Saturday, June 18, 2011


Memory is strange and mysterious.  Over time we can't really tell whether something happened truly as we remember it or if our memory has somehow recorded an altered history. It's as though our brains are revisionists allowing us to remember only certain fragments or parts of experiences be they good or bad.    

One of my fondest childhood memories is strawberry picking with my mother and younger brother after the end of school each year.  I grew up on Long Island, the child of two educators.  My mother had basically the same schedule we had so on the last day of school (which was always a half day in my dim memories) she would take us out to the east end of "the Island" and we would go strawberry picking.  Sometimes my father was there which makes me doubt that this always happened on the last day of school.  I recall plucking the succulent little berries off the bushes and popping them (unwashed of course) right into my mouth.  They would be sweet, juicy and warm from the sun.  For every one we put in our container I'm sure we ate three or four, minimum.   I remember coming home full of strawberries, tell-tale stains on my hands and clothing and feeling happy and lucky that my mother had decided to take us.  I remember how much fun it was.

Now that I'm a parent I understand the importance of traditions and once my daughter started school I reinstated the end of school strawberry picking trip.  I often wonder about my mother's memories of those trips and just how reliable my memories are.  Did we always go *on* the last day of school?  Did my brother and I actually get along (because I don't have any memories of disagreements with him on these trips)? How much picking did we really do versus my poor mother (and father)?   

I often think about what my daughter's memories of these trips will be some day.   We have now taken 5 of them and while I'd like to think I'm making memories that will last a lifetime I do wonder what she will conjure up when she recalls these trips.  Will she remember how I taught her to carefully look into the center of the plants?  That by gently moving the leaves aside she would be rewarded with perfectly ripe berries that other, less patient pickers had overlooked by only picking from the edges?  Will she recall me shouting for her to come to a particularly plentiful plant so that she could be the one to have the satisfaction of  picking all the berries from it?  Will she remember feeding the animals at the farm and how gentle the donkeys were?  I am fairly sure she'll remember the homemade ice cream as a reward for all of her "hard work" in the fields.  I hope she will remember how much fun it was.

I also wonder what I will remember one day far into the future.  Will I remember how I was the one left in the field picking by myself while my "hot, tired and itchy" child decided  she was finished after 20 minutes of picking?  Will I remember how I was "so unfair" and "saved all the good ones" for myself to pick?   Who knows if I'll remember today at all  

I hope I will remember the look on her face when she found that one perfect berry and asked if she could eat it right then and there and I said yes.  I hope I will remember how she bit into it and her eyes lit up at the taste of that perfect strawberry as it hit her mouth.  I hope I will remember her berry stained hand clasping my equally stained hand as we rode back on the tractor to pay for the berries. I hope I will remember how much fun it was.

Strawberry Sorbet
(adapted from Claudia Fleming and Melissa Clark)
Yield: 1 quart (which is NEVER enough and why I usually double the recipe)

I have a freezer that is packed to the gills.  But every summer, just after we go strawberry picking, I am sure to make room for the ridiculously large bowl of my ice cream maker in it.  Why?  Because of this recipe.  This is the recipe my copy of "The Last Course" automatically opens to when I take the book down from the shelf and flip open the cover.  This strawberry sorbet is worth the effort it takes to carve out some space for the gigantic bowl and worth the patience to wait, wait, wait for it to freeze adequately.  The key to this sorbet is making it with the best possible strawberries you can find.  Unless it's the peak of strawberry season it just isn't worth making.   Each spoonful is bursting with luscious flavor if you capture the berries at their best.  If you live in the Northeast make it in the next few weeks or wait until next summer.

  • 1 quart fresh strawberries (the BEST you can get your grubby little paws on), rinsed well, hulled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 cups simple syrup (recipe here)
  • 1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice (I prefer lime but most people seem more likely to have a lemon on hand)
  1. Toss the strawberries with the sugar and let the mixture rest for 2 hours.
  2. Transfer the berries to a food processor or blender and puree with the water until very smooth.  Strain and press on the solids to extract all of the juice and flavor.  Discard the solids.
  3. Transfer the puree to a bowl and whisk it with the simple syrup and lemon or lime juice.  Cover and chill until very cold (at least 3 hours or overnight).
  4. Once properly chilled (this step is essential) freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.
  5. Try to be nice and share with others.  Keeping it all to yourself will be extremely tempting.

Self Portrait of Us.  June 18th, 2011.  Alstede Farms, Chester, NJ

Friday, June 10, 2011

There Goes My Perfect Attendance Record

I missed a day.  So much for 30 days in a row.  I nearly fell asleep while reading with my daughter at her bedtime and then I went to bed early myself.  Sometimes one needs to sleep more than one needs to write.

