Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looking back..

It is difficult even to think about what to say. In the middle of this very fun exercise of daily blogging, my brother died. I did my best to continue, and I did well every day except for the very day of his funeral--frankly, the routine of doing the blog helped. Every routine helped.

To those of you who visited and sent condolences, thank you so much. It means a lot, this little connection.

You didn't know David, but he was a quirky, smart, SMART guy. So smart that many of us didn't even understand everything he did and we all seemed to butt heads with him often. But when we did, short hours (minutes) later would find us contentedly sharing some of his bread, some extra-virgin olive oil that he likely hand-carried back from Italy in a suitcase of his own design, kitted out with foam padding and cut-outs for bottles of wine and cans of olive oil (I came across the design plans as I went through his papers this week).

He was famous among family and friends for the bread--he worked hard on those recipes and, in true science fashion, his recipes are really formulas--vast spread sheets with variables, equations, questions, constants...

He always made great bread.

So today, please go open a bottle of wine you may have been saving for a special day. Pitch the sliced bread and either bake a loaf or go get REAL bread, good bread. Drizzle out a bit of really good olive oil, and savor it all with family and friends. Because today is a special day.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

Photo Friday: Pickled Okra

Trust me. It's delicious.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Enjoy Some Time...

Make your own mozzarella and wrap some prosciutto made by Grateful Growers up in the soft goodness.

Now enjoy your Thursday evening. Enjoy the company across the table. Just have fun.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Osso Buco Anyone?

 Start with fabulous osso buco from Michelle Marie...

Brown them in my favorite cast-iron skillet

Into the copper pot for slow braise in the oven

Serve with classic risotto Milanese.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Million Dollar Cookie

Re-post: Million Dollar Cookie

I posted this in August 2008 after a cookie contest. No, I didn't win, but the winner's cookie was most worthy...of course, I couldn't just make it with the pre-packaged refrigerator cookies, but went in search of an improvement.

Forgive me a few re-posts while I get through these days. Food always gave my brother and me common ground. He so enjoyed quality food, especially great bread, pizza and pasta and all things locavore...so I like continuing to blog here while I remember him


Make a million dollar cookie.

Tomorrow is an "end of summer" pot-luck at the Boca Raton Magazine/Florida Table offices...For three weeks, people have asked what I'm bringing...and I felt the pressure. Here I am, the food editor. I wanted to wow people. But I was stuck. What to do, what to do, what to do...

Finally today, someone piped up and said there weren't many desserts on the list. Well, Ina's brownies for gazillions sounded like an easy plan...there are few easier recipes that turn out more goodies than that recipe (Outrageous Brownies). But then, while doing some research for recipes today, I came across mention of the million dollar Pillsbury Bakeoff winner--A peanut butter cookie with a treat inside of it--more gooey peanut butter. Thing is, the winning recipe used refrigerator peanut butter cookies.

Not likely, thank you very much. I ended up reading about the cookies by way of Culinate.com, where they suggested doing it one better with their own peanut butter cookie recipe and the Pillsbury approach. Okay.

So I made Culinate's peanut butter cookie. Made an inside treat of peanut butter and powdered sugar, wrapped it in the cookie dough, rolled it in sugar, peanuts and cinnamon, then baked.

I think my Dorie touch is still working--I only mixed until just blended...the cookies are delicate and delicious with the double whammy of more peanut butter...Hmm. I think maybe I could make this a $1.5 million cookie by adding a chocolate chip or two...or ten.

Link up to those recipes (I made the Outrageous Brownies, too...they are really that easy). You don't have to use Culinate's recipe, use your own favorite, but do try the Pillsbury approach.

One eaten in blog sacrifice. One goes to school with that lucky little girl, Bryn...and JES Publishing gets the remaining treats...Happy end of summer, all..

Just had to edit to add I tried them again with a chocoate chip inside. Eh. Not enough chocolate, really, but I couldn't add more without making the cookies bigger than they already are. So next time, I'm going to make the inside (the 1/2 cup powdered sugar combined with 1/2 cup peanut butter) out of Nutella instead!!! Oh YUM. Or should that be yummO?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Cherries

Make something sweet today. Think of me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Life Goes on

Simple routines get
us through the days. Moments are
now more difficult.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brothers and Bread

Is it strange that bread is thicker than blood when I think of you today?
Is it that the act of creating something so sustaining
gave us a connection that went beyond "brother"?
I will remember you when I measure the flour and the yeast;
as I knead, I will recall all the times we talked and mostly ate the fruits of our labors.
Crust and crumb.
Let the act be my memorial because that in the end is all I have left of you.
And in the act of baking, I can give you life again.

For my brother, David
Sept. 30, 1963-May 20,2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

Simple Signs of Spring

Keep It Simple
1. Trim asparagus.
2. Heat splash of olive oil with touch of butter in large cast-iron skillet until butter is just starting to brown.
3. Add asparagus and toss, turn, toss until it starts to turn bright green and browns a bit, too.
4. Add splash of balsamic vinegar, toss until vinegar is turned to glaze.
5. Salt and Pepper.
6. EAT.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Essential Cookbooks

Thinking about the bare essentials for the best kitchen got me looking at my cookbook shelves, too. I love ANY cookbook (just about), but there are plenty I have not opened in a while.

