mexican corn chowder

mexican corn chowder

Sitting at the corner table in Estia’s Little Kitchen with Connie, a spoonful of corn chowder in my mouth, I’m immediately taken back to my previous home in Queens. A burst of heat and plenty of cilantro in the broth is exactly how I enjoyed Momma Lupe’s soups. I called a gentleman over and asked in a single word, “tomatillos?” And in a single word returned,“poblanos.”Again I was back in a little kitchen of my own, in another time and place, where sounds of the blender filled the room as poblanos and cilantro became one, beautiful green.

Gratitude to this garden-to-table restaurant where everyone was friendly and most likely family, for allowing me a taste of memory. Our waiting area was the best wait I’ve ever experienced in my life. They serve iced coffee in a truck out back where they are currently growing many lettuce greens and herbs, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes. Check out that dragonfly chillin’ on a garlic scape. We walked around til our names were called and we made sure we would return before heading back into the city.

Inspired by their chowder (I had never seen a green corn chowder, have you?), I made my own and I am loving every morning, afternoon, and night, with a bowl of this. It’s good hot and room temp, probably even cold. It goes perfectly with an egg, avocado, a sprinkle of cotija, crispy tortillas. To make it a bit light, I use coconut milk instead of cream and I leave out potatoes. I also grilled the ingredients to get that summer flavor I love.

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Mexican Corn Chowder, serves 4-5 (double up for more)

-1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
-4 ears of sweet corn
-2 big poblanos, deseeded if you like less heat
-1/2 tbs coconut oil
-1 small spanish onion, diced
-3 garlic cloves or scapes, chopped
-1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
-1 cup cilantro, tightly packed, stems okay
-1/2 cup basil
-13.5 oz can organic coconut milk
-3 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
-cotija, cilantro, avocado, egg (serving suggestions)

Spend about 12 minutes grilling your poblanos, 6 minutes a side.

Spend about 10 minutes grilling your corn, turning occasionally. I actually grilled 3 out of 4. The un-grilled one I cut into 1-inch pieces and put them directly into the pot. But feel free to grill ’em all!

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Once they’ve cooled down enough to handle, stand each ear of corn into a bowl and cut kernels off of them. Slice your poblanos.

Take about half of the kernels and put them into a food processor along with the poblanos.

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Blend for a few seconds then add your cilantro and basil. Continue to blend til it reaches desired consistency. I prefer mine not pureed.

In a pot, warm up your coconut oil and saute your onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin seeds for about a minute. Then add the green mixture along with the rest of the kernels and 1-inch pieces, saute for another minute. Stir in your coconut milk and stock. Simmer for about 15 minutes. It doesn’t take long!

Enjoy ❤ Corn is making their summer appearance now but soon, it’ll be EV-ERY-WHERE.

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citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

citrus green bean salad & Tuscan-style beans

If you can find me competing with squirrels for my neighbor’s figs, then you best believe I was found, on vacation, taking the neighborhood’s oranges from trees bustling with these thick-skinned globes.

As if I didn’t have enough of them, I purchased honeybells, meyer lemons, and tasted a variety of oranges at the farmers market. They made a wonderful addition to a refreshing green bean salad that I made not once, but twice.



Inspired by a meal I shared with Victoria Anzalone in Astoria at Milkflower right before heading to Englewood, Florida, I fell in love with it’s simplicity. The green beans were kept crisp, tossed in a vinaigrette, and topped with sharp cheese, orange segments, slivered almonds, and quick-pickled radicchio. That’s it.

Mine was inspired by Florida and everything I fell in love with at Englewood Farmers Market.

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Wild orange roasted nuts, which were handed to Dan and I with the promise that we’d pay this kind man a week later because we ran out of cash. We paid Ashley Gray, suitcases in tow, an hour before hopping on the plane heading to NY. The cheese we used was a creamy asiago aged with raspberry ale from Stamper Cheese Company. The oranges were sorta-kinda stolen, and used for a citrus vinaigrette to toss the beans with.

Citrus Green Bean Salad

Directions:

We’re using a pound of green beans, trimmed, boiled in salted water for 2 minutes, placed in ice water, then drained. The color of your beans should be bright and glorious. Toss them with a citrus vinaigrette (juice from half a small orange, couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar, little bit of olive oil, salt and black or red pepper.) Keep in fridge marinating in this dressing for at least 30 minutes before serving. Plate the beans, top them with orange segments, crushed nuts of your choosing, your favorite sharp cheese.

