Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's Not Over Till It's Over

It's hard to believe that the unofficial "last weekend" of summer is upon us; I know I say this every year, but I honestly don't understand how summer flies by so quickly, while winter seems to drag on forever. There are just a few days left before we have to start stuffing our feet back into practical shoes, trading in our comfy cottons for scratchy wool, and so--in the spirit of making the most of every precious drop of summer--I've compiled a last minute list of 21 things to do before the calendar flips into fall. You of course won't get to them all, but the point is simply to have fun this weekend.

Enjoy your Labor Day and I will see you back here in September as I embark on a new journey, and share my adventures, recipes and musings along the way.

21 things to do before September 1st
Eat cotton candy Go skinnydipping Run through a sprinkler
Chase the Good Humor Truck Skip stones Camp out in the backyard Eat Key Lime Pie Go to a drive in movie (in your pajamas) Make pizza on the grill Learn to do a cartwheel once and for all Go see a live band and don't just stand there, but dance Pick wildflowers Stay up late and gaze at the stars (preferably in a hammock) Make a lobster roll (don't worry about the pricetag) Make fresh watermelon martini's Build a campfire and make smores (and tell ghost stories) Fry green tomatoes Have a water balloon fight Take a nap in a tire tube on a lake Make BBQ Chicken + Ribs (with homemade potato salad, too) Wear your flip flops until October


1 cup water
1 cup sugar

2 cups diced watermelon

2 oz vodka

Juice of 1/2 lime


Mint leaves, slice of lime, or small wedge of watermelon (optional)

Make a simple syrup by bringing the water and sugar to a boil. Allow it to cool. (Leftover syrup can be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator.)

Place the watermelon in a food processor or blender, and pulse until smooth, then press through a fine sieve, reserving the juice.

Place the vodka, lime juice, ½ ounce of simple syrup, and 2-3 ounces of watermelon juice (to taste) into a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with mint, lime or a wedge of watermelon if desired.

Makes 1 cocktail.

From my book, Summer: A User's Guide

14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup key lime juice

1 tablespoon finely grated lime peel
9-inch graham cracker pie shell (you can make your own or purchase one pre-made)

Whipped cream (optional)

Mint Leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, combine the milk, egg yolks, lime juice, and lime peel and blend until smooth.
Pour the mixture into the pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow pie to stand for approximately 10 minutes, then refrigerate.

Enjoy plain or garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprig of mint.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Wacky + Feisty Caravan to Queens

As I mentioned earlier this week, today I had a bridal shower to attend out in Queens; my baby cousin, Kevin, is getting married this coming October, and his fiance, Leah, hails from that borough. So today at noon, a noisy gaggle of women from my family all piled into a big wagon and made our way across the Whitestone Bridge to join in on the lunchtime estrogen-fest. The trip to this outer borough was not without drama; we barely made it to the corner of my parents street before we had to call 911 for a neighbors hedge cutting effort gone horribly wrong. Soon we were on our way, trying not to think of the bloody mess we witnessed just moments earlier, fighting New York traffic, searching for parking, in need of bathrooms, food and strong cocktails (not necessarily in that order).

Our table was filled with a feisty lot of women ranging in age from 16 to 70, and the conversation was as diverse as our tastes in music; we discussed everything from bikini waxing, to Joe Biden, to Pink's new song, So What, to my father's tomato garden, to high school dances, to onion-peeling goggles, to career paths, to this blog (everyone wave hello to my Aunt Mary Ann!). Along the way we let our hair down, we laughed a lot, and we connected in that really nice way that women connect when there are no men around. On the way home in the car the topic of my upcoming move inevitably arose, as everyone wants to help out in some way, to lift me up, to offer something that will make life easier for me. But what each and every woman in that car didn't realize was, that they just did. By making me laugh out loud for the better part of my day, by being the best family I could ever ask for, and for being strong, powerful women, they inspired me to continue being one myself.

Wonderful, wacky + feisty role models don't come along just every day. I am blessed beyond words for I am surrounded by them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sunday Morning Eggs

I'm tired. Very, very tired. Exhausted actually. And, as a result, I've been doing lots of things I don't normally do, like weeping every hour on the hour, forgetting things (like meals, my migraine meds, days of the week), driving fifteen minutes past my intended destinations, sleeping later than usual. As a child, my mother would have said I was "run down", and that is exactly how I feel--run down and totally depleted. This week alone I am juggling my regular harried schedule, four deadlined projects, a two-day tag sale, and a bridal shower way out in Queens, all while trying to pack for my upcoming move. So, I've decided that come this Sunday, I am going to do what my mother would have done for me when I was feeling run down as a child--I'm going to make myself a really good breakfast. Oh, and I'm going to eat it in bed.