That said, which cookbooks are most important to me? A year or so ago, this short list showed up and I promptly bought  myself Martha Stewart's Cookies Book and James Beard's Beard on Bread book--because that meant I had all the books on the list.

In writing this post today, though, I have come across Mark Bittman's 50 Cookbooks he couldn't live without (he links to his list from this link). I think I only have 10 of his 50. He also has a second list of some underrated classics he thinks every good kitchen should have. I think I only have one of those...

Here, in no particular order, are books I go to often:

Julia Child, Volume 1, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I can't quite believe I didn't buy this until Julie Powell was blogging her way through this. But I'm glad I found the blog way back when and I'm glad I bought the book. I now have Vol. 2, as well. For technique, these books are hard to beat.

Best Recipe: This series (Best Recipe, Best International Recipes, Best 30-Minute Recipes, Best Soups and Stews) come from Cook's Illustrated. Again, technique is reviewed, reasons some methods work better than others are discussed. Geeky cookbooks for geeky cooks. I love these.

Silver Palate. Okay, so maybe we cut back on the butter and cream since these came out, but my Silver Palate books are well-used. I have The New Basics, the original white and red books AND the 25th Anniversary Edition.

Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano. Everyone in my family (mom, siblings, I think an aunt and uncle) owns this book. Talk about word of mouth. I don't know who got it first, but every recipe is a hit.

Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I don't know why I didn't cook more from Hazan's books sooner, but at least a friend, Brian Sherry, introduced me to  her books and now there's no stopping me. Another one where I have not had a miss. True classics, great technique. Check out All In on Lasagne, my post to which Ms. Hazan actually commented! Made my culinary year.

The Italian Baker (Um. So there's a bit of an Italian bias, here, isn't there? Well, that's a good thing!) by Carol Field. Again, best breads, pizza doughs, focaccia...no misses here.

Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I got this book after meeting Dorie at a food writers' conference, and tried to keep up with the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers. While I couldn't keep up, at least I know that if I ever want a dessert on the table, I'll find something here that I love.

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Why things work. Another geeky book that stays on the shelf.
Food Lover's Companion defines food, food terms, etc. Essential for any food writer.

Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course. All things British. This way, when Mr. Babette Feasts says how much he loves a Bakewell Tart or English Christmas cake, I know I can make a great ...whatever. In this book? Best butterscotch sauce ever.
I am pretty sure I'm adding The Essential NYT  Cookbook (just won the James Beard Award) and Tartine Bread  (because I knew Chad way back when) and Tartine (their desserts) (because I knew Chad way back when and that means I love Elisabeth, too...)..oh, and Tartine in SF has a James Beard Award, too, btw....

What books do you go back to over and over?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


I like thinking of things that make me smile. Food does, which is why it's fun to write about it. But this video has been making the rounds the past few days and if you have not seen it yet, you just have to--it will give you joy. This is from a Paul Simon concert where he calls an audience member up on stage after she requests "Duncan" and says she learned to play guitar by playing this song.

I'll go back to food tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Essential Kitchen

Top of the list: Lodge Cast-Iron Skillet
I've made lists in the past about what MUST haves belong in the kitchen. In my head, it's an ongoing exercise. Rules? Very few single-use items. That roasting pan? It better hold a roast/chicken/turkey, lasagne, fruit crisps. A garlic press simply does not make the cut for my kitchen drawer when I can do a fine job with a knife...

But lately, living in an apartment with not much cupboard space and getting frustrated when I cannot find something, I've been thinking--what goes. No, really, I've been thinking: What STAYS.

The start of the list:
  • Big cast-iron skillet (Lodge)
  • A least one stock pot (All-Clad), maybe two.
  • Handheld Stick Blender (KitchenAid) I love this so much I wish I had the whisk attachment
  • KitchenAid Stand Mixer (coveting new one--the raise and lower bowl, not the raise and lower mixer)..let's be honest. The motor is struggling (this machine has been WELL used) and it recently "walked" itself off my counter and onto the kitchen floor. This was not good. I need to trade up. soon.
  • Small chef's knife
  • Serrated knife
  • Cutting board
  • Colander
  • Set of Nesting bowls
  • Cutting board
  • Spring-loaded tongs
  • Stainless steel spoons (whole and slotted)
  • Peeler
  • Thermometer (instant read--mozzarella making)
  • My years old espresso maker (used daily)

That's a start. I think I'd like two more sizes of Lodge cast-iron skillets.
But do I need my Cuisinart? Maybe. Maybe not. I use it, but it's old, the bowl is breaking, I have to push the activation button down with a knife...If nothing else, I need a new bowl. But the real question is can I live without it???
Do I need my Atlas pasta roller or is it time to learn to make it the old-fashioned way, by hand, no roller machine require? (My rollers are kind of out of alignment. By #7, the past gets pulled to one side. This is not good...)

What am I missing? PLEASE tell me.
What is is essential in YOUR kitchen?

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's Guest Post Day for Blogathon 2011: Meet Sue from A Life Divided

Meet fellow Blogathoner Sue Dickman who blogs at A Life Divided (where I will have a guest post of my own posted). It's a bit of serendipity that we both love to cook and that she has ties to India, which I just found out as I read through her blog. She says if she's not in Mass., she's in India most likely...all I can say is what's not to love?


It's a sad thing when a cookbook goes out of print. Even with so many fabulous recipes online, there are always recipes lost once they can only be found in the pages of a book no longer easily available. One of the out-of-print cookbooks I'm most sad about is Maya Kaimal's Savoring the Spice Coast of India. Before she became a jarred sauce maven, Maya Kaimal wrote two well-regarded cookbooks, first, Curried Favors and then Savoring the Spice Coast of India, both about Kerala, the southwestern Indian state where Kaimal's father is from. Savoring the Spice Coast came highly recommended by a friend, who said that the recipes were interesting and delicious and that they always came out as Kaimal said they would. High praise for a cookbook indeed! I bought a copy and began to cook from it myself and discovered she was right.  The recipes are well thought out, relatively easy to make, and if Kaimal says it will take 40 minutes, it does. 

So, it was much to my dismay when I tried to buy a copy for a friend (the one I first visited Kerala with in 1990!) and discovered the book was out of print. It's a shame. There are so many sources for good North Indian food--Madhur Jaffrey alone provides hundreds of excellent recipes--but not so many for South Indian food. Kaimal's recipes are clear, easy to follow and don't require too many exotic ingredients. You may need to go to an Asian grocery store for curry leaves, but otherwise, most of the ingredients can be found in a well-stocked supermarket.

I made this shrimp during the brief Maine shrimp season in New England, but you can use any small shrimp or cut up larger ones.   The process is simple, but it moves quickly, so it makes sense to have everything all ready before you get started.

It’s typical of many Indian recipes to briefly heat the spices first and then add the other ingredients in quickly:
Pretty soon, you have a simmering spicy sauce awaiting the arrival of the shrimp. One note—if you want it less spicy, take the chili out after a few minutes. (Of course, you can leave it out as well for a milder dish.)

Once you add the shrimp, you only have to cook everything a few more minutes until the shrimp are cooked through.  This is delicious over rice, so have some Basmati or other long-grained rice cooking at the same time.  And voila:

I’m hoping that the book will find its way back into print someday.  In the meantime, I’m going to do my small part to spread the word!  Enjoy.

Shrimp in Coconut Milk
Adapted from Maya Kaimal's Savoring the Spice Coast of India

3 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. fenugreek seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
2 fresh green chilies (serrano or Thai), split lengthwise
2 tsp. tomato paste

Ground Masala

  • 4 tsp. coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup canned coconut milk
1 1/2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined, sliced in half
lengthwise, if large

1. In a large nonstick pan heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds and cover. When the seeds have popped, add the fenugreek seeds and fry until slightly browned. Add the curry leaves and after they crackle for a few seconds, put in the onions and fry until soft. Stir in the garlic, ginger and green chilies and fry for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, ground masala, and salt and fry for another minute. If the mixture dries out, sprinkle in a little water. Add 1/2 cup of the coconut milk and 1 cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes to blend the flavors and thicken the sauce.

2. Put in the shrimp and stir constantly for 4-6 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and cooked through. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of coconut milk, bring just to a boil, and removed from the heat. Taste for salt and serve immediately.

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Serves: 6
Recipe may be prepared in advance through step 1.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Sweet Sammy was in from Gainesville (where he no longer is a student BECAUSE HE GRADUATED HOORAY HOORAY!!) and I was inspired to make dinner every night.
Somehow we got to talking about dumplings...Mmm. Fried dumplings. A friend of his had spent time in China and introduced Sam to these treats (although he DID eat them, quite likely, when he was tiny...).

So I remembered making them after Bryn was inspired (to ask for them) because of a Throwdown by Bobby Flay. We had another big old batch, plus leftovers, all for the cost of one pound of chicken breast (which I ground myself, btw, with the KitchenAid attachement...)..I forgot to take photos (I know, hard to believe), so here's a photo from that first post, in case you are not clicking through.

Other good stuff this week? Pacos Tacos. Umm. Twice. What can I say? GREAT food, although I have to stop drinking the margaritas bec. they seem expensive, and I am perfecting my margarita skills...

And I have to brag on Bryn's kitchen skills. After a two-hour bike ride, followed by a 30 minute run (tri training--that's a brick...because your feet feel like bricks, because you feel like you hit a brick wall? Not sure, but all of the above), I came home to Bryn in the kitchen. She had shopped herself, and she came home with all the fixings to make a fabulous stuffed French toast--without a recipe. That's my girl!!

I also made Dorie's Vietnamese Soup again. Awesome. Beside tasting so great, that dish goes together in fewer than 10 minutes, no joke...Here's a photo (and the post on that one, too)....

 This week? LOTS of recipe development for a client. Stay tuned! But for now? For now, I'm taking a Sunday nap.

What's for dinner at your house tonight??

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Share the Links Saturday

I love Saturday posts where I get to send you to some of my favorites...

This week, I have a repeat from last year, I am sure--go to Bike with Jackie. Jackie has a great outlook on life and this month, blogathon month, she's exploring ways to find joy and add joy into our lives. A worthy way to spend a month (a life).

Food52 by Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Amanda just got the James Beard Award for her Essential New York Times Cookbook (residing on my shelf even as I type). They both love food and really have fun with Food52. I'd like to be mad at them because I think I should be writing (and selling ads on) Food52, but ...well, it's that good...

I love Nourish Network by a food-writing colleague, Lia Huber. Sign up, get the newsletter, try the recipes.

I love Kristen Taylor's KThread, food and photos...what's not to love??

Two Hands and a Roadmap. Tara always brings a smile to my face when I read this...

Joy, food, photos...hope you've got some new places to visit.

French Fridays with Dorie: Way Behind...Mustard Batons...

Simple. Quick. Delicious.

So many of Dorie's Recipes have been this way (in fact, I am making, for the upteenth time, the Vietnamese Soup because it is so simple, delicious and such a hit here in the house)--and these mustard "batons" are just that. In fact, I made them to have for people before our Easter dinner and I finally had to hide them. Not a lot made it to the table.

In a nutshell: thaw puff dough. Roll it to rectangle, spread mustard on one half, fold over, cut, egg wash, bake.

Then? Eat.

So add this to your "always have on hand list":
Puff pastry in the freezer.

You will be a hit and never show up anywhere empty-handed.

ps. Mine are sprinkled with dill. Dorie suggests poppy seeds. Use your imagination. Just have fun and indulge.

Pps: You can read more about them at French Fridays with Dorie.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Photo Friday: Eataly

Eataly in NYC. Haven't been? Well...then GO.

And just in case any readers are thinking we created this incredible place as a wannabe place? Eataly in Torino (Turin, for those of us still speaking English) came first.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

On My Run...

I WILL fill you in on my training, one of the things that has started to take over a part of my life, but in the meantime, I am going to copy a colleague, Mollie Cox Bryan, who writes about five things she thinks about on her morning runs.

Here are my five things.

1. I am hearing tango music running through my head as I run. Cool. I think I should learn the names of the songs I love so much. (I don't run with headphones.)
2. I definitely prefer running without sun and when it is cool. It makes it bearable.
3. I keep wondering if it is enough to just finish the triathlon or if I should make a time goal part of the deal. When I am not running, I think I need to set a time goal. When I am running, I think: "It is enough for me just to finish."
4. I wish I liked running more.
5. Dinner tonight will be awesome. Bon Appetit's Thai ribs (yes, I even think about food while I run).

And Bonus thought: Stupid cheap watch that stopped working. Cannot wait for my Garmin to get here!

Now go visit Mollie, too. She thinks way deeper things than I do!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Pomegranate Salmon

Pomegranate Glazed Salmon
Every now and then, plain old fun stuff happens because of the blog or something I've written--someone calls up and asks if I'd like to taste/try/experiment with foods, drinks, tools, etc. (Note to liquor purveyors: very open to all!)...


POM Wonderful, makers of pomegranate juice, asked if they could send on a case of the 100% real deal juice...oh, why yes, of course you can. No strings attached, but my job is to play in the kitchen and yesterday, play I did.

I had lovely wild-caught salmon already thawed. I simply cooked the juice down, added some balsamic, then glazed the salmon with that fruity-tangy glaze. Very simply: a hit. And quite pretty, too. (Ps. Not lost on me that the funny Morgan Spurlock is just releasing Greatest Movie Ever Sold, sponsored by--POM Wonderful!! Go on, click over. Go have fun. Win big prizes. But especially, go watch the movie...for those of you who don't know, Spurlock did Supersize Me.)

8 ounces POM Wonderful Pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 pound wild-caught salmon, cut into slices on the diagonal (for the best surface area)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter

1. Cook juice over high heat (boiling) until it reduces to about 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and stir in balsamic.
Juice, ready to reduce
2. Pat salmon slices dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil and butter in cast-iron skillet until butter just starts to turn golden. Add salmon and cook about 4 minutes. Carefully turn salmon pieces and cook another 3 minutes. Remove from skillet and keep warm.

Slice salmon on angle to get most surface
3. Deglaze hot skillet with juice/balsamic mixture. Remove from heat. Serve salmon with basmati rice and spoon glaze over each piece.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Coffee wakes me. Eggs
sustain me. Wine ends my days.
Who needs any more?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Make Mistakes

Oops. No more lamb jus...
A friend of mine once told me she sends her kids off to school with this farewell: "Make mistakes!" NOt so they can fail, but so they can learn.

Same goes for getting into the kitchen: Come on in. Grab an apron, bring your recipe and cook away. Oh, and on the way? Make a mistake or two. Lord knows I do.

For whatever reason, many people think I cook in a kitchen and never have mistakes. Ahahaha. Picture me wiping tears from my eyes. Not so.

But I will say this: I approach every recipe with my attitude of "how hard can it be?" We are not, after all, talking about brain surgery which, I'll concede, requires more than a list of ingredients and instructions. But that is ALL cooking requires. That, a little confidence and the knowledge that cooking for family and friends should be fun, not a chore.

Case in point? Oh, how about that photo above. That's from Easter Sunday. We had friends over, but we also managed to go visiting during the afternoon, so everything was kind of prepped ahead of time. When I got home, all I had to do was get things going. Lamb was trimmed, layered with fresh herbs, then rolled and tied. Into the oven it went. Potato gratin was mostly cooked and it just had to re-heat. ditto on roasted asparagus, then friends were bringing dessert.

All was going relatively well (okay, I admit, it would have been nice if our dining room table wasn't a desk/woodworking surface, school work catchall, but that is a different argument...er, story, I mean story.)

Then my brain shut down. "Hey, I have an idea: let's just put this ceramic dish directly onto the burner to reduce the juices!" I am brilliant.

