Monday, December 27, 2010


i feel guilty.
all the time.

i feel guilty with my
family because i'm not
always available enough/
awake enough/
care-free enough
to be with them
at the drop of a hat.

i feel guilty at work
because i worry that i'm
not the fill-in-the-blank i could
be - because i'm not
tough enough, smart enough,
something enough.

i feel guilty with my friends because
i wish i was better at e-mailing back, texting
back, making regular plans with them, even
though i think about the people who are
important to me all the time and wish that
i was able to show it more with my actions.

and, i feel guilty about this blog.
i started it because i wanted - needed -
a place to be myself, through my
writing, my food and over time,
my pictures. and, it's true,
i did that for a while. but,
blogging, or more specifically,
building a community is not automatic
and i am guilty of growing
discouraged. and then, i moved, which
i've talked about quite a bit before.

i thought i could handle keeping both
going. i thought that even though i moved
an hour and a half away from my job,
and was waking up 2 1/2 hours earlier
than i used to, i would leave work earlier
i'd get home earlier.
but, that doesn't happen.
these past three months are unbelievably
hard to explain - with the exception of a mini
vacation, thanksgiving dinner and, later, a night
celebrating chanukah, i feel as if my life has been,
sleeping and working, with a tiny bit of cooking
and a few hours of glee and modern family
thrown in (we even gave up amazing race this year
for lack of time - if you know us, that's huge).

sometime in there, i realized
i hadn't been logging onto twitter and
that i had stopped reading the blogs
of the people i loved to read.

i have pictures on my camera
from thanksgiving that i haven't yet
downloaded - but will for this post.

i have been kind of striving for
getting by.

and i feel guilty all the time -
that i shouldn't have started this
blog, that i shouldn't try to keep
up the blog anymore,
that maybe i don't have
the level of commitment in me
that a good blog needs.

i worry that at this point,
when i write something, it's been
way too long and no one will care
to or remember, to check.

but, then, things happen.
two blogs that i read, recently
posted their first entry in months.
and, i realized - i don't think anything
less of them for their absence. i was
just excited to see what they wrote.
and, today, when needing a
cupcake recipe, i was so happy to
be able to refer to
my blog,
my diary (albeit a public one),
to find the one i was looking for.

so, it will be hard, but here's
my new year's promise to myself:
no, maybe less guilt.
and, to try to love this blog
for what it is: mine,
and hopefully yours a bit, too.

and in that spirit,
i am also going to make an effort
to try to post more often,
but in whatever way works
in the moment - small entries,
story-filled, or like this one,
a compilation of what's been
happening in my life.
my mom, sisters and i took a trip to disney world to celebrate my mother's 60th birthday. it was an all-girl trip: two double beds, two sinks that were crowded with makeup and hair dryers and what seemed like 50 different chargers for 50 different electronic things. we played the trip like adults - enjoying a delicious african restaurant one night, very good desserts after a somewhat rough meal on the last night, avoiding characters (for the most part) and using the last day to visit the food and wine festival at epcot.
the reason
over there
birthday, night 2
blair and erin
wine and food festival
cookies and cream gelato

a couple weeks later, on thanksgiving - i insisted on making two dishes. my family tried to dissuade me - i had worked a significant amount leading up to the holiday, but i hated the idea of showing up with a bottle of wine or store-bought pie. so, i hunkered down on thanksgiving morning with a significant cup of coffee and started chopping six pounds of kale and peeling and slicing pears.

this cooking experience was not without its faults: i accidentally spilled a healthy splash of milk into the onions that i was sweating, the kale almost boiled over about 5 times, the greens were too salty forcing me to rinse them and just when i thought i couldn't mess up anything else, caramel spilled onto the floor, the counter, my socks and the computer cord when i tried to flip the upside down cake. but, it was all delicious (ok, maybe the cake was slightly undercooked) and company was perfect as always.

creamed kale with caramelized pearl onions from bobby flay (i doubled this recipe and used significantly less butter when caramelizing the onions): this was a huge hit, but if you reheat, i caution you to do what i didn't do: heat separately on the stovetop and then add the onions just before serving.

