Chocolate Chunk Cookies (with help from David Lebovitz)

I've mentioned before that chocolate has never really been my thing. For most of my life I've favored Twizzlers over Hershey's, reached for shortbread before brownies. Chocolate chip cookies are rarely in my diet or repertoire. But that doesn't mean that I don't know a good thing when I see it.

I've got a hunch that every baker and cookie-lover out there has their own renowned recipe for the cookie equivalent of your favorite pair of jeans. I'm not trying to impose. I've just got to let you know that I've found a good one, one that turned someone who was very much skeptical of the chocolate chip cookie into one of those people who raves about it all over the Internet.


The best cheese I ever made

Though I have long been a pro at eating cheese, since the start of my mongership, I've been finessing the joys of actually tasting it, getting to know my cheese - all of its likes, dislikes, stories, and deep-dark secrets.

For example: the gloriously gooey, fabulously orange Meadow Creek Grayson, a beefy, buttery masterpiece that smells enticingly like a boys' high school locker room, is coincidentally crafted by the Feete (!) family in Virginia. I love that. 

Tasting and tidbits aside, I had been craving some truer intimacy, that along the lines of the magic I experienced as Cynthia revealed to me the power of rennet and cutting curds. With no cow (or sheep, or goat, or water buffalo) of my own, I've turned to Murray's, which doesn't have cows either, but is very well connected to those who do. Enter: Mozzarella making.


Where I've been

I'm not brave enough to calculate the days that I have so guiltfully been neglecting this space. And I won't dribble off the excuses I've crafted for the few dear friends who have still bothered to check day after day for excuses. Instead I will tell you all about where I have been, and hopefully win back your love and following. Because, few but loving readers, I am...back!

The time that I have managed to keep track of is that spent at new job number one, one that I had fuzzy ideas of announcing to you via the creation of a chronicling of my education and discoveries while there. While that may one day happen I won't keep the secret any longer: several weeks ago I began my adventure as a cheesemonger at New York's esteemed Murray's Cheese. At this point announcing that actually feels like a feat, something it doesn't often enough. I'm remembering when we made cheese on the farm. As Cynthia cut the milky mixture that had magically transformed to a tofu-like consistency, releasing whey as her knife crisscrossed left and right, my mouth dropped a little in wonder. My adoration of cheese became a fascination. Curled up in the casita I began to daydream of apprenticing at the cheese farm in her village.

It's maybe from there that my Murray's idea sprouted - a chance to learn and sample to my belly's desire. Still new to me, my cheesemongership (!) has been just fun, and full of cheese and wonderful, fascinating information about that cheese that I am now vowing to share in this space at some undetermined interval. I hope there's a little bit of cheese dork in you. And that you'll still stop by even if there's not.

More to come!


There's no knead

In my enduring quest (months, on and off) for the ideal bread recipe - the one most suited to my tastes, lifestyle, and capabilities - I read this article in the New York Times a few weekends ago. Ruth makes Jim Lahey's bread every day. Though I've made his breads before (well, one, once), her approval was an appealing invitation to get back to it, a decision I have been enjoying with apricot jam and butter for the past two weeks.  

The hardest thing about this recipe is mastering the timing. Taking a total of about 23 hours from start to finish, it requires a little more planning than oooh bread for dinner sounds lovely, let's get on that. The good thing about this recipe is that while bread for dinner may sound lovely, eating this bread any time of the day or night is indeed a lovely experience. 


Sesame + peanut butter

Growing up, this dish was known at home as "Chinese Chicken Salad" (sometimes it was a lot more salady than this). And though it was not a frequent guest at our dinner table, it was a loved one, possibly made even more special due to its sporadic visits. Honestly, though, there is nothing not to love, and I don't doubt that even if I were forced to eat these chewy, creamy, oh-so-satisfying noodles every day of my life that I would not love them any less.

The name - Chinese Chicken Salad - ceased to be an accurate description for this heap of noodles and peanut sauce when I began to make it in my own kitchen - sans chicken. Instead it became "you know, those peanuty noodles, the ones that taste like takeout but better." So much better. Everyone always said yes! oh yes! upon its mention as a dinner prospect.


Flowing with milk and honey

Israel, I was always taught, was known as the land flowing with milk and honey. Nothing against Israel, but for me, the land where milk and honey run freely was Argentina. 

It was there, at Cynthia's, amidst daily jugs of Margarita's milk and cans of home-harvested honey, that I was first introduced to honey vanilla ice cream. I have remembered this ice cream often, but it is only now that I look back and realize how central ice cream was to experience in Argentina.
You see, ice cream is a thing down there. It was what I had for lunch on my first day, and what I looked forward to every weekend during my excursions into El Bolson. I've mentioned the weekend routine before, but left out the ritual of Jauja, pretty much a gem of an heladeria in Argentina. Jack Johnson songs were always playing inside, while outside messy lines decorated Jauja's patio where fifty flavors crowded the menu board. After my first visit and several samplings I began to plan my choices days in advance.


Soup made for summer

I'm not sure what it was that tempted me so. I had never made or even tasted corn soup before. But there was something about it and I knew that I really wanted to do both.

And so, in between sending off a monster load of applications, make corn soup is exactly what I did. Perspiring over the pot, as the air outside raged at a muggy 90-something, I questioned why any sane person would dare attempt this in the summertime, but as the local potatoes began to blend with the local tomatoes and the corn brightened to a fragrant and brilliant yellow, it became clear that summer is the only time to make this.
Often potatoes flounder in soup; tomatoes are dull. Even corn, frozen in the dead of winter, loses its crunch. But this August, it seems soup - kernely corn soup - is precisely what these veggies were harvested for.


The lure of lore

When we made jam with Cynthia at the farm she sterilized her jars by slowly heating them in the oven at 100º C. Her oven didn't have any gauge of temperature. Sé mi horno, chicas, she told us, grinning, an invitation to share her secrets. Just as Cynthia knew her oven, and when it was going to rain, she knew how to make jam, bread, ice cream, beer, and champagne. All without a recipe. Without anything but her plastic kitchen scale and her contented smile. She just knew.

Cynthia started with recipes. Every so often she'd pull out her penned catalogs - pages of loose leaf with happy notes from former apprenticeships and classes. She brought them out to share with us. She no longer needs them; her work in the kitchen has become her friendly routine.

With Cynthia as our guide the volunteers and I voraciously jotted down partially translated scripts from our days spent learning in her kitchen. I flip through mine and find the menu for Christmas dinner, stick figure-like sketches reminding me how to shape bread into braids and pretzels, recipes for butter and empanadas, but the dulce recipe, the one for jam, is missing.

Finding dozens of recipes for apricot jam - each a variation of the one that came before - I turned to another guide, Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking-the Science and Lore of the Kitchen. I recall Cynthia as I read his explanation. With every recipe she served a story, an elaboration, an explanation. McGee knows the true science of the kitchen, but Cynthia, with her magic kneading hands and dulce de leche marbles, knows the lore.