A few minutes into it, one simple: CRACK. Then: sizzle sizzle sizzle sizzle....drip drip drip. Ikea ceramics are NOT stove top (or oven top, but that's a different dish) proof.

But here's the moral: It. Did. Not. Matter. I took a photo (duh. It's what I do.), finished getting the rest of the dinner onto the table.
1. It was the best lamb I've ever made (Costco boneless, but I trimmed it to be very lean before spreading it with herbs and rolling it.)
1a. No lamb jus/gravy whatsoever.
2.Awesome potato gratin. Well, you know, if you like your potatoes undercooked (my guests were gracious).
3. Great asparagus (thank you NC Farmers!!)
4. Fabulous chocolate mousse (oh, and Callaloo at the start of the dinner that I just could NOT get enough of, thanks to Nic and Theresa...Nic made the callaloo and coached Theresa in the dessert category. AWESOMENESS.)

And the most important ingredient of the evening? The friends. No one cared we didn't have the jus. The dish sat there until folks went home. And I saved the photo just to say this. Start every day by choosing to makes some mistakes. Life is more fun that way.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


I see them, my sons,
leave the house and I wish I
could have the years back

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Share Some Love/Share Some Links Saturday

What am I reading? Glad you asked.

The nature of the internet is to, at times, stumble on to something fabulous. Here are three great sites I found this week:

Stone Soup. Jules Clancy, the author, says she's dedicating her life to cooking great dishes with only five ingredients. Sign me up, Jules. I love her post honoring Mother's Day and her own mum, "And the love is free: 11 lessons learned from my mother's kitchen."

Loving the Madlab Post, which I discoverd because of our blogathon. After looking at my favorite books, I realize I must want to write fiction/screenplays/novels...um, a lot more than non-fiction (my bread and butter, btw).

And Depression Cookies, because of that fabulous name and because she just wrote about one of my most fave recent reads, Bossypants by Tina Fey, who just ROCKS.

And Eating with My Mouth Open, because Merut is funny, and she gave me some solace when my son had a run-in with a bat (she made me NOT DOUBT my decision on what I did)...especially read the post by her dog, Euma. Very funny, AH-dorable dog.

Check these out, Please!

Short post but guess what: IT'S ANOTHER ALL TANGO WEEKEND....WOO HOO..

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words, Triathlons, Thin (and Not-so-Thin) Food Writers

Lauren and I are ready to Run 10K over Cooper River Bridge April 2011
Make mine a double

What can one say? Photo on the left? Summer, 2008. While those two margaritas weren't both for me, they might as well have been...That's a hard photo to post here...What happened after that? Well, I moaned about being overweight. Lots of good moaning does, huh? Then in Fall, 2009, more than a year later, I decided to join a relay team to raise money to fight amyloidosis (you can read about why I did that here on my cousin Amy's blog; her husband, Paul Hawthorne was killed by amyloidosis in December, 2008). The relay team was doing the NYC Nautica Triathlon, and I was committed to doing the swim.

This meant two things. I would have to be able to swim 1500m (yes, in the Hudson) AND I would have to be in NYC in a skin-tight wetsuit.

The  months between October 2009 and late July 2010 were filled with lap swims and, starting in April, a new eating plan (thank you, WW). By the time I entered the Hudson, I'd dropped 25 lbs and felt good. The race was awesome, I wasn't traumatized by being in NYC in a wetsuit, and it was an incredible experience. I turned in my wetsuit that day and said: never again. It was fun, but I was no athlete.

You know, until 12 hours later when I said: Sign me up for the whole thing!! That's right. I committed to swimming 1500m, biking 40K and running 10K in the NYC Nautica Tri 2011. Only trouble was, I couldn't run. Something had to be done.

I started Couch to 5K (C25K) on the reco of lots of people. I like to refer to it as couch potato to 5K. First week, you only run 60 seconds at a time (followed by walk intervals). But by week 9, you are running 30 minutes straight. No one, NO ONE, was more surprised than I was by this achievement. So in November, I ran a 5K Turkey Trot. Then I ran a 5K with a group I am involved with here in Charlotte, Circle de Luz. Then I ran a 10K Race (Cooper River Bridge Run) with my friend, Lauren, who is in the photo with me and the one who mentioned Cooper River to start with.

Now I am on week 3 of a 16-week program prepping for the whole deal. It's not easy, but I am stronger than ever, healthier than ever, and I can run now. 60-plus minutes at a time.

My point (and I do have one, as Ellen likes to say)--I didn't have to be an unhealthy food writer. In fact, when I started in kitchens, I was thin. I tasted everything, but pretty much ate nothing, I was on my feet for 10 hours a day, lifting heavy stockpots, working the hot hot hot grill, then when I was off (pre-kid, pre-house, pre-too many other things), I worked out, I walked all over NYC--I took time for myself.

I joke that eating is my job, and it IS. But I also have to remember that I while I do pretty much have to eat everything, I don't have to eat ALL of everything.

Add that to the fact that I now remember how important it is to do something for me (the workouts). Somehow, it's easy to forget that for a lot of mothers (especially; I am sure plenty of dads lose sight of the need to take time for themselves). And if, in the meantime, I can make my workouts and the race itself be part of a big cause, like fighting a disease that made my cousin a widow and single mother in her 30s? That works for me.

And if you are STILL with me here, I'll make a quick pitch. I'm trying to raise $1,000 for Paul's Posse--the money goes to the Amyloidosis Research Foundation. You can donate by clicking on the "support a member of Paul's Posse" link on this page. Once on the linked page, select the "donation" button, select the amount and then you'll have to check the "Additional Information" box--enter that the donation is in memory of Paul Hawthorne, and the person to notify of the donation is Barb Freda--that is how the foundation keeps track of our individual fundraising efforts.

(BTW, My goal is for every Friday to be "Photo Friday"--I promise not to talk so much because the picture is supposed to tell the story--I just had a lot to say about getting into triathlon training...)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Make Mine Mozz...

So in the past year, I've decided to take up cheesemaking...you know. In my spare time. I taught a class just the other night and planned on posting fotos and blogging about the class--two people had cameras.

Two cameras had dead batteries.

And since I was teaching, I couldn't exactly run down to apartment and grab MY camera. And besides: I was teaching! Can't shoot fotos of my own self teaching.

All that aside, it was a great class (but, oh, btw, Walgreens? Your Pet milk was the BEST inexpensive brand. I am not so in love with the new brand.), everyone went home with nearly a pound of their own fresh mozzarella and, I hope, plans to make more. And, hopefully word of me teaching cooking classes will spread and spread. We are already talking pasta making, pizza making, bread making and so much more!!

Here's a post I wrote a few months (August, 2010) back about my obsession (and click on the cheese making party in Italy link. I could watch it over and over...):

Obsession and Batch #5

Batch #5

I--perhaps we all do this--I go through bouts of obsession. I've been obsessed with scuba diving. Learning a language. Reading every last book an author has written (Rumer Godden. Still working on that). Knitting. Watercolors.

Obsessions can be lovely things (um, when not destructive, let me clarify). Obsessions consume you so you drink up and drink in everything you can about your new love. Revelations come to you--once I realized every single pattern in knitting was simply a variation of knit or purl, I knitted some incredibly complex things for a beginner--because I was no longer intimidated.

This month's current obsession has been fresh homemade mozzarella. I was late to the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle party. That's the book by Barbara Kingsolver, the one where she and her family "retire" (in quotes--retire to work incredibly hard) to a farm in southwest Virginia. For one year, the family decides to eat entirely local and forgo anything not local (I think everyone got to pick a luxury item--coffee, for example). In the course of the year, they learn to make mozzarella--and it sounds incredibly simple.

So since I obsess about things, especially about the food I read about in books, I decided I need to make mozzarella. And in the course of that decision? I also committed to TEACH a class about mozzarella making.

How hard can it be, right? (And that? That's my life's mantra.) The only ingredients are whole milk, citric acid, rennet and salt. That's IT.

Well. Batch #1. Nice, but solid--too much like string cheese texture (firmer than fresh; too dry). Batch #2. Although the bottle was marked NOT ultra-pasteurized, the milk just curdled. Some reading says even those milks are occasionally over heated and could have been too much like ultra pasteurized. I actually went right out that evening and bought yet another gallon (for Batch #3) of a different brand. I was gentler. I kneaded. I drained the whey (the liquid left over when the cheese curdles. I have seen a lot of curds and whey this week.), I kneaded again...it stretched some and still? Still too hard and dry (not hard--cheese for sure, but not that soft, lovely cheese that is fresh mozz.)...Yesterday I made another batch (Batch #4), still with the inexpensive, store brand not ultra-pasteurized. I went upstairs into the lovely kitchen we have (where I'll be making the mozz in two weeks time)...STILL not what I would be proud of--yes, still cheese, still tasty but NOT RIGHT.

In the meantime I found a video of Paula Harris, the Cheese Maven, on the website at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. I watched it once. I watched it twice. She uses gloves. (What, was I too proud to wear gloves? Did I think that real cheesemakers don't use gloves? If I did think that then I was wrong, but maybe I was trying to be this guy at a cheesemaking party in Italy. I so wish I had  been invited to that party...that water looks intensely hot and that cheese looks incredibly tender and delicious...those guys are appreciating their food. I love Italians...But I digress.)

Yesterday I went to Earth Fare. I bought a gallon of milk in glass jars from Virginia and another gallon of milk from a farm just south of here in South Carolina.

I could hardly wait to try it. It was perfection. The curds came together and stretched just the way they were supposed to. I used the gloves and quickly folded and kneaded, distributing the heat through the cheese. It turned glossy. It stayed soft. I tasted it and quickly ran it down to the office here in the building so everyone could taste warm mozzarella cheese.

Obsession? Conquered. Now to do it over and over and over again. Maybe my next career will be cheesemaker and cheesemonger. Cool.

Now I think I need a big burger. I haven't eaten meat since I started my mozzarella batches.

The Mozzarella Obsession

1.5 tsp. citric acid dissolved in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water (most bottled waters: Poland Springs works) (have ready)
1 gallon whole milk, NOT ultra pasteurized and coming from as close to home as possible (I am completely convinced that this will give you the best, non-string-cheese-like results)
1/4 rennet tablet dissolved in 1/4 cup non-chlorinated water (have ready)
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt (not iodized)

Equipment: large stainless steel stockpot, slotted spoon, thermometer (get one that reads as low as 80 to 100 degrees F), colander, bowl (microwave safe), gloves (You can find everything at NE Cheese Supply Co.--well, maybe not the gloves, but I haven't checked...def. the citric acid, the rennet, a thermometer....)

1. Stir dissolved citric acid into milk in stock pot. Place over medium heat, stir to distribute citric acid and clip thermometer to side of pot. (No clip? Just keep testing milk as it heats. Don't walk away!) Stir gently now and then or simply jiggle the pot (learned that from Paula Harris video).

2.When milk reaches 88 to 90 degrees F, add dissolved rennet and stir thoroughly, but gently and only for several seconds. Reduce heat to low. Now DON'T TOUCH THE POT. Set timer for 5 minutes. When you check the milk after 5 minutes, it should have come together in a smooth mass, looking very much like yogurt.Turn heat off.

3. Use long knife and cut the solidified milk into cubes. Place colander over a bowl and place bowl right next to stockpot. Use slotted spoon to get all the curds into the strainer. Gently tilt strainer, letting whey run off as much as possible. Dump whey back into stockpot and gently turn curds into bowl.

4. Start folding curds over on themselves (do this in the bowl--it keeps the mess down)--you are encouraging them to form one piece, although curds will still escape. Fold over a few times. Drain whey again. Place bowl in micowave for 1 minute (on high). Put your gloves on and (with cheese curds still in the bowl) fold curds over again and again, working quickly to distribute heat evenly through cheese. It should be coming together even more. Drain as needed.

5. Place bowl back in microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds. With your gloves still on, fold cheese over and over again, draining several times. Pat cheese ball a bit flat and sprinkle with salt. Fold over on itself several times again.

6. Place bowl back in microwave for another 30 seconds on high. With gloves STILL on, fold over and over on itself again--at this point the cheese should no longer look "curdy" but should look smooth. It will be stretchy, too--fold over and over on itself (in or out of bowl at this point--there's no more whey coming out of the ball now) until the mozzarella cheese is smooth and shiny. Shape into ball, place on plate. Slice and eat warm RIGHT AWAY or wrap it tightly in plastic and chill.

Practice makes perfect. Batch #6 Chez Babette will be tomorrow. No, I am NOT tired of mozzarella yet.

DEFINITELY check the Paula Harris video out...seeing is believing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Five Favorite Books on Writing (Blogathon Theme Day)

Just listing books on writing is easy. Asking me to pick the top five? Not so much. So I don't want to call these top five, but they are books I think every writer would enjoy.

1. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block. This was one of the first books I ever read when I started writing. I think I really wanted to be a novelist over a non-fiction journalist, but writing for magazines and papers paid. This book is on my mind today because it came up in a Facebook thread--I mentioned it, got the author wrong and had to pull it down from the shelf. Now I'll be re-reading it.

2. Ditto for this book by William Goldman, Which Lie Did I Tell: More Adventures in the Screen Trade. I also read Adventures in the Screen Trade. He writes about what it takes to write great scenes for movies. Both of those books are great reads (see, I just gave you two for one with this listing).

3. Stephen King On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I love this because he approaches it as craft. Hone the craft: write.

4. A Writer's Coach--Okay, this is on the top of my "to read" pile. By Jack Hart. When it came out it got rave reviews and I couldn't resist buying it--"An editor's guide to words that work." It's described as Jack Hart coaching us to write well--"gathering ideas, writing theme statements and outlines, and using the 'ladder of abstraction' to add variety and texture to writing." When you write alone without an editor to bounce your pieces off of, this kind of advice helps.

5. The book I have gone back to time and again is The Well-fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. Perhaps it is not for the creative non-fiction assignments,  but is definitely about getting work. And in the end, that is what making a living doing this is about. Get work. Get good work. But it takes work to get that work, and Bowerman shares all his "secrets" in this book.

Ed. Note: I meant to add this: The other best books on writing are well? Read great authors. In no particular order, some of my faves: Rumer Godden (her novels AND her children's books), Mary Wesley, who started writing when she was in her 70s, IIRC; Alexander McCall Smith (delicate and lovely and funny), Bill Watterson (oh, yes I did just list the author of Calvin and Hobbes. Talk about great, short writing!)--hmm. My faves are all fiction authors. I think I'd better write some fiction. Soon.

(There are a few theme days during the blogathon--this was one of them...I could have tied it back to cooking, but I think I'll save that for another post.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Final Days of Florida Stone Crab Season 2011

And click below to check out my video...
 Barb's Stone Crab Adventure

That's the video I made with VisitFlorida.com when I worked as the "dining expert." I loved coming up with this idea, finding the guy (That would be Ben) to connect with, then Ben finding me a botat to head out into the Gulf with..I spent the night before alone on a house boat, the sides of it dinging up against the dock every now and then, waking me out of the dozing I'd fallen into while watching some TV shows on my laptop to help me drift off to sleep...because I was alone (did I already say that), there were no locks on the doors, the guy at the end of the dock said "don't worry unless the dog barks," and the dog had barked...the splashes into the Suwanee River must have been gators looking to get me...

Oh, but this is about stone crab, right? That was one adventurous weekend. I love being able to tell people I ate stone crab on that dock, fresh in from the boats and fresh out of the steamer (Ben oversees the sorting, steaming, icing and trucking out to restaurants across the state)...

May 15 marks the end of stone crab season, which started way back in October. For anyone who hasn't tasted this Gulf treat, let me just say: you should. I remember the first time I tasted stone crab, when I was catering a posh, intimate dinner party in Philadelphia and the host offered a claw or two to us in the kitchen. I was won over. The meat is sweet, tender, delicate. Just the best.

