Thursday, September 25, 2008

An Award for Summer!


I'm happy to report that my book, Summer: A User's Guide, received an iParenting Media (A Disney Internet Group) Award for 2008! Break out the champagne + noisemakers! (well, maybe just the champagne...)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Autumn Arrives

Today is the first full day of Autumn, and here in the Empire State, the sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, and there is just the right amount of bite in the air; fall has not disappointed us, thus far. I am happy to report that New York State apples are in the supermarkets (I grabbed a bag of Cortlands, but am eagerly awaiting the first crunchy Macouns), and pumpkins are aplenty. I've already aired out my fall sweaters, have stowed my tank tops away until 2009.

I'm nesting here, in my tiny, red cottage; I've been cooking hearty meals, and sleeping a lot more hours than I have in some time. As a result, I feel healthier, and I look healthier, too. This morning I threw together an African Lamb Stew, and it has been simmering on the stove for hours, filling my cozy little home with exotic fragrances, and memories of Botswana. For those of you who haven't read my Spice+Life Blog, I posted this recipe last year, and it's one of my favorites. Perfect for a chilly, Autumn evening, like tonight.

AFRICAN LAMB STEW
From SPICE + LIFE, January 15, 2008


There are some meals in life that for whatever the reason--taste, setting, company, two too many glasses of Cabernet--that you remember forever. I have several meals that stand out over the years that I feel are worthy of taking up precious space in my ever-dwindling supply of brain cells, and I am happy to share them with you today.

-A lobster roll, at Red's Eats in Wiscasset, Maine. So good, I gobbled it down in three bites, then went back for another.

-A plain, brown paper bag filled with briny, juicy, indescribably delicious, fried whole-belly clams, on Martha's Vineyard.

-Ropa Vieja at Puerta Sagua's in South Beach, Miami.

-My grandmothers matzoh ball soup.

-The mixed green salad with a farmers egg, at Blue Hill Restaurant in Pocantico Hills.

-Linguini with manilla clams, made by Juan, at the Fish Market in San Diego.

-Ravioli Alfredo at Luna's, on Mulberry Street in Little Italy.

-A bowl of hot chicken broth that Jerry brought me after three days of not eating because of a bout of food poisoning.

-A 3-lb, perfectly grilled lobster, at Charlie's Crab in Hilton Head.

-My first fish taco, at Fred's in San Diego (and then another a few days later at Taco Loco in Laguna Beach, after a morning of surfing lessons).

-Grilled hotdogs, at Rumrunners, on the beach at Hilton Head.

-Lamb stew, at Savuti Camp, Botswana.

As I look over my list, I'm amused at how diverse it is; clearly I'm not swayed by ethnicity or pricetag! Instead, I like to think (outside of the food poisoning, and my grandmothers Perfect 10 matzoh ball soup), that these meals were special not just because they tasted good, but because they were part of a road trip, an adventure, a departure from the everyday blah, blah, blah baked chicken. Certainly I've had my share of lamb stew in my lifetime (thank you, St. Patrick), but when I enjoyed it under a starlit sky in Botswana, sitting around a candlelit table, with Arlene, a bakers dozen of strangers, and safari guides, with elephants trumpeting at the waterhole just feet away, and plenty of good wine being poured freely and generously, it suddenly became the best lamb stew of my life.

And so, I encourage you to take a day this weekend, or the next, to get in your car and just drive. Drive to a town you've never been to, but always wanted to explore. Or, head into the nearest city, and take a chance on a restaurant that might open your mind, and your palate. For if there is one thing I've learned on my culinary journey, it's that you don't have to travel the globe for a wonderful meal; sometimes, the taste of a salty hotdog on a hot August afternoon, can remain in your memory for a lifetime.

African Lamb (or beef) Stew (PRINT RECIPE CARD)
2 lbs. boneless shoulder of lamb, cut into 2-inch chunks (or, feel free to substitute stewing beef)
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon hot paprika
16 oz can chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (no pith)
1 cinnamon stick, or 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup dried apricots
Salt + pepper (to taste)
1/2 toasted (in a dry skillet) pine nuts (optional)

Place a bit of olive oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat, and cook meat in batches until browned on all sides (add more olive oil as needed). Place meat in a stock pot, then saute onion and garlic in the skillet or wok until tender. Add onions and garlic to stockpot along with chicken stock, cumin, paprika, tomatoes, orange zest, and cinnamon, and cook over medium-low heat for approximately 2 hours. Add apricots, and continue to cook until beef it fork-tender (about another 1/2 - 1 hour). Season with salt and pepper, if needed. When ready to serve, spoon over white rice, couscous, or mealie meal (cooked white cornmeal), and top with toasted pine nuts.