I love seeing them on the plate. When I returned home, I made this again but with blood oranges, feta, no nuts, and golden raisins. The dressing was a fig balsamic. Use what you got, I always say!

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I served this with brothy, Tuscan-inspired beans with greens. A beautiful lunch made with ingredients I bought from a Korean farmer at Fresh Harvest who is head-over-heels in love with everything she grew. She handed me the perfect cherry tomatoes, long beans, chinese broccoli. The leafy broccoli and colorful tomatoes were perfect for this.

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Ingredients


for the beans
– 1 cup dried baby lima beans, soaked over night
– 1 large garlic clove, smashed gently
– half a small onion
– bay leaf or sprig of rosemary
for the “soup”
– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 1 small onion, diced
– 1 large carrot, diced
– cherry tomatoes, chopped
– fresh thyme
– dash of white wine or rose, optional
– parmesan rind
– 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
– 1 cup variety of greens (parsley, chinese broccoli)

Directions

In the morning, drain beans after it’s over night soak, cover with fresh water in a medium saucepan along with 1 garlic clove, half onion, and bay leaf. Let simmer for 2 hours or til tender. Time varies. In a pot, drizzle olive oil and saute garlic, onion, carrot, tomatoes and thyme for a few minutes. Add the cooked beans and everything but the greens. Cook for 30 minutes more and then add your greens. Simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve with garlic crostinis and salad.

New Years celebration involved a cheese platter with everything from the market, including a Pear Habanero Jam and a Strawberry Chocolate jam. I smuggled these onto the plane and have been using them like crazy.

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Dessert was kept simple, thanks to Jamie Oliver’s New Years advice: frozen grapes with chocolate bark. 

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2019 started off beautifully and, I might say this every year, but I think it’s going to be a good one. I’m moving out next month. I’m getting a shout-out in Edible Queens magazine for the Swedish Meatballs I recently shared on my Instagram. My friendships and family remain fiercely solid. I’m going to live about 30 minutes away from my job, which gives me more time in the kitchen and even more time to do personal chef side jobs in the summer. I’m finally listening to Danny: no more maybes, much more doing, a whole lot less self-induced anxieties. I hope your year started off on a good note as well. We need a good one, don’t we? 

 

You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

You Have Five Days in New Paltz, Part 2

During our winter visit in 2017, I remember we quickly drove past a shop in town that had the word CHEESE in it’s name. That’s all I saw. Cheese. We didn’t have time to check it out (every shop closes by 6PM!) but for the next six months, I knew it’d be a priority visit for me if I had a chance to return. Well, a few weeks ago, we walked a couple of miles into town, hangry, and I asked, “Where’s the cheese!? I don’t see the cheese!” Then I remembered all trees were bare the last time we were here. I spotted the only tree-lined block to our right and told Dan it had to be behind them. And there it was, a cheese shop with two entrances, held in what seemed to be a secret block of independent shops.

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At first, I thought it would be similar to World of Cheese in Forest Hills, where, simply put, they sell cheese. But since they’re called The Cheese Plate, I am happy to announce that they sell cheese, but with a cheese-mongers excitement, will put together a cheese board for you to enjoy inside, or outside, their shop. This would be our first meal of day 4. I told them Dan and I enjoy firm cheeses, and we settled on an Italian variety called Piave Vecchio, and Jake’s Aged Gouda. A cross between Parmesan and Asiago, Piave Vecchio crumbled onto the wood. Jake’s was firm and nutty, cut into hearty strips. Then quince paste was added to the board along with pistachios and almonds, olives, slices of apple, and soppressata. They gave us a generous amount of cheese for two people. I’m not complaining.

THEY ALSO SERVE ICE CREAM. And after a walk around town, we decided to return to go get some. We got chocolate, coconut, and blackberry. But alas, this isn’t about the wonderful way we started our 4th day, is it? But look how cute that guy is, handing me creamy blackberry amazingness.

