Thursday, February 26, 2015

Winter Survival

It's the little things that get us through winters like this, when the predominant sound some nights is the rumble and scrape of snowplows, and morning brings the shriek of car wheels spinning in icy parking spots. During blizzards, I've found myself looking forward to watching our neighbor's late-night shoveling routine, which involves pushing every flake of snow away from his house, off the curb, past the gutter, and all the way out into the middle of the street, where he deposits it into staggered piles reaching almost to the supermarket up the next block. After each heave, he stops to lean on his shovel and re-adjusts the old-fashioned cap balanced atop his head. Depending on how persistent the storm is, he might repeat this process several times in a night. For him, nearly getting whacked by speeding delivery men on mopeds is better than ending up with a permanent, trash-studded snow bank like the rest of the block. 

Being from parts farther south, I find that diversions such as these keep me going when those days in the minuses have knocked the breath out of me. There are other bright spots: the total makeover our brown and grey neighborhood undergoes with the first blanket of snow, and pouring a glass of big red wine as the sky goes dark and the flakes swirl in the streetlights. Slow braises, coffee with friends, root soup, warm boots, and, on the weekends, a trusty wood stove. Skiing with my girls and husband, and curling up to read "Busy Busy Town" with the warm two-year old. The weather forces us to huddle indoors together, bickering and joking our way through cabin fever but also sharing simple meals, 80's movies, and never-ending games of Monopoly. 

Lately, I’ve needed something not so seasonal and not so local to break me out of my winter torpor. And that something, very often, turns out to be as simple as a salad. It started with an obsessive stockpiling of avocados in all shades of ripeness, from impossibly hard and green in the fruit bowl, to nearly-there, to ebony outside/buttery inside in a special corner of the refrigerator. I’ve been dreaming about perfectly ripe avocados all winter, and of citrus fruits. And so they often find themselves tossed together in the salad bowl, tumbling around with a juicy dressing and handfuls of strong, dark greens, scattered with some toasted nuts and flaky sea salt. Give me your kale/Brooklyn jokes, but what I keep coming back to for this salad is finely sliced, raw lacinato (Tuscan) kale. Also good are arugula (but not the wimpy packaged kind) or watercress. You can use any good orange you happen to have, but a blood orange and a meyer lemon together are so much better. This duo, I’ve found, gives greater complexity of flavor than just a regular orange, and the taste is subtly different with each bite. Meyer lemons (which are sweeter than regular lemons) add surprising little bursts of tartness, and blood oranges have a hint of bitterness and greater depth of flavor that makes them more interesting than their paler cousins. All this brightness plays nicely against the suavity of the avocado, and for the crunch you can try toasted handfuls of sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, or pine nuts. 

Soup is nice, but this pop of color — and vitamins — is sometimes the strongest medicine on the bleakest days. 
Winter Rescue Salad
Serves 2


  • 1 medium-sized blood orange (or any other orange)
  • 1 small meyer lemon
  • 1 avocado, ripe but still firm
  • 2 fistfuls of dark, sturdy greens such as watercress or finely-chopped lacinato kale
  • 1 endive, thinly sliced, base and core removed
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds or pine nuts, lightly toasted in a skillet or oven
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ teaspoon white or red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup grapeseed or extra-virgin olive oil
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
  • Freshly ground pepper
Instructions: 1. Prepare citrus: “Supreme” segments of orange and/or meyer lemon by first cutting off ends, then standing on one of the flat ends. Using a sharp knife, cut down and around to remove all the skin, including the bitter white layer. Now, holding the orange in hand, cut into the segments along the dividing membranes, to release them. Reserve supremed segments and pith, separately. If you're using meyer lemons, cut the segments into smaller pieces. (here's a video if you're confused)

"Supreming" citrus

2. Squeeze the leftover membrane into a small bowl to capture all the juice. Whisk in mustard and vinegar. Whisk in oil, gradually, until incorporated. Taste, and add more oil if you think dressing needs it — which will depend on the tartness of your fruit and how much juice it yields. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Slice or dice avocado. If using lacinato (Tuscan) kale, cut it into very thin ribbons crosswise. You can include the stalk. Put greens and citrus segments together in a salad bowl. Drizzle the dressing over gradually, not using it all at once, so you can control the amount — you may have some left over. For sturdier greens, you can let the salad marinate in its dressing for a few minutes, up to a half hour. Next, add the avocado and endive and toss gently. Add a little more dressing if you wish. Serve on plates or in bowls, scattering nuts and flaky salt over top of the salad at the last minute.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Carrot Cake

Last week we celebrated our boy’s first birthday, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened, since at the time of my last posting he hadn’t yet glimpsed the light of day. But then, a lot of things don’t add up — like the fact that I also have an almost ten-year-old and recently (gulp) rounded another decade. The boy and his fellow creatures have kept us busy, so much so that I haven’t had much mental space to devote to this blog — though I’ve really wanted to, since food has been such a central and sustaining part of this past year. First, I intended to write about all the wonderful meals friends and family cooked and delivered to us in those dizzying and disorienting first days (no, it’s not necessarily easier the third time around). The soups and stews and chilis; the taco kit; the roast chicken and healthy muffins and kale salad; the amazing Korean meal that arrived in its own cooking pot, complete with separately packaged garnishes like tiny, dried anchovies. I haven't forgotten any of them. They all reflected their makers’ personalities and tasted better than any food has tasted in my life, ever.

I’ve been hungry a lot this past year, chasing around a little hulk and keeping pace with growing tween daughters and their many activities. It's not always pretty, but I’ve found my way back to the stove. There are tussles over stove knobs. After all, they are bright red and make real fire shoot up if you turn them — cooler than any toy Fisher Price ever made. The baby is not the only dude in the kitchen, either, as Ben has embraced his inner chef, this Christmas eve donning my apron and banning me from the kitchen while he made Boeuf Bourgignan for eight.

Our newest member is hands-down the most impressive eater, square inch wise, of the family. We now go through more bananas than the monkey house at the zoo (come to think of it, it kind of feels like we're living in the monkey house). Among his culinary conquests, this baby can count kimchee, sushi, shakshuka, dog kibble by the fistful, ramen, pork paprika, American Girl doll money, and last week, homemade carrot cake.

For his birthday celebration, we continued the tradition begun with my first daughter, on her first birthday. Back then, I had wanted to serve something that was healthy yet undeniably a treat — meaning I would grant her access to that devil, sugar. More importantly, I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time and had a fierce craving for this, my most favorite of cakes. I can’t remember exactly how I cobbled together the recipe, but what resulted was a hybrid of a few carrot cake recipes I had found online and in books. I started with good, organic ingredients and packed as many sweet carrots as I could into the mix — there are more carrots than flour in here. I dispensed with the pineapple and coconut, since I can’t get behind tropical flavors in my carrot cake. Likewise, I forewent the nuts, which I do like but can be tricky where one-year-olds are concerned. I added raisins, safely chopped up, for a little texture and natural sweetness. The frosting was the result of an experiment gone nicely – I love the traditional cream cheese frosting but not the pulse-pounding sweetness that often comes with it, so I lightened the cream cheese with whipped cream and added organic sugar, tasting, until it was just sweet enough to get away with — much less sugar than is recommended in most recipes. People big and small raved over the result, so I repeated it 20 months later, in cupcake form, for my second daughter's birthday. Nearly seven years after that, I vowed not to make our boy the neglected third child, and resurrected the beloved carrot cake. Somehow, in spite of never having written it down, I found my way back to a similar version to the one I'd made before. Party guests snagged seconds and the birthday boy dug in with both hands, not sure how he’d gotten so lucky, and smeared frosting in his face and hair. I think that’s a fair indicator of success, and probably in some cultures a polite show of gustatory appreciation. 

I only hope it doesn't take another baby or the passing of seven years to make this cake again. 

