Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

My Christmas spirit arrived during a brazen trip to JCrew on Fifth Avenue. The store was a mad house full of crazy, anxious New Yorkers sifting through piles of sale merchandise. As I navigated the insanity I committed to remaining undisturbed. Something washed over me and I softened–my heart, my body, my face–welcoming fellow shoppers with a smile rather than getting swept up in the collective mood. The cashier rang me up, handed me my fabulous new sweater and said "Thank you so much for being nice to me".

It's moments like this that encourage me to investigate the meaning of yoga and the essence of what this practice means to me. Yoga comes from the word "yuj" which means to yoke, or to connect. My exchange at JCrew reminded me that looking someone in the eye, softening in their presence and truly connecting in the moment is what the holidays are all about. I vowed to slow down...sipping rather than gulping down my Christmas. I focused on the little pleasures that ignite my inner spirit and I turned my attention to my family and friends.

This was the year of the homemade present: framed photographs for Billy and my Dad, an album of baby pictures for Alexa, and a hardcover book of my blog for my parents and grandparents! For me, Christmas has always been about the joy of giving and I was so excited for everyone to open their gifts.

Christmas Eve dinner was scrumptious! Sole Meunière with Haricots Verts (blanched and then sautéed in butter, olive oil and shallots). I know I always say this, but it was ridiculously easy to make and ridiculously delicious to eat. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. You'll need 1 T of lemon zest and the juice of 2 lemons. Flour each sole filet. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a fry pan and when the butter is melted and bubbly, add the filets. Pour in a couple tablespoons of the lemon juice and sprinkle each piece of fish with lemon zest. Cook approximately one minute per side and transfer to a sheet pan (place in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining fish). I ran into Maury Rubin of City Bakery when I was grocery shopping and he gave me some sound advice regarding my Sole Meunière: "Don't overcook the fish!" I took his words to heart and it was the most amazing fish I'd ever eaten.

The dessert (a homemade rustic apple tart), on the other hand, didn't turn out as well. I rolled out my dough on wax paper and it stuck to everything (so I scraped off all the dough, let it sit in the fridge and re-rolled it out). Things were looking good - apples beautifully arranged on the diagonal, 1/2 cup of sugar sprinkled on top - but after 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven, the sugar burned and my smoke alarm went off. Merry Christmas Eve! The whole family jumped to my rescue, opening windows and doors and fanning the smoke alarm. Needless to say, the tart was actually pretty darn good if you ate around the burnt parts. Luckily my Mom had given Billy a cheesecake for Christmas and he was gracious enough to let us all have a piece (thank you, honey).

The tree sparkled on Christmas morning and I felt like a little girl bounding down the stairs to open my presents. I must've been good this year because Santa brought me a KitchenAid Mixer which is the gift I've wanted for as long as I can remember. Oh the goodies that will be mixed in my glorious new mixer...just you wait! Santa brought Ellie a sack full of toys and she played until she collapsed.

We had crêpes for Christmas breakfast which felt festive with all the fixings. They're so simple to make (I cooked them the day before and just warmed them up in the oven so I could relax and enjoy the morning)!

The classic batter was delicious but I added Grand Marnier and orange zest to the second batch and just loved them! We had all the good crêpe condiments: Nutela, bananas, raspberries (soaked in Grand Marnier and sugar), maple syrup, apples cooked in cinnamon and butter, and whipped cream (which I "whipped" in a blender - obviously this was before I had my mixer)!

Christmas Crêpes

heaping cup of flour
pinch of salt
1 egg
1 T melted butter
1 1/4 cups milk

Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl (I tried it without sifting and had to deal with lumps). Make a well in the center and add the egg, melted butter and half of the milk. Whisk the center, slowly combining the flour into the batter. Add the remaining milk and whisk. The orange zest and Grand Marnier are the best part; I used about 1 t of zest and 1 T of liquor. You can also use 1 T of dark rum (yum) instead of the Grand Marnier. Coat the inside of a nonstick fry pan with vegetable oil (wipe out with a paper towel) and pour a small amount of the batter and swirl it around until it coats the entire pan. The crêpes need approximately 2 minutes per side, but you'll have to play around with it until you find your rhythm.

We enjoyed a quintessential New York City Christmas dinner-one I won't soon forget-at Balthazar in Soho. Families dressed in their Christmas best, the classic brasserie was bustling I loved every minute of watching the world go by.

I felt truly blessed this Christmas. My commitment to remain grounded and grateful proved itself to be a worthy endeavor. My heart feels light and I'm inspired to keep the spirit of connection in my heart as I move forward into the new year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scented Christmas

One of my favorite things about the holidays are heartfelt gifts. I want to make something that my friends will enjoy but can let go of at the end of the season...something they can experience and savor but are not required to love for all eternity. Perhaps that's the inherent flaw of the commercial Christmas–the expectation of having to find everyone the "perfect" gift when in reality we already have enough.

I used to make pomendar balls with my mother when I was little and I remember how they scented our entire home. Pomendar balls originated from the Middle Ages and were used as natural air fresheners. You can use any citrus fruit, although they're classically done with oranges. To make a pomendar ball you simply poke holes all over the orange (I use the pointed end of a cork screw, although anything pointy would suffice) and then stuff them with cloves. You can poke holes strategically to create a design or you can divide the orange into quadrants to leave space for a ribbon (as shown in the photo above). If you're short on time and patience, just stab the orange haphazardly and it will look brilliant. Place the pomendar ball in a ziplock back filled with cinnamon and gently shake until the entire orange is covered.

I placed some wax paper inside this great box I found at Kate's Paperie. Tied with an antique red and white striped ribbon, this gift feels so special and unique.

Note for future pomendar ball enthusiasts: Adding oris root powder to the cinnamon will preserve the fruit so that it dries and lasts!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Impromptu Breakfast

Last night, on a whim, I decided to invite my friend Pietro over for breakfast this morning. We usually meet at our local coffee shop, Two Aprons, but I was in the mood for something different. I love this sort of impromptu entertaining because you just have to wing it! That being said, I tend to cook up elaborate schemes and end up needing to relearn my own self-proclaimed passion for flying by the seat of my pants. For example, last night I came up with the idea to bake a coffeecake before I went to bed so it would be ready for the morning. It seemed like a decent plan at the time but a little post-failure introspection revealed that indeed many things seem like a decent plan over a glass of wine. Then I thought I'd just wake up really early and bake banana bread, but as my alarm went off it became clear to me that I need to get a life.

Orchestrating such elaborate and unrealistic proposals only to procrastinate and fold under the pressure seemed worthy of examination. It appears that a small part of me knows what's going on - that masterminding my creativity actually prevents me from being authentically creative. I push the limits of my carefully laid plans so that I'm forced to improvise. My inner teacher is truly brilliant.

So with 40 minutes to spare I decided to make banana muffins. Surely they'd take less time to bake than a whole cake (although I had no idea, which was all part of my devil-may-care attitude). With a twinkle in my eye I proceeded to add a tablespoon of rum and a teaspoon of orange zest to the batter, because why wouldn't someone with minimal baking knowledge add random ingredients to the recipe? I popped them into the oven and was so bold and outrageous in that moment that I decided to go do a load of laundry. The good news is that the muffins were amazing! The bad news is I have no idea how long they were in there. My best guess would be somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. Just keep an eye on them; when they're golden, they're golden! You will love them!

1 cup plus 2 T of flour
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 cup melted butter (I used salted butter because I didn't have any unsalted. If you use unsalted I would add a 1/2 t of salt to the dry ingredients).
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 large, extra ripe bananas
1 t vanilla extract
1 T dark rum
1 t orange zest

Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl.

Mix the melted butter and sugar and then add the eggs. Mush the bananas between your fingers (oh what fun!) and throw them in the batter. Add the vanilla, rum and zest and then slowly add the dry ingredients. Fill the cupcake wrappers about 3/4 full and bake for an undetermined amount of time. (The clean toothpick test is always a good way to be certain they're done.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving! Mine was fabulous and tasty and indulgent–all of the things a good Thanksgiving should be!

I committed to remaining stress-free, a feat which was threatened as soon as I began preparing the big bird for the oven. It's like groundhog day every year; I can never remember how to cook a turkey. I think I just block it out, traumatized from the previous year's Thanksgiving and overwhelmed by the myriad of ways one can prepare the main dish. I'm too lazy to brine and too much of a purist to cook it in a plastic bag. I just want to stuff it and be done! I needed an old-school approach and decided that nothing could be better than just slathering the thing in butter. And so that's what I did.

