Take out your pencils and pasta.

This past weekend, I had the ultimate pleasure of catering a day-long writing workshop on writing food memoirs. The organization, Girls Write Now, mentors at-risk, underserved teenage girls who are aspiring writers. They are also the only organization that combines youth mentoring and writing instruction in an all-girl atmosphere. I thought the concept was amazing before attending the workshop on Saturday. Now that I've heard and read writing samples by these creative, talented young women, I can tell you that what they are doing at Girls Write Now is truly special and unique.

The girls had a special workshop planned already, with craft talks given by esteemed chefs and writers, Gabrielle Hamilton, Julie Powell and Cheryl Tan. But given the theme of food writing and the holiday season, I thought they also needed some festive food offerings with interesting flavors and textures to inspire their writing even more. They needed holiday cookies. They needed tea sandwiches. And of course, they needed pasta. I've yet to find an occasion, holiday or menu that couldn't benefit from a hearty pasta dish and Saturday was no exception.

This recipe, courtesy of Chef Scott Conant, combines the flavors of the season with interesting texture and bright colors. The butternut squash lends a certain meatiness to the dish, while the crispy pancetta gives a salty bite to each forkful. Torn sage instantly evokes the smells and flavors of the holidays.

Note: This recipe calls for 3/4 lb. of pasta. Never in my life have I opened a box of pasta without cooking the entire pound. For shame. I cooked the whole box and simply upped the quantities of the remaining ingredients here and there. I encourage you to do the same--second helpings will definitely be served. 

Penne with Roasted Buttnernut Squash, Pancetta and Sage
Serves 4

    • 1 medium (about 2 1/4 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • 3/4 pound penne pasta
  • 3 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick and finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, flakes
  • 10 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped or torn
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butternut squash on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil; season with salt. Transfer to oven and roast until squash is browned and tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt water and return to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Set pasta and reserved cooking liquid aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add pancetta and cook until just crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallots, crushed red pepper, and sage. Cook until shallots are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add penne and squash and toss gently, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid as necessary to moisten.
  4. Add cheese and black pepper and cook, tossing gently, until pasta and squash are heated through. Serve immediately with more grated cheese, if desired.


How to dine out with the boss.

There are small number of people in my life that pop up, every month or so, like clockwork, with the same question:

"My boss wants restaurant recommendations/I'm going to lunch with my boss/My company is taking out clients. Where should we go?"

The whole dining-out-with-superiors situation can be an intimidating one, especially if you're the one suggesting the location. I've answered this question enough to have formed a definitive an opinion on what is and what is certainly NOT okay when it comes to choosing a restaurant.

My DON'T list will hopefully come in handy. Or at least it will alleviate one layer of awkwardness the next time you and the Big Cheese break bread.

DON'T choose a restaurant....

-That offers a too-trendy menu. Assuming that your boss will be into fried, bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with kimchi is a mistake.

-That does tapas. Sharing may be awkward and ordering one small plate to avoid sharing will leave you both starved and grouchy.

-Whose entire staff either wears skin-tight denim, rocks the bed head, looks too cool to wait tables, or sports disturbing, nature-defying facial hair.

-That's brand new. There are kinks to be worked out, lines to wait in, and music that will have your boss feeling older that he/she is when said boss realizes they can't hear a thing.

-That's too old. If your boss is successful, it's for a reason. They think ahead of the curve, are smart and on their toes. Being surrounded by retired geriatrics at a sleepy, Upper East Side piano bar insults their relevance and hip-to-the-jive sensibility.

-That's too expensive. Unless they say, "I'm looking for a three Michelin star experience," the main course shouldn't cost more than $35. Tops. If it does, it's probably coming out of your bonus, you ingrate.

-Known for it's avant-garde menu. A riff on my first point, your boss may not appreciate being unfamiliar with everything on the menu. Creativity is fine, but sous vide sweetbreads served en croute with confit byaldi and Parmesan foam? I think not.

That said, stick to the classics, take note of the type of food they usually eat, play it safe and throw in a curve ball once in a while. It's just a meal, after all.

Bon Reservation-Making!


Good Eats: John's of 12th Street

"Do you use the internet? Facebook, Twitter? Tell your friends about us," urged Mike, a tall, roundish man in a pastel pink shirt that hinted at his jovial disposition. Not that Mike, co-owner of John's of 12th Street, had to twist my arm in order for me to talk up his restaurant.

John's of 12th Street, or simply John's as it's called by loyal customers, is the 10th oldest continuously operating restaurant in New York City. Founded in 1908, the Southern Italian menu (read: eggplant rollatini, spaghetti and meatballs, et al.) has managed to stay relevant and perhaps even progress ahead of the times by offering a complete vegan Italian menu in addition to the classic fare.

Basically, every restaurant should be as smart as this one. My carnivorous husband can order Baked Lasagna with meat sauce while I order Seitan alla Rosa? (Seitan is a meat substitute made of wheat gluten. This was smothered in artichokes, peppers and mushrooms with Marsala wine sauce. Get on that.)
Suddenly every debate on where to have dinner and what type of dinner we were going to have (healthy vs. comfort vs. veggie vs. meat) seems ridiculous. John's has the best of every world and brings it to you with a smile.

I was nearly reduced to tears by the service alone. In true old-school Italian fashion--old habits die hard--every waiter was a young, pleasant, attractive man. Zero complaints about that, although my husband asked me why I was smiling so much. Tables had linens, waitstaff used crumbers, no one was rushed and music volume was kept in check.

I'm not sure if the Pinot Noir was starting to overthrow my good judgement, but I was so enthralled at discovering this gem that I nearly passed over the dessert menu. Then I saw one word: Lulu's.

Lulu's Sweet Apothecary is just about the best vegan ice cream you'll find. It doesn't matter that it's missing cow's milk, eggs, and sugar. It swiftly kicks 'normal' ice cream to the curb. I opted for two scoops of cookies n' cream. I got three. I said we'd share it and asked for two spoons. I shared nothing.

John's of 12th Street does something that is increasingly hard to do in New York dining: it bridges classic and modern menus without sacrificing personal style. Finding a vegan meal in a restaurant that doesn't channel Woodstock and Janis Joplin is rare. Eating it in a refined, familial environment is special. Giving customers healthier options without abandoning your culinary point of view (i.e.: veggie burgers and other random vegetarian dishes) is an accomplishment.

Grazie, John's. Now go check it out!


Make Thanksgiving dinner like a 3-year-old.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that requires no shopping, no wrapping paper, no major responsibilities aside from cooking and eating. Family and friends, just cooking and eating together for an entire day every year. There is no mystery behind my affinity for this holiday. I've already pulled out my favorite spiked cider recipe that I plan to have brewing all. day. long.

I have to say, I've never really been into the savory side of the menu. The turkey, vegetables, biscuits are all fine and good, but the desserts are what really win me over. Brown sugar, pumpkins, marshmallows and cinnamon-covered apples are around every corner--the scents that begin to linger in the air are enough to make me swoon.

I'm borderline embarrassed to admit that I love when I take a shower after a day of baking and that familiar butterty-brown sugar smell starts to emanate from my hair. Actually, I'm not embarrassed at all. It's everything you could ever want in a fragrance.

My family members are stout traditionalists when it comes to holiday meals. The stuffing must be Grandma's, the sweet potatoes must have marshmallows, and so on and so forth. While I'm on pie duty (pumpkin, apple and coconut custard), I'll admit that this year I'm tempted to make cupcakes. Pumpkin cupcakes, but cupcakes nonetheless.

Strange, you say? Watch this video and see if you don't find yourself completely sold on the idea:

Right?? Did you see how happy he was? C'mon, give these babies a chance!

Happy and healthy Thanksgiving to you all!


Croissants and cobblestone.

So is it showing? Can you tell that I've been too busy for Pip Cooks?

That was a trick question. If you were silently nodding in agreement, you fail. There's no such thing as too busy for this site, although I've certainly been acting otherwise.

Work, cleaning, cooking, some friends, more work. You know, the usual.

I have to let you know, though. I've gotten a glimpse at paradise. They call it Montreal.

Le Petit Hotel in Old Montreal
I traveled there to work for a very brief two days, but I must say, I think I fell in love a little.
If you like French food, pleasant people, clean cities, old fashioned architecture and cobblestone lined-streets, you're in luck. If you're into croissants, coffee and enjoy cute hotels, you've hit the lotto.

This little neighborhood spot was exceptional in the sense that they take the most normal lunch and bakery items and launch them into the stratosphere with amazing flavors, textures and ingredients.

Flakiest croissants, frothiest cappuccinos, coolest peanut butter-sea salt-cayenne cookies. Also, super-nice people. Canadians clearly have a lot to be happy about.

The takeaway lesson for me was this: Choose whatever you like to do--as simple and mundane as you think it may be--and just do it well. Like, really well.

That's when the magic happens.


No Fail Zone

Have you ever talked yourself into failure? You know, psyched yourself up for it. Planned ahead for it.

It sounds crazy, right? No one actually sits down and thinks of ways to fail. Do they?

Have you ever considered that each time you excuse your way out of success--it's too hard, you're not good enough, that's not realistic, you don't have any resources--you're convincing yourself that failure is your only option.

What's that about? Not cool. Even if all of your friends are doing it. Even if your parents and teachers are doing it. [Reference point: In fifth grade my teacher asked us what we wanted to "be" when we grow up. Like we knew how loaded of a question that was. I said that I wanted to be an actress. "The world has enough of them," Teacher said. "It's not realistic. We need good teachers and doctors."]

Riggght. Not even a little cool. Shame on you, teach. And shame on us for not recognizing and embracing all that makes us us. Successful, powerful, capable, generous us. 

What does this have to do with cooking? Absolutely nothing. But sometimes we (and by we I mean I) need a little pep talk. And if pep talks don't work, cookies certainly will.

    • Snickerdoodles
    • Courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

    • 3 cups flour 
    • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda 
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
    • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar 
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
    • 1 large egg 

1) Preheat oven to 375F. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
2) In a large bowl, with electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter and granulated sugar until creamy, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula. Beat in vanilla and egg. At low speed, gradually add flour mixture and beat just until blended, occasionally scraping bowl.
3) Working in batches, use the palms of your hands to shape rounded tablespoons of dough into 11/2-inch balls. Roll balls in coarse sugar to coat and place on a large ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart.
4) Bake until lightly golden and crinkly on top, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on cookie sheet on wire rack 1 minute, then transfer cookies to rack to cool completely.


Night of the Living Mushroom

For years, I was terrified by mushrooms. Yes, mushrooms.

Brian likes to tease me because I equate every uneasy, unpalatable situation as "my worst nightmare." Some of which include awkward conversations, tsunamis, mosquitoes, getting kidnapped (adult napped?)...you get the point.

But as a child, smelling any mushroom being cooked in any way was my worst nightmare. Forget eating them. The putrid, earthy, weird odor was enough to relegate myself to my room, door closed, until the fog cleared.

I've always kind of been open minded about trying new things. As kids, we all had pretty hearty appetites; we didn't couldn't fuss over what we wanted or didn't want to taste. But those shrooms. The  smell alone caused a gag reflex--a hideous, socially unappealing reflex--that made me a very unpleasant dinner mate when those ugly brown vegetables were on the table.

Do they even classify as vegetables? I used to think that if they smell that badly, have no sign of vibrancy, and can kill you if you choose the wrong one, they were probably mislabeled somewhere along the line by someone important that nobody questioned...like George Washington Carver. That definitely happened.

Still, after a certain point--I'm going to go with 14 years old, when you're taste buds apparently take a turn for the more mature--I stopped dry heaving in the presence of portobellos.

Then I ate a few.
Then I tasted truffles.
Then I became a shroom addict.
Then I had to eat less because no one should have that much fungus coursing through their body.

No, the moral of the story is not to form a mushroom addiction via truffles. But maybe once in a while we should all remember to do something outside of our comfort zone or "worst nightmare." Imagine if each of us tried something everyday that we deemed unlikely or even impossible?

We might be deliciously surprised with the results.

Creamy Polenta with Wild Mushroom Ragout
Serves 6, Courtesy of Food & Wine

For the Ragout:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 pound chanterelle mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, trimmed and halved
1/4 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup rich chicken stock (see Note)
2 large thyme sprigs

  1.  In a large, deep skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add half of the shallots and garlic and all of the chanterelles and oyster mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Scrape the mushrooms onto a plate.
  2. In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the remaining shallots and garlic along with the shiitake mushrooms and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally until softened and golden, about 6 minutes. Return all of the mushrooms to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute. Add the rich chicken stock and thyme sprigs to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the thyme sprigs.
For the Polenta:

2 cups whole milk
2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup instant polenta (about 7 ounces)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped marjoram
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper

  1. In a large saucepan, combine the milk, stock and butter and bring to a boil. Whisk in the polenta and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until thick, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream, mascarpone, herbs and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Spoon the polenta onto plates, top with the mushroom ragout and serve right away, passing more grated Parmesan at the table.


The Easy "A"

I've been getting a few requests for the 'special meal'. The meal that can impress a boss, best friend or boy. This is an important one.

Sure, anyone can prepare an impressive meal when you have expensive ingredients, tons of time and endless energy to spare. But what if you're a kitchen newbie or trying to get dinner together with no time to waste? This is the meal for you and whomever you're aiming to win over.

Mustard-Crusted Salmon with Dill Rice and Tomatoes. Now we're cookin'.

It starts with a big 'ol slab of fresh, pretty salmon.

Women like salmon. Men like salmon. Fancy types like salmon.
It's the elegant and approachable fish of the sea. And it's pink.

Then we make what just might be the easiest sauce/marinade/crust ever.
Two mustards meet olive oil, herbs and lemon zest. The flavor is mind-blowingingly good.

Followed by some easy prep for the dill rice and tomato garnish.
Note the candle, flowers and probiotic drink. Kitchen-turned-zen haven.

Gawwwgeous, dahling. Let them think you slaved for hours.

Mustard-Crusted Salmon with Dill Rice and Tomatoes
Serves 4-6

4-6 portions of salmon filet (about 1.5 pounds)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs dijon mustard
2 Tbs whole grain mustard
1 tsp. Herbes du Provence
1 Tbs white wine
1 Tbs olive oil
1 lemon, zested
salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups white jasmine rice
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Olive oil, salt and pepper

1. Preheat the broiler. Combine the garlic, mustards, herbs, wine, zest and oil in a bowl and mix until well combined. Set aside.

2. Arrange salmon fillets on the baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Broil for two minutes and then spoon the mustard sauce over the salmon. Continue cooking until the fish is done and the mustard sauce begins to brown, about 5 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the package instructions (one part rice to two parts water) and season well. Once the rice is tender, remove from the heat and stir in the chopped dill. Lightly dress the tomato halves with olive oil, salt and pepper. Everything on the plate should be tasty!

4. Serve salmon over the rice and garnish with tomatoes and extra dill.


Chili days, spicy nights.

Many of you know me as a vegan. Most of the time. For a couple of years now, I've been convinced that a plant-based diet is the healthiest way to go. Cut me open and you'll find kale bits coursing through my healthy little veins.

However. The other day I found myself out to dinner with a friend just dying, dying, for a morsel of pecorino off her cheese plate. And then I stopped being desperate and started getting bitter about it. Not fair! She's eating cheese. Why can't I eat cheese?

Yes. These are the lame, childhood logic-laced dialogues I have with myself. But then another, more exciting, kind of logic occurred to me...

I imagined God meeting me at the pearly gates after I die, and after cluing me in on the behind-the-scenes of my life's performance hearing him say, "By the way, you could've had the pecorino. Really. No big deal."

That silly moment of clarity brought me here: If I'm living this life to its fullest, I'm not leaving the occasional slice of Prosciutto behind.

As I'm learning more and more how to balance things--priorities, emotions, relationships--I'm learning that I could use a little more edge on my good-girl dinner plate. Which is why I took a flying leap off the bandwagon and made...CHILI. Spicy, flavorful, welcome-back-to-the-club chili.

Game day, plus a cool night in NYC, plus a husband who's a meat-lover--I had all of the excuses I needed to take the plunge. And I went back for seconds.

Chili is just not photogentic. This pretty pot is courtesy of Frog and Princess.

Spicy Beef and Bean Chili
Serves 6-8

2 lbs. quality ground beef (Yes, it exists.)
2 yellow onions, diced
5 garlic cloves, sliced
2 jalapenos, sliced (including seeds)
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 tsp. paprika
2 cups vegetable stock
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can pinto beans

*Sharp cheddar, sour cream, chives and avocado to garnish

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, brown the meat until cooked and set aside to drain on paper towels.
In the same pot (with the beef drippings), heat one tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion, garlic and peppers. Saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the dry spices to the pot and mix until the vegetables are coated. Continue to cook almost until the point of burning the spices. You want to toast them throroughly to bring out a depth of flavor. When you're at the point, add the stock to the pot and vigorously scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon to release the brown bits of meat and veggies.

