Friday, December 30, 2011

Farewell 2011

Here we are again - watching the last hours of another year tick away. Is it just me or are the years passing faster than the bubbles rise to the top of champagne glass? I feel helpless to stop them, so I just have to admire their beauty and take another generous gulp.

Beautiful, exciting moments filled the past year, though 2011 did it’s best to try to bring me to my knees in some of it’s darkest moments. I experienced both pure happiness and heartache to levels I previously never knew existed. There were moments I felt a world away from my family, even as I finally, finally fell completely in love with my Manhattan-ite life. If I did not already know it, this year set out to remind me that my family is my whole world.

Surprisingly enough, I am leaving 2011 feeling quite balanced - maybe more so than I can ever remember. I guess that’s what happens when you start cutting yourself a little bit of slack. When you remove your concentration from the material things you don’t have to realizing just how rich you already are - shelter, food, clothing, health, family, and friends are luxuries never to be discounted.

Looking ahead, 2012 already seems to offer so much excitement and the notion of starting a new year with a clean slate is nothing short of inspiring.  There will be highs and lows, but this past year taught me that, with the support of my family and friends, every moment can be significant and meaningful in ways we might not be able to see on the surface.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan Pie

Tomorrow I am joining the massive amount of New Yorkers hailing a cab early in the morning, loaded down with luggage and heading to the airport.  My little (and I do want the emphasize little) airplane will battle the impending winter storm and transport me to the mountains of Virginia.  Home for the holidays, though sadly without my favorite guy.

Going home means family, relaxation, sweet tea, and homemade cookies.  It means I am in the South again, where life is a little slower, a little sweeter. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Milanese Risotto


As you may remember, our last day in Milan left Mike and I tired, chilled to the bone, and incredibly hungry. Walking around the city under a grey, rainy sky, we searched for something - anything resembling nourishment of some sort. By the late afternoon, defeated, we set back to our hotel in attempts to silence our growling stomachs with multiple cups of tea. Mike quietly flipped through our guidebook as I watched the local news, pretending to understand the reporter’s rapid-fire Italian. “I think I found a place that might be open for dinner,” Mike said. We exchanged glances - doubtful glances, since almost every restaurant on our list had been shuttered, closed for business, or simply not at the listed address.

Regardless, we set out again in the rain, as dusk encompassed the city. Down the twisting streets, we finally spotted the glow of a neon sign through the dark, the only promise of life on an otherwise abandoned street. “This is it!” Mike said and we both held our breath in silent prayer as I attempted to open the door.

The door opened into the scene of an old-Italian restaurant, complete with red-checkered table cloths and Italian waiters dressed in suits from a bygone era. We were only the second table in the restaurant, the other group also tourists, translating the Italian menu into Chinese. But our waiter was incredibly sweet, bringing us bread almost before Mike had finished explaining we had not eaten all day. He delivered a bottle of his favorite red wine, saving us the inevitable moment of playing eenie-meenie-miney-mo on the wine list. We asked for his favorite dishes, to which he replied, “Any! My mother is in the kitchen, she’ll take care of you.” And lo and behold, as soon as our orders were placed, our waiter disappeared into the kitchen and as the door swung shut he exclaimed “Mamma! Tortellini, risotto, lamb!”

This hole-in-the-wall restaurant, denoted only by a fading neon sign, was hands-down the best food we ate in Milan; the Milanese risotto was exactly the cure we needed to remove the chill in our bones. And by the time we finished our meal and wine, the restaurant was packed with the local regulars who traded Sunday supper at home for our waiter’s mother’s cooking.

Farewell Fall


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

Milan, Italy: Day Three


It rained the entirety of our last day in Milan. While we had no place in particular to go – we successfully covered everything we wanted to see within the first day and a half – Mike and I still wanted to wander around the city and indulge in as much Italian food and wine as possible.

I should mention our last day in Milan also happened to be a Sunday. You may not think that is an important detail – just like we did not – but you would be sadly mistaken. Everything in Milan was closed on Sunday. Between the day of rest and the weather, the streets were empty, as were our stomachs. We walked all over the city, going down a rather extensive list of recommendations, only to find each door locked and gated. Even the grocery store was closed. Late in the afternoon, through the now pouring rain, we spotted the lights from what appeared to be a cute, young café. However, we were sadly mistaken and, glaring down at the terrible food, wondered if it might have been better if we had just kept walking.

When we boarded the plane the following morning, I looked over at Mike and sincerely said, “I did not expect to leave Italy hungry.” He nodded in agreement. Little did we know what deliciousness awaited us in Barcelona.

Milan 11.6.2010

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Milan, Italy: Day Two


Our second day in Milan began with a trek to a highly recommended pastry shop. While the shop was not especially close to our hotel, Mike expertly navigated the winding roads and we arrived to beautiful windows filled with sweets and the smell of much-needed espresso. We ordered cornettos – glazed, flaky Italian croissants – and an espresso for Mike, a cappuccino for me. We leaned against the espresso bar and happily consumed our breakfast to fuel a full day of activity.