After rubbing the turkey in a homemade herbed butter concoction (chopped sage, thyme and rosemary smeared under the skin and over the bird) I started on the stuffing. I bought peasant bread from the market to make my own stuffing, which was scrumptious and so simple to make! I cut the bread into 1 inch cubes and toasted them in the oven for about 5 minutes. I sauteed 2 onions and 5 celery stalks in a stick of butter (ah, the holidays) until soft (about 10 minutes). The breakfast sausage was also from the Farmers' Market–3 links (minus the casings) sauteed for 10 minutes. To create the stuffing I simply combined everything together with a cup of chicken stock. And yes, I stuffed the bird!

The mystery of last year's turkey debacle (hours and hours of cooking and the turkey just wasn't cooked) was solved with the help of an oven thermometer. Turns out my oven has been lying to me all these years! The temperature inside registered almost 100 degrees below the alleged number on the dial. I didn't have time to lament the past so I channeled my feelings of betrayal into hyper-vigilence, watching through the glass to read the thermometer and then frantically changing the temperature to maintain a constant 350 degrees!

The rest of the meal came together after the turkey was done. Everyone chipped in...Nick (my brother-in-law) made the mashed potatoes; my mother made the gravy; my dad carved the turkey ("This is the easiest turkey I've ever carved," he exclaimed...must've been the butter). My sister attended to her own little butterball, Alexa, my adorable niece! Kacey brought the pumpkin and pecan pies, which were both amazing. We all enjoyed seconds of everything!

This was probably the most relaxed Thanksgiving I can remember. Memory is captured through the lens of our experience and so it must've been that I, myself, was relaxed. I feel like we celebrated the essence of the holiday: gratitude, togetherness and contentment. I loved the simplicity of it all and I'll carry this Thanksgiving in my heart for years to come.

PS - A final word about the turkey. It was, by far, the best turkey any of us had ever eaten. So moist, so flavorful...all thanks to butter and a happily-raised bird.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Table

I just carried my fifteen pound turkey home from the big city, a logistical nightmare I hadn't really considered when I set out to attempt a Farmers' Market-only Thanksgiving. As I lugged the giant bird back to New Jersey I tried to cultivate feelings of delight in my own virtue (Sutra 1.33) but found myself cursing instead. Turns out my hips are well designed for transporting heavy merchandise; the beast positioned himself nicely on the top of my anterior iliac crest. He made it home safely (not so sure about me) and is now tucked in the fridge, awaiting the oven tomorrow!

I set the table yesterday so it would be one less thing to worry about whilst I'm basting the bird. My favorite part of any holiday is the decorating and this year I decided to use gourds, squash, and fresh fruit instead of flowers (inspired by my journeys to Balthazar and Bouley)! I love the rustic feel of the burlap tablecloth; it's a nice contrast to the silver. The turkey plates belonged to my grandmother and I absolutely cherish them. I'm going to use the small little bowls for salt and pepper ('tis the season for my brown transferware ironstone). Tomorrow night I'll put out some small candles on the table and all around the house to make everything feel festive. I can't wait for my family to come over and spend time together. Right now I'm going to go finalize my cooking schedule so I can enjoy the Thanksgiving Day Parade tomorrow morning!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cranberry Sauce

It was so much fun to buy cranberries at the farmers' market! Scooping them out of a huge bin made me feel like I was in a candy store.

After a good cleaning, add 2 cups of cranberries to a pot filled with 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar (heated through until the sugar has dissolved). 1 cinnamon stick, 3 whole cloves and the juice of 1 lemon give this sauce amazing flavor (be sure to fish out the spices at the end). The scent will fill up your entire home! Simmer the mixture between 10 and 15 minutes until the cranberries have popped and the juices start to thicken. Store it in the fridge and you're ready for Thanksgiving day!

Recipe courtesy of Maja's Viennese Kitchen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin

En fin, the recipe you've been waiting for: Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin! Yes, it's divine. Yes, it involves heavy cream, butter, and cheese. I justify these ingredients by practicing pratipaksha bhavanam (replacing a negative with a positive). For example, instead of saying "Oh boy, another doozie for my waistline" I flip it by saying something like "How fantastic for my waistline that Thanksgiving only comes but once a year." This dish was a crowd pleaser last year and I, for one, cherished the leftovers!

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Prepare an ice bath.

You'll need 2 pounds of brussel sprouts. Cook in boiling water for 5-8 minutes and then transfer them to an ice bath. Make sure to dry them once they're cool.

