golden matzo ball soup

golden matzo ball soup

Last month, when I was diagnosed with a rare facial nerve condition and couldn’t really chew much, my mind’s eye saw nothing but matzo ball soup. It saw a rich, golden broth with fluffy filling floaters so very tender on the teeth. How you like that alliteration? Anyway, I couldn’t make it. Matzo ball soup needs your head on straight (okay, maybe a little straight) and all the heart you can muster. (Seriously, all).

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Speaking of hearts, Dan got me a quart of it from PJ Bernstein near my place, with a side of mash and mushroom gravy, and for a split moment, the love of it transformed pain into pure happiness. Which didn’t last as long as I liked. Pain hit me that same night, real bad. Meds that were given to me weren’t working, and even though Dan had just traveled to me from Brooklyn, he hopped back on a train to get me stronger pills that were once prescribed to him. And guess what? When he returned, with meds, he also carried a bag full of food. When I asked what it was, he told me he had no clue. His mom handed the goods to him hoping it’ll make me feel better. Aaaaand…

It was matzo ball soup.

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I don’t know how she knew what I needed, but I felt so touched by this and now this soup will forever be my one true medicine. I sipped and gently chewed for a week.

Now let’s get to the recipe. When I bought a pint of this from PJ Bernstein last week, I freaked the hell out when I saw that it was $10. Obviously I needed to make my own, especially since I was diagnosed last night at the hospital with ANOTHER nerve condition. Who needs a hug? This girl. But I’m willing to share some love with you, too.

Why golden? Turmeric. I’m putting it in everything right now because I need all the healing. But the matzo balls GLOW so beautifully, and the ginger, nutmeg, dill adds some serious flavor. No boring floaters here!

for the broth

-3 lb free-range, organic whole chicken
-enough cold water to cover chicken
-1 tbs kosher salt
-1 large onion, skin on, halved if necessary
-3 garlic cloves
-2 celery stalks
-2 carrots
-1 parsnip
-2 bay leaves
-a combination of herbs you might already have, about 6 sprigs total (parsley, dill, cilantro, thyme, oregano)
-1/2 tbs peppercorns
-1 cup flavorful chicken or veggie stock for later*

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Keep at a slow simmer from beginning to end, for about 2 1/2 hours. Skim off the top every chance you get so that the end result is a clearer and cleaner broth. I don’t welcome cloudiness when already feeling blue, ya know?

*The broth will reduce a little with time, so I like to keep a cup of chicken or vegetable stock nearby to add to it. Others just add more water, but I find that this gives it more flavor. Use a chicken or veggie bouillon if you’d like…I won’t tell on you. (I like the Better than Bouillon paste shhhhhhh).

Discard all veggies and herbs, and place the chicken in a separate bowl. Save it for another dish, or shred breasts and add it to your soup later on. You can also pour it through a fine mesh, but it’s okay if you don’t want to get too fancy.

for the matzo balls makes about 8 medium-sized (double recipe for more)

-2 eggs
-2 tbs chicken broth
-2 tbs schmaltz (chicken fat), melted
-1 1/2 tbs fresh ginger, peeled and grated
-a heaping 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
-1/4 tsp salt and some freshly cracked pepper
-pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
-1/2 cup matzo meal, unsalted
-1 1/2 tbs fresh dill, chopped (or cilantro, parsley)

In a medium bowl, whisk eggs along with the ginger. Add everything else and stir til well combined. Pop it in the fridge for at least 1 hour, uncovered.

When ready, gently form balls, being careful as to not packing them tightly. You’ll want to barely touch them so that they remain a bit light and airy.

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Place them into the broth that is gently boiling, along with some fresh carrots and one celery stick, both chopped into 1″ pieces. Cook for about 35-40 minutes.

Serve with more fresh dill. Noodles are also an option. I made less matzo balls because I knew my mom would love noodles as well. OH, and if you’re into beets…the salad I made to go with it was rrreal good.

5 small roasted beets, 1/3 cup of barley, cooked in about 1 1/2 cup simmering water. Lots of fresh dill and parsley, about 1 cup. Lemon and olive oil dressing, salt and pepper, chopped pistachios.

A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

A Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

Do you love sweet and sour dishes? I didn’t til I sat at my love’s Syrian-Jew-But-Also-Italian table.

