Sunday, December 30, 2012

Make-Ahead New Year's Day Breakfast

After a long night of New Year’s Eve festivities, no one wants to get up early and prepare breakfast. But, you will want breakfast, so it would be a great idea to start thinking of the menu sooner rather than later. And if you could prepare it in advance (rather than when your head is pounding and you are looking for the hair of the dog that bit you), that menu would be heaven sent.

The Swedish Vampire is a refreshing cocktail that is a lot tamer than it sounds. Mix up a pitcher of aquavit and a combo of juices in advance and have them at the ready, awaiting a final splash of sparkling water and some ice cubes.

For an entree, you might mix up something called a Tortilla Espanola, a potato and onion fritatta popular in Spain. Prepare the dish in advance, refrigerate it overnight, and allow it to come to room temperature in the morning. 

And because no New Year’s Day (or any celebratory) breakfast is complete without something sweet and decadent: Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls. These can be mixed, rolled out and sliced the day before. All you have to do in the a.m. is pop them in the oven and bake until they are puffy and gooey. I loved's recipe for these, and I amped up the spices and added the nuts since my husband sadly did not get any Pecan Pie this Thanksgiving. I swapped out Rachel's icing for Joanne Chang's "goo" from her famous Sticky Buns, which further tamed hubby's jonesing for his pie.The gingerbready scent will waft throughout the house and rouse any sleepyhead recovering from the previous night’s celebration, making them ready to face the New Year and begin tackling that list of resolutions. 

Overnight Gingerbread Cinnamon Rolls
(adapted from Flour Bakery and Baked by Rachel)
Makes 12 rolls

Dough Ingredients:
4 1/2c all purpose flour
1/4c brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 package rapid rise or instant yeast (not active dry)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3/4c milk, warm
1/3c molasses
Filling Ingredients:
1c brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2c unsalted butter, melted

1c pecan halves, toasted and coarsely chopped
Goo Ingredients:
3/4c (1 1/2 sticks;  6 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/2c  firmly packed light brown sugar
1/3c honey
1/3c heavy cream
1/3c water
1/4 tsp kosher salt

First, make the “Goo.” In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, to combine (it may look separated, that's ok). Remove from the heat and whisk in the honey, cream, water, and salt. Strain to remove any undissolved lumps of brown sugar. Let cool for about 30 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. You should have about 3 cups. (The mixture can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)

In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 2 cups of flour plus remaining dry dough ingredients. Melt butter and heat milk to 105-110 degrees, test temperature after 45 seconds and do 10-15 second intervals until you reach the correct temperature.

With the mixer on low, add molasses, melted butter and warm milk. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour by spoonfuls until fully incorporated and dough is no longer sticking to the bowl.

Grease a large bowl with baking spray. Lightly grease your hands, pat dough into a smooth ball and transfer to prepared bowl. Allow to rise for 1 hour.

On a lightly-floured surface, roll out your dough to roughly a 12×20 rectangle. In a small bowl, combine dry filling ingredients and half of the chopped pecans. Brush melted butter over entire surface. Sprinkle filling mixture over entire surface. If any butter remains, drizzle over dough and filling.

Beginning at one of the short ends, roll dough as tightly as possible. Trim off about 1/8-inch from each end of the roll to make them even Slice them into 12 (approx.) equal pieces. Pour the goo into a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, covering the bottom evenly. Sprinkle the remaining pecans evenly over the surface. Arrange the rolls, evenly spaced, in the baking dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let the dough proof overnight in the refrigerator 

When ready to bake, remove prepared rolls from the refrigerator, allowing the baking dish to come to room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake rolls for 35-40 minutes. Let cool in the dish on a wire rack for about 20 minutes...if you can wait that long. One at a time, invert the buns onto a serving platter, and spoon any extra goo and pecans from the bottom of the dish over the top.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Searching For A Child-- Searching For An Answer

"Where's my kid?"

How many of us have ever asked that question? 

Perhaps it was while you were shopping at the mall and you were looking for that dress on the mannequin that caught your eye, but was not in your size? 

Or perhaps you were at the market and the tomatoes looked great, but you were searching for just the right one--not too soft or too hard.

And you became distracted. For what probably was a minute...or two.