Slice 2 shallots and sauté them in a little white wine and butter until they're translucent and soft.

Now for the gratin. In a large bowl combine 2 T flour, 1 cup grated gruyere cheese, 2 T of parmesan cheese, 1 t of lemon zest, 2 t salt and 1/2 t pepper. Stir in 1 cup of heavy cream (remember, pratipaksha bhavanam)! Add your brussel sprouts and sautéed shallots.

For the topping you'll need 3 cups of bread crumbs (I'm a panko lover, but you can use fresh bread and make your own or simply use pre-made bread crumbs), 3 T unsalted room temperature butter, 1 1/2 t lemon zest, 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and 2 T chopped parsley. Mix well.

Pour the gratin into your baking dish and sprinkle with the topping. Pop it into your oven and bake until it looks so heavenly and golden brown that you simply can't stand it anymore (about 35 minutes).


Recipe inspired by Williams Sonoma

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Farmers' Market Thanksgiving

Like everyone else, I'm too busy for my own good. In fact, just this morning it dawned on me that Thanksgiving isn't off somewhere in the friendly distance. Rather, it's right around the, next Thursday. Yikes. I'm cooking for my entire family....double yikes!

This year I've really outdone myself; I'm attempting to cook a mighty feast gathered entirely from the Union Square Farmers' Market. I decided that in honor of trying to live life consciously I'd like to know where all of my food grew up. Pulling off a locally-grown holiday is going to take gusto and courage.

The only way to enjoy a mildly stress-free holiday dinner is to plan ahead. I do most of the work in my mind–the location of all my strategizing and organizing and emotional breakdowns–so that the event can unfold with relative ease. (Now you know the subject of my meditation practice.)

Luckily I saved my menu from last Thanksgiving and have all of the recipes written down. Perusing the ingredients helped me to create my shopping list so I'm armed at the market. A timeline is helpful so I can squeeze my to-do list into my already hectic schedule.

First thing on the list? Order a turkey-lurkey! I asked the folks at DiPaola Turkey Farm a bunch of questions regarding how the birds are raised, what they eat and how they die, and I feel happy with my choice. You can order your turkey from DiPaola for $3.39/lb and pick it up the day before Thanksgiving.

Next thing on the list is to make a rough sketch of the menu, which includes some classics as well as a few special dishes (recipes coming soon)! I'm especially excited about the brussel sprouts au gratin! My mouth is watering already.

Homemade Stuffing
Cranberry Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Roasted Carrots and Cauliflower
Roasted Butternut Squash with Brown Sugar
Brussel Sprouts Au Gratin
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Pie

I know the upcoming week will be crazy but Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I want nothing more than to savor and relish every moment of the craziness. I love the process just as much as the meal!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Embrace the Season

Every year I'm shocked to see Christmas trees adorning store windows while the rest of the world is dressed up for Halloween or ordering their turkeys. My reaction is always the same: surprise, disgust, distain, heartache. The Christmas season doesn't officially start until Santa rides in on his sleigh at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (everyone knows that). Christmas has invaded my present moment and threatens to subvert Thanksgiving from its rightful place on the holiday circuit. Team Christmas needs to just wait its turn.

I found solace in the windows at Balthazar–where I enjoy my ritual latte on the benches outside–whose displays are always simple, elegant and most importantly, seasonal.

I love the rustic berries and the earthy bread juxtaposed with the sophistication of this beloved Brasserie. It feels very personal and authentic to me and will be my inspiration for my Thanksgiving table!

What I love about decorating for the season is that you can use whatever nature offers you in that moment. A large glass vase or hurricane filled with tall branches would look beautiful on a Thanksgiving table and would allow guests to see each other under a canopy of colorful foliage. (In New York we have to pay top dollar for branches that some of you can just waltz right out into your own backyards and chop down, so get choppin'!) I enjoyed an amazing birthday dinner at Bouley where the tables were adorned with a few small gourds and a elegant. Fill an old bowl with pears and apples (an edible arrangement)! Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what we already have. Embrace the season!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Art of the Hand-Written Note

When I was in first grade I won the handwriting award–an accolade I won't soon forget–which prompted me to write notes to people, mainly so I could admire my handiwork as it flowed across the page. My ego aside, I loved corresponding with friends; writing letters became a passion, topped only by the thrill of receiving a response in the mail. I loved the entire art of letter writing, from the paper and the ink to the story behind the stamps. Santa brought me a calligraphy set one year for Christmas and I would spend hours at our kitchen table practicing my flourishes. Soon I was addressing envelopes for weddings and making my own cards. To me, a letter represented my connection with someone else. It was an artistic expression of thoughtfulness.

Letters have now been replaced by emails and Facebook is the new way to connect (allowing you to "collect" friends with whom you'll probably never correspond). I miss those authentic bonds made through an exchange of paper, and so I'm bringing back the art of the hand-written note.

Here's what you'll need:

A Letter Station - Designate a place in your home devoted to all the essentials you'll need to write and send a note on-the-go. I use a silver tray on my desk which houses pens, blank cards and stamps. My pens sit upright in an old glass floral frog. Can you guess which pen is my favorite in the photo below?

I love the idea of an old tack box filled with all the necessities. You could also use an old plate, platter or bowl.

Blank Cards - There are some fantastic options at Target (I bought a box of 200 multi-colored note cards over two years ago and I'm still using them). Kate Spade makes a box set of cards for every occasion, so you'll always be prepared. I stock up on paper and envelopes at Paper Presentation on 18th Street and often make my own. For the card below I used an old photo I found at the flea market and attached it to a blank note card with gold photo corners.

A Great Pen - There's nothing like a thick, inky pen to help you get your words on paper. I love to write on a looks so unique and personal.

Notes are especially appreciated when they're unexpected. Thank someone for a recent heart-to-heart or let someone know they're on your mind. One of my girlfriends always sends me a thank you card after coming to my house for dinner. Of course she doesn't have to, but that's the point. To open my mailbox and see a personal card can literally brighten my day. The art of the hand-written note is about connecting with someone and showing them how much you care.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Life, The Musical

I've often imagined what it would be like if Life were a musical. You step foot out of your apartment to greet the day and suddenly you're singing a solo and everyone on the street seems to know the words. There's a posse of Broadway dancers doing jazz runs behind you as you cross the street. The number ends with a bang (an arial shot of the cast looking up with their arms in the air) and then life goes back to normal, except now everything's just a little brighter.

These fantasies were born from a childhood of watching movies like Singin' In The Rain and Meet Me In St. Louis. They shaped my view of the world and turned me into a hopeless romantic. There was a sense of togetherness and community in those musicals–no matter what came your way, you were armed with a slew of extras who could help you express how you felt. These songs asked us to appreciate the moment and embrace Life as it unfolds.

Given the stress of our times, I think we could use a bit of this magic in our lives. Instead of togetherness, we often feel alone. People don't make eye contact in the street or smile at strangers (or sing their worries to those standing by). Most of us are tired, impatient and downright cranky. There's just not enough time to invest in the people that cross our paths: our dry cleaners, the person who sells us our morning coffee or the people who pass us on the sidewalk.

I was recently reminded of the power of song after watching this week's episode of Glee. When Chris Colfer and Lea Michelle performed Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy, I was flooded with feelings of nostalgia and joy. I dug out my iPod, downloaded the song and haven't stopped smiling since. I listened to the song on my way to work and it turned my silent, hamster-in-a-wheel commute into a relaxed stroll towards my destination. "Forget your troubles, come on get happy" (I struck up a conversation with the barista at Starbucks)..."You better chase all your cares away" (I noticed the sparkle of the shop windows)..."Shout hallelujah, come on get happy" (I watched people pass by in a hurry and imagined them trying to get home to dinner on the table or a family waiting for them after a long day at work)..."Happy days are here again" (I literally couldn't wipe the smile off my face).

It's possible people were staring at me, as smiling is often a cause for concern ("She's probably crazy"). Surprisingly enough, I received a few smiles in return and felt genuinely connected to those strangers in that moment. Having a soundtrack to my evening brought me more into the present moment than I'd been in a long time. It was my song–the style, the genre, the "old New Yorkness" of it all– and it captured everything I love about being in this great city (I told you...hopeless romantic). I was inspired to be a good "extra" in someone else's musical: to listen, to share, to connect with the people that crossed my path.

In these tough times we can find hope through the camaraderie of song and so I encourage you to find your own soundtrack. What songs capture your life right now? What brings a smile to your face? My soundtrack is entitled "Autumn In New York"; these songs make me feel like the star of my own musical and inspire me to ask the question "What would Gene Kelly do?" Maybe, when no one's looking, I'll kick up my heels and twirl around a lamp post before continuing on my way.

"Autumn In New York"

Happy Days Are Here Again/Get Happy - Glee Cast
I've Got You Under My Skin - Frank Sinatra
They Can't Take That Away From Me - Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
C'est Si Bon - Eartha Kitt
It Had To Be You - Harry Connick, Jr.
Singin' In The Rain - Gene Kelly
The Way You Look Tonight - Fred Astaire
The Trolley Song - Judy Garland
Count Your Blessings - Diana Krall

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sweet Potato Ginger Soup

I made this one up as I went along, which is the fun thing about making soup. This combination is simply feels fresh while still tasting like Fall. The sweet potatoes are rich and comforting while the ginger adds brightness and depth. I'm giving you complete creative control over the ginger; a little bit will give a "je ne sais quoi" to the sweet potatoes while a lot will knock peoples' socks off. It's all up to you.

Sauté 2 chopped onions and 1 clove of garlic in 2 T of butter over medium heat until onions are soft (about 10 minutes). Peel and cube the sweet potatoes (I used 3 large potatoes) and pop them in the pot, sautéing for another 10-15 minutes. Add 3 cups of chicken stock plus 1 1/2 cups of water, 1 t of salt and 1/2 t of pepper. Bring to a boil and then simmer with the lid on for 30 minutes. I liked using the immersion blender because it added texture to the soup (rather than it being perfectly smooth), but you could also transfer small batches to a blender. Now, for the ginger. I actually "juiced" the peeled ginger in a garlic press. I probably used about a T of the juice for my soup, but again, you could tone it down or spice it up according to your tastes.

The color is stunning. It's so ridiculously simple and it's a great seasonal meal to serve this weekend! Enjoy!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fall Bliss

I had the day off yesterday and it was glorious. Billy, Ellie and I took a trip to a quintessential country town in New Jersey where both my parents grew up. Nothing's changed since the days on my grandmother's farm where I used to spend time as a little girl. That farm is the source of my favorite childhood memories, and I've made it a sort of unofficial tradition every Fall to return back to this magical place...just to see it and remember. It's here where I fell in love with the idea of home.

There's a farm for apple picking behind the General Store in town, so the three of us wandered through the orchards picking Jonagold, Macoun and Empire. Baked apple desserts mark the beginning of the Fall season!

Is it me, or is there something special about apples with their leaves in tact? They make a beautiful centerpiece on my farm table at home.

Inspired by the cooler weather, I made a classic dinner of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. One word: yum. The recipe for this soup is super simple and so delicious you'll never want tomato soup from a can again. I loved the open-face grilled cheese crostini with sharp English cheddar; they were perfect for dipping.

Saute 2 chopped onions and 2 minced cloves of garlic in 6 T of unsalted butter for about 15 minutes. Add a 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes, 3 cups of chicken stock, 2 t sea salt and pepper (to taste). Bring to a boil and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. You can pour small batched into a blender until smooth, or use a nifty immersion blender and voila.

For the crostini, saute one clove of minced garlic and an herb of your choice (I have thyme growing in my kitchen...just a few sprigs is all you need). The aroma will fill the air in about thirty seconds. Turn off the heat and lightly dip pieces of baguette (or whatever you have) into the flavored oil. Shave cheddar cheese over your crostini and put under the broiler.

The apple crisp recipe is one of my all-time favorites. The ingredients are sinful. (Well...really just the two sticks of butter, but what are you gonna do? Why do you think it tastes so damn good?)

Preheat your oven 350 degrees.

For the filling, combine the ingredients and pour into a baking dish.

6-8 apples
1 t orange zest
2 t orange juice
1 t lemon zest
1 t lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 t cinnamon

For the crumble, you can combine with a blender but I just use my fingers. I love to mash the cubes of butter with my hands; it's a fantastic way to get my frustrations out. Note on the crumble: you might suspect that you've done something wrong because it looks like a floury mess when you mix it together, but have no fear. It will be divine when the butter melts and turns the flour and oatmeal into this crispy, crunchy topping. I told you it was sinful! Cover the entire apple mixture with the crumble and bake for 50 minutes.

1 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 cup oatmeal
2 sticks cold butter, cut into small cubes

Fruit Crisp recipe courtesy of Ina Garten

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Go Through the Tourists

Although I consider myself to be a very nice person, I'm easily annoyed by tourists. I try to avoid them at all costs. I've perfected the art of weaving through them on city sidewalks, the way one would pass cars on the Autobahn. I don't go near Times Square or Herald Square (really anything with the word "square" in it). I'm not sure why they bother me so much...they're probably very sweet people, but the truth is they slow me down. I can't get to where I'm going as fast as I could if they (for example) just stood on the right side of the escalators and let me pass them on the left. Being angry at tourists used to take up a good chunk of my energy, but then I figured out all the shortcuts that allowed me to simply avoid them completely.

Despite my attempts to stay away from their typical hangouts, tourists (like any hearty obstacle) seem to find me wherever I go. When I shop for lipstick at Bloomingdales, there they are. When I try to swipe my Metrocard, there they are in front me trying to figure out which way to swipe theirs. When I come out of the subway, there they are, congregated at the exit looking at their maps. It seems as though they're following me around the city.

I assumed this blood-boiling reaction was related specifically to my interactions with foreign visitors, until I started to recognize the same flashes of annoyance–those same instincts to flee–on my yoga mat. Thighs quivering, I would come out of Virabhadrasana 2 and find any means necessary to distract myself from witnessing the intensity (looking down, fidgeting, letting out dramatic exhales so that the teacher would know just how much I had suffered). Kicking up into handstand with my "special occasion" leg was high on my list of things to avoid, and so I'd just kick up with my favorite leg and hope the teacher wouldn't notice. I know I'm not alone. I once offered a block to a woman in my class who told me she was allergic to props (the foam bricks, the nylon belts, the wool blankets...I don't know how this woman got through life with so many allergies). Like an ostrich who buries its head in the sand when hunted by a predator, pretending it's not there seems to be a popular way to deal with the enemy.

Then the inevitable happened; I found myself trapped in a corner, unable to find a way around what I had so desperately tried to avoid. Called out by a teacher (or maybe I was just fed up with myself) I was forced to stare down my obstacles and find a way through them. When faced with a hurdle you've been trying to dodge, something very interesting're forced to work it out. You may not be able to get to where you're going at warp speed, but you begin to realize that all the detours you've been taking are just that: detours. Moving through the restriction allows you to find the most direct route to your destination. Using a strap around your arms in Urdhva Dhanurasana, for example, may prevent you from lifting as high as you would sans strap, but it moves you through the tightness in your shoulders and ultimately allows you to do the pose strap-free. Moving through an obstacle is the only way to see why it was a problem in the first place. The effort to look may even give you the chance to surmount the mountain in your way.

Life is full of obstacles. It's our attitude towards those obstacles that ultimately defines our life. Perhaps challenges are actually opportunities for us to really see ourselves. Our lives are like prisms...each experience, each restriction, each character merely reflects our own image back to ourselves. When I think of it in this way, I'm tempted to walk through Herald Square and be amongst the tourists (actually, that may be a little advanced for me right now). I'm intrigued at the prospect of standing behind them on the escalator rather than plowing them over. I might need to use some of the techniques I've learned on my yoga mat. I may even need to breathe, but I'll certainly begin to see space in my experience. Now I walk down Broadway twice a week the way I'd pop into a yoga class. I want to find a way to be with the intensity. This is my practice, so if you see me walking through Soho very slowly with a smile on my face, you'll know what I'm up to.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Through the Lens

One of the things I love about magazines and cookbooks are the mouth-watering photographs that accompany each recipe. In fact, I don't think I've ever tried a recipe where there wasn't a corresponding picture to inspire me. I love that a good photographer can make a hotdog look gourmet.

As it turns out one of my students, Melina Hammer, happens to have an eye for capturing life behind the lens. We've collaborated on a few projects together (most recently on the fabulous late summer harvest pasta extravaganza) and each has encouraged me to be more adventurous in how I present the food I make. We rummage through my cupboards and pull out plates and flatware I usually save for special occasions. "My life philosophy is that there are stories to be found everywhere, from the abandoned or mundane, to the epic", says Melina. I love the idea of turning precious pieces into everyday objects (and visa versa).