Apricot Jam 

about 5 cups of apricots, halved and pitted
about 1/4 cup of water
3 3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

A little bit about jam making (learned from Mr. McGee):
  • Jam making is a process that involves  cooking fruit to extract its pectin. The combination of heat and acid will eventually break down the fruit. 
  • Once the fruit has broken down, sugar is added and the mixture should be rapidly brought to a boil to remove the water and cause the other ingredients to concentrate, forming the jam. Boiling is continued until the temperature of the mix reaches 217-221º F or 103-105º C. 
  • McGee explains that a fresher flavor is produced when this cooking is done at a gentle simmer in a wide pot with a large surface area to allow for greater and quicker evaporation. 
  • At last, an acid is added, and the readiness of the mix is tested by placing a drop on a cold spoon to see if it gels.
So. Stick a spoon or dish in the freezer.

Place the apricots and water in a large, wide pot. Cook at a medium heat, stirring frequently, until the fruit has mostly broken down. Then add the sugar and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil quickly, still stirring frequently. Once boiling for several minutes, reduce the heat until the mixture is at a gentle simmer. When the mixture has condensed and most of the liquid appears gone (if you have a thermometer, the temperature of the mix will be 217-221º F or 103-105º C) add the lemon juice and mix to incorporate. Test the readiness of the jam by placing a drop on the chilled spoon or dish. If when you push the mixture gently with your finger it wrinkles instead of sliding back to its original position, the jam is ready.

Can or store accordingly.


A Canadian dressing

Though I lived in Montreal for four plus years, very few particularities of Canadian cuisine managed to seep into my repertoire. That's why I keep my Toronto-born friend Aviva around - to give me a little taste of what I've been missing.

The day after I returned from my trip this summer I met a visiting Aviva in Brooklyn and hauled her back here for a home-cooked feast. We celebrated my return home and her stateside visit by stocking the fridge and soiling the counter with a mess intended to be tortellini. While I hunched over oozing and tearing pockets of dough my dear friend located a little bottle of one of Canada's finest offerings - pure maple syrup - and converted our salad into one delicious bowl of expat.

Aviva's Maple Dijon Vinaigrette 
Drizzle over greens or any basic salad. The dressing is sweet, not mapley. Cover and refrigerate surplus.

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small glass or mug combine mustard, syrup, olive oil, and vinegar. With a small whisk or fork whisk or stir quickly until the ingredients have blended into a thicker, cohesive mixture. Taste, and if desired, add salt or pepper.


Tales from the road: cobble, cobble, cobbler

This is a story from my road trip, about some pie that I had, and the cobblers it inspired. 

Just a few hours from home, fueled by a hankering for pie, Joe steered us from the highway to the Arrowhead Drive-In Restaurant in Milton, Pennsylvania. This was our last taste of the road.

I had been saving myself dinner at home, but sitting at the counter surrounded by octogenarian regulars I caved. We split an order of chicken and biscuits - Special Number Two.

Though the menu was for some reason irresistible, pie had been the draw and it was pie that proved to be the most redeeming of the joint's offerings.

The owner made each pie from scratch, and liked to go out back, behind the restaurant, where she planted a messy tangle of rhubarb, to give her baking a local flare.

I came home wanting desserts made with summer fruit I wished I had growing in my backyard. All summer I had been yearning for berries and peaches and plums and cherries. Quite by chance I found myself faced with two bundles of blueberries and an eagerness to not only throw them atop my morning yogurt, but also to let them star in the wonderful concoction known as cobbler.

With the opportunity to make two cobblers in the span of a week I got to try to recipes that I had my eye one. Below is a combination of the two, the recipe for a darn good cobbler.

Mostly blueberry cobbler with cornmeal biscuit 
adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts and Smitten Kitchen

1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature, for dish

For fruit filling:

4 cups peaches
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
2/3 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, about 1/2 lemon
1/2 fine sea salt

For biscuit topping: 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup buttermilk

To skin the peaches: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Slit an X in the bottom of each peach. Slide into boiling water and let sit for about 30 seconds, just enough to blanch, but not enough to cook at all. Remove them, and once cool, being peeling off the skin from the X. It should slide off easily. Pit the peaches and slice.

Preheat oven to 425°. In a medium-sized bowl, toss peaches with blueberries, sugar, flour, lemon juice, and salt. Butter the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish and gently pour the fruit mixture in.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into the dry mixture using your fingertips to blend until it has formed pea-sized balls. Stir in buttermilk with a rubber spatula until a wet, tacky dough comes together.

Plop spoonfuls of the biscuit dough over the filling; don’t worry about covering entire surface. Bake until the cobbler’s syrup is bubbly and the biscuit tops are browned, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

Best enjoyed almost immediately, but keeps for a few days in the fridge.


A cooperative eggplant

The first time I tried to make this was a disaster. It was during my second year away at school. I was living in my first apartment, cooking for myself for the first time. Vowing to steer clear of ramen, I relied on basic takes of my mom's classic recipes.

She called me one afternoon, as she often does, to rave about a recent find - an eggplant salad, calling for feta, one bowl, and only a half hour of oven-time.  An eggplant enthusiast, I planned to make the dish for my next meal. With no copy of the recipe in front of her, she advised I search the New York Times website. It has to be the only eggplant salad you find, she said. Indeed I did only find one. It just wasn't the right one. And what ensued wasn't bad, but it sure wasn't good (due to no fault but my own).

Though my mom mailed me a color photocopy of the real recipe shortly thereafter, I was never again inclined to make the dish. I've had it several times since then, when upon eying the jungle of mint leaves crowding her pots my mom whips it up each summer. I've loved it every time, for, as the newspaper article accompanying the recipe proclaims, it's a cool, clean take on eggplant. It wasn't until I made the dish, though, and became enchanted by its simplicity that I truly understood what all of the original fuss was about.

Summer Eggplant Salad with Feta and Mint
found here, from the New York Times

I followed the recipe almost exactly. The dressing becomes clouded and muddy in the most delicious of ways. I used about half of what the recipe calls for. It keeps well refrigerated.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 3/4 pounds eggplant (any kind, or a mixture), trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 pound mixed bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 2/3 cup)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together the oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Toss eggplant with 1/3 cup vinaigrette, reserving the rest. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake, tossing occasionally, until tender and golden around edges, about 30 minutes. Let eggplant cool somewhat. (It can be warm but not hot enough to melt feta or wilt mint.)

Whisk garlic and capers into reserved vinaigrette. In a large bowl, combine eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and mint leaves. Toss with vinaigrette, sprinkle with feta. Serve immediately or within several hours.


Tales from the road: of goat cheese and farms

This is a story from this summer's road trip.

From San Francisco Joe and I continued our route northward to Applegate, Oregon, a spot not too far past the state border decorated with farms and two-lane roads. It was to one farm in particular where we were headed, a family farm where some of Joe's friends work for the summer.

It was Sunday. We packed the car early and bid adieu to chilly San Fran and our bed - adorned with not one, not two, but three duvets - that we borrowed for our stay.
The day steered us along terribly windy roads miniatured by Redwoods, to a teeny overpriced gas station, and a lone general store that offered the makings of an ideal lunch: a well-stocked deli counter and thick homemade brownies.


Tales from the road: San Fran one bite at a time

I know I shared my fantasy of daily updates, but, friends, Internet access has been an unkind stranger. So bear with me as I search for wireless and in the meantime plan stories and recipes to share in the future. For now I do not cook, but I present you with a peak at people in San Francisco who do.

Kelley, I owe you big-time, girl. Were it not for your love affair with the city of San Francisco and your current unemployment allowing you unbridled time to indulge your friends, I would nevereverever have discovered the food wonders you suggested I try.