Traditionally made with apricots, I noticed how Dan’s mom, Lori, would also add an equal amount of prunes to her Yebra (stuffed grape leaves), which are smothered, gently, with a tamarind sauce. It’s a beautiful, vibrant-tasting dish. When I decided to challenge myself by making these for my love (or making these at all–I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous recipe!) a light-bulb struck. Why not use another dried fruit that I adore?

Figs.

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Let me tell you. Eating this made me want to buy fresh figs and roast them in this sauce–which actually might be a recipe coming soon–but I digress.

Did I eat more figs than grape leaves? Probably. But mostly because I wanted their to be enough of the leaves themselves for Lori to try. When I told her I was making Yebra, I received a stream of expected texts, “did you rinse them first? Dry them? Did you soak the rice? Make sure you lay them vein-side up.” I didn’t have much time to reply (because..yes..I was doing all those things!) I have made these a few times with her and my confidence in the kitchen that morning sang through the window on the 5th floor of my mom’s tiny UES kitchen. Upon the first bite (I swear it!) my guy teared up. All I heard was “…babe.” And he then came at me for a bear hug and a hundred kisses. Next day, I received a text from Lori that said it tastes just like Aunt Sara’s. Which, BTW, is the ultimate compliment. For as long as I’ve sat at their table, Dan has always said “Please make it taste like Aunt Sara’s.” I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but here’s to you, Sara.

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Stuffed Grape Leaves with Figs and Apricot in Tamarind Sauce

1 lb hashu, recipe follows
8 oz jar of grape leaves (about 30-36)
10 dried mission black figs
8 dried California apricots (do not use Turkish here)
juice of large lemon, plus more to taste
5-6 tbs tamarind concentrate
pinch of brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 cups water (plus more)

Hashu (Meat and Rice filling)

1 lb beef
1/3 cup basmati, soaked for 15 minutes, drained
1 small onion, finely diced
1 heaping tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 tbs vegetable oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a bowl, gently mix by hand all the ingredients and spices for hashu and set aside. *Set oven to 350 degrees unless you plan on cooking these babies on the stove from beginning to end.

2. Drain grape leaves, carefully taking them out of the jar. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the grape leaves, carefully turning them with tongs, for about a minute. Then quickly get them into a big bowl of ice water. Pour them over a colander and begin to dry each one, while cutting off their stems. Make sure you lay them vein-side up when done.

3. Take a heaping teaspoon of hashu (more or less, depending on the size of the leaf), and place the spoonful at it’s center closest to the stem. Fold in the sides and roll them semi-tightly.

4. In a dutch oven or pot, drizzle a little vegetable oil on the bottom and start arranging your stuffed grape leaves and dried fruit, creating about 2 or 3 layers of them, depending on how many grape leaves you were able to stuff. (Some come torn up in the jar). My pot ended up with only two layers–about 32 grape leaves.

5. On med-high heat, cover the pot and let steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add your lemon juice and tamarind. Whisk in about two cups of water and a pinch of brown sugar and salt. Pour over the grape leaves. Add another 2-3 cups of water so that it almost reaches the top layer of grape leaves, about 3 quarters of the way. A lot of the liquid will decrease as it cooks, and you’ll want some later. It’s the good stuff. You don’t want it soup-like, though.

6. Place a heat-friendly plate directly on top of the leaves to keep them from unraveling (or don’t. I didn’t. But if you’re making a lot it might be wise to.) Simmer up to 45 minutes on the stove or in the oven, covered. Spoon sauce over the top leaves occasionally. When some leaves have caramelized, turn them onto a platter and serve with all the things.

Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)

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Yebra served with homemade Za’atar Flatbread.

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And hummus topped with warm chickpeas that simmered in it’s own broth with toasted cumin seeds, then got tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing, topped with za’atar and Aleppo pepper.

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And a very fresh, colorful market haul salad made of very finely chopped parsley, red cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I suppose all that’s missing is the bulgar!? (There was bulgar, guys. But since it was so fine (I bought it to make kibbeh), it turned to mush.) Kitchen fails are welcomed here. This salad was beautiful and simply wanted to be without.

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On the table, which is actually the gorgeous cheeseboard my guy got me years ago sitting atop a radiator by the windowsil (because good lighting!), is a precious tea towel Tory gave me recently. It has a Syrian recipe of anise bread printed throughout. I love it so!

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I sent over a grape leaf question to Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea the other day, and she responded with absolute kindness. I might have an opportunity to learn how to forage for fresh leaves and I do hope to meet this amazing woman whose food speaks to my soul. Lori already said she’s coming with! A day out with new friends and family in spring sounds like just the thing.

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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.

 

While Waiting for His Cherry Tomatoes to Grow

While Waiting for His Cherry Tomatoes to Grow

“We ordered wings and kinda ate them,” was what Dan said to me the other night when we thought about our first date six years ago. Which, BTW, lasted about 8, really beautiful hours, sooo…butterflies-in-the-tummy much!? That night, we picked at our platter of BBQ fried wings at a pub by Rockefeller Center like we were two love-birds who could care less about food. If you saw us now, you might just laugh yourself to tears. Butterflies have cleared the tummy and made a home at our hearts, if only but to make room for all the really amazing meals we share together.

Today, a waiter at La Villa half-jokingly tells us that we need to bring together two tables in order to accommodate our order of arancini (stuffed with cheddar!?), a bowl of delicately fried eggplant sticks, a 1/2 dozen baked clams, baby green salad topped with slow-roasted beets, which then has large parmesan shavings piled on top, and don’t forget the Margherita pizza with pepperoni, please. Did we order pasta, too? I wouldn’t doubt it. We are ridiculous and ridiculously in love with food. We will either sit there, quietly eating. Or with hands flailing discuss every bite and compare notes. Next in conversation is how I can bring this beautiful simplicity into the house so we don’t have to leave so often (or spend that much money).

A beautiful-tasting tomato sauce is at the heart of a lot of our favorite dishes. I’m sharing a recipe with you that is quite helpful for when tomatoes are not in season. I am, quite literally, counting the minutes to when I get to pick from his 4 cherry tomato plants. Then let the freshly roasted tomato sauces and bisques begin!

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Parmesan Pomodoro

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • long drizzle of olive oil
  • tsp red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • small onion, finely diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, scrubbed and halved
  • fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (opt)
  • 3 14-oz canned cherry tomatoes*
  • 3 med-sized parmesan rinds or 4 small**
  • 2-3 full sprigs of basil
  • 1 cup grated parmesan, divided
  • 1 pound pasta of choice

*You can order canned cherry tomatoes online or find them in specialty markets. They are robust in flavor and slightly sweet. I buy La Valle or Mutti, but you can also use any of your favorite canned sauce.

**I buy a container of parmesan rinds from any supermarket that has a major cheese section (Fairway, Whole Foods, Italian markets). Or simply start freezing the rinds to your whole parmesan wedges! You can use them in soups and stews as well, so please don’t throw those babies out.


Directions

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven. Gently fry your red pepper then add your onion, stir til translucent. Add your garlic, carrot, fresh herbs if you have any. After about 2 minutes, add your canned sauce. I like to crush some tomatoes with my hands as they go in but you can smash with a wooden spoon as well. Then add your parmesan rinds and basil. Let it do it’s thing for about 40 minutes, stirring once in awhile to make sure the rinds do not stick to the bottom of your pot. Take out the rinds, basil, and carrot. Cook your pasta separately but drain a couple of minutes earlier than the instructions tell you to. Finish cooking it off in the sauce with 1/2 cup grated parmesan stirred in. Serve with more parmesan and fresh basil.

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Once I started to add parmesan rinds in my pot, I’ve never stopped. In fact, I refuse to make sauce unless I have at least one around. They are nutty and salty and make the sauce. And a sauce made well actually will let the butterflies do a little swing dance. Everyone’s happy and in love. Promise.

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My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

My 30th Birthday Picnic + Recipes

I had it all planned out. Homemade ricotta, not too firm, still warm, spooned onto a white, long platter. Then, I was to gently place beautifully roasted cherry tomatoes on the bed of cheese, it’s vine still attached. As a finishing touch, fresh herbs and edible flowers scattered all around it, and a long drizzle of good olive oil. I handpicked young, lemony basil for the occasion and dandelion yellows from the farmers market. In my mind, it’d make for a beautiful sight.

