Saturday, April 19, 2008

A Happy Life + The Magnolia Tree

It's the eve of my 44th birthday, and I have to confess that I've been feeling quite melancholy as of late. I won't bore you, dear reader, with all the tedious details, but I think I can sum it up simply by saying that as midlife stares back at me each day in the mirror, I've been trying to figure out who I am, and what I want to do with my life for the next 44 years. But the other day, as I was doing some spring cleaning, I came across a bracelet that my dear friend, Bethanne, gave me on my wedding night. It's a beaded bracelet, with silver, white and soft blue stones, and on one end is a silver heart locket in which to place a hand written wish. Of course I remember her giving it to me that evening, but in the hubub of the festivities, I completely forgot what wish I quickly jotted down and stuck inside the tiny locket. So, when I came across the bracelet again the other day in my jewelry box, I couldn't help myself from unclasping the closure, and lifting the miniature scroll out of it's case. As I unrolled the small sheet of paper, I wondered what I had wished for five years ago, and then, when I saw what I wrote, I had to smile, because it was so quintessentially me that I should have guessed it all along...


And suddenly, I had clarity. Instead of worrying about my career, and finances, and writing, and cooking, and crafting, and everything else I seem to wrench my hands over endlessly, I decided that I am simply going to focus on A HAPPY LIFE. To me, that means doing my best to live in the moment; enjoying more ripe tomatoes, appreciating a massage when I get one (instead of making my shopping list during it), spending more time with friends and less time on the computer, breathing in lots of fresh air, and doing something each and every day that reminds me that life is gift that should not be taken for granted. Today, on the eve of my birthday, it meant being outside, and capturing my last day of 43, under the old magnolia tree in the front yard.

Tomorrow is a new day, and a new year, and I very much look forward to all it brings.

Be well,

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Pope + My Heavenly Nutella Panini

It's an understatement to say that New York is abuzz with the arrival of Pope Benedict this week; honestly, it seems as though the moment he stepped on U.S. soil, the skies turned pure blue, the thermometer rose to a heavenly 80 degrees, and our collective spirits rose. It's also my birthday week, and it's refreshing for a change to have something positive going on during it. I unfortunately share the same birth date as Adolph Hitler, so I usually brace myself come my birthday for events such as Columbine, and Oklahoma City, and Virginia Tech. So, I can't tell you how satisfying it is--for the first time in as long as I can remember--to be walking around this week feeling positive energy, and electricity in the air, instead of fear, and dread.

Last night I joined some male friends from my gym for early cocktails in town. None of us knew each other very well, but we decided since it was a lovely, summery-feeling evening, that it would be a perfect night to get to know each other better. So we sat on the side porch of an old, renovated Victorian-turned-wine bar, sipping lusty reds, telling bawdy jokes (which of course got more and more bawdy with each lusty red), laughing too loud, becoming fast friends. The moon was ripe and round, so there was a lovely silver glow being cast across the porch as we drank our wine, told our stories, nibbled on warm panini sandwiches, and briny olives; I couldn't have art directed a more perfect setting, or a more beautiful evening. At the three quarter mark, our waiter surprised me with a nutella panini, lit up with two birthday candles stuck smack dab in the middle, and the entire porch, filled with Thursday night revelers soaking in the warm evening, sang Happy Birthday to me. I can honestly say that I was filled with more joy than I've felt in some time; new friends and complete strangers, with no agenda, sharing a happy moment. Life rarely gets any better than that.

2 cups chopped hazelnuts
3/4 cup to 1 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/8 to 1/4 cup canola oil

Process hazelnuts in a food processor fitted with a metal blade until nuts start to clump together and form a ball (approximately 5 minutes). Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, and process for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the mixture turns dark and the ingredients are well combined. Finally, slowly drizzle in the oil to form a thick spread.

Store spread in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 weeks.
Makes approximately two cups.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cy (Steven) Miksad

For those of you who've read the section of my book on boating, you know that I have my Uncle Cy to thank for my love of the water. Nothing--not even a ride on the Dragon Coaster at Rye Playland in July--was as exciting to me as a child, than a day spent on his boat, The Nauty Lady. There was a sense of freedom I felt when I stepped on to that vessel that I never felt on land. Perhaps it was the excitement of sitting at the bow of the boat, holding on tight to the rails, as my Uncle powered The Nauty Lady through the Long Island Sound. Or, maybe it was the thrill of jumping off the starboard side, into the cool, briny waters, wondering what sea creatures swam beneath our kicking legs (fifteen years later I would get certified for scuba in those same waters and sadly realize, not many). Or, perhaps it was simply the wonderful feeling of psychic elbowroom that being on the water gave me.

My Uncle Cy passed away peacefully yesterday at the fully ripened age of 92. I'm sad, of course, but if I could pick one person in this world to point to and say "that person lived the life they wanted to live, without compromise, or apology", then it would have been him. He was was an eccentric, and colorful character (what can I say?; it's a family trait.); he loved wearing cowboy boots, and ornate, Western-style belt buckles, and looked like he just stepped out of a Louis L'Amour novel, despite the fact that he lived his entire life in urban New York. Instead of a horse, my uncle had his boat, which he navigated year after year through the waterways of New York; part cowboy, part pirate, part Parrothead. He'd be at church each and every Sunday morning, but immediately thereafter, chances were good you'd find him on The Nauty Lady, sipping a scotch, fishing with his buddies, and enjoying life. What I loved most about my uncle, was that he lived his life on his own terms. He wasn't a perfect human being, but he didn't pretend to be one either. He was who he was, comfortable in his own skin, and as a result, people naturally felt comfortable around him. He was as refreshing, as bracing, and as salty as the Long Island Sound he so dearly loved sailing on, and around. I will miss him.

BOATING (From my book, SUMMER: A User's Guide)
Sailboat, powerboat—it doesn’t matter to me at all; as long as I can feel the wind in my hair, the taste of salt on my lips, and the warming rays of the sun on my skin, I’m content. I have my Uncle Cy to thank, for it was on his boat—The Nauty Lady—that I got my sea legs at age seven. To my brothers and me, an invitation to spend a day on The Nauty Lady was the equivalent of winning the lottery. We would head to the marina on a clear Saturday morning and set sail for the Long Island Sound, calling out as loud as we could. “The Nauty Lady rides again!” as we passed under the Throgs Neck Bridge. We’d drop anchor in a quiet cove, where we’d spend hours swimming and clamming in the briny waters until our fingers were puckered like raisins. Back on board we’d shuck our clams in the galley and serve them up with lemon wedges and a spicy-hot cocktail sauce.

My uncle, who loved his boat only slightly less than he loved his wife, taught us how to tie intricate nautical knots like the Figure 8 and the Sailor’s Knot. At sunset, we’d head back to the marina, where the party would spill out of the adjacent boats onto the docks and continue well past our bedtimes. Exhausted from the day’s activities, we’d inevitably fall asleep during the car ride back home.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Madeline, A Rainy Friday + Homemade Biscuits

I've been working on a bear of a project for the past three weeks, which my ever-throbbing sciatic nerve will happily attest to. Unfortunately for me, the nature of my design business is, I take on projects, somehow agree to their insane deadlines, and by hook or by crook (whatever that means), meet them. So, in this instance, it has meant waking up at 5:oo am to start working, and wrapping up my day well past my normal bedtime hour. As a result, I've not eaten very well, I've hardly gotten to the gym, or breathed in fresh air, I have bluish-brown stains beneath both eyes, and I don't believe I've shaved my legs in quite some time. But at 6:15 pm on Thursday evening I received a voice message, then an email, from a young friend of mine, Madeline, asking if I was free to help her bake homemade biscuits. Well, it's not every day that a ten year old calls me up to ask me to cook with her, and when one does, there is no way on Gods green earth that I'm passing on the opportunity. I decided at that second, that no amount of money was as important to me as making homemade biscuits with ten year-old Madeline, so I cleared my calendar for the next afternoon, and started searching for the perfect biscuit recipe for my young apprentice. I wanted one that wasn't too difficult for a starter chef, one that didn't require a lot of rolling or cutting or fussing, and I quickly found it on Epicurious. The Buttermilk Biscuits from Dot's Diner in Boulder Colorado, were everything you could want in a biscuit recipe; they were easy, light and delicious, and would pair well with a roasted chicken, mashed spuds, and thick gravy at the Sunday dinner table, or a bit of strawberry jam for a lazy brunch. We made them together, measuring all the ingredients out very carefully into a big metal mixing bowl on the counter, then we dropped them by small, sticky handfuls onto a cookie sheet before popping them in the oven for about fifteen minutes; they couldn't have been easier, or more comforting on a rainy and blustery Friday afternoon. Madeline gobbled her two up with pats of melted butter, declaring them the best biscuits she has ever had in her ten, long years. I savored mine as well, but for an entirely different reason, of course.

Buttermilk Biscuits (from Dot's Diner, reprinted from Epicurious)
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in large bowl to blend. Using fingertips, rub 3/4 cup chilled butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add buttermilk and stir until evenly moistened. Using 1/4 cup dough for each biscuit, drop biscuits onto baking sheet, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake until biscuits are golden brown on top, about 15 minutes. Cool slightly. Serve warm.

Makes about 12-15 biscuits