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If I had made a list of dream places to visit, Portugal wouldn’t have made it. So when my friend said she wanted to take a trip with a small group of loved ones for her milestone birthday, I was surprised to hear the country was at the top of her list.

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Portugal has been an under the radar destination for some time, making it a more affordable option to places like France and Italy. But travel seems to be on the upswing. Over the last two years, I’ve noticed a good many people I follow on social media posting about travel there, with mixed reviews. Some worshipped it, while others felt a deep indifference.

I fell into the former category, happily. But here’s what you need to know: Portugal is not Italy. Italy is easy to love, mainly because she can be aggressively romantic and lusty with her demands for you to love her instantly. (And, I did.) Portugal is its own locale, and it deserves to be judged for what it is. So, as with any new lover, you have to surrender the need for comparison. You have to arrive with no expectations and let Portugal show you why she deserves your love.

Lisbon, where we were based, is a shabby chic town. It is hilly like San Francisco, and much of the city is under construction. But, five minutes wandering through a Lisbon neighborhood charmed me; five days had me in the full bloom of love.

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When I arrived, my friend Dana was already at the hotel and eager to show me around our neighborhood, called Alfama.

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The first thing I discovered is art is everywhere. It is embedded into the fabric of everyday life in Lisbon. We ventured into an area filled with graffiti, where artists were encouraged to create works of art within the landscape. It was magical.

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We stopped in the Palacio Belmonte, an exquisite hotel in Alfama. There was unexpected beauty in every corner.

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When the rest of the group arrived, we took a food tour of Lisbon. Experiencing how people eat is such a great way to know a place. We stopped at the Mercado da Ribera, which has served as Lisbon’s main food market since the 1890s. Today the market is divided in half.

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One half is a traditional market that sells fresh produce, meats and fish to consumers, as well as local restaurants and bars.

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The newer section houses the Time Out market, an awesome food hall with a dizzying array of options.

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We drank copious amounts of vinho verde (or “young wine,” a refreshing white wine as light bodied as water) and sampled many delicious things on our tour…

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…but my favorite was the most famous dessert in Portugal: custard tarts.

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The tarts, also known as pastel de nata, were developed by the nuns who used egg whites to starch their habits, which left them with an abundance of egg yolks. Rather than discard them, they created this heavenly confection. Ours were from Manteigaria, reported to be some of the best in the city. While many bakeries use margarine in their crusts, Manteigaria uses 100% butter. The good news is they are only 120 calories per tart, so when you have more than one (and you will!), there’s no need to feel guilty about it.

The beauty of traveling is you dive deep into life—and eat two or three (okay, four!) pastries—with not one ounce of guilt. You meet yourself in the sweet spot of pleasure, happy to wander for hours on end. I like who I am when I’m traveling. I begin asking myself the big questions of life.

Like, why does my laundry never look this cute?

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I loved the people everywhere we went. Sweetness abounded, and while most people spoke at least a little English—a taxi driver told me the United Kingdom once ruled Portugal, so English is generally taught in schools—they were bowled over if you tried to speak Portuguese, even if only a word or two.

I can confidently say three things: bom dia (good morning), sim (yes), and obrigada (thank you). If you are a man, people were always eager to tell us, then you’d say obrigado.

Also charming were the tiles, or azulejos, we saw everywhere. They are traditionally embedded into the architecture throughout Lisbon.

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But then again, I found mostly everything to be sweetly enchanting.

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After our first cloudy morning, I realized my hotel room faced east. The light chaser that I am, I wondered if I would be able to see the sun rise each morning.

And boy, did I.

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Each morning the sun lit me up with excitement for unexpected pleasures of the day ahead.

I can’t wait to go back.

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Bom dia, with goodness and grace. xo

I’ve been in a funk.

It was a cold, snowy week (though, beautiful!), and my mood matched it.

How many weeks can a person write about feeling off center, unsettled and in a funk?  But, there you have it, y’all.  Sometimes those are days in a life.

But then, in the middle of all that, magic arrives.

You know how when you are in a funk, people seem more rude and insensitive and impolite?  Well, I’ve been just on this side of cranky (okay, who am I kidding? I have been fully entrenched in the cranky zone), and every interaction has seemed heightened, so the obnoxious things (and people) have been irritating at a whole other level.

This is when you need to take care of yourself, treat yourself well and plug up the emotional holes so your beautiful and brilliant life force does not escape.

So, I took myself on a date.

My Saturday evening was spent at Shuko, a relatively new restaurant near Union Square in New York City.  I got to know the team when they were at Neta, which I’ve written about on this blog.  Whenever I see them, it’s always a bit like coming home.  Only with better food.

When I sat down, Chef Nick said, “How can we get you to come in more often?” It’s like when my parents say they don’t see me as much as they would like.  Home.

As I glanced over the drink menu, Jerrad, the general manager, walked over and poured a glass of what he knew I liked to drink without me ordering it. Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you get it.  Home.

I sat in front of Chef Jimmy, who was meticulously preparing beautiful and artful bites of sushi, reading on my iPad.  He looked over at me and said, “Where are your magazines?”  I usually bring a magazine to read as I eat, to catch up on things I don’t get to read during my crazy weeks.  He is never offended and sometimes amused by it, making fun of me for reading so much.  Home.

Over the years I’ve learned eating out isn’t simply about having a plate of food you didn’t cook.  It can be an experience—and when hospitality at its highest level, you feel cared for and fed beyond your belly.

The food, hardly incidental, became a vehicle for care.  I lost count of how many courses there were, absorbed in each bite.  I started off taking photos of each dish, but I decided the experience was better left to memory.  See this crab salad with chrysanthemum?  Attention must be paid.

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And with that, a glimmer of joy began to find me.

Wherever you find yourself this week, I hope you feel fed in all ways that are possible.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

In this first week of the new year—better known in my world as the “year of me”—I’ve decided how important it is to spend more time on the things that light me up.

As many of you know, I’m a girl who loves food. Over the last year and a half, I’ve written about it far less that I’d originally intended when I started Goodness, Grace and Grub, and I want to focus a bit more on the Grub.  I thought that subject would be better served if I played with my food in a different space.

So today, I’ve given birth to The Goodness of Grub, an offshoot of this blog.  It’s definitely a work in progress, but I hope you’ll follow along on my food experiences.  You can find the first post here.  It’s all about Lenny Kravitz, not being perfect and deviled eggs.

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While I’ll still write about Grub here occasionally (and, of course, continue to share thoughts on Goodness and Grace every week), the new blog will allow me to expand on ideas in food, including sharing recipes I love as well and taking you along with me as I try out new cookbooks and products.

I hope you’ll join me!

xo, with goodness and grace.

In a perfect world, Sundays are lazy days with nothing to do and nowhere to go. In reality, these kinds of days are rare in my world.

The first half of the day usually involves some kind of clean out of the refrigerator. I get ambitious when I shop for the week, all full of ideas of meals to cook.  But then my schedule gets full and I get home late, take out in hand.  Which means Sunday breakfast is a often a salvage of vegetables almost past their prime, and they find their way in an egg scramble or as the base for a poached egg.

On this morning, I looked in my pantry and discovered a gluten-free pancake mix about to expire.  For many reasons, I haven’t had pancakes in almost two years—sacrilege, really. So, I made a perfectly nice stack of pancakes.

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Then I started thinking about a dish I’ve seen in a restaurant I like to visit, Buvette in the West Village of NYC.  Sometimes they serve a waffle sandwich, which has a runny fried egg, cheese, and bacon, and it looks heavenly.  Since I can’t have gluten, I’ve never had the good fortune to try it.  Thinking about this, I felt inspired.

And so I played with food.

My take on that mouthwatering dish ended up as a riff on Eggs Benedict.  Instead of an English muffin, I used a pancake as the foundation.  Bacon stood in for Canadian bacon (which I’ve never understood, anyway), and a single poached egg stood high and proud on top of my breakfast mountain.  A flurry of cheddar cheese and a drizzle of maple syrup tied it all together.

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It was delicious.

I hope you find room to play this week, and that it leads to all kinds of deliciousness.

xo, with goodness and grace.

 

How rare it is to have a day with nothing scheduled, nothing that urgently needs to be done.  I took advantage of the day, full of drizzly weather, and stayed in.

My highlight was a lazy lunch in bed—the simplest plate of nuts spiced with herbs de provence, a runny cheese and fresh figs, all voluptuous and sweet.  It was delicious and uncomplicated, everything summer should be.

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I hope you find space for at least one lazy afternoon this week.

xo, with goodness and grace.

Here’s the thing about a vacation—your thinking mind turns to mush.  Fortunately, I think, for me.  I crossed paths with a psychic this week who confirmed this when she told me I think too much; I worry too much; I’m in my head too much.  Truer words have never been spoken.

She also told me my independent spirit is like much like a man, but that’s another blog for another time.

On my yearly staycation this week, I had a very welcome chance to decompress and turn down the volume in my head.  So what did I do?

I ate.  I mean, duh?

I love a restaurant that allows its patrons to take lunch at their own pace, and the lovely people at Buvette have it down to a science.  It was my regular spot throughout the week for long and delicious lunches at the most leisurely pace.  I want to move in there.

This Salade Nicoise will always make me linger just a little longer.

Buvette Salade Nicoise

I spent time with friends.  An evening spent with one of my dear friends meant cocktails, food and a thousand laughs.  A fun night always ends with the question, “Will you be a bridesmaid when I get married???” (Never mind that I’m not seriously dating anyone….or actually want to get married.)  Good friends are necessary.

I took long meandering walks through my city.  On the hottest day, I sat under a big tree, looked out on New York Harbor, and just enjoyed the breezes.

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I went to the beach. Nothing restores my sanity as quickly as sand underneath me.

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I also took the time to do something crazy that I’ve wanted to do for decades, but never quite mustered the courage: get a tattoo.  It’s a nod to all the signs of love I see everywhere—a small heart.  Actually it’s an outline of a one, so I can always remember the importance of walking through the world with an open heart.

It wasn’t until later that I realized how completely perfect the universe is and that it has a pretty cool sense of humor.  My tattoo artist’s name?  Beau.

Signs of love are everywhere.

May you find the space to turn down the volume in your head and savor these summer days.

xo, with goodness and grace.

“She ordered the burger without THE BUN.  I mean…I like the bun.”  

The she in this case was me.

I’d stopped in a restaurant for a quick bite to eat, and the server couldn’t have been more helpful when I told her I couldn’t have gluten.  We settled on my order, and then the aforementioned burger arrived, blanketed in cheddar cheese and strips of bacon and beautifully presented on a round wooden board.  The plate in front of me, my meal now felt like an event.

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And then as I took my first bite, I heard the judgement from the table next to me. I will admit it took some of the joy out of the moment.

People make judgements all the time.

“I’d like to have the chocolate crema catalana,” I said to the server during a meal out at a hot new restaurant.

“That’s good, because that’s all you can have on the menu,” he said, meaning to be funny.  I think.

Judgements and snarky comments—and so it goes along my now year-long journey of being gluten free.

I’d gone to a doctor friend for help with a medical issue I’d been dealing with, and since he was taking blood, he figured he’d test for a few other things.  As he gave me my results, unexpected words rolled off his tongue.  “…and you have a pretty serious gluten intolerance.”  I didn’t know what to think about it at the time—beyond shock at the thought of cutting out pizza and carbonara pasta and chocolate chip cookies—but I cut it out of my diet and hoped it would make a difference.

Suddenly, issues I’d been having—among them bloating and itchiness—began to dissipate.  I wasn’t fatigued as I’d gotten used to feeling, and I began to sleep better.  There is no better way to become a believer than to feel like a vibrant, energetic human being again.

