Potato Salad Days

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My favorite, favorite wine is a Sauvignon Blanc out of New Zealand under the White Haven label. I have a longtime friend who lives with his family in New Zealand right now, and despite the distance between us, he’s well aware that this wine is my go to, because I’ve sent him pictures from locations equally exotic like Orange Beach, Alabama that look like this:


In return, when he and his family went on a trip made up exclusively of locations where he could indulge in some day drinking he sent me a picture like this:


How completely thoughtful is that?

Might it have been more thoughtful had he not added the comment, “They say it tastes better here” and instead asked his hosts to send me a case of same said wine from the winery while he was there? Perhaps. But it’s the thought the counts, right? He is very thoughtful, this guy. He’s a friend from my salad days when we were both oh so young and thought we were oh so grown up. And I love that we’re friends still.

I re-read a book recently and these words spoke again to me:

Anything I've lost

The author was referring to Aparigraha, or non-attachment, which is the last Yama in the Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. In this strange world we live in today, never has this principle resonated more. I don’t think I’m the only person who took this slower time, this quiet, to reflect on what I find to be most important to me. In the end, don’t those things and ideas that we’ve clung to so tightly also become like so much noise? Sometimes the things on which we place value are not things but people and relationships. I try to remember to hold loosely to those, not because they don’t mean something to me. At times they mean more than almost everything. No, I hold loosely because everything in life comes to us on loan.

Keys, money, pets, a broken vase, a loved one, an earring, one sock inexplicably lost in the dryer, a job, a good friend, my mind, a band of gold, a memory, naïveté, a car in the mall parking lot in December, 457 pounds (cumulatively), a bad habit, an identity, a plan, a hat, my heart.

Here’s what I’ve found to be true: Each time I’ve lost something, I’ve gained something, too. 

I lost my grandmother not too long ago, and when I came across an article written by a woman who claimed her grandmother had the best potato salad recipe ever. I thought to myself, challenge accepted, which made me realize that what I gained from that loss is a fiercely competitive streak. You’d understand had you ever had the pleasure of meeting my grandmother.

My apologies for not having the link to this other woman’s potato salad recipe for comparison’s sake, not that you’ll need it, but I submit to you MY grandmother’s potato salad recipe. It’s New York-style and it is so stinking good that it doubles as her macaroni salad recipe. So efficient that woman. And it’s so delish, so simple, so very minimalist. This is the perfect season for a potato salad, so go give it a whirl. Report back how much you love it, too.

Grandma’s BEST Potato Salad

6 potatoes, large (not Idaho)
1 C Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise
1/4 C vinegar plus 1/4 Cup water
1/4 C chopped onions
1/2 C chopped celery
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
pinch garlic powder

BOIL potatoes in skins until tender.

POUR off water and let potatoes cool and dry in their skins.

PEEL and slice into mixture of other ingredients, tossing occasionally as you add the slices. If too dry, add lemon and water (half and half), one tablespoon at a time.

CHILL before serving.

Variations: Decorate with fresh or chopped parsley or make it vegan by subbing in your favorite vegan mayo. If you’d like to try out Grandma’s BEST Macaroni Salad, just sub in your favorite elbow macaroni for the potatoes. So, so good!!!

Pretty Good Italian

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There is just something to be said for slow mornings. I usually book myself to the point of overwhelm, to include this weekend. During one of the three commitments that would keep me engaged until after midnight Friday, making that a twenty hour day, I experienced what can only be described as a rare moment of clarity and decided to cancel most of my weekend. And when my trainer shot me a text at 6:30 am the next morning to let me know bootcamp was cancelled, I simply rolled over and fell back to sleep. It was glorious. 

Not that waking up early can’t be glorious, too. I spent a few days in Alabama last month and one morning the sun woke me with this. Such a show off…

Orange Beach Sunrise

So, Alabama last month. North Carolina each of the two months before that one. A couple of side trips to locales in Florida sprinkled here and there. Maybe Minnesota next month. I need to stop over-scheduling myself. I feel like there’s no room around things for me to digest and appreciate them. I mean, I do appreciate and am grateful for the wonderful opportunities in my life, but sometimes I wonder if I’m fully engaged or just crossing things off a list. It’s becoming increasingly important to me that I be present; however, being goal- and task-oriented makes it a struggle to stop and just breathe sometimes, you know? To that end, I added that song, Just Breathe by Pearl Jam, to my running playlist to remind me to, um, you know. And lately I’ve been running to Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi, too. So good.

That running playlist is up to just under three hours in length now, and I’m still looking for more songs. Because I signed up to run a half-marathon in February. Because I’m insane. I was actually feeling pretty confident for about a week or so after I signed-up, and then someone asked me how far I’d run before. That’s when I remembered the farthest I’d ever run is three miles. So, Imma need some music to get me through this… Oooh! Gotta Get Thru This by Daniel Bedingfield. Excellent running song. I do love the oldies, huh?

I’m making my mother’s Sunday Sauce today and it’s so, so yummy. I do the sauce from scratch, but an easy cheat is to use jars of sauce and just church it up with fresh garlic, onions, spices and some wine. Either way, I recommend starting it on Saturday because it’s just better after the flavors get the chance to mingle and meld. At the very least, you’ll want to start it early in the day to allow the meat to get all fall-off-the-bone tender.  But, if you want it to just taste like you cooked it for two days, you can turn off the heat after you’ve cooked it through the full three hours, let the sauce come to room temperature, and then heat it all up again. Italian food is so forgiving.  

Morning Coffee

So kinda random, but I mentioned to a friend of mine that I planned to quit drinking coffee again. This is something I do about once a year. I do love coffee, which he knows, so I probably shouldn’t have been surprised when he asked why. It startled me, though, and being more focused on the fact that the question startled me than the actual answer to the question, I just told him, “I drink too much of it, and I don’t think all that caffeine’s good for me. So I’m gonna quit.”

So that was mostly true. I like coffee so much that there are times I’ll go to bed because it means I get to wake up to have coffee. Not in a weird way. Just, you know,.. okay, yeah it’s weird. It can become a problem, but that’s not the reason I quit. I mean, why would anyone quit something that’s delicious and just kinda becomes part of your everyday routine? Plus, decaf.

The whole truth is, I quit because I don’t ever want to need anything. If I feel myself starting to need something, I quit it for a while just to prove to myself that I can. When I love something I’m no good at moderation. I do envy those folks who can take-or-leave things, but that’s not me. I’m either all in, or I’m out. Which made it very hard for me to accept this advice about love from my grandmother:

“Marry the one who you can live with, not the one you can’t live without.”

When I was younger, that statement made about zero sense to me. Given the choice, who of us wouldn’t want to marry the person we can’t live without? Isn’t that, by definition, the person we should choose?

But I’m all grown up now, and I do believe that love is a choice. Don’t get me wrong, I also believe we don’t get to choose with whom we fall in love. There’s a difference, and hearts are blind beggars, aren’t they? People come in and out of our lives because something in us needs something in them or vice versa. Often it’s just for a season, and that’s all it’s supposed to be. Subconsciously, we pick up on those thousand little idiosyncrasies of the other person’s psyche that speak to those thousand little idiosyncrasies in our own. Our hearts only ever see how the parts in that person’s heart fit and make our hearts whole. That’s pretty much the bar.

We’re always evolving, though, and the feelings we associate with being “in love” last on average for only two to three years. At most, you get a short seven years of being “in love” with another person. So if you allow your heart free rein to choose and it chooses the right heart for a season someone who would be the wrong partner for a lifetime, you will realize it sooner than later.

Here’s the thing, though: if the only reason you’re with someone is because you’re in love with him or her, then not being in love with him or her anymore is a good enough reason to leave. Right? I mean, that’s how that tracks. I don’t know about you, but when I go all in, I want it to be for something that has the potential to last longer than seven years. 

I guess what it comes down to is, though we can’t really choose who we fall in love with, we do get to choose with whom we make our life. So in hindsight, as unromantic as it may seem, I do agree with my grandmother’s advice. My wish for you, though, is that the person you can live with is also the person you love with all your heart. I hope it’s a person who has the same basic values you have and someone who’s going to be a good co-parent to your children. Someone who has ambitions that extend past the next paycheck or party. Someone with whom you can grow and dream, who keeps trying to be better and makes you want to be better, too. Someone who will stick with you longer than a season and stick by you despite those moments you both can’t stand the sight of each other. Someone you keep on choosing and who keeps choosing you.

It’s not really about the feeling of “in love” because that comes and goes,.. and comes back again, too. It’s more about that commitment and that life you make together, because that’s real love.

Cook with the Ones You Love

My biological father was out of the picture when I was still very young, and my mother met the man would someday become my dad when I was nine-years-old. Subsequently, I grew up in an Irish-Italian household, and by that I mean those were the predominant cultural influences. We’re All-American and, depending which line you’re tracing, have been for many centuries. Still, you can imagine. 

Anyway, the night she invited him to our home to first meet me and my two sisters, I watched from the window as this white sports car pulled into our driveway. The driver’s side car door opened and out stepped this dark-haired man, and a moment later, a giant dog unfolded itself from the tiny backseat of the car and loped into the yard. That was enough for me. At nine, dogs and horses were my jam. Still are, as a matter of fact. And this guy had both a dog the size of a horse, and, something I found out later, an actual horse. So cool. Also, he knows every line of The Godfather – I and II. Plus, this guy took on my crazy family, so he’s pretty much a saint.

(I’m imagining him reading this, and I know he’ll start laughing as he reads that line about him being a saint. Of us, he’s definitely the crazy one… He’ll start laughing again right here. Then he’ll holler for my mother and tell her, “Ollie, it’s the middle one again. She’s a real piece of work this one.”)

Anyway, that night my mom made spaghetti – natch. I mean, what else does a Brooklyn-born Irish girl make her new Italian beau? She made basically the same sauce I’m making today. I mean, it hadn’t yet been perfected. Not that perfection is ever really the goal anyway. It’s all about improvement, right? There were false starts. Too much salt. Not enough garlic. Burnt pots. Thrown pots. Tofu sausage. Sticky pasta. After many years of trial-and-error, though, and gleaning advice from her Italian mother-in-law, the sauce has evolved and become what it is today – this perfect marriage of flavors that together have become deeper and more nuanced with time. And I happen to think it’s pretty great.

Sunday Sauce

8 Italian Sausages (hot, mild or combined)
3 lbs beef short ribs or pork ribs
Salt & Pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 med onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dry red wine
2-28-oz. cans Italian style plum tomatoes, with juice, squeezed by hand or broken up in skillet with a wooden spoon.
3 basil leaves, torn
1 dried bay leaf

HEAT 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a stockpot on medium heat. Salt & pepper ribs on all sides and cook until brown on all sides, set aside.
BROWN the sausages on both sides in batches, so you don’t crowd the pot. Remove the sausages from the pot, cover and refrigerate.
ADD 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the pot, add the onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 tsp. salt and cook until onion is soft.
ADD the wine to deglaze the pot, scraping up the brown bits on the bottom. Cook until the wine evaporates by half, about a minute.
ADD the crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, 3 leaves of torn basil, salt and pepper to taste.
RETURN only the ribs to the pot. Bring sauce to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.
ADD sausages to the pot and cook with the lid off for 2 hours.
REMOVE meat from the sauce. Place on a large serving platter, cover with foil.
REDUCE sauce on medium heat on top of the stove, until thickened.
DEBONE, as necessary, the short ribs and shred meat. Return to sauce.

The sauce can be made ahead a day or two, just reheat and serve with freshly boiled pasta.

Meet Me in the Woods for Cake and Wine

Had breakfast here today with just the sweetest people ever. Surprising how some folks become friends almost without you realizing it’s happening. All of the sudