In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

Search This Blog

Friday, November 1, 2013

Menus for an Easy Dinner Party

My friend Meg is coming by in a minute to talk through a big family dinner party she has to give next weekend.

The trick. obviously, is to make everything you can in advance, and work on it throughout the week. 

You need an appetizer of  some sort, or else everyone stands around staring hungrily and starts off on the  wrong foot. Then your main dish needs to be balanced with the sides -- if you are having something cheesy and rush, you want thresh, crisp sides. If you are having something light as the centerpiece -- branzino stuffed with herbs and lemon and roasted -- you can afford a side of truffled mac & cheese. 

Dessert also needs to bow to the main dish. If you've served something heavy, dessert should feature fruit prominently.

Here's what I am suggesting she makes.. I have three possible menus. 


  • butternut squash soup (make a few days before) - grated or oven dried apple slices float on top right before serving. Maybe some croutons you make that day and toast right before? 
  • short ribs with maple coffee (make the day before, reheat the day of) -- see my post "Last Meal"
  • cheddar grits -- make that day
  • green salad, please oh please make you're own vinaigrette
  • tarte tatin with pre made puff pastry -- make in the morning.

  • refrigerator pickles: carrots and green beans (make a week ahead)
  • radishes with buttered french bread and salt 
  • special lasagne with pesto sun dried tomato ricotta cheese, a light marinara, smoked ham, roasted red peppers (make and freeze)
  • garlic bread (if you don't serve the radishes)
  • caesar salad
  • tarte tatin or baked apples finished of with a hit of bourbon. maybe a scoop of ice cream. If you want to be really ridiculous, you can scoop individual scoops out in advance and freeze them on parchment paper. Easy serving. But you can also offer freshly whipped cream on the side. No one ever complains about that.  

  • pork roast with fennel
  • delicious oven potatoes.. perhaps cooked under the pork? or in a gratin? or scalloped? or you could make Giada's delicious gratineed cauliflower with capers and bacon. 
  • roasted brussels sprouts with bacon lardons (leave the bacon out if you make the cauliflower). Lots of salt ad olive oil will do it. maybe throw in a few cloves of garlic.
  • fresh fennel and apple salad with celery and parmesan
  • good bread 
  • great cheese tray for dessert with fixins like marconi almonds, dried apricots, walnuts, honey, fig loaf or fresh figs, dates, crystalized ginger. You need stilton, parano, some good drippy cheese like brie or camembert or other better ones, a cheddar, and something soft like St Andre or goat cheese. Snip fresh rosemary on your goat  cheese and give it a little cracked pepper if it's mass produced
  • dark chocolate

Thursday, October 31, 2013

My sister's kitchen

is in dreadful shape. Her wall oven broke like a year ago. She has 4 hideous electric burners. The cabinets are mismatched and falling apart. Hideous floor -- vinyl tiles. PLus wallpaper in a sickly pink with light blue check marks or something. It does not merit a photo.
It is supremely awful . Luckily, however, she's got the sliding glass door.

Because we Have a Plan.  A High/Low Plan!

She loves this kitchen that I found on

Her kitchen is a bit smaller than the one above. Imagine the left 2 upper cabinets and the base cabinet below gone. That's the size we're working with.  Only about 12 feet.

I am buying her a new gas range -- likely this Samsung. Notice the continuous iron grates on the top and good chunky handles.

I'm a good sister. I can't help myself. My nieces and nephew need proper meals, and my sister is a great albeit cash-straped cook.

That's a custom walnut island. My guess -- it cost at least $3K, possibly more.
We want maximum size for the island plus seating, and luckily our dad is the Tile King of FLorida. So we have the counters covered.

So I found a series of potential stand ins, ready to go. We'll add casters to whatever she buys.  They are all $1100 or less. I think the first one is the winner. Or the last one. We'll likely do an ivory granite or marble counter that extends at least 6 inches over either end, plus at least a foot behind to allow for bar seating.  They are not as deep as the island so I am also looking for two of these that exactly match in height, width and wood tone (a tall order) to place back to back.

Then we'll add some cabinets from Ikea, chunky subway tiles, open shelves, a cool stainless fridge, a farm sink because I need it, and this rug and these lights and dishes (and the cabinets, but in Ivory). The dishes have to be new to look as nice as the rest o the kitchen and to allow them to be on open shelves.

You're welcome, sister!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ballers: How To Core Apples

Apple pie is so wonderful, french apple tarts sublime, baked apples filled with brown sugar, bourbon, and vanilla the perfect thing to eat on a cold night in front of the fire. But coring those little effers is a pain in the ass, and you end up with  apple juice running all down your arm and missing apple cartilage and terrible pips and it's just too much sometimes.