Based on the reactions from both strangers and friends, not everyone is as easily swayed.

Disbelief:  “How come everyone suddenly has a gluten allergy? It’s just a made up thing!” 

Near hysteria: “You love food…what are you going to do? No, really, what are you going to do? WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO???”

Annoyance: “Can’t you just not be gluten free today?”

Somehow, an encounter with someone who has a food allergy gives some people license feel annoyed and say whatever comes to mind.  I honestly believe most people do not mean to be rude— that they don’t realize they are being rude—much in the way of someone who touches the stomach of pregnant woman whom she does not know.  But, still.

If you know me well (or even, honestly, not very well), you know that food is important to me.  I have loved it for as long as I can remember.  It is more than just something to give me fuel and to keep me running through my day.  A good meal touches my soul.  It fills an emotional hunger like nothing else.

When I went gluten free, I was struck by how easily I let that change into my life. I didn’t delve into substitutes, mainly because I didn’t want the crutch.  I wanted to learn how to feed myself properly, with real food.  I wanted to get used to my new normal.  I had gotten used to feeling bad.  I’d even gotten used to looking terrible.

Now, there are lots of gluten-free options in the world.  And while there are an overabundance of horrible, tasteless choices, I’ve found a number of substitutes that make eating pleasurable, even fun.

Still, nothing remains the same.  There is much that I miss.

I miss being able to walk into any restaurant knowing that I can eat anything on the menu.   I miss stopping into any pizza place in the city and grabbing a slice to eat as I walked down the street.  I miss being free from wondering if the server knew what he was talking about or if he was just indifferent or if there was bread pureed in the sauce or if the bread that the guy at the salad place just dumped on top of my beautifully curated salad will contaminate the greens that came in contact with it. I miss my Sunday morning ritual of a coffee with half-and-half and a chocolate croissant.  I miss the comfort of a Sprinkles cupcake.

I miss the freedom to eat whatever I want, whenever I want.

After I was diagnosed with an intolerance or sensitivity or whatever word you’d like to call it, I went grocery shopping.  In the middle of an aisle at Whole Foods, I stood looking at all the things that I could no longer eat.  A single thought came into my head:  I must mourn this.

I did.  And I’ve been fine.  And, I have moments when it’s tough.

But, there have also been benefits, despite the challenges.

By watching other people dealing with their allergies, I’ve learned how to ask for what I need.  When you order in a restaurant, if with trepidation you apologetically say that you may have a slight gluten intolerance, you will have a wishy-washy and confused server.  If you go down the list of every item on the menu and ask, “does this have gluten in it?  Does that have gluten in it?”, they will not take you seriously.   If you don’t tell your server that you have a food issue, and your dish arrives breaded and fried and you pitch a fit, they will hate you.

But if you examine the menu and make an educated guess about what can work for you, then enlist the server as a partner, explaining simply about your gluten allergy and to let you know if you are going in the wrong direction with your order, they are usually happy to steer you in the right direction.

I’ve learned how to take care of myself, sometimes the hard (and itchy) way.

At a cooking class in my friend’s apartment, it was pasta night. The chef very thoughtfully brought a gluten-free recipe for me to work on, so I wouldn’t be left out of the evening. I was grateful.  My pasta was passable, though not swoon-worthy.  One of my friends made ricotta gnocchi.

Now, gnocchi is one of my most favorite foods in the world.  (My mouth waters thinking of the simply prepared gnocchi in tomato sauce I had sitting in an outdoor Roman cafe years ago.)  At the class, these looked pillowy and airy and completely delicious.  Gluten be damned, I resolved to taste them.

The chef eyed me with my fork in hand and gnocchi in mouth and said, “I can’t believe you’re eating gluten.”  There are moments you file away, the ones when someone says something that resonates so deep in your soul that you will always remember the way they looked at you when they said it.  And then you very quickly ignore it.

The next day, I was perfectly fine.  HA!  Maybe I just needed to stay away from gluten for a while.  Maybe I really can eat it every now and then.