Now, there are many places to eat around here, but when you know you only have 5 days in New Paltz, you eat at the one and only locally sourced Indian restaurant that you fell in love with during your first visit. And you don’t eat there once. If you’re anything like Dan and I, you eat there 3 very magical times and wish you ordered Chicken Masala to take back with you to Brooklyn. This is because every vegetable, cream and butter, is farm fresh. You can TASTE the difference. Coconut samosas? Such a wonderfully sweet departure from the savory potato or meat one we’re used to. The naan? Just look at it.

When we overheard that they serve a buffet on Tuesdays, we changed our plans to accommodate this feast.  Dan truly stuck to his favorite masala and I can’t say I blame him. Tomato and cream have never tasted so rich. We almost thought it was butter.

It was on Tuesday, day 3, that I fell in love with a soup. A thin, extremely fresh-tasting broth, heavy on the cilantro, mildly spiced, reminded me of a cross between my tomato soup and my carrot masoor dal. I kept eating small spoonfuls just to identify everything I could. I gave in and asked them about it, and was told it’s their vegetable soup, pureed with red lentils, and that if I return on a regular day when it’s made to order, it’ll be even better.

IHEARYOU.

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On the 5th day, the day we were set out to leave, I discovered it was their South Indian Mulligatwany. Guys. I’ve had mulligatawny many, many times. But never like this. I am convinced it has to do with the very ingredients they use, and how they use them. When we returned, with our suitcases in tow, needing to catch a train 2 hours from when we sat, I ordered this again. It was thicker. Richer. I think coconut milk was present. I loved it. But is it strange that I love their thinly-brothed version even more? It holds true to what Mulligatawny means: pepper water.

In my version, I use everything I thought I had tasted, and I came so very close to how it actually tasted. And yes, every single veggie and fruit came from the farmers market. I seriously encourage this. Heirloom tomatoes are IN and if I find out you store-bought yours, I already know you will not be able to experience this soup the way I swooningly did.

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A variety of carrots and onions are everywhere. Fresh herbs a must. Fresh spices, yes please. Peppers! Oh my goodness the peppers. Use sweet and ones with heat. You won’t regret it. The color of the soup will also depend on the color of the tomatoes and sorts of peppers you used. Mine were a variety of yellows and reds. It’s lighter-looking than what I had in New Paltz, but that’s also because sunshine lit this bowl up.

 

A Summer Mulligatawny

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
  • long drizzle of olive oil
  • 1 small onion or shallot, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • an inch knob of ginger, grated or finely chopped
  • 1 large heirloom tomato, diced (a pound and a half)
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 serrano pepper, diced
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp garam masala or maharajah curry
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 cardamom pods, gently cracked open
  • 1/2 cup dried red lentils (masoor dal)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1/4th cup coconut cream
  • cilantro, chopped

Directions

Gently toast cumin seeds in pot, about 30 secs, then semi-coat with olive oil. Add your onion, garlic, and ginger. Saute for a couple of minutes then add tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and spices. Let the spices perfume your kitchen and then stir in your lentils, add your stock, bring to a boil then simmer for about a 1/2 hr, stirring occasionally. Add coconut cream. Puree with an immersion blender or whatever blender you have. Serve with cilantro. For a heartier meal, also serve with basmati.

Variations
For a thicker soup, add more of the veggies you love, and/or add another half cup of red lentils. Some recipes call for an apple. Why not? You could also use coconut milk instead of cream, I was just aiming for richness here. I welcome any herb you’re growing here, too. Add a dried pepper for extra heat! I ran out of em. OH, and try grilling your tomatoes for a few minutes before adding it into the pot. I know that’s exactly what I’m going to do the next time I make this!

Okay. We didn’t just eat 5 days straight. We walked in the rain, too. We walked A LOT.

And in the walks, there was a heart.

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When Farms Give You Jewels (New Paltz, Part 1)

When Farms Give You Jewels (New Paltz, Part 1)

A fallen nest. A single, big-headed dandelion for one adult wish. Plenty of wild onions and flowers. The silhouette of Mohonk Mountain and it’s house. A field of corn, and then a single tree in a field of thousands of corn. These are only some of the things we eyed on a roadside in New Paltz.