I have your answer. First, to peel an apple I feel very strongly about this old fashioned kinda peeler. The head swivels easily around the apple, it works a charm and costs nothing (I won't use those stiff newer ones, and I don't like the U ones because they don't give you the same kind of control and dexterity).

Now to core. Git yourself one of these:

 It's a melon baller. A melon baller played a very important role in my nursery school years (there were 2 of them. I started when i was 3, finished when I was five, and split half the day in kindergarten. This was not because I was particularly smart but because I am and always have been tall.) Anyway, I was forever forgetting what day I needed to bring something in for show and tell (once I plucked a daffodil at the last second from the garden, and once I brought my sister and everyone fought over who got to play with her). On the way out the door one morning I said to my mom: show and tell. She handed me a melon baller. I won show and tell that day.

But here's the beauty of this thing: it is strong and sharp and is the perfect size for cutting out the hearts of firm apples.  For slices for pie or tarts, just peel your apple, cut it in half from stem to stern (not across the equator) then dig out a circle of core on each half. You'll get almost all of  it in the first pass. Next, dig out the little core veins that remained. The whole process will take you about 15 seconds, and there will be no juice on your arm. Then just slice and go.
If you need to leave your apple whole, say for some gorgeous pastry-covered baked apple, then just dig down from the stem end, cleaning out little circles as you go. You can hold the baller perpendicular to the apple and just drill in, like they did the Chunnel.  Repeat the process from the bottom up. It should take no more than 2 balls on each end to make that thing as clean as a whistle.

I made some baked half apples using this method last night -- glorious. Peel, halve, and core the apples. granny Smith are good whenever you are going to be baking because they are tart and hold their shape. Honey Crisp are good too. Lay them cut side down in a cake or lasagne pan. Sprinkle them all over with sugar -- I used a large (actual) tablespoon (as in one you would serve at the table) and gave them a nice coat. Dotted them with a fair amount of butter. Then I grabbed a very expensive bottle of bourbon and gave them a little shower -- not too much -- there shouldn't be any depth. Just enough to give the sugar something to do when it falls off the apple. Then a shake of vanilla extract, and a wee sprinkle of coarse sea salt. Put them in a hot oven -- about 375 -- till your house smells delicious.
 (this apple image lifted from
There will be shallow puddles of thick, clear caramel around them when you take them out of the oven. Tilt the pan and with same tablespoon, scoop up what gathers and pour it into the apple cavities (oh, right. Flip them over halfway through so the round side gets  a caramel kiss, too. ).

Eat with ice cream or cookies, or if you feel fancy make a deconstructed apple  pie by baking up circles or scraps of pie dough sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, and serve in shards along side. It's very gastronomique.

(Had a fabulous deconstructed white peach cobbler in Paris at Spring restaurant a few years ago. A white peach was I think roasted with a littel vanilla till it was just tender. He made an oat cookie of sorts and broke that up on the side. Served it all in a pool of reduced fresh peach juices with a daub of thick whipped real cream. heaven. I've tried to make it myself with only middling success. His white peach was just perfect.)

Anyway, deconstruct desserts and wow your friends. The end.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Dinner this week, in 15 minutes flat

Picture Lifted from The Food Network
Linguini with clams sauce is a family favorite and comes together in absolutely no time if you don't bother with fresh clams. You can, you probably should, but when your boyfriend is hungry and cranky, you can whip this up in about 15 minutes -- which includes pasta cooking time.

Gather your ingredients:
Linguini -- up to a pound if you and the bfriend are famished, but I usually do 1/2 a package. (that's half a pound).
A garlic clove, peeled and thinly sliced.
One anchovy fillet : THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! DO IT!
1 or 2 pieces of bacon, sliced crosswise into lardons, or some diced pancetta, which you'll find at Trader Joes. very convenient little package
Olive Oil
One or two jars or cans clams. TJs has nice big Maine clams, with ruffly edges. But Chicken of the Sea works just as well.
A splash of whatever white wine you're drinking.
A bit of chopped, fresh flat leaf parsely, which hopefully you are growing in the garden. Mine has been green throughout the winter in DC!
Dried red chili flakes: ALSO NOT OPTIONAL!
It's anathema to Italians but I love freshly grated Parmesan cheese on this. 