Carrot Cake  


  • Butter for greasing pans
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ cups light brown sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups canola oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups grated carrots (peeled first – approx. 4 large carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped raisins (soaked beforehand if they are very hard)


  • 2 packages cream cheese, at room temperature
  • ½ cup heavy (whipping) cream
  • ½ cup organic confectioner’s sugar – more if you like it sweeter. (note: I have also successfully used fine-textured organic sugar — the off-white kind)
  • 1 lemon, finely zested and reserved for juice


  • Two 9-inch round cake pans


1. Preheat oven to 350°. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a separate large bowl, whisk together brown sugar and oil until combined. Add eggs one at a time, then flour, stirring until just blended. Stir in carrots and raisins.

2. Prepare cake pans by greasing with butter then sprinkling with flour; swirl around flour to coat, then knock out the extra. Divide batter equally between pans, smoothing down top with a spatula if necessary. Place in center rack of oven and bake for 25-35 minutes, rotating the rack midway through baking time, particularly if your oven is uneven. Cake is done when it passes the toothpick test and looks slightly browned on top. Remove from oven and cool.

3. Make frosting: you will need two separate, medium bowls. Using an electric mixer (or a strong arm), beat heavy cream and half of the sugar until stiff peaks form. Set aside. In another bowl, beat the softened cream cheese and other half of the sugar until it is smooth. Fold together the two creams gently, along with
the lemon zest and about 2 tablespoons of juice, until combined. Taste the frosting — this is important because you may want it sweeter or more lemony; if so, add more sugar and/or lemon juice.

4. When cake is cooled, gently run a knife blade around the inside rim of cake pans to release. Carefully invert one layer onto a plate, then onto your serving plate or cake stand so the top side faces up. Using an offset or regular spatula, spread nearly half of icing onto the bottom cake layer, covering the top and sides completely, then add the second layer and finish the job. I like to make dips and swoops in the surface. Refrigerate if you don’t plan on serving right away. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Paris in November

Last week, my sister and I stole away for a bit, I with the bump in tow — because it may be a while before we can pull off such a caper again. Paris is lovely this time of year in its sleepy, drizzly way that allows colors to pop against the gray. The bones of the trees are showing. Without the usual fray of tourists, the city feels truer than in higher seasons, and you notice things like a row of school children trooping down the street en route to a weekend camping trip, kerchiefs tied neatly around their necks and pint-sized packs and bedrolls on their backs.  

We ate, we walked, we shopped for our babies. We ate some more. We took in the Musée d’Orsay's "Impressionism and Fashion" exhibit. 

All the best fall things were out: Chestnut desserts. Truffles. Wild game on the menus. Pumpkin soup and scarves. There was a slow mist falling much of the time, and now and then a thread of woodsmoke curled through it.  
100% chocolate
Without Thanksgiving to stand in their way, the French are already decking their city in Christmas lights and garlands. And we thought American stores were shameless!
After 4 days, the travel bug had been sated and I was ready to get back to Ben and the girls. Onward to turkey, food drives, holidays, family, and not too far in the future, a new baby. 

Here's a round-up of a few favorite spots we managed to hit (and for more, check out last April's post Paris with kids):
Shops and Markets
  • Sunday Bird Market on the Ile de la Cité: I accidentally wandered into this little oasis on my last day in Paris and remembered it had been one of our first destinations, on my first, long-ago trip to the city. Bird and animal markets always make me feel kind of sad, but the sound of all that birdsong concentrated in one place is completely transporting. 
Veggie paella at the Marché Bio
  • L'Epicerie Breizh Café: Recently opened next door to Breizh Café (see below), this shop stocks Breton delicacies such as salted caramels and Bordier butter. 111 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd.
  • Merci: Stylish concept store in the 3rd, with clothing, home items, perfumes and knickknacks. A portion of proceeds goes to charity. 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 3rd.
  • Monoprix: France's answer to Target, with stores everywhere — though not so cheap anymore with the current exchange rate. The baby and children clothes are good quality (particularly the under-3 year old sizes) and I always come away with an armload, along with a couple jars of Amora mustard from the grocery section.
  • Sunday organic market (marché bio) on the Blvd. de Raspail, between the Rue de Rennes and the Rue du Cherche Midi (6th). Pricey but gorgeous produce and a lively, convivial vibe.
  • Huilerie J. Leblanc: The artisan oil boutique has moved from its boutique at 6, rue Jacob, into Tomat's Epicerie Fine, at 12 rue Jacob (back in the courtyard) in the 6th. My favorite oils are the pistachio, the hazelnut and the walnut. They will bubble-wrap the bottles for you to travel.  
  • BonTon: I have a hopeless weakness for this adorable (and pricey) kids' store, which stocks clothing, home items, and gifts for babies and children. 82, rue de Grenelle, 7th & 5, blvd des Filles du Calvaire, 3rd
  • Le Bon Marché: High-end department store worth checking out just for its amazing food hall on the ground level (La Grande Epicerie de Paris). 24 Rue de Sèvres, 7th.
  • Vanves Flea Market (Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves): Saturdays and Sundays, Ave. Marc Sagnier & Av Georges Lafenestre, 14th. If you have a good eye, you might find treasures among the haphazard displays. Though not as great a value as it once was, it's still less expensive than the more curated Marché St. Ouen (Porte de Clignancourt).
  • La Cigale Récamier: 4, rue Récamier, 7th. Who can resist the perfect soufflé, especially after staggering off the red-eye? The menu changes with the seasons. I had the pumpkin with Emmental cheese and Cassie got sea urchin soufflés baked in their spiny shells and presented on a bed of seaweed. We finished with a chocolate soufflé, served with a tiny pitcher of dark chocolate sauce to pour over it.
  • Les Papilles: 30, rue Gay Lussac, 5th. Bistro/wine bar near the Luxembourg gardens. Choose a bottle of wine off the shelf (wine is only by the bottle, and you can take any left over to go) and settle in for dinner — 4 courses of hearty fare that change nightly (set menu, i.e. no choices). There's usually a soup and a meaty dish, a simple cheese course, and dessert. You'll leave pleasantly sated, so plan on walking.
  • Rose Bakery: 30 rue Debelleyme, 3rd (also with locations in the 9th and 12th): Cozy, English-owned café if you're looking for a change from the usual French breakfast. Quiches, tarts, scones and other baked goods made with organic ingredients.
  • Breizh Café: 109 rue Vieille du Temple, 3rd. A favorite in the Marais. Oysters and crêpes, hard cider. My savory buckwheat crêpe: smoked duck, sautéed mushrooms, and Jerusalem artichokes. Dessert: Chestnut cream crêpe served with chestnut ice cream and whipped cream.
  • Spring: 6, rue Bailleul, 1st. Multi-course tasting menu by American-born chef Daniel Rose, served in a small dining room around an open kitchen. A delicious meal (the venison was perfection), and the service was very friendly.
  • Bread & Roses: 7, rue de Fleurus, 6th. Organic bakery and light lunch, tea and coffee.
  • Vivant: 43 rue des Petites Ecuries, 10th. Fun vibe, solid food, and natural wines. Our reservation got messed up, so we ended up at the wine bar next door, which serves a simpler menu of tasty plates.
  • Little Breizh (no relation to Breizh Café, above): 11 rue Gregoire de Tours, 6th. Nice little crêpe shop if you're in the neighborhood, hidden among touristy places.
  • Juveniles: 47 rue de Richelieu, 1st. Always a fun gathering spot, run by Tim Johnston, that attracts Parisians and expats alike. Great wines and food (I worked here many years ago)
  • Le Verre Volé: 67 rue de Lancry, 10th. Fun, hip, and no-frills wine bar and bistro near the Canal St. Martin. Generous portions of tasty food and people-watching (very Brooklyn in Paris!)