My mom is not much of a breakfast person (she’s happier with a few bites of leftover steak and potatoes than a pile of pancakes) and often subsides on coffee alone in the morning. She’s been trying to get back into a regular breakfast habit, however, and has started making her friend’s recipe for breakfast “cookies”—little oatcakes of mashed bananas, oats and nuts, which provide just enough fuel to get her to lunch. She made a batch for us when she was visiting in January, and Ella and I fell in love with them, not necessarily for breakfast (we’re hooked on porridge), but as a snack.
I met my friend Jessica in my kindergarten class, where she impressed me with her masterful coloring ability and quiet, calm demeanor. It turned out that she lived in my neighborhood, and we were soon hooked at the hip. She’s been one of my closest friends in the world since then (apart from a brief divergence in junior high, when she forayed into hard-core hip-hop while I stuck it out with Cat Stevens). While we’ve both changed considerably since those early coloring days, our paths have been always been aligned, from college in Colorado (her in Boulder, me at Colorado College), to marrying our college sweethearts, to having children within a year of each other, to now living on the east coast, her in Vermont and me in New York. We make it a point to visit each other several times a year, where we bare our souls, giggle like schoolgirls and cook. Jess and her husband Dustin are both awesome cooks and even have their own company devoted to making custom farm tables and kitchen furniture (Vermont Farm Table – check it out).
As I write this I have a newborn lying on my chest. Our second daughter, Juniper Louise, was born right before the New Year. She is such a miracle. A beautiful, sweet, exhausting miracle. My mom flew in last week to help out, and she has been absolutely spoiling us with her cooking, cleaning and errand-running. The first thing she did upon arrival was to pull out a file folder of recipes and ask us to choose a menu for the week. Since I’m usually the one menu planning and cooking for others, this is luxury beyond words. One of the first dishes we chose was her White Bean & Chicken Chili. This chili is a longtime family favorite and has nourished my two older brothers and me through some of life’s biggest moments, including the births of our (now) nine collective children.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we did a collaborative “friendsgiving” this year. From the turkey, to the stuffing and sides, to the pumpkin pie and spiced carrot cake, the meal was incredible. But the dish that still sends me into reveries was an appetizer that my friend Jeff brought. When we were planning the menu (yea, we’re the type of people to schedule menu-planning meetings) he offered, with a twinkle in his eye and a mention of some family recipe, to bring crab cakes. I’ve always enjoyed crab cakes and didn’t think any more about it (after all, a crab cake is a crab cake, right?). That is, until Kelley revealed that Jeff had tested the recipe not once but three times before Thanksgiving to make sure it was just right. I started to get curious. Jeff is a Brooklyn native with a New Yorker’s attitude and a teddy bear’s spirit. He loves food with a tenderness usually reserved for puppies but he doesn’t mince words if he doesn’t like something. These were going to be good.
I would easily name soup one of my favorite foods. Nearly every week I throw together a big pot of soup, which we eat with buttery grilled cheeses, toasted crostini topped with clean-out-the-fridge fixings, or slabs of cornbread. Usually the soup is vegetable-based and pureed until silky, and it’s one of the only failsafe methods I have of getting vegetables into Ella. She’s a big fan of dunking her grilled cheese into the soup to create a crispy-soggy bite. Ah, heaven—I’m guilty of the same pleasure.
Ever since I moved from Illinois to Colorado for college, and then to New York, I’ve traveled for the holidays, either to visit my family, or to visit James’s family after we were married. This is the first year in well over a decade that I’ll be staying put. While I know it’s going to be tough to be away from family, it’s also a relief, at eight months pregnant with a stomach the size of a Canadian goose, not to have to deal with airport security lines and crowded terminals. Plus, I’m hosting my first-ever friendsgiving, and I’m as excited about the food as a kid before Christmas. I’m lucky to be great friends with some serious cooks, and we’ve divided the menu, from the cocktails and appetizers, to the turkey, sides and dessert. There are three families, and each is bringing an appetizer (pre-dinner football nibbles) and some side dishes for the main event. I’m brining and roasting the turkey breast while my gal Kelley is confiting the legs and thighs. For dessert, I’m doing a pumpkin pie while Amanda is making a carrot cake.
Ella loves ketchup—I mean, really, really loves the stuff. She’d probably be happy squeezing it into her morning oatmeal and would certainly eat it with a spoon if we let her. I find this abhorrent. I’m not much of a ketchup fan, and I get shivers when I see her slathering a beautifully cooked bite of roasted chicken in the sweet stuff. I gave up on fighting her on this years ago, however, as I’d rather see her actually eat the meat or even those string beans, even if they’re dipped in red, than not eat them at all. But every now and then ketchup gets demanded and the chef inside me dies a little. Take these potato and salmon cakes. They are utterly lovely—crispy on the outside and tender within, laced with scallions, ginger and garlic. A hint of sesame oil and tamari (or soy sauce) give them an Asian flare, which is contrasted by a cool yogurt dill sauce.
I’m convinced that this granola sold our last house. Before moving to the Hudson Valley a few years ago, we lived in Connecticut for a stint, which, for a number of reasons, wasn’t a good fit for us. We tried to sell the house when I became pregnant with Ella, but without any luck (did I mention the housing market had just bottomed out?). A year and a half later we gave it another go. I was baking a batch of this granola when some prospective buyers unexpectedly stopped by with their realtor to see the house. I threw the bowls in the sink, grabbed a timer, gathered up a very sleepy Ella (who had been napping) and our rambunctious dog, and set out for a walk. By the time we returned the granola was ready to come out of the oven, and within a few hours we had an offer on the house. The for-sale sign hadn’t even gone up yet in the front yard. Who can resist a home that smells irresistibly like toasted nuts, oats, cinnamon, vanilla and coconut?
September was a doozy for James. He’s an orchestrator on the third Hobbit film and didn’t have a day off the entire month. Last week, in the final push to get the music done, he worked fifteen-hour-plus days, seven days straight. By Sunday, the color was drained from his cheeks and he’d shrunk from his six-foot-four frame to Bilbo Baggins-like proportions. Something serious needed to be done to bring him back from his Middle Earth detainment. In other words, cake.
Our good friend Teo lives in Colombia, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit him twice, first for a vacation years ago with a crew of old college friends and then again a few years later for his wedding. The food was awesome. On the first trip, we traveled from the mountains of Bogota (where we dined on tapas and sushi at chic restaurants) to the small village of Barichara (where we feasted on traditional dishes, including a slow roasted sheep-goat hybrid which we nicknamed the “shoat”) to the northern coast near Santa Marta, all in a tiny van crammed with 15 people. The trip to the Caribbean coast was a legendary, if slightly unfortunate 16-hour car ride involving insanely beautiful views, group-wide food poisoning and a nerve-wracking emergency pit stop in a village run by paramilitaries to find a doctor. After we finally made it to the coast and recovered from our digestive turmoil, we spent a few gorgeous days in a “camp” of sorts on the beach, where we slept in tent-like cabanas and ate incredible meals of fresh fish, coconut rice, spicy salsas and arepas.