Stone crab claws (you don't eat the whole crab, the way blue crab is eaten, just the claws) are harvested by independent crabbers in the Gulf of Mexico. It is big business and a good season can make or break a year. I had the rare privilege of going out on a crab boat with one of these guys--you do NOT make yourself at home in these waters, the crab pots are clearly marked and crab guys do NOT like you encroaching on their territory.

The claws are taken from the crabs, which are put back into the water--they find a good mud bed to burrow into and the claw (or claws) regenerate. Talk about sustainable--and the crab seasons have been getting better and better every year. (I hate to think what might happen to these beds and the way of life for these men and women post oil spill. I have not heard about ill effects yet, but it bears watching).

But for those of you who have not enjoyed the treat of stone crab, do yourselves a favor and order up a batch--yes, it's expensive. But live a little. Here are some places you can get the whole deal (stone crab dinners traditionally come with mustard sauce, hash browns or sweet potato fries, creamed spinach and key lime pie for dessert. A pack will come to your door with the mustard sauce and a key lime pie, but you'll have to add the sides on your own). These are not recommendations, just a quick list of places I've found; I follow George Stone Crab on Facebook, I've eaten at Islamorada Fish Company, and Joe's is famous for its stone crab--and its lines of people waiting to get--in Miami.

George Stone Crab

Charlie's Stone Crab
Incredible Stone Crab
Fresh from the Boat Seafood
Islamorada Fish Company

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Weekend in (food) Photos

I spent the past couple of days in the most lovely town of Asheville, NC. It was all about tango (We went to Tango Gypsies' Regional Weekend with special instructors Daniela Pucci and Luis Bianchi, but of course, a girl's gotta eat. I think DH got the full-on pain of having me photograph my food more than eat it for the first time...until now, for some reason, he's never really paid attention. But there was a lot of pretty food this weekend!!

We arrived Friday night and after a tango lesson that defeated me (it was all about the guys giving the women space to do their moves: I'VE GOT NO MOVES YET), we headed across the street to a place called Olive or Twist (heh. cute, right? Get it?)...I really wanted a glass of wine--and got one. The tiniest glass of wine I've ever seen. In the nicest way, G asked about it, and the guy insisted it is 6 oz. ...hm. I'm not saying it wasn't, but my job is to measure things going into recipes, and I am pretty good at measuring without using a measuring cup (no, I don't do that when I'm writing a recipe, don't worry), and if that was 3/4 of a cup? Just saying. Allegedly and all that legal stuff...It was allegedly 6 ounces. I digress.

That aside, I am pretty sure those were hand-cut fries with G's sandwich, so: Awesome.
I had fried green tomatoes with grits--tasty but...maybe not the best pre-dance food....

Anyhoo.We quickly headed back across the street for dancing. Always. Fun.

Saturday morning we had to return to a spot we'd visited on our first trip to Asheville, Tupelo Honey Cafe. They always have a crowd, so they hand you a buzzer and offer you free coffee to sip while you wait: nice touch.
Best Biscuits

Fab Eggs Benedict.
Best Beignets with Honey and Almonds.

Best Servers, too--just didn't get a photo.

Then? Why, more dancing, of course. We had three hours of lessons with Daniel Arredondo from Passion for Tango Charlotte (well, Argentina, but he now lives in CLT). Then a practica (informal dance where you get to talk about steps, practice them, ask questions, allow your partner to offer suggestions)...then off to find dinner.

We headed out with a list of places and stumbled across Salsa's, where a line had already formed...tiny little place, but we were hungry and it looked good.

Margarita. Yes. It was called Perfect Margarita. Apt name.

This Molcajete of Grilled Steak that was just awesome. The sauces/juices were boiling for a full-five minutes after this reached the table. The salsa with it had this touch of sesame oil and some almonds (I think) and there was a fruit salsa of cantelope...clever, refreshing...

Then I had a Margarita. Oh, I already posted that? Well, okay, I had two--oops. Against training regs! No biggie.. I was heading back to dance it off...

Yet another lesson that confused me no end...engage my hips, relax my back. I am not so good at that...but we actually learned the "close embrace" which hopefully will help me be a better follower. Jury is out on that one.

Saturday night ended with a 9 to 2 a.m. milonga (the more formal dance where you should never ever ever correct your partner or offer advice--that's a milonga no-no), danced as much as we could, enjoyed a free chair-massage in between dancing, watched a dance demo with the instructors that was awesome, funny, clever and so cool (tango to Jason Mraz "I'm Yours" was so awesome--I'm doing that next).  Who knew we'd be heading out to dance until the wee hours at this age?

Sunday? Oh, Sunday mornings are for cafes, right? We found Old Europe--great coffee, a little chocolate espresso shortbread,

 a 60-minute run (still in training after all). Then a walk around town to check out the art fair (lovely, local crafts) and back to dancing to a live orchestra, the Asheville Tango Orchestra, which was such a treat.

We danced until we felt we couldn't dance any more,

then got to visit with an old friend, someone I hadn't seen for years, but just found on Facebook last week. A little bit of serendipity put us in the same little mountain town on the same Sunday in May for just a few hours to trade hugs, stories of kids growing up and notes on plans for the future.

It was a good weekend. In food, friends and fun.