The fact that I never made cheese before didn’t worry me. It seemed simple enough. Buy THE BEST whole milk dairy you can find. Full fat. Not ultra-pasteurized like the milk or heavy cream we tend to find. Use fine sea salt or kosher salt. Heat til right under a boil and stir in your freshly squeezed lemon, or vinegar. Wait til curds form, about 30 minutes. Then slowly pour into your cheesecloth that is nestled in mesh, over a bowl. Wait another hour. Then voila! Ricotta. Right?

Connie walked into my kitchen and found a frustrated me with furrowed brows over the sink, shaking the contents in the cheesecloth, quickly losing a lot of whey. I must’ve looked like this:

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Barely any curds made it. It needed more time, maybe more lemon. We had to go, though. Whatever seemed thick enough I placed into a container and we headed for the picnic.

To be honest, I wanted nothing to do with the ricotta when I started to arrange the cheeseboard. Connie saw this and decided it’d be best if she gave me her gift early. A handmade, round serving platter, dipped halfway in a finishing wax. It is beautiful. I knew exactly what to do with it.

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Directions

Leave your cherry tomatoes attached to the vine. Put them on a sheet pan, drizzle good olive oil and balsamic over them. I used basil-infused olive oil and fig balsamic. Salt and pepper them to your liking. Add fresh herbs. I used thyme sprigs and some of the young basil. Roast at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, or just til they are about to burst and have reached that nice charr we all know is where the flavor is at.

The tomatoes, along with the edible flowers, spread onto beautiful pieces of bread that Malvina bought, was my favorite picnic experience in the mouth. It was jammy, rich, salty and sweet. Perfection. I also had more on the vine and decided to pair it with the peppery, smoked turkey and herb-crusted soppressata. My tiny charcuterie board for my very few meat-eaters present.

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The cheeseboard itself was a satisfying and very sentimental experience for me as I was putting it all together. You have to keep in mind where everything comes from. What farm? How local is this considered? How seasonal? And from who/where? The fig jam, olive spread, and cheeses (prima donna extra aged gouda, sweet Irish cheddar, and smoked cheddar) were a gift from Danny’s mom to me. I wanted to share this with them as well but knew they had family emergencies to be a part of. Silent prayers and gratitude were on my brain. Every beautiful friend who spent their day with me were on my brain.

The cashew cardamom brittle, topped with lava salt, was made by Jennifer Dean of The Burley Hen, a new friend I’ve made that I’ve yet to meet, but who I already feel a bond with from afar. Not TOO far! She is a fellow local Queens food lover and maker. ❤

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My homemade Onion and Date jam had strong notes of oranges and thyme and paired well with both cheeses and meats. The recipe is inspired by Sarah Owens.

Directions

img_20180425_103434_5137319913938805768703.jpgThe night before, take the seeds out of about 13-15 Medjool dates and dice them. Soak them in a couple of tablespoons of meyer lemon-infused vodka or bourbon. I used meyer lemon vodka! Next day, thinly slice one, large Vidalia onion (makes a little over 4 cups). Set heavy-bottomed pan or dutch oven under medium heat with a little bit of oil, and saute the onions til they only slightly caramelize. Add 2 sprigs of thyme, the dates, 2 cups of water, tbsp of orange blossom honey (or any mild honey), zest from a small orange, a few cracks of pepper, simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring often. It’ll turn a darker, caramelized color. I added more pepper and a dash of more meyer lemon vodka. Fresh squeeze of orange juice.img_20180425_120406_4844056692902780502767.jpg

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There were a few other items on and around the board: fresh figs, a bowl of olives, mandarins with their branches and leaves still attached, long rosemary sprigs, sweetly blushed moscato grapes, multi-grain crackers and bread. Hot honey! Hummus with smoked eggplant from a local farm, served with all sorts of chips and veggies.

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Tory made fresh radish and cucumber sandwiches, a brightly colored carrot, quinoa, and chickpea salad which was beautifully dressed.

Megan made a cake that she should totally be proud of. It involved blood oranges. Almond flour. CHOCOLATE. Insanely moist.

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The gifts that were given to me showed me how KNOWN and loved I am by these beautiful people. Recipe books dedicated to chickpeas and ginger. Bee-themed gifts. Tea blossoms. Artisinal coffees. Floral purse. Every single thing was very much me and very much love.

Let’s not forget the flower arrangement made by a parent from my center! Franz James Floral Boutique knows art the way my chosen family knows me. What everyone brings to the table is the perfect recipe for each picnic thrown. This one felt like autumn reaching for spring.

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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Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

Indian-Spiced Roast Chicken

When winter comes, I crave the warm, heart-reaching spices. Garam masala is made with my mortar and pestle. The bright reds of cayenne, chili, and paprikas are used more often to paint every dish. Pinches of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg in almost everything, from home-cooked meals to all baked goods. This isn’t to say I don’t welcome them during the warmer months; I do. This is to say I celebrate the hell out of them when trees loosen up and we find ourselves bundled up, head-to-toe.

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When we spent our first cold and snow-filled week at New Paltz, we ate plenty. But when we ordered take-out from their one-and-only Indian restaurant, Dan and I ate, like, well, animals, according to his father. It was a feast of chicken tikka masala, masoor dal, chana dal, chicken and vegetable biryani, meat and potato samosas, naan, sauces–one a very bright green which reminded me of pandan, something Tory and I discovered while eating Kaya Toast. This feast was everything we NEEDED, and some. It was the best we’ve ever tasted, too.

When we returned to the city, I have not stopped using the spices that filled us that night. I’ve made masoor dal (as usual), Orange Cardamom Crumb muffins, chana dal, and this Indian-spiced roasted chicken. Once in my dutch oven on a bed of scalloped potatoes, and again in an aluminum roasting pan.

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In truth, I was never a fan of the colder months til I fell in love with these spices, especially what they can do when they find themselves together as a rub, marinade, or in soups, stews, pilafs, and baked goods. For this roast chicken, I, unsurprisingly, made a marinade using the juice of an orange and it’s zest. My brother said to me yesterday, “whenever you use an orange in your cooking, it’s damn good.” I use an orange in almost all my cooking these days, so that’s a major compliment coming from someone who has given me a total of 3 within the last 20-something years. Thanks, Bruh.

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Marinade for 3.5-4 pound chicken:

1 sm orange, juice & zest
1 tbsp olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, paste or grated
1 inch ginger, paste or grated
2 tsp garam masala, preferably homemade
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder, or cayenne/Hungarian paprika
cinnamon, couple of pinches
salt, to taste

Combine all in a small bowl, whisk marinade thoroughly. Clean chicken, pat dry. Generously salt your chicken inside and out. Rub marinade under skin, in cavity, as well as all over. Refrigerate in a sealed container overnight or up to 24 hours. Day of roasting, oil your dutch oven or roasting pan. Heat oven to 375. Depending on your seasoning/heat tolerance, I sprinkle some more chili powder and garam masala before putting it in. Cover tightly and leave covered for 1 hour. Uncover for next 20-30 minutes, til crisp.

Everyone’s got their favorite way to roast a chicken. Sometimes I like to begin with it roasting breast-side down, then flip it over after about 30 minutes. Sometimes I leave it uncovered at all times. But I am currently in love with my dutch oven. It kept mine very tender, and soaked the potatoes in its spicy goodness.

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Next roast, I’ll use similar spices but create the marinade out of yogurt, which is more traditional to Indian cooking, and usually how I go about making Butter Chicken. On the top of my list of recipes to test out is Chicken Biryani. I have a feeling it’s going to be a favorite of ours.

 

Not Your Average Carrot Soup

Not Your Average Carrot Soup

I’ve been on-and-off sick. Everything from cold to major aches. But on the day my throat couldn’t handle most things, I made my favorite, simple, ginger-y soup. And then I made it 4 times more, and again today. Telling Connie I was making this for the blog was really my way of saying, let me feed you. She had two bowls of it and told me there’s lovely balance between contrasting flavors and textures; they meld. That’s exactly what I was going for here. What you see aren’t just pretty garnishes. They are what completes this soup. Crispy chickpeas, crispy slivers of ginger, on top of silky carrot soup that has been simmered with orange peels and cumin seeds and more ginger. Yes, yes, and yes.


