Monthly Archives: March 2012

made for vacation: honey chipotle grilled shrimp skewers with avocado-greek yogurt sauce

A few weeks back, I had briefly mentioned that I was beginning to feel a bit of an itch; a nagging bit of wanderlust nipping at my winter-pale toes, if you will.  Having had what can only be described as a whirlwind year in 2011 – what with getting married, moving, and attempting to coerce a pug puppy into understanding that Mitchell Gold leather ottoman edges are not acceptable teething devices – I suddenly was very aware of the fact that though we have had plenty of excitement and more than plenty to be thankful for, we hadn’t found a time to get away with each other, and take a few, real, deep breaths.

Removing yourself from real life – albeit only temporarily – has effects that ripple down your spine and out to your extremities, allowing each one the chance to lax up, and totally and completely drain the tension of all your “real life” worries and stresses.  Though you know your email will snarl up, your voicemail will become clogged, that you must still finally face an appointment to get that cavity filled, and that the bigger picture question of just what the heck should I do with this life? will not dissolve or resolve themselves upon your brief departure from reality, you can count on returning with a clear head, an open mind, and a less frazzled outlook on the things that are troubling you most.

As we had so many life changes wallop themselves into one tidy little package, we knew the timing to squeeze a traditional honeymoon just wasn’t there – a decision that, looking back, I know was right.  And now, we have found ourselves with an unexpected few weeks off; a few weeks between another (very good) little shakeup – a few weeks which we know we must embrace to the fullest.  I am very (veryveryvery!) excited and feel very (veryveryvery!) lucky to now scratch that pestering little itch I’d been feeling, and scratch it in the best way I can think of.  We are skipping town tomorrow night to head East, boarding a plane to Baltimore for a much needed weekend with family, and then jumping across the pond next Tuesday, to kick off a glorious two-week European adventure.

Though I had first been thinking more traditionally of my toes in the sand (and, ahem, fruity-umbrella-spiked cocktail in hand) when I lamented said itch a few weeks prior, we carefully considered our options, and overwhelmingly decided cacio e pepe, macaroons, insanely great red wine, cheese, cheese, and more cheese and a healthy dose of culture sounded more like what we needed.

(Plus, I need to show off my rudimentary French skills, acquired from a few very serious sessions with my Rosetta Stone Christmas gift!)

We have a packed itinerary, but one that still allows for plenty of relaxation amongst the excitement.  After a few nights in London proper, we’ll spend a night in the gorgeous English countryside, and then skip over to Paris for a few days enjoying the tres chic city life that I so adore.  From Paris, we fly to Rome, and after stuffing ourselves with as much pasta as possible, we’re off to Naples, and finally, to the Amalfi Coast.

{but wait! there’s more…}

buttermilk – honey cornbread muffins

For all of the times I’ve ordered an iced tea in the South and ended up with a tall achingly sweet beverage that is most certainly composed of more sugar than tea, it truly amazes me that those South of ye ‘ole Mason Dixon line just do not want to hear nothin’ about any sugar in their cornbread.

It is a great debate; the addition of the sweet white stuff into the simple and humble cornbread.  What Northerners know to be a dense and yellow cake-like bread, Southerners identify cornbread only as being white in color, light in texture, and decidedly – not sweet.

I would almost (almost) liken it to showing a born and bred Texan a great big pot of bubbling chili, dotted with beans – their reaction is unequivocally unwavering: first a look of horror, immediately followed by tsktsking noises and a pinched-up-angry-face, and culminating with a (usually) bellowing proclaimation that “it just ain’t chili if it’s got beans in it!” 

Well, my friends, I happened to grow up in a little place about as far above the Mason Dixon line in miles as it was in tastes.  As much as I do love just a drop of sweet tea here and there (and even then – always over lots of ice, and diluted with extra-tart lemonade), my cornbread just ain’t cornbread unless it’s a tad bit sweet.  I just cannot wrap my head around dragging that unsweet and white fluffy stuff through a pile of spicy barbeque sauce, or dredging it through some spicy chili (ahem – chili with beans, that is).  I grew up eating it enough with just a tad of sugar in it, that now instead of embracing the viva la difference stance, I can’t even munch my way through it without feeling as though someone just plumb botched the recipe, and forgot to throw in just a teeny bit of sugar.

Keep in mind we aren’t talking sickly sweet here – it still, in my opinion, is nowhere near as sweet as something you’d find on the dessert table.  My ideal cornbread is golden brown on top, and inside the cake-like bread should be fluffy, moist, and bright yellow from the cornmeal.  It should have just a hint of sweetness – and not overly so by any stretch; but just sweet enough to give the naturally sweet corn a bit of a boost, and to elevate it up from something so simple, into the whole reason you sat down to eat the barbeque all-together.

{but wait! there’s more…}

bits of my weekend, according to instagram: march 19th, 2012

Every year in late March for the past three years, we have had a group ski vacation of sorts; a weekend set aside for all of the New Yorkers in the group to skip town on a flight out West to spend a few days in Vail skiing in powder and catching up with good friends.  This year was no different than those past – no different aside from the fact that this year, James and I have suddenly found ourselves on the other side of that continental fence, ready and eagerly waiting to join up with the others  on the left side of our country.