Milan 11.5.2010_Pasticceria Marchesi

Properly caffeinated, we set out to explore the streets of Milan on foot.

Milan 11.5.2010_Morning

Our travels took us to the Basilica of Sant' Ambrogio, a site with beautiful brickwork and architecture.

Milan 11.5.2010_Basilica of Sant' Ambrogio

Later in the day, we arrived in Parco Sempione, where the colors of fall were in full bloom against a dreary, gray sky.

Milan 11.5.2010_Parco Sempione

Later that afternoon, we wandered in to Chocolat – a beautiful gelato and espresso bar. The gelato was fascinating to see, piled up so high in their containers, it looked like fluffy pillows. After much contemplation, I decided on a combination of hazelnut and dark chocolate gelato. How I wish I could end every afternoon like this!

Milan 11.5.2010_Afternoon
That night, we traveled to the outskirts of the city to see an Inter Milan match, although I did not take my camera, as we were unsure how tight security would be at the gate. However, our worries were unfounded, though there were great pains taken to separate the home team crowd from that of the visiting team.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Redbook Feature: Rustic Fresh Fig Tart


Apologies for interrupting this week's Italian get-away, but I want to be sure you all skip over to Redbook Magazine's website to drool over this Rustic Fresh Fig Tart. Hearty, caramel-y, and - oh yeah! - I styled and photographed the recipe!

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Milan, Italy: Day One


It has been a year since Mike and I packed our bags for a European vacation – starting in Milan, Italy and concluding in Barcelona, Spain. My very first international trip! While we purchased very few souvenirs – two espresso cups, a scarf for Mike, and hot chocolate for me – I returned with thousands of photographs. It has taken me an entire year to edit all of the photos – not because I am alarmingly slow at editing, but because every time I started the process, I grew nostalgic for the ten days we spent together eating delicious food, drinking bottle upon bottle of wine, and exploring new cities. We left our worries and stresses in New York and for ten lovely days, could just enjoy each other and our surroundings. It was like falling in love all over again, although we never actually fell out of love. I put off the editing so long, Mike would tease me every time I started the process again. “Looking at photos of the trip should make you happy, not sad. Nothing bad happened!” But they are finally (finally!) edited and ready for sharing. I will begin this week by sharing the photos from Milan, organized chronologically by our actual days in the city, from morning to evening.

Once we landed and briefly settled into our hotel, we hit the pavement for food to cure our growling, empty stomachs. We found the cure at Paper Moon, where we found delicious breadsticks and pizzas. The homemade ricotta was phenomenal and I am still not able to replicate it’s cloud-like texture.

Milan 11.4.2010_Afternoon

After lunch, happily full, Mike led me through winding streets, filled with model-esque women and their men. Suddenly, Duomo di Milano loomed in front of me. After exploring the breathtaking exterior, we paid a minimal amount to climb to the roof and it was absolutely worth every Euro! The sun was just beginning to descend and bathed the city in the most beautiful light.

Milan 11.4.2010_Duomo

Later, we explored the Galleria and winding streets of Milan. In what would become a trend, the restaurant where we wanted to have dinner was closed. Instead, a bit weary from the travel, we found a grocery store near our hotel and picked up bread, prosciutto, cheeses, prosecco, and red wine. To this day, that simple dinner was still one of my favorites – mostly because Mike and I shared it together, recounting the day, ecstatic for the days ahead of us.

Milan 11.4.2010_Galleria Milan 11.4.2010_Evening

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Brooklyn Goodbye


My very closest girlfriend is moving today – not to another borough, not to the city’s suburbs, but to another country. Let me begin by saying I have very few close girlfriends in my life and, perhaps, as I have grown older, this has been a more conscious decision than not. I quickly tire of gossip and drama; for most of my life I have been looking ahead to the future, knowing I would someday leave for college, a job, a new city.

Brooklyn Goodbye 1

Maybe this is part of the reason she and I became such good friends, especially considering we initially despised each other. But when I moved to New York City after graduation, when I was feeling unbelievably lost and lonely, she was one of the only people I knew in the city. Afternoons of cupcake tasting, farmers market trips, running in Central Park, or conversations about food (always with wine) ensued. Her no-nonsense, tough love was exactly what I needed and against all odds of our personalities, we quickly became close friends. Without her support, I would not have found the willpower to stay in NYC, so you might imagine how indebted I feel to her now.