Carrot Soup W/ Orange and Ginger

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

    -olive oil, enough to coat pot
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (or 1 leek, sliced)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • inch of fresh turmeric, grated (optional)
  • 4 cups carrots, diced (about 3 large)
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 tsp cumin powder
  • 5-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • orange peels, few strips
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil and stir in cumin seeds. After a minute, add onions til translucent. Stir in ginger, garlic, and turmeric if using. Then add your carrots and potatoes. After a few minutes you’ll want to add your stock (enough to cover your veggies plus a little more) cumin powder, orange peels. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until veggies are tender. Take out peels. Using an immersion blender, blend til it reaches the texture you prefer. I like mine to have some chunky pieces of carrot left. Then add your fresh orange juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Add freshly grated ginger if you want more of it.

I garnished with fresh slices of jalapeño, cilantro, crispy ginger, and crispy chickpeas. You don’t need them to enjoy the carrot soup, but you totally won’t regret doing this. Sometimes I just add the crispy ginger.

Take a knob of ginger, thinly slice into matchsticks, and fry in vegetable oil til golden.

Toss canned chickpeas (after draining) in olive oil, cumin, garam masala, hungarian (hot) paprika, garlic powder. Roast for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, or just til crispy.

I served this with my favorite roasted cauliflower which has jalapeños and sliced garlic, seasoned with turmeric, plus more of the roasted, crispy chickpeas.

Here’s a soup with a texture you can kiss. Enjoy, loves.

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When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

When Friends Ask You to Pick Up Their CSA Share (Part 2)

You wonder if there is a poem out there that celebrates this moment. Between friends and between yourself and all the veggies, is there a poem? If not, perhaps you could write one, in the same breath as Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, about every saturated-in-color vegetable and fruit that comes home with you on the first Saturday of September–this year and last.

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But if there is a chance you’ve been feeling less like a poet these days, meaning, you haven’t broken a line in a long while for the sake of sound, silence, and meaning, then you become–you are–a poet in your kitchen, roasting tomatoes with whole cloves of garlic. The woody scent of thyme and rosemary from your garden when met with high heat can make you long for the long, deliberate drizzle of rosemary-infused olive oil, and flaky salt, which you know your tomatoes love. You’ve a mind and heart towards Tory and Jon, who shared their share with you as they made their big move into Corona. Think of all the dinner parties and PICNICS, and sneak peaks into their first garden out back.

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Your first thought, after all this gratitude and daydreaming, was roasted tomato sauce, which you learned to make in Valerie’s kitchen a couple of summers ago. This is the way you will make sauce forever. The flavor is tomato multiplied by tomato, on the savory-sweet side. But as you peel each one, you begin to crave soup.

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You never made tomato bisque. I don’t think you ever had tomato bisque so you’re not entirely sure where to begin, but to begin. It started as your favorite sauce, with the addition of chicken stock, cream, carrot and celery, pureed til silky. Doesn’t the same happen in writing a poem? You never know how a poem will end til it begins to unfold itself, line by line, and if it ends on bisque with warm slices of bread instead of tomato sauce, then you take slices of your warm, roasted garlic ciabatta and you dip dip dip it into the creamy broth.

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It almost looks like your favorite carrot soup, which you’ll write about another day. The local farm feta, and micro-cilantro which was part of the share, didn’t just provide this bisque with good looks. It went amazingly well together. Having had Brooklyn Grange’s micro-greens quite a few times, you think you’ll just start picking your cilantro from the garden earlier than usual, because after a week, you honestly want to give up with their eagerness to bolt.

Then there is the tenderness of toy choi, which you just discover and are fond of.

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But with something so tender, you need to put it to use almost immediately. By 9PM the first day, they were wilting. So the next morning, without getting all fancy and having a panic, you whip up a fine breakfast in which you sauteed their small, cabbage leaves, along with their flowers, with smoked kielbasa and red onion. Served it with egg, heirloom tomato salad with local feta, and a blueberry muffin your mom made.

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Everything else will come together, slowly, as the week goes by. You’ll think Jen was making use of the fairytale eggplants because the bowl was getting emptier and emptier as days went by. You’ll soon find one in almost every corner of the house, courtesy your cat, Loonz.