Saturday morning--before schlepping to Queens--I will stop at the farmers market to pick up some fresh eggs (because once you've had freshly laid eggs, there's no turning back) which I will whip up into a fluffy Sunday morning omelet. On the side, I'll add some slices of ripe Beefsteak tomato, a few homemade sausage patties laced with fennel and maple syrup (these are beyond delicious, trust me), a big squirt of ketchup, and a couple of thick slices of buttered, whole grain toast. I will wash all of this deliciousness down with a glass of fresh orange juice, topped off with a splash of cranberry. If I am run down this week, certainly that breakfast will recharge my battery, give me the energy--and calories--I need to face the week ahead. At the very least, I will get to spend some time in the kitchen where I am always happiest, my energy level naturally increases, and the glass quickly changes from half empty to overflowing.

I can hardly wait for Sunday to arrive.

An omelet is one of those dishes that stunningly uses just a couple of ingredients, yet can vary greatly from kitchen to kitchen. For the uninitiated, preparing an omelet for the first time can be an anxiety-filled ordeal. Questions invariably arise: Should milk be added to the eggs or not? Should the omelet be cooked in butter, and if so, salted or unsalted? What about olive oil, or cooking it in a blend of butter and olive oil? What sort of pan works best—your everyday workhorse skillet, or a specially designed omelet pan? To make matters worse, instructions differ from cookbook to cookbook on what constitutes The Perfect Omelet. Well, there is no need to look any further, for below are my foolproof directions for turning out a classic three-egg omelet.

The pan
To make an omelet, you will need a good quality omelet pan or nonstick sauté pan that is about 6 inches across.

The eggs
Crack three of the freshest eggs you can find into bowl and beat them slightly with a fork; do not use a whisk and do not over-beat.

The fat
Place your pan over medium heat. Melt about a tablespoon of unsalted butter in the pan, then add a tablespoon of olive oil to the heated pan as well (note: if you don’t eat butter, you can use just olive oil to cook the eggs).

The cooking
Coat the pan evenly by tipping and rolling the butter around the inside, then pour in your eggs, and give the pan a bit of a shake to distribute them evenly across the cooking surface. Using a fork or thin rubber spatula, pull the cooked egg away from the edge of the pan and allow the uncooked liquid run into that open space. Repeat that process until there is no more runny egg remaining. (Note: At this point, you can add a bit of cheese, vegetables, or meat filling if you’d like.)

The folding
A classic French omelet looks like a letter folded in thirds, but there is no rule that says it can’t simply be folded in half as well. To fold, shake and slightly tilt the pan so that the omelet slides up the side of the pan towards the handle, and with a spatula either fold your omelet in half or—if you prefer the classic look—fold the edge of the omelet towards the center, then tip the pan back and fold the other side in. Remove the pan from the heat, and slide your omelet onto a plate. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you’d like, and enjoy your perfectly cooked eggs.

From my book, Summer: A User's Guide

1 tablespoon dried fennel seeds
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1/2-teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ lbs. ground pork (or, you can use Jones All Natural roll sausage if you want)
4 tablespoons maple syrup
1-tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil

In a mixing bowl, add all ingredients and mix with your hands or a spatula until well combined.
Add oil to a skillet and place over medium-high heat. Divide pork into 6 equal portions, and with your hand, form patties. Cook patties for approximately 4 or 5 minutes on each side, or until browned. Drain on paper towels before serving.
Makes 6 servings

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Change is in the Air

It saddens me to report that the weather is starting to turn here in New York. Today, as I drove into town, I saw hints of orange and gold on leaves at the very edges of tree branches along my route, and I sighed a long, deep sigh, knowing that the party is almost over. July was hot and steamy, but August is suddenly much cooler and drier, and you can actually feel and smell fall in the air. What a bittersweet time of year, when summer begins to fade away, the days get shorter, the mornings and evenings chillier. For me, this Autumn will be even more melancholy, as I will be moving out of my home in a few short weeks. I can't tell you how sad it makes me to have just typed those words onto my keyboard, friends, for I have more memories from my past seven years in this house than I can ever pack into a moving box, carry away with me. I've cooked so many great meals here, and some, not so great! I've celebrated, and I've cried. I started a business, wrote a book, got married, made friends, built fires, laughed, and mourned. But mostly, I've lived just like each of you do--doing the everyday, boring things that make up a life.

