Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Things Never Change...

Like being a mom. I don't care how old my kids get, that "mom" instinct will never go away. When one of my kids is unhappy, so am I. And, like all the rest of you moms out there, I want to make it all better - which of course, I cannot. Especially since the kid in question is twenty-five years old.

That would be my youngest son. I'm sure he would be horrified if he knew I was writing about him but odds are in my favor that he never reads this blog. It's kind of like the Facebook thing. I'm amazed at the number of moms I know who have "friended" their kids, mostly so they can keep tabs on them. Problem is, your kids have to "friend" you back, which mine would never do. I actually don't blame them. I mean, how would I feel if my mother attempted to friend me? Three words: NO WAY, Mom!

So in that spirit, it's a pretty good guess that he'll never read this. He is in his third year of a PhD program at a well-known university. He's extremely bright (clearly he got Henry's brains, not mine) and extremely driven. As in he never stops. He may have gotten his father's brains, but he obviously inherited my inability to say "no." (and he did NOT inherit Henry's lack of hair!)

He's involved in everything from organizing programs to teaching to studying for comps. He is a serious runner, too. He seldom gives himself any time off and sometimes it gets to him. I could hear it in his voice on the phone the other day (a rarity, since communication with him is sometimes an email, but more often a text, which is why I had to learn how or I would never have any contact with him!) He sounded really, really stressed.

What's a mom to do? I would happily jump in my car and drive the 6+ hours to his apartment but a) he would probably kill me and b) he has to solve his own problems. Logically, I know that - but it still kills me.

My solution? A big box of whole wheat biscuits (his favorite), baked last night and FedExed to him today. He likes them because he thinks they're healthy, so we're not going to tell him about the shortening, white flour and sugar they contain. Or the butter at the end. They're actually pretty good though (okay, maybe not as good as biscuits made with lard and White Lily flour) and they hold up well for shipping.

Here's the recipe:

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups unbleached flour
4 T. granulated sugar
4 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
6 T. shortening (chilled or frozen), diced
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 T. butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450-degrees. Whisk whole wheat flour, unbleached flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Add shortening and use your fingers to incorporate into flour mixture until it becomes crumbly, like a streusel topping. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the butermilk and blend until a soft dough forms.

Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead briefly so mixture is well-blended. Use a rolling pin to roll out dough about 1-inch thick. Cut into rounds, using a 3-inch round cutter. Do not twist or turn cutter as you cut biscuits out.

Place biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment, spacing about 1-inch apart. Brush tops with melted butter and bake 15-20 minutes until golden.

Yield: about 14 3-inch biscuits

These are not as tender as traditional biscuits made with white flour, so they are best served warm (to reheat, wrap in aluminum foil and place in a 350-degree oven for 10-12 minutes or until just warmed through).

And when you box them up to send to your stressed-out kid, remember to bake up some chocolate chip cookies and pack them into the box also. I have never known my son to pass up homemade chocolate chip cookies (without nuts, of course), even if he won't admit it!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mission Accomplished

I'll spare you the bathroom pictures. But you get the idea.

Yes, I am dog-tired. Yes, I busted my you-know-what to get all of this done in three days. If you know me, then you know that I am usually pretty modest about stuff. But you know what?

I did a KICK-ASS job here!

Of course, my father-in-law (who is the REAL owner of this building) will be in the city on Tuesday and he's going to inspect my work. Let's hope he approves (oy, is my insecurity showing or what?)

Anyway, it's done. And I managed to survive New York without too much damage to the diet (a few too many glasses of wine, but oh well). April (my son Andy's girlfriend) and her mom who was visiting, put together an amazing (and healthy) Israeli dinner last night It was like manna from the gods. A home-cooked meal and I didn't have to cook it! It was soul-satisfying and delicious. Thank you Andy, April and Anat.

