good reads



A few years back I picked up this book on a whim from the library shelves. But as soon as I started reading it was clear I was going to need my own copy so I could mark all the good parts.

I adore much about this little volume. Adore hearing about twenty-something Nora arriving in NY and acting like the full grown up, finding circles of friends and attending dinner parties and making herself a devotee of one cook book after another. I remember when feeling so grown up when I first started cooking on my own. Don’t you? When you first have your own kitchen and are responsible for feeding people from it.

And speaking of being a grown up, I also enjoyed reading that there is another full-grown woman who has a terrible time at trying to commit to a good purse. Thank you, Nora.

But back to the cooking.

One part of the book stuck in my mind word for word, and I was immediately sure I’d just been let into a big secret of being a proper grown up, and a charming hostess. The kind of hostess everyone talks about, no, writes books about after leaving the party.

This big secret is what Nora calles the rule of four.

“The most important thing I learned from Lee was something I call the Rule of Four. Most people serve three things for dinner—some sort of meat, some sort of starch, and some sort of vegetable— but Lee always served four. And the fourth thing was always unexpected, like those crab apples [more on this in a sec]. A casserole of lima beans and pears cooked for hours with brown sugar and molasses. Peaches with cayenne pepper. Sliced tomatoes with honey. Biscuits. Savory bread pudding. Spoon bread. Whatever it was, that fourth thing seemed to have an almost magical effect on the eating process. You never got tired of the food because there was always another taste on the plate to match it and contradict it.”
[p. 25, I Feel Bad About My Neck]

Brilliance, right? I am a sucker for a good, classic recipe, well made. Serving a few classics and then adding something magical? so so brilliant.

And who is Lee? this friend and host who served one magical simple meal another? It is Lee Bailey, who has written cookbooks I am going to need to own some day soon, with titles like Cooking for Friends and Soup Meals and Country Weekends.

I love having friends who are great cooks (but I have to admit that none of them have written their own cooking volumes, yet) and adore picking up recipes and little tips from my cooking friends. And I am now adding Nora Ephron and Lee Bailey to that list.

So just to aid in my imagination that I am BFFs with Mr. Bailey and Ms. Ephron, and was peeking over Lee’s shoulders as he cooked, I decided to cook up Lee’s first meal for Nora.

“And then dinner was served. Pork chops, grits, collard greens, and a dish of tiny baked crab apples. It was delicious. It was so straightforward and plain and honest and at the same time so playful. Those crab apples!”
[p. 25]

Incase you are as totally inspired by Mr. Bailey as I am, I’ll add the particulars below incase you’d like to give it a whirl.

I’ll share in order of how you’d need to prepare for a dinner party, incase you want to try this out on some friends. The whole shebang is pretty simple, though your are going to need to get your oven going and a few burners on your stove.


Baked Crab Apples

We’ll start with the star of the show. Those crab apples. Crab apples come and go at my grocery store during the fall, so call before you shop. And if you have lady apples available, they’re just as small but more sweet than tart. I started with this recipe I’d seen a year or two ago and adjusted.
12 crab apples (three or four per guest is plenty)
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 275. Smear each apple with butter, either by using a paper towel or doing it corn-on-the-cob style, and then roll in the sugar. Place in a baking pan and bake for up to an hour, when apples begin to look browner instead of pink, but while they still are a bit firm and before they wrinkle.



Now won’t those darling apples impress your dinner guests? They are perfect for eating with a fork and knife, or by hand. And you’ll have more time for conversation since they don’t go down as fast as applesauce.


Classic Grits
Now it’s time to get out a couple sauce pans. You might want to start the water boiling for the greens at the same time you start the grits. And as for the grits, I love this recipe from my man Alton Brown.
2 cups water
2 cups milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup stone ground cornmeal (i like course ground yellow or white)
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 oz sharp cheddar, shredded OR 3 Tbs bacon fat (optional, depending on if you want to impress your guests or be healthy)

Bring water, milk, and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Slowly stir in cornmeal so it doesn’t clump, I use a whisk. Allow to cook on low for 20-25 minutes, stirring as constantly as possible, every two minutes if you can manage, until creamy and oatmealy but not too solid. Slowly stir in butter, add any additional salt you like to taste, and if you like, stir in bacon fat or slowly stir cheddar an ounce or two at a time so it fully combines.