It's just that I don't really have all that much to say, every single day.  Those of you who know me in the real world are probably shocked at that pronouncement.  Believe me, I've got PLENTY to say.  It's just not all that interesting.  But if I am going to publish something here for public consumption I feel pressure to produce a piece trhat is  at least remotely worth holding one's attention for at least a few minutes. 

I think for some people the exercise of writing every day is necessary because they are WRITERS and it definitely requires a large amount of discipline to commit to such a task.  But I'm not a writer.  I'm not sure what I am (that's another blog post or several sessions with a qualified therapist).  I *am* someone who definitely wants to blog more frequently than once every 3 months or so (ahem) but every day is a bit much for me. 

I am going to press on and continue blogging (almost) every day in June because I have been enjoying it and the response from my readers (aka my friends) has been rewarding, positive and flattering.  But I need your help.  Is there anything you would like to see here?  A specific recipe?  Kitchen hints?   Tips for weeknight dinners?  Kid friendly recipes?  Cook once eat twice recipes?  My opinion on Le Affair Weiner?  Let me know.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Copping Out (Or Link Love)

I might be violating the NaBloPoMo rules with this post but I *just* finished up a sizable work project and I don't have any creativity left in me for the day.  So instead of trying to force myself to write something witty, interesting, or plain old self-indulgent (because really what else is a blog but self indulgent) I am going to list a few blogs and websites I like to visit.  Happy reading!

In no particular order:

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It's Too Darn Hot

I spent the winter complaining about the cold and the snow (Since when do I live in Minnesota?).  I spent the "spring" (using that term very loosely) complaining about the rain (Did I move to Seattle in my sleep?).  And now that it's almost summer I'm already complaining about the heat.  Today it hit 87.  Tomorrow's forecast calls for 97.  In early June.  In NYC  (Wait, this isn't Southern Florida, it's New York).

When it's this hot the last thing I want to do is cook.  I have a powerful stove that generates a lot of heat.  Turning the oven on isn't even a remote possibility.  Boiling water is about as far as I'll go and that's being generous.  But I have a family to feed and I'm trying to eat healthier so constantly ordering in isn't really a long-term option either.  So I'm going to let you in on my little secret: instead of cooking I assemble

And now you can too.

Top 5 Simple (almost) No-Cook Meals to Beat the Heat

1. Fruit salad, yogurt, granola
Yes this can be dinner.  You can be extra lazy and buy the already cut-up fruit at the grocery store.  Top it with some good high protein yogurt (I tend to favor the Greek kinds - Chobani and Fage) and some crunchy granola and you have an easy, cool, refreshing, filling dinner that is also kid-friendly.

2. Chilled Soups
Cold soups are the perfect antidote to hot, humid, hazy weather.  I love gazpacho, chilled yogurt cucumber soup, cold vegetable purees....  I confess I tend to buy these already made at Fairway or Trader Joe's.  Once tomato season rolls around I'm more apt to make my own gazpacho.  It just involves a lot of cutting and a swirl in the blender.  Tonight we had store-bought gazpacho topped with some shrimp I boiled in well-salted water and a dice of fresh avocado.  One pot, one cutting board and voila dinner was done.

3. Salad
Salads can be surprisingly filling and satisfying.  You just have to go to a little effort to make them interesting.  Load up on crisp greens and top with a variety of ingredients.  I tend to go for a lot of different textures and flavors in my salads.  For something creamy try avocado, a soft cheese or perhaps a buttermilk-based dressing (see my Ranch dressing recipe here).  For added crunch vegetables such as green beans, radishes, peppers, celery and cucumbers are great. Nuts, seeds and croutons also add a nice texture.   Sweetness can balance out the plate - try dried fruits like cherries, apricots or cranberries or even fresh fruits - watermelon, peaches and berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries) are great salad additions.  If you feel you're lacking protein add in beans, lentils, eggs, chicken, fish, steak, etc.

4.  Brinner (aka Breakfast for Dinner)
It doesn't take too much heat to cook up some eggs or even pancakes.  Try an omelet loaded with fresh vegetables and a sprinkling of cheese.  It's delicious and tres chic to enjoy it with a glass of chilled white wine (pretend you're in Paris).  Pancakes made with half whole wheat flour and topped with fresh fruit also make a satisfying fun dinner once in a while.  And I promise it will be a hit with your kids (if you have them).  If not, be one for a night.

