Friday, August 21, 2015

Making paste

This is what fourteen pounds
of tomatoes look like.
My grandmother always told me, in what I think was an affectionate way, that I was never able to leave well enough alone. What she meant was when faced with the option of just hanging out or the chance to do, I would almost always choose to do something. This has carried onto my adult life and has led to things like making ramen from scratch, coaching a cycling team and, of course, writing books.

This was when I figured out
that I needed a food mill.
The most recent example of not knowing when to leave well enough alone came last weekend, when I got it into my head to make tomato paste. You are probably wondering why I would make tomato paste when it's possible to buy perfectly good tomato paste but that - as evidenced by my obsession with making jam - has never really stopped me from doing something. Plus, I thought that homemade tomato paste would taste better than the store bought stuff.

This is my sous-chef assembling
the food mill at the speed of light.
Fourteen pounds of tomatoes, hours of simmering, an emergency trip to Whisk to get a food mill (ProTip - it's really, really hard to push tomatoes through a fine mesh strainer with a spoon, even if the internet tells you that it's possible) and 45 minutes of processing later, I had seven quarter-pint jars of tomato paste. And it was delicious.
And this is what I made. Yum yum!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reading Until My Eyes Hurt

Do you know how reading is either feast or famine? That is feels like there are a million good books to read or nothing at all? I'm in one of those lucky feast times where I've flown through the last few books that I've picked up. Here's a quick snapshot of two of the books that I loved so much that I read them until my eyes hurt.

A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas
Why I loved it: It's a Beauty and the Beast re-telling with some neat twists, including an excellently matched pair of protagonists. It's smart, funny, epic and both plot- and character-focused. And it seems like there might be a sequel...

The Walls Around Us, Nova Ren Suma
Why I loved it: In a nutshell, the writing. It moved me, surprised me and delighted me because the word choice was original and, in my opinion, spot on to the story telling. It's also the kind of book that teaches me about the craft of writing and characterization. Overall, an excellent read.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dominique & Me

Last week, I met Dominique Ansel. The Creator of the Cronut was signing recipe cards at Book Expo America last week to promote his upcoming book, The Secret Recipes.

Ansel signed a recipe card for a delicious-looking flourless chocolate cookie (the batter is resting in my fridge as I write) and then directed me toward a tray of chocolates that were flanked by pots of fresh basil. An assistant handed me a pair of scissors and instructed me to cut off a leaf, wrap it around the chocolate and take a bite.

It seemed weird but I decided to trust in Ansel. So I wrapped a basil leaf around the chocolate and popped it into my mouth to find that the richness of the dark chocolate complimented the freshness of the basil perfectly. It was one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted.

I can't wait until the cookbook comes out. And I hope the chocolate-basil leaf recipe is in it!

Monday, May 19, 2014


I’ve always liked gingersnap cookies in the way that most people like things that they don’t feel that strongly about. A gingersnap cookie is fine but it’s never my go-to cookie. I just like cookies with chocolate better!

I have to admit, that it did cross my mind to add chocolate chips to a batch of gingersnaps more than once but I never ended up doing it. First of all, it seemed like a copout because add chocolate is often the answer to a baking conundrum for me. But more importantly, chocolate didn’t feel like the right flavor.

So I went about life, liking gingersnaps and wishing I could think of what to add to them, and then one day it happened: I ate a gingersnap with butterscotch chips. And it kind of changed my world.

I went home and spent the rest of the afternoon putting together my own version of gingersnaps with butterscotch chips. My only warning: go easy on the butterscotch chips--too many and they will overpower the gingersnap.

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
½ cup butterscotch chips
½ cup sugar in the raw (optional)

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Combine the butter and sugars in a large bowl or a stand mixer. Stir in the molasses and then egg.

Whisk the flour and other dry ingredients together and then stir them into the wet ingredients. Fold in the chips.

Scoop the dough out into balls, aiming for about two dozen cookies. If you like really, really sweet cookies, roll the balls in the sugar in the raw and then put on the cooking sheet, pressing each one gently to flatten it slightly. If you don’t like really sweet cookies, don’t use the sugar in the raw.

Bake for eight to ten minutes. Cool on the trays for about five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

My Writing Cross-Training

The Benjamin Biggs Quilt
Back in January, when everyone was making resolutions, I decided that my New Year’s Resolution was going to be joining a group of quilters in recreating a quilt from the 1880s that is known as the Benjamin Biggs Quilt. On the first of every month, we get a new block of the quilt and then race to finish it before the next one is published.

And my first four blocks!
As you can see, the Benjamin Biggs Quilt has a lot going on. I have a love-hate relationship with complicated quilts. For some reason, the more finicky a quilt is, the more I want to recreate it, even if I spend the entire month complaining about how elaborate the pattern is.

I’ve done four blocks so far and they haven’t been so bad to do. In fact, apart from Block 3, they’ve been pretty fun. 

I can’t promise that I’ll finish the quilt on time but I’m up to date so far and fingers crossed, I’ll keep it going.  There’s a good chance that I will – I love sewing and it’s totally good cross-training for writing. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Parrots (Writing What You Know)

After nearly eighteen months, we are preparing for the departure of Pablo, the parrot we’ve been taking care of while his people are in Hong Kong.

I’ve grown to love Pablo during our time together. Yes, I’m a sucker for animals. But Pablo is special. He’s sweet, smart and funny and the timing of some of his comments are uncanny, particularly when he laughs along with us or says a word that is the right thing to say at the right time.

Pablo says “good morning” when I uncover him in the morning and “good night” every night as we’re going to bed. Sometimes, if we have people over for dinner and he wants to go to sleep, he’ll say “good night” repeatedly until the people actually leave.

As a tribute to Pablo, I’ve decided that I’m going to write a parrot into my work in progress. The parrot, tentatively named Oliver, will play a small but pivotal role. And I will be able to draw on my experiences living with a parrot and also pay tribute to our tiny, noisy, friendly, sweet and loving companion of the past year.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


You may have already picked up on this, but I love to bake. And as part of that, I have to visit a LOT of bakeries to sample their fare. In fact, when I went to London for work last year, I managed to visit four different bakeries. A girl has to see what’s out there, right?

My favorite bakery in the world, though, is Baked in Red Hook.

I stumbled upon Baked after impulsively picking up one of their cookbooks in The Strand (good things come to people who buy books impulsively). The recipes seemed kind of spectacular and the first thing I made was a Bundt cake with shards of caramel scattered on the frosting.

It was the kind of cake that wasn’t hard to make but made people think, “Wow, that’s pretty awesome.” And it was delicious enough that I decided that I had to go to the source. It was kind of like a first-world pilgrimage, especially because I had to take two buses and a train to get to Red Hook. But it was definitely worth the trip.

I’ve been there a handful of times since then, most recently going with two friends on a very rainy Saturday afternoon. It was their first time there and we decided that the best thing to do was to order a bunch of different things and share. We got a bar cookie, a piece of cake with malt frosting and some lemon poppy seed quick bread.

Everything, of course, was delicious.

I recently read that Baked is looking for a space in Manhattan, which is either awful or wonderful. Fingers crossed it’s near my apartment! Or maybe fingers crossed that it’s far away! I honestly can’t decide.