Sauteed Garlic Collard Greens
I love the melt in your mouth collard greens, boiled for an hour with a couple ham hocks. But I also love the sauteed version, which leaves them with a little more zing.
2 bunches collard greens
2 tbsp butter
1 clove garlic, minced

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the center stem from your collard greens and discard. Chop greens into large pieces, then boil for about 7 minutes, until they are wilted but still hold a little shape, then drain. Meanwhile, heat your pan for saute-ing to medium high. Melt butter, then toss in garlic and toast for a minute or two, and finally, toss in your greens and saute until they have just a little but of a brown fond on them.


Is it strange that I am completely craving collard greens right now?


Simple Porkchops
And the final piece, the chops. Pork chops are so good on their own, I like to keep them simple.
4 good quality chops
fresh thyme
1 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your pan to medium high, pat chops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chops with thyme and newly ground sea salt and black pepper. Add oil to pan, and saute. I usually saute for about six minutes on each side to get a nice caramelized chop, then reduce heat to medium until the chops are cooked through.

And now,

if any of you are still reading after that very lengthy post of me gushing over food,

I need to tell you that I am a huge fan of Southern fare. So if any of you are southern cooks, lets be friends! I would love hearing a thing or two about what you cook up.

And southern or not, what would your magical dish be?

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I don’t know if anyone else is as excited as I am about this new series of mine. Probably not. But you’ll act excited just to be nice to me, right?

I thought it would be SO fun to take a few favorite books and make some of the food that was good enough to be described on their pages.

And I thought a pretty good place to start was Hemingway.

THE BOOK. I was fascinated by this book, at getting a peek inside Hemingway’s head during his young life in Paris, in raw unedited form (he passed before he could finish and edit). Though I’m not sure I’ll let my kids read this before they’re, oh, say, 27. Even if Hemingway was younger when he lived it. Anyway, throughout he is either starving from poverty or eating great French food.
THE DISH: My goal was amazing roast chicken, with the focus on the chicken. And to do it Lyon, France style.

And may I say, I am so satisfied with this dish. Not only was it tender and full of flavor, but easy. Easy enough to be a weeknight dinner and pretty enough to be the focus of a dinner party. A good combo in my world.

THE PASSAGE: The immortal Hemingway takes a road trip through France to help out the also-immortal F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two decide they cannot pass through Lyon without having the famed chicken of the region, which they dine on with bread and a bottle of Macon.

THE RECIPE: Garlic Roast Chicken with Vegetables, Hemingway Inspired
(Hemingway and Fitzgerald had a truffled roast chicken. If you’d like to try, I recommend this recipe. But after roasting a few chickens, I ended up loving the combo of this roast chicken from Cooks Illustrated and this authentic Lyon fricassée).

1 1/2 cups table salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 medium heads garlic, crushed
3 bay leaves, crumbled
1 whole chicken, 4 to 5 pounds*
ground black pepper
1 cup chicken broth
evoo
3 sprigs thyme
a handful of cipollini onions, peeled, trimmed, and halved
4 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
2 small celery roots, peeled and cut into chunks
a handful of small cremini or oyster mushrooms

*Buy a good chicken. This is key. If you happen to be in Lyon, France, you may get your hands on a Bresse chicken. But the French like Bresse so much, that not too many make it out of the country. Cook’s Illustrated recommends trying a Bell & Evans bird.

4 1/2 hours in advance
1. Brine the chicken. Fill a large bowl or pitcher with a gallon of water and dissolve salt and sugar by stirring for a minute or two. Add the crumbled bay leaves and crushed garlic. Immerse the chicken and let it brine, in the fridge, for about two hours, less for a smaller chicken.

2 1/2 hours in advance
2.
Preheat the oven to 400 F and adjust the oven rack to the middle. Set out a roasting pan with a V-rack. Remove the chicken from the brine and use paper towels to pat dry. Sprinkle with ground pepper on all sides.
3. Lay the chicken on the rack on its side, so it is laying on one wing with the other wing facing up. Roast 30 min, then rotate so the other wing is up and roast 30 additional minutes.
4. Rotate the chicken, breast side up. Add the broth to roasting pan, so it can dissolve all that great fond, and continue to roast the chicken 20 to 40 minutes longer, until it is golden brown and fully cooked (your meat thermometer should read 175 degrees at thickest part of breast). Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and let it rest.
5. Remove the rack and pour out the broth. Return just the bottom roasting pan to the oven. Increase oven to 500.
6. Set mushrooms aside. Toss all root vegetables with oil, fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Arrange them in the roasting pan, cut side down. Roast 15 minutes.
7. Add broth to mushrooms. Add mushrooms to vegetables, stir, and roast 15 minutes longer.
8. Stir vegetables, and turn oven to broil. Broil 5 minutes.
9. Stir again and broil vegetables 5 minutes longer, or until they have plenty of browned crispy yummy edges.
10. Remove vegetables and add to platter with chicken. Serve to a table of admiring guests.