I will be leaving this home to live on my own in a tiny little cottage not far from here. The road ahead of me is a tad daunting, but I was raised to not wring my hands, or wilt away when one of life's curve balls comes hurling my way, and I'm not about to start now at 44 years old (see Whistling Away from March 30th). Instead, I am looking forward to writing about my adventures as I try to live in a space not much larger than a Smart Car, and cook in a kitchen approximately the size of a Triscuit. Of course this is an emotional time for me, but I have the boundless love and support of my absolutely amazing family (an understatement), my incredible friends, and you fabulous blogoholics out there!, to help get me through it with dignity, grace, and head-shaking, eye-rolling humor. And, when all else fails, there is always a good, dry martini at the end of the day to help make a scary life change seem not quite so scary, chase away the damp chill the change of season will surely bring.

6 oz. vodka (I like Grey Goose) or gin
A splash of dry vermouth (I use Martini & Rossi)
3 olives (or, a twist of lemon if you prefer)
Crushed ice

Few things compare to an icy, cold martini, so I keep my vodka and vermouth in the freezer at all times. However, if you don't happen to have the same martini addiction that I do, just put both bottles in the freezer for about an hour prior to making your cocktail. You might also want to throw (not literally) your martini glass in the freezer for about ten minutes before mixing the ingredients as it will help keep your drink nice and frosty as you sip it.

When your ingredients are cold, pour a tiny bit of vermouth into a martini glass, swirl it around the inside of the glass, then empty it out. Place a good amount of crushed ice to a cocktail shaker, add your vodka and shake the living daylights out of it. Not ten seconds, not fifteen seconds, but twenty to thirty seconds worth of shaking. Finally, strain the martini into your glass. Add the olives (you can skewer them on a toothpick if you'd like), sit back, enjoy your perfect martini.

Scenes from my Summer: Bumper Sticker

Friday, August 8, 2008

Beach Joy, Redux

I wrote this last August, but I wanted to post it again because it's so relevant with only a few precious weeks of summer remaining. Don't waste one second of this fleeting season, my friends; soon, winter will be here and we will be dreaming of open windows, fresh corn, the smell of cut grass, sunshine.

I am taking my own advice this weekend, so you won't hear from me for a few days as I head off on a little junket.


Yesterday I witnessed a man, standing waist-deep in the Atlantic, yodeling his heart out. A full-throttle, Ricola-style yodel for all to hear. I have no explanation for this somewhat odd behavior, and it didn't seem appropriate at the time to wade out into the ocean to find one out; I chose instead to believe that this man was simply filled with such beach joy, that he couldn't contain the yodeler within.

Beach joy is one of those things that is hard to describe, but if you've ever seen a child running full-speed towards the ocean, then you sort of get an idea of what I mean. I think the best way to explain it is a feeling of complete freedom. When you have beach joy, your day-to-day baggage and worries and insecurities fall away, replaced with a desire to run, arms open, embracing all that is good in the world.

So, it comes as a surprise to me when I see people on the beach, who rather than experiencing beach joy, opt instead to do things like check email on their Blackberries, call in for their messages, chatter away on their cell phones. Now far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their free time, but it seems to me that free time was designed to be spent, well, being free. We forget that sometimes. As a society, we tend to think that it's irresponsible to carve time out for ourselves, to get off the grid, to stop physically and mentally working. We're afraid of not being there, day after day like Atlas, holding our world aloft.

I've spent the past five days slowly putting down my globe, forgetting about bills, and deadlines and chores, and allowing beach joy to calm my busy brain, and not surprisingly, the Earth has not stopped spinning on its axis. Of course, it goes without saying that I will return home next week to lift that globe back up, but the next time I start getting stressed about a traffic jam, or a slow teller at the check-out line, the sweet memory of an elderly man yodeling in the warm, Atlantic surf, will hopefully put everything back into perspective.

SUMMER INSPIRED: The Perseid Meteor Shower

From my book, Summer: A User's Guide

One night each year in mid-August, I set the alarm clock for 3:00 am, shake the cobwebs out of my thick, sleep-filled head, then lumber outside with my hoodie, and cup of tea, to watch the amazing light show that is the Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseids--for those who have never watched them--are an annual shower associated with the comet Swift-Tuttle. Visible from mid-July to mid-August each year, the shower usually peaks somewhere between August 8 and August 14, during which point, hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen; it is truly spectacular.

Best observed from points in the northern hemisphere (and outside of large cities where lights and pollution don’t dim the visibility), these “shooting stars” are made up of tiny dust particles which become extremely hot as they hit the Earth's upper atmosphere at speeds of 20-50 miles per seconds, generating streaks of light across the night sky before they fade away.

All that is very interesting, of course, but the romantic in me just likes to make wishes each time I see one go shooting by.

Tips for enjoying the light show…
  • The Perseids extend throughout the month of August; however, the best nights are usually August 11, 12, and 13. This year, August 12th looks to be your best bet if the weather cooperates.
  • The best viewing hours are between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m.
  • On average, expect to see about 1-3 events per minute.
  • It may be cool at night, so bring along warm sweatshirts, or blankets, and a thermos of coffee, tea, or cocoa to chase away the chill.
  • A comfortable chair, or pillow is essential if you’re planning on gazing for more than a few minutes.
  • Forget the camera and binoculars--they won’t do much good. Instead, just sit back and enjoy the show.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Love Coupons (totally not summer-related, I know)

It's been bothering me for sometime that I created coupons for moms, dads and best friends, but hadn't gotten around to tackling significant others. So, with some free time on my hands this evening, I finally came up with a coupon booklet that let's your special someone know it doesn't have to be Valentine's Day to profess your mad, mad love. Simply print them out, cut along the lines, staple one side, and you are ready to go.
Print them out now!

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Prolific Squash Patch

Zucchinis terrific! Like bunnies, prolific!

It's that time of year again, when zucchini + summer squash seem to take over every square inch of your garden, your kitchen, your life. Yesterday I received a comment from Lisa who requested some recipes to help put her prolific squash patch to good use, so today I am posting a few of my favorite recipes for everyone out there who could use a little end of summer squash inspiration.


Fried Zucchini

Olive oil or Vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups plain breadcrumbs or panko
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 medium zucchini (cut into 3-inch long x 1/2-inch wide strips)

Mix together the Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs. Working in small batches, dip the zucchini into the egg to coat, then coat with the breadcrumbs, patting if necessary to cover the zucchini completely. Place coated zucchini on a platter or cookie sheet and set aside.

Pour two inches of oil into a large frying pan, and heat over medium heat until it reaches 350 degrees (Note: If you don't have a deep-fry thermometer, don't panic! When the oil starts to glisten on top and bubble slightly, you're good to go.) Working in batches, fry the zucchini for around 3 minutes, or until they are golden brown, then carefully remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Serve with marinara or aioli sauce. Or, just eat them plain! Makes approximately 4 servings.

Summer Ratatouille

This is one of those recipes that you can totally make your own. Feel free to add more or less of any of the vegetables in this recipe, or throw in whatever other veggies you might have on hand like red or green peppers, patty pan squash, onions, green beans, or even leftover corn, cut from the cob.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped (red or white)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large eggplant, diced
2 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
2 zucchini or summer squash (or a combo) cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
Salt + Pepper

In a large stock pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat, then sauté the onion and garlic until tender. Add the eggplant, tomatoes and thyme, lower heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the zucchini and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Makes approximately 4 servings.

Italian-Style Zucchini Fritters
2 cups grated zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
dash of salt + pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

Combine all the ingredients, except the oil, in a large mixing bowl. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, drop zucchini mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls, and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain fritters on paper towels, then serve with marinara sauce, or enjoy them plain (equally good!). Makes about 12 fritters.

Stuffed Patty Pan Squash
This is similar to a stuffed mushroom recipe, only using Patty Pan rather than mushrooms.

6 pattypan squash, stem and blossom removed
6 slices bacon
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese + a handful more
salt + pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saucepan, bring approximately one inch of water to a boil over medium-high heat, add the squash to the pan, cover and cook for around 10 minutes, or squash are just tender. Drain patty pans, and allow to cool slightly. When cool, slice off the top stem, then, using a melon baller, carefully scoop out the centers of each, reserving the meat. Chop the reserved squash meat and set aside.

Place the bacon in saute pan and cook over medium-high heat until browned. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels. Saute the onion in the bacon drippings, then add the squash pieces, and cook for about a minute or so. Remove the pan from the heat and add the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Crumble in the bacon, and mix until all ingredients are combined. Add a bit of salt and pepper if you wish, then stuff the mixture into each patty pan, place them in a baking dish, top with a handful of Parmesan cheese, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 5-7 minutes, or the until cheese is bubbly.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs until light and fluffy, then gradually mix in the sugar, oil and vanilla. Stir in the melted chocolate and zucchini, then the flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Finally, mix in the nuts and chocolate chips, making sure all ingredients are well-combined. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9x5 loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour, or until wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving. Makes two loaves.

Sunday, August 3, 2008