You’ll take what’s left of their most adorable selves (you make a note that you’ll grow them next year, seriously this time), and you roast them with warm spices (garam masala) and garlic.

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You’ll want to stuff the beautiful, red peppers but never find the time to, so you add them in salads and stews. You do the same with the two onions.

You’ll blister shishito peppers, finishing them with smoked salt.

You’ll share arugula with mom, because everything about this is about sharing.

You’ll eventually find the time to write it all down. You’ll feel exactly as you feel when a poem has ended. Which is the same feeling you’ll get when every tomato, herb, oil and cream came together in your pot one afternoon, and again when the last bit of bisque is gone.

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a summer harvest put-together

a summer harvest put-together

I am found in the kitchen most mornings, no later than 9AM. Not only because I get home pretty late from work (8:30-9PM!), but it’s truly my favorite way to spend any morning. The house is quiet. I water my lucky cross tomatoes, a bi-colored beauty which grew slowly from seed (in a 20-gallon grow bag, mind you) but sadly only had a chance to produce a single, blushing fruit. There were a few green ones, but end-rot took over. When your babies become calcium deficient, you begin to question your parenting, eh? I consider every season a learning season, and next year I’ll have plenty to share with friends, you just watch.

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When I get to watering my Sicilian eggplants, which are still producing, I stare alarmingly long at their bashful flowers. That is what you do when your favorite color on earth is found, growing happily in a container. Dan told me he’s only growing eggplants and tomatoes next year. A whole lot of them. I can’t say I blame him.

I harvest what’s ready. Usually thyme and basil, as well as arugula, is waiting to be clipped more than anything else. I toss the harvest in a pan. If my garden wasn’t plentiful this summer, Dan’s was (still is!), and he always made sure I went home with the day’s harvest in my tote. Gratitude for every cherry and roma tomato that entered my kitchen, and for every eggplant my cast iron enjoyed. Zucchini, large and small–thank you.

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I want to highlight one of my morning put-togethers because it has been the most satisfying to me. One evening, Dan handed me two, long Italian eggplants, two zucchinis, and cherry tomatoes. Next morning, I took out my cast iron and wooden spoon and got to work. This meal was so simple and true, I will make this many times more. Dice eggplants and salt them for about a half hour. On high heat I sauteed the eggplant and zucchini, along with thyme from my garden, in the pan with very good olive oil, salt and red pepper. I added the tomatoes and put dollops of ricotta on top with some of my basil, drizzled a little more olive oil, then popped it in the oven for about 20 minutes til the tomatoes were about to burst. I tossed some with pasta that night, and next day I spread the rest on bread. It was beautiful.

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I made this again once I got home from Florida, but this time I added green beans. I also added a little bit of chicken broth and it came out even better. I am obsessed with cooking with thyme and broth these days. Almost as obsessed as I am with Dan’s cherry tomatoes which, kissed by Brooklyn sun, tastes loudly of savory and sweet. This meal was featured on Edible Queens’ Insta BTW! What!?!? That made me super happy because within the next few months, I hope to be submitting some work their way.

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One thing I know I’ll be growing again next year is arugula. Mine tastes like GARLIC and pepper. I ended up putting them in everything, from scrambled eggs, to stirfrys. I dressed them with fig balsamic and sicilian lemons for salads to sweeten up their spice. It grows very quickly from seed and thrives most in cooler weather. Next year, I’ll be growing at least 6 herbs, more lettuces, and I need to get my hand on some fairytale eggplant seeds! They are super container-friendly. I’ll leave all the bigger plants to Dan.

I also grew curly kale, no longer with me as bugs took a liking to them. But before bugs, it was strong and plentiful, and the best thing I did with it was put their chopped leaves in a white bean parmesan soup. The broth was delicate and nutty, entirely healing. The one thing that’s gotten me super excited about Autumn is all the soups and stews I plan on making.

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Most of September was warm. Cool weather has finally reached us and you know that it has because I came home yesterday with a 1/2 bushel of apples and zero plans for them (send me your favorite apple recipes?) Even Loonz wants to know what I’ve gotten myself into. 

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Happy Autumn, everyone! Let’s welcome all the warm spices into our homes, make soups that are the tightest of hugs.

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.