Friday, December 31, 2010

Cheers --to a New Year!

While I often talk about my adventures with food and cooking, and include pictures, I don't often ever include recipes, But I've texted this recipe and recited this recipe, and I have a couple more requests for the recipe, so I thought I'd share it. Jill and Amy have made it now and others have sampled, and thus far it has only gotten rave reviews. If you make it I hope you will like it too.

Cranberry Vodka Liqueur:

Heat one 12 oz. package of fresh cranberries with 1 cup sugar and 2 or 3 tbs water.

Mix sugar and cranberries over medium heat

sugar will start to melt
Eventually a syrup will form and the cranberries will begin to pop. This should take about 10 minutes.

if you look closely, you'll see some cranberries are popping
 3. At this point, remove from heat so that most of the cranberries remain in tact. Cool slightly and pour into large jar. Add 750 ml vodka. If you don't have a large jar, as I didn't, divide the cranberries and syrup among two jars and top each with 375 ml vodka. (The third time I made some, I actually added 400 ml to each jar and it was equally good.)

Let sit for 2 days
4. Let sit for two days. Share in decorative bottles, or keep it to yourself! Drink as a martini--I suggest straining and shaking over ice and then adding a few cranberries for garnish--or on the rocks. Or pick a mixer. (Jill and I came up with a list of mixers that would work for cranberry cocktails; seltzer, a splash of OJ, a splash of grapefruit, a little ginger ale were among them.) Whatever you choose, I hope that you do so and enjoy in good health!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meat and Potatoes

This year I’ve faced some culinary fears—carving a whole roasted chicken and making mashed potatoes among my little victories—but I still seem mostly to stay away from mom-type meals. Somewhere along my development as a cook, it appears I decided I wouldn't try to replicate my mom's dishes and instead learned to cook the kind of meals she didn’t serve. I supplemented my mother’s cooking with my own: Polish food there, other ethnic foods here. You won’t find me making homemade sauerkraut, and you won’t find my mom making cold sesame noodles. I’m more apt to make a single piece of fish or a pasta dish or a stir fry, or soups and chili that I can divvy up or freeze easily, leaving meat and potatoes to my mom. Making a roast for myself seems silly. Especially since my mother is a pro at it.

But I like to entertain…and how long, really, can you be a foodie and claim to be a good cook before you pony up and tackle a roast? Without the assistance of a Crockpot.

pork and potatoes
 I took baby steps. Early last month I made a pork tenderloin, which is not a roast, I know, but I served it with mashed potatoes and gravy, which I made starting with mushrooms I sautéed in the pan I had seared the pork. Lo and behold, my plate looked like Meat and Potatoes. And, according to Amy, with whom I shared some for lunch the next day, it was restaurant-worthy. The pork was cooked perfectly, the mashed potatoes were the right texture, and the gravy had good flavor and consistency.

So potatoes and gravy I could do. No fear there. But what about that roast? A real beef roast? ( Roast beef?) My wheels were turning. I saw Giada braise, and Ina braise. I went on and looked up recipes. I knew what I wanted to do. And then the stars aligned.

My sister Mary gave me a porcelain cast iron Dutch oven for Christmas that I had to try, ShopRite had a sale on roasts, and we had a blizzard. So while I was snowed in I made this braised roast. And I was so pleased with the melt-in-your-mouth results, I invited my parents for dinner the next day to share it with them.

I do believe I’ve graduated.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

It's Snowing...Finally!

Well, yes, snowflakes have fallen prior to today's blizzard, but we haven't had any snow cover or appreciable snow fall until today. Finally, a good and proper New England snow fall! And we're pulling out the stops. No run-of-the-mill Nor'easter today; we're having a full blown blizzard. No pun intended.

Even though I'm on vacation—thereby proving it's not always only about having a snow day—I’m happy for this storm, happy to be snowed in with the leeks and potatoes and broth and onions and chuck roast that I picked up on my way home from my parents’ house this afternoon. Christmas shopping and shipping and near-death experiences in parking lots and wrapping and gift-giving and family celebrations are over, and now it’s just me in my clean house with pretty decorations and my new Dutch oven and Netflix and dozens of spa socks and nowhere to go, and no feasible way of getting there if I did.

Isn't that just dreamy?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cyber Shopping

One minute I’m delighted that I’ve been able to do so much Christmas shopping on line. For several days, in fact, I was so happy with what I accomplished on line. I could compare prices and items without driving all over the place and waiting in long lines. Most shipping has been free and most items I’ve had coupon codes for. Yay, me! Yay, cyber shopping!

And then along comes my first delivery nightmare: two packages that get delivered to the wrong address, to people who live at number 70, not number 90. That is, my packages got delivered to strangers who live down the street from my parents, and not to my parents’ house, where they should have been delivered.

So out comes the nuclear reactor in me, the alarmist, the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown [insert F bombs, tears, ineffective deep breaths, more F bombs, and pacing in the kitchen on the corded phone] while on hold with “Big Brown” and my poor mother bears witness to this monster to whom she gave birth ages hence, who can’t imagine that things would work out in the end.


The Doomsday scenario played out in my head—Dad and Amy without their gifts on Christmas: some stranger down the street all cozy in a fleur de lis sweatshirt while filling my father’s leather photo album—when just a couple of hours later, in the same day, the nice ladies would call my parents back and my mom would take a walk down the street to get the packages.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Making Snowflakes

Last night I got it in my head to make snowflakes. Paper ones, of course. I wondered, as I folded a piece of paper, how long it had been since I cut out a paper snowflake. Given the results of my first go-around with a piece of white paper and scissors, it had been longer than I thought.

So I tried again.

And again.

And this morning I went on line to look for help. Yeah, I know that’s cheating, but I needed some help. I was anxious to graduate from first grader snowflakes to sixth grade quality in a day or two because I have a present I would like to embellish with them. And at least I didn't download patterns.

I think I’m getting the hang of it now, but I’m certainly not as good at it as I was as a kid, when a pad of paper—with or without scissors—could keep me entertained for hours. Especially if there were crayons around. At Christmas time my favorite things to draw were Christmas trees, snowmen, and holly berry sprigs, so even just a red and a green crayon would do. Put the mother load box of 64 Crayolas in front of me? Well, then. See you tomorrow.

Remember those days? Remember when it didn’t take much to make you happy, when there weren’t so many distractions to take you away from your contented self and concentrated efforts to cut snowflakes and draw holly berry? When you actually believed you could be a rich and famous artist if you could copy the picture in the magazine and mail it in?

As the song goes: those were the days, my friends.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

[Heart] Wedge Heels

For someone overweight and only 5"4" (does that make me underheight?), height comes in handy. Even if heels don't make you look ten pounds lighter, extra height makes you feel ten pounds lighter. But when you're overweight, and only 5'4", stilettos look ridiculous. (Not that my left foot with a fused metatarsophalangeal joint and titanium implant would even attempt to get in high heels.) Or the person wearing them looks precariously unsteady and off-balance. A bit like an apple on toothpicks.

So thank God  for wedge heels, which give a little added height while providing stability and arch support. And style.

You know I love, love, love patent leather. Now you know I love wedge heels.

Imagine my emotion when I found these.

On the third day of Christmas, Zappos sent to me....

Monday, December 13, 2010


I’ve been pretty flexible lately. I don’t mean in a Jane Fonda/contortionist way, but in making due being happy with the less desirable option. I would have loved some of the snow that Chicago got yesterday while I was decorating my tree, but enjoyed trimming my tree while rain pelted the roof nonetheless. It certainly would have been fun to go out last weekend to try a mixologist’s carefully concocted and vigorously shaken holiday treat, but the cranberry infused vodka I made says holiday pretty clearly, and on the cheap. And on that note, I am content to cook these last and next few days—having so thoroughly enjoyed my Boston getaway. This is how my life often goes: Susie Spendthrift one week, Frugal Fanny the next; on top of the world one week, feeling sorry for myself the next.

Not tonight.

Tonight, a few hours after dropping off more than a hundred toys, books, games and puzzles—donated by students and faculty and collected by the student group I advise—for military families for Christmas, I really, really get that I have no right to feel sorry for myself. Shame on me for congratulating myself for being resilient. As if I’m slumin’ it.

Being home with my beautiful tree and homemade pizza and a festive cocktail is nothing less than a blessing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hypothetically Speaking...

Say you work for a small company. Every year around the holidays, though it seems to come together a little late, the manager sends out an invite to go to a local restaurant after a staff meeting. He (well, his secretary) arranges to reserve a private room and he covers the appetizers. For drinks you're on your own. Obviously, it's nothing extravagant, but it works. It's a nice gesture.

Then one year, it's a little over a week before the monthly meeting that the holiday get-together would follow. But you've heard nothing about a get-together, and you know that everyone you work with could use a little spirit-lifting, so you email the boss's secretary and ask if there is going to be a get-together this year because  it's getting close to being last-second and not last-minute. (You've sent an email hint in years past, so emailing again is no big deal. You figure it'll all come together.)

Two days later, an email invitation comes out saying there will be a holiday get-together next week. This year it will be two hours long and it will cost 20 dollars, which will cover the hot and cold appetizers. There will also be cash bar at this restaurant, which happens to have a daily three-hour long happy hour with half price appetizers.

Would you go?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dirty Girl Knives

I love Paula Deen for her unabashed and unapologetic use of butter. And mayonnaise. I love that she has no qualms saying she’s not a chef: she’s a home cook. I love her chutzpah, and that she started what I suppose we can call her empire as “The Bag Lady,” selling sandwiches she made in her kitchen. But frankly I get a little uncomfortable when she does things like lick the frosting off the finger of a male guest barely the age of her sons. Maybe a lot. Yeah. If you ever watched Paula’s Party on Food Network you know what I’m talking about. (I think Tony Danza, although closer to her age than her sons’, is permanently scarred.) For this type of behavior (though I partially blame her producer Gordon Elliot), I call her Dirty Girl. Regardless, Dirty Girl’s proclivity for serving up an occasion scoop of eewwww didn’t stop me from buying her knives.


I know. I’m a little slow on the uptake on some things. I have more glasses, dishes, and vases than I will ever need, and I kept the same hand-crank can opener for twenty years, but I was still using some pretty lame-o knives. Old and lame. One of them I remember I bought at Ames. Really. How long ago did Ames’ go out of business? Not that I wasn’t aware that fancy knives were out there. I’ve known about high end knives since graduate school, when I learned to hide my shock at Crate and Barrel when I assisted customers who would spend 100 dollars on a single knife.

Back then expensive knives weren’t in my budget, but I wasn’t the cook I consider myself to be today either. A few weeks ago I decided it was time to upgrade. I still wasn’t ready to drop a hundred bucks a knife, but I wanted something better than what I have. So I went on line and read comparison reviews and ultimately decided on some Dirty Girl chef’s knives.

Did I already say Wow?

I love them. And now I love Paula Deen for her knives, too. You go, Dirty Girl!

Photo Journal: Boston Getaway for Foodies

fish and chips for brunch
Lineage (Brookline, MA)

beet salad with blue cheese souffle
Eastern Standard

Amy's macaroni and gruyere cheese with guanciale
Eastern Standard

cavatelli with braised lamb, mushrooms and pecorino
Eastern Standard

Amy's daily special: beef brisket with mashed potatoes and haricot verts
Eastern Standard

Saturday, December 4, 2010

[Heart] Merino Wool

Oprah said recently, when she was giving away gifts (copious amounts of extravagant gifts that I sat and drooled over) (Did you SEE the patent leather Coach satchel?!?!?) in her final "Favorite Things” giveaway, that she knows we shouldn’t love things, but..well, we still do. We love pretty things and fancy things and comfy things, because, they make us feel good—and pretty, or fancy, or comfortable. On that note, I must tell you that there’s just something about Merino wool.

I have never bought a merino wool sweater that I haven’t ended up L.O.V.I.N.G. To start with, it’s wool without the itch. It has just the right cling while giving just the right drape. The black is a true, deep black that doesn't fade. It’s warm without being bulky. It keeps it shape and doesn’t pill.

I could go on, but you get the point. I [heart] Merino wool. Sweaters in particular.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Personal Days

Over the last few years my friend Amy and I have developed a new, multilayered tradition. It starts on the first day we are back to school (I’m not exaggerating there) when we request our respective personal days--for the same day in December. We each only get one per year, so we try to make it count, and since they (administration) try to limit how many teachers are out every day, we put in our request early so the chance of being not approved is slim to none. We have tried Friday, and a random day in the middle of the week, but the last two or three years we have taken a Monday off together. We think it works out perfectly.

The second part of the tradition entails my getting on and finding a steal on a Back Bay hotel room for the Sunday night before our personal day. It takes a few looks, but I have hotwire shopping down almost to a science and for the last few years have been able to get us a room at the Sheraton Hotel for around 100 dollars. This year was no different.

Once the room is booked, the next part of our tradition is random, periodic partial planning—usually when one or both of us is having a bad day and needs to look forward to something, or I read a review of a restaurant I want us to try, or we both have a lot of correcting to do so it’s more fun to procrastinate. This year we have Sunday brunch reservations for Lineage, and Monday lunch reservations for Eastern Standard (where Deanna and I had such a great meal this summer).

The last part of the tradition is going to school the Friday before our overnight excursion (today!), writing lessons plans for our substitute teachers and finalizing details—who will bring the Prosecco? The wine? should we bring snacks? what time are we leaving?—knowing that the real tradition is a couple days away: actually going to Boston on Sunday and returning Monday night. We’ll have lots of laughs and good food and fun shopping, but I think the best part always is waking up late on Monday, maybe a little “bleary,” and identifying what period we’d be in the middle of if we were at school with everyone else and not in Boston on our personal day.

And that makes it better than a snow day.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


I am not one of those people who can decorate for Christmas when leftovers from Thanksgiving are still in the fridge (and I still haven't posted about my green bean casserole). I need for there to be some transition between celebrating the fall harvest and setting the scene for a winter wonderland. I at least need for it to be December. You know: the month in which Christmas takes place.

It is raining and in the fifties today, but this weekend it’s going to drop to the thirties, and there are flurries in the forecast for Monday. But at least it’s December. At school I will put away my paper mache pumpkin and take out my lucky snowman. When I come home from school I will take down my fall garland and put away my fall chotchkie, but I won’t decorate for Christmas—yet. I won’t put up my tree yet anyway. I am getting in the spirit but I still need a few more days before the tannebaum takes center stage .

Maybe after those predicted flurries.
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