And you looked up and what you thought was your little girl or boy standing next to you was not. And that question, “Where’s my kid?” came spewing out of your mouth, and for the split second or so that you went your stomach jerked and your head pounded...and your heart raced....

I had what I liked to call a “wanderer.” My older son was always a little headstrong and had to be watched like a hawk whenever we would go out. I even bought one of those children’s leashes for him, but couldn’t bring myself to use it. So there was a time or two when I looked and looked for him only to find him sitting deep within clothing racks, playing, And once I remember racing out of a store to find him happily sitting on a bench next to what might have been the smelliest and dirtiest homeless man in the city.

While those few times that I ran from parent to parent, child to child, searching, lasted next to nothing (but felt like an eternity), and thankfully ended happily, I can vividly remember the sheer, raw terror I felt as I looked for him. 

So, when I heard the horrific news about the slaughter of the children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut last week, my first thoughts were of the parents and how they felt as they drove and ran through the streets and parking lots wondering where their children were. I empathized with them as I watched them pile into the firehouse. How utterly heartbreaking it must have been as they ran past children who had already been reunited with their own parents. How utterly heart wrenching it must have been as they passed more and more families hugging and clinging to each other, still not knowing the fate of their own children. 

And for some--for 20 moms and 20 dads, to be exact--their searches did not end as happily as mine. The reality slammed into them like a freight train, and I grieve for them and for those innocent souls, those little sitting ducks, and their teachers who were lost. We are a country in mourning...once again. And even though it seems like it, we must not make a habit of it. Let it end here. Let this be the last lesson that teaches us we need more control...over guns, over mental health care. 

A school day should end with a child happily running out of the building, trying to maneuver newly drawn pictures on pieces of construction paper in one hand, while clumsily clutching sweaters and backpacks and lunch boxes in the other. It shouldn't end in a hale of bullets. 

 Robert Kennedy once spoke very eloquently of “the mindless menace of violence.” And then he too became a victim of exactly that. We are angry and while the wound is still raw, we must not let that anger dissipate, but put it to good use. Speak out--to your legislators, to your public policymakers.

We can no longer take the happy days for granted. We must stop the mindless menace of violence.

Let it end here. Let it end now. 

If you are on Twitter, please follow the hashtag #stopitnow. And please add your voice to the collective.
By Darryle Pollack
“Newtown, Old News”
By Lisa Belkin in the Huffington Post:
“Gun Control is a Parenting Issue”
By Lois Alter Mark
“Guns Do Kill People”
By Kathy Thompson Combs
“A Call for Action”
By Jo Heroux
By Ambling and Rambling
“Solve for X”
By Lori Lavender Luz
“Do Something”
Finally, please contact your congressman. Here’s a link with information on how to do so.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A New York Tale: How I Met My Husband

We met cute....

“Could you hand that can of Coke to Bob Trotta?” 
“That guy over there.” 

And so I did--And through the chain link fence of a concrete ballfield on 34th and 1st, I caught the first glimpse of my future husband.

We worked for the same publishing firm--but I was in editorial and he was in accounting, so our paths had never crossed before that day. And the only reason we did manage to meet was because a friend of mine talked me into joining the company softball team to help get my mind off of the boyfriend who had just broken up with me.

“It will be fun,” she said.
“But I don’t know how to play softball,” I countered.
“No matter--you’ll learn. And you’ll make some new friends.”

And so it went. 

We would meet after work and all take the subway up to Central Park--once a week to practice, and once a week to play against other publishing companies. (Did anyone notice that I would position myself right behind him in the outfield, as he stood in the infield so that I could get a good view of his...”back?”) And after the games we would all usually head to a bar. While everyone was chatting and drinking, I was swooning. (Didn’t anyone else notice the slight crinkle around his eyes when he smiled?)  And then it was just the two of us leaving together. A classic New York City tale. Yuppies working, playing softball (I never really did perfect my softball skills), drinking...and falling in love.

After a while we would meet for lunch and sit on benches that lined the FDR Drive. We were very different--our backgrounds, our experiences, our religions. And so we were cautious. I was cautious. I worried that the differences would outweigh the similarities and eventually tear us apart.  But there was something there --a spark, a genuineness that I had not seen in so many of the others I had dated. And the more time we spent together, the less “different” those differences seemed.