Kelley is a brand-new friend who spent all of her twenty-some-odd years in California, but now resides in Brooklyn. She has only seen snow once, has - I've come to learn - artfully well-tuned taste buds, and knows all the hippest, most tasty places to tantalize them.

San Francisco is the one stop on my California road adventure where it seemed possible to avoid breaking out the bills every time hunger roars its mighty call. You see, Joe and I are staying in a friend's apartment, and that apartment so conveniently features a lovely yellow kitchen and the necessary appliances for creating a home-cooked meal. The ventures we've made outside of the kitchen, as per Kelley's wise word, have been positively phenomenal and very well worth the (usually small) fare we've doled out. The excerpts that follow are not intended as reviews, but are merely an opportunity to relay my delight of the few eateries I've sampled


run, forrest, run

Since March I have been waking extra-early before work, regularly visiting a well-shaded trail in a neighboring town, and repeatedly tracing a selection of streets in my own. I've been training, you see - not for a "Who Love Bergen County Roads Best Bee, but for a race, one that I will run this Sunday in sunny, never-been-seen-by-me San Diego.

The race is San Diego's take on the Rock n Roll Marathon. Take back your gasp. I'm only running half. Still that's a whopping 13.1 miles.

Completing a marathon has been on the "things I really want to do" list that I sometimes compose in my head for a number of years. I keep this list in mind, yet don't consider achieving the goals until I know that I can actually make them happen. At that point I write down the task, and in the case of the marathon, I runrunrun. That's not exactly how this went down.

When I was introduced to Team in Training in March, an organization that would not only help me, but benefit others as well, I was struck by the urgent impetus to commit on the spot. With three months to go and a handful of reservations nagging sporadically in my head, I signed up to run farther than I have ever before and to raise a sizable sum that would make its way to people living with blood cancer.

Without getting into it too much, I'd like to let you know that TNT is a truly impressive organization - supportive, legitimate, organized, and kind. Training and fundraising have given me direction in the past three months.

Friday marks the beginning of the culmination of all of that. It also marks the beginning of what I'm hoping will be a wonderful summer - one that involves me, my dear friend Joe, and his trusty car. We'll be tracing the coast from California up north before making our way back east. With this trip I hope to bring you a daily chronicle (or almost-daily, depending on Internet availability) of our days on the road. The form that this will take has yet to come to me. But I have a lengthy flight tomorrow to figure it out.

I baked a variation of 101 Cookbook's Marathon Cookies to celebrate, commemorate, and fuel me for the occasion. They're delightful lumps of protein, power, and spicy goodness. I highly recommend them if you're inclined to carry snacks on summer activities, or like to eat cookies for breakfast.

Finally, if you would like to donate to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, first thank you! and second, you can do so here, at my fundraising page.

(Half-) Marathon Cookies
adapted (only a little) from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks

2 c rolled oats (not instant oats)
1 c whole wheat flour
1/2 tbsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
zest of one lemon
1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt

one 15-ounce can white kidney, great northern, or navy beans, rinsed & drained
1/4 c olive oil
1 c natural cane sugar (or brown sugar)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 c chopped dates
1 c sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees and place a rack in the top third. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Pulse the oats in a food processor (or blender) until they resemble a raggy flour. Transfer the oats to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, lemon zest and salt.

Pulse the beans and olive oil in the food processor until they are creamy. Add the sugar, egg, dates, 1/3 c sesame seeds, and vanilla extract and pulse until smooth. Scrap down the sides of the bowl once or twice along the way.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until the ingredients start to come together.

Place the remaining sesames seeds in a bowl. Form each cookie with a scant 1/4 cup scoop of dough. Roll each scoop of dough into a ball then coat it with sesame seeds. Set each ball on the prepared baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten the dough just a bit. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving at least an inch or so between each cookie.Bake for about 15 minutes or until the sesame seeds around the bottom start to get golden.


And I'm Off!

Hello, dear friends. A quick goodbye. In ten minutes I am off to Israel for ten days. Exciting, no? I had meant to leave you with a recipe for mango sorbet that I made yesterday, but, as you may have gathered, this will have to wait until my return when I will post it along with tales of falafel and hummus...


Exponents and Empanadas

The only time Cynthia mentioned any form of math was when she taught us to make empanadas. Though we used packaged dough - much quicker and foolproof for the unfamiliar American clan she was hosting - she bestowed on us the secret precisions of the homemade equivalent. Cynthia is a woman who acts most often by feel and intuition. She's this way when kneading bread, and when sensing the spoonful of honey she adds. She knows it's right by feel. Yet certain things, I observed, seeking for rhyme or reason, she believes have a way certain way of being done. One such thing is the process for making her barres de cereal. There is an order in which she toasts the ingredients in a large pot on the stove, a set amount of this and that which are permanent additions.


Juicy Beautiful

Wearing an orange tee shirt, Shradha met me as I was stepping out of the car. Leading me to the dining area he said my name and very little else. The room was small and painted salmon. Orange sheets were draped in tents across the ceiling and six wooden tables lined the room’s perimeter. I slid into the booth. Shradha snuck into the kitchen. He reappeared seconds later balancing a metal cup and a shallow dish brimming with colors. He slid these to me and left me alone to consume my first impressions of Eco Yoga Park.

A twenty-something-hour bus ride, followed by another shorter one that was a pleasure in comparison, a quick pickup from a stranger, and a taxi brought me there, a small Hare Krishna farm community located a few hours outside of Buenos Aires in Argentina. This is where I would spend my next two weeks.


Overnight Oatmeal

You may recall that I'm beginning to think that breakfast is great. It's especially great on mornings when needing to be out of the door at 7 in the morning, ready to start the day, smile, tell you're coworkers you're great, thanks, how are you when really you're ashamed about yawning too much and wondering when it's no longer to soon for coffee. On these types of mornings, which are increasingly becoming my types of mornings, it is particularly great not only to eat breakfast, but to have it be prepared well before you are.


One potato, two potato...

A woman of habit, one who finds comfort in routine and is only slightly prone to biases, I like to eat what I've known. For example, matzoh balls. I won't stand for anything fluffy, anything large and airy that allows a spoon to glide effortlessly through. I love them dense. Heavy and hard, like golf balls, my mom says. They're what I was raised on.

I just envision certain foods a certain way, and most often, that way is the way that my mom prepares them, the way that her mom prepared them, the way that I've always had them.

It is no surprise that I'm partial to my mother's potato salad. I'm no stranger to variations and find no fault in these different types, but I strongly believe that of the many makes, one is superior, fool-proof, and decidedly remarkable. I have backing. And it's not from my siblings.


I heart your tart

The Internet connection at work died for several hours today. That was when I realized that absolutely every single one of my tasks requires the use of the World Wide Web. At first the break was comical. The hallways erupted with alarm, a domino chain of irritation, as neighbors of the shared office space scampered through the hallway: "Is it on for you?" "What about your phones?" "Howaboutnow?"

It's hard to look busy when there's really nothing to do. Like the others, I too became frustrated, refreshing my homepage every three seconds, or so, sighing often, growing sleepy. Everyone would be happier, I thought, if the owners mollified us with ice cream. Others seemed to think a rent deduction would be a better fix.

Ice cream never came, and it was over three hours before the Internet did.


Cooking for one

Two years ago following a Saturday night Halloween celebration, I developed a very wonderful secret habit. It stemmed from another not-so-secret habit of mine: whenever I enter my home I head straight to the kitchen, usually to the spot where I am wedged comfortably between the fridge door and its shelves - easy access to leftovers, whipped cream, and the like.

The problem with habit number one two years ago, way back when I was living in my beautiful pink-walled Montreal apartment, was that save for eggs, plain yogurt, and a head of cauliflower, my refrigerator shelves were routinely bare.

True to habit when I returned home in boozy splendor that Saturday I marched straight toward to the kitchen, but I couldn't face the sadness that was my empty refrigerator. Cauliflower wasn't really going satiate my late-night hankering for something carby and delicious. My pantry was better equipped than my fridge. I had pasta, and a plan - simple as could be, and outrageously satisfying.


The type of cookie you'll make twice

Though these are a Passover dessert, I can't imagine anyone who would not like them. Unlike the packaged Manischewitz macaroons of my youth, these are decadently sweet, full of texture and color.

I first made them last year, when I was living in Montreal. The first batch was devoured so avidly - by Passover-observers and coconut lovers alike - that I was compelled to whip out another for my family before heading back to New Jersey for the holiday.

These may be perfect for Passover, but I'd gladly eat them year-round.


When you make chicken soup...

'Twas the weekend before Passover and my mom was in menu mode. Cookbooks, magazines, and newspaper clippings cluttered the counter, the messy piles burgeoning as the week went on.

Though guests were limited to immediate family this year, my mother was still plagued by the usual planning predicaments: which of of the three flourless chocolate cake recipes she should make - with almonds or not? - and should the charoset have dried fruit or just nuts. Clasping recipes she cornered me in the laundry room for consultation. Almonds sound good, as does some fruit in the charoset, and let's have fruit for dessert as well, while we're at it.


Working woman

Gosh! It's been a week already since I've been here last. Don't think I haven't been counting the days. While this may look like a legitimate post, I must assure you it is nothing more than saving face, a quick hello, and a lame excuse.

The truth is I'm pooped. Today marks the end of my first week on the new job. It's really gone swimmingly so far; I'm settled, productive, and almost accustomed to waking at seven to make the potholed trek from New Jersey to Brooklyn. At the end of the day I am thoroughly exhausted, feeble as a floppy doll, incapable of writing so much as an email.

That means while I have spent a great deal of time thinking about food (mainly baked eggs and polenta) I have approached the stove only to taste what others have cooked for me. While that's fine and dandy, I do miss fending for myself, and I'm so looking forward to next week when the shock of adjustment fades and I will no longer end my days so depleted.

Thanks for bearing with me.


A knish, the most delish

I said goodbye to Montreal on Saturday, an unusually spring-like day, the kind that wheedles out dogs and babies and makes you wonder where all these people hid all winter. It was a kind that made saying goodbye difficult. I had racked my brain for things to do on my last full day. What did I love most about the city? What would I miss most? Not for lack of loving or for potentially missing, but I could think of almost nothing. I felt uninspired, or just full, as if I had extracted everything from the city that I could, as if there were nothing left for me, no more that I could possibly take.

That was, of course, until I drove away, seemingly abandoning the optimism of spring. Fleeting satiation gave way to a hazy realization of untapped potential.


Two jobs, and one wonderful dinner

Happy March!

Montreal is looking more like April than its usual blustery brand of March. The only remaining snow are the banks crusted into nooks where sunlight cannot reach. People are walking the streets in sweatshirts and sunglasses.

Yet despite this wonderful yet curious turn for the best I woke up yesterday in a bit of a funk. I had neglected to turn the "on" button for my alarm when setting it the night before and therefore woke up a mere fifteen minutes prior to my anticipated departure time. And this was not just on any old day, but on my first day on a new job - as a waitress in a graduate student restaurant-bar on McGill's campus.

No, this isn't exactly what I wanted to be doing, but with my nebulous plans this job seemed like it would be a-okay. Until I walked in, with a puff of optimism, and I realized it would be just that, just okay, just passable. I think the deflate I felt was actually detectable. I'm back. Here. Again. It was actually my first time there exactly, but I had spent my summer working in a similar environment, an experience I now fondly think of as amusing. Walking into the basement restaurant, grim and shabby, the dull routine of it all, the rush, the fabricated importance, and the aching feet I came to dread over the summer seemed all too imminent and unbearable.

I turned on my perky-eager face, looking for the good in my scary boss, irritated and unhelpful, and made it out of there thirty bucks richer and otherwise not so much worse off. A really wonderful thing happened next, though. I was offered a job, eh, an internship, but still, a paying position, one that doesn't make me recoil, and one, I think, that will be very good for me.

This is, of course, good. The job excites me, the prospect of something new inspires me. But it is also bittersweet. So very not long after I left, I will be returning to New Jersey. And so very not long after I became settled again in Montreal, I will be saying a final adieu to the city and the people I love here.

The night I broke the news was filled with relief, quiet excitement, and a very successful dinner. As the apprehensions of actually leaving begin to sneak into my consciousness I'm wishing that every night would be so lovely and easy.

Penne with White Beans and Sage

I owe the pureness of this meal to my grocery shopping boycott. Trying to save money, I hadn't gone in about a week, and refused to once I learned that I would be leaving town shortly. The result, you see, was serendipitous. Concerned the dish would be plain, I overcompensated with olive oil. Adding glug after glug of olive oil until the beans seemed right, I didn't actually measure the amounts. Because the ingredients are few it's important to use quality; you will taste every one. I had sage leftover from the butternut squash risotto, and I found it to be particularly appropriate, but a number of fresh herbs could also do the trick.

2 cans white beans
about 1/4 c - 1/2 c olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 branches of sage leaves, chopped, about 4 tbsp
1 lb penne rigatoni pasta
salt and pepper
freshly grated Parmesan

Bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente. Meanwhile, chop the sage leaves, twisting a bunch together and slicing thinly, and mince the garlic. Drain and rinse the beans.

Heat a large frying pan over low heat. When hot add a few drizzles of olive oil, enough to generously coat the pan, and then the beans, stirring to coat all well in oil. In a minute or so add the garlic and sage, mixing well. Keep the mixture heating over low heat, adding olive oil in drizzles occasionally until the beans are hot and flavorful, and the mixture has become slightly thick. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the pasta when it has cooked. Return it to its cooking pan and drizzle with olive oil or melt 1tbs butter to coat lightly.

Serve in a shallow bowl, adding pasta, then a generous spoonful or two of the bean mixture. Drizzle a little olive oil and serve sprinkled with Parmesan to taste.

Serves 3 -4.


Another trick I learned at the farm

I've been trying to write a post about this risotto for days. Nothing I think of seems appropriate.
The recipe is inspired by a dish that the volunteers cooked at the farm, a squash "risotto" made with your regular run-of-the-mill white rice and a homemade vegetable stock born from otherwise unusable scraps. I must admit that I actually had no part in the risotto's creation; I was a mere but keen spectator, one who obsessively scratched down the recipe and photographed it, before sampling and offering my greatest praises.

Before this adventure last week I had never made risotto, never been inspired to. In fact, I had rarely eaten it. I recommend doing both, though. Risotto is rich and satisfying, and I love it for its versatility and inherent simplicity. Even on the farm, when our resources were limited, our squash boiled, and rice so completely unspecial, the dish was impressive.

The flavors of roasted squash and sage are sophisticated, yet the process for combining them here is straightforward. Take this recipe and substitute almost any seasoning or vegetable addition. Peas and mushrooms also create a satisfying combination.

Toasted seeds make for a resourceful hors d'oeuvre, and a happy memory of cooking on the farm's temperamental stove, when dinners were always a toss-up, but never a disappointment.

Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto and Toasted Squash Seeds

1 medium-sized butternut squash
6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1 tsp minced garlic
5 tbs grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper

40 - 50 minutes before planning to start the risotto begin to roast the squash. Preheat oven to 450°F. Halve squash lengthwise and remove the seeds, but do not throw them out. Cut the squash across into slices, about 1 1/2-inch-wide, and season with salt and lightly with olive oil. Place the slices skin side down in a shallow baking pan or cookie sheet in the middle of the oven until they are soft, 40 - 50 minutes.

As the squash is roasting, clean and dry the seeds. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and other spices if you like. Toast them in a frying pan over medium to medium-low heat drizzled with olive oil, stirring occasionally so the seeds do not stick. They are done when they are lightly browned or begin to pop.

When the squash is finished, set aside one slice per plate that you will serve as a garnish. Keep these slices warm. Remove and discard skin from remaining slices and cut into 1/2-in pieces.

Bring broth to a simmer in a large sauce pan. Cover and let simmer as you cook.

Meanwhile cook onion in butter in a heavy pot over medium heat, stirring until softened, about 6 minutes. Add rice and garlic, and cook, stirring about 3 minutes to toast the rice and blend the flavors.

Stir in 1/2 cup simmering broth, or one ladleful, and cook stirring frequently with heat at medium until the liquid is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and letting each addition be absorbed before adding the next, until rice is creamy-looking but still al dente, about 30 - 40 minutes. The rice should look gooey and thick, like a creamy soup. The key is to stir constantly so the liquid does not boil. It is okay if you have leftover broth.

When the rice is cooked stir in squash pieces with cheese, sage, and salt and pepper. Continue stirring to blend flavors. Do not hesitate to thin the risotto out with leftover broth with necessary. Serve immediately, topped with shaved slices of Parmesan.

Serves 4.


My hat, it has three corners

My second year of university was the first time I made hamantaschen on my own. My roommates and I hosted a Purim party, baking dozens of cookies and requiring our guests to attend in costume if they wanted to sample. I hadn't dressed for Purim since I was little, when I wore the typical costumes of princess and the dreaded Haman. That year, when I was nineteen, I wore the Raggedy Anne costume my mom sewed for me when I was eleven.

The party was wildly successful. In the hours before our guests arrived no less than six lovers of hamantaschen packed into my yellow kitchen. I remember little but the mess, mixing the dough in a massive plastic red bowl, and my dear friend Sophie - whom I hardly knew then - brewing the poppy seed filling on the stove.

I had never fathomed of making the poppy seed filling from scratch. Left to my own devices - clueless as to where one could buy the filling, or even buy poppy seeds for that matter - I would have stuck to trusty apricot, always a pleaser. But Sophie's assured assembly has forever inspired me. Not a Purim goes by when I don't make my own.

My roommates and I thought that every Hamantaschen had been devoured that night. Months later, though, on the morning that we all moved out, after we sort of scoured the kitchen and moved out the table and couch we kept in there, a sole triangular cookie surfaced on the floor, completely intact and looking as tasty as ever. I like to think that someone stashed it in a secret spot, saving it for later. I know that's a whimsical notion, but the cookies, they're that good.


This isn't the same dough that I first made years ago, but it's one that I have used since and have come to love for its balance between bready and light. Using whole wheat flour isn't vital, but adds a certain texture and color that I appreciate in a hamantaschen. Don't skimp on the orange juice and zest, which create a refreshing tang and complement just about every fruity filling I can conceive.

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into chunks
1/2 c sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp grated orange zest
1/4 c orange juice
filling of choice - apricot and orange jam, prune butter, and poppy seed are traditional

In a medium bowl, sift together dry ingredients the flours, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl cream the butter and sugar using a hand mixer until they are light and fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, zest, and juice and mix until combined, using either a wooden spoon or the mixer. Add the dry ingredients little by little and mix until just combined. Cautiously add a little water or orange juice is the dough is too dry. The dough shouldn't be sticky, but it should hold together and feel smooth. Form the dough into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours before rolling.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll out one disk of dough on to about 1/8 inch thick, keep the other refrigerated until ready to use it. Using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or jar (I used a Bon Maman jam jar) cut out about 3-inch circles. Keep the scraps covered and refrigerated until you're ready to use them again.

Fill the circles with about 1 tablespoon of whichever fillings you have selected. Fold up two side, pinching ends together, and then the third to make a triangle shape with a pocket in the middle. Transfer gently to a baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 -15 minutes.

yields about 3 dozen

Poppy Seed Filling

1 c poppy seeds
1/2 c milk
1/2 c honey
1-2 tbsp lemon zest, and several drops of lemon juice to taste
1/2 c golden or sultana raisins, optional

If using raisins, soak them in water overnight. The raisins are not necessary but add texture and sweetness. If you're feeling extra industrious, combine the soaked raisins with the poppy seeds in a small blender and blend briefly or mash them using a mortar and pestle until the raisins have broken down.

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook at a simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the liquid has boiled off. Let cool before filling the cookies.


I used to eat

I can tell you every single thing that I ate within the past week, down to the handful of almonds and cup of tea. I have trouble, though, remembering what and how I ate as a child. I remember that my sister ate her hot dogs with the skin peeled off and that I had mine skin intact, but plain as could be. I know that my mom's hot chocolate was a mix of boiling water and Swiss Miss, but that for the longest time I found chocolate in any other form unpalatable. Lime Jello and flat 7-Up were reserved for sick days. For many years Carvel ice cream cakes, the kind with the cookie crumbles layered inside, were a staple for my birthday. I remember going out for pizza every Friday, and how I was often compelled to eat the cheese separately from the dough, a floppy brain-like slab without its topping. These little dishes come back to me, but the details of dinners, dislikes, and favorites seem for me to be gone for good.

Another more established food blog, Molly Wizenberg's Orangette, inspired this walk down memory lane. A few years back Molly was tagged to write about childhood food memories. She found the task to be a bit taxing, but I, though unlike Molly was not passed the writing torch, find the concept enticing.

Hardly the essence of my childhood eats, the foods and instances that follow have, unlike most others, are the ones vibrant enough to have left an imprint in my recollection.

Beach Bagel
I lived in Connecticut, not far from the beach, for the first seven years of my life. My summers involved frequent visits. I remember little but the irksome feel of sand that clung like magnets to our beach chairs' metal legs and the red cooler my mom loaded with fruit, diet Cokes, and aluminum-wrapped sandwiches. In my memory the sandwiches were always bagels, mine gummy and dense, slathered with cream cheese, and finished with tomato slices. I don't often eat cream cheese now, but whenever I do, I'm brought immediately back to the pleasure with which I ate those bagels. I imagine I usually ate sitting in our beach chairs, the plastic woven ones whose seat sunk into the sand, my knees lined with sand and my finger nails positively caked with it. My sandy state and the mess with which I think I lived most of my childhood made for a sandwich seasoned with sand. I relished it, actually - no sandwich was complete without that crunch - just as I delighted in the tomato seeds that dripped to my thighs.

