Cranberry Brownies

I didn't plan on baking brownies last week. In fact, for the past month, I've been committed to a regimen of daily hot yoga classes, complimented by nutty red quinoa salads, roasted vegetables and a healthy sprinkling of sesame seeds. It's been my attempt to slowly wean sugar and wheat and all that other bad stuff out of my diet, which for the most part has been really great, and much easier than I anticipated. 

And yet, these brownies exist (or existed...they disappeared rather fast). I should tell you upfront they are not made with healthy flours or coconut oil or a pricey cup of cacao nibs. No, these brownies are the real deal --cocoa powder, butter, and that ever frowned upon all-purpose flour (aka white flour...eek!) -- which, of course, is the reason they taste just like the boxed brownie mix your mom used to bake up for you when you were a kid. The only exception to your mom's version is the generous cup of fruit folded into the batter just before you slide the pan into the oven. Which, it should be noted, is the reason I was able to rationalize them as an acceptable part of my clean eating routine.   

My decision to make these brownies arrived with a phone call. A friend of ours, who owns several successful bars and restaurants downtown, dropped us a line last weekend to ask if we'd be willing to meet him for a few day beers to discuss a business opportunity he thought might interest us. 

It turned out our friend is opening a new bar early this summer and is looking for someone to run his food program. The bar is in a great location, with an amazing commercial kitchen already in place, and a rooftop that will open to the drinking public once the weather warms up. On our end, we wouldn't have to deal with any of the build-out or the permits or any other start-up headaches since, technically, the bar would belong to someone else. All we'd need to do is walk in, drop down our stuff, cook our food, and collect a profit.

Sweet gig. 

After our meeting, Jay and I went out for a casual dinner to discuss all the pros and cons of such a venture. The pro, of course, is that we'd be able to do very little and turn a quick profit. Easy. Peasy. The con, however, is that it would take our attention away from our own brand, right at a time when we are about to open a second location and embark on a hectic summer pop-up season.

There are many factors that go into making a small food business a success. First, you need to sell a good product (sounds obvious, though you'd be surprised!). You need to have a strong brand identity and a relatively cool aesthetic (at least in New York you do). You need to have the backbone to be the boss when it is time to be the boss, though you also need to have the compassion to treat your employees like actual people and not like "the help." And for us, one of the most important traits of a successful business is this: you've got to run your business based on your passion, and not based on the trail of dollar signs you see as your potential end game. 

After dinner, we went home, where we spent the better part of the next two days further hashing out pros and cons, which is how these brownies came into play. I needed something sweet and indulgent to help settle me while my brain spun with ideas. But more, I needed something I could whip up fast, using the most basic of ingredients I already had on hand. (I mean, Jay and I were in mid-conversation while all this baking was happening; it would have been in poor taste for me to dash out the door to run to the store.) 

If you read this blog regularly, than you know I bake for two reasons: to help me celebrate and to help me think. These Cranberry Brownies are a combination of both those things. First off, they were a big help in the thinking department. Over the course of two days, and many conversations about whether or not we were ready to add something else to our (business) plate, these brownies were my source of both comfort and calm. They were the centerpiece for the conversations we had in which we realized we'd never made any of our business decisions based exclusively on money. If we had, we would have run ourselves into the ground by this point, if I'm being honest.  

Ultimately, we walked away from the offer, rationalizing it was best to trust our guts instead of our wallets. 

In that way, I think these brownies turned out to be of the celebratory type too: a celebration of our willingness to stand by our brand's vision and to make our decisions based on our sense of passion for our business, as opposed to a series of dancing dollar signs.  

 

The brownie base is adapted from Deb Perelman's "Best Cocoa Brownies" recipe, which I first discovered a few months back when I needed a super easy recipe to churn out as a "welcome home" gift for a friend who gave birth to her first child. The brownies, which are made with cocoa, that old pantry standby, as opposed to expensive chocolate bars, come out that ideal brownie consistency of both super dense and yet satisfyingly moist, and boast a gorgeous, crackly top that makes them entirely addicting. The other part of this recipe -- the cranberries -- are inspired by Luisa Weiss's recent post about "Boston Brownies." The warm cranberries sort of melt into the brownie batter and prove to be an amazingly tart compliment to the chocolate. 

I hope you'll enjoy them. 

 

Cranberry Brownies

adapted from Smitten Kitchen & The Wednesday Chef

 

10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/2 cup flour

1 cup fresh cranberries

 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottoms and sides of an 8x8 baking pan with parchment and set aside. 

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl on top of a small pot of near boiling water to create a double boiler. Stir the ingredients until the butter melts (the ingredients will look a bit grainy). Remove the bowl from the heat and allow to slightly cool, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon between each addition. Add the flour and beat vigorously, until all the flour is incorporated and the mixture becomes smooth. Gently fold the cranberries into the batter, being sure to reserve some to sprinkle on top. Evenly spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, but no more than 35 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out nearly clean (you don't want it to come out completely clean, or it means your brownies are overcooked). It is likely that the brownies will not look "done." Remove the pan from the oven anyway and allow it to cool to nearly room temperature. Remove the brownies, keeping them on the parchment, and set on a cooling rack. The brownies will firm up as they continue to cool. 

Flora

This year, we began our Valentine's Day the exact way we did last year: with a few cups of coffee, cozy in our home, Jay lounging on the couch and me photographing the many flowers I've arranged around our apartment like a crazy woman in a desperate plea for the gray days of winter to end.

I had grand visions of recipes I'd bake for us (and share with you) this Valentine's Day -- thoughts of sweet little winter cakes adorned with tufts of blood orange-stained frosting and dainty chocolate-dipped madeleines. However, instead of staying home to bake all day as we planned, the two of us decided to skip the sink load of dirty dishes and head to a bar for a few snacks and some day beers instead.

Therefore, rather than share a new recipe post, this week I share with you a handful of shots of the vibrant flowers that have helped make our home appear a bit more lively these past few days. 

I'll be back soon with a recipe and a few words about our progress on the new shop location. Hopefully (magically) by the time I return, the cold weather will somehow be gone. Hopefully...

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

For years now, I've maintained a solid reputation of making the world's worst chocolate chip cookies. It's ridiculous, I know. There are children who can whip up better versions using an Easy-Bake. No matter what recipe I follow, mine either bake up into small cakes that in no way resemble a respectable, crisp-edged cookie or puddle into a mess of butter and half melted chips. What's that saying? Something about insanity and trying things over and over again and expecting new results. Yeah...

Over the years, Tollhouse and their seemingly simplistic recipe have become my unspoken enemies. 

For the better part of 2014, Jay and I embarked on a sort of weird quest to locate New York City's best chocolate chip cookie. For several months, we were addicted to the massive chocolate chip cookies from City Cakes, an epically tiny spot in Chelsea that works some kind of insane wizardry to produce their unrivaled signature, half-pound chocolate chip cookies that boast a consistently, satisfyingly under baked center and whose sheer size has time and time again solidified my status as "coolest adult in history" by virtue of my three year old niece. For a too-long stretch of time, we ended the day with a little bag from Breads Bakery that contained several of their distinctly crisp and deep golden brown cookies, which we devoured during our ritualistic late-night Netflix binge. Sadly for our waistlines, the list goes on...

One of my resolutions for 2015 was to finally face my culinary white whale head-on (notice the use of past tense, was) and to master this deceivingly simplistic recipe. (The fact that one of my yearly goals is rooted in butter and sugar should give you some indication of what sort of ship we're running here.)

Like many of my culinary dilemmas, the resolution, of course, rest in the hands of Thomas Keller. I've baked three rounds of these cookies so far, one that Jay and I ate entirely by ourselves, one that we shared with our best friends, and one that made its way to a Superbowl party. So far every critic has agreed that they are, hands down, the finest chocolate chip cookies to ever debut from a home oven. 

Keller's recipe, like so many of his recipes, does not rely on wacky ingredients or unnecessary seasonings or spices to up the ante. Instead, it relies on quality ingredients and the most insane, obsessive attention to measurements for which we on the receiving end must all be grateful. Unlike many recipes, this one omits vanilla extract, which Jay noted eliminated that sometimes mildly artificial aftertaste you get with some cookies. Another change is the sugar ratio, which relies upon a greater amount of dark brown sugar, a change that leads to a more rounded source of sweetness and a much more amber-hued final product. 

The final baked cookies are a sort of enigma: the edges are crisp, while the center is soft and chewy. No matter how much time passes between the moment they've been pulled from the hot oven and the moment they reach your mouth -- whether it is an hour or a full day -- the chocolate chunks at the center remain mysteriously, magically gooey. 

It takes a lot for a girl who is married to a chef, a girl who spends about three quarters of her life either preparing food, considering her next meal, or reading about new food trends, to champion any food as the best. However, no matter how you want to spin it, these really are the best damn chocolate chip cookies around. 

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

from Ad Hoc

*The only change I made to this recipe is to the chocolate. Keller's version calls for 5 ounces of 55% chocolate and 5 ounces of 70-72% chocolate. Here, I swapped them for a combination of dark and semisweet chips for no other reason than that they were, in truth, the more affordable option. Likewise, I doubled the quantity of each type of chocolate because, well, I am a balanced combination of disgusting and genius. 

- 2 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda

- 1 teaspoon kosher salt

- 1 10-ounce bag of dark chocolate chips

- 1 10-ounce bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips

- 2 sticks of cold, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar

- 3/4 cup granulated sugar

- 2 large eggs 

Position oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment and set aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift the flour and baking soda. Mix in the salt. Set aside. 

In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat half the butter on medium speed until smooth. Add both sugars and the remaining butter and beat for several minutes until the mixture is well combined, and the butter is light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed to combine. Mix in the chocolate. 

Shape the dough into balls using two level tablespoons per cookie (hint: do NOT mess with this measurement; it produces the perfect-sized cookie). Bake for 12-14 minutes. 

Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark

My first experience with spicy chocolate was when I was an undergraduate. I was living in Burlington, Vermont, and one of my roommates, Susan, worked part-time downtown at the most fantastic locally owned chocolatier. At the end of each of her shifts, she’d return to our apartment with a box of assorted chocolates – all the leftovers that were too old to sell but were still perfectly fine to eat. The two of us, and our six other roommates, would gather on her bed with bottles of wine and sample all the fancy, artisanal chocolates we couldn’t actually afford but completely craved. It was a broke college student's dream.  

It was on one of those nights when Susan spoiled us with a box of miniature dark chocolate bars blended with cinnamon, pumpkin seeds and spicy cayenne pepper. While the crunch of the seeds and the fragrance of the cinnamon felt vaguely familiar, the slow burn of the cayenne on my tongue and the back of my throat felt like a revelation. Chocolate was suddenly so different, so open to the possibilities that lay hidden in my spice cabinet.  

One of my home cooking goals for the year is to cook more with healing spices that don't typically make the rounds in my daily home cooking. These past few weeks, I've been beginning each day by adding a heaping spoonful of cinnamon to my normal breakfast smoothie (almond milk + ground flax + mixed berries + banana) in order to help ward off inflammation. I've been sprinkling a generous bit of turmeric on our vegetables, which is supposed to benefit everything from our bellies to our brains. I've also been experimenting with cayenne, which is rumored to be good for our hearts and our circulation.  

Since I don't cook much with cayenne, I've been on the hunt for some good recipes that incorporate the spice. While scouring Pinterest and our cookbook collection for ideas, I was reminded of those happy days spent crammed onto a full-sized bed with my roommates, talking about books and boys and all our dreams for our then twenty-something lives, the quiet burn of cayenne lingering on our lips as we spoke. 

This Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark is a bit of a homage to those nights. The cayenne in this recipe is subtle; it releases just enough of a burn to make it satisfying without feeling overwhelming. And like all barks, it requires the most basic of steps (melt chocolate, stir in a few goodies, let set), but looks incredibly impressive to guests. I like to store mine in an airtight container that I tuck into the freezer so that the bark stays good and firm. Despite its simplicity (no fancy kitchen equipment required), it is quickly becoming one of my most favorite recipes of the new year. 

Spicy Orange and Almond Dark Chocolate Bark

-       10 ounces dark chocolate

-       ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

-       zest from 1 orange

-       ½ cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped

-       sea salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler. When the chocolate is melted, stir in the cayenne, ¾ of the orange zest and ¾ of the toasted almonds. Spread the chocolate mixture onto the prepared sheet, being sure to smooth it into as thin a layer as possible. Sprinkle with the remaining zest, almonds and a generous pinch of coarse sea salt. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the chocolate is firm, about 30 minutes. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.   

Coffee + Banana + Crispy Quinoa Quick Bread

One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to spend less time sorting through the overwhelming amount of recipes available online and to instead dedicate myself to preparing old favorites (and new favorites) from our vast cookbook collection. In keeping with this resolution, I spent the first few days of January curled up on our sofa with a pencil, a fresh pad of post-it notes and the very first cookbook I ever owned: Mollie Katzen's  Moosewood Cookbook. The book, which was a gift I received from an old boyfriend's mom when I was nineteen and moving into my very first apartment, has since become a foundation for my home cooking (although our business is meat-centric, I balance that out by cooking an overload of veggies and vegetarian dishes at home during the week). I've pretty much committed her recipe for classic lentil soup to memory (her tip to add a splash of red wine vinegar to each bowl right before serving is my most favorite thing) and no matter how many detoxes or cleanses I commit to this time of year, her orange cake, which is the most simple and fragrant cake with the most gorgeous, cornbread-like texture, always makes at least one appearance in our home before January ends. 

While skimming through her cookbook last week, it occurred to me that I've never followed her recipe for banana bread, which recommends that you first soak your ripe bananas in room temperature coffee before you mash them into your batter. Genius. The bananas absorb the most subtle amount of the liquid, which ultimately lends the most delicate coffee flavor to the bread, a flavor that I only now realize has been completely missing from every other loaf of banana bread I've previously made. 

It wasn't until I prepared the second loaf of her recipe when I decided the only thing the bread was lacking was something with a slight crunch. While walnuts are the obvious choice, I'm really anti-nuts in cookies or breads (personal pet peeve), and opted for some lighted toasted quinoa instead, which added just the right amount of crunch to every bite, as well a delicate, nutty flavor that played nicely with the nuttiness of the coffee. 

So that's about where we are at the moment: a bit of a peaceful standstill, filled with casual baking projects and quiet nights binge watching TV (are you all watching Black Mirror on Netflix? We're obsessed, in what is perhaps an unhealthy way) until we receive the keys to the new space. In the meantime, we've signed the final papers for our new Beer & Wine license (relatively easy, considering the absolute horror stories that circulate throughout the industry), reviewed and submitted our final lease contract, and finalized layout plans with our kitchen designer (a kitchen designer!?!? what a serious luxury, one we did not have when we opened our first shop, and one that makes us feel significantly more mature, established and accomplished than we actually are).  

I'll be back in a few days with pictures of the raw space, some pictures of our plans for how we plan to layout and design the new space, and some thoughts on creating a new sandwich menu and a new menu full of bar snacks (the first time we get to do so, and we are both so thrilled!). Until then...

Coffee + Banana + Crispy Quinoa Quick Bread

- 3-4 ripe, sliced bananas

- 1 cup room temperature coffee (decaf works fine)

- 1 tablespoon olive oil

- 1/4 cup cooked quinoa (any variety)***

- 1/3 cup melted butter

- 3/4 cup light brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- 1 teaspoon baking soda

- pinch of kosher salt

- 1 teaspoon cinnamon

- 1 1/2 cups flour

*** Cook 1/8 cup dry quinoa in 1/4 cup water in order to get a final product that is slightly undercooked.***

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 4x8 inch loaf pan and set aside. Add the bananas to a medium sized bowl and pour in the coffee, being sure the liquid covers the bananas. Set aside. 

Meanwhile, warm the olive oil over high heat in a small skillet. When the oil is hot, add the cooked quinoa and saute for 2-3 minutes until the quinoa is dry and crispy (but not burnt). Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter and brown sugar using a wooden spoon. Mix in the egg, vanilla, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and quinoa. When all ingredients are well incorporated, add the flour and mix well. Drain the bananas from the coffee and gently fold the bananas into the batter. Using your hands, squeeze the bananas into the batter until it becomes smooth and creamy. Pour the batter into the greased loaf pan. 

Bake the bread for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool in the pan for a few minutes before transferring to a drying rack to finish cooling.  

 

Wintery Peppermint Patties

It's finally official: Mayhem & Stout will open its second location in 2015!!!

I admit it felt pretty amazing to write that last line. For months, Jay and I have had to keep very hush hush about everything, often diverting conversations or straight out lying to our friends whenever they asked us any questions related to the future of the shop. But late last week, we officially signed off on the final papers, and now the ink is finally dry. 

It felt like the most perfect, blissed out way to end an otherwise weird year. I'm not one for astrology, though at the end of every calendar year I find myself getting suckered in to reading the yearly horoscopes for the coming year that tend to pop up all over the place online. Last December, I recall reading one such yearly horoscope and learning that 2014 was meant to be a year of both change and learning for me. Pffft, whatever, I thought, and casually clicked away from the page. 

It turned out that stupid horoscope was right. Though we experienced some memorable moments during 2014 (our shop celebrated its one year anniversary; I had the chance to see one of my most favorite bands perform live for the first in ten years; we took the most epically awesome road trip and learned we have a new favorite city), we also were faced with our fair share of life lessons and tragedy. It was a year marked by reflection and figuring stuff out and making mistakes and taking major ego blows. So this fall, when the universe presented us with a potential opportunity to open a second location, we were both terribly pessimistic and also terribly desperate for a new creative project to wholeheartedly distract us. I think our exact reaction was something like oh hell no...I mean, yes, oh my god yes, yes, yes most definitely! 

In early January, we'll be back in crazy restaurant-building mode. It feels like a dance we've begun to perfect these last three years. It will ultimately be a several month long period of never-ending work days, sleepless nights, zero time for proper meals (let alone proper dates), conversations that revolve exclusively around our business, and a constant sense of apprehension about whether or not we're making a good move. It's going to suck, if I'm being completely honest, and I can't wait.

Knowing this, we've been embracing our time together now and being somewhat selfish. Typically, all through December we open our door and invite friends and family over to eat, drink and engage in some general merriment. I genuinely love to entertain, especially at the holidays, and look forward to seeing our loved ones gathered around our kitchen island, drunken grins spread across their faces, the glimmer of holiday lights casting a warm, peaceful glow across our apartment. However, this year, knowing we are just days away from walking into a seriously draining few months, neither of us have felt truly up to the task.

 

Instead of playing hostess, we've had the pleasure of being the bearers of hostess gifts this year. While I feel guilty for not using my pretty holiday serving pieces or inviting anyone over to cozy up to our yule log DVD and enjoy our tree, our decision to keep things low key on the home front has been pretty great. For one, it's required a lot less shopping. And a lot less cleaning. And a lot less cleaning up (while hungover) the next day. All things considered, I sort of recommend it. 

As a hostess gift, I've been whipping up batches of these Wintery Peppermint Patties, which look very impressive but are a total cinch to make. From start to finish, the whole process will take you half an hour. All you need to do is make a very simple dough made from butter, confectioners' sugar, and peppermint extract, which you'll then roll out into a thin sheet so you can slice out a few dozen candy rounds. Although you could get fancy with the chocolate topping, I simply add a bag full of dark chocolate chips and a few extra drops of peppermint to a saucepan, melt it all over low heat, and then drop in the candy rounds. Easy. Peasy. The combination of not-too-sweet dark chocolate paired with a refreshing blast of cool mint is a real crowd pleaser, one delicious enough to get you invited back so that you never need to cook/clean/host again.  

I'll be back in early January with some new recipes and plenty of new details and photographs from our new project! Until then, happy New Year to you all!!!

Wintery Peppermint Patties

  • 2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting
  • tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • teaspoons peppermint extract, divided
  • tablespoons half and half
  • cups dark chocolate chips
  • candy canes, crushed
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, 2 teaspoons of the peppermint extract, and the half and half and mix on medium speed until a creamy dough forms. Flatten the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic wrap. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, line a small baking sheet with parchment. Add the chocolate and the remaining teaspoon of peppermint extract to a small saucepan and heat on low, stirring occasionally to be sure the chocolate does not burn. When the chocolate is fully melted, remove the pan from heat and set aside.
  3. Sprinkle a clean work surface with additional confectioners’ sugar. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4-inch thick. Using a 1-inch cookie cutter, cut out as many candy pieces as possible. If the dough becomes sticky, dust it with additional confectioners’ sugar or place it back in the freezer to firm up.
  4. Dip the patties into the warm chocolate and carefully remove each one using a fork. Place the chocolate covered patties onto the parchment lined baking sheet. While the chocolate is still warm, sprinkle the patties with the crushed candy canes. When all candies are decorated, place the baking sheet into the freezer for at least 20 minutes before serving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Struffoli (Italian Honey Ball Cookies)

Last December, the first holiday season that we operated out of our storefront on 2nd Ave., I was a mess. We were still desperate to figure out how to actually run a storefront, Jay and I were never home (at least not at the same time), drunken twenty-four year old Santas stumbled into our store on too frequent an occasion, and there was zero time to even consider pouring ourselves a stiff glass of egg nog and slurring our way through festive Dean Martin hits. It was lame all around. 

However, I'm feeling a little nostalgic about the holidays at the moment. Last year (and really, the last two years before that), I'd become one of those painfully gross people who got way too frenzied about the holiday, overly concerned about the (monetary) quality of the gifts I planned to dole out, and all in all allowed the stress of the season to get the best of me. 

As a result, I let a lot of the things I love about the season fall to the wayside. Ambitious baking projects were neglected. Fun, festive garlands made from dried citrus slices eventually turned into rotten citrus left in wooden bowls on our countertop. Most things about the season ended up feeling like chores, or items that needed to be crossed off my to-do list, rather than activities I typically look forward to at the end of each calendar year. Instead, most of my attention went to various tasks that would ensure that our business did not completely fall apart amid all the tinsel tossing and general merry making. 

This year, I promised myself things would be different. I'd find ways to eliminate end-of-the-year  craziness, holiday financial burdens, and those few extra pounds I usually pack on every December and then feel guilty about after the first of the year. I've turned down many an invitation lately so that I can rise super early (i.e.: unnaturally early, in my opinion) to attend 6:00 a.m. hot yoga classes each morning. I've made arrangements with several family members to forgo unnecessary, costly gifts and to enjoy a special meal together instead. I completed most of my shopping early and did so online to avoid all the grumpy folk crammed in the stores these next few weeks and the panic attacks and stream-of-consciousness style obscenities that often accompany them. 

I've been enjoying some of the free time I've cleared up to indulge in my favorite things about December. This weekend, Jay and I spent the entire day and evening decorating our apartment and our tree while we listened to our new favorite album, traded funny stories from our past together as we carefully unwrapped each of the many ornaments we've accumulated over the years, and then clicked off the lamps and sat quietly on our couch to take in the many glimmering strands of lights we scattered around the place. 

A lot of this free time has also been devoted to holiday baking. I'm a notoriously ambitious holiday baker, and often take on way more than I can handle in a given day. But I love it anyway. This year, I decided to set the right tone for the season by tackling one such project good and early: struffoli. 

Struffoli is a classic cookie common in southern Italy and typically served during the Christmas season. Throughout my childhood, several of the women in my family often spent hours frying up multiple batches of struffoli for all our Christmas get-togethers, some of them keeping with tradition and painstakingly assembling their struffoli into a lavish wreath or cone shape, which was unveiled at the end of our holiday meal. (I'm lazy in comparison and simply toss mine into a giant bowl.)

I like to think of struffoli, which are about the size of marbles or hazelnuts, as tiny Christmas fritters. When placed into a saucepan filled with hot oil, the citrusy dough puffs up into rustic golden balls that have crunchy exteriors but warm, soft interiors. Once fried, the small, bite-sized cookies are drenched in a sweet honey glaze and decorated with colorful sprinkles or nonpareils. If you'd like, you can read more about them in a short piece I wrote over at Food52. For now, I'm off to enjoy some holiday cheer...

Struffoli (Italian Honey Ball Cookies)

- 8 eggs

- 4 1/2cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided

- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

- Zest from 1 lemon

- Zest from 1 orange

- Canola oil, for frying

- 2 cups honey

- 1/2 to 3/4 cups nonpareils

Add the eggs, flour, 1 teaspoon vanilla, salt, and citrus zest to a large bowl. Mix by hand until the mixture forms a sticky dough. Form the dough into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough ball for 2 to 3 minutes. Cut the dough into six equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece into long, thin ropes, about 1/2-inch thick. Cut off 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces of each dough rope and roll each one into a small ball shape (don’t worry about making them perfect; imperfect shapes work perfectly fine here).

Pour enough oil into a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan to fill it about one third of the way. Heat the oil to 350° F. Meanwhile, prepare a dish lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. When the oil reaches the desired temperature, carefully drop in the dough balls in small batches and fry until they puff up and become golden brown on all sides. Using a metal spider, carefully remove the fried dough and transfer to the paper towel-lined dish. Continue until all dough balls are fried.

While the dough balls fry, add the honey and the remaining teaspoon of vanilla to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir occasionally and remove from heat once the honey reaches a syrup-like consistency, about 5 minutes.

Add the still-warm fried dough balls to a large bowl. Pour the hot honey glaze and the nonpareils into the bowl and mix until incorporated. The struffoli can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container for 2 days.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowls

For a while there, I forgot how to eat. 

Two weeks ago, Jay and I experienced our first real tragedy as a couple. For days, our usually hectic life together came to an abrupt halt. Our home reverberated with what felt like infinite periods of silence and endless long, anxious breaths, the floor beside our bed and our couch perpetually littered with crumpled tissues and crusted over bowls. Despite an in-depth agenda of paperwork that needed attention in preparation for a meeting we'd anxiously anticipated for weeks -- a meeting that could very likely help to change the shape of our business and our entire brand in the coming calendar year -- all shop-talk was put on hold. Everything was put on hold. Together, we needed that silent period together to begin to heal.  

For a solid week, my spirit felt entirely broken, cracked and shattered into a million pieces that I feared I'd never find a way to mend. I knew I was in bad shape. I refused to leave the sofa. I refused to wear real clothes. I avoided phone calls and visits from people I love.

However, I knew things were real bad when I gave up on food. Real food, that is. I felt so deep in my sadness, I couldn't bear the thought of worrying about whether or not I consumed enough dark leafy greens for the day. I needed to rebel. But I don't smoke. I rarely drink. Food is kind of my thing. So rather than care for myself by way of the steaming pot of lemony chicken and vegetable soup Jay specially prepared for me, I insisted that we stock our house with all the processed, GMO, sugary, artificially-colored crap that I never, ever allow through the front door. And then I dove in.

For the next week, I filled myself with store-bought cookies and sodium-filled chips and canned soda and all the bad-for-me-things I never crave, let alone actually eat, while fresh bunches of broccoli rabe and tuscan kale yellowed and wilted in our fridge. By the end of the week, not only did I feel completely unhealthy, but strangely, completely unlike myself. 

On Monday, we both finally pulled ourselves off the couch, forced ourselves to get dressed (like real people, not sweatpant-clad college kids) and took our first steps back into our normal life. We showered (big step). We went to work (bigger step). And then, very slowly, over the course of the next several days, we meandered our way back into our kitchen, still littered with boxes of store-bought brownie mix and bags of greasy potato chips. 

Our home kitchen is a humble little space. It consists of outdated laminate countertops, faux wood cabinets and multiple cracked floor tiles. It is not what you might expect. I complain about it a lot, to be honest, but little by little, as I found myself back in our kitchen, finally strong enough to toss the Oreos and tortilla chips that had accumulated on our island, I found myself feeling infinitely grateful for the space.

About midway through the week, I was the first to arrive home, at that faded late afternoon hour when the light outside is not quite sure if it wants to be night or day. I knew Jay wouldn't be home for a few hours, and already my stomach was growling. As I set down my things and entered our kitchen to hang up my coat and my keys, I felt immediately tempted by the box of stale donut holes before me. It'd be so easy to grab the whole box, curl back up on the couch and indulge in a solid cry. But I knew I couldn't go on that way forever. I knew that, at some point, I'd need to admit to myself that, despite our tragedy, we still had a life to live, a life that likely required nutrients not found in a box of processed frosting. 

I forced myself to throw the box away.

Then, slowly, I opened our refrigerator and our cabinets for the first time in days. At random, I began to pull out whatever items remained -- a half-decent looking apple, a mason jar filled with oats from a previous baking project -- and, without thinking, got back to work.

Though the feelings of our tragedy still lingered inside me, I soon found myself becoming lost in the familiar sounds and movements of preparing a meal -- the smooth slicing of the apples, the gentle bubbling of the oats. 

I sat on our couch with this Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowl propped on my lap just as the sky began to lose the last sliver of daylight. There, in the solitude and silence of our home, I forced myself to eat something real. I could feel my whole body begin to warm again, each of my senses slowly awakening. Food does that sometimes. While I knew at that moment that we still had a long road ahead of us, with each warm bite, I found my whole being began to feel more nourished, my mind drifting toward the belief that with just a few more simple, whole, home cooked meals, I might begin to feel whole again. 

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal Bowls

- 1/4 teaspoon olive oil

- 1 apple, cored, peeled and cubed 

- 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar

- 1 cup old-fashioned oats

- pinch of coarse salt

- 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk

- 1 tablespoon maple syrup

- 1 teaspoon cinnamon 

Drizzle the olive oil into a small sauté pan set over medium heat. Add the apple and the brown sugar and sauté until the apple pieces are almost tender, about 5 minutes. 

Meanwhile, prepare the oats according to the package instructions. Once fully cooked, turn off the heat and add the salt and the almond milk to the oats and stir until the almond milk is well incorporated. Pour the oat mixture into a bowl and add the maple syrup, the cinnamon and the still warm apples. Serve immediately. 

Cinnamon Apple Hand Pies

As I write this sentence, Jay hovers overtop of our coffee table, pouring almonds into tiny ceramic pinch bowls. Every few seconds, his face contorts into a serious expression before he pours the almonds out onto the table and assembles them into messy little piles. "This pile," he informs me, "contains 54 almonds. And this pile contains 84." He pauses and looks to me for guidance -- "so which pile is right?" -- before he disappears into our kitchen, where I hear him wildly rummage through our wooden cabinets.

In other words, we are back in menu planning mode. And it seems, based on the dirty dishes and the torn candy wrappers on the floor beside me, our only comfort comes in the form of mini homemade apple pies and leftover crunch bars from a quiet Halloween. 

It's been a little more than six months since we started to talk about our desire to expand the shop. There were a number of possibilities on the table. We could open a second shop in another NYC neighborhood. We could stay put and renovate our current kitchen to create additional space for new equipment. These ideas, of course, were rooted somewhere between reality and a daydream. We didn't actually expect for them to see the light of day, at least not for another year (or maybe two). 

But the gods, it seems, overheard our brainstorming. A few weeks ago, out of absolutely nowhere, we received an email, which led to a meeting, which led to walk-throughs and contracts and proposals and excitement and minor freak-outs. All of which will ultimately lead to our next big project -- a project we were not truly looking for (not in actual reality anyway), but one that magically found its way to us and gave us that extra push we needed to become courageous enough to stop daydreaming and to actually take our next step. 

Although it will be a few more weeks before we can make any formal announcements, in the meantime, our living room as of late is a mess of cookbooks and journals and laptops as we begin to formulate new menu ideas, some of which include figuring out the appropriate amount of almonds needed to made a suitable sized bar snack (which will later be spiced and roasted and mixed with some other unexpected goodies). 

During the years that we've owned our business, I've learned that during times like this, times that are framed by crazy schedules and meetings and constant talk about money and the future and branding and new decor design and a million other uncertainties, we rely on the comforts of home. Which is why, during times like this, you can almost always find a bowl or a basket filled with something freshly baked patiently resting on the corner of our kitchen island and the scent of dough or syrup or vanilla wafting through our hallways. It's the only remedy, other than straight bourbon, that I know of to alleviate our stress after multiple work/business/financial conversations. It's a sneaky, sugary way to ensure that, by the end of the conversation, we both feel better/sane/normal again.   

Jay thinks these Cinnamon Apple Hand Pies are good enough to replace the usual singular, absurdly huge apple pie I typically make for our family on Thanksgiving, which I think is saying something (he is a baked goods snob, to say the least). So long as you have fresh apples at the ready, the rest of this recipe requires pretty basic pantry staples, meaning it is the type of thing you can whip up without too much thought, even though the look of fancy little individualized pies makes it look like you logged days' worth of kitchen work.

When it comes to pie dough, there are many wonderful pate brisee recipes out there. However, I've become a bit of a snob myself and have relied on the same recipe for a good ten years or so now (the trick, I think, is to freeze only half of your butter before pulsing the dough), which bakes up into such a perfectly golden crust that is marbled with buttery swirls and kissed with just the right amount of salt. The filling is a simple, classic combination: tart apples, plenty of lemon zest to help highlight that tartness, and a good amount of cinnamon. Easy. Peasy. If you're like me, you'll eat them two at a time, which is okay since you can easily roll out some extra dough you have wrapped up in your fridge and simply double or triple the recipe for the apple filling if needed. Enjoy them, and these last few weeks of apple season. More news on our new project coming soon...

Cinnamon Apple Hand Pies

adapted from Martha Stewart

For the dough:

- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 1 teaspoon coarse salt

- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

- 1 stick chilled, unsalted butter, cut in pieces

- 1 stick frozen, unsalted butter, cut in pieces

- 1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:

- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

- 6 tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced

- 1/4 cup granulated sugar

- zest of 1 lemon

- juice of 1/2 lemon

- 3/4 tablespoon cinnamon

- 1 egg, beaten

- turbinado sugar

 

For the dough: 

Add the flour, salt and sugar to the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds to combine. Add the butter and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 seconds. With the food processor running, slowly add the ice water until the dough holds together, about 10-15 seconds at most.

Empty the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two. Place each half on a sheet of plastic wrap, flatten and form two discs. Wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour and up to 24 hours before using.  

For the pies: 

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into two 1/8 inch-thick circles. Using a lightly floured pastry circle (I used a 4-inch circle), cut out about 16 circles. Arrange 8 of the circles on the parchment and set the rest aside in a single layer on the floured work surface. 

In a large bowl, combine the apples, granulated sugar, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon and flour and toss well to combine. Spoon a small amount of the apples (about 4 apple slices per 4-inch round) onto the dough rounds that rest on the parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with the remaining pastry circles. Cut small steam vents across the top of each hand pie. Seal by carefully crimping the edges of each pie. Brush the top and edges of each pie with the beaten egg and sprinkle with a generous amount of turbinado sugar. Bake until the tops and edges are golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack before serving. 

Pumpkin Lemonade // A Taste of the Season (weeks 57-60)

In August, Jay and I took a weekend trip to Charleston (which you might remember me mentioning here). We had the most fabulous time. Our first night there, we found ourselves in the French Quarter, strolling down cobblestone alleys and past candy-colored row homes accented by ornate metal fixtures and unique wooden doors. It was incredibly colorful and charming (and humid…so, so humid). 

In August, Jay and I took a weekend trip to Charleston (which you might remember me mentioning here). We had the most fabulous time. Our first night there, we found ourselves in the French Quarter, strolling down cobblestone alleys and past candy-colored row homes accented by ornate metal fixtures and unique wooden doors. It was incredibly colorful and charming (and humid…so, so humid). 

As is tradition with most of our travels, the entire trip revolved, not surprisingly, around food. On Friday night, we ate a decadent serving of local beef tartar covered in a delicate veil of gouda that was magically melted without being burnt or puddle-like; we indulged in our first serving of real Carolina rice and properly cooked Hoppin’ John; we ate the sweetest shrimp that floated in a jeweled broth of fresh fennel and heirloom tomato liquid; we finished our meal with delicate glasses of bitter chartreuse; we rang in my birthday (32! Eek!) with an unlikely combination of bubbly cava and Moscow Mules, and finished the night drinking Miller Lite pounders while we waited in line for some late night Banh Mi. 

As is tradition with most of our travels, the entire trip revolved, not surprisingly, around food. On Friday night, we ate a decadent serving of local beef tartar covered in a delicate veil of gouda that was magically melted without being burnt or puddle-like; we indulged in our first serving of real Carolina rice and properly cooked Hoppin’ John; we ate the sweetest shrimp that floated in a jeweled broth of fresh fennel and heirloom tomato liquid; we finished our meal with delicate glasses of bitter chartreuse; we rang in my birthday (32! Eek!) with an unlikely combination of bubbly cava and Moscow Mules, and finished the night drinking Miller Lite pounders while we waited in line for some late night Banh Mi. 

Saturday morning, we woke up with pounding heads and slowly wandered through town in search of a hangover cure. While stumbling around, we happened upon the city’s weekend farmers’ market downtown. Naturally, we took time to wander through and support some local vendors, one of which was an incredibly simple but smart operation that sold giant plastic quart containers filled with freshly squeezed lemonades. Hangover. Cure.    While I selected a classic lemonade, Jay choose a version blended with thinly sliced cucumbers and muddled mint. The taste was clean and fresh and one hundred percent summer.

Saturday morning, we woke up with pounding heads and slowly wandered through town in search of a hangover cure. While stumbling around, we happened upon the city’s weekend farmers’ market downtown. Naturally, we took time to wander through and support some local vendors, one of which was an incredibly simple but smart operation that sold giant plastic quart containers filled with freshly squeezed lemonades. Hangover. Cure. 

 

While I selected a classic lemonade, Jay choose a version blended with thinly sliced cucumbers and muddled mint. The taste was clean and fresh and one hundred percent summer.

As we made our way back to King Street, and wandered past the city’s many bars, restaurants and storefronts, we began to discuss some recipe plans for the fall.  We talked about some new sauces, and a few ideas for new sandwich combos to debut. And then we turned our attention to our drinks.  Just like his cucumber lemonade that tasted like the essence of a hot summer morning, Jay wondered if it was possible to create a version that tasted just like a cool autumn day. While we walked, we brainstormed different flavor possibilities. Nutmeg? Cider? Cinnamon stick? Roasted apple?  

As we made our way back to King Street, and wandered past the city’s many bars, restaurants and storefronts, we began to discuss some recipe plans for the fall.  We talked about some new sauces, and a few ideas for new sandwich combos to debut. And then we turned our attention to our drinks. 

Just like his cucumber lemonade that tasted like the essence of a hot summer morning, Jay wondered if it was possible to create a version that tasted just like a cool autumn day. While we walked, we brainstormed different flavor possibilities. Nutmeg? Cider? Cinnamon stick? Roasted apple?  

This unexpected rust-colored Pumpkin Lemonade is an unusual way to use up those few extra tablespoons of canned pumpkin puree leftover from your weekend baking projects. The recipe, if you can even call it that, simply requires that you blend some of the puree into either freshly made or store-bought lemonade. It is sweet and refreshing and a fun way to reinvent a sometimes overdone fall flavor. Don't be intimidated by it: I swear it is surprisingly good. Enjoy.  

This unexpected rust-colored Pumpkin Lemonade is an unusual way to use up those few extra tablespoons of canned pumpkin puree leftover from your weekend baking projects. The recipe, if you can even call it that, simply requires that you blend some of the puree into either freshly made or store-bought lemonade. It is sweet and refreshing and a fun way to reinvent a sometimes overdone fall flavor. Don't be intimidated by it: I swear it is surprisingly good. Enjoy.  

Pumpkin Lemonade - store-bought or freshly made lemonade  - canned pumpkin puree - cinnamon or nutmeg   Fill a drinking glass or pitcher with the lemonade. Add the pumpkin puree, one tablespoon at a time, to taste (for a typical 8-ounce drinking glass, I like about 2 tablespoons of puree). Be sure to gently stir the lemonade after each addition so the puree becomes fully incorporated into the drink. Garnish with cinnamon or nutmeg to taste. Serve cold.

Pumpkin Lemonade

- store-bought or freshly made lemonade 

- canned pumpkin puree

- cinnamon or nutmeg

 

Fill a drinking glass or pitcher with the lemonade. Add the pumpkin puree, one tablespoon at a time, to taste (for a typical 8-ounce drinking glass, I like about 2 tablespoons of puree). Be sure to gently stir the lemonade after each addition so the puree becomes fully incorporated into the drink. Garnish with cinnamon or nutmeg to taste. Serve cold.

Simple Tomato Sauce // When Life Hands You Tomatoes (weeks 54 & 55)

Our final pop-up event of the summer was a failure. To be more precise, it was a giant, epic, “this isn’t even over yet and I already know I’m going to cry about this for days” no-good, terrible disaster. Our booth was placed in a god-awful location. At the last minute, management decided to call the whole thing a “cash-free event.” For three days, hordes of cashless concert goers dug deep in their high-waist denim shorts for credit cards (no food, it turned out, for those unfortunate few who stuffed a mere twenty dollar bill in their bra straps), and then sauntered over to the food area, a destination that consisted of a good dozen or so food vendors that, by some unfortunate chance, we were not in. Rather, our designated location left us up on a hill, both out of potential customers’ way and also out of their minds.

Cricket. Cricket.

Then, when we thought things could not get any worse, early Sunday afternoon the sky tore apart, bursts of lightening illuminated the swirls of black clouds and, just like that, the whole thing was cancelled.

Which, of course, is how we ended up with a spare twenty-five pound box of tomatoes hanging out in our home kitchen early last week.

On Monday, Labor Day, Jay and I spent a solid half hour hovering above our kitchen island, just staring at the bloated box, wondering what in the hell we were supposed to do with twenty-five pounds of tomatoes anyway. Since we already had dozens of trays of unsold meat taking up space in the store’s fridges, we didn’t have space for them at the shop. Plus, although he never directly said so, I think Jay felt like they were unlucky in some way and didn’t want them anywhere near his cash register or his knives.

The obvious answer, of course, was to spend an afternoon canning them all up and storing them away for winter. But, in our defeated state, neither of us had the spirit to start sterilizing mason jars. Rather, Jay reached in the fridge, pulled out the last of the summer shandies, and together we moved to the couch for the remainder of the day. 

For the next few days, I began to think of the tomatoes as an enemy of sorts. Every time I meandered into our kitchen to whip up my morning smoothie or to sneak in a late night snack, there it was: a box literally overflowing with jewel-colored reminders of our failures. Neat. By Tuesday night, I moved the box from our island to a long white bench on the far end of our kitchen. Out of sight, out of mind. But they still caught my eye. By Wednesday, I moved the box again, this time to a spot beneath our kitchen table that I almost never stop to consider (evident, by the way, by the pile of crumbs I discovered there; apparently, our vacuum also never pauses to consider this spot). On Thursday, I was completely annoyed and moved them into the laundry room, figuring that at least they could hide out behind a closed door until I had the heart to do something with them. But on Monday (four whole days after their last move), while attempting to casually toss a load of bath towels in the wash, there they were, like sad little seeded children, completely neglected by moi. And then -- because, you know, fruits and vegetables have human emotions -- I finally began to feel badly about ignoring them.

Without putting much thought into my next steps, I found myself filling a large pot with water and, once it reached a rolling boil, dropping the neglected tomatoes into the steaming bath. I figured, at the very least, I could offer them a sort of cleansing, if you will, to make up for my lack of attention. The house was silent as I removed each tomato and gently dropped it into an ice bath, where its thin, translucent skin began to shrivel and crack away. Then, I grabbed our very stained, very splattered copy of the Silver Spoon, by far one of my top five favorite cookbooks ever, and by far the one I reach for the most when we cook at home, and turned to my most cherished page.

This is indeed an incredibly easy, back-to-the-basics kind of recipe that I so admire for its blatant simplicity and its admiration and celebration of ripe, seasonal produce (perhaps almost too ripe in my case, which is what you get when you smuggle produce into your laundry room, I guess). The recipe, if you can call it that, requires just a few ingredients: plump tomatoes (good quality canned tomatoes also work well during the winter months), a bit of sugar to help bring out the fruits' natural sweetness, a few garlic cloves, a pinch of coarse salt and a small handful of torn basil leaves as well as a good glug of olive oil right at the end. The final product is a simple, flavorful everyday tomato sauce that tastes, well, exactly like tomatoes are meant to taste (which, I think, in our world of prepackaged, preservative packed everything, is sort of saying a lot). Typically, I find the recipe goes pretty quick in our house (figure one night of pasta, followed by another night of pizza and the sauce is gone); however, should you find yourself with an excessive amount of tomatoes, the recipe can easily be doubled (or tripled…or quadrupled) and then frozen for several months.

Simple Tomato Sauce

from the

Silver Spoon

- about 1 dozen fresh tomatoes, peeled

- pinch of sugar

- 2 garlic cloves, smashed

- coarse salt

- 2 tablespoons olive oil

- 10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

Place the tomatoes into a pan and add the sugar, garlic and a pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a very low heat for about 30 minutes. Do not touch or stir the tomatoes during this time. Mash the cooked tomatoes with the backside of a wooden spoon and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool slightly. Stir in the olive oil and the basil. When kept refrigerated, the sauce will keep well for about a week. 

Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp // End of Summer (weeks 52 & 53)

It is the last weekend of summer and I just got around to making my first crisp. Terrible form on my part, all around. The summer here was mild, accented by warm, sun-drenched afternoons and cool, often breezy nights. As a result, our local fruit was near perfect. The wild blackberries and raspberries were bursting with sugar and packed a satisfying tart-punch. The peaches have been swollen with sweet juice, hidden behind a perfect veil of yellow and red ombre skin. I've been stockpiling fruit every week during my farmers' market trips, and assembling proud, colorful displays of overflowing wooden bowls on our kitchen island, which we dipped into throughout each day. It's been a little bit of a food lover's version of heaven over here.

With fruit so perfect, crisps seem like the obvious choice. Crisps are champions of ripe fruit, supporters of all seed-bearing rounds that fall from trees. Plus, as every half-decent baker knows, they are impossibly simple to make, mimicking the easy going nature of the season. And yet, here we are.

But how? 

Maybe the reason is because we've done next to zilch in the entertaining department this summer. Usually, even when we're impossibly busy, summer is a time when we open our door (and our kitchen) to many friends and family to host what feels like an endless revolving door of barbecues, low-key summer dinner parties, and late night booze-fests accented by cured meats and bubbling, fresh-from-the-oven summery sweets.

This summer was

a decidedly lazy one

. I can't remember a single time that we hosted dinner, instead opting to check into some neighborhood haunts for indulgent, on-the-fly lunch dates, and passing up opportunities to invite friends to our place to enjoy our outdoor space for quiet nights home alone together with a stack of food and travel magazines and a cold bottle of

rosé (which I now aptly refer to exclusively as "summer water," in case you were wondering)

.

A few nights ago, close friends opened their door to us for an end-of-the-season crab boil. Since Jay and I just recently returned from Charleston (more on that trip and the magic that is Pappy Van Winkle bourbon in another post), our fridge is looking a little sad. Luckily, hidden at the back of the bottom shelf were a few leftover nectarines from our road trip cooler, a pint of blueberries that somehow miraculously survived our absence and a depressing, singular stick of butter tucked beside a shriveled  nub of forgotten ginger root.

I modeled this crisp after a recipe post on Food52, which offered

a sort of guide

 for making the perfect crisp. This time around, I added a generous splash of booze and some brown sugar to the fruit before baking, and then allowed it to macerate for a bit, which produced a final crisp made from incredibly soft, bourbon-kissed fruit. When it came time to make the actual crumble, Jay hovered beside me to "encourage" me to properly incorporate the butter and the dry ingredients in such a way to create a perfect, airy, crumbly topper. Although it physically pains me to admit when he is right, he had a few good pointers. In the past, I've often worked the butter into the dry ingredients so much that it has turned almost grainy, kind of like the consistency of clumpy sand. However, it turns out that it is much better to squeeze the ingredients in your palm (as opposed to sort of breaking up the butter into tiny, pea-sized balls) and

then

breaking the mixture into larger clumps. Also, although crisps are typically celebrated as the lazy man's dessert, it seems I've been too lazy with mine, often breaking apart the butter, giving those pea-sized rounds a good mix in the dry ingredients and calling it a day. This time, I spent a good five or six full minutes squeezing those ingredients, which ultimately (once again, this part pains me) means Jay wins this round: his advice did in fact lead to a much better dessert.

I'll be back in a few days with a recap on our end-of-summer pop-ups, life at the shop, and a boatload of early autumn recipes (as well as those weekly roundups I promised a while back…don't judge). Until then…

Blueberry, Nectarine & Bourbon Crisp

- 1 pint fresh blueberries

- 2-3 ripe, large nectarines (or other stone fruit) sliced into wedges

- 1/4 cup good bourbon

- 1/4 cup brown sugar

- 1 cup cold butter, cut into small cubes

- 1 cup flour

- 1 cup sugar

- 1 cup old-fashioned oats

- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the fruit, the bourbon and the brown sugar until the fruit is well-coated. Set aside and allow to macerate for at least ten minutes.

In another medium-sized bowl, add the butter, flour, sugar, oats and cinnamon. Squeeze all ingredients through your palms until the mixture is well-incorporated and breaks apart into large pieces (see details in the above post).

Add the fruit and any liquid to the bottom of a cake pan. Add the crumble mixture to the top of the fruit. Do not press the crumble down; instead, generously pile it on top of the fruit until all the fruit is totally covered. Bake for 40 minutes or until the crumble mixture is a nice, golden brown. Carefully remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.

Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting // One Year!!! (weeks 51 & 52)

Did you hear that? That was the sound of all the champagne bottles I’m popping. Okay, maybe not, though it certainly feels like I should.

It’s been one year. One year! One year of stress and sleepless nights, of small celebrations and set backs. One year of new friends, new employees and new worries. In the past year, we’ve been a part of one dozen new pop-up markets around New York, been robbed once, had a (now past) employee try to rip off our recipes twice, have added two entirely new sections to our menu (braised meat mac & cheese or brown rice bowls anyone?), have partnered with one of our favorite dessert companies, have received a handful of bad reviews that helped us to do things better and have been shocked to receive a handful of glowing reviews that have made us realize we are capable of doing things way better than we ever thought we could. We’ve survived the dog days of summer, the doldrums of winter, and all the ups-and-downs in-between. Maybe I really should go open that bottle of champagne after all.

Right now, I feel riddled by clichés; however, they all feel true.

Time flies. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

I really don’t know how our first 365 days of operation have unfolded so quickly. In some ways it feels like Jay and I both still have paint and caulking beneath our fingernails from last summer’s renovation. In other ways, it feels impossible to imagine our life together just one year back.

What did our life look like before our brick and mortar shop existed? What did we do with our days? What did we possibly talk about other than our shop?

Back in 2011 when we sold our first sandwich at a small, weekends-only pop-up in downtown Brooklyn, we never thought we’d last through the first month. Then, when we spent the next fifteen months operating at pop-ups year-round, we felt we might never have the chance to do more than that. When we signed the lease on our first storefront on NYC’s Second Avenue last spring, we were terrified that we’d never be able to pull ourselves together enough to make the whole thing work out. And then, on August 16

th

of last year, the day of my 31

st

birthday, when we opened our doors for real, we were both plagued with anxiety about surviving our first full year.

Last year, the night before my birthday was probably the most unglamorous event of my life. Just short of twelve hours before we were scheduled to open, our dining area was littered with custom tables that still were not assembled; rented tools were spread all across our service bar which, as a result, needed a fresh coat of black paint; our menu sign still rest in the trunk of my mother’s car in New Jersey. I rang in the first few minutes of my 31

st

year by running a shop vac across our kitchen floor and eating the remains from a bag of gummy candy I left out the day before. Very fancy, I know.

This year, life looks pretty different. For the first time since our shop opened, Jay and I are heading out of town for a few nights (I think some people call this sort of getaway a

va-ca-tion

. Did I pronounce that right? I can’t be sure). It’s our first big road trip – a thirteen-hour drive south to Charleston – and, naturally, it revolves around food. We’ll be hitting up both of Sean Brock’s restaurants for dinner, and will basically spend the rest of our time searching for the perfect bourbon and taste-testing skillets of cornbread. We both plan to come back at least five pounds heavier.

I’m packing our cooler with all the basic road trip essentials. PB&Js. Stone fruit from a nearby farm. Raw nuts. Granola. And for a taste of something sweet, these little zucchini cakes with chocolate frosting.

I know, I know.

Chocolate frosting for a road trip? It’s like I’m just asking for a messy t-shirt and sticky hands. However, I figure it’ll be worth the risk to be able to pull over at some scenic southern rest stop, many hours from home, to stretch our legs and enjoy a few sweet bites of these mini end-of-summer cakes to celebrate the fact that together, just one year later, we’ve made it this far. 

Good tidings for now friends. I’ll be back soon.

Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting

Adapted from I Am Baker

For the cake:

-

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

-

2/3 cup sugar

-

½ teaspoon vanilla

-

3 egg whites

-

2 cups all-purpose flour

-

2 tablespoons cornstarch

-

3 teaspoons baking powder

-

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

-

2/3 cup almond milk

-

1 cup shredded zucchini, patted dry

For the frosting:

-

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

-

¼ cup cocoa powder

-

2 cups powdered sugar

-

1 teaspoon vanilla

-

2-4 tablespoons almond milk

-

a pinch of coarse salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg whites. Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, and then on high for about 2 minutes until the mixture becomes very light and fluffy.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Then add some of the almond milk to the sugar mixture. Continue to alternate until all ingredients are mixed. Mix on low until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the zucchini.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins until they are 2/3 full and bake for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make the frosting, add the butter to a clean bowl of an electric mixture and mix for 1 minute until the butter is creamed. Add in the cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to a low speed and add in the milk, one tablespoon at a time.

Remove the muffin tin from the oven and allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Peach & Raspberry Muffins w/ Cinnamon Honey Crumble // Sticky Fingers (Weeks 49 & 50)

Last week, for the first time in our three years as business owners, we were robbed. When Jay called to tell me that someone -- likely a current or former employee based on our current investigation -- snuck into the shop overnight, stripped our cash register and stole whatever was left behind in the petty cash drawer, I was furious, insulted and hurt. During our tenure at our shop, we've always done our best to make it not only a comfortable space for our customers, but also a comfortable space for our staff. We pay livable wages. We offer free food during shifts. We allow our employees to express their individual personalities by wearing whatever street clothes make them feel best. When our company takes part in big events, such as summer concerts and festivals, we hand out hundreds of dollars worth of free tickets so that our crew can enjoy a few fun nights out with their friends. We permit cell phone use and smoke breaks and rarely get pissed if someone shows up to a shift fifteen minutes late or needs a last minute day off. We dole out advances when our employees are faced with difficult times. We provide cash bonuses at the close of crazy pop-up markets or seasons as a thank you for a job well-done. We use mistakes as teachable moments and allow our crew's input about cool new menu ideas. We usually just laugh when our twenty-two year old counter workers show up still reeking of last night's booze. Overall, I think our philosophy is and always has been this: We get it. We've been there. We might own this place, but we're still humans too (albeit mildly dysfunctional ones from time to time).

So when I learned that someone who recently was or still is a part of our team violated us, it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. Was this person that desperate for some extra cash, and if so, why didn't he just ask us for a little something to help float him until the next pay date? Was this person in trouble and at a horrible low point and, if so, were we that blind as bosses to identify such a problem? Was this person out to prove something -- to himself or to his friends maybe -- or out to stick it to us (i.e.: did we, as shop owners, somehow become "the man" and, therefore, someone worth "sticking it" to)? Although my brain kept reminding me to be angry about the missing money, I found myself growing more and more pissed about the fact that 1) someone we trusted and believed in turned his back on us and violated our sense of trust, 2) someone felt we sucked that much as bosses that he didn't feel comfortable coming to us and simply asking for whatever he needed so desperately, and 3) some current or former employee thought we were dumb enough not to notice our shop's cash flow, which infuriated me most of all.

Immediately following this unfortunate "sticky fingers" incident, Jay made phone calls to several of our friends who also own small NYC restaurants, pop-ups, food wholesale businesses and the like. It turned out we weren't the only ones who ever dealt with a greedy employee. In fact, the majority of people we spoke with admitted that they discovered employees skimming a bit of extra cash off the top of the stack within their first year of operation. Sad news, though I think it made us feel slightly better that we weren't the only foolish shop owners who have ever been "had."

Now that we are just a week shy of our shop's one year anniversary, we've learned a lot. For one, we've learned how hard it really is to be the boss. As our business grows, we can't be physically present in the shop nearly as much as we were present at the start of things. If our business is going to grow, then as owners we need to step away from the shop to take part in meetings, to spend time scouting out new markets and new spots for additional locations and doing a whole lot of not-fun business stuff that far exceeds whipping up new condiments in our kitchen. In our absence, we need to trust that the staff we've trained will prepare our recipes just so, that they will show up when they're supposed to show up and that they will complete all their daily tasks before they leave. We also need to trust that they won't rob us during the times when we need to step away.

In addition to stepping away from the shop for meetings and all that fancy business stuff, we've also periodically stepped away from the shop this summer to have, well, a life. Trust me, it's been a pretty hard thing to do. I imagine it is what a young mother feels like the first time she leaves her child in the hands of another caretaker. Terrifying, yet necessary for one's own mental health.

At the start of this summer, when our employee roster grew to fifteen, we knew we needed to begin to occasionally step away. Although during most of the year, weekends at the shop can be kind of insane, New York City tends to clear out on summer weekends, and so we figured we'd take baby steps and use these quiet periods as times for us to begin to step away. For the past month, we've been heading to the shop on Saturday mornings to drop off food and make sure things are running smoothly, then scooting down to the Lower East Side for lunch (I really ought to tell you more about our recent lunch at Momofuku, but more on that in another post), briefly popping our heads back into the shop to take care of any minor disasters (they always -- ALWAYS -- pop up) and then leaving to enjoy the rest of our weekend, our full confidence left in our staff.

On Sundays, we've been waking up early and spending a good hour or so foraging for wild berries near our home. Once we collect one or two quart containers filled with wild blackberries, raspberries and wineberries, we head to our favorite farmers' market and buy all our produce and bread for the week. Then we come home, lounge around on the couches, bake a little treat using the fresh berries, prepare a proper Sunday supper and then sit outside to eat and drink in the warm night breeze. It's been kind of a dream...

Although I've enjoyed all our Sundays spent together, I'm wondering if perhaps some of our temporary seasonal staff members (i.e.: those staff members who, in reality, we've only known a few weeks and who therefore do not know us or our business practices very well) misinterpreted our time away. Maybe they thought we were crappy business owners for not sweating it out in our kitchen twenty-four hours a day. Maybe they thought we were stupid and didn't pay attention to our sales. If only they knew that, even on those days spent outside of the shop, we are never really away. In between all those peaceful moments, we're constantly touching base with our managers, calling different purveyors, our fingers constantly tapping our cell phone screens so we can access the many apps that keep us up-to-date with shop sales, deliveries, catering concerns, payroll, schedules, invoices and spreadsheets.

These Peach & Raspberry muffins are one such treat I've made on a recent quiet weekend. The recipe calls for a generous amount of fruit, meaning that every bite of these muffins includes a taste of sweet, ripe peaches and tart berries, as well as a satisfying cinnamon and honey crumble. Plus, instead of oil, this recipe relies on Greek yogurt, which turns out an incredibly moist muffin that seems completely acceptable for breakfast. Likewise, I've also discovered that is it one hundred percent acceptable to face a half dozen of them while testing out infrared security cameras (say "cheese"!).

Although it is already August, a few weeks worth of summer Sundays still remain, as do several weeks worth of high summer produce. I hope you get to enjoy it all.

Peach & Raspberry Muffins w/ Cinnamon Honey Crumble

For the muffins:

- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

- 2 cups all-purpose flour

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

- 3/4 cup sugar

- 1/2 cup almond milk

- 3/4 cup Greek yogurt

- 2-3 large ripe peaches (or any stone fruit), diced

- 1 cup ripe raspberries (or any berries)

For the crumble:

- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

- 1 tablespoon brown sugar

- 1 teaspoon cinnamon

- pinch of coarse sea salt

- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced

- 2 tablespoons golden honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tins. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In another medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg. Add the sugar and the vanilla and continue to whisk until thick and creamy. Add the almond milk, butter and yogurt and stir to combine. Combine the egg mixture and the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Fold in the fruit and set aside. To make the crumble, add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix by hand until a crumble begins to form. 

Pour the batter into the muffin tins until they are about 3/4 full. Top each muffin with a generous amount of the crumble. Bake the muffins for 35-40 minutes, or until the muffin and the crumble are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of each muffin comes out clean.  

Pickled Blueberries w/ Rosemary Sprigs // Phish at Randall's Island (Weeks 47 & 48)

Our farmers' market is pretty much giving away blueberries. Last week, I popped by to pick up some greens for dinner and happened upon the deal of the summer: six pints of locally grown berries for three bucks. Naturally, I bought twelve. The problem, however, was not that I bought a dozen pints of fresh berries. The problem was that I foolishly did so just one day before we headed out of town.

Okay, so we weren't exactly

out of town

. Rather, we headed out early Friday morning to pack up all our food and equipment at the shop and then zipped it over to

Randall's Island

, where we were scheduled to serve as food vendors at Phish's three-day show.

I've fallen in love a bit with both Governor's and Randall's Islands this summer -- two tiny specks of land that float just off the coast of Manhattan. Although they're both just a five-minute ferry ride from the city (and are still technically a

part

of the city), they feel like a reprieve. There is a ton of green space (almost

all

green space, come to think of it), sweeping views of the East River and the city's skyline just across the water, and perhaps the best part: with the exception of food vendors and emergency vehicles, cars are not permitted on either island. Umm…bliss.

The concert itself felt like such a treat. In college, I was a pretty serious Phish fan. Throughout the school year I'd save all my money from my work study gig so that in the summer I could pack up my Jeep with friends and tents and cases of beer and hit the road to go watch them play up and down the East coast. It was such a carefree time. None of us were worried yet about careers or paying bills or starting families or any of that grown-up stuff that bogs us all down today. The only thing we cared about was getting drunk and listening to music and falling asleep under the stars next to cute tie-dye clad boys. 

On Friday morning, after our crew set up our pop-up booth, I had an opportunity to hang out in front of the stage and listen to Phish warm up during their soundcheck. It felt like a private show. As a stood alone, listening to all the familiar chords, it brought back so many memories and made me feel (just for an instant) like I was that free and easy twenty-one year old girl again for a brief sliver of time. 

When I returned to our booth, all smiles and nostalgia, Jay just kind of shook his head and then reminded me that I was no longer "on tour" with the band. There was work to be done, he reminded me, and then handed me a box of bread and a knife. 

Each night of the weekend, as Phish took the stage and our line of customers slowed down until after the show, Jay and I lingered just outside of our booth to listen to the band play and to engage in a little harmless people watching. There was a lot of inebriated dancing, to say the least. It was funny to watch all those college kids in their teensy belly shirts and their flower crowns moving and shaking and smiling and drinking like it was the very best night of their lives. Who knows? Maybe for some of them, it was. 

For us, it was just another night of work (but with a much better musical backdrop). On Friday and Saturday, we were all sort of revved up by the energy of the band and the crowd. But after three days of waking up early and heading back to the shop to clean up until very late at night, by Sunday I felt completely wiped. During Phish's second set, I was sort of over my own nostalgia and was instead starting to get annoyed by the humidity and the constant smell of cigarettes and the gross port-a-potty situation and the slew of drunk kids who kept returning to our booth to beg for free food. While Jay and our staff started to clean up, I snuck off to a quiet, secure spot behind the booth, situated myself on a large rock at the water's edge and cracked open a beer. Nearby, a few other food vendors huddled on the rocks to sneak a joint, but I didn't mind. I had a clear view of the illuminated NYC skyline and the gentle currents of the East River that lapped against the shore. It was my own private space to sit and sip my beer and quietly listen while Phish performed their final song. While I still love Phish's music, I'm no longer that carefree girl I was way back when. After all, we still had a long night of work ahead of us back at the shop after the show. 

Monday morning, I returned home to discover a dozen pints of on-the-way out blueberries. Pretty poor planning on my part, but I had only myself to blame. Some of the berries were whipped into muffin batter. Some made their way into a summery crisp. About a pints-worth was eaten fresh while I mopped the kitchen floor. As for the rest of them? Well, they found their final fate inside a Mason jar. 

The rosemary-infused brine for these quick-pickled blueberries is as easy as, well (wait for it), pie. You should note that the recipe calls for a fair amount of sugar. However, if your berries are particularly sweet, you can certainly scale the sugar back to your liking. The final result is a jar full of very sweet, pleasantly tart, plump little berries, which you can enjoy on salads, serve alongside cheese spreads, scoop onto some seasonal crostini or use as a substitute for fresh berries in your favorite summer desserts. Enjoy, friends. 

Pickled Blueberries w/ Rosemary

- 1 cup white wine vinegar

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1 3/4 tablespoons kosher salt

- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns

- 3-4 springs fresh rosemary

- 1 pint fresh blueberries

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns and rosemary to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse the blueberries and add them to a clean glass jar. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to slightly cool, about five minutes. Pour the brine over the blueberries, being sure to cover the fruit entirely. Allow to cool to room temperature. When kept covered and stored in the refrigerator, the blueberries will keep will for about 1 week. 

Herby French Potato Salad w/ Thai Basil & Garlic Scapes // The Art of Doing Nothing (Week 45 & 46)

Last summer, our lives were preoccupied with goals and to-do lists. Exactly one year ago this week, we were one month away from opening our sandwich shop, and we were surviving on too many iced coffees and take-out salads from a bad chain restaurant up the street. No matter how much of our renovation to-do list we tackled every day, by the time we finally made it to our bed we both felt like we'd accomplished nothing at all. There was so much to do -- ALWAYS -- and no time to slow down and enjoy the simple things that you are supposed to enjoy throughout the summer season.

My goal for this season was to do the exact opposite of what I did last summer. That is to say, my goal has been to avoid having a to-do list or annoying reminder messages constantly popping-up on my phone. I just want to enjoy the simplicity of the season: the beauty of a long, quiet morning spent outside reading a book, the pleasure of a guilt-free afternoon at the beach, an afternoon browsing the farmers' market and then stockpiling the freezer with homemade sorbets and popsicles just because…

So I've been doing a lot of that recently, which you already know if you follow me on Instagram (I can't help it…there is no end to my beach pics!). I think that in business, as in all areas of life, it is really important to allow yourself permission to step away now and again. Back in the spring, during a particularly stressful period, Jay and I spent some time talking about just this. We were out to dinner at our favorite Afghan restaurant, and despite the amazing rose-scented rice, candied orange peels and pistachio encrusted meats in front of us, we found ourselves going on and on (and on) about the shop. One of us, I don't remember which, put an end to the conversation and basically said, "This is insane. We're out for a nice dinner, the shop is okay, and we're still here droning on about it and worrying about it when it is totally fine. We need to mentally step away."

That week, we picked up a new meditation CD to listen to in our bedroom in the evenings and we made a rule: from that point forward, unless something catastrophic was about to go down, we were no longer allowed to talk about the shop when out to eat. Or out for drinks. Or out with friends. Or out generally doing something together that qualifies as "enjoying life." It's a good rule, one we admittedly break from time to time. However, I think the most important thing comes from the general root of the rule: the idea that we've granted ourselves permission to periodically step away, to mentally check out and to just enjoy life like a normal, non business-owning couple.

I've permitted myself a similar sense of "mental check out" for this summer. Originally, I had big plans to pump out a ton of freelance work, to get a head start on a bunch of new projects for the shop, and to do about a million and a half things around our apartment. However, instead, I've decided to put it all on hold until after Labor Day. I've given myself permission to spend the fleeting summer season reading books and drinking wine in the daytime and spending as many days as possible in the sun without allowing myself to feel an ounce of guilt. And I have to say, it's been pretty great.

Last week, I woke up on a Saturday morning and realized I had nothing -- glorious NOTHING -- to do. Ahh. Ma. Zing. Rather than call up friends or family and lock myself into time slots and plans, I decided to spend the day alone. I walked downtown to pick up a coffee and sat on a bench to leisurely drink it beneath the morning sun (such a rare treat). I popped by the farmers' market, had a long talk with the woman working at my favorite stand, and then filled my tote bag with an absurd amount of new potatoes and garlic scapes. And then I headed home to an empty house to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the afternoon.

Potato salad is not the type of thing one makes for oneself. That is, typically, one makes potato salad for an event, a gathering, perhaps a summer picnic or a casual dinner with friends. And yet, my tote full of new potatoes looked so lovely that I simply could not resist. I'm not a fan of mayo-based potato salads (or really, mayo-based anything); however, I love the tangy flavor of a mustard-based salad. If you maintain a summer herb garden, this is a great recipe to help you clear out some of your overgrown stash, since you can toss nearly any combination of fresh herbs into the mix -- it's pretty hard to go wrong in fact. This time around, I mixed in a heaping handful of Thai basil leaves, which added a sweet, mildly licorice flavor that worked wonderfully with the subtle garlic notes from the sautéed scapes. You can absolutely make this recipe sans lentils; however, the added protein made me feel a bit more like I was eating a proper lunch and less like I was a girl…alone…eating a giant bowl of potato salad for one.  

Herby French Potato Salad w/ Thai Basil & Garlic Scapes

- 1/2 pound new potatoes

- 1/2 pound red potatoes

- 2/3 cup olive oil, plus one tablespoon

- 1 bunch garlic scapes, roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

- 3 tablespoons chicken stock

- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

- 1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard

- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste

- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced

- 1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped

- 1/4 cup Thai basil, roughly chopped

- 4-5 thyme stems, leaves removed and lightly chopped

- 1/2 cup cooked brown lentils

- 3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Add the potatoes to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic scapes and sauté for about 5-8 minutes, or until the scapes are tender and gently charred. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool to the point where they are still very warm but you can comfortably handle them. Slice the potatoes into quarters and add to a medium-sized bowl. Pour the stock into the bowl and gently toss.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt and the remaining oil in order to make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the potatoes and gently toss. Add the onion, basil, Thai basil, thyme and lentils. Add the cooled garlic scapes and any remaining oil from the pan. Add the freshly cracked black pepper. Gently mix all ingredients to incorporate.

Simple Iced Mint & Green Tea // Planting Our Roots (Week 44)

I spent this morning pruning our garden, something I should have done two weeks ago but just got around to today. Even though I've neglected it, miraculously, it has continued to thrive. Our arugula has transformed into a wild bush accented by delicate pastel flowers. Our basil plants are a gorgeous, healthy green -- a true accomplishment since most years mine tend to yellow by mid-summer. Our Thai basil plants are nearly a foot high, and are total garden show-offs, what with all those deep, high-reaching plum-colored flowers and tie-dyed looking leaves.

For most of my adult life, I've created a home garden that consists entirely of fleeting annuals. However, the summer we were married I made a deal with myself to experiment with the perennial game. At the end of that summer (and at the end of each summer since) I've planted at least one edible perennial in the hopes that our harsh winters would not kill them and that they'd return with vigor the following season.

At the time that I began this tradition, I was still high on wedding bliss, so the idea felt very poetic: I would literally plant some roots all along the perimeter of our home, which I would then tend to over the years and which would physically nourish us each summer season.

Though I haven't had luck with everything, both my peppermint and my lemon balm plants have found the beauty in my original gesture, and have returned each season as bigger, bushier versions of their former selves. Because of this, I force way too much mint onto our plates throughout the season. It makes a guest appearance in everything, from salads and spring rolls to creative pestos and galettes and once (in a brutally failed attempt) into a simmering pot of otherwise perfectly decent tomato sauce (I've made up for that minor disaster by becoming a bit of a self-proclaimed master of

homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

).

Luckily, we (and our cholesterol) have been saved by a collection of pretty green Spanish glass pitchers. Anyone who comes to our home regularly knows that one of these pitchers pretty much always hangs out on the corner of our butcher block island, tempting guests with something refreshing to drink. Some days, it is an easy, fruit-infused water. Other days, it is a fresh-squeezed juice or lemonade. This summer, the drink-of-choice has been a foolishly simple Iced Mint and Green Tea. Though you can certainly add more green tea to suit your tastes, I prefer to keep it subtle so that the fresh mint takes center stage (side note: though I regularly make this recipe with peppermint leaves, any minty leaves work fine, as do lemon balm leaves). Though this feels too easy to really serve as a suitable recipe (simply bruise the leaves, add some piping hot water, dip in some green tea bags and finish her off with a spoonful of honey), it is the perfect cool drink to stir up on warm summer days.

P.S.: if you're so inclined, please feel free to drop by Eat Boutique -- I recently wrote a two-part series for them about owning a small food business titled "

Owning a NYC Food Business is Grand, and Other Lies Pinterest Told Me.

"

Simple Iced Mint & Green Tea

- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, thoroughly rinsed

- 6 cups near boiling water

- 2 green tea bags

- 2 tablespoons honey

In a small bowl, muddle the mint leaves to release their oils. In a medium-sized pot, add the muddled leaves and the near boiling water. When the leaves are submerged in the water, carefully muddle them for another minute or so, being careful not to splash the hot water. Steep for 8 minutes. Add the tea bags to the mixture and steep for an additional 2 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium-sized pitcher with ice cubes and set aside. At the end of the 2 minutes, promptly remove the tea bags to avoid a bitter flavor. Using a fine mesh sieve to ensure that no leaves end up in the tea, pour the liquid into the pitcher. Add the honey and stir. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature before serving. When kept covered and refrigerated, the tea will keep well for about 3-4 days.

Tomato & Peach Salad // Summer Nights (Week 43)

Every now and again, the shop allows us to do some really amazing things. Because of the shop, we’ve been invited to seriously cool events around the city that we otherwise would have zero access to. We’ve been afforded the chance to meet a whole slew of talented chefs, artists, editors and other individuals who otherwise likely never would have crossed our paths. A few weekends back, we were granted access to another of these opportunities, right at the start of the summer. Though exhausting, it proved to be the perfect way to begin the season.

If you’ve ever watched a (bad) chick flick about Manhattan, then you’re familiar with the scene: two young, very attractive lovers set sail on a picturesque ferry ride, the scenic New York City skyline standing tall just behind them as they travel to, well, who knows where? Likely, they’re onboard a ferry heading toward one of the small islands that speckle the waters just beyond Manhattan’s shoreline.

In early June, Jay and I and our crew headed to one such island – Randall’s Island – to serve as food vendors for a popular three-day music festival known as the Governor’s Ball.

Going into the event, we anticipated that it would be one of our two most hectic weekends of the summer season. In addition to the festival, we would also have to make sure things were set and ready to go at our shop, as well as at several other pop-up markets we’d have in operation around the city. If we were still twenty-one, I have no doubt that Jay and I would have spent all our hard earned dollars to attend the festival. However, at thirty-two, it just seemed like it was going to be

loooong

: in total, the festival would ultimately require our team’s attention for more than eighteen-hours per day for three days straight. In short, Jay and I would need to be up at 3:30 a.m. on Friday, work until 2:00 a.m., be up again at 6:00 a.m. and then repeat the whole schedule for the next two days.

But despite this knowledge, at the time of our (very early) wake up call on Friday, we were in great spirits. Sure, we would need to

work

at the festival, but our booth would also be situated in between two stages, meaning we could comfortably perch beneath our shaded awning, surrounded by food and coolers filled with cold water, while we listened to the bands. It would be busy, but it would also be

fun

, right?

However, it was on Saturday morning, while I lugged a wobbly hand truck stacked with cases of those soon-to-be-ice-cold bottles of water and ten-pound bags of ice up a muddy hill, weaving it between scantily-clad college kids and balancing my phone on my shoulder while Jay freaked out about a missing menu sign that the whole thing sort of lost its appeal. I was hot. I was sweaty. I was sleep deprived. Jay already had a giant bruise on his face after a mishap unloading our van, and neither of us had yet to have a bite to eat. I just knew that hidden somewhere in the crowds of young concertgoers some manifestation of my twenty-one year old self was surely six beers deep, dancing on one of the vast lawns and shaking her head in disappointment.

Sigh…

After three super intense days, by about seven o’clock on Sunday night, things slowly began to wind down. When I finally sat down to catch my breath for a moment, it occurred to me that, during the last three days, I’d had hardly anything to eat save for a few bottles of water, a piece of fruit, and one bowl of very good sticky rice.

While I’m known for always having a pretty serious appetite, after three days of working in the hot sun, despite my hunger, all I wanted was a few bites of something cool and fresh. This Tomato and Peach Salad, which we served at the festival in addition to our slow braised meat sandwiches, completely revived me. I’m from the school of thought that a ripe tomato can pretty much serve as a meal (I have a tendency to consume them like apples after plucking them fresh from the vine in the summer), and after a long, hot weekend, a bowl of meaty tomatoes paired with oh-so-familiar fresh basil leaves felt like the perfect source of nourishment. However, the unexpected addition of super sweet, sugary slices of stone fruit cooled my whole body down and gave me the energy to muster up a short-lived second wind. After eating a giant bowl of this crazy easy-to-make summer salad and downing about a half dozen bottles of water, Jay and I decided to ditch our booth for a bit so we could go enjoy a few beers together and check out one of our favorite bands, Vampire Weekend. While we were both exhausted, our bodies sore from being on our feet, as we stood on the outskirts of the crowd down near the front of the stage, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied. Before us, swarms of college kids guzzled beers and twirled one another in the warm early summer night air, a sprawling view of the illuminated New York City skyline just above their heads. Though the weekend was long and we both craved the comfort of our bed, for a fleeting moment, as I finished my beer and listened as the band sang their familiar lyrics, my husband standing beside me, I couldn’t help but think how fortunate we were to be there.

Tomato & Peach Salad 

- 4-5 large, ripe tomatoes

- 2 tablespoons kosher salt

- 3-4 large, ripe peaches

- 1 cup fresh basil leaves

Throughly rinse the tomatoes, peaches and basil. Dice tomatoes and add to a large bowl. Pour the salt onto the diced tomatoes and give them a good mix. Allow the tomatoes to sit, uncovered, for about ten minutes, or until their juices begin to fill the bottom of the bowl. Next, dice the peaches and add them to the bowl. Thinly slice or chiffonade the basil leaves, add them to the fruit mixture, and throughly mix the salad. Add more salt to taste. The salad can be eaten immediately, though when covered and stored in the fridge, it tastes even better the next day. 

Strawberry Preserves Sorbet & Oat Ginger Crisps // A Birthday Treat (Weeks 41 & 42)

Tomorrow is Jay's birthday. He'll be thirty two. Thirty feels like a big deal in the birthday department, as does thirty five, though thirty two just sort of comfortably hovers between these two milestones. Thirty two feels like an age when we're still close enough to our twenties to occasionally make ill decisions, yet close enough to mid-life that we know we need to keep them far and few between.

Although Jay and I are both suckers for traditions and holidays and the like, neither of us are big birthday people. You know the type. Those people who spend multiple weekends celebrating their birthdays with a million groups of friends, the type who purchase special outfits to wear on their special day and who expect a million gifts in celebration of the fact that they've made it another year. Around here, birthdays usually begin with a card and a thoughtfully written note. At some point during the day, we'll share a special meal and a few rounds of drinks. Some years there will be gifts; others there will not (there is really no rhyme or reason to this decision to tell you the truth…). The only real constant is that, every year, each of our birthdays always includes a special dessert.

Although I might not be able to tell you every gift Jay has ever purchased me for my birthday (or vice versa), I feel strongly that I could tell you every dessert we've shared on one another's special days. We still reminisce about Jay's twenty fifth birthday -- the first we spent together -- when we walked through Times Square late one humid June night after attending a comedy show and rushed the first Mister Softee truck we could find, vanilla and chocolate swirls dripping down our hands as we stood on a curb and devoured them. I guess the tradition started there and hasn't really stopped since.

Last year, we opened the shop on my thirty first birthday. Although Jay and I keep birthdays simple, we always do

something

to recognize them so that the day does not simply pass us by. But last year, it was the very first time in my life when I honestly forgot my own birthday. For the days leading up to it, we were so painfully overwhelmed with last minute tasks and to-do lists to get our doors open on time that the thought of a birthday was quite literally the furthest thing from either of our minds.

The night before we opened was one of the longest nights of my life. At 11:30 p.m., we realized we did not have the right hardware to install one of our dining counters, none of the custom made table tops were connected to their bases, boxes of trash were still all over the dining area, our electricity was inexplicably not working on one whole side of the shop and our large menu sign was still in the back of my mother's car in New Jersey. At exactly 12:01 a.m., the first official minute of my birthday, I was in the back of the kitchen running a shop-vac across every surface and periodically pausing to rub a copper scrubber across the tile floor. It was very glamourous.

I don't know what made Jay look at the clock at that precise moment, but for whatever reason he did. Before I even realized he left the shop, he was back inside of it and standing at our recently painted service counter, a defeated look spread across his face. "I'm so sorry," he said. "With everything going on, I just completely forgot. This was the best I could do on such short notice." In front of him rest a double chocolate muffin and a pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream purchased from the bodega next door, each dessert adorned with a thin pastel birthday candle. I turned off the shop-vac and moved toward the service counter in silence. "It's my birthday, isn't it?" I asked, stunned that I had completely forgotten the date. We both had a lot to wish for at that moment, though when I blew out the two candles I was so physically tired I think I simply wished for sleep. When the candles were extinguished, we devoured the ice cream and the muffin, which ended up being the only things we ate until nearly twenty-four hours later, after we closed the doors to the shop at the end of her very first day.

This year, we both have a bit more clarity. Though we don't have anything special planned for tomorrow -- likely just work, a quiet dinner and then maybe a few drinks with family or friends -- what we do have, as always, is dessert. Jay's favorite summer dessert is fruity sorbet. We've experimented making sorbets a lot together over the years, though we rarely follow a recipe. Usually, we just blend some fruit, a bit of citrus, and a splash of whatever alcohol we happen to have on hand. However, this Strawberry Preserves Sorbet has completely made me rethink the way we make sorbet at home. The recipe is simple -- blend berries, ginger, and water, then freeze -- though the addition of fruit preserves (as opposed to sugar) creates a smooth and creamy sorbet packed with serious berry flavor. To accompany it, I've also made a small batch of super thin, incredibly crispy ginger and oat cookies, which are surprisingly easy to make (and no mixer required!). While I plan to nestle them into giant scoops of sorbet, they'd also serve as perfect vehicles for simple, strawberry sorbet sandwiches. I hope you'll like them, and I hope the birthday boy will too. Here's to another year!

Strawberry Preserves Sorbet & Oat Ginger Crisps

from Food 52 and Green Kitchen Stories, respectively

Strawberry Preserves Sorbet

- 4 cups strawberries, rinsed and hulled

- pinch of salt

- 1/4 cup strawberry preserves

- 1/4 cup apricot preserves

- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest

- 1 heaping teaspoon fresh grated ginger

- 1/3 cup water

- 1 cup ice cubes

Add the berries, the salt and the preserves to a blender or a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add the lemon juice, the lemon zest, the ginger and the water and blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Add the ice cubes and blend until the ice is broken up and no large pieces remain in the puree. Add the puree to an ice cream maker and mix for 2-3 hours, or until the sorbet becomes thick and creamy.

Oat Ginger Crisps

- 4 tablespoons butter, room temperature

- 3 tablespoons maple syrup

- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

- 2 tablespoons almond milk

- 2/3 cup rolled oats

- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger

- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

- pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together all ingredients in a medium sized bowl (you can use an electric mixer, though I prefer to use a wooden spoon for this recipe). When mixed, it will look like you have very little dough -- do not worry. This is right.

Shape the dough into small rounds (you should end up with 10-12 rounds total) and drop onto a baking sheet. Using your fingers, flatten out the rounds until they become very thin. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cookies are a nice, golden brown (the centers will still be soft, though this is okay, as they will continue to crisp up as they cool down). Store in an airtight container for 1-2 days.