 When I decided to enter what was then called “The Manny Hanny 5K Race in the Park,” I was a little apprehensive. I had never run a real race before, but knowing my partner would be there cheering me on gave me the confidence to do it. A week before the race we found out that I was going to have to go it alone because a business trip had come up.

And so there I was running along when I heard someone calling calling my name from the sidelines. And when I looked up there he was running through the park in a suit of armor, on a white steed...uh, I mean in a pinstripe suit, carrying a briefcase and trench coat. He had grabbed a cab at the airport and literally ran through the park and over to the race. And in that moment, as my pace quickened, and as cliche as it sounds, I knew...he was the one.

And the love’s still growin’
             --Buzzy Linhart

This is part of Blog Hop that my friends at GenFab are joining together on. If you'd like to read how the rest of them met their husbands/partners, click on this link:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fear Of Floating

 It has been my experience that metropolitan New Yorkers are not traditionally water people. They don’t readily take to the sea and talk about things like jibs and mainsails like New Englanders do--they don’t hang ten on surfboards like Californians. They avoid the water: they travel through tunnels that have been burrowed miles beneath it, and navigate across bridges that have been built miles above it. 

We in my family were true landlubbers. I remember hearing stories of how my dad almost died on the boat coming to the U.S., and had he actually died, I’m not sure what really would have done him in--the seasickness or the falling into the water as he was hanging over the edge because of the seasickness. 

When I was much younger, the extent of my water activities was taking a bath. We were not beach people either, no surprise there--my mom hated the sand. I found no joy in splashing around in the murky waters of Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, and the thought of getting pulled under by riptides caused me undue paranoia whenever I got past the beachfront.  While the others were attempting to jump the waves and squealing with delight as a rush of seawater would come and send them tumbling, I adhered to the dilettante’s method of beach going, and would merely dunk my toes and search for shells. 

 Most of the memories I have of swimming pools come from my summers spent up in the Catskill Mountains. The pool’s side was a bigger draw, since that’s where we did our sunbathing. Our suntan lotion of choice was a very unscientific and now we know, dangerous, mixture of baby oil and iodine, and we slathered it all over our bodies. The iodine gave the concoction a rusty-red hue, and in turn our skin took on that color, as did our bathing suits and anything else it came into contact with. More time was spent outside the pool than in it. My friends would have diving contests and swimming races, but I would feign sleep, or be reading a magazine, and then merely go in for a dip. The water held no attraction for me, and I didn’t want to get my hair wet (the bane of a wavy-haired girl’s existence).

Moving to southern California, land of year-round water sports, and experiencing life from an entirely different perspective (and coastline), may have emboldened me slightly when it came to my fear (and dislike) of the water.  

When my boys were old enough to go away to summer camp, I wanted them to experience what I felt was a true East-Coast-on-the-West-Coast camp experience, and being near a lake was a large part of it. Visiting day was always a bittersweet time for me. The first glimpses of my boys--dressed in mismatched clothes, their skin turned golden by the sun, looking so much more grown up than when they left weeks before--were heavenly. There were hugs and kisses and introductions to new friends, and a celebratory lunch of burgers and fries and thick, cold shakes at Miller’s, the local eatery. 

When our hearts and bellies were full, we would head down to the lake for our ritual visiting day activities. And what was up till then a wonderful yearly event, would become for me something akin to torture. As I mentioned, I believed no summer camp was a true summer camp without lake access. What I actually believed was this access should be for everyone but me. Gone were the days when I could sit back and watch everyone else head to the waterfront. My sons would have nothing of it, and rather than disappoint them, I joined them--with great trepidation. It wasn’t so much the being in the water that frightened me, it was being in a large body of water, with nothing to hold on to and nowhere to plant my feet. 

It took every last jot of courage I could muster to get myself on the speedboat. I would very carefully choose who I wanted to go with—we were always part of a large group—and usually it was someone who I thought would be able to save me if I fell in and proceeded to drown. Very often, that person was our friend Seth. When Seth would take the helm, I knew I was in good hands.  After all, he’s a gynecologist...he delivered my son--has had many years dealing with breech births, c-sections, and episiotomies, of course the man could handle a water emergency! He signed an oath, which is more than I could say for the other non-MDs in the group. My friend Carrie received the well-sought after second-place on my list.  She, although not a medical practitioner, did grow up around boats and merely emanated a strong nautical vibe.