Brooklyn Goodbye 2

We spent last Saturday in Brooklyn, pretending most of the day that it was like any other weekend, enjoying a few drinks while catching-up on everyone’s increasingly busy lives. But all too quickly, we found ourselves huddled in a dirty subway station, where the L train splits between Manhattan and Brooklyn. A tear-filled goodbye ensued and I could suddenly no longer harbor any anger at her for leaving. I could only wish her the best of luck and sincerely hope she finds everything she is seeking.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mulled Apple Cider

Mulled Apple Cider w/ Text

Autumn is in the air.  I think?  The weather in the Northeast cannot seem to make up its temperamental mind.  Last Saturday brought the first snow of the season.  I am not talking about a few beautiful, puffy white flakes, I mean the skies opened up and hurled miniature snowballs to the world below all day long.  I equipped our bed with warm flannel sheets and our neighbors cranked their dusty radiators. 

Yesterday, the sun was shining, blinding pedestrians attempting to walk in any direction.  The jacket I needed for warmth on my morning commute rendered me a sweaty mess within five minutes of stepping outside for lunch.

My cravings are equally confused – something hearty and comforting or something light and healthy?  Luckily, there is one beverage with the ability to put me in a fall mood any day of the year – mulled apple cider.  Apple cider can be consumed warm or chilled, conveniently versatile compared to other seasonal food and beverage options.  Add a healthy splash of bourbon and sip the fall, or whatever the season, days away.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food52 Cookbook

Last week I returned home from work and while fumbling for my keys, I noticed a big, thick yellow envelope on my doormat.  It is not uncommon for packages to be waiting, but this one touted a large label from a publishing house – like the ones I am used to receiving at work, but never at home.  Without removing my jacket or boots, I tore into the envelope and carefully removed the long-awaited, physical copy of the Food52 Cookbook

My winning recipe happily begins on page 324.  I know this for certain, as each day since receiving the book, I have flipped open to this page, just to affirm the recipe, my blog, and my name have not disappeared into thin air.  What an amazing feeling it is to see your work in print!

The Food52 Cookbook is a bible written by an incredible collection of inspirational home cooks from around the country; I am humbled to be considered one of them.  I absolutely cannot wait to spend more time perusing the pages and urge you to do the same – either by securing your own copy of the book or exploring the Food52 website!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spiced Walnuts

Spiced Walnuts-016

Fall. Pumpkins. Apple cider. Spices. Come this time of year, with a crisp breeze blowing through the windows, I so wish I could just hold up in my kitchen, churning out one delicious fall dessert after another. I am excited to see apples and pears by the bushel-full at the market, fooled once again into being thankful for fall days. Winter is just around the corner and yet I am completely blinded by the sweet possibilities - pies, cakes, cookies, crumbles, ice cream - happy to bid farewell to the suffocating summer haze.

While I slowly transition to baking more on the weekends, weekday baking is almost completely out of the question. But around 4 PM, my sweet tooth attacks and has recently begun demanding fall-inspired sweets. Even with very little time during the week, I can drizzle walnuts with a little maple syrup, a sprinkle of spices, and produce a barely-sweet, but totally satisfying treat in less than 20 minutes.

Spiced Walnuts-025

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fig & Lemon Jam

Fig and Lemon Jam

There are many things I enjoy about my job, but above all else, I love the time spent developing, testing, and photographing recipes.  My love for this process began right here on this little blog and continues to be an unmatched source of inspiration to me.

Besides armloads of dirty dishes, the only other downfall to my work is the not insignificant amount of food leftover in my half-size refrigerator.  For instance, last week I had a pound of black mission figs, slightly bruised and far from perfect, remaining from a project earlier in the week.  Each time I opened the refrigerator door, I wondered how to best utilize the fruit.  Pie?  Cake?  Crumble?  I couldn’t make up my mind - so many options! - until one morning when I realized I only had until the end of the day until the figs would rot.

Given my fading window of opportunity, I stopping tricking myself into believing I had hours to bake a pie or cake from scratch or that I was hosting a large dinner party where people could dig their spoons into the warm crumble.  So, jam was the answer I had been looking for all along!  Minimal ingredients and time in the kitchen ensured the figs were properly showcased, without sacrificing time I just did not have in the day.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pike's Place Market

Pikes Place Market_Opener

For my 30-hour rendezvous in Seattle, I wanted to accomplish two things between business-related activities and sleeping: See the Space Needle and explore Pike’s Place Market. Less than an hour after landing, in the car on the way to the hotel, I spotted the Space Needle, brightly lit against the dark Seattle sky. One down, one to go.

The next morning, on my little exploration around the hotel, I was pleasantly surprised to find Pike’s Place Market only one short block from the hotel. Later that afternoon, after work commitments had been successfully performed, my boss and I set-off to explore this amazing market. It took every ounce of sensibility for us to resist buying armloads of the amazing dahlia bouquets.

If you are interested in what exactly my business trip to Seattle involved, check here for my photographs.

Pikes Place Market

Monday, October 10, 2011

Seattle, Washington


Last week I hopped on a plane for my very first business trip and enjoyed every inch of leg room my first class ticket offered. It isn’t very often that my long legs aren’t cramped and achy after five hours on a plane. The plane touched down in Seattle after dark, so I woke early the next morning – my body still being on Eastern Standard Time and all – grabbed my camera, and ventured down to the waterfront. The air was misty and cool and the sun had yet to peak through the clouds; a quiet start to the day.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fall Entryway Wreath


A few weekends ago, with Mike out of town visiting friends, I began decorating our apartment for the impending fall season.  Pumpkins, squash, and gourds were strategically scattered and beautiful oranges, burgundies, and brown tones warmed our apartment.  But our entryway was missing that something special and I immediately knew the cure: Home Stories A to Z’s beautiful yarn wreath with felt flowers!  Warm up your glue gun and skip over to Beth’s blog for a great tutorial on creating felt flowers!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good Read: Lunch Wars

Lunch Wars

Lunch Wars by Amy Kalafa immediately grips its readers with eye-opening statistics and facts about our nation's children, the foods they consume and resulting effects on their behavior and health.  “Nineteen percent of American children are obese and 35 percent are overweight and the trend is increasing.  The prevalence of overweight or obesity in children will nearly double by 2030.”  Okay, you have my attention.

There may appear to be a simple solution to improving our children’s diets – serve organic, healthy foods at home and pack a lunch composed of these healthy options.  Not so fast – Amy’s own journey began when she found her child was forgoing healthy home packed lunches for sugary drinks and snacks at school.  What inevitably followed was the formation of Two Angry Moms, a documentary and, now Lunch Wars, created to not only spread the word and provide parental support, but to also provide a game plan in overhauling school lunch options.

While I do not have any children of my own, this book certainly reinforced the issue of school lunch quality – and food quality in general – for our youth. While I found some of the points to be redundant throughout the book, I imagine it would be an invaluable tool for any parent looking to take a stand on these issues in their community.  I still strongly believe good food habits begin at home, both with the foods being served and the eating habits of family members.  But reading this book also shed new light on my stance: maybe the problem is not just that most schools offer processed foods for lunches and sugary options for snacks; perhaps many parents need to be educated on the effects of processed foods and affordable, wholesome alternatives.  To this point, such alternatives need to be affordable, and for many families stocking the pantry with organic products is just not financially an option.

“Our children’s life expectancy is now shorter than our own and we can expect them to be plagued with worse health than our own as well.”  You can call these parents hippies or granolas, but this is an issue that will not solve itself without parents, administrators and the government working together.

This was a paid review for Blog Her Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Stewart & Claire Lip Balm

Stewart & Claire_0039
It might be somewhat rare for the worlds of beauty and food to collide, but it certainly can be a beautiful thing when they do.  For instance, when my fingernails recently donned “A Oui Bit of Red”, I dreamt each morning of nibbling a croissant and sipping a café au lait at a bistro table on some unknown Parisian sidewalk.  This image was certainly more beautiful than my reality - shoveling yogurt into my mouth between answering emails and returning phone calls.

Even more than perfectly manicured hands, lip balm is a necessity for my ever-dry lips, but finding the perfect brand has been less than an easy task.  Too waxy, too drying, too fragrant, too tingly – it is an extensive list of grievances.  Then, a few weeks ago, a coworker graciously gifted samples of lip balm, inspired by food and the seasons.  She and her husband are responsible for these absolutely addictive Stewart & Claire balms, which are custom made to order.  I am currently addicted to Autumn’s gingery smell and find myself reapplying much more than needed.  These balms are organic and have a forewarned shorter lifespan than other commercial balms, so I am parting with two and spreading the love to Washington DC and Virginia.  Check out the Stewart & Claire website and become addicted too!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Snap Pea, Prosciutto & Walnut Fettuccine


A heavy rainstorm blew through the city a few days ago, rolling the summer humidity right up into it’s rain clouds before heading out to the Atlantic.  Stepping outside the next morning felt as though the ceiling of gray summer haze had been lifted and the maze of streets and buildings were suddenly nestled beneath a beautiful, blue sky.  Harried commuters lifted their heads a bit higher, breathing in the cool morning dew and enjoying every minute of a breezy commute to work.

I so adore this weather and know it will all too soon make way for the short days and long nights of a frigid winter.  In the coming weeks, apples, pears and squash will fill the farmer’s market to the brim, but this transformation is just beginning and the last of summer’s bounty hangs on tightly despite the temperature change.

This simple pasta highlights the transition from sweltering summer days to cozy fall nights, pairing summer’s fresh, green snap peas alongside the hearty, toasty flavors of walnuts and whole wheat pasta.  In my household, good-quality prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano are always in season and lend a beautiful texture and balanced saltiness to this dish.

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