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.

Monday, April 14, 2014

So I Made Ramen

Remember when I was talking really big last week about making ramen from scratch after I read Ivan Ramen? Well, I made it. It took about twelve hours from start to finish and it was almost worth it.

I set the alarm for 5:00 AM on Ramen Day and headed straight to the kitchen to unpack the meat. Making ramen the Ivan Ramen way involves a lot of meat—and not the nicely trimmed pieces of chicken breast that you get from Fresh Direct. I’m talking about whole chickens chopped up into parts and slabs of fatty pork with some bristles still left on the skin. If you’re squeamish, like I am, there is a definite ick factor.

Still, I managed to hold it together and got what needed to be simmering on the stove simmering on the stove. When I sat down to breakfast, all of my large pots were bubbling a way and a tray of sofrito was cooking slowly in the oven. I was on my way to getting together the different components of ramen, which are chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare, sofrito, katsuobushi salt, chicken stock, toasted rye noodles, half-cooked eggs, menmo and dashi. 

One of the things that Ivan Ramen taught me is that there’s a fair amount of precision needed to make ramen—the chicken broth, for example, has to remain at a pretty specific temperature for a very long time—but there’s also a lot of down time. I used some of this to send my sous-chef (also known as my husband) to Fairway to buy some fresh noodles.

After several hours of relative calm, work started up again and I was making the half-cooked eggs and chopping scallions to finish everything off. And then, almost before I knew it, I had the seven components of ramen in various containers in my countertop and we were ready to eat.

We’d invited a friend over for dinner—if you’re going to make ramen from scratch, you definitely have to show it off—and as we assembled our bowls, I realized the triumph of my achievement. I had made ramen almost entirely from scratch. In a way, it almost didn’t matter how it tasted. But man, it was good.

Steps one and two: making chicken fat, pork fat and chicken broth 

Steps three and four: assembling the components for a good bowl of ramen!