5.  Pretend You're in Greece, the Mediterranean or Italy
Tzatziki, pita, olives, grape leaves, tomatoes, cucumbers, take-out rotisserie chicken = dinner.
Hard cheese, olives, sausage, proscuitto, a baguette, some fresh fruit and grilled vegetables = dinner.
Hummus (look here - a recipe!), falafel, baba ganoush, pickles, tabouli, greens, pita, olives - dinner.
You get the idea.

So what do you do when it's too hot to cook?  I'm always looking for some new ideas.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dining Out(side)

As school draws to a close this week (the more you pay the less they go) thoughts of summer creep in.  One of my favorite things about summer is the ability to eat outside.  Whether it's an intricately prepared meal or sandwiches from the deli on the corner, food just tastes better out of doors.   Think about that the next time you dine al fresco.

And nothing taste better outside than food cooked on a barbecue.  Living in Manhattan I don't have much opportunity to grill unless I venture to our weekend place (a.k.a the in-law's).  But for two glorious weeks every August I am in possession of a house with a backyard.  And a grill.  Within walking distance of the beach.  And numerous ice cream stores.  And for two weeks I eat as many meals as possible outside (followed by ice cream of course).  Breakfast on the deck.  Lunch at the beach.  Dinner is on the deck unless it's eaten somewhere where I can smell, hear and see the water.  And the food?  It all tastes that much more delicious by virtue of eating outside.

One of my favorite items to grill is skirt steak.  It's a relatively inexpensive cut with great flavor and it's easy to find. As an added bonus now you can even find organic skirt which I prefer.  Plus it's a snap to cook.  It takes well to marinades but it's also good properly seasoned simply with salt and pepper.  And leftovers (if you are lucky enough to have any) are always delicious cold the next day as a the filling in a sandwich or on top of a big pile of greens. 

This recipe is easily adaptable to what you have on hand (just think salt, acid and aromatics) and is very flexible.  Marinate in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or on the counter just before cooking for about an hour.    And if you don't have a grill stick it in a grill pan on your stove top or run it under the broiler.  Serve with a salad of peppery arugula and tomatoes and some barely cooked or grilled summer corn.  But, whatever you do, eat it outside.  You'll thank me.

Our little summer oasis

Yields 4 servings
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Juice and zest of one lime
2 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS olive oil

1 tsp dark sesame oil (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ½ lb skirt steak
  1. Combine first 6 Ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine.  Adjust seasoning as necessary. Place the marinade and skirt steak into a 1-gallon sized Ziploc bag and marinate for 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
  2.  If grilling heat grill
  3. If cooking stovetop - preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  4. When ready to cook, remove steak from marinade and drain.
  5. If grilling cook to your desired degree of doneness.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Cut meat on the bias in thin slices and serve.
  6. If cooking stovetop heat a large oven-proof sauté pan over high heat and place the steak in the pan. If necessary, cut the steak into a few pieces. Cook over high heat for 2-3 minutes per side until nicely browned.
  7. Place pan in 400 degree oven and cook 10-15 minutes. 
  8. Remove pan from oven, and remove steak from pan.  Allow steak to rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


Writing every day is difficult.  There's a reason my last post before this NaBloPoMo challenge was in March.  I generally have ideas and sometimes I even create a successful post based on them.  At other times what I write is completely spontaneous and not really planned at all and that seems to generate a positive reaction in people (see yesterday's post as an example of that and thanks for all the support!).

Today though I have nothing.

I've tried writing for a few hours and I keep coming up empty.  Or I write myself into a corner.  And since there's this EVERY DAY deadline this month I don't have time to put something aside and come back to it since I don't have am inventory of posts just waiting to publish themselves.   I'm writing on the fly here.  The silver lining is I am learning from this process.  If I hope to post on a semi-regular basis once this every day experiment is over I need a better system for writing, editing and planning posts.  So 5 days in I have found this exercise to be extremely educational.  It still doesn't lessen the necessity of posting every day and today I've got, well, nothing.

Even the helpful "prompt" from the ladies at BlogHer isn't sparking anything.  "Which author made you want to be a writer (or blogger)?  Since I don't consider myself either a writer or a true blogger I don't have an answer to that question other than no one. Nothing.

I'm tired after a busy weekend of single parenting while my husband is off on a business trip.  I'm caught up in end-of-school-year craziness (teacher gifts, a child who won't sleep because she's terrible with change, tons of e-mail, trying to plan activities for the nearly 3 week break between school ending and camp beginning, etc.).  I have other things on my mind that I don't care to discuss in a public forum but if you know me in real life you know what's been going on.  I haven't cooked other than breakfast and I don't think any of you need recipes for scrambled eggs or omelets.   And my husband is the only one in our household who can make a decent cup of coffee.  Nothing.

So I ask dear readers (all 40 something of you it would appear) what do you do when you're uninspired yet you need to produce?  I'm sure one of you has SOMETHING to offer up.

But maybe I'm onto something with this nothing-ness:  “I love talking about nothing. It is the only thing I know anything about.”  Oscar Wilde

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saying Yes

This post has nothing to do with food.  So if you've come looking for that try back tomorrow.

Today I tried an experiment.  I spent the day with my daughter and I said "yes" to everything.  While it seems indulgent at first read it really wasn't.  I thought she might take advantage of my beneficence once she caught on.  But she didn't.  In fact she almost stopped asking for things after the first few positive responses and did everything I expected her to do and then some.  

This isn't a revolutionary idea.  I've read articles about parents trying this but I'd never really given it much thought.  Then she asked if we could spend our mother-daughter day in Times Square.  If you know me you know that Times Square is easily my least favorite location in all of New York City.  It might even rank up there as my least favorite place in the world. 

But something made me say yes and I decided to go with yes for the rest of the day.  While in Times Square I also said yes to: going to Toys R Us (if you haven't been to the Toys R Us in Times Square DON'T GO); buying something at Toys R Us; sitting on the steps in over the tkts booth while sharing *gasp* a candy bar and chatting about anything and everything; going to the M&Ms store; and buying ridiculously overpriced but beautifully colored M&Ms.  And you know what?  I had a blast. 

On our way home I continued my little experiment.  Yes we can share lunch.  Yes we can have the sandwich with the avocados and tomatoes.  Yes you can just have water.  Yes you may be excused to go to the bathroom.  Yes we can look at the used books at the fair.  Yes you can have those few books. 

Once we got home we kept up with it.  Yes you can pick some music to listen to.  Yes we can have a dance party.  Yes you can sit and read quietly now.  Yes you can practice the piano now.    Yes you can stay up a little late and watch the Glee finale.  Yes you can go put on your PJs and brush your teeth now. Yes we can have a sleepover.  And you know what?  I still had a blast.  And I'm pretty sure she did, too, given how many times she thanked me for today.

Pardon the quality of the Blackberry photo
I'm not going to continue saying yes to everything she asks for but today taught me that going against my first instinct (which is clearly to say NO, a lot) isn't a comfortable place to go but it can lead to a wonderful day.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Taking a Dip

Carrots and radishes - perfect for dipping

As someone who loves pretty much every vegetable out there and all fruits with the exception of pears (it's a mouth-feel thing for me - ugh!) I have a hard time relating to people who can't find at least ONE fruit and ONE vegetable they can enjoy.  But after talking about the new nutritional guidelines ( with a lot of folks I was more than a little shocked to find there are a lot of veggie haters out there.  A lot.  So I am embarking on a mission  to encourage you, my dear readers, to eat more fruits and vegetables.  To that end I am offering up a few easy-to-make dip recipes.  

Who can resist gorgeous raspberries...
For kids dips are a great way to increase vegetable consumption - don't ask me why but kids *love* to eat things they dip.  When my daughter was younger she was happy dipping fruit and vegetables in WATER just for the pure pleasure of dipping.   Food on a stick is also incredibly appealing to children so I've also included a recipe for fruit kabobs with a healthy and great tasting yogurt dip (which also makes a nice breakfast).  And since adults are really just big kids these dips are a great way to add side dish to a simple summer dinner or even something to build a whole lunch around.  If you don't have the time to cut up a bunch of fresh vegetables (which I fully admit can be very time consuming) just grab some already prepped vegetables from the refrigerator section at the market.   

See how easy I made it for you?  Now you have no excuses.  Get dipping.

Ranch Dip (or Salad Dressing)
Yields about 1 cup

½ c low fat mayo
½ c low fat sour cream or plain yogurt
1 clove garlic, minced and mashed into oblivion (use the back of your knife to make a paste)
2 TBS fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 TBS fresh dill, finely chopped
1 TBS fresh chives, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
2-3 TBS Buttermilk for thinning
salt and pepper

  1. Combine mayo, sour cream, garlic and herbs in a bowl and mix well.  
  2. Add in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Thin with the buttermilk to your desired consistency.  If you don't have buttermilk you can just use regular milk but the buttermilk adds a nice tangy flavor.

Makes about 2 ½ cups

2-3 cloves of garlic (adjust to your own taste)
2 cups or 1 15-oz can of chickpeas drained with the liquid reserved
Juice of 2 lemons (approximately 6 TBS - again adjust to your taste)
2 TBS reserved chickpea liquid or water
Salt to taste
Olive oil, paprika, chopped parsley for garnish (all optional)

There are two schools of thought on hummus - some people like it a little chunky with some texture and others like it silky smooth.  I am definitely in the latter camp and that is why I make this in a food processor.  If you don't mind a more coarse texture you can easily make it by hand.