This recipe is very flexible with the vegetables you use. Any root veggie you come across at the grocery store or farmers market should roast nicely.

Arrange your veggies cut side down in your roasting pan so they really brown.

Make sure you scrape the fond from the bottom of the roasting pan and add it back in with your mushrooms.

Serve with crusty bread for sopping up juices. I think Hemingway would approve, don’t you?

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Sorry for the infomercial-eque title on this post. But it is so so true.

The last couple weeks I’ve been enjoying that unmatched, satisfying feeling of pulling a loaf of home baked bread from the  oven every day. Now mind you, with a 7-month old, I do not have hours of quiet bread-making time in the kitchen. Time to knead the dough and feel it stretch between my palms, time to inhale the aroma and watch it rise in a sunny patch on my table. I do make an occasional interesting bread recipe every now and then, but making it daily? Ya right.

Secret #1: Until my dear friend recommended this incredible book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I can hardly believe it, but the title is actually true. The secret involves making a batch of the book’s master recipe and keeping it in the fridge. Then, for up to two weeks, cutting off a piece to bake as a loaf whenever you like. If you’d like to give it a whirl, here’s the master recipe, though I highly recommend the bookfor fully understanding and troubleshooting the process.

(UPDATE: If you’re missing the book, here are a few essential details. (1) Make the dough the day before you need it if possible. (2) Let it rise for two hours at room temp with a towel over, then cover it and leave it in the fridge. (3) The longer it stays in the fridge, the more sourdough notes it takes on, up to 14 days or so. (4) When you’re ready to bake, sprinkle some flour on top so you can break off a pound or so of the dough. (5) Pull the top of the dough taught and tuck it underneath, so the surface is stretched. Let it rest 40 minutes at room temperature, no towel needed. (6) Have a roasting pan in the oven. Bake at 450. When you bake, pour a cup of water into the roasting pan to create steam as the bread bakes. (7) The dough is wet, so it’s hard to over bake. Don’t pull that baby out until the crust is nice and crisp. The crust should be completely amazing. Even addicting. If it’s not, something went wrong. (8) Stop reading my lame attempts at explaining this and go buy or borrow the book. I’m telling you, it will be worthwhile.)

And to really do things right, you have to have the tools. Which brings us to Secret #2: Did you know you can use a $2 ceramic quarry tile instead of a pizza stone to bake your bread and pizza on? Thank you, Alton Brown.

So then, here are a few things you’ll need so you can bake amazing crusty bread in your oven, to eat yourself or deliver to many adoring and appreciating friends, any day of the week. You can do without the pizza peel, and the scraper I suppose, but they’re recommended in the book.And, come on, haven’t you secretly always wanted a pizza peel hanging in your kitchen?

The book,which has the recipe for the master artisan loaf plus dozens of variations. This oven thermometer comes recommended by Cook’s Illustrated. I love this pizza peelbecause it folds for storage, and I’m in the market for a good dough scraper.And don’t forget your quarry tile, available from your local gravel and stone yard.

+++

p.s. Thank you for the killer road trip recommendations, I’m hoping to try a couple today and tomorrow. fingers crossed. So far the trip has been splendid. I promise to share details soon. In the meantime, hope your week is starting off on a good note.

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It’s been one of those weeks that wasn’t supposed to be hectic but then was. So I really wanted to escape here and wind down before the weekend, to scrap all my other plans and just talk about something wonderful. Can we talk books?

Do you have a really great book recommendation? Maybe not the book to read before you die. That feels like a lot of pressure, but a book that would be nice to fit in if you can. A book that changed you in some way?

Here’s mine.

I mailed a copy to my sister a while back and tried to mark a few favorite parts but couldn’t stop. When I first ordered it, Brent got his hands on it before me, which is fine because he can read a book in half the time (and I’m the English major, so jealous). I’ll never forget the day he finished it, it shook him up. Brent never gets shook up. He’s such a cowboy that way. The day I finished it I felt changed. Changed in the way I see people,  friendship, God, motherhood. It was something. And though this isn’t really the point, I dream of rereading it and going to Paris.