I asked Melina where she seeks inspiration for her work. "The lines and forms in nature are a constant inspiration. Nature's patterns–like honeycombs, for instance–embody a perfection that is complete and uplifting. In my daily routine, I'll be shopping for food at the farmers' market and come across the most gorgeous vegetables or fruits and all of a sudden I'm neglecting the shopping list, taking things home specifically because I want to photograph their special beauty. It's almost a compulsion"! (I have the same problem, except I'm eating the food instead of photographing it.)

Her list of top-five must-haves are right up my alley: chocolate (yes), avocados (the foundation of my food pyramid), organic lavender-orange skin balm (sounds lovely), her handmade metal jewelry (gorgeous...she made a fellow teacher's wedding ring and it's so beautiful) and her camera (whether it's her professional studio version or simply her iPhone).

Melina's a yogini to be reckoned with. See the photo below (taken by her hubby: another genius behind the camera)! I wanted to know what pose she was working on at the moment, to which she responded "Anjaneyasana" (crescent moon pose, or low lunge). "I focus on striking that balance between grounding down and forward towards the front leg without sinking; trying to unstick the hip point away from the front thigh (argh); and lifting up and back into the backbend without straining my neck - so hard"! I hear ya, girl.

It's so fascinating to see the world through someone else's eyes. I'm grateful to peer through Melina's and catch a glimpse of her vision. She said it herself: "Inspiration is everywhere".

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fall Fashion Wish List

Fall fashion always inspires me to reinvent myself. My outfit intuition is a little rusty, thanks to my wardrobe of elastic waistbands and stretchy athletic gear. I find that you have to work those muscles as you would your abdominals, otherwise they atrophy. Every season I swear to myself that I'm going to recommit to looking hot, and every season I fizzle under the pressure of picking clothes out of my closet. I'm overwhelmed by the trends and plagued by indecision, which leads me to grab more of what I know (yoga clothes and sneakers).

The universe finally took pity on me and this season is proving to be the answer to my prayers. Magazines and shop windows are full of structured, classic clothes, the likes of which are already hanging in my closet! I'm already in fashion and I haven't even tried (thank God)! My Mom always told me to buy a few good pieces instead of stocking up on tons of cheap trends. Thank you, Mom. Here's a tour of my personal faves.

I've had this trusty black blazer for years. It looks fresh with the sleeves rolled up and paired with a chunky lucite necklace (just purchased yesterday from Anthropologie)! My Saint James tee is a staple in my closet; it looks good with everything and makes a statement without any effort.

I bought this lace skirt at a thrift store in Paris years ago. The A-line shape is perfect for this season (very Mad Men). Adore the chocolate brown sequin top, which has been sitting in the back of my closet waiting for some kind of fancy event so it can step out on the town. Low and behold, this season is mixing sequins with more casual pieces for an unexpected punch.

Love this twist on the classic button down...perfect for dressing up but goes great with jeans. The lace top is merciful on my atrophied outfit muscles as it goes with everything.

I bought the green tweed coat years and years ago and yet it always feels so current. I love the way it just hangs on me, like I borrowed it from Billy's side of the closet. The gray coat was an H&M purchase last winter, thanks to my talented fashionista girlfriend, Cleandra (thank you, my dear, for showing me the light)!

These Cole Haan shoes are beyond amazing. Every time someone stops me on the street to compliment my shoes, I say "Yes, they're fabulous AND they have Nike Air technology!" Run, don't walk, to Cole Haan and buy yourself any of their genius footwear. The purse was handed down to me from my Mom...the structured shape is perfect for this Fall.

Like every girlie-girl, I have a wish list a mile long of things I'm desperate to buy for the season (aparigraha, sanskrit for non-hoarding, is simply lost on me). Love these silk pants from Anthropologie; they're a relaxed (yet fancy) version of the skinny cargos everyone's going gaga over (and more flattering, I might add). I can see myself wearing this gray cashmere sweater from JCrew on a daily basis (perfect with black skinny jeans for a "I just threw this on but this is how I roll...draped in cashmere" look). Love the Annie vest, also from JCrew...makes any outfit look smart. I'm currently obsessed with Club Monaco's brown sequin Jodie skirt and see it with tights and black riding boots (or booties...don't even get me started...desperately looking for the perfect pair as we speak).

The best accessory of the season, though, is a great attitude. Work that impressive yogic posture and strut your toned quadriceps down Fifth Avenue. You see it all the time in New York: women embracing who they are and flaunting it to the world. I hope you have fun expressing who you are this Fall!