The group has mainly stayed the same, with a few additional ski bums coming and going each year, all of whom have added to the dynamic absolutely wonderfully.  Over the years there have been boyfriends and girlfriends who have morphed into husbands and wives, and this year was particularly exciting, as we had two insanely adorable brand new little peanut additions who kept everyone’s fingers occupied pinching their cheeks, and kept us constantly entertained their adorable miniature versions of everything.  (Baby Minnetonka moccasins, be still my fluttering heart!)

Although the snow was, to put it in the most kind manner, less than stellar (with temps soaring into the 50’s I arrived at the mountain wearing a t-shirt and flip flops), it made for the most incredible sun-bathing at the top of the mountain, and the cold beers that were stashed in backpacks were refreshing and perfect.  We soaked up the sun, soaked in the hot tub, and crowned each evening off with  huge homecooked buffet style dinners for all fourteen cabin dwellers – the finest way I can think of to wind down some of the days I know will become favorite memories.

Here are a few snaps from the weekend:

{a thursday evening libation at centro}

{that included all of my favorite things}

{spring is really giving it a good effort round these parts}

{a friday afternoon mani, in a color that reminded me of those eager flowers}

{bluebird days on chair 4}

{quite literally, tapping the rockies}

{from the looks of it, i can’t get enough tropically turquoise this spring}

{chicken & fish taco lineup on saturday night}

{i wonder who stole the straw out of my iced tea?}

{zucchini bread twins, ready to be breakfast on the mountain}

{hear you loud & clear, at alfalfa’s}

{a tradition to stop in…}

{and indulge in their amazing mud slides post-ski sessions}

{great company….and a bloody elbow!}

{nothing is better than returning home to some good sunday reading in the mailbox}

{short rib and cabbage wontons at sushi tora make a perfect sunday night starter}

{followed by a favorite white hot roll, the perfect end to the weekend}

simple potato gratin: parmesan, salt, black pepper

Though I am usually tempted, I often skip over taking helpings of potato gratin, or ‘scalloped’ potatoes as they are oftentimes referred to.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy them – when a dish’s general preparation contains cream, cheese, and salt it is hard for my eyes not to grow wide – but it’s that I often find them so heavy, so cloying, that it’s hard to actually enjoy them without my mind being consumed with what is actually in them.

Too often the ratio of cream and cheese to potato is skewed way in the favor of the dairy, when, in fact, it should be biased towards the spuds.  It is after all a potato gratin – not a plate of creamy cheese sauce studded with potato bites – and it’s hard to find a cleaner version that honors the root veggie as such.

Enter Alice Water’s, goddess of making real food taste like….well….real food.  None of her recipes, in my opinion, are complicated, overly original, avant-garde, or groundbreaking; they only in fact embody these things in the way that the remember to showcase the actual food.

Hers are the books I reach for when I want carrots that still taste like carrots, chicken that is expertly cooked yet unadorned, cornbread without bells and whistles, waffles that are crisp, light, barely sweet, perfect roasted root vegetables, and simple salad dressings.  In essence, she has perfected the art of keeping it real, and all of her recipes reflect that refreshing concept wonderfully.

{but wait! there’s more…}

the pleasures of skipping ahead: miso marinated cod with black sesame & garlic roasted bok choy

This year, even more so than others in recent memory, Spring seems to be announcing her arrival with enthusiasm and vigor, rather than dragging her feet behind in a last ditch attempt to prolong the lethargic airs of Winter.  As much as I’ve mantained Summer to be my favorite season of all (and, to be sure, it definitely is), this juncture we are at right now has an incredibly special feel to it, and one that I cannot deny is high up there on my list of life’s pleasures.

Though I enjoy having a precious morning hour stolen out from under my nose no more than the next, the brighter evenings that are an inevitable by-product of our ‘Spring Forward’ are enough to quickly banish any of my rumbles and grumbles when the alarm sounds at six – but it feels like an ungodly five.

Because really, who can afford to lose an hour these days?  You could go ahead and tack a whole five extra hours onto my days, and I assure you I’d put them to good use.

With no less than one hour dedicated to Pinterest, one lounging horizontally in a tub full of bubbles, and one spent lazily napping on the imaginary hammock in my backyard, thankyouverymuch.  

But I digress. 

Spring forward always seems most sinister the first Monday that it is truly sprung into action: that exact moment you hear the alarm fanatically bleeping and whack it into snooze-mode-submission thinking that it must be going off early – it’s much too dark outside.  After a brief moment of panic (and perhaps shred of regret at tipping back that second glass of syrah the night before), you realize that it is, in fact, time to wake your sleepy head, and lumber to the shower to start your horrifically early day.

The rest of your day is predictably off-kilter, somehow off-keel; your usual coffee run is out of whack, with other clumsy and tired caffeine seekers snarling up your routine.  Lunch comes far too early, and, though normally you’d welcome that, today it just doesn’t feel right.

{but wait! there’s more…}