We were either walking to the farm a half mile in, into town two miles in, or to a strawberry field we never actually found. Long story short–we walked and we ate. We walked in the rain, sharing a small umbrella. We did this often. We walked under the sun and pointed to all the beautiful roadside things, and sadly, the not so beautiful. We toyed with the idea of someday doing a catering business, using local ingredients only, maybe from a town like this. Maybe I’m not even toying around at this point. But what I do know: walks with my best friend have healed the part of my brain that was loud with awful news, social media, worry. While I can’t get rid of what’s happening, I can do more and be more ready to give my all, for myself, and for others.

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Only a half mile away, Wallkill View Farm had everything I needed, stocked full of local preserves, pastas, cheeses, sauces, spices, and allllll the produce. Every fruit and vegetable was minutes-ago-picked. On our first day, I bought generous-looking figs, raspberries which were on the tart side but immediately made me think JAM, plums, peaches, cherry and plum tomatoes, a banquet of basil that looked too beautiful to put into our next few meals. I bought creamers (baby red potatoes) that hold ridiculously true to their name. Applewood smoked bacon that lasted us 5 days, to be served alongside farm fresh eggs. My sweet guy made us breakfast every morning.

We bought prosciutto that ended up on one of our homemade pizzas. A single eggplant that was sweet and fed us for two days. Cinnamon raisin bread and a cinnamon crunch ice cream from Jane’s creamery in Kingston. Perhaps I’ve never been happier. I did not plan this trip whatsoever. This was all Dan with the help of Aunt Donna, whose beautiful home felt most like the grandest escape from city life.

What more did I do with this market haul? Guys. I could cry while telling you how each ingredient made me feel the most comfortable in my own skin. I made pesto out of some of the basil, pistachios I found in the fridge, capers, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I tossed creamers with a few spoonfuls of this and roasted them. They were crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. Easily the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had. I served the rest of the pesto with sliced cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. This was our lunch before we went to A Tovola, where we ordered hand-rolled pasta reminiscent of the pasta-making class we recently saw at Eataly.

One night we made pizza so good that we swore we could open up a restaurant. I made sauce out of the plum and cherry tomatoes. I woke up early to work on the dough so it could rise while we walked into town. We topped one pie with prosciutto. It was thin, sturdy, crisp. It was everything. Dan even made panko-breaded eggplant, which we decided is the only way to bread these babies.

Now let’s talk about the fruit. You gotta know I made jam, right? And you must know it was THEE BEST small batch jam I’ve ever made. While we couldn’t find the destination for picking strawberries, we ended up at the Dressel Farms market itself to buy the small, jewel variety.

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Quick recipe for my small batch berry fig jam:

You want about 4 cups total of chopped fresh fruit, which makes about 2 cups of jam. I used:

  • 2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • about 5 big figs, diced
  • 1/2 cup sugar (more if your fruit is not sweet enough)
  • tsp lemon zest
  • fresh squeeze of lemon

Put all berries and figs in a pan over medium heat. Break them down with a masher and add your sugar and zest. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often. I like to leave my jam a bit chunky but feel free to mash some more or use an immersion blender. Add a fresh squeeze of lemon (or orange!) towards the end to brighten up the flavors.

Sometimes I add other things, like mint, thyme, or freshly cracked black pepper, or even booze. But I wanted this to be all about the fruit and nothing more. BECAUSE:

It was also meant for pop tarts. You heard me. Pop tarts. Dan has been asking me to make these hand pies and I thought this was the perfect time to do so.

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For the pastry, all I used was:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temp
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp salt

In a big bowl, cream your butter and cream cheese together with sugar, salt, and extract til light and fluffy, about 3 minutes in your stand mixer with a paddle attached. Slowly add in your flour, continuing to mix for another minute or two til well incorporated. On a floured work surface, divide this into two equal parts, pat both into rounds and individually wrap them in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour, or longer.

Dan rolled one out and used a pizza cutter to cut rectangles out of them. Then we filled em up with a big tbsp each of jam. Used a fork to seal the edges. We made a quick glaze of confectioners sugar, squeeze of lemon, dash of vanilla extract, and a tsp of jam. It was delicious!

The morning before our last day, I remembered I had a second dough chilling in the fridge. I also had 2 peaches, 1 plum, and a handful of strawberries. I sliced them up so they could take center stage of a galette. I topped it with a cinnamon, brown sugar and pistachio crumble, and served it with cinnamon ice cream. No regrets.