The day after that, I was still feeling okay, but starting to become itchy all over.

Three days after the gluttonous bites, my neck was covered in painful eczema and I was an itchy mess.

I’ve learned to take care of myself.

I’ve also discovered the kindness of strangers.  Service industry folks are a great group of people who, for the most part, want to ensure that your needs have been met.  They will often very kindly go out of their way to be certain that you are not hurt by eating in their restaurant.  They are my greatest allies and I have the utmost respect for them.

I’ve learned to ask for help.

As I make my way through this new landscape, I find that I am writing less about food.  How can you write about something when the language for it is barely formed in your head?  When each day presents the question, ‘what am I able to eat today?’

In the meantime, I continue to experiment in the store and in the kitchen.

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I eat because without food I wouldn’t survive.  I eat in restaurants because it makes me happy.  I cook because I must, because it feeds more than just my belly.  It satisfies the deepest part my soul.

And that is grace.

Let me just say this: self care can be hard.  There was not one day this week when I didn’t want to stay in bed, all warm and cozy.  But still I got up and I showed up. Because, that too is self care.

Day 13: I left the office at a reasonable hour to see some friends I don’t see that often, including one who lives in another city and was in town for a few days. Getting to see girlfriends always means a fun night out.

The cocktails weren’t bad either.  A Manhattan always makes me feel so grown up.

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And, it was St. Patrick’s Day.  The Empire State Building celebrated along with us. How lucky I am to get to see a view like that.

Empire Statue Bldg on St Patrick's Day

Day 14:  This day was just plain hard.  I wanted to do anything but what I was supposed to be doing.

I wanted to be frolicking on a beach with cute cabana boys bringing me lobster salads.  I wanted to be at the spa, knots untangled and mind de-stressed.  I wanted someone to send me on a private plane to Paris, and when we landed, I would start with a gluten, butter and cream-filled eating binge and end with a shopping spree at every designer store—and someone else would pay for it all.

Instead, I was at my desk needing to get through my massively long to-do list.  So I ate chocolate instead.   At 11:30 in the morning.

And it was good.

Marzipan Chocolate

Day 15:  This was the day that I said, I got nothing.  I felt like I had nothing left to give, even to myself.

And then I felt loved.  (Please see the previous post, Grace: Abundance.)

You are Beautiful

Day 16:  The princess in me wanted to sleep in, but instead I got up before the sun rose and I got on the bike.

I also sweat like I’d never sweated before.  It felt good to work out everything I’d been carrying all week.

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Day 17:  Going home and cleaning out the DVR and catching up on what happened in the world that week may sound like a self care fail.  But sometimes it’s all you need.

Day 18:  This was the day I took a three-hour nap.  Finally, I let myself get some much needed rest.

But, before I put myself down for nap time, I was moved to see a block in my neighborhood covered in inspiration written in sidewalk chalk.

Amazing

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It was extraordinary to fall asleep with this inspiration for my dreams.

Day 19:  Sometimes it’s a challenge to make time for the things that interest me, but this day was spent, happily, at a food styling course.  I learned some fascinating tricks that I hope to use on this blog in future posts.

Afterwards, I took myself to ABC Cocina, one of my favorite places in Manhattan. Everything I’ve eaten there has been heavenly, especially this shaved brussels sprouts salad with a flurry of cheese and Marcona almonds.  This would convert anyone who thinks they hate brussels sprouts.

Brussels Sprout Salad-ABC Cocina

And these short rib tacos with habanero relish—they were savory, succulent, and scrumptious.

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A perfect way to end the week.  Here’s to the next 7 days of caring well for ourselves.

xo, with goodness & grace.

Up early on Saturday with a throbbing headache (okay, maybe I had a lot of fun the night before), I went out for a comforting meal to nurse my woe. Amazing what the wonder combination of coffee, eggs and potatoes can do in easing your pain.

After my hangover headache treatment, I walked around SoHo, marveling in the peace of the neighborhood at that time of morning.  Normally, it’s trampled by masses of tourists who cram the narrow streets like it’s a perpetual suburban mall on a holiday afternoon. On this morning, the cool air and the calm energy hummed on low, so I went for a stroll.