-- Set your water to boil. Salt it well.
Meanwhile: fry up your bacon. I like a cast iron pan for this and just about everything else. When it's rendered and beginning to get crisp, add the anchovy and mash it into the pan so it melts into the sauce, add the sliced garlic, and a shake of chili flakes. Stir the garlic so it gets golden brown but not burned.

Add the pasta to the water when it's ready.

When the bacon is cooked and the garlic is golden, open up the can or cans of clams and dump them in with their juices. Splash in a bit of wine. Simmer that  all together till the sauce thickens a bit. Taste it, add salt if necessary.

When the pasta is cooked, dump it into a sieve or pull it out of the water with tongs and add it to the clam sauce. Toss or stir so it is well-covered with sauce.  Sprinkle with parsley and grate cheese over the top (unless you are Italian or a purist, in which case, clutch your pearls and tell me that seafood pastas don't get cheese in Italy. I will grunt back "whatbever" because I will be eating already.)

Seriously: my boyfriend begs for this, and I never have to run to the store at the last minute because the clams live in my pantry, who doesnt have garlic and parmesan?

Friday, February 22, 2013

How To Remove a Broken Lightbulb From The Socket Without a Bloodletting or Electrocution

When a light bulb breaks (often when it's really old, burns out, and you are trying to replace it, but sometimes when your boyfriend removes his t-shirt with a flourish and like Bamm-Bamm doesn't know his own strength and smashes a $4 silver-tipped light bulb all over your bed and then you cut your finger and it bleeds*):

IGNORE THE POTATO LOBBY. No spud will help you. Did I write this already? You'll just get potato juce down your forearm, and your arm will fall asleep from all the pointless jamming and turning.

Get your self a wadded up piece of Duct tape or electrical tape. Jam it in the stuck cylinder. Oh, first turn off at least the light switch if not the breaker in the fuse box. Let's not tempt fate. Anyway, jam it in and start to turn it lefty loosey. Ta daa!

You're welcome.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Make Things Taste Like at Full Kee

With a  tip of the hat to artist Richard Barry from whom I lifted this lovely image... (visit  his site, buy his paintings and assuage my guilt!) these are the three ingredients you need to make many things taste like the most  delicious thing on the planet, if you like garlic, chili and ginger, which you should because all of them are cancer relieiving super foods or whatever. But mostly delicious.

There's a fabulous Chinese restaurant in DC called Full Kee. 

I have a very hard time moving past a few things on the menu because they are so flipping delicious.  So if you go, you should order the roast pork appetizer. Their egg rolls are good if you are an old school Chinese food type eater. Order the stir fried chive flowers. Don';t ask me questions, just do it. And order the SPicy Fried Grouper (it might be called Crispy Spicy or something). It is most likely going to be catfish but they will tell you it is grouper. Sometimes they will tell you they are out of grouper, but then a more experienced waitress will tell come over and say, no we have grouper, and then she'll look real hard at the younger waitress. This dish is on the wall, not on the menu. Don't bother looking for it. You may have to get up and point at it for the young waitress.
It will come to your table looking like this.

For the record, Full Kee identifies this as crispy spicy canadian cod fish. Trust me, it's catfish.

Anyhoodle, when it comes, you'll fall in love with it and think, I've never had anything so delicious as these chive flowers, and this spicy grouper/catfish/species unknown.

Now, I can't help you with the chive flowers (which are truthfully long green thick chives (not scallions) with unopened buds on the end, stir fried in a ton of garlic) but the fish I can -- and this same preparation can be applied to many things that are sauteed quickly and need flavor -- ie shrimp (do them in the shells), thinkly sliced pork, chicken, chicken wings, beef, most likely scallops and I bet lobster would be delicious, if yuou live in Maine and have way to much of it. But for the lobster I'd steam them first till almost done, then sautee them in this, and let it get all over your fingers.

You need equal amounts of garlic (lots), peeled minced fresh ginger (lots), and fresh chilis (serrano, jalapeno, whatever). Mince them to all the same size. Stir fry or saute whatever protein (including tofu) you want in a hot pan with oil (peanut oil can take the heat), then when it's a minute or so from being done, throw in the garlic, ginger and chilis and saute it for a minute. give it a good sprinkling of salt -- it makes the spice easier to take for some reason, and lets you really taste things besides heat. Then throw in a few chopped scallions, green parts included, and toss it again, then serve.If you've got cilantro, throw it on there.

Super super delicious and you'll be all what is this fancy fusion restaurant i have stumbled into? And then you'll me like, oh that's just me.