And one more note I have to add. I had so much fun mailing the frisbee. (Courtney, you were right, and I mailed just one, not 236.) One of my favorite postal workers helped me, a retired hippie I think with these great long gray curls, and he was grinning and saying things like, “well, I can’t be sure what you want, you are mailing a frisbee.” I’m starting to get a reputation. And the man next to me kept trying to act like he wasn’t looking at me. It was great fun. I drove away grinning and laughing to myself.

And with that, I wish you a great weekend. I have oodles of Valentine’s goodness planned for next week. Hope to see you then.

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I had a reader recently ask about good books to give clients. Suggestions, anyone? Here are my suggestions. Does this list make anyone else go weak in the knees? It makes me go positively Jell-O.

-books gifts for clients 1Travel
The Wallpaper City Guides (get them geared to Art Faires, Beaches, Business, or Fashion)
The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World
Great Escapes Around the World
A Road Trip Journal

-books gifts for clients 2Food
Chocolate: A Love Story: 65 Chocolate Dessert Recipes from Max Brenner’s Private Collection (give it with really great chocolate,
of course)
The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion
eat.shop guides
Tea with Jane Austen
Taking Tea at the Savoy
Breakfast, Lunch, Tea
Harlem Really Cooks (more about it here)

Holiday Books
Nutcracker (illustrated by Maurice Sendak)
The Gift of the Magi

-books gifts for clients 3Pretty Pretty Pictures
Pictures of the Times: A Century of Photography from The New York Times
The Most Beautiful Gardens in the World
A Trick Of The Eye: Trompe L’oeil Masterpieces
30,000 Years of Art
Many Are Called (Photographs of Subway Passengers)
The Pictures Generation, 1974-1984
American Quilts and Coverlets
Masterpieces of European Painting, 1800-1920
The Sartorialist

-books gifts for clients 4Short and Sweet
Words Fail Me

-books gifts for clients 5Reference Books of Sort
Webster’s Fashion Color Dictionary
Pictorial Webster’s
A Really Short History of Nearly Everything (Thanks, Maryellen!)
A Journey Through Literary America (via here)
1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die
Bicycle: The History
Sky Atlas 2000.0
The American House
Ultimate Book of Card Games

images not from publishers are via here, here, and here

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I have never wanted to doodle so badly in my life. Last week I told you I’d come across two books that were love at first sight for me, and here is number two.

oodles of doodles

Coloring books are fine and good, and I’ve enjoyed many moments coloring with my kiddos. But this is different, every page of this book begs for you to unleash your imagination. In fact, I’m surprised bookstores just leave it out, un-shrink-wrapped. I’m sure there is some copy in some bookstore where someone could no longer resist and pulled out their pen and started doodling right then and there.

I’ll share a couple pages with you. Just wait for it, the doodling urge will hit. Get a scrap of paper ready.
oodles of doodles 2

oodles of doodles 1

The master mind behind Oodles of Doodles is Nikalas Catlow. Visit here to check out his other books, including puzzle books and other doodle books and more. Or just follow his blog about children’s book design here. Currently in the works is an Apple and Egg book (you can meet Apple and Egg on his blog) that’s due to hit bookstores in the spring.

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Okay, all of these books (and one film) make me giddy. Tell me I’m not the only one. And while we’re on the topic, do you have any other food or crafting books you’d love to get or give?

crafting documentary between the folds

Have you heard about this? Between the Folds, a documentary all about origami.

3922278122_97cefbd265_o
So excited about this one.

cover
Isn’t this fun?

tossedandfound7
Who doesn’t get inspired (exhausted, but totally inspired) thinking about projects like these?

One Yard Wonders book
My kind of sewing book.

handStitcheddFelt2
Love these sweet little felt projects.

51Ih4gFfW7L._SS400_
New and fun.

238144
For the Cath Kidson fans, get it here.

973862_095_b
I really need this one.

974006_066_b
The bible of French home cooking, only recently translated. I’m getting goosebumps.

9085630
I’m a vegetable lover, so I had to throw this in.
jamies-america-large
Three hoorays (or ye-haw’s) for Jamie Oliver.

9100756
A whole book about sandwiches. I’m happy.

afternoon tea book
From the makers of Frankie Magazine.

cookbookcover_lores

Such a great concept. Read more here.
mastering_knife_skills
I want to get the skills! Recommended here.

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Ahh, to be 20 again. I admit I wouldn’t mind it—if I could be promised I’d end up with the same people in my life I found the first time around. but I’d take more road trips next time, and maybe get out to the east coast for a bit. and in school i’d seek out the best professors earlier on, the eccentric and optimistic ones. and I’d spend more time doing nice things for my friends. what about you?