My walk led me toward the new downtown location of Ladurée, whose beautiful macarons I’ve written about before, but my inner GPS kicked in and redirected me towards the Dominique Ansel Bakery, home of the foodie cult favorite, the Cronut. For those of you that don’t know, a Cronut is a cross between a croissant and a doughnut, fried then filled with a flavored cream and glazed on top.  They’ve reached near legendary status here in New York.

Unless you are willing to line up at 6am, chances are you won’t be able to buy one.

Somehow this was a lucky day.  I walked in and saw someone eating one.  Not sure if they still had any left, I took my place on the relatively short line…and scored the flavor of the month.  I bought two of the Raspberry Lychee Cronut goodness.

On the Cronut Line

Now, having been gluten free for almost 8 months, you’d think I wouldn’t care about such a thing.  But I’d promised myself if I ever got my hands on one of these, I would try it.  Because, YOLO, y’all.  (Please note that if you have gluten issues, you probably shouldn’t follow my delinquent behavior.  I was willing to suffer for pastry.)

Immediately I texted my father, who has long been my food partner in crime.

“I got us CRONUTS!!! Should I swing by?”

“You should be on your way right now,” came his reply.

We opened the box.  And then we stared at them.

Raspberry Lychee Cronuts

Because they are hard to come by, we were uncharacteristically hesitant to devour them.  I timidly dug into one, cutting it in half and saving one piece for my mom. (I’m generous like that.)  The inside is a thing of beauty, all airily layered and creamy and oozing with raspberry jam.

Inner Cronut

Biting into it was a festival of senses: the crunch of the dough tingling with sandy sugar crystals gave way to a creamy lychee filling—which was reminiscent of a bright lemon flavor—and married with the sweet tartness of the raspberry jam.  I loved it.

My dad took his time with his, reflecting on the flavors of each bite.  In between the munching, we caught up on the week just past, chatting and laughing with coffee and Cronuts, our feet on the coffee table.  These really are the treasured moments of life.

The Cronut was just a catalyst to be able to steal some time to hang out together. This is the essence of goodness.

I could not stop making pies.

It was as if a force larger than me began channeling itself through my hands, the hands that suddenly needed to be wrapped around the stickiness of pie dough. This led me to spend the better part of November experimenting, playing, and testing different recipes, all in search of the perfect pie crust.

The irony is that for most of my life, while I’ve always loved pie, I have not been a fan of pie crust.  I would eat around the crust, especially the dry outer rim. The softer bottom was often closer to the texture of the fruit, usually apple, so I didn’t mind that so much as it really was just a carrier of the sweet filling.

But in the last couple of years, I developed a deep longing to play with dough.  I found myself yearning to make bread in my little city kitchen, even though I had never baked a loaf before.  I would dream of the smell of yeast, the crunch of the crust, the tang of the chewy interior.

I tried it once, and it was an epic, dense failure.  I came to believe that yeast doesn’t want to blossom with life in my kitchen. Or maybe I just was an incompetent baker and it was not for me.

And then I found out I have a gluten sensitivity, so my bread making experiments were temporarily derailed.

But, the whispers of “pie” soon began haunting me, and I needed to quiet them.

Working butter, flour, and water in my hands became more than just baking.  At times it feels like the nagging thoughts in my head and each unnamed worry are being worked out as I make the dough.  It’s become culinary therapy, the place where everything else is held at bay, if only for the moment.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I watched my nephew as he was transfixed by one of those rainbow bracelet looms that kids are obsessed with these days. He is a bundle of energy, this kid.  When he visits my parents, he spends the better part of his stay running up and down the hall, sometimes with a ball, sometimes with a hackey sack-esque pillow, sometimes with just his imagination.

But the loom kept him quiet and still for hours.  Literally, hours.  In him I witnessed the power of his jewelry meditation, as he strung together one rubber band after the other. He’d emerge from his room bleary eyed, but calm and content, proudly showing off the bracelet he’d just made.