Dairy Queen
The Dairy Queen closest to my house is legendary, at least I always thought of it that way. It was the only place around you could count on seeing people from town and its peeling old-timey facade suggests a story of affection. Seemingly set at random in an empty lot forming the corner of a busy intersection, the ice cream shop is little more than a shabby hut. You must understand, though, that this is the appeal. Other Dairy Queens are flashy, commercialized; the Montvale DQ is two sticky window slots through which you shout your order, two glass walls plastered with images of blizzards and florescent floats, and, most notably, a once neon sign, paint peeling so that the vanilla cone it flaunts looks grey. Though the old-school advertisements that lined the DQ's walls in my childhood have since been replaced with contemporary counterparts, its menu never acquired the hot dogs and other fast food fare that newer, flashier Dairy Queen menus now boast.

It was a treat to drive to DQ on summer nights, not as much for the ice cream as for the ritual that getting it entailed. I don't remember ever eating it on the store's benches, or standing in a circle among friends in the lot as many do. My family almost always consumed Dairy Queen in the trunk of my dad's Jeep, parked in the messy lines that somehow came to organize the open lot with its back open. From here we could enjoy in privacy, fart at will, and observe the busy streets around us.

My order was consistent, almost always a vanilla milkshake. I loved everything about those shakes, so artificially and quintessentially vanilla, effortless to consume until the last quarter when my stomach bellowed from the saccharine syrup. The remainder often came home with me to be saved for the following day, and although the ice cream would have likely held up better in the fridge, I always stored it in the freezer, and then gave it a spin in the microwave before revisiting it.

Braided Everything Bagel Sticks
Grandpa Seymour's always brought gifts when he visited. Two dollar bills and braided everything bagel sticks stand out most in my mind. The sticks were the same as any doughy well-seasoned bagel, except for that the dough was twisted into a stubby braid. The shape made the eating experience evermore thrilling for a child, especially one, who like me, enjoyed (and does to this day) playing with her food. My eating style was calculated and only slightly destructive. I tore the bagel apart, unraveling the twist and eating each of the dense tresses on its own in pieces I broke apart.

He brought the bagels in a brown paper bag. I only remember him bringing two - one each for me and my sister. To my mom those bagel sticks were like glitter: strictly forbidden everywhere but the garage due to their sweeping mess potential. So my sister and I ate them outside, on the deck or in the front lawn, or, though my memory could be misleading me, inside, standing over newspapers.


A weekend away

Monday afternoon I left the lake house just outside of Great Barrington, Massachusetts where I had been staying since Friday. The weekend was quiet, my days occupied with lots of eating, an occasional skate on the lake, and frequent musings of what my life would be like if I never left and took over management of the cheese shop in town.

But leave I did. With an application to the store folded neatly inside my copy of The Poisonwood Bible, Joe and I set out for Connecticut via route 63. The road winds through old moneyed towns. I wanted every house we passed to be my own. The sprawling properties invited cows and expansive gardens, both main players in my fantasy future.

On the opposite side of the road Joe spotted a sign that inspired him to halt dramatically and backtrack into a detour. His mother was expecting us for dinner, but the sign advertising the Rustling Wind creamery this way prevailed. We had been talking of making butter and I missed the milk I drank in Argentina and mornings spent with the cows.

We pulled up to Rustling Wind as Joan, the owner, was leading her cows into the barn - just in time for milking hour. The cows' udders were laden and seemed to be an impossible weight hanging from their bellies. Joan kept her store in a building alongside the barn. She sold sweaters and gloves that she knit, jams she canned, and local goods I imagine she had from neighbors. Cheeses, yogurt, eggs, and milk lived in a small refrigerator. A small wooden box with a slot lay by the entrance alongside a pad and a note - pay here and write what you take. The selection of eggs and milk was depleted by our arrival, but when we told Joan about our intentions she disappeared into her work kitchen, skimmed off a quart of cream, sold it to us for five dollars, and invited us to say hello to her sheep and goats.

We sacrificed most of the cream for whipping before butter had a chance (it will soon, though), and proceeded to enjoy it in coffee for the rest of the week.

All I want to tell anyone about the past week is cheese. While I plan to be a prolific cheesemaker when I land one of those storybook houses where I can keep cows in the backyard and sell my dairy goods like Joan, I have had only one attempt of my own. I made ricotta in the fall and cannot remember why I have neglected to write about it. I did, though, think a photo was worthy of the header shot for this site. If you've been wondering what the white chunks at the top of the page are, you know now: ricotta.

Homemade Ricotta

2 quarts whole milk
1 c heavy cream
1/2 tsp kosher or sea salt
3 tbsp lemon juice
cheese cloth

Line a colander with a cheese cloth and set it over a large bowl. Measure out the 3 tbsp of lemon juice and set aside.

Slowly bring milk, cream, and salt to a boil in a heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add the lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined colander and let it drain for an hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered. It will keep refrigerated for two days.

Makes 2 cups


Happy Valentine's

Quintessential Brownies
Halving this recipe will still yield a sizable batch

6 oz (1 c) bittersweet chocolate
2 oz (1/3 c) unsweetened chocolate
1 1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 c flour
1 c semisweet chocolate chips
confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 13x9 pan, or 9x9 pan if halving the recipe.

Melt the butter and chocolate (but not the chips!). In a large bowl combine the sugar, vanilla, and eggs. With a wooden spoon, stir in the melted chocolate and butter. Add the flour and chocolate chips. Mix until just combined.

Pour into the pan, evening out with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes.

Dust with confectioner's sugar.


Why I love breakfast

Breakfast, like many aspects of my life at the farm, was a sort of ritual. Nearly every day at roughly the same time, the volunteers ate the same thing - quick-cooking oats - made in the same pot with the same spoon from the same neon-colored plastic bowls. When the weather was nice we would eat outside, perched on or alongside the tree trunk table just outside the casita.

Each meal called for certain condiments that we'd transfer from the warped shelves above the stove to the table just before eating. Breakfast required the most extensive selection - jars of honey, ground flaxseed, raisins, bee pollen. The tables would be completely covered with them and our arms would tangle as we reached across to grab them.

In the beginning we made just oatmeal, cooked in our biggest pot. When one day our supply was low, Lucy suggested we add polenta to bulk it up. There was no going back after that. Polenta became a delicious must. When we had apples we would chop them, scatter them over mix, and when we had extra milk, we would add it as well.

When Lucy left, Kat took over the oatmeal duty. That meant Sarah and I were responsible for gathering the jars and preparing the bowls alongside the sink so we were ready to go as soon as the oatmeal was.

The processes of every morning were very much the same, yet no two breakfasts were alike. I looked forward to every one, and missed them on the weekends when started the day with coffee and pastries in town.

For years I used to forgo breakfast. In high school I'd occasionally remember to make oatmeal to carry with me in a plastic cup on the ride there. Coffee and a banana sustained me in college. Coming back from Argentina, though, I found myself craving homemade breakfasts - not pancakes or eggs, but big bowls of granola or muesli, and a side of oatmeal, fortified with polenta, of course.

Orange Granola

6 c rolled oats
3/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/2 c sunflower seeds
1/2 c copped walnuts or cashews
1 c raisins and cranberries
grated zest of 2 or 3 oranges
1/2 c honey
1/4 c orange juice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cardamom

Preheat the oven to 300 F.