Serves 4.

PS. This is even better the next day, so if you have the time, make the stew one day ahead, then reheat

PS.PS.
This is a photo I keep on my desk of my sister-in-law, Arlene, and me in Africa. We had just enjoyed a few sundowners out in the bush (Sundowners are the safari equivalent of happy hour, except there's usually not a chance of getting eaten by a lion at your neighborhood pub). I don't recall what has Arlene laughing so hard in this picture, but I tend to think it has something to do with the absurdity of having a wild elephant meandering by directly behind us as we posed.

Suzanne Brown 1.15.07

Friday, September 19, 2008

Loss

If I could pick one word to sum up 2008 thus far, it would be loss. Loss surrounds me. Certainly we can all agree that the economy is suffering from it, but I am talking about personal loss here--the loss of life, and the loss of love.

I had dinner with my parents at a small cafe in town a few nights ago--they came to visit me in my tiny, riverside cottage, to make sure I was safe and happy here, that I had a sturdy lock on my door, and food in my cupboards and fridge--and we had a long conversation about how much lighter our family became in 2008. We lost three close family members this past year--my grandmother at 97, my Uncle Cy at 92, and my cousin, Scott, who passed away at the too-young age of 57--and everyone in my family is still feeling somewhat heavyhearted as a result.

But it is not just my family that has suddenly become lighter, for it seems that everywhere I turn, someone is telling me about their own loss. Twice this past month I have gone into the sauna at my gym, and both times--within five minutes--two separate women have told me that they had lost a child. One woman lost her son, who was 42, and the other, her daughter, who was 26. I wish I was--through words--able to convey to you, reader, how it feels to be naked in a tiny, 105 degree room, and have a complete stranger be completely open and vulnerable to you, to confide in you their sadness and their grief. I can't however, because there are no words that will adequately describe how touching, how intimate those five minute interactions were. But I can tell you that I will remember both of those moments for my remaining days.

My friend, Marlene, lost her brother this year. He died of the same, horrible disease that my cousin Scott did. And sadly, just as young. My sweet hairdresser lost her brother in a boating accident over the summer. He was only 26. And then, there was old Henry, who I wrote about this past Monday. My dear friends, Michele and Steve are in mourning right now, and rightfully so; lest you think you mourn less over an animal than a human, you are terribly wrong; Henry was a part of their family, and they lament his loss.

Around me, relationships end as well. Friends who were together, are now not. My own relationship has been redefined, and I am now living alone for the first time in many, many years. The loss of love is exquisitely painful.

I feel as though sadness is at every juncture, yet somehow I don't feel profoundly sad. Instead, I wake up each day, grateful for all the gifts I have been given. I don't question the greater plan for me, or those around me; there is no luxury of time in my life to wallow in self-pity, or to be consumed by grief. As human beings, we have the ability to choose between living each day to it's fullest, in a positive and healthy way, or remaining stagnant, becoming bitter.

I choose the former.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rest in Peace Henry


My good friend, Henry, passed away quietly yesterday, with my brave friend, Michele (and Cortez + Kelly, pictured above with Henry) by his side. It seems that Henry had a less than ideal start in life, but was later adopted by my dear friends Michele and Steve, and immediately forgot about his troubles and went about his days breathing in good, fresh, country air, chasing chipmunks, and doing his best to be well-behaved + not bite people who he didn't quite trust. I was fortunately one of the people this big lug trusted, and I loved spending time with him, watching him race out the back door in search of adventures. Even when he developed quite a large tumor on his back leg, it never held old Henry back, or stopped him from scaring squirrels and strangers; this was a dog that lived life with gusto and made the most of each second of it. I remember this past July 4th when I was staying over the house, and the fireworks were spooking the pups. Big, tough Henry seemed to be spooked the most, so much so, that he wrapped his entire body around my head as I slept--it was as if I was wearing a hat made out of Henry.

I will miss my dear friend, but I know he is in doggie heaven today, chasing squirrels (and finally catching them!) and biting whoever the heck he pleases without being scolded, wondering what he did wrong.

