Salty-Sweet Memory Lane

I like sports. In high school I played volleyball, basketball, softball and tennis. Add to that the crazy Hallie Berry-inspired haircut I got senior year, and yes, I was practically a boy.

Because of the nonstop practices, scrimmages and games, I could pretty much snack on whatever I liked without worrying where it would end up. Hips? Thighs? No worries. Not only did I celebrate this BIG time, I also had a knack for choosing the worst snack food pairings.

Almost every day, I had a Twix and Sprite after practice. In between classes, Airheads were my sugar high of choice. Oh, and the Pop Tarts. Those magical, addictive flavors they created. It's a miracle I'm not diabetic.

I think I may have mentioned this, but Husband and I actually met in school. Grade school. But it wasn't until high school that we became great friends. We did everything together and ran everything by each other. Yes, he was secretly in love with me. Yes, I was too daft to get it.

Once spring came around, I would try to go to all of his baseball games. You know, to spend my free time on the bleachers. Wildly routing him on. In the cold/wind/rain/heat. As a "friend".  This could have been a case study in Denial. I digress.

Before the game I would pit stop to pick up my favorite counterintuitive snack: Pre-bottled Starbucks' Frappuchino and Salt-and-Vinegar Chips. I know. What sounds like a twisted pregnancy craving to most still seems totally appealing to me. Something about the caffeine, ungodly amounts of sugar and tangy vinegar brought me to another level of contentedness.

I'm a firm believer that we know ourselves better than anyone does and deep down we know exactly what we need and when we need it. Trusting ourselves enough to embrace it is another thing entirely.

Back then, I didn't need a boyfriend. I needed a bleacher seat, a sweatshirt, my crazy snack and a best friend who could appreciate that. And he did.

Salt and Vinegar Potato Salad
(Courtest of Epicurious)
Serves 12

1 large red onion, cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch-wide wedges and layers separated
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
5 lb medium yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold
2 to 2 1/2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
1 1/4 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Toss together onion, 2 tablespoons vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl. Marinate at room temperature, tossing occasionally, until slightly softened and pink, about 45 minutes.

2. Cover potatoes with salted cold water in a 5- to 6-quart pot, then simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. While potatoes cook, whisk together 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning with sugar, remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and remaining 1/2 cup vinegar in a small bowl.

3. Drain potatoes in a colander, and when cool enough to handle but still warm, peel and cut into 1/2-inch-wide wedges. Toss warm potatoes with vinegar mixture in a large bowl. Add onion mixture and oil, tossing to combine. Add more Old Bay seasoning (to taste) if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Sharpen your cheeses.

That got your attention, didn't it? Listen, whether you like cheese or don't, can tolerate it or not, or support it or don't, please check these out and fall in love as I have.

Prior to developing a lactose intolerance (which led to an aversion to the dairy industry in general), I was a cheese freak. It's a family gene, I think. To this day cheese, especially the smelly, moldy kind, is my weakness. Although it's not a part of my life anymore, the old passion flared up once I laid my eyes on these:

A pencil, made of cheese, that you use a sharpener to grate? I think you can understand why this appeals to the cheese freak who got psyched over back-to-school shopping (read: ME). See the colors at the tip of each pencil? Those are flavor infusions: truffle, pesto and chili. You have to love the Germans who invented this for having the insight to pair the American obsession with convenience with Italian cheese and innovative northern European design. Go you, Germany.

Perhaps there's a chocolate Wite-Out in the future?


Get your sunscreen out and get your pancakes on.

I think we can all agree that this New York weather is getting ridiculous. You know it's hot when:

1.) You're talking on your cell and your elbow crease starts to drip.

2.) The idea of carrying your laundry to the laundromat is so daunting you'd rather find creative ways to wear whatever sad collection of clothes you have left in your closet. Even if they don't match. Channel Punky Brewster and own it.

3.) You're considering taking advantage of the heat by cooking eggs on your fire escape. Which I will do later this morning and report back to you. I'm strangely excited about it.

That said, even in this heat wave, I'm getting a little tired of fresh fruit and juices for breakfast. Why is comfort food relegated to the colder, winter months? A 100+ degree day calls for a little comfort food along with healthy doses of blissful air conditioning. (Let's take a moment today and thank God for this man.)

This morning we celebrated summer with a pancake breakfast in our chilled apartment. Not just any pancakes though. Banana Ginger Pancakes. That are gluten-free. The flavors of the banana and ginger really transport you to someplace tropical. In retrospect I could should have thrown in shredded coconut, played some Marley and pretended I was in Barbados. But alas, ideas like "Vacation Reggae Pancakes" don't occur to me before 10AM.

It's now up to you to make that happen.

Banana-Ginger Pancakes
Makes 4 medium-sized pancakes/ Serves 2

1 cup Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, grated on a microplane
1/3 cup agave nectar
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/4 cup hot water

1. Combine the first six ingredients and stir until evenly combined.
2. Make a small well in the middle of the flour mixture and add the milk, ginger, agave and banana at once. Stir gently until the wet mixture is incorporated and the batter is smooth.
3. Add the hot water slowly and fold into the batter until it takes on a smoother, thinner consistency (If you prefer thin, less cake-y pancakes, you can add more hot water until the desired consistency is reached.).
4. Over medium heat, lightly coat a nonstick pan or griddle with oil and pour a 1/2 cup of the batter into the skillet. Cook about 2 minutes on each side.

Wilma, my loyal and curious kitten, likes to sit at the table with me when Brian isn't around. Publicly I discourage her, but secretly I love it.


So, about this weekend...