Are you wondering why no one on the list was a blood relative? I don’t think I really need to answer that, other than tell you that I wouldn’t trust my family to save me from drowning even if they had a life boat. My husband and I did such a good job of making sure our boys were fearless in the water that they were, in my opinion, too fearless--and too reckless.

It’s interesting that years later, the very thing that scared the heck out of me for much of my life, became a great source of comfort. After a full day of visiting my mom who was lying very ill in a hospital bed in Santa Monica, I would take the coast route to get home.  As my car would leave the city streets and edge closer to the Pacific Coast Highway, I could feel the burdens of the day beginning to lift. The medicinal smells of the hospital ward and the vision of mom curled up in her white and blue hospital gown and fuzzy blue slipper-socks would be blown out to sea as the salty air filtered through the car windows. What was left of the sunlight danced on the water like little prisms. I am so far away from that ocean now, but I realize how much of my sanity back then was owed to those drives alongside it. 

 My dog Dashiell and I walk along the Charles River here in Cambridge every morning.The weather has turned and the winterized pleasure boats we pass look as though they’ve been vacuum-sealed in white plastic. The giant white “glaciers” creak as they bob up and down in the frigid water. I’ve read that water is a great healer, and even the ancient Egyptians and Romans recognized that. I now believe for me, it is more of a mental than physical healer. And I finally have realized that I am so happy being near the water--just not in it.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fish Stew

The winds they are a-blowin’ and we in New England were just hit with our first batch of (thankfully little) snow of the season. Yesterday was downright raw, and a day such as that just begs for hot soup.

The silky, smooth purees of potato or butternut squash are perfect for the Thanksgiving table, and the hearty Italian meatball zuppa are great for when you’ve got lots of prep and cooking time, but when it’s late afternoon on a blustery day, and you decide you’ve got to have soup soon, those are not the perfect choices. 

Soup is one of the easiest things to make if you’ve got the right ingredients on hand. If you’ve got a bunch of bags of frozen veggies in the freezer and some boxes of good chicken broth in the pantry, a pot of hot soup can be yours in a snap. Throw in chopped tomatoes, and finish it off with some cooked pasta or rice and a sprinkling of dried herbs, and you’re good to go.

Chowders are very popular here in New England, and they do have their place: they taste of the sea and are perfect for when you’re sitting at a wooden picnic table behind a tiny clam shack smack on the coast of Maine in July. I love the little round crackers you can float on top. But I’m a New York girl at heart and the tomato-based red chowders are more to my liking. I’ve been throwing together a simple fish stew lately that is a cross between a Manhattan Clam Chowder (without the clams) and Bouillabaisse, a Provencal fish stew. The soup can be made as simply or as complex as you prefer, depending upon the types of seafood you use--I’ve just been using haddock and shrimp, but adding mussels and/or clams can only burnish its flavor. The broth is light, making this dish reasonably low in calories, but the fish and vegetables make for a very filling entree. Add some toasted baguette and a salad and you’ve got a meal that just may soften the sting of the foofaraw going on outside your window.

Fish Stew (little round crackers are optional)
(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions (1 medium)
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped fennel (1/2 large bulb)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup good white wine

  • 1 (14-ounce) can plum tomatoes, with juice, chopped
  • 1 quart fish stock, or chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped 
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 pound large, frozen shrimp, thawed

  • 1 pound haddock, cut into thick hunks
  • 12 mussels, cleaned (opt.)
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest
  • Toasted baguette slices, buttered and rubbed with garlic

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stockpot, add the onions, celery, and fennel, and cook until the onions begin to brown. Add the wine and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon. Add the tomatoes with their juices, stock, garlic, and turmeric to the pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Add the fish, and mussels (if using), bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the thawed shrimp. Turn off the heat and allow the pot to sit covered for another 5 minutes. The fish should be cooked and the mussels opened. Discard any mussels that don't open. Stir in the orange zest, and salt, to taste. Serve ladled over 1 or 2 slices of toasted baguette.