  1. Place garlic in bowl of food processor (fitted with the metal blade) and mince.
  2. Add in the rest of the ingredients (excluding the optional garnishes) and continue to mix until the hummus reaches your desired consistency.  If it is too thick add in more of the chickpea liquid or water.
  3. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  4. Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of the the paprika and/or parsley.

Fruit Kabobs with Yogurt Dip
This recipe is really fun to make with kids.  They love creating different patterns with the fruit.

For the kabobs:
4-5 cups of your favorite fruit cut into bite sized pieces - some suggestions:
Grapes, kiwi, watermelon, strawberries, honeydew, cantaloupe, raspberries, bananas, apples (if not eating immediately dip in lemon juice to prevent the apples from browning)

For the dip:
1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 tsp fresh chopped mint
1 tsp honey

  1. Thread the fruit on straws or small straw stirrers (used for coffee) - I like to use these because they don't have sharp ends which can be dangerous to kids.
  2. Combine the yogurt, mint and honey and mix well.
  3. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

How to Change a Triangle Into a Circle

Today the USDA, with the assistance of First Lady Michelle Obama, announced "new" nutritional guidelines for Americans (  They've done away with the confusing, outdated, and arguably well-connected lobbyist motivated food pyramid and have given us... wait for it... a circle.  Well, if I'm being honest, they gave us a plate: 

I'm not really qualified to comment on the changes but as someone who cooks basically every day and teaches others how to cook I'm going to take a stab at it.

I'm both discouraged and encouraged by the change.

Discouraging: Yes the food pyramid was in desperate need of an update and hard to understand.  But do we really have to dumb it down THIS MUCH for the American public?  Maybe I overestimate people.  I read the same news sources you do.  I know all about overweight kids, obesity, the growing waistlines of Americans.  I just can't believe it has come to this.   Even my 7 year old knows that half your plate should be filled with fruits or vegetables.  Yep, I clearly overestimate people.

Encouraging: The obvious: it's MUCH easier to understand.  Also on the plus side I like that the USDA has chosen to use proteins to encompass a larger group of food choices instead of assuming that everyone uses meat as their main source of protein throughout the day (definitely a strike against the all powerful meat lobby!).   Also heartening is that they make a distinction between whole grains and refined grains and include many interesting options and choices on the website if you click around (quinoa - the USDA is recommending quinoa!).  Another check in the plus column - overall the media attention this has garnered is a huge step in the right direction. I can't imagine this would have been such a news-worthy item 10 years ago.   However none of this news is really NEW.  Michael Pollan said it best (even if he wasn't first):  "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

The part of me that is working on seeing the glass half-full these days hopes that people actually take this to heart.  Maybe take some time to discuss the changes with their kids.  I know I did.  Do me a favor and just show your child the picture.  It's pretty easy for a kid to understand and it could be a really great way to make planning and eating healthy meals both fun and entertaining.  I am also optimistic that schools and other institutions that feed large groups of people will incorporate the recommendations.  The pessimist in me thinks that maybe we're too far gone as a country.  The fact that we have such lax standards for food quality and can't provide universal access to good food choices in a 1st world nation is outrageous to me.

But then that little positive voice in my head chimes in with the thought maybe, just maybe this means that one day a head of broccoli or a bunch of bananas will cost less than a bag of chips or a box of pasta.  Because until we see those kinds of advances - where good nutritional choices are an easy option for everyone - nothing will change other than the shapes suggested by the USDA.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Fear of Commitment

I haven’t been much for committing to things lately (see: last blog entry dated March, ahem) but that doesn't make an interesting blog entry.  So when I saw a post about NaBloPoMo on BlogHer today I nearly skipped reading it.  I know what those letters mean.  They mean committing to blogging every day.  For a month.  That’s 30 days of blog entries for those of you who like numbers.  That's a lot of blogging.  But something made me click on the link from twitter and the next thing I knew I was signed up.  For one whole month.  Of blogging.  Every.  Single.  Day.
The ladies over at BlogHer have decided that this month’s theme is “fan.”  The rules say I don’t have to keep to the theme but it’s nice to have something to guide me should inspiration be lacking.  And on a day when it’s nearly 90 degrees out with about a zillion percent humidity I was certainly inspired to sit underneath my ceiling fan while cranking the fan on the AC.    That counts, right? 
I have no plan for the next 30 days but I will write something every day. Dammit. 
1 down, 29 to go.