But then there was that flight home today. Not so wonderful. Can you say "turbulence?" Like for the entire flight. I will tell you that I am a terrible flyer. How in the hell does something that heavy remain suspended in the air for such extended periods anyway? Ugh, and I hate sitting by the window, which is what I had to do today. And there was a smelly guy sitting next to me. So I plugged into my iPod and just tried to ignore the whole thing, which pretty much worked.

I'm glad to be home now, even though it is raining again. Jeez, can someone explain this to me? First we were in an extended drought and now we are drowning. Huh?

And so, it's raining and my dogs decided that they needed to pee all over the floor in the hallway. And of course, I stepped in it with my bare feet. And then they did it again 30 minutes later.

Hello? Can I please go back to the rat race that is NYC?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wonder Woman Lives

Yeah, that would be me. I hit the ground running yesterday and managed to buy everything (let me repeat that: EVERYTHING) for this model apartment I'm setting up. Here's what I started with - a studio apartment with gorgeous parkay floors, a crappy couch and an overstuffed ugly chair. There was some other ugly furniture in there as well, but it's history now.

You try running around the city (yeah, I wore track shoes) to find enough stuff that's acceptable and can be delivered on a day's notice. That's what I did. Bed Bath and Beyond? Thank you for being within walking distance. I spent three hours there, picking and choosing (with absolutely no help at all, kinda like the service you get at Home Depot). Still, it worked. Then on to Straight from the Crate (garbage), Pottery Barn (not much better) and a few random stores in between. And then I stumbled into Crate and Barrel. Oh yes! That sweet associate Andy gave me a scanner and I just walked around the place and zapped everything that needed to be delivered today. Hell yes! (of course, there was the phrase "some assembly required" but hey - I can deal with that).

It all arrived today and we have a big head start on making this happen. But did I mention that the a/c in the building died 2 days ago? They're working on getting it repaired ($22,000 and three days later) but for now, it's beyond hot in there. I sweated more today than I ever thought possible. And April (Andy's girlfriend, whom I adore) was right there with me. Thank you, April! Men? Assembly? Who needs them? We didn't.

So tomorrow is the day to finish it off. The bed gets delivered, everything gets hung (drills required, thanks to the non-sheet rock walls) and I hope, I hope it all comes together. I think it will. I'll post pictures tomorrow night.

Wonder Woman? Yup, that's me!

Oh, and the diet? Not to worry. Who has time to eat, anyway? Certainly not me. All I cared about tonight when I got back to my crappy room (oh, I forgot I'm not supposed to say that) was a v-e-r-y long shower!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Oh, and Two Other Things

#1: This may be a crappy room, but guess what? NO FRUIT FLIES HERE! So I will no longer describe it as a crappy room.

#2: I know I promised the brown sugar shortbread recipe (stay tuned, it's worth it). I took the photos and I actually have the recipe with me, so I will publish it in the next day or two.

Sorry for the lapse!

What to Eat When You Can't Eat Anything and You Find Yourself in NYC

Yeah, that's true. Here I am in NYC, food capital of the f-ing world and I am still working this diet. (I hate to use the word "diet", everyone says it's just a new way of eating but truth is, it's still a DIET - yuck). Yet here I am, and I'm doing my best to stick to it.

I'm here in New York to work. We have a family-owned apartment building on the Upper East Side that has too many vacancies. Not a surprise, given the real estate market in the entire country right now. So we need to set up a model apartment. Guess who's gonna do that job?

The good news is that I get to go shopping on someone else's dime (well, not really since it's family money, but still...) The bad news is that I would love to eat my way through New York, but I can't. I'm staying in a crappy Marriott Courtyard on 3rd and 53rd and I'm in the middle of UN opening. Barak Obama is here and so is Bill Clinton, along with a million other folks. Traffic is horrible and don't even think about trying to land a cab. I checked into my crappy room (with an exorbitant price tag - not fair) at about 8pm and wondered what to do for dinner.

Room service? Not so much. In this place, room service means ordering from Outback (I'm not kidding). So I ventured out onto 53rd Street and came upon the Brasserie.

