Cooking without a recipe

Tamara Adler Do you use a recipe when you cook? It seems there are two types of cooks: those who wing it and those who adhere religiously to recipes. I like to wing it. (And it almost always works.) (The one exception is baking. I {mostly} stick to recipes then.)

I know it's annoying to some of my friends when they ask for the recipe to whatever and I answer this and this, then add a little bit of this until it tastes good. (Or like last week, when I had friends over, and I kept trying to add stuff that wasn't in the recipe. Oops.)

I love to cook. Which is great because I love to eat. We make 85% (more?) of our meals from "scratch" at home. Cooking is fun and mostly stress free, probably for several reasons, but one, that I hadn't considered until recently, is that I rarely use a recipe.

I spotted a write up on Tamara Adler's cookbook, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace, on the NY Times "Well" blog. The article is entitled, A Recipe for Simplifying Life: Ditch All the Recipes and I thought Yes! That's it.  Not following a recipe to the letter is so key to easy, every day, cooking. (Well, for me anyways.)

Has anyone read her book? There's a crazy waiting list for it at our library, so I think I'll just order it.  Among other things, she advises roasting and preparing all your veggies right after you buy them. Then you have food ready that's easy to combine for yummy meals:


This is my 2nd week working this way, and so far it's really great. I love the idea of preparing everything in one big batch ahead of time. We've eaten a TON of veggies.

(And did you spot how pretty her fridge looked? gah! That's something to shoot for...)

In related news for all you Providence locals, check out the lovely grocery store Fertile Underground! They now have regular hours and are constantly adding yummy things to their stock.


All images credit Tamara Adler's site

Eyebrows To The Rescue

I am sorry to say G and I saw Abduction the other night. And you know it was totally my fault:

"Let's not go see Money Ball"--an actually good movie--"this one will be stupid and fun!"

Well I got it half right.

I am the queen of bad-good movies, but this one-- due to the completely terrible writing, directing, and acting (yes, including Sigourney Weaver {agh! Blasphemy!})--was completely crap. The best part of the hour and 45 minutes was Lily Collins' stunning eyebrows:

She was really rocking them.

As she apparently does in real life.

Anyways, she's going to be Snow White:

Which totally looks more promising-- right? ...Right?

"Snacks of the Great Scribblers"

Did you guys spot this  in the NY Times a few weeks ago?  Wendy Macnaughton asked writers what they munch on while they write and this is what she came up with. (I think I like Truman Capote's the best.)

Mine would be gum and coffee. What about you?

Spotted: Artisan Biscuits

Have you guys seen these?--Adorable butter cookies, ahem "biscuits", from the British Artisan Biscuits, designed by Irving & Co.

G picked up a box of the Tortoise & Hare at Whole Foods the other night, and I can't stop gushing over the packaging.  This line, called Two by Two, comes complete with a story or poem on the back of the box.

And the cookies match the illustrations.   Aagh!

Anyone know who did these darling illustrations?

Weekend Away

Recipe for Perfect Martha's Vineyard Evening:

1. Kayak 40 minutes to the next town over and pull your boat up on some nice person's backyard/ handy beach.

2.  Take the short cut to the Menemsha Fish Market.

3.  Eat your newly purchased chowder and raw clams on the pier out back, legs swinging, overlooking the fishermen hauling in lobster.

4.  Carefully pack your fish for dinner into the kayak.  Plastic bags and ice recommended.

5. Kayak home as the wind picks up.

6. Steam up some corn on the cob, set the table, light some candles, sear the tuna.

7.  Tuck in.

8.  Thank your lucky stars you have an aunt who happily welcomes visitors.

Are you a "Cooking Animal?"

Did anyone else read Michael Pollan's article in the New York Times Magazine, "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch"?   I just finished it last night (-- I love that magazine so I like to make it last.)  To summarize it briefly: it details how people in our country, despite being obsessed with channels like The Food Network, are cooking less and less.  Let's say I found it not a little depressing, but also totally the opposite of my reality.  

I am cooking more and more.  I love to cook-- actually cook, not thaw or reheat (though I do those things as well.) I love farmer's markets, my own little vegetable garden, and, once I'm actually there, I usually find more than one thing at the grocery store that I'm really excited about.  Yes, I read about food and cooking-- in books and blogs-- and I enjoy all the competitive cooking shows.  But I mostly find them inspiring.  They're certainly entertaining, but they also make me want to go cook.  I recently stopped eating wheat gluten.  Yes, it can be a drag, but its also been fun learning how to bake without reaching for the regular flour.  

I am surrounded by people who love to cook.  We can talk on end about various kinds of ingredients with most of our old and new friends.  I just spent the weekend with my teenage cousins from Atlanta who both happily received cooking-related presents, of which they both put to use within hours.  (The cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the Worldand a sweet mechanical pastry bag, if you're wondering.) Another cousin is a vegan personal chef.  My family's idea of a good time is cooking up a storm and then sitting around a large table to enjoy it.   The majority of the children I watched as a babysitter in New York, loved to cook-- and knew how!

So.  While apparently, not indicative of the nation as a whole, being excited by cooking and real food is definitely a trend in my life.  And certainly one I plan on passing down to my (eventual) children.  It cannot be a lost art-- to go the way of "horseback riding," or "...sewing or darning socks."  Please, Mister Pollan, cheer up.  There must be others like me out there.




A funny aside: After I finished the article I flipped through it again filled with despair and sinking feelings.  Then this photo illustration by Erwin Olaf caught my eye.  

Isn't that kitchen AMAZING?  The counter space alone still makes me faint...just needs a little cleaning.


I mentioned yesterday our food for the wedding was a success.  

 Somehow it all went from this:

to this:

We can't take all the credit.  Actually the wonderful caterer Tamara, of The Sunday Night Dinner, deserves a good deal of it!  She took our food shoved into tupperware containers, (and food from lots of other people) and turned it all into that magical buffet you see up there.  Not to mention all the delicious food she prepared, the wonderful bar tender, and her assistant (Melissa, I think her name was?)  They all worked so hard, and everything tasted and looked incredible. If you're in the New York area and have an event coming up, I know everyone there that night would recommend them.

Preparing a meal for a gaggle of guests

We're so excited!  This weekend our friends are getting married and we're preparing some of the food!  Which means cooking for about 80.  I think about 120 people are actually attending, but as a bunch of people are participating in the food portion of the night, plus a caterer, we're only worrying about 80 portions. Only.  Incredibly, or perhaps just ignorantly, we are actually not worried at all.   Our menu is:

  • Roasted Lamb with Minted Yogurt, and Spicy Mixed Fruit Chutney
  • Three Rice Salad, with jicama, cranberries, cabbage and parsley.  

We got everything, excluding the lamb, yesterday.  And I did a bunch of the chopping last night.  Tonight we'll pick up the lamb legs, marinate them and make the chutney.  Tomorrow we'll roast (or grill, weather permitting,) the lamb, and make the rice salad.  Friday we drive it all to Brooklyn, add the finishing touches and then chow down that evening.  Whoo!

Regardless of the food, its going to be such a lovely wedding.  I really cannot wait!

I was in New York last weekend for a few days.  And we kept busy!  Dinner parties, brunch(es), playdates, Broadway, the Mister even spent the day at the office (--most of the time he telecommutes and works at home.)  Besides getting to see a bunch of friends--young and old-- the highlights included:

Nice new friends: Carnivalesque Films

Brunch at Papacitos in Greenpoint

Will Ferrel (!!!!!) You're Welcome America

My first Five Guys experience

Momofuku, Noodle Bar

Some really yummy frozen yogurt that I am forgetting the name of-- it was like a dessert salad bar

Those notes above from my favorite girls...

I tried to make a trip to Sahadi's but my heart wasn't in it.  The thought of dragging around more stuff, delicious as it would have been, was not appealing.  

Did you notice that almost everything on the list was a food item?  We meant to make a list of foods we wanted to "visit" while we were there, but it turns out we did pretty well without one.  

One of the most notable parts of the weekend was WE DIDN'T GET LOST driving there OR back! It was a miracle.  And I conquered my fear of driving in the big city.  Incredible. 

Anyhow, now that we're home safe and sound, I've been working on new drawings... for my shop!  More about those later...



Homemade Goodies Round Up, Part I

Some homemade holiday gifities: While I'm still learning to actually read a pattern, I've been really enjoying crocheting.  Just simple things, but I think they came out pretty cute. I made a bunch of fingerless gloves-- Big ones, for the Mister's Dad:

And several little ones, for smaller hands:

Those striped ones are for a certain little guy, who just became shy about wearing his favorite color pink to school. (Which makes me sad, but that's a whole other story.)

And a wavy scarf for the mister's mother:

I wanted to make more of these felt letter ornaments, but I left if to the last minute and ended up only whipping up a few.

They were so easy, and I really liked how they came out.  I wish I had made more of them. Next year!

I did end up making those mini meringues, but I chickened out on the marshmallows.  

(But my mom and I must have been on the same wavelength, cause she made a few batches.  So I got to snack on hers!  Marshmallows melting in coffee= yum! Who knew? )  If you haven't ever made meringues, I recommend it-- they were so easy! 

Here are the goodies all packaged up-- meringues, cookies, coconut macaroons, and some Trader Joe's Hot Chocolate. 

I'm still gathering up the names of all the sellers I bought wonderful things from this season.  I'll post about them tomorrow!

White white white

It just started snowing about a half hour ago!  Really snowing.  I gotta say I was pretty skeptical about this whole snowstorm thing.  I heard bits about it on the radio, Portland crafters have been posting about their snow for days, and friends here have been planning around it.  But I figured I believe it when I saw it.  This morning I had a few more Christmas-y errands to run, and fortuitously decided to get them over with, rather than wait 'till later.  And I'm a lucky girl: snow started to fall as I pulled out of my last parking lot, on the highway back home I had to turn my lights on and now, about 30 minutes later, snow is covering everything.  I love it.  

This is after 15 minutes of snowing:

There's gotta be at least a couple of inches by now.  So I guess this means more wrapping and gift making and crocheting and baking. YAY.  

I couldn't get these coconut macaroons to photograph well, but they sure are yummy!

As you can see, Saulie insisted on supervising our batch.  (The gift macaroons are kitty-help/cat hair free.)

I used Martha's recipe.  I am also going to try her homemade marshmallows.  Um, without a candy thermometer. ergh.  Though I did find this site and I think its going to be really helpful, and its basically making me brave enough to try.

The wonderful Mr Bittman has inspired me to make mini meringues as well.  I'm going to try vanilla, chocolate and pink peppermint flavored one.

Ok! I guess I better hop to it!

Thank you for all kinds of Family

Thanksgiving turned out to be pretty wonderful.  In fact, I noticed myself musing about next year's, with all the same people, and what everyone would bring, and what we would do (perhaps actually take a group picture?!)...when, really, it probably won't happen next year.  Or at least it won't be the same group.  Which is why I'm so grateful for this year's.  

Our guest list started out rather small (which of course would have been fine!) but then happily grew.  We're so lucky our good friends Henry and Mandy came, and got to bring along the lovely Miss Dot.  My brother Sam flew in from Utah as a surprise guest.  My sister and husband came despite terribly busy schedules.


At some point during Getting Ready for Everyone, I realized that we had the easiest group of people coming for dinner.  It made me happy to know that if we absolutely ruined the turkey Griswolds'-style, everyone would just laugh it off and have more of the stuffing.  We never worried if everyone would get along.  We knew they would. And they did.  Despite blending two families, plus friends, our apartment was filled with laughter and chatting for hours.   So I'm truly thankful for that.  What a blessing (as my parents would say) to have such easy-going, happy people in your life.  


The Mister and I asked everyone to write down what they were thankful for on slips of paper which were then placed in a bowl. After dinner everyone picked one and we all went around the table reading each others. They were funny and sweet.  My mother's said something about "Thank you for Firsts."  And I agree. 


But I still can't help but hope it was first of many.

Countdown to T Day

I drove out to Rehoboth last night, where my friend Jane lives, and we went to go pick up our turkey.  Its funny to drive 20 minutes out of Providence and be in this little, sweet farming community.  Well, it used to be mostly farms, but it sounds like its quickly becoming just a suburb, with lots of sprawling developments.  Anyhow it looked like the country, and it was so close.   Sunny Meadow Farms is technically the fenced in field behind Linda and Richard King's house.  They used to have sheep as well, but afore mentioned housing developments have encroached on that, so now they just raise turkeys:

Our turkeys are raised on the finest grains, and receive no medication or Hormones or any other additives... We have raised turkeys at this location since 1980 as a 4 H project for our youngest daughter Jaimie.  The love for fine food free to additives has kept us raising them ever since.

After welcoming us into their house and giving us lots of cooking advice (much needed!) they hefted over my 25 pound turkey, who was "walking around earlier" that morning.  

I love this.  After being a vegetarian for ten years, I try to remember to not take eating meat lightly.  I think this is one of the best ways to do it:  Supporting your community farmer, who takes good care of the animal.   Obviously, I haven't even tried yet, but the King's were so friendly and helpful, I'm sure I'll be going back to them for all my other turkey needs.

The mister and I got up early (ish) to salt it.  Oh man, those spices smelled amazing...



My sister and I were supposed to spend the weekend in Martha's Vineyard visiting our Aunt. Unfortunately our Aunt was feeling not so great, so, much to everyone's disappointment, the trip was postponed.  Happily the weekend was redeemed by a trip to the farmer's market --during which flowers were purchased, a massage, an overnight visit from my sister, then Sunday brunch with all of us, plus a friend, ending with a dinner of grilled burgers and apple bread. Then I worked until 1 am, but never mind that.

Ok, so not as great as Martha's Vineyard, but pretty darn good.