Happy weekend, friends! Tomorrow (or today, by the time I actually post this), Saturday, July 16th, is an exciting day for Pip Cooks. I mean, Saturdays are pretty exciting all by themselves, but tomorrow is a fun one.

I'm happy to announce that Pip Cooks' treats will be available for purchase starting this weekend at The Bean in NYC's East Village. The Bean happens to be my favorite spot in the neighborhood for coffee and conversation. Local artists, independent bakers (ahem), and fun regulars add distinctive flare to this charming shop.  Beginning tomorrow, my Cinnamon-Crunch Donut Holes and PB&J Tartlets will debut alongside The Bean's already delicious selection of desserts. While my snacks and flavors will be rotating, they will ONLY be rotating if they are eaten by happy, hungry coffee guzzlers.

Sneak Peek: Donuts, Tarts and Cookies headed out to The Bean!

SO, dear foodies, if you happen to be walking around in the 'hood tomorrow or later this week, I would so appreciate your popping in for a bite!

Thanks for sharing the love!


She needed a plan.

Brian (read: husband) and I dated for nine years before tying the knot. Yes, that's a long time. But when you only see each other once or, if you're lucky, twice a week during that almost-decade, there still remains a lot to learn about the other person. That was the case with us.

During the last three years before getting married, he worked an overnight shift while I kept more traditional office hours. So almost every day during this period, we would talk from 7:45PM-8PM, during his drive to work. Those 15 minutes were fast and efficient. We updated each other on our day at work, quizzed each other on availability for social outings, talked logistics and/or wedding plans, and said our 'I love yous'.

What didn't get talked about was a lot. We would make up for it when we finally saw each other in person at the end of the week, but there was one question that never got asked until recently, when Brian finally transfered to Manhattan full-time, meaning that we now see each other every night:

"What's for dinner?"

Oh, yeah. Meal planning. Something I rarely, if ever, did. I'm Italian-American, which means I definitely think about my meals. The we-just-finished-breakfast-what-do-we-want-for-dinner syndrome is alive and well in my bloodline. The only thing was that seeing my boyfriend/fiance during the weekends only meant that weeknight dinners were catered to me and only me.

Fruit and Granola. Salad with Sauteed Tofu. Hummus and Crackers. Blissfully simple for me; utterly boring for him.

I needed to get on my A-game. This recipe for a summertime quinoa salad helped me get there. In fact, we scarfed this down in such a fast and furious manner that taking photos didn't even occur to me until I was doing the dishes. Oops.

I riffed a bit on Kalyn's recipe by adding crispy shallots and garlic and toasted sunflower seeds. I also omitted the cumin. Just a personal preference.

Did you know that quinoa is also a complete protein source, which means it contains all essential amino acids? Definitely extra credit points for me with my protein-loving hubs.

Easy recipes like this remind me how fun sharing meals can be. Cheers to one of many dinners we are finally eating and enjoying together. Let me know how you like it!


Extra, Extra!

Calling all food freaks, health hippies and nutrition junkies (yes, they do exist!):

Pip Cooks is launching a monthly newsletter for your reading pleasure. Cue your unabashed excitement!

Listen, I know your inbox is filled with junk mail. At the time it seemed like a good idea, i.e.: "Yes, I'll sign up for special deals and news from Best Buy's sponsors." Wrong move.

Well, I can promise you that this is one newsletter that will not waste your time. There will be recipes. And videos. And interviews with super-cool foodies and wellness pros. Plus, it's only once a month--take your chances and sign up, here!

The first issue is coming at you in August. Get on it and share the love!


Let freedom (and donuts) ring.

Happy Independence Day, everyone! The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays because it marries together the simplest of traditions with the grandest of celebrations--our freedom as Americans.
Every other day it's (too) easy to forget the breadth of our liberty. Choosing our religion, political parties, career path and dinner menu are luxuries that to us seem like normalcies. But on this day our personal independence is unignorable and unforgettable. We are a blessed, free people.

What I love about the 4th is that, unlike every other hoilday of the year, almost everyone celebrates the same way. Barbeques, beach trips, s'mores, bug spray, and some variation on a red and blue fruit salad are celebratory buzzwords that most, if not all, American can agree make up a freedom party.

Nice. We can agree on party essentials and agree that corn on the cob is a VIP today and today only.

Although I'm working tomorrow, in the city, with no beach access, we will be having an urban celebration of our own. This may or may not include grilled kebabs, sangria, a trip to the East River to scope out fireworks and a killer dessert. This will certainly not include sunscreen because my pasty skin needs a tan, stat.

Anyway, back to the killer dessert. Can we talk about cinnamon-sugar donut holes? Trick question.

I'm refraining from singing their praises, because frankly, it's redundant. The word "donut" plus "hole" says all you need to know. If you have any doubts, you should also know these little darlings are also raw, vegan, and impossible to stop eating. Perfect for a picnic!

Cinnamon-Sugar Donut Holes
Makes about 20 quarter-sized treats

1/2 cup raw oat groats
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cardamom
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (alcohol-free)
1/3 cup pitted dates, soaked for two hours
1 Tbs. coconut oil

2 Tbs. organic palm sugar
2 Tbs. ground cinnamon

1. Combine the first five ingredients in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are the texture of course sand.

2. Add the vanilla, dates and coconut oil and pulse until a soft, pliable dough forms. Tranfer the dough to a mixing bowl and using a teaspoon, scoop out the dough and roll into donut holes. Refrigerate for 20 minutes.

3. While the holes are setting, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Once the donuts are set, roll each hole in the cinnamon-sugar mixture until evenly coated.