3. Add the tomatoes and beans to the pot and return the meat to the pot. Stir together and add two teaspoons of salt. Bring to boil and then lower to a simmer. Cook for at least 45 minutes--it can continute to cook for up to two hours, but keep in mind that the longer it simmers, the spicier it will be. Taste again and season as necessary.

4. Serve hot and garnish as desired. It's fun to set up a little chili bar with tons of toppings to choose from!


Sweet genes.

Throughout the years, I unknowingly took a lot of food cues from my dad. I've mentioned that I grew up in an Italian-American family, but my father and I shared preferences that far transcend the typical wedge of lasagna or tiramisu. 

I'm talking carbs, here. Simple sugars (the whiter and starchier the better) that are broken down and rebirthed into sweet bites of bread, cookies and tarts. Brian likes to tease that when he met me in high school, I would put away chocolate-covered cannolis and cinnamon rolls as though they constituted a square meal. In my mind, they did. Especially the cinnamon rolls. You know, the ones in the can. 

While we were suckers for almost any sweet that passed our way, when I think of my father's favorites I think of three in particular that share a common bond...bananas.

1. Banana Bread--classic American favorite.
2. Bananas Foster--classic dessert reserved for nice meals out when the night calls for a flaming finish.
3. Entenmann's Banana Fudge Cake-- classic American processed indulgence that never, ever expires.

Moral of the story? For starters, I like to think that good taste is passed down and I'm happy to carry the torch in the defense of bananas and more importantly, what they bring to the dessert table.

Secondly, no one should eat that much white flour and sugar. Luckily, we've learned that lesson and now only put our bodies, digestive systems and waistlines through crazy carb fests on special occasions.

Banana Bread
Makes one loaf

This recipe combines the classic elements with some new school ingredients. White sugar is toned down by organic cane sugar and coconut nectar. Eggs are replaced by flax and pureed fruit. Rest-assured: The results are still deliciously old school.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. groung nutmeg
pinch all spice

3 medium bananas, mashed
1/4 cup apple sauce (I prefer to use apple butter for more flavor)
3 Tbs. flaxmeal*
1 cup cane sugar
1/3 cup coconut nectar*
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond milk with 1 tsp cider vinegar (to create a 'butter'milk)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
* Can be found in the health section of your supermarket

1. Prehead the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients and stir until evenly combined.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and whisk vigorously together. The flaxmeal may become slightly frothy and simulate an egg white--this is what you want!

3. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and fold in gently until all of the flour is incorporated and you have a smooth batter. Grease a loaf pan and pour the batter in, smoothing out the top to create an even layer.

4. Bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool briefly before serving.


It's game time. Go, Cashews!

Hello, my name is Cristi, and I'm a recipe addict. No, really.

When I have a party to go to or company coming over, aka: when it's culinary game time, I go through a recipe reading frenzy. There are so many options, what the heck should I make? What is creative? What will knock guests off their chairs? What will be satisfying but also urge them to have just one more bite?

Although, I usually have to pour over food sites, old Gourmet issues and cookbooks as a cathartic means to an end, it always seems that the simplest recipes are the all-stars.

These Spicy Caramel Cashews are the MVP (Most Valuable Part) of cocktail parties. To be honest, they can be the MVP of anything, really. Granola, ice cream topping, part of your brownie batter--you name it.

Coconut oil and agave nectar come together to make a super-easy and quick caramel sauce.

The best part is that these babies are ready for consumption in 20 minutes. Eat 'em and weep.

Spicy Caramel Cashews

2 cups raw cashews
2 Tbs. coconut oil (you can also substitute with vegetable oil)
1/4 cup agave nectar
1 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
ground sea salt, to taste
1.) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the cashews out in an even layer on a sheet pan and roast for ten minutes until light golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

2.) In a medium-sized saute pan, heat the oil and agave nectar together until the nectar becomes loose and runny. Let the sauce cook for 2-3 minutes until it darkens to a bronze color and starts to bubble. Stir in the cayenne pepper and add the cashews to the pan.

3.) Stir gently until the cashews are covered with the sauce and cook for two minutes longer. Spread out onto the sheet pan and let cool completely before serving.

NOTE: The caramel sauce will become extremely hot and nothing burns like a sugar burn! Stir carefully.


Things I know...now.

I celebrated my 28th birthday this week. Twenty-eight! This year I wanted to have low key day--partially because I gave up my birthday for charity:water--and that's exactly what I got.

The one thing I wanted needed, which I not-so-subtly hinted at, was a cupcake from Babycakes, my favorite bakery on the Lower East Side, dangerously close to our apartment.