Aren't those flowers pretty?  I love the woman from the nursery who sells them. She always finds an excuse to throw in one for free-- " Those petals look a little bent," or "You look so serious picking out flowers-- have this one!"  I appreciate it.  And I am serious picking out flowers.  

My massage included cupping on the advice of the masseuse, who was concerned about the tightness of my neck and shoulders.  What do you do? she asked. In some sick way, I was glad my back was so messed up she seemed worried.  --I always feel guilty spending money on a massage. But apparently I don't get them enough!  Which means I get to get them more!  My sister's New Years resolution last year was to get a massage every month.  Which is such a great resolution in so many ways.  I should adopt it.  

Back to cupping. I'd never done it before.   "It might leave a slight red mark for a day or two."  Um.  It looks like I got it on with a bottom feeder fish.  (Or, as my sister said, like someone hit me with a baseball bat.)  Then she said "...Oh some celebrity got it and then wore some backless dress to the Emmys and made a big fuss.  Who was it..?"  I was too embarrassed to say I knew exactly was she was talking about: Gwyneth Paltrow. NY film premiere.  Strapless top.  I feigned ignorance.  Anyhow, It felt great.  And its cold, so scarves should take care of it.  No problem.  

On the work front, I finished the animation project I've been working on!  I'll post some stills as soon as its approved by the client!


I probably should have posted about these before the conventions...But...I didn't.  Never-the-less: the drawings I did of the Presidential Candidates for Eleni's bakery in New York, are now on sale as cookies!


For the last six Oscar seasons, I've done drawings of the Best Actor/Actress nominees for their "Conversation Series" cookies.  This is one of my favorite jobs to do every year, so it was really fun to get to do these as well!

I always send my grandmother a box of them, and I think she was excited to have these for the convention.  The cookies themselves, besides their obvious novelty factor, are quite tasty--perfect little sugar cookies, with the images printed on sugar paper, which melts in your mouth...

So head on over and pick out your favorite candidate, or maybe his rival?-- Then you can really bite into them!  Yum!


Best Vegan Magician

         Hey look!  My cousin Jesse got a great write up in the San Francisco Bay Guardian's "Best of the Bay" guide.  As a personal chef, he's listed as the "Best Vegan Magician"!  

...Enter Jesse Miner, a personal chef who, for about the price of a meal at a fancy restaurant, will make meat-, egg-, and dairy-free meals for families and groups. With 15 years of experience, a degree in natural foods from Bauman College, and an internship at Millennium under his belt, he's also adept at adjusting menus for other food restrictions, including wheat intolerance, diabetes, and raw food diets. And by the way, don't miss his peanut butter squares and ginger snaps...

So if you're in the area, and you and your family need some yummy dinners pronto-- or if you're looking for a lesson or two-- you should definitely check him out! You won't be disappointed.   

Family lore has it he sends his awesome wife Erin off to work every day with a hand packed lunch! Some girls have all the luck...

Austin, Tx: food

So a big part of our trip to Austin was eating.  Are you surprised?  There wasn't a lot of variety: we basically stuck to BBQ or Mexican the whole time.  But it was good.   Here's a little taste. BBQ at Stubbs:

greg at stubbs 
Twice.  We took Sam there later.
sam at Stubbs Gerald at Stubbs 
Gueros Taco Bar was really yummy.
 drawing at gueros 
Plus they had these pretty trees outside, that turned from this:
trees trees
to this:
night trees night tree


Cheesecake! Twice.

This past week I made cheesecake twice.  Which is funny because I'd only made it once before a few years ago. And though it was pretty well received, and not too, too scary, I've shied away from it since.  But to comply with a birthday request I made it again.  I used this Gingersnap-Pear Cheesecake recipe from Real Simple  and didn't stray too much from it.   It was so easy and was completely delicious!  (The only annoying part was making the gingersnap crust. --Which wouldn't be a big deal but I don't have a food processor.  I know; it's sad. ) It was enjoyed by all and the best end to a birthday meal of pork loin, curried apples with barley, mashed sweet potatoes and salad.  

Birthday Cheesecake  Birthday meal

We also had a cheese course before hand.  Yikes.  The birthday boy said it was like Thanksgiving.  Such compliments! We all rolled home.     

Anyhow it was so easy that we decided to have another one the other night.  It was Valentine's Day so we deserved another one.   I used low fat cream cheese, which was basically just to make me feel better mentally, as I'm sure it didn't make much of a dent calorie-wise.  We used the same recipe, but this time made a chocolate one. --Basically just added powered baking cocoa.  It probably would have been better with a graham cracker crust, but there weren't any crackers, so gingersnaps with more powdered baking cocoa ended up doing the trick: