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Monday, June 25, 2007

In Pursuit of The Perfect Cookie

Let me preface: I am not a baker.

Not in the way some of my friends are. You know who you are, people…Darcy, you and your English Trifles and Pumpkin Loaves…and Michaela, She-Who-Makes-Her-Own-Stollen-From-Scratch at Christmastime…and, The Treumann Siblings…Julie and John David…keepers of a super-secret, to-die-for brownie recipe I can’t seem to pry from either one, drunk or sober.
And then, there’s my husband. In our house, when it’s time to figure out dessert, he’s your man. The guy has a way with pastry dough, and don’t even get me started on his highly refined, esthetic sense regarding decorations and garnishes. All you need to see is one of his Thanksgiving pies, topped with small cutouts of oak leaves. (Martha Stewart would be lucky to be this good.) Stephen’s foray into the baking world was one of those things that evolved from several rather unfortunate baking disasters I perpetrated early in the marriage. He decided to step in, and ever since, to my growing frustration, guests automatically turn towards him to lavish praise after tasting an ethereal, mind-blowing dessert at our table.

Fine. It’s all good. I’m Savory. He’s Sweet. I’m Yin. He’s Yang. Swell. But, still…it kind of irked me. I couldn’t take being bad at something. And, I most certainly could not continue making cake-mix cupcakes. People would tell me bakers are meticulous people…measuring is SO important, blah blah blah…I can measure! I DO measure things…err, sometimes. So, a couple years ago, I figured I’d try to stake out a tiny, insignificant corner of his baking empire. Maybe, like, cookies. I’d start there, and then kind of work my way up to the occasional, humble pound cake, or even a modest sheet cake.

The first step was building confidence…and well, yeah, being more vigilant with that measuring thing. This is where Cook’s Illustrated, or what I called The Cooking Nerd magazine, came in.. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. The “master” recipes they publish are always preceded by a roundup of the background development they do first, including a pretty specific description of the taste they are after. Some say perfect reading for an insomniac, but I love it! They also outline all the things that can go wrong and somehow all of this emboldened me to give baking a shot. I discovered so many other wonderful recipes through them, that in a way, they were a type of ‘cooking school’ for me.

This brings me to what had become the Holy Grail of baking for me. The Perfect Chocolate Chip cookie. It’s my personal favorite of the good old American cookies and one that has a million variations. For a time, I used Stephen’s Nana’s recipe – shortening was a main ingredient and the resulting cookies were delicious! At holiday time she used to replace the chocolate chips with m&m’s for a festive touch. But I was restless, and Crisco was starting to freak me out. Someone told me the best recipe was printed on the back of the package of Nestle’s Toll House Morsels – the semi-sweet chips. Used that for a time. Others followed…The Silver Palate Cookbook. Cook’s Illustrated. Gourmet Magazine. I never really ‘clicked’ with any particular cookie.
Until this past weekend…

Yes, everyone…I have found The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

It’s from Dorie Greenspan’s wonderful book: Baking
(Big surprise. I own a bunch of baking cookbooks – you remember…I have excess cookbook issues. Can’t help myself.)

The cookies are of the thin/crispy variety. I am not a fan of the too-doughy cookie, or the overly large, giant-style that comes into vogue every so often. My theory is that the hand-chopped chocolate (Valrhona Semi-Sweet) is the winning component. (But, really…what is there that fancy French chocolate can’t improve?!) In the book, Dorie recommends that you hand-chop the chocolate for cookies, as opposed to using pre-packaged morsels, and I have to say that despite the fact that it adds another, slightly messy, step, I heartily agree. When chopped, the chocolate is in uneven chunks – the smaller slivers melt into the cookie, creating picturesque swirls throughout, while the bigger nuggets stay melty soft. Sigh. A chocolate-lovers dream! The recipe also adds 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, but I don’t believe in nuts in chocolate chip cookies. ‘Nuf said.

You should hawk the oven a bit with these…they browned a little more quickly than she says…but it made for a lovely, peaceful afternoon, puttering in the kitchen. The only other thing – and I’ve learned this through my adventures in baking – is to use silicone mats, like SILPAT, to line the baking sheets. Makes for really even browning on any cookie, and clean-up a cinch.

Thorough testing was done by some of my favorite cookie monsters, Clemence, Charlotte and Phillipe, who pronounced them “wrrlee ghkoogdgg” – that’s “really good” spoken through a mouthful of cookie. The adults sitting nearby all nodded silently in agreement, mouths full. My search for the The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie is done….for now.

Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from BAKING From My Home to Yours

(makes about 45 cookies)

2 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
¾ teaspoon
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. sugar
2/3 c. (packed) light brown sugar
2 t. pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
10 oz. Valrhona semi-sweet chocolate, chopped into uneven chips (I used 10 oz. as opposed to Dorie’s recommended 12 oz. – so if you’re a chocolate lover…by all means use more!)

Center oven rack and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda.

Using a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute, until smooth. Add the sugars and beat for another 2 minutes or so, until well blended. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients in 3 portions, mixing only until each addition is incorporated. On low speed, or by hand with a rubber spatula, mix in the chocolate.

(The dough can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen. If you’d like, you can freeze rounded tablespoonfuls of dough, ready for baking. Freeze the mounds on a lined baking sheet, then bag them when they’re solid. There’s no need to defrost the dough before baking—just add another minute or two to the baking time.)

Spoon the dough by lightly rounded tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between spoonfuls.

Bake the cookies—one sheet at a time and rotating the sheet at the midway point—for 9 to 10 minutes, or until they are brown at the edges and golden in the center; they may still be a little soft in the middle, and that’s just fine. Pull the sheet from the oven and allow the cookies to rest for 1 minute (this is when I spoon out the next batch) then carefully, using a wide metal spatula, transfer them to racks to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remainder of the dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

In the book, it says these cookies can keep for 4 days, in a sealed container. Sure...don't be surprised if they disappear not long after coming out of the oven.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Frittata: Where Have You Been All My Life?

There was a whole bunch of excitement here yesterday...over a box of produce! (Ok, that's overstating it a bit. There was eager anticipation on my part, and puzzled amusement on Steve's...) The arrival of our first delivery from Home Grown Wisconsin , our weekly "share" of organic vegetables and fruit, which will continue through the end of October. The e-mailed newsletter arrived that morning, telling us what was in that week's box: spinach, arugula, scallions, kale (yikes!), lettuce, chives, strawberries, rhubarb and sunflower sprouts (?!). I thought it was a great selection, and immediately started plotting our dinner.

First stop had to be one of my favorite specialty markets anywhere...Paulina Meat Market. Paulina is a Chicago institution. I can't begin to describe the wonderful feeling of well-being that comes over me the moment I walk in the door there (could it be the delectable aroma of in-house smoked pork butts...?). The butchers have all been there forever and will offer sage advice on any recipe you may be planning to prepare. My friend, Susan, once described the comical professional frenzy she created at Paulina by bringing in a cookbook with diagrams of the roast she wanted to serve. These guys are pros and they take meat seriously. They also take sausage seriously, which brings me back to why I made plans to go...the Italian sausage levels in our freezer had dropped precipitously and had to be replenished...and I will state here, for the record, that Paulina makes the finest Italian sausage anywhere. I buy both types, 'mild/sweet' as well as 'hot', and keep them in the freezer. As one of the wonderful, classic-Chicago-guy butchers there told me..."It freezes beautifully!"
My belief is that there are not many recipes that are not elevated by the presence of great Italian sausage!

So, originally, I was thinking some sort of orcchiette with the sausage and maybe the spinach...but then I brought everything home and laid it out on the counter..., yes, of course, the strawberries and the rhubarb. I'd make cobbler. That was easy.

But, was the kale that spoke to me. The silvery-green leaves beckoned...challenging me. I have never cooked with kale before so there was no time like the present.

I had great success with a potato-frittata-like tortilla a few months ago for a Spanish-themed dinner party. So I thought, why not combine the kale with the sausage (practically guaranteed winner!) and some sauteed onions, folded into a cheese/egg mixture in a kind of heartier version of the spanish tortilla? You basically sautee the elements you'll be folding into the eggs then cook, undisturbed on the stove until the bottom sets, and then finish in the oven. I crumbled and browned the sausage first, then added sliced onions to soften and turn golden and afer that the kale, since I figured I still wanted the leaves to be vibrant and green. The results were, in all modesty, superb! I've read everywhere that frittatas are genius for entertaining since you can serve them hot, room-temperature, or cold, and I'm pleased to report success with all options. (Breakfast this morning was a tasty wedge of cold frittata.)

My next plan is to try this as a batch of hors d'oeuvres. Why not pour tiny amounts of the frittata mixture into a mini-muffin pan for a perfect golden, eggy bite to go with a glass of wine before dinner?!

Next question was "why did it take me so long to discover the frittata?!" I have no answer really...but, regardless! I am ready to embrace this lovely new addition to my repertoire and promise to continue experimenting with whatever the week's veg box brings. Here's to frittatas...and to finding something new.

Kale Sausage Onion Frittata

2-3 large leaves of kale
1 medium sweet onion, sliced
1/2 lb. sweet italian sausage, removed from casing
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
5-6 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt/pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In a non-stick omelette pan, brown the sausage over medium-high heat, crumbling with a fork. When sausage is beginning to brown, add sliced onion and olive oil. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until onion is soft and golden. Add kale and sautee until wilted, but still green.

Meanwhile beat the eggs with the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the kale-onion-sausage mixture and spread on a plate or pan to cool slightly.

Fold into the egg mixture. Melt butter in now-empty pan over medium heat. Add frittata mixture and turn down to medium-low. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, until the bottom is set. Move pan to oven to finish cooking, another 10 minutes or so, until top is set.

Serves 4, or two...with leftovers.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Cocktail Hour

It's called "magic hour" in my business. That glorious time of day when the sun begins to set, bathing everyone and everything in the most flattering, golden-pink light. For a short time, every day...ordinary people look like matinee idols, small towns become captivating, and cities the stuff of postcards. That magic, in summer, begins somewhere around eight o'clock in the evening (as opposed to say, oh, four in wintertime...) and cries out for us to take a minute...sit down with a friend or loved one at the end of the day and have a little something to whet the appetite. It's that thing everyone is always a culture, we rarely take time to stop for a moment and reflect on the day and I think 'cocktail hour' is the answer!

Summer has always felt to me like the perfect season for cocktails. Winter 'cocktails' in Chicago mean mainly one thing: red wine. Well, ok, maybe two things: red wine and champagne! But, there's something about the luxurious stretch of evening in summertime, perhaps a terrace or patio for those of you who are lucky, and the silky whiff of warm air that calls for ice cubes clinking in a sweating glass with something refreshing in it. And if we're talking refreshing, and imminently quaffable, we're talking Pimm's Cup!

My friend, JB, introduced me to Pimm's a few years ago when she informed me that SHE was bringing the fixings for cocktails to a Memorial Day barbeque we were having. She arrived with a brown bag from which tumbled a strange assortment of bottles (ginger ale?), as well as a cucumber (??) and a lemon...she set to work like a master mixologist and voila...presented me with my first Pimm's Cup. A livelier cocktail you will not find. There's tartness from a lemon slice, and that fresh, herby aroma of the Pimm's, bubbles from lemon soda, graced with the clean crunch of a cucumber spear. Simply fantastic! I will be forever grateful.

After a little research, I found that Pimm's has been around for some time. It was invented in 1840 by James Pimm, a London oyster bar owner, who brilliantly decided to add quinine and herbs to his gin. There are various numbered Pimm's at the liquor store, but I just get Pimm's No. 1. (An English friend says that the others go with different alcohol bases, like vodka, etc...) According to the label, the recipe is "a closely guarded secret known only to six people". Oooh, love an aura of mystery!

This uses the recipe from the label with some slight modifications. Let me just say it is simply the most refreshing summer drink, AND goes exceptionally well with everything. So grab a bag of chips or put together a batch of deviled eggs and sit outside or sit on your sofa and take a minute to enjoy the magic of "cocktail hour".

Pimm's Cup

Fill a tall glass halfway with ice. Add Pimm's to one third full. Add a half of a lemon slice. Top off with a lemon soda of your choice (I like Trader Joe's Italian Soda in the lemon flavor. Pellegrino Limonata is also fantastic. Ginger ale works, as does Sprite or 7-UP.) Stir, and garnish with a cucumber spear.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


A couple Sunday’s ago, I tore out yet another recipe from the New York Times Magazine section. I’ve stopped stuffing them in the bulging 3-ring binder where I keep such things and now have a new ‘system’…stuff them in cookbooks where similar recipes reside. Crazy…yes. Disorganized…I know. But it’s working, for now.

Anyway, this recipe is part of Amanda Hesser’s Recipe Redux series which runs in the Sunday Magazine and features a recipe from the Times’ files, usually decades-old, paired with a new interpretation or variation, usually from a chef. In most cases, I seem to be drawn to the original recipe, and this time was no different. What caught my eye was the star ingredient: spinach.

I'm a spinach lover and have been for a long time. Remember those wonderful 80's spinach salads, with their slices of egg, crunchy bacon bits and mustard dressing? So, last fall, when one of my favorite greens was cast as the villain and all but disappeared from the produce section, I kept thinking that there would have to be a comeback. I started buying the unwashed, bundled spinach the way I used to and was meticulous about washing. I laughed as the marketing people jumped on the case, slapping labels -- DOES NOT CONTAIN SPINACH -- on my favorite brand of mache. Ridiculous!!

The Times' recipe is for Spinach Roman Style. I cook a variation on this idea from one of my favorite cookbooks (and restaurants): The Union Square Cafe. The idea is that you're quickly sauteeing the still damp leaves in some olive oil, where they wilt and shrink dramatically. The simplicity of the Union Square version makes it my go-to side when roast chicken, or fish is the main course. Here it is in a nutshell.

Lemon-Garlic Spinach from Union Square Cafe
A garlic clove -- peeled and split in half, length-wise, and attached to the end of a fork
One tablespoon of olive oil
One large bunch of spinach -- well washed, and spun somewhat dry.
half a lemon

Use the biggest saute pan you've got -- it helps with the initial volume of the spinach. Heat the olive oil until shimmering and then drop handfuls of spinach in the hot oil, stirring quickly with the garlic-fork. Once the spinach is wilted, remove from heat and squeeze lemon juice over the spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Voila!

I must tell you that The Times version was a huge hit the other night with some Copper River salmon we had for dinner and is now the new favorite in our household. Apparently it was originally adapted from "The Food of Southern Italy," by Carlo Middione back in 1989.

The thing to remember is to be bold with your quantity of spinach. It really does shrink down to practically nothing. One large bunch, or pre-washed container, can feed two hungry adults. This recipe includes pine nuts and raisins -- aah, that southern Italian thing! -- and it is a flavor combination I'm crazy about. If there's one thing I've learned over the years...toasted pine nuts make everything better! I sprinkle them over salads and on dips and they're wonderful with store-bought squash ravioli and brown butter sauce. The other thing to be careful with here is to really keep close watch on the pan as you're cooking the pine nuts and the garlic...the stuff can burn, or turn too brown, in the blink of an eye.

Be prepared: the combination of the deep emerald of the spinach, the golden raisins and honey-colored pine nuts makes for a gorgeous-looking plate.

Spinach is Back!

adapted from 1989: Spinach Roman Style from The New York Times Magazine
(serves 2)

2 T. golden raisins
1 large container of pre-washed spinach, or two large bunches
1-2 T. olive oil
3 garlic cloves, flattened until they resemble a crushed flower
3 T. pine nuts
pinch of salt/coarse ground fresh pepper

1. Soak the raisins in warm water to cover, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
2. Cook the wet spinach in a large frying pan (no oil!), cooking until it collapses -- stirring constantly. Transfer to a colander and wipe out the pan if it is wet.
3. Over med-high heat, add olive oil to the pan, and brown the garlic 'flowers'. Be careful not to burn them. Remove and discard the garlic.
4. Lower the heat to medium, drain the raisins, squeeze them dry and add to the oil WITH the pine nuts. Cook until the pine nuts are golden -- again, be careful not to burn them.
5. Return the spinach to the pan and stir everything, adding salt and pepper to taste.
(If the spinach looks dry, you can add a little more olive oil here. Mine seemed to be fine and didn't need any additional oil.)

Thursday, June 7, 2007

A Bounty of Produce

Years ago, I stumbled across a recipe for a mushroom tart in a magazine. There was something easygoing and warmly encouraging about the author's tone -- and the accompanying photo was GORGEOUS...a tangle of wild mushrooms, sauteed and crispy golden, strewn across a burnished, flaky puff pastry rectangle. What's not to love? I decided to add it as an appetizer at Thanksgiving that year. The tart baked up, golden, earthy and tasty in the extreme. The family awarded stellar reviews. (Don't you love when that happens?)

Some research on the source of the mushroom tart recipe led me to a cookbook by Englishman Nigel Slater. Let me just say this... the book -- Appetite -- changed my life in a way. Yes, Nigel loves using bacon (yum!), and butter (I'm with Julia Child on this one...LOVE BUTTER!) and all things wonderful...but, at its core, the philosophy of the book was refreshing. Cook what you want to eat! For me, it was as if someone had flung open a door and gust of summer breeze had rushed in. He set out some basic principles, stuff many already know: shop more frequently, keep pantry staples on hand, get down some basic techniques etc...but mainly, Nigel passed along a kind of confidence. Let your appetite guide you. What do you you want to eat today? is the subtitle. I was smitten. In London over Thanksgiving the following year, I found an autographed copy of his new book -- just published in the U.S. this spring -- Kitchen Diaries. Over the course of a year, he documented all his meals. A beautifully bound blog, if you will. I loved it, of course. Things like, "today...I fancy a chop" and his theory that "I love cooking for people after all these years because I rearely attempt too much" gave me a chuckle...and the candid entries where he admits to staring at the barren refrigerator and ordering "takeaway"...well, we've all been there. But what I found most intriguing were his regular mentions of a mysterious weekly 'organic sack' he pulled ingredients from... and how, what was in the bag guided what he would cook. It took me a while to figure out he was referring to a "share" advance purchase of seasonal produce from local farmers.

In my area -- the Midwest -- I tracked down a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture program. I chose Home Grown Wisconsin You become a member and pay a fee (in the range of $200 to $500) and then receive a season's worth of fruits and vegetables directly from local farms. Fresh eggs are available too. In my case, 'the box' is delivered to a convenient location in my city neighborhood, where I have the afternoon/evening to swing by and pick it up. Everything is ripe and ready to go, and recipes (they tell me) will be included at times for veg that may be unfamiliar. Some random canvassing of friends and family found a number of people who have participated for years (!) and are thrilled. My husband jokes about getting ready to eat rutabegas weekly, but the CSA's web-site even recognizes this concern and reassuringly offers a wide-ranging, extensive list of produce that will be delivered. Something about connecting directly with the growers makes me happy (no offense, Whole Foods). It feels like I'm actually doing something meaningful with the way we are eating. The idea driving CSA programs is that with a commitment in the fee you pay up front, the farmer can have a fixed amount of income that is guaranteed and helps them afford seeds and workers throughout the season.

What better way to echo Nigel's philosophy, than with a kitchen blog/diary of my, my first shipment will be in two weeks and I'll be posting my kitchen-adventures-with-swiss-chard here...the good, the bad AND the ugly!

As for The Mushroom Tart That Started It's the recipe and a side note: I've come across a number of recipes for savory, puff-pastry-based tarts over the past few years and have come to embrace them as a fantastic way to kick-off a meal. The main beauty is that Pepperidge Farm's frozen puff pastry sheets live in my freezer, ready and waiting to be topped with whatever I come up with (usually a variation on veg + something creamy, like cheese). Another recent favorite, is from Suzanne Goin's genius book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It's a tart with goat cheese and swiss chard. The thing that makes it crazy good is the current-onion-pine nut relish that goes along with it.

I had the good fortune to eat at Lucques last year in L.A. for my birthday. I should say "our" birthday since I share the date with one of my dearest friends, Bunny. It was one of my favorite meals of the year. The restaurant is chic and comfortable...the staff, knowledgeable, welcoming and professional. The food, incredibly delicious. (You know how it is when you look at the menu and want everything?!) Suzanne Goin even stopped by our table that evening, whereupon I was dumbstruck and mumbled what a fan I am of her cooking. My husband and friends still tease me. It was as if I had met a Beatle.

Mushroom Tart
adapted from Nigel Slater's Appetite (he actually calls this "a no-fuss puff-pastry vegetable pie") and you can too, provided you use a posh, British accent.

Serves 4

onions -- 4 medium-sized
butter, or Olive Oil -- 2-3 tablespoons
mushrooms -- 12 oz. any type. (I like a mix of wild mushrooms, cremini, chanterelles, along with some white button.)
fresh thyme -- 1 tablespoon, finely chopped
salt/pepper to taste
creme fraiche -- about 3/4 cup.
puff pastry -- one sheet if you want open-face tart, two if you want to seal it up like a pie
egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon of cold water, for glazing the pastry

Peel and slice the onions into thin crescents. Cook slowly over med-low heat for about 20 minutes in the butter, or olive oil.
When the onions are golden and soft, add the mushrooms (sliced, if button, or roughly torn if wild) to the onion mixture in the pan, along with another tablespoon of butter or oil. Cook and stir occasionally until mushrooms become golden.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. degrees.

Season the mixture with salt, pepper and the chopped herbs, and stir in the creme fraiche, 1/4 cup at a time, using enough to get the creamy consistency you'd like. Creamy is better than too runny. (Extra thick is good if you are leaving the tart open-face.)
Let the mixture bubble for a couple minutes on low heat so it thickens and the flavors meld.

Roll out the puff pastry sheet(s) on a flour-dusted board or counter, into a rectangle, about 8 x 14 inches.

Open-face option: place the sheet on a flour dusted sheet pan. Score the edges with a fork or knife, for a decorative border, and brush with egg wash. Spread the mushroom mixture over the tart leaving a 1-1 1/2" border.

Pie option: place the sheet on a flour-dusted sheet pan. Brush egg wash along edges (for sealing up the two pastry pieces). Spread mushroom mixture over the tart. Place the second pastry sheet over the mushroom filling and seal the edges tightly. Brush top of pie with the egg wash and snip a couple vents in the center for the steam to escape.

Bake until the tart/pie puffs and is golden, about 25 minutes (although this varies oven to oven!!). Make sure you sneak a look at the underside of the tart before you turn the oven off - it should be golden.

Nigel has other suggestions for variations, one being a broccoli and gorgonzola version, which I am tempted to try.

Suzanne's tart is open face and uses a mixture of ricotta and egg as a the base, upon which you spread sauteed swiss chard and sprinkle with a crumbly goat cheese, like Bucheron.

The best part is -- the savory tart begs for experimentation.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


I look at it as making up for lost time.

As a finicky child of legendary reknown in my family, there were only a few items I deemed palatable in my early years. (sigh...even back then, I was a control freak.) Kraft Macaroni-and-Cheese was one. Ate it every single day for lunch during kindergarten. Followed up with The Year of Liverwurst-on-White-Bread. My parents were concerned. They grew up in Europe during World War II. One did not snub food. Any food. Ever. That concern grew into exasperation as the teen-years approached. My appetite was listless. Food seemed sooo, err, uninteresting. My uncle, an incredible cook who grew up a stone's throw from the Adriatic Coast, moved to the U.S. with my aunt, and became virtually the only person who could get me to eat. I loved everything he made...melt-in-your-mouth risottos, with vegetables, or squid ink (!)...zesty brodettos, chunky with fish and tomatoes and herbs...whole roasted fish, stuffed with lemons and herbs and garlic...there was a piquant, vibrant life to his food that seemed to wake my palate up. My mystified parents rolled their eyes and shook their heads.

College continued the revival. Not dorm food mind you, but the local, small, ethnic family-run restaurants that are found in most any college town. My slumbering taste buds were roused! The salty/crunchy/chewy goodness of that first-ever potsticker... the zing of feta tucked in a flaky spanakopita...lamb vindaloo that would make you break a all made me hungry for more.

There were more influences along the mother's subscription to Gourmet helped build a foundation--and introduced me to Laurie Colwin, for which I will be forever grateful!! It also fed another burgeoning to far-off places. Harvard Square's Wordsworth bookstore, now gone, was another. I spent hours browsing the overstuffed cookbook shelves, fueling a cookbook addiction that has become, oh, a teensy bit out of control.

The potstickers, the books, the wonders of travel and eating in foreign lands, and throughout our own U.S., along with "a flair for enjoyment" (thank you Dorothy Draper!); it has all shaped a perspective. Which brings me to now, and this blog and a wish to share thoughts about well, yes, food, but travel, books, and life too.