Place a 9x13 roasting pan (a baking sheet will work, too, but the high edges of the roasting pan are helpful) over a burner on medium-low. Pour the oats into the pan and cook to toast them, stirring occasionally for about 3 -5 minutes, until the oats begin to change color and become fragrant.

Add the nuts and seeds. Cook, stirring frequently for another two minutes or so, until they become lightly toasted as well. Remove from the heat. Add the orange zest, honey, juice, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and dried fruit. Mix to thoroughly coat the oat-nut mixture with the spices and sweeteners. Spread the mixture evenly on the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring twice so the granola does not burn, until it is evenly golden brown and no longer moist. The granola can begin to burn very quickly, so watch it carefully.

It is okay if the finished granola still feels slightly soft when it comes out of the oven. It will crisp as it cools. At this point you can stir the granola a bit so it doesn't harden into connected pieces, if you like looser granola, or let it cool completely before breaking it up for a chunkier granola.


Three ingredients, one pot, forty-five minutes

My mom and I spent a dinner out at an Italian restaurant last week marveling at the complexity of the sauces at our table. They looked so basic - two in particular - yet contained so much flavor. The two that had our attention most were seemingly standard red sauces. Both were hardly flecked with herbs; one was more textured than the other, though both were essentially smooth and thick. They were different, though. Naturally - two different sauces for two different dishes. These dishes were the most simple on our table. We wondered what made the penne marinara just as remarkable as the extravagant seafood ravioli in creme sauce.

I'm not sure, but the answer could be butter. A little butter makes most foods a lot better. In the case of this sauce, a lot of butter elevates tomatoes and an onion to a whole new level of richness.

The world of food bloggers has been up in arms about this sauce from the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for quite some time now. I'm not familiar with this cookbook, and I don't know who was the first to share. As I am only a voyeur of this community, it took me a bit longer to stumble upon this here and then decide I couldn't make it quick enough.

A friend walked into the kitchen only minutes after all the ingredients hit the stove and yelped. Oh butter, he sighed sniffing madly. He commented every time he came back in. It felt a little wrong to accept any credit; the recipe wasn't mine, and I had hardly done a thing to prepare it. Forty-five minutes on the stove is all the three ingredients need, save for an occasional stir. A can of tomatoes, butter, and a halved onion, discarded when it's done.The deliciousness lies in the simplicity of it all.

Dinner was another batch of garlicky broccoli rabe with peas alongside a scoopful of spaghetti covered with a dollop of sauce. Joe and I ate silently, save for the occasional slurp and mmm.

Though everyone refers to this as Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, to me it's the 45-minute Tomato Sauce.

The 45-minute Tomato Sauce or Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan

I've shied away from making tomato sauces in the past because while they're easy to make, they're not always easy to make really really good, and mediocrity is always a shame. But with only three ingredients and this much hype you can't - and really shouldn't - resist.

The recipe says to discard the onion before serving the sauce. Do take it out, but don't discard it! It will be soft but heavy with flavor. Eat alone or spread on a baguette - maybe with a little extra smear of butter.

one 28-oz can whole, peeled plum tomatoes and their juices
5 tbsp unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes and their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, at a very slow but steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary, for about 45 minutes, until droplets of fat float free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and salt as needed.

Remove the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

Serves 4 as a main course; makes enough sauce to lightly coat most of a pound of spaghetti


Moving on up

Hello there! It's Monday. I've been rewriting, and deleting, and thinking nonstop about posting since Thursday. I've missed writing.

I'll cut to the chase. I'm in Montreal. To stay. (!) I took the train on Thursday. The route cuts ever-so-slowly through small-town upstate New York, passing barns with peeling paint and snow-bathed farms so quintessential that more than one passenger sat pressed to their window, camera in hand.

Montreal is lovely - wintery, frigid, but sunny, and happy. I have yet to see the rut of February that seemed to plague the entire city the past couple of years. My days have been full - of saying hi, scouring Craigslist jobs, organizing, and not nearly enough cooking, writing, or reading. This week I begin volunteering here, in the kitchen and as a deliverer, and I've decided to bake a bread a week. Though things are beginning to come together, for the past few days I've felt in a peculiar transition, as if I'm reconciling my life here in the fall with what I've done since then, especially with the very comfortable routine I had created in New Jersey.

Of course, each day is more regular than the one before. I spent a bit of yesterday morning in the kitchen. Inspired by the sweetness of oranges lately, and my apparent penchant for all foods orange, I made this orange jam, which, though it has the sweetness and taste of jam, has a texture more akin to that of a chutney. Regardless, it's delicious on bread, in yogurt, or on its own, and making it made me feel good.

Orange-Coriander Jam

4 oranges
2 tbs fresh coriander
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c high-quality orange juice
juice of 1/2 lemon
seeds from the lemon
1- 2 tbsp diced orange peel (optional)

Cut the oranges into quarters, saving as much juice as possible. Peel each quarter and cut into small bits, reserving as much of the juice as you can. Remove some or all of the pith if you like, but save the seeds if there are any. The pith won't dissolve much as you cook the oranges. I left a substantial amount on for the texture. Tie the seeds in a cheesecloth. They add pectin as you cook the fruit down.

Thoroughly wash the peel of one orange quarter. Dry, and finely chop, removing the pith. Remove the seeds from the lemon and tie in a cheesecloth with the orange seeds if there are any or on their own. Finely chop the coriander.

Slowly bring the oranges, lemon and lemon juice, orange peel (if using), and seeds to light boil a medium-sized saucepan, stirring constantly. Over medium or medium-high heat, mix and mash the oranges as they bubble and breakdown. Add the sugar, using a little more or less depending on the sweetness of the fruit. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 minutes until the fruit has broken down almost entirely and there is a chunky jam-like consistency. Remove the seed bag. You can can this, or just pour into a glass jar and let cool before storing refrigerated for up to one week.

note: the orange peel adds a bitterness to the jam, so use accordingly


Waste not

This weekend I found an August 2006 Gourmet sandwiched in my mom's stack of Thanksgiving magazines. She perused it later and found a recipe for the bunch of broccoli rabe she bought.

I enjoyed it very much last night, and found the leftovers around lunchtime today. They were hanging out next to some chickpeas leftover from a batch of hummus, and when I was standing in the door of the open refrigerator contemplating my midday meal they told me that they wanted me to enjoy them together. Since I love chickpeas, broccoli rabe, and the garlicky peas they were sautéed with, I complied.

Garbanzo-Broccoli Rabe Salad

Since I made this with leftovers everything was cold, and the broccoli-pea combination was prepared separately, intended to be eaten on its own. I think the salad tastes best cold or at room-temperature. I've reduced slightly the amounts of garlic and olive oil called for in the original broccoli rabe recipe so those tastes don't overwhelm the lemon.

1 can garbanzo beans, washed and drained
1/2 lemon
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1 1/2 c frozen peas
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Trim the ends of the broccoli rabe. Discard, and cut the remainder into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook the broccoli and peas in the water until the broccoli rabe stems are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain well.

Heat the oil and garlic over medium-high heat in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the broccoli and peas. Turn the garlic frequently until it is golden, 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and peas to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring until the vegetables are well-coated with oil. Allow to cool, slightly, or cover and cool until serving.