I have a little deal with myself when giving grad gifts. If the grad is getting a gift card from me, they also get some unsolicited advice—in the form of this lecture on CD. And I don’t feel too preachy because this is good stuff.

What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, by Tina Seelig
I originally heard it as a lecture, but it’s also recently become a book. And it has advice like

“you don’t have to wait to be anointed,” and
“never miss an opportunity to be fabulous,”
and my favorite right now,  “you can do it all, just not at the same time.”

inexpensive grad giftI also gave this grad a lecture from Marjorie Hinckley, a warm and charming woman from my church, who gave the commencement speech when I graduated and said wonderful things like “I hope you have developed some real, intellectual curiosity. If you have it, you will never, never be bored.”

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ITALIAN BRUNCH

07.24.09

I have to share with you two things from my home that make me very happy and that are Italian (coincidence? I think not.)

The Silver Spoon Italian Cookbook

The Silver Spoon Italian Cookbook2The first thing that makes me happy: My Silver Spoon Italian Cookbook
It is big and beautiful, and best of all, authentic. The book is considered a culinary bible in Italy. Over 50 years ago Domus magazine sent a team of chefs gallivanting across Italy collecting recipes to represent the country. Quite the undertaking. Fifty-five years later came the second undertaking, translating it into English. After the labor of updating measurements and methods and ingredients, it was released in English in 2005, and it is a beautiful thing. It is an incredible 1263 pages of color photos, beautifully laid out text, and something I really appreciate: a solid index. It’s hard not to feel authentic when it is spread open on my counter. Though I have yet to tackle the chapters on eel and wild boar. Only then, I suppose, can I claim true authenticity.

wedding gift italian brunch glassesThe second thing that makes me happy: My set of Italian Brunch Glasses
We received these as a wedding gift, two sets of 8. Which I love, because I don’t have to limit my number of guests because I don’t have enough glasses. They make all my drinks look so pretty. I have done a little research, and it turns out Italian brunch isn’t exactly an time-honored authentic Italian ritual. But any excuse to have Crostata with Raspberry Jam or Frittata with Asparagus, Tomato, and Fontina is good enough for me.

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san francisco with kidsone of our early adventures to San Francisco

travel guide for kids2

I just added this to my Amazon cart: the San Fransisco City Walks with Kids. It’s a set of cards, each with a walk to take the kids on in the city. I would have loved to have this as soon as we moved to northern Cal. Though not having it hasn’t stopped me and the kids from some great day trips (my kids call them “adventures”) to the city.
Available for San Francisco, New York, D.C., Paris, and London.

city guides for traveling with kids2I’m a fan of Fodor’s, and had to share these as well, their guides for travel with kids. Available for
D.C., Paris, New York, San Francisco, Boston, London, Chicago, L.A., Denver, Montreal, San Diego, Seattle, and many more.

paris moleskine city guide
And, of course, if you know someone moving near a metropolis, any matropolis, in the entire world, don’t forget about the beautiful Moleskine city guides. Just looking at the list of guides available makes me want to get on a jet and go. Madrid! Milano! Torino!

California and Northeast landscape book
And one final pick that makes a great gift for someone moving, especially to a new planting zone. (My SIL gave me one of these and made me very happy. Now she just checks in on occasion and trims a rosebush for me or reminds me to water.)
Available for California, the Southeast, the Northeast, Texas, the Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic.

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We’ve had an exciting development here this week.

chickensWe are the proud owners of five laying Rhode Island Reds. We came into a bit of a jackpot when a mom I met needed to find a home for these hens. The kids have been out to check on our new friends several times a day, and my daughter is thrilled that our egg basket is actually getting to carry eggs. Actually, I think all of us feel like we’ve gained a little more country cred.

I’ve been pretty excited about the possibilities with fresh eggs—eggs benedict, huevos rancheros, a BLT-E. But one of my favorites is a simple soft boiled egg (with asparagus if possible). It reminds me of my dad and Germany. So here are a few breakfast and egg favorites for you to enjoy.egg-cups

row one: egg cups from here and here, and ceramic egg crate from here
row two: crochet egg warmer DIY here, egg basket from here, and linen egg warmer DIY here

simply-breakfast-bookAnd to go with your beautiful egg accessories, Simply Breakfast. Buy and preview the book here, from here (the photos are amazing).

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