Rest in peace you big, old lug. I will miss your beautiful face, your wonderful spirit. I hope I can enjoy my life 1/10th as much as you enjoyed yours.

Suzanne




HOMEMADE DOG BISCUITS (from Crafty Suzanne 11.21.07)
I used whimsical hand-shaped cookie cutters instead of the classic bone shape, so your favorite mutt can finally—and without punishment—take a bite out of the hand that feeds him.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup wheat germ
4 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cut hot water

Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl, then add egg, oil and water. Mix with your hands to form a dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to approximately 1/2 inch thickness, then cut shapes out with a cookie cutter. Place cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a 275 degree oven for about 2 hours (until dry and hard). Makes about 10-15 bones.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Comfort Food for September 11


It's been supremely nice for me to live 'off the grid' for a short while, here in this tiny, red cottage of mine; I have no television, or radio, or stereo set up, and the lack of a cell phone tower in the area means that I've been incommunicado for a few, blessedly quiet days. I can't say that I've minded, as I am a solitary person by nature, and being here--alone with just the deer, and my thoughts--has been a gift after a rather stressful few months. But, alas, the responsibilities of life and work calls, and so this week I got wired up with internet access and a phone line; I am sadly, back on the grid.

This morning I realized--since being back on the grid means I am back to checking my schedule and online news--that today is September 11th. Sadly, I didn't find this out by reading one of the top stories on CNN.com, but rather by checking my calendar for the day and seeing that my cable box is being installed this afternoon. My initial reaction was that I was unhappy I had to wait around for a cable box that I don't even want, but when I realized the date, I was even more unhappy that there wasn't one single blurb on CNN.com reminding me that 3,000 people were killed on our shores just seven short years ago today (2,600 of them not far from where I type this entry). Surely there is something wrong with our society when Michael Jackson's underwear being auctioned off makes the top stories on CNN, but the anniversary of September 11th does not.

If ever there was a day for comfort food, and for counting blessings, today is it. Fall has come quickly to this region, which makes it the perfect night to roast a chicken, mash up some spuds, and to sit down for dinner with the people (or person) you love most. Make sure to give them big hugs, and be happy and grateful they are with you on this date, safe and sound.

Then, pass the potatoes.


Perfect Mashed Potatoes

1 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 Tbsp heavy cream
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp milk
S+P, to taste

Note: I use a ricer to make my mashed potatoes as they simply come out better (lighter + fluffier) this way. That being said, feel free to use a masher, or a mixer to whip your spuds.

Place potatoes in a pot with just enough cold water to cover, add salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat, simmer, covered for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain.

In a separate saucepan (or, in the microwave), melt the cream and butter.

If you are using a ricer, simply rice the potatoes, then add the cream and butter mixture and stir. Thin with milk. Season with S+P to taste.

If you are using a masher or mixer, place the hot potatoes in a bowl, add the cream and butter mixture and beat (avoid overbeating potatoes as they tend to get gluey). Thin with milk. Season with S+P to taste.

Serves 4.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Little Red Cottage


Greetings!

I am writing this from my little red cottage in the woods. My niece, Claire-- who I sent photos to earlier this week--thought it worthy of Snow White, but I like to think this is more of a poets corner, worthy of Thoreau, as it set above a meandering river where trout, shad and striped bass swim freely, fly fishermen (and women) do their best to reel in dinner, kayakers paddle where Native Americans once canoed (the Indian name for this river is Kitchawonk), and nature lovers come to do what they do best--soak up all that Mother Nature has blessed us with. Truly, it is inspirational here, and I have only been living on this wooded stretch of land for less than twenty four hours.

The first thing that has struck me about this little town, plopped on the mighty Hudson, is that the people here are incredibly friendly, and it is wonderfully refreshing, and comforting to feel welcome, safe and instantly at-home. Today I shopped for groceries to fill my postage stamp-sized kitchen, and it was a challenge for me to shop with restraint, but it is my goal now to live small, and simply, and to have fun with the challenges that come with moving from a big home into a tiny one.

I don't have a recipe to post for you today because tonight I am making a bowl of angel hair pasta, tossed with butter, and topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, and cracked black pepper. Outside Tropical Storm Hannah rages, fills up the river below, but inside I am cozy and warm as the water boils on the stove. A simple meal for my new, simple life. And I couldn't be happier.

Love,
Suzanne