pear and cardamom upside down cake from the wednesday chef: i loved the flavor of this cake, but it's true that it didn't bake all the way through, even though the top was golden and it seemed solid. i'm choosing to blame the cake strips that i used to prevent a domed top. think what you will.
creamed kale and caramelized pearl onions
upside down pear cake

thanks to our collective busy schedules, we celebrated chanukah several days after the holiday ended. i decided that i wanted to make the mushroom and pecan pate that i had spotted a month earlier. i was very nervous that my family wouldn't go for a pate, so i made the only decision that made any sense: i made a chicken pate, too. i needn't have worried. they were lovely and a huge hit.

tuscan chicken liver pate from food52: delicious and slightly unusual combination of flavors. next time, i would probably eliminate or significantly reduce the cheese, which i felt overwhelmed the the other flavors. i also would process the mixture for shorter amount of time - i think it was just a bit gummy.

porcini and pecan pate from food & wine magazine: this one is a great vegetarian alternative, but slightly flat for my taste. i ended up adding in a bit of olive oil, a little cayenne and extra lemon juice. next time, i think i would caramelize onions and toss them into the food processor before pureeing. i think this was the favorite.
clockwise: porcinis soaking, pecans soaking, portobellas marinating
mushroom pate with rosemary and pecans
chicken pate with sage, capers and anchovy

so that was my november and december.
i would like to believe
that i will post again
before the end of the year,
but let's be realistic.
it was only this crazy snowstorm
that gave me the excuse to spend
time writing,
on my couch,
in my pajamas,
with finally, no where
to go, or really no way
to get there.

so, with that, i want
to say, happy new year.
here's to hoping for more
time together in 2011.
snow day

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

snapshot: polenta and spinach soup

i've known for almost two weeks that
that i would have today off.
the whole time, i've thought about
three things:
1) peace
2) no alarm
3) cooking (and taking pictures)
in the daylight.

see, i need some peace (and quiet)
right now. i need a day of waking up
naturally without that horrible beeping
starting at 5 in the morning. and, you
in good light. or alternatively, i need to
be home in the middle of the day to take
pictures with natural light.

and, i knew exactly which recipe i had
my eye on: lidia bastianich's
featured in last month's bon appetit.
luckily, i fell asleep to a storm
and woke up - blissfully at 8:30 - to crazy
wind. it was a soup day.

first, i changed the recipe.
instead of tossing raw garlic into the pot
with butter, i sauteed
4 cloves finely chopped garlic
in 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter over medium heat
until it was lightly golden, stirring most of the time.
while that was happening,
i brought 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock to a simmer.

when both of those were good and ready,
i pulled out a larger pot and stirred together
3/4 cups polenta with 3 tablespoons
all-purpose flour. i ladled in a cup of the
warm broth and whisked like crazy. next,
i added in the garlic,
2 more tablespoons of butter and
a sprinkling of kosher salt.

then, the mixture
seized up and i considered stopping.
see, i'm pretty tired lately.
although up until that point, everything
had been going along swimmingly, that was
almost enough for me to throw in the towel.

but, i didn't. i came to my senses.
i really didn't want to throw it out -
there were four cloves of gorgeously sauteed garlic
in there for goodness sake.

instead, i ladled in more and more stock,
whisking and whisking all the while until it
thinned out. when most of the liquid was in,
i brought the mixture to a gentle simmer and
continued to stir occasionally for the
next 25 minutes. at one point,
it got a little thick and i was glad to have
that extra stock to drizzle in. when the soup
was nicely thickened, but the cornmeal still
had a bit of texture, i added 6 ounces cleaned
baby spinach and 1/4 cup grated pecorino
romano cheese. i seasoned it well with salt
and cracked black pepper and
simmered the soup for just a
couple minutes more, until the spinach
was wilted.

and then, i spooned myself a bowl of this
soup that was somewhat a porridge,
somewhat very soft and runny polenta,
and in my head, the perfect soup for
the perfect quiet day.

*the key to this soup is seasoning. salt and pepper it to your heart's content, tasting along the way. i added the pecorino romano, and sprinkled a bit on top, because that's what i always do with polenta - i'm glad i did. still, even though, i am always about big flavor, this recipe is all about simple comfort. i would imagine that the soup would get a great boost from a squeeze of lemon, blue cheese crumbles or a bit of chipotle in adobo.

one last thing: make sure that you have extra stock on hand for leftovers - the polenta continues to soak up the liquid, thickening as it cools. reheated with a bit of stock would do wonders for the soup-like consistency.
polenta and spinach soup

Sunday, October 10, 2010

grape leaf pie

slice, missing
i think it's fair to say
that this may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time. and you know,
i make some odd things.

six years ago, i was working
at the magazine, living by myself
in a tiny studio apartment and
needed to make a little more money.
i thought about it for a few months,
hesitant to add another job to
my busy schedule. but, when i found
out that the gym i already frequented
five days a week was in search of a
part timer, i jumped at the chance.
the job helped in two ways:
it gave me extra money.
it gave me a free gym membership.

at first, i struggled with my two
identities. it was hard waking up
early to go to the gym for myself,
come home, shower,
pack a bag, go to work,
drive as fast as i could back to the gym
and then dash into the small changing
room that i entered in heels
and dresses and emerged in sneakers,
workout pants and an old camp t-shirt.

but, before i knew it,
it was two years later. i was living
with larry in our two bedroom
apartment, enjoying the relationships
that i had made with the people who
attended the gym and still resenting having
to wake up at 7am every sunday morning
to open the gym, just as much as i disliked
not getting home until 9pm on monday
and tuesday nights.

and then, i decided to go to culinary school
full time and still keep my monday to friday job.
and, i made the decision that in spite of
the fact that i was putting myself into
thousands of dollars of debt, i had no choice
but to walk away from the little bit of money
that helped bridge the gap between
scared and making it.
i was quitting the gym.

telling my never-there boss was a breeze.
it was the gym-goers, who i had formed real
relationships with, that i was dreading addressing.
but, the gym goers, the ones who had spent
two years working out
while discussing recipes with me,
were wonderful
and supportive.

and one of them, linda, asked me a question
that i had never really thought of before,
but has stuck with me everyday since:
can you taste the recipe before you make it?
she elaborated, can you look at a recipe,
read the ingredients, the techniques
and know what you will
be tasting at the very end?

and, i know it sounds strange,
but every time i think of those two
weird transitional years in my life in which i
was food editor by day/gym something-or-other
at night, i think about linda and how
in the end, her question, forcing me to always
critically examine a recipe before making it,
made it all worth it.
lemon zest, basil, mint, walnuts, shallots
and that's why i had to make this
grape leaf pie. i read the headnote provided,
discussing how unusual of a recipe it was.
i read the ingredients,
a combination of:
greek yogurt,
toasted nuts,
lemon zest,
lemon juice
rice flour.
i read that i, the recipe-maker, was to
line the bottom of a dish with soaked
grape leaves, spread them with the
yogurt paste, cover them with more grape
leaves and after brushing with oil and
topping with panko, i was to bake the pie
and then cut it into wedges.
grape leaf-lined pan
folded over
and i, for the life of me, had no idea
what i would see when i peered into that
savory cake.

would it be firm? a solid piece that
cut into beautiful wedges? or would
it have only firmed slightly, still
holding onto some of that squish
that yogurt is famous for, the filling
oozing out of the sides of the slices? or,
after 40 minutes in the oven,
would it be a scoopable mess?
i didn't know. i didn't understand it.
the directions were easy enough.
just before throwing the cake pan
into the oven, i compared my pie to
the picture: it was the spitting image,
just unbaked. 40 minutes was perfect -
the pie came out with a crispy golden
brown top; the house smelled like
a greek restaurant. i stared at it for
10 minutes.
and then, i started to cut.
the top leaves crackled
and lifted from the filling. the bottom
leaves, more tender, sort of clung better.
the filling was sturdy, handling the knife
like a champ.

and still, i don't know how to describe it.
instead, i'll tell give you
this random collection of thoughts:

-the center of the pie was very firm.