This is what pie dough has become for me.

One day as I wandered through a bookstore—always my favorite way to spend an afternoon—I came across a cookbook, all about pies.  It was authored by the owners of a Brooklyn bakery that I’d heard of that had intriguing combinations, but had never visited the shop.

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As I flipped through recipe after recipe, I became breathless with the anticipation of what I wanted to make first.

Now, if there was ever a time when I didn’t have a spare moment to try something new, it was the past few months. But I’d come home late from work, paradoxically exhausted yet fully wound up, and I would suddenly have the urge to play with butter and (gluten free) flour and water.

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Then, there is the repetitive deliberation of slicing, in this case apples and sweet potatoes…

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…and the fun in sprinkling a comforting crumble topping of oats, butter, and warm spices that evoke fall.

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The finished Sliced Sweet Potato & Apple Crumble Pie tasted of the season, a warm hug of a dessert (or, okay breakfast…shhh).

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And, there was the post-Thanksgiving Cranberry Sage Pie.  An earthy filling of cranberries, apples, cinnamon, allspice and an unexpected hint of sage, it’s a pie that makes you want to cozy up with something – even if it’s only a slice.  I had a little fun with the top crust, before brushing it with a little cream and letting the flavors mingle and bake.

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My pie skills are improving, and  in the midst of the holiday season, I know how I”ll keep stress at bay.

And the secret to the perfect pie crust? When the dough gets too warm, give it a rest in the coolness of the refrigerator.  Taking time to just hang out is important to a dough’s success.

Maybe everything I need to know about life—at least for this moment—is in the crust.

And, a little apple cider vinegar in the dough works a bit of magic, too.

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, www.amazon.com.  

When I’ve visited the Union Square Greenmarket these past few weeks, I’ve been greeted by bushels of tomatillos.  I have never cooked with them before, but I’m always captivated by them whenever I’m in a Mexican restaurant.  If there are three salsas in front of me, invariably I prefer the salsa verde made with tomatillos.

So I bought a bunch and decided to practice making my own salsa.

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It couldn’t be easier.

A relative of the tomato (though closer to the gooseberry), tomatillos are sheltered in husks.  Once they are removed, the tomatillo often has a sticky coating.  Don’t mind this.  It can be washed, though if a little remains it isn’t a big deal.

Out of their husks, they look like little green tomatoes.

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To begin making the salsa, cut the tomatillos into quarters.

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Chop an onion as well and add both to a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.

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Chop a jalapeño, if you’d like, to add in a little extra heat.  Salsa needs a little heat, in my humble opinion.

Next, broil the veggies for 3-5 minutes, until they are slightly charred.  The char adds an almost smoky flavor to the salsa.

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Put the broiled vegetables in to the blender, along with a healthy bunch of cilantro.  If you don’t like cilantro, just leave it out.  Though, it won’t be nearly as good, in my humble opinion.  (Are you over my humble opinion yet?)

In other thoughts, can we take a moment to talk about my love of my Vitamix?  It is the best appliance ever – always reliable, always versatile.  Almost anything you want to make you can: smoothies, sauces, soups, peanut butter, ice cream, and on and on.  I feel deep love for it.

I would marry it, but it has yet to put a ring on it.  But I digress.

Back to the salsa.

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Purée everything until the mixture is smooth.

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And then, it is ready to be eaten.

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There are an abundance of uses for tomatillo salsa.  Use it as a sauce over chicken or fish or even scrambled eggs.  Bake shrimp with the salsa and some crumbled queso fresco or cotija cheese.  Spoon it over chicken enchiladas with crema or sour cream.

Or, my preferred way to enjoy it: grab some tortilla chips and dip away.

Sometimes you frequent a place and it becomes like a home away from home, with friendly faces who are happy to see you and are genuinely interested in how you are doing.

That’s what Perilla feels like for me.

I hadn’t been for the better part of this year, but today I returned to the restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan.  And it felt like going back home.