Mind you, I've eaten here before. Mostly just for breakfast, though. They remodeled the place a few years ago and now it looks like the Jetson's lair. Pretty silly, if you ask me. But I sat at the bar, nobody bothered me and I had a very good (and legal) meal of Pacific oysters on the half-shell and chicken paillard with arugula. Not half-bad and of course, helped enormously by the two glasses of Zin I consumed. Hey - I'm on the road. At least it wasn't chocolate.

I'm back in my (crappy) room now. Oh well, at least it's clean and the a/c works. Up early tomorrow to start my shopping. Figuring out what to eat while still sticking to the diet will be a challenge.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

What to Eat When You Can't Eat Anything

Well, it's day 6 of the new regime (not like I am counting or anything). In all honesty, it hasn't been that terrible. Of course, I have a long way to go but for now, this thing is working. So much so, that I have already lost 5 pounds. I know from my years of ups and downs that this is always the case at first and it drops off significantly after the first two weeks or so. But hey - for now, it's enough to keep me going!

So what do I get to eat? Nothing white, that's for sure! It's pretty balanced and includes protein, whole grains, fruit and veggies. Sadly, no wine is on the menu these days. Lemon-lime seltzer has become my new best friend.

Along with fish. The menu tonight was supposed to be grilled halibut with grilled lemons and limes. Until those thunderstorms came calling. I'm not that brave (or that stupid, I hope). I've been fighting Mother Nature enough with those damn fruit flies (more about that later). Guess it's time for Plan B.

And what is Plan B? Beats me. But here's what it isn't: pan sauteeing the fish and stinking up my entire house. Alrighty then. I guess I could bake it, but that's boring. No, the best solution is to load it up with vegetables and olives and wrap it all up in parchment. Yup. Delicious and healthy (and legal). And did I mention "delicious?"

But first I digress. Back to the fruit fly convo (how appetizing). They aren't flying into my wine anymore, but I guess that's because I'm not drinking any these days (sigh). A few of them are left in my garage but I think we're finally on the downward leg (I hope, I hope). But did you know that "fruit fly" really refers to a woman who likes to be around gay men? Thanks, Tim for that information. Still I guess it's better than "fag hag." And of course, none of this applies to me.

If you have stuck with me this far into the post, then you deserve my recipe. I'll give you the basic, but just remember that you can tweak it to your own taste. It's great for cleaning out the fridge. I had leftover roasted cherry tomatoes with garlic and a few straggling scallions in there that I added to mine tonight. Have at it.

Halibut in Parchment with Kalamata Olives

2 lbs. halibut or any other fresh fish of your choice
1/4 cup tapenade (black olive paste)
1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small bulb fresh fennel, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Italian parsley sprigs
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh lemon wedges

Preheat oven to 450-degrees. For each portion, cut parchment paper into a 10-inch circle or heart shape and fold in half. Spray one half of each with cooking spray (or, if you are not watching every single calorie like me, brush with olive oil).

Place a portion of peppers, fennel and onion on each parchment sheet. Season well with salt and pepper. Place a portion of fish over and coat it with tapenade. Top with the garlic and parsley sprigs. Tuck Kalamata olives around the fish. Drizzle with a little olive oil if desired (I did not - it didn't need it).

Fold the other half of the parchment over to enclose the fish and crimp edges to seal. Place packets on a large baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, transfer to plates and garnish with lemon wedges.

Serves 4 - 6
Next post up: Brown Sugar Shortbread. Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Here we go....

No photos, no recipe, no nothing in this post. Just the statement that I have made the decision to lose 25 pounds and actually BECOME a skinny cook (of course, you will still be able to trust me because I will always be a chubby girl at heart).

Ugh. I love food, I love to cook and I love to eat. Ugh.

I signed up for a program today, so now I will have to do it. Ugh.

But it's a done deal. Wish me luck. I will keep you posted.

Oh yeah, and don't worry about this blog. I will suck it up and still keep cooking, baking and writing for you! I just won't be able to taste it. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Windex and Amaretto

Alright, I know I said that I would share the good, the bad and the ugly. Well, here is the ugly: my house has recently been taken over by fruit flies. Like, by the hundreds.

I think it started with the peaches that started to go south while sitting in my kitchen. Like any other rational person, I threw them in the trash, then took them out to the garbage can in the garage. IN THE GARAGE????? What was I thinking?So the garage became infested. And of course, so did my kitchen.

As I write this, they are flying around here like little miniature bats. Oh, and they like wine, too.

I went online to figure out a remedy. To make a long story short, eliminate the cause (like rotting peaches, duh!) then set traps. Stuff like sweet wine placed in a bowl to catch them and the like. One suggestion even went so far as to say put a piece of rotting fruit in the oven, leave the door open overnight, then quietly sneak in the next morning, close the oven door, turn on the heat and let 'er rip. I couldn't quite go there.

I ended up setting a bowl of Amaretto out in the garage. While doing that, I noticed that they were swarming around the garage windows. I happened to be holding a spray bottle of Windex at the time. Cha-ching!!! I sprayed the heck out of them. It worked!

Problem is, they kept coming back. So for the last three days, I have been a mad woman with a spray bottle out there (and I will not tell you what the petri dish looks like right now. Suffice it to say it is REALLY disgusting). Oy, sometimes I wonder for my own sanity. I think I am finally getting the upper hand though. But now there is an almost-empty bottle of Amaretto sitting in my kitchen. What to do about that?

Here's the solution: No Brainer Truffle Squares with Amaretto.

As I metioned before, I have no talent for decorating, so finely decorated truffles will not happen in my kitchen. These, however, are really, really good and a five-year-old could make them. If you happen to have gold leaf on hand, use it to make them look pretty (I know, you don't, but I do and that's what I used. If you want to buy some, here is the link:)


Or, you could just scatter some sliced (maybe even buttered and salted) almonds on top and call it a day.

No Brainer Truffle Squares

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate (I use Ghirardelli 4-oz. bars), divided
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons Amaretto
Gold leaf or sliced almonds

Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment (or waxed paper) overhanging over the sides.

Break up 12 oz. of the chocolate into a heavy saucepan. Add cream and heat over the lowest setting, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Stir in the Amaretto and set aside for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining chocolate. Place half of it in the prepared pan, and use a small offset spatula to spread it evenly over the bottom of the pan. Place in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Remove from freezer and spread the chocolate/Amaretto mixture over, using an offset spatula. Place in refrigerator and chill for 5 minutes. Then spread the remaining chocolate evenly over the top. Sprinkle with the sliced almonds or (if you are like me, be decadent and hit it with some gold leaf).

Chill for at least 3 hours, or until firm, then cut into very, very small squares.

(If you are throwing a dinner party anytime soon, these are a really great "post -dessert")

Oh and here's the good news. No buggers in my wine tonight! Yay!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

5,000 Miles

Henry (that old, bald guy) and I are clearly crazy. I'm sure my kids will agree with that, but we're not asking them to weigh in on this. Why are we crazy? Because we take long, ridiculous walks on most Sundays here in Atlanta. Get me here, folks. I'm talking LONG walks - like 12 to 15 miles.

It started back in 2001. Or maybe before, but I can't remember back that far. Anyway, we had a big debate about whether we should bike or walk. I voted for walking. I won.

But we're not talking about a normal walk in the park. Oh no, we are crazy (see, my kids were right). We do bizarre things, like taking MARTA (for those of you who don't live here, it's our rapid transit system) to the airport and then walking home. Or, taking it to the furthest station east (where in the hell are we anyway?) and walking home from there.

And along the way, we have had some amazing conversations and some amazing experiences. You can't walk with someone for five or six hours and NOT talk. No, mostly what you do is throw up on each other's shoes. It's the best form of communication. I highly recommend it.

We did the math today (as we were walking, of course). It kind of translates into 40 walks per year times 8 years times 15 miles per walk. Okay, that's only 4,800 miles, but let's not quibble. How many miles have you walked recently?

At the end of the day, we have walked and talked and we are exhausted.