I had a cupcake. Ok, I had two, but hey, it's a birthday, so no judgements. Good times.

After a simple and delicious dinner at Birreria, I took time to do some thinking. You know, the whole introspection thing. Twenty-eight years later, I've learned a few things.

Things you might have figured out years ago (I'm a little slow) and things that might hit you over the head five years from now (I'm advanced):

-The right decision is almost never the easy one.
-It's okay to show vulnerability.
-Get to know your gut. Like, have a relationship with it. The better you know it, the easier it is to trust.
-One amazing friend is worth one hundred mediocre ones.
-A smile goes a really long way. And so does red lipstick.
-Don't undermine your dreams, empower them.
-If someone isn't feeding into your life--with love, challenges, inspiration, friendship, loyalty, happiness--they're taking away from it.
-Ask for help when you need it.
-Great relationships boil down to honesty and respect.
-Make laughing a priority.
-Like yourself.

Let's see what lessons this year brings...


Paper bags and chopsticks.

When the going gets tough--and by tough I mean busy schedules, lost access to my computer, side projects, LIFE--the tough get going.  And by going, I mean ordering takeout. Cheap takeout. I don't believe in any other kind.

If you're not going through the trouble of sourcing, prepping and preparing a beautiful meal for yourself and family, you might as well take leap and freefall into the wonderful world of paper cartons and knobs of wasabi. It's amazing how many inspiring takeout options there are in New York City. I understand that this isn't the case everywhere; my options in surburia were relegated to pizza (natch) and greasy eggrolls.

While there's nothing wrong with that, there is something exciting about being able to have cookies OR Austrailian meat pies OR Neopolitan-style pizza OR french fries with three sauces  OR macrobiotic dinners delivered straight to your 4th-floor walk-up.

Takeout seems to be the one luxury you can afford in NYC without worrying about how it will affect your lifestyle. Good, cheap takeout (GCT) should never be confused with dirty, cheap takeout in which case the money saved doesn't alleviate the stomach pains earned. GCT saves you money. GCT amuses your taste buds. GCT does the dishes for you. GCT won't fill your kitchen with smoke because you forgot there was bread in the oven.

Tonight I'm embracing takeout, so no recipes here. And it's the weekend, so maybe you should kick your feet up and do the same! Back to the stove tomorrow....


Poof, (blues) be gone.

I had a dream. A dream about soup and sandwiches.

More specifically: Creamy Tomato Soup + Grilled Cheese -- comfort food, defined.

I'm not sure if it's the gloomy weather, or the end-of-summer doldrums, but something about a simple soup and cheesy sandwich seems so right.

If I'm eating this, the corners of my mouth are slightly, almost undetectably turned up.
If I'm eating this on a rainy day, watching a movie and refusing to change out of my sweatpants, things just got magical.

I'm doing something right.
When you're making a meal as simple as this, the only thing you need to worry about is using the best ingredients you can get your little, comfort food-lovin' paws on. A proper grilled cheese shouldn't have any orange cheese in the middle. Last I checked, milk only comes in one color...white.

Get crazy with it. Be creative with a mash up of cheeses and condiments. Maybe even do a little dance while the sandwich fries. Just ideas, folks:

Fontina + Pickled Figs.
Brie + Green Apple.
Gruyere + Caramelized Onions.
Chevre + Olive Tapenade.


As for the soup, this recipe is pretty perfect. San Marzano tomatoes and fresh herbs are the stars here. Plus, sandwich bread replaces the need for cream, which makes my stomach all kinds of happy.

Do yourself a favor: Make a big pot, don your favorite lazy outfit and bask in the sweet simplicity of a rainy day dinner. Post-summer blues don't stand a chance.
Look Ma' No Cream! Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 medium carrot, sliced
2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
3 (14-ounce) cans whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 Tbs. brown sugar
3 pieces fresh white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
2 cups low-sodium vegetable stock
1/2 cup fresh basil, finely sliced (to garnish)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add shallots, garlic and carrot and saute until the shallots and garlic are translucent and carrots are softened, about 4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, thyme, sugar, and bread, and stir together, gently breaking down the tomatoes as you go. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so the soup simmers and continue to cook until the bread is saturated and begins to break down into the soup.
Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a traditional blender in batches), puree the soup until smooth. Add the stock, return to a boil and season to taste.
Serve immediately and top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh basil.