To do the grouper like Full Kee, get some catfish filets (ha!), slice them into fingers, toss them in buttermilk, then roll them in seasoned flour (salt and pepper is enough but you can other things if you like them) Shake off the excess and fry. When it's cooked, removed the fried fish to a paper towel or brown paper bag to blot the excess oil, then toss them all back in with the g/g/c and a bit of salt. Remove and serve.
For chicken wings, give them a little oil massage (maybe include some toasted sesame oil in the mix) and put them in a hot oven till their done. Then remove them, throw them in a hot wok with the g/g/c and scallions, maybe  a touch of soy if you really want to, a little dribble of toasted sesame oil, and mow mow mow.

You're welcome. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Most of my readers are foot fetishists.

I'm pretty certain. I'm pleased -- whatever gets you here, and hopefully you are interested enough to stay and learn how to make stock or not get fired or whatever. But week after week, my stats tell me that my most read post is  How To Walk Around In High Heels All Day and you got here by doing a google image search of high heels.

There was a time when my second top search was "Nate Berkus Bare Feet"... This one's for you! Thanks for reading! Happy new year!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

3 Practical New Years Resolutions I'm Finding Easy to Keep (to varying degrees)

Inspired a little by Martha, a little by Bon Appetit magazine, and a lot by Joel Salatin, my favorite farmer who preaches long and strong about capturing fertility instead of throwing it out (I speak here of kitchen scraps, that can be chicken food, or compost, or or or): I have begun


Rachel Ray can have her garbage bowl. I for one am throwing all my veggie scraps from meals I make at home into a plastic bag with a sliding zipper thing (it closes securely) and stashing them in the freezer. Onion tops, bits of garlic, carrot stems, herbs from a package unused and drying out. When I have a bag full, I put them in a stock pot with water, throw in a few extra whatevers I've got threatening to go bad in the crisper, and I boil. In a few hours: 2 quarts free veggie stock. I am doing the same with chicken bits -- wings, trimmings whatever. Say hello to my little friend: 

The beautiful thing about those zipper enclosures is you can keep adding to the bag. And then reuse the bag for your next stock, yay. You can do this while you are at work if you have a slow cooker.

No waste, no guilt for not composting (I don't have the space in my yard but I have a very active contingent of possums and raccoons who would LOVE me if I tried) but delicious free stock. Then you do like the chefs say: freeze it in another freezer bag flat, then "file it" in the freezer. 
This sounds very straight forward. It's not. The bags freeze to other things in the freezer and they get a little misshapen, but still so worth it when risotto time comes around. It always comes around. 

Speaking of did I tell you my butternut squash risotto technique that has everyone just passing out from how good it is? The secret: roast and puree your squash flesh, then make risotto as you would normally (hot stock, wine, arborio rice, probably some sauteed shallots to start). At the last minute, stir in the puree and a little bit of heavy cream. Lots of Parmesan (freshly grated, please, not that crap in a box). On top, garnish with fried sage leaves (heat some olive oil, toss in the leaves, when they get crispy -- one or two minutes -- fish them out , park them on a napkin or paper bag, and salt them with coarse sea salt. Put the rest of the sage in the freezer bag with your butternut squash trimmings. Be sure your risotto is swishy rather than gummy. I think people think it should be thick enough to stand a spoon in, but it shouldn't. It should swish about like a little minx after your man.

Risotto brings us to
RESOLUTION 2: Buy Only Whole Chickens. 

I think you are probably aware of my problem with industrialized chickens. Tortured in life, killed cruelly, they taste terrible and are basically heartbreak on a drumstick. I like my chickens happy, fat, pecking about in green fields, able to stretch their wings, then blammo. Quick dignified death at the hands of the folks who raised em, and to my plate or freezer the next day.

I get squeamish in grocery stores around the bloated white chicken carcasses that are sold for $1.79 a pound -- life should cost more than that. I want my chickens a little skinny and yellow (from eating lots of grass and bugs). And I want them whole. Whole means stock. It means ethically sourced wings (don't get me started about the massacres that happen to bring you a plate of hot wings. Lord). It means chicken thighs for a stew, chicken breasts for a saute, and fried drumsticks because yum. And then of coruse all that stock. And then  you use that in the risotto. Perfect circle. 

RESOLUTION 3: This has only tangentially to do with food but still. It makes cooking easier. 

Clean out and organize your pantry. I did mine color coded so it's like I'm shopping in Williams-Sonoma when I go to set the table. Mason jars for dry goods to keep the icky moths out. I also organized the fridge and tonight I am doing the freezer. The trick: break it up into small bits and commit just an hour (or 15 minutes, or whatever) to it. It work and makes life nice. I find myself opening the fridge and pantry simply to admire them.