosswalk when the light is about to change. That was a refreshing change of pace.
My editor treated my agent and I to a lovely dinner at Tria, a wine bar with a welcome emphasis on cheese and probably the friendliest service I've experienced at any restaurant ever. The next night, I dined alone at Fish at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. The food was delicious: seared scallops with chorizo, cauliflower, and Marcona almonds, and monkfish with parsnip puree, lobster butter, fermented garlic, braised fennel, and radish.
The staff kept me well entertained, teasing me for missing all the important Philly sights: the Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the latter of which seemed better known for Rocky's triumphant training scene than any art contained therein. Let it be known, however, that I did get to the Reading Terminal Market housed in an old train station, where I procured colorful farm eggs and an assortment of winter squashes for photography purposes.
But, of course, a large part of why I loved my trip so much was the photo shoot itself. It was amazing. What a fantastic, talented, and welcoming crew! They made even my most unphotogenic recipes look scrumptious, hermits included. Hermits!! The shoot deserves a post all its own, which you will soon get, but first I need to spend a little time with my family.
(To be continued…)
Know what's good over a shot glass full of snow? This stuff: Sapling. It's a maple liqueur from Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont. Sweet but not too sweet, it's a nice reward after four hours of shoveling 2 to 3 feet of snow.
I'm still sick. In the meantime, here are a few excellent food-related things I acquired over the holidays. A few cookbooks, a cute little cast-iron teapot, and pecan pralines straight from the French Quarter.
Even at my age, I still find Christmas kind of magical in the non-religious, totally commercial sense of the word. I mean, yes, Christmas is more about giving than receiving and our focus is always the kids, but I still secretly hope there will be something exciting for me under the tree. To make sure this happens, I may or may not wrap up a few things for myself. Like one or two of those cookbooks up there. *cough*
I needn't worry, though, because despite Husband's lackadaisical approach to gift-wrapping, he rarely disappoints on Christmas Day. This despite (or more likely on account of) all of his unbudgeted, unapproved purchases. Every year I tell him, don't buy any other extra stuff besides what we've discussed right here on this list, clipboard and abacus in hand, pencil behind my ear.
"Merry Grinchmas," he'll say, leaving the room. "And a Shitty Year's Eve!!"
He always ignores my admonishments no matter what I say. It makes for fun present-opening for the whole family, I'll admit. The only downside is that it sets a bad precedent for the whole rest of the year when he doesn't listen to a goddamned word I say.
(Ah, but thanks to him I now possess the technology to send him nagging texts! He'll think twice about extra presents for his wife next year!)
I started the South Beach Diet on Monday. That means no sugar and no carbs for two weeks. Have I gone mad?
Yes. Yes I have.
The proof is in the pudding-sized pile of Butterfinger wrappers Husband came across a few weeks ago. I must have been so blissed out on mediocre chocolate and crystal peanut meth that I forgot to hide the evidence. Stealing from my own kids' Halloween buckets like a junky! For shame!!
It's no secret I've been having a hard time coming off the sugar-fueled roller coaster of the past year. Over the past two months, I've progressed to the point where I can go a whole day without sugar, two even, but by the end of the third, I'm wild-eyed and desperate and suddenly housing a jar of leftover chocolate fondue I found in the back of the fridge. A big jar. And I'm not feeling too good about myself afterwards.
That's where South Beach comes in. The underlying principle of the diet is to reset your physical and mental expectations for your sugar consumption. That means cutting out ALL sugar for the first two weeks, even the natural sugars found in high-glycemic fruits and vegetables as well as dairy. It's also means no carbs, which your body immediately converts into sugar. Meanwhile, you can eat as much as you want of everything else: meat, cheese, beans, eggs, nuts, leafy greens, cruciferous veggies. The idea is that once your system is entirely rid of the addictive substance, you don't crave it anymore. Then you can slowly add certain foods back into your diet (note: I don't think this works for cocaine).
Now before you start shaking your head at me like every single friend I've told about this bold move—as if Tom Cruise had suddenly appeared by my side with his manic, empty eyes and a mission— remember that this is just temporary. It's just for two weeks. I don't plan on living a carb-free, sugar-free life forever. I love those things and believe that most of them aren't bad for you in moderation. I just need to restore my original factory settings. The sugar cravings are driving me batshit insane, and something drastic needs to be done. They don't have any Betty Ford clinics for sugar addiction, as far as I know, so I'm stuck with the South Beach Diet and Husband as its bastard enforcer. It'll be a miracle if we're not divorced by Christmas.
After these two weeks pass, foods I fully intend to add back into my diet are: potatoes, whole grains, pasta, all fruits, and all the sweet veggies in my winter CSA share, like beets, squash, and parsnips. All of these will be fine once they don't taste like heroin to me. Thereafter, desserts will not be daily, and carby snacks discouraged. With any luck, I'll be able to return to my pre-cookbook way of eating, which has enabled me to maintain a stable, sustainable weight pretty much all my life thus far.
First step: clean out the refrigerator and freezer of all tempting items, including the pumpkin butter I like to eat out of the jar, and the various fig pastes left over from recipe-testing. Next, make the children eat the rest of their Halloween candy in one sitting. Hop to it, kids, you won't hear me say those words ever again. Ready, set, go! Third, have Husband hide the chocolates my neighbor brought back from Barcelona, and although you suspect he hid them in his own belly, try not to care. Fourth, send Husband to do the food shopping since he's the only one in this house who knows how to survive this diet AND lose 30 pounds AND keep it off. Fifth, get cooking.
Just don't mind my grumpy posts in the meantime!
I'm still sleeping off my Thanksgiving turkey—an amazingly tender specimen prepared by my mom—along with mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potato casserole (sans marshmallow), cranberry sauce with port and roasted shallots, rice pudding, and pumpkin pie. God, I love Thanksgiving!
But I did find some time between naps to make a few changes to my blog's design. Nothing too crazy. I just wanted to organize things a little better, sweep out some cobwebs, and finally (finally!) add a navigation bar up there. I added a better search feature, too, and updated the About and FAQ pages. I hope you like it.
There's one thing that's still bothering me, though, and that's the Twitter feed. You may have noticed over the past few months that the updated Twitter widget no longer fit in my sidebar. In addition to being ugly as all hell, half of the words were cut off. I finally broke down and widened the left-hand column, but now the whole layout feels off balance to me. I'm thinking of scrapping the Twitter feed altogether. Does anyone even look at it? Cast your anonymous vote below:
It's coming up on that time of year when I start to display an uncharacteristic generous streak. Yes, I have a few giveaways planned starting today. Of course, I'd love to raffle off a copy of my own book, but you won't want it in the condition that it's in right now, all marked up with edits. It should probably be printed on paper without pizza stains and maybe have the swears deleted. Some photographs might be nice, too. Let us gussy it up for you first!
Instead, I'd like to show you another book produced by my publisher earlier this year. It's Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan. You may know her from her great canning blog by the same name. Not surprisingly, it's about all the pretty seasonal things you can put in jars. Lest you think there's nothing left to can at this time of year, that I'm a little bit late as usual, may I direct you to the recipes for slow-cooker pear butter, cranberry conserve, apple pumpkin butter, sweet and sour pickled red onions, and gingery pickled beets. Oh, there's plenty, including handmade gift ideas like maple pecan granola, rosemary salt, and homemade cake mixes in jars.
I admire this book not just because of the recipes and the accessible writing style, but also because of how attractive it is. I just love the jacketless cover, the gorgeous photos of jams dripping all over the place, the nice, thick paper. Will my cookbook end up looking like this, I wonder? Holy crap, I hope so!!
Running Press is giving away one copy of Food in Jars to be raffled off to a special someone. (And, no, my publisher did not ask me to post this. You know I don't like to do anything people tell me to do. Just ask Husband.) To be entered, leave a comment on this post about food or jars or whatever you want. I'm not being picky today. If you've recipe-tested for my book, you get to enter twice to double your chances (submit two separate comments or the random number generator will only count you once). The contest will close on Sunday 11/18 at 10 p.m. EST. Have at it!
Luisa Weiss, blogger and creator of The Wednesday Chef, wrote a pretty little memoir called My Berlin Kitchen. It's about finding her place in the world after an upbringing defined by movement between Europe (Berlin, Italy) and the U.S. (Boston, New York). And, yeah, okay, it's also a love story. But I think we all know how I feel about love around here. Yuck!
I particularly enjoyed reading her descriptions of German holiday traditions, from roasted goose to doughnuts with a little, um, surprise! The recipes featured in the book are lovely and span the globe. I've already made her German yeasted plum cake, spicy Mexican meatballs, and Italian tomato bread soup, the latter of which is a completely amazing way to treat the last of this summer's fantastic tomatoes.
Fans of the book and blog will want to head down to the Harvard Book Store at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, October 2, where Luisa will be speaking and signing books.