Monday, December 15th, 2014

The Best Gift Ever

IMG_4367I was putting together my list of favorite holiday gifts, when I found myself in a situation that made me pause and reconsider the entire endeavor. Now, to be clear, this is not hating on gift guides. I ADORE perusing holiday gift-buying lists. The really good ones (like THIS one and THIS one and THIS one) are just fun to read, total retail brain candy, and can actually help you find a special something for that nitpicky loved one. But in the midst of sorting through favorite cookbooks, gadgets, mail order products, etc. I had an experience at a friend’s house that made me realize something (and a warning, this is going to get a little hokey): It truly dawned on me that the best gift to give someone you love and care about is something we all already have in our possession…it’s free, it’s perfect even when it’s imperfect, it’s unforgettable, and it’s always from the heart…the best gift of all is to cook someone a meal.

The situation I’m referring to occurred last weekend while I was visiting my oldest best friend (we met in 1st grade!) in Wisconsin, in the midst of some family health concerns. One night, one of her girlfriends arrived with her family and proceeded to cook for all of us. Now first off, this was a major treat for me because NO ONE cooks for me anymore. With the exception of the occasional barbecue, dinner party invite, or when my wonderful Korean friend Sujin has me over for lunch to devour her homemade kimchi and jigae, I can’t remember the last time anyone made me a homecooked meal. Part of the reason for this is because I’m the go-to cook in my home, and not only is making food part of my work, I love it, and it’s what I do. But honestly I think a lot of people don’t want to cook for me anymore because now that I’ve written a cookbook, they think I’ll be judgey. So let me just put it out there right now: I LOVE WHEN PEOPLE COOK FOR ME!!!! As long as you don’t serve me Hamburger Helper, I’m yours.

Back to Wisconsin…

What made this homecooked meal by my friend’s friend particularly special wasn’t that it was ultra-gourmet, or took all day to prepare, or required the dirtying of every pot in the kitchen (by the way, doing the dishes is also part of cooking for someone, or at least helping a bit). It was special and kind because she put her entire love and care into it. She roasted eggplant and garlic for a dip, made corn (not seasonal but who the heck cares!?), baked chicken, and all the while we just got to sit and talk and play with the kids. It was bliss.

Now I do want to distinguish showing up and cooking a meal in someone’s  home from the Tupperware drop-off variety. Making and then leaving food for someone is also super kind, but it’s different. You’re not together for the preparing or the eating, so an element of sharing goes missing. Even if you’re whirling around the stove, you’re still spending time together, and best of all, you get to thank the friend who cooked for you in person at the table.

Now those of you who do not consider yourselves cooks, then I say, “so what!”. I don’t care what your skill or confidence level is, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has one dish they can bang out of the park. It may be your grandmother’s meatballs, a recipe for chickpea salad you ripped out of a magazine years ago, a perfectly medium-rare steak, or killer egg salad. No matter what, chances are you’ve at least got a wonderful grilled cheese in your culinary repertoire and you know how to pour a glass of wine. Chances also are that you have a friend, neighbor, or family-member who is perhaps under the weather, having a tough holiday season, having a tough year, or just seemed plain overwhelmed the last time you saw them, and that this person would love for you to come on by and make them something to eat.

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As far as any rules to follow I’d suggest the following:

-Bring all the ingredients. Unless you’re very familiar with their kitchen, don’t assume they’ll have everything that you need.

-Keep the meal simple. One-pot, not too many courses, and fun.

-Just like a dinner party—make sure it’s something you’ve made a million times before. This is not the time to experiment with osso buco.

-Bring the wine.

-Go with delicious. Meaning a comforting chicken pot pie over a raw 10-grain salad…unless your friend and their family are really into 10-grain salads.

-Do not leave them with a sink full of dirty dishes.

-Don’t let them see you sweat. If you look like you’re about to have a full-on anxiety attack or complain that it’s not going to be good then that defeats the purpose of this being a gesture that’s not about you.

So go forth and cook for someone you love! It will be the best gift you’ve ever given.

XO

*And I do still want to share my favorite cookbooks of the year so I promise to get that on the blog in time for any last minute shopping!

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Friday, December 5th, 2014

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

P1050795So it’s that time of year…the one where you’re like “holy crap, everyone in my town already has their house bedecked with lights and their Christmas tree up and I still have a moldy pumpkin on my front steps.” Yes, the holidays are here. I’m just about starting to wrap my head around the imminent approach of Christmas, although truth be told, my brain is still lingering in Thanksgiving mode: When did the two holidays become so smooshed together? I mean, I’m still eating leftover cranberry sauce but I’m also supposed to be stocking-up on eggnog and covering the house in poinsettas…it’s crazy.

The one thing I do have a handle on is some of the sweet and tiny gifts I plan on getting for those I love. Like I do every year, I would love to share some of my gifty ideas with you. I’ll post a more extensive list next week, but one of the first things I’m ordering for sure are boxes of Dutch chocolate breakfast sprinkles for everyone’s stockings. Yes, you heard me—BREAKFAST sprinkles.

IMG_1992My Belgian-Dutch mother brought home a couple of boxes of sprinkles (see above) after a recent visit to the motherland and my kids went for bananas for them. I told them how their Dutch great-grandfather would eat them every morning for breakfast, sprinkled on top of warm buttered toast, and they promptly did the same. Is it the breakfast of champions? No, but who cares. Have oatmeal every other day and then save these for the weekend.

And lucky for you, you don’t have to fly to Amsterdam to pick up your own stash of chocolate sprinkles…you can order them HERE. And yes, they ARE different then the American variety of chocolate sprinkles/jimmies…they’re just better.

Stay tuned for more holiday gifting ideas, including my favorite cookbooks for you and yours! Have a great weekend (don’t forget to get rid of the moldy pumpkin).

 

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Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

The Anti-Turkey

P1050723After days and days of Thanksgiving leftovers (we cooked a 20+ pound bird this year, but the guests filled up mostly on sides and pie, which means there was mucho turkey meat to consume afterwards), I finally said ENOUGH, and decided to make something in the complete opposite direction…which for me is avocado toast. I know that avocado toasts have been having a moment (there are endless paeans to the combination of smashed avocado and toasted bread all over the interweb, and even this funny backlash on it’s popularity), but I honestly can say that the first and best avocado toast I ever ate was EIGHT YEARS AGO (so very pre-trend) while visiting a family of winemakers on their commune/farm in New Zealand. I was on the North Island, north of Auckland, reporting on a story for Saveur magazine, when the matriarch of the family made me a simple breakfast of toasted bread (fresh baked, she also ground the wheat into flour herself) slathered with butter (that she churned herself from their own cows’ milk), homemade (naturally) succotash, and smashed avocado from their lush garden out back. It was one of the most truly from-scratch things I’ve ever eaten and I’ll never forget it. Which is why every time I make myself an avocado toast, I think of that family and their sub-tropical paradise of homemade wonders in New Zealand. I never prepare it the same way twice, but I do always slather my toast with soft butter and then go from there.

Turkey-fatigue toast combination (as pictured above):

Toasted rye bread, slathered with butter.

1/2 a smashed avocado

Sprinkle with flaky salt, freshly ground pepper, and a big squeeze of lime juice.

Top with thinly sliced radish.

Chopped parsley.

Shaved ricotta salata.

Dot with sriracha.

ENJOY!

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Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Happy Turkey Day!

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IMG_2311On this Turkey Day eve, I wanted to wish you and yours a very happy, healthy, and delicious Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve been in prep mode all day—it helped that it’s been snowing all day here in the northeast, a perfect excuse to stay inside and chop, toast, wash, etc.—and so hopefully I’ll be ready for game day tomorrow. So far I’ve made (as pictured above): The roasted pumpkin soup; finished the fresh cranberry-orange-ginger sauce (there will be canned as well…it’s just a must for me), removed seeds from the pomegranates, toasted walnuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, pickled golden raisins, washed and steamed brussel sprouts, roasted squash, sliced mushrooms, and chopped shallots, celery, and spinach. All that’s left for tonight is to give my dry-brined turkey a good rubdown…sexy, right?

So good luck tomorrow! I hope it all goes your way—that the dog doesn’t steal the bird, the pie crust turns out just right, the relatives behave, the mashed potatoes aren’t lumpy, the children aren’t grumpy, and the wine flows freely.

XOXO

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Friday, November 21st, 2014

Friday Favorites: Waffle Bar!

P1050455Happy Friday! Is there anything more fun than a waffle bar? I don’t think so. And who says you have to sign up for a breakfast buffet at a casino or on a cruise ship to enjoy one? Why not make a waffle bar at home? You could to it this weekend, or if you have a mess of relatives arriving for the Thanksgiving holidays, then it’s the perfect casual extended-family breakfast.

For some waffle bar inspiration check out the fantastic parenting site Momfilter, where I wrote about Belle’s Slumber Party Waffle Bar–pajamas, waffles, lots of toppings–just go for it! And have a great weekend!

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