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This post did not even begin to touch all the wonderful stores we walked into, or the restaurants we ate at. One truly needs to be talked about, but I think I’ll save that for the next one. For now, I leave you with desserts and love. Next might contain soup, and more love. And definitely more support of local farms, with recipes to go along with it. I bought this book at Wallkill View Market and am feeling very, very inspired.

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Plus, I returned home to find that my purple tomatillo plant grew a foot, and it’s tiny little husked fruits are beginning to grow. Heirloom beets are almost ready to be pulled out. Cherry tomatoes are about to debut their flowers. Dan’s are already blooming! There’s so much beauty to what’s to come.

 

HELLO, DOT COM!

HELLO, DOT COM!

So here’s the thing about having expectations during a planned trip, or, hey, even a planned blog.

Don’t have them.

For our third Glasbern Inn visit, we were expecting a snow storm that would want us to cozy on up to the fireplace for the totality of our time there. We got spring instead. We got more spring than actual spring right now. Mid-60-degree weather in February. It’s April 12th and I’ve yet to feel such a warmth as that.

We were also expecting our usual breakfast and dinner prepared by the chef we fell in love with a few years ago. Instead, we got ourselves a new chef. With new (affordable!?) prices to match. Hello, Executive Chef Ralph Edmonds! Mornings are still precious. We sit by sunlight and firelight, basking in both. And the food? Still farm fresh and locally sourced so, still pretty amazing.

The unexpected warm weather led to long walks, greeting the new calf, and a spontaneous winery visit where I could sit with my love, celebrating the moment I purchased this blog. HELLO, DOT COM!

We had Vyncrest Winery to ourselves and it easily became one I’d love to return to. After 12 free tastings (what!?) and the purchase of a bottle of their traminette, Dan asked me what I want others to get out of this blog. The truest answer I can come up with is this: to have you not follow my recipes so closely, eventually. They are ideas and contain flavor combinations I’d love for you to toy with in your own way, differently during each season. I want you to get to know an ingredient so intimately that you’ll find ways to use them creatively. If you ever do choose to use them, I’ll always encourage you to do so loosely (unless it’s baked goods, in which case you should follow loosely after following it the first or second time–just in case!).

Many people already view recipes this way. I have a binder full of them and they are mainly there for inspiration. In all honesty, having to write down “exact” amounts of everything is a struggle for me. I don’t cook this way. A part of me wants to tell you I sprinkled this and that into a pot and threw in a few orange peels and hoped for the best. Which would be true. But then I still am asked for exact measurements and I do want to be able to give you those answers. Which I happily will continue to do so! Just a little differently, and in a way that I am comfortable with.

From here on out, recipes I share will contain a variations section. Just quick notes on what other ingredients and spices work well with the main recipe. And each recipe will finally be printable! But this is as far as planning as I’ll go, for now. I’m still trying to redesign. Create a logo and header. Work on bio. Edit past recipes. Create a recipe index. I expected all of this to be done before reintroducing the site, but, having that expectation has honestly prevented me from actually working on this entirely. This is a journey I’m on and I think I’d rather you see the process and the changes as they come, instead of something close to “perfection”, which is an expectation I’d rather not have! There will still be photos, of course. Like of cows.

I’m still experimenting in the kitchen and learning new things about me in relation to food. I’m even spending a lot of time learning about flour and having a silly relationship with my first ever sourdough starter. (More to come on that). I don’t think Cook on Your Nerve will solely be a recipe-sharing home for me. I’m eager to cook more seasonally, be more hands-on in the garden and at farms, and even more eager to explore the politics of food itself. Who knows what this will become. I just know it will become, and currently is, exactly what it is in this very moment–a Home, where many things can happen. And that’s perfectly okay. This trip, and this guy, helped me to see this. And if anyone ever wonders why this our go-to destination, it’s really because it clears the mind and fills the heart. And tummy.

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Back to Basics

Back to Basics

When the new year arrived, I didn’t do the things I’d normally do, or the things I intended on doing. No lists. No thought-out resolution. In fact, while Danny and I were with his family waiting patiently for the countdown to reach midnight, like we always do! someone glanced at their phone and noticed it was thirty seconds past. We were watching a recording of the countdown happen. We all laughed, calling it a typical Frank Pizzarelli moment, but I do think it meant something.

We spent a lot of our time in New Paltz at his aunt’s beautiful home, nearby this castle. The day we were supposed to leave ended up being a snow day, one of my favorite days out of our vacation. After walking to the castle and working up an appetite, Dan and I made reservations at A Tavola Trattoria, an Italian farm-to-table that reminded me there’s a reason why Glasbern Inn’s farm food made me cry with pure joy: there is nothing better than a locally sourced meal. Nothing. There is nothing more passionate than how it is sourced, prepped, cooked, and delivered to the table. It’s all done lovingly; full of an awareness you can only get from such a place. And to share that with my best friend is beyond words. BTW: citrus-marinated olives, pickled watermelon rind arugula salad, charred brussels sprouts, and this crostini with house-made ricotta, rosemary salt, and truffle orange honey was a beautiful way to start this meal.

We weren’t charged for our cocktails (courtesy Aunt Donna and Uncle Richie, who called in from Florida to let them know two kids in love with food would be there), and they tasted of summer, garden days. Hints of cucumber, mint, house-made pineapple jam to be spooned into gin. Dan and I toasted to the year we were about to leave, and being hopeful about the one we were about to enter.

Donna recommended their Chicken Under a Brick and I can see why. Served with fingerling potatoes that were clearly roasted with the chicken, and charred escarole, we were in heaven. The lemon flavors popped. I was obsessed with the charred greens soaked in all that lemony goodness from the beautifully cooked chicken.

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The town itself seemed as if it was tailored to my dream lifestyle and dream kitchen. There’s a Handmade shop that has beautiful wooden spoons, cheeseboards, handpainted pottery BRIE BOWLS, Y’ALL. I could cry just thinking about all the things I could’ve gotten, but didn’t, simply because I don’t have my own space to fill in such a way that is Me. But I will get there, of course. This year, I’m carving out the path that will get me closer to home.

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In the meantime, we are hoping to return between our birthdays, just in time for strawberry season and spring blooms and spring menus. I’d love to visit the local farms, and spend the warmer months hiking. All we can think about is eating in New Paltz again. At this farm-to-table and their one-and-only Indian restaurant I wrote about in a previous recipe post.

Much gratitude to this beautiful family who I love making cheese platters for BTW. As soon as we arrived, Frank said, “you doing a cheese thing with some meat and maybe a tomatuh?”

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One thing I know for sure for 2018–there will be plenty of cheese, bread, and jam. Strawberry jam from what we pick with our own hands in New Paltz. Fig jam for Aunt Donna, as a thank you for the warm stay but also an apology for devouring the fig jam she left in her fridge. There will also be way more bread and other baked goods.

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I started reading from this recipe book I purchased from our trip when we got back, and that’s when I decided that I must begin the new year by strengthening my relationship to flour and the preservation of every season, with the intent of eating better and feeling better. I also need to drink way more water. Basically, I need to go back to basics. Take a tiny step back in order to move forward more fluidly.

The first thing I baked this month were these Orange Cardamom Crumb Muffins, inspired by a recipe in Toast & Jam.

I paired them with a fig and orange jam Lori bought me from New Paltz. It’s the most delicious thing EVER. The next day I toasted them, buttered them, added more jam and ate them with chunks of cheese. They are wholesome. My favorite thing about these muffins was watching my young niece work a bite of one in her mouth. She looked unsure. But then she said, more, after a brave gulp and I knew I made a worthy muffin.

ode to the wooden spoon

ode to the wooden spoon

I am enamored by the deep quiet of a wooden spoon. It holds like a tongue some keep-it-on-a-hush family recipe. It doesn’t matter where I am. At home. In my love’s home. At mom’s. In Englewood, Florida (where I started writing this, having put his parents’ spoon down which has stirred a pot of my famous beans. It may live on with the stain or scent of cumin and oranges.) Also, this was the first time I ever put orange peels into a pot of my beans and I had a serious OH WOW moment right in their kitchen that I will never forget.

I went orange-crazy here in Florida. I marinated chicken breasts with freshly squeezed oranges, olive oil, garlic, cumin, fresh thyme and basil. The heirloom tomato salad with feta had a light orange-basil dressing. The beans the beans the beans! Dan made his fried shrimp and it completed the small feast. A dinner to show my gratitude for this 10-day vacation with my love and his family, two days which were spent in Orlando celebrating my inner-child (and challenging my fear of heights, y’all.) The view from our balcony was so very beautiful. Everything was magic.

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I come from a Russian Puerto Rican household, and wood wasn’t a thing for cooking. Mom loved her rubber and plastic spatulas up until maybe a few years ago when wood entered our lives. When I told Danny this, he said, “I don’t get it. A wooden spoon is everything.” I’ve come to learn that a wooden spoon is story, is history, is amazing love. It is all-around gentle. Kind to your pots and pans as well as to what’s simmering long inside.

I learned a lot from his Italian-Syrian family. For instance, you’re supposed to be woken up not by the smell of coffee (okay, sometimes by the smell of coffee), but by tomato sauce simmering in a pot, stuffed artichokes in the oven, maybe baked meatballs, quite possibly Lori’s famous pecan pie or pinwheel knishes, rose-scented baklava or spinach pies, whole roasted chicken, the sweet and sour of yebre–stuffed grape leaves I plan on making very soon, and usually soups like split pea made with leftover ham, chicken with rice, and my favorite of hers: Italian Wedding. It’s never one of these things. It’s about two and something different, and always of course, seasonal. Right now it’s all about working meals around Danny’s garden. The best eggplant parmesan comes out of their kitchen during this time. Everything I love about summer comes from the garden.

While here in Englewood, Florida, after closely inspecting the wooden spoons I found in a drawer, I grew very comfortable in the kitchen. Knowing that everything in the fridge would have to go before we leave, we wanted to use up everything we had, especially the beautiful produce from Sunfresh!

Many cheese plates were made. All the fruit was cut up. I used their local butter for bread and lemon chicken. I made a watermelon salad with feta, thinking about the very one Tory made me recently, scattered lovingly with mint. Dan requested my guacamole and I requested his garlic bread for summery bruschetta. The peaches were so sweet. The hot capicola was beautiful, and hot. My view from a cheese plate? Even more beautiful, and hot.

I thought I hated beaches. For 28 years I did not care for them. Turns out I’m not into the ones found in NY, as they are cold and mostly dirty. But this beach? I never felt water so warm, waves so gentle, sand so clean. Dan and I watched the sun set together and I never wanted to leave. Thankfully we had this chance, as it rained heavily the next 3 days and the waves grew wicked due to Hurricane Harvey’s wind.

I had ice cream BTW that blew my mind. I think it was the first time I tasted ice cream the way it should be tasted and I easily became obsessed. I liked it so much I told everyone that we’re going back to A Better Scoop Ice Cream Shoppe the next day–my treat. Their Dark Cherry was everything dark cherry should be. Simple. I’ve had this flavor at other places and it always came with chocolate, but it’s not even necessary when it’s this creamy and rich.

One afternoon, while browsing their local supermarket (Publix), they were giving out samples of lemon chicken made on the premises. Everyone loved it, so I decided to make this for our next dinner. It was my first time ever making it and loved it as much as I love chicken marsala. The white wine, chicken broth, lemon, capers, thyme, cream…so so good. Always serve this with any kind of broccoli you love. It’s the perfect green.

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It took me awhile to get back to writing this post. Hurricane Irma threatened their home, a home I quickly fell in love with. I became on edge for them, having been around when superstorm Sandy hit them in Brooklyn. I am relieved very minor damage was done by Irma but I feel horrible about the damage being done by all these recent hurricanes and earthquakes. I may no longer have a home to visit in Puerto Rico and many do not have one to live in. The writing stopped when the storms started but I felt like I wanted to say so much. Earth is saying so much. While we were in Florida, we were getting rains and wind from Hurricane Harvey and already witnessed the sort of potential flooding if it had hit us directly. Trees were trees in a foot of water. Most of their seeds on the ground.

I can’t say why I felt the need to write about my love of wooden spoons, only that I feel most comfortable with one in my hand. If you find yourself in a kitchen you’ve never been in, spot the wooden spoon and you’ll immediately know what to do. These ten days brought me so much peace. To wake up and enjoy a cup of coffee with this view, with people I love, is nothing short of amazing.