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.)