-every time i think of something to compare it to,
i want to say that i reminded me a little bit of tempeh,
but i know that that would turn off people who are
anti-meat replacement products and possibly infuriate
tempeh lovers who once they try it, may think
that this pie is nothing like tempeh.

-if i didn't make it, i wouldn't have known that
there was yogurt inside, holding it all together.

-i wish that i had used more herbs.

-even though i thought that the perfect large
grape leaves would look beautiful on top, next
time i would use smaller ones. i think that they
would cover better and not be so hard to cut.

but, still, i liked it.
i know that's hard to accept,
what with me not really able to give
you any information and all.
but i did. it was light and filling
and unusual and actually reheated
pretty well the next day for lunch.

but, i maintain my stance:
this really may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time.*
grape leaf pie
grape leaf pie
adapted from plenty
i followed the concept completely, but i did make changes based on what i like and what i had in the house: eliminating tarragon and parsley, keeping the mint and adding basil, throwing in two cloves of garlic, switching in chopped walnuts for pine nuts and reducing the oil and butter used. the original instructions said to make and bake in a shallow bowl. i opted to use an 8" cake pan, which worked well. i think.

also, the recipe calls for 20-25 grape leaves. i ended up using 12. i wish i had used more on top because as you can see in the picture, as they baked and shrunk a little bit, they exposed the filling. but, i still think the most i would have used was 16. use your judgement.

last thing. because it's so creamy, i always use fat-free greek yogurt. even though i'm sure the recipe intended for a full-fat yogurt to be used, i wanted to go with my normal pick, but i did have my doubts that it was the wrong move. luckily, the store was out, so i opted for 2%, which i think was fine.

15-25 grape leaves (see headnote)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 container (7 ounces) greek yogurt, plus more for serving (see headnote)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
1 lemon, grated and juiced
1/2 cup rice flour
3 tablespoons panko
salt and black pepper

heat oven to 375˚f.

place grape leaves in bowl; cover with boiling water. let sit 10 minutes. drain; dry well. using scissors, trim and discard any hard stalks on the bottom of the leaves.

in small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat; add shallots. cook 7 minutes, or until just starting to turn light brown, adjusting heat, if necessary and stirring occasionally. add garlic; cook 1-2 minutes more, or until the shallots and garlic are both golden brown, stirring occasionally. remove from heat; let cool.

whisk together melted butter and remaining olive oil.

cover bottom and sides of 8-inch cake pan with grape leaves, overlapping slightly. using pastry brush, gently brush bottom of leaves with butter-oil mixture. set aside.

in bowl, stir together shallots, yogurt, walnuts, herbs, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and salt and pepper; taste and adjust, if necessary. stir in rice flour. using offset spatula, spread yogurt paste evenly in serving dish, making sure to get the filling all the way to the edges.

fold grape leaves evenly over top of filling. top with remaining grape leaves, overlapping slightly and covering well. brush gently with butter-oil mixture. sprinkle with panko; drizzle with remaining butter-oil mixture.

bake 40 minutes, or until leaves crisp and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. let sit at least 10 minutes. cut into wedges. serve with dollops of yogurt, if desired.**

*just as i finished writing this, larry came in and asked what i was blogging about. when i told him grape leaf pie, he said, that was good. when i looked at him, he said, yes, in retrospect, i liked it a lot. it's not that he hadn't eaten it or even complained about it. he just originally had the same what-is-this? reaction that i did.

**i picked up an extra 7 ounce container of yogurt to serve on the side. while i planned to just dollop it, i had a last minute change of heart, squeezing in lemon juice and adding chopped mint and basil. i'm very glad i went that route. i think it added a very necessary something to the pie.