And then we have to hike up that long hill to get to our (new) house. Oy veh, what were we thinking when we bought the place?

So after the walk and after the shower, we are happy to kick back and relax on our front porch. Moscow Mules, anyone?

Moscow Mules
A shot of vodka (or more, if you are so inclined)
Ginger beer (you can find this in your local liquor store)
Lime wedges

This is a no-brainer. Put as much vodka as you like into a copper mug (sorry if you don't have one, but you need it for this drink). Add ice, then top off with ginger beer. Squeeze in some fresh lime juice and garnish with a lime wedge.

Sit on your porch (or whatever is comparable), sigh, and allow that life is good.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Julie's Gift

I am a new blogger and I don't quite get how to incorporate "guest posts." So I am going to type out this by hand. It's long and there isn't a "recipe" but it is an amazing story. Please take few minutes out of your day to read it. It brought tears to my eyes when I read it. Here is Julie Ferguson's story:

"Some of my earliest and best memories are of visits to Mamaw's house in Athens TN. They meant lots of hugs, delicious food and a nighttime snack of frozen chocolate chips. I still remember how excited I was when my grandmother moved from Athens to my hometown, Maryville, because that meant I was going to get to see her all the time.

Alma (Mamaw) was born in Decatur, TN and grew up in Etowah. She learned to cook from her mother and spent a good deal of time in the kitchen with her four sisters. Mamaw married Raymond Ferguson and had three boys. The family lived on a farm for several years. Mamaw used to share stories with me of canning for the winter and keeping three growing boys well-fed. My father always talks about the homemade french fries she would make for him when he was a teenager. She is a legend in our family for her food.

Once Mamaw had moved to Maryville, my sister and I used to call her and ask her to cook for us all the time. Whenever it was someone's birthday, we did not want to go to a restaurant. We wanted to go to Mamaw's house. She would make fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried zucchini, corn on the cob, salad, cornbread, iced tea and pecan pie. My eyes were always bigger than my stomach, but I was determined to eat as much as possible of my favorite foods.

Mamaw was the type of cook who did everything by feel; she did not write anything down. So when my father and I were trying to learn how to make her dishes, we would just watch her and try it ourselves. My dad mastered the fried zucchini and cornbread and helped teach me.

My grandmother would only use Three Rivers cornmeal and Mayfield buttermilk. That's all you need. Put some corn oil in the bottom of the skillet and let it heat in the oven as it preheats to 400-degrees. Whe the oil is hot, pour in the cornmeal and buttermilk mixture and cook until the top is a nice light brown. You use the same process for fried zucchini. Mamaw would combine okra and zucchini, toss in cornmeal, pour into the skillet and cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

When I was moving to Atlanta, Mamaw wanted me to be able to make southern food for myself, so she gave me two of her cast iron skillets. They had been seasoned for years and are now treasured possessions of mine. The skillets traveled with me when I moved to New York. I could not find Three Rivers cornmeal in New York, so I ordered it online and had it delivered to me. I've also made her pecan pie and it is the only written recipe I have from my grandmother.

I have been friends with the Lorbers for a couple of years now. When I went to Kiawah two years ago, I enjoyed sitting in the kitchen while Liz and Andy cooked, talking about food and family. When I was trying to think of a gift I could bring to Kiawah this year to show my appreciation for the Lorber's hospitality, I remembered a story my grandmother told me. When she was traveling with her husband and friends to both Hawaii and New York, Mamaw took her skillet and Three Rivers cornmeal with her. She wanted to cook for herself; she felt it was just never the same in a restaurant.

So I decided to bring her skillet to Kiawah, as I knew it would be as meaningful to Liz as it is to me.

Mamaw passed away at the beginning of last year. It was very hard for me, but I have so many beautiful memories of her. And each time I cook, I feel close to her again."

If there is anything I have learned by starting a blog, then it's that you have to share stories. Julie's story is one of the most meaningful to me. It incorporates food, family and the passing on of recipes and life. Amen.