I happily anticipated my favorite dish for brunch, the Creamy White Grits.  When I first tried it, I was brunching alone and as I ate I audibly repeated, “mmmm” like a person possessed.  It’s that good.

Along with shrimp, peppers and bites of tasso ham, the grits are normally accompanied by a deep fried poached egg, crunchy and runny all at once – and a must try. The kitchen kindly substituted a perfectly fried egg in its place to accommodate my gluten issues.

It was as delectable as ever.

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Of course, when it’s served up with conversation reminiscent of old friends, food tastes even better.

There’s no place like home.

Perilla, 9 Jones Street, New York, NY 10014; 212.929.6868; perillanyc.com.

Yesterday I wrote about my love of peaches.  Today, I used the rest of the bounty I purchased at the farmer’s market this weekend.  I made peach cobbler in celebration of Labor Day.

Using this easy recipe, I substituted Cup 4 Cup flour to make it gluten-free.  It worked beautifully, with virtually no difference in the texture (or taste…shhhh) in the batter.

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The cake-like topping was light and tender, and it posed a perfect complement to the summery vibrance of the peaches.

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Summer may be waning, but dishes like this allow us to hold on a little longer. That is the goodness of food.

We’re blessed with beautiful farmers’ markets in New York City, rich with local and in-season produce.  Though I don’t often have time to hit up the markets, this time of year, I’m haunted by memories of peaches.  Some people have a fear of missing out on life; I have a FOMO on peach season.

So I went to the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday and was happily greeted by an abundance of succulent, fuzzy, juicy peaches, just waiting to be eaten.

Peaches

I greeted the morning with knowledge that I had a handful of peaches on my kitchen counter just waiting to be enjoyed.  My plan was to use them in my favorite recipe, but the creme fraiche in the refrigerator had gone bad.  Such a sad story.

Instead I improvised with ingredients I had on hand:  fresh ricotta cheese with a sprinkling of brown sugar and a splash of vanilla extract all whipped together, which I then dolloped over one perfectly ripe chopped peach.  The mixture tasted like a pillowy cheesecake infused with juicy, sunshine-y peachiness.

I love when things turn out well.

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Since I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance almost two months ago, I’ve completely overhauled the way I eat.  Meals are mostly lean protein and veggies, with little alcohol or caffeine.  I only dabble in dairy.  While I was cleaning out my body to be free of gluten, I figured I should do a complete overhaul.

I was surprised how easily I took to it.

But these last two weeks, I’ve felt deprived of my comfort foods.  (Hence, two recent posts have mentioned a very new need for ice cream.)  I missed foods like pizza.

So when I was in Williams-Sonoma yesterday and saw this gluten-free flour from chef Thomas Keller, I saw a glimmer of comforting hope and bought it.

Cup 4 Cup Pizza Flour

The mix looked and felt like regular flour, and it was accompanied by a packet of yeast.  Everything went into a bowl…

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…where an egg and a cup of warm water was added…

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…and a fork stirred it all together until the dough looked like little rags.

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Kneading the dough fully incorporates all of the ingredients into a ball.

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I then divided the dough into two pieces, with one going into the fridge for tomorrow.  (Yay!) The other was rolled out between two pieces of parchment

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Once it was rolled out, I trimmed the edges, then followed the instructions by folding them over and brushing olive oil over the dough.

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Pricking the dough with a fork to prevent it from bubbling when baking….

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…and it then was pre-baked in a 500 degree oven for 8-10 minutes.

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I scoured the refrigerator for ingredients to top the pizza and came up with cherry tomatoes, onions and mozzarella, with a smear of creme fraiche on the crust.

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The crust went back into the oven for another 10 minutes, when the dough emerged crispy and the toppings were caramelized and melted.

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As I ate my first slice, I felt comforted and normal.  It tasted like regular pizza.  I could regain my rightful place as a pizza lover.

And for that, I am very grateful.

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For more info on Cup 4 Cup products, visit cup4cup.com.

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