In a large bowl combine the broccoli rabe and peas with the beans. Squeeze the lemon over the combination. Stir gently to mix, adding the cheese and mixing it as well. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve immediately or cover and chill until serving.
serves 2-3


Orange you glad

I've been doing a lot of recipe-following lately now that I'm back at my parents' house and not relying on my own devices for dinner.

Of course most recipes can stand for a little spontaneity or adjustment, but when you're baking a birthday cake for your very talented-in-the-kitchen mom (who has made the cake several times before and swears it's divine) and expecting to feed it to four other members of your family, you sort of want a guarantee that you're making something good. I do, at least. And so, I've been following a lot of recipes. All, curiously, are orange-colored. Yesterday it was Ina Garten's carrot cupcakes, but in cake form, and the cream cheese icing from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: the Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery. Before that, it was Ina's soup. And in between David Lebovitz's pumpkin ice cream. It feels a little cheap to share these experiences with you; they're not fully mine.

Still, successfully replicating a recipe invites a certain satisfaction. Altering it to make it your own, a completely different one. But it's a whole new triumph to concoct something all on your own.

My most recent concoction was lunch, and it was mostly mine. I borrowed nothing but inspiration from Mark Bittman, who wrote about a citrus salad a few weeks ago in the New York Times. On a sunny afternoon last week, spurred by a fruit drawer filled pretty much to the brim with citrus (thanks, Mom!), I decided to peel and slice myself a little lunchtime treat. This was more effort than I tend to invest in lunch-making. When I was in school I most often ate a pint of yogurt or a bag of baby carrots and hummus that I sneaked into the library. But, again, it's gratifying to create - the idea, the mess, the meal, the success. And then, satiated and pleased, you can clean it all up, which, when you're home with little to do, is a whole other welcome activity.

And a lunchtime treat it was! Far more colorful than yogurt and far more exciting than my usual salads, which tend to be a bit more traditional, based on greens and inspired by whatever nuts and cheese I have around. This one was juicy, tart, and it looked like summer. Will you hate me if I call it Sunset Citrus Salad? I'll refrain, but not without mentioning that it also tastes like summer. Citrus, unlike most salad-making staples, is in season now - not in the lovely state of New Jersey, but at least in the States - so it's particularly tasty now.

Citrus Salad
3-4 mixed citrus fruits, depending on size (I used grapefruit and orange the first time, and added a blood orange the second)
1 tbsp kosher salt
2-3 tbsp red onion or scallion, chopped
1/3 c cottage cheese

for the dressing:
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tbsp raspberry or red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper, to taste

Begin by slicing off the two ends of the citrus. Rest the fruit on one end, now flat, and remove the peel and pith by slicing vertically with a small, sharp knife. You want to remove as much peel and pith as possible, so there is no white left on the fruit. When the peel and pit are removed, turn the fruit on its side and cut into round slices. Arrange the fruit in a shall dish or on a plate. Sprinkle with kosher salt, coating each piece well.

Chop the onion. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, and honey. If you like, you can season with pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the fruit, and then dress. Finish off with a dollop of cottage cheese.

* You could also substitute the cottage cheese for crumbled feta cheese.
serves one


Staying in

This morning I woke to snow. It made everything seem better.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade I wrote a poem about a girl who believed that wishes made on the first snow would come true. I think of that poem periodically and it came to mind this morning when I saw the snow and shimmied deeper under my blanket. I tend to recall the poem with a tinge of embarrassment; I was so proud of it then, but the notion now - of poetic snows, wishes, and firsts - seems too idealistic and trite.

Since I was away for December and most of January, today's snow is my first of the year (I'm disregarding the wet surprise Montreal saw one afternoon in October). I've been staring at it for hours, thinking my eleven-year-old self may have been onto something. There is something very beautiful about the snow, something fresh, something quiet, and, I think, something magical. It's a tabula rasa in a way, wiping away what was there before and replacing it with something untouched.

Of course, there is also something about snow that makes you crave soup and blankets, and, happily, something about it that makes spending - yet another - entire day at home, alone, cozy, not dull.

Winter Squash Soup
adapted from Ina Garten's Barefoot in Paris
serves four, and is wonderful leftover

My mom requested that I make this soup one night when she bought squash and we were home alone for dinner. Her recipes tend to be intricate, but this one was so simple, and so delicious. Both she and my sister have made it a number of times before and claim that my batch had a completely different flavor. It may be the squash, its flavors maturing as the season goes on, or it may be, as my yoga instructor suggested about practice one day, that you get out what you put in.

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp good olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions (about 2)
1 15-0z can pumpkin puree
1 1/2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks
3 cups of chicken stock
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy-bottomed stockpot, add the onions, cook over medium-low heat for ten minutes, or until translucent. Add the pumpkin puree, butternut squash, and chicken stock. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer for about twenty minutes, until the butternut squash is very tender. Puree the soup using the medium blade of a food mill or an immersion blender. I like mine thick and chunky. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve with grated Gruyere, creme fraiche, or croutons.


Whip it good

There was a time when I didn't like coffee and when hot chocolate was far too chocolatey for my vanilla-loving palate. In those days - when I was no older than ten - the only appealing offering in coffee shops was whipped cream. When I used to accompany my parents I would ogle cups of hot chocolate decorated with a generous hat of whipped cream. When they ordered me one I'd lick off the top in a single slurp. I couldn't stomach the chocolate, though. I'd swirl the liquid continuously making wonderful chocolate designs until it was time to leave and I could throw it out. It wasn't before long that my dad thought of a solution: skip the chocolate, keep the whipped cream. He'd plop me at a table, disappear to order drinks, returning shortly with his steaming cappuccino and, for me, a cup filled to the brim with whipped cream.

I wasn't a picky eater. I just really didn't like chocolate. Whipped cream and white rice, however, I liked. Really liked. I enjoyed them as much plain as I did combined with other foods. I still do.

On the farm this winter we rarely ate dessert. The volunteers' oven lacked a door for the first three-quarters of my stay, and we spent the majority of weekends eating enough ice cream and pastries to tide us over for the week. But one evening when we had plans to make a simple pasta dish, Sarah spotted the cluster of rhubarb in the garden. We'd been neglecting this rhubarb, and it wasn't likely to live much longer. How do we feel about rhubarb compote with whipped cream, sarah asked. I felt good, really good. Because I love rhubarb, and I love compotes, but I love whipped cream more. And this whipped cream, I suspected, made with raw cream from Cynthia's lovely half-Jersey Margarita and whipped by hand, would be particularly delicious.

It took us hardly twenty minutes to whip the cream into dense smooth peaks. We cooked the rhubarb with gooseberry jam and little sugar to concocting a tangy, flavorful sauce. It was a wonderful treat on its own, but when paired with the whipped cream, mmmm. I ate some truly delicious meals during my stay on the farm, but that whipped cream....

And almost the whole dessert - all but the sugar - came right from our farm.

Rhubarb Compote
serves four

10 stalks of rhubarb, peeled and chopped
3/4 c sugar, or to taste
berry jam with whole fruit or large pieces (optional)

Combine the rhubarb and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, making sure the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat to low, stirring regularly until the rhubarb is soft and the mixture resembles a soft jam. Add berry jam if desired, as much or as little as you like, stirring the compote regularly so it does not burn. Taste to see if it needs more sugar. When the compote has reached a consistency you like, turn off the heat. Let cool. This compote is best when served warm or at room temperature with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream. Use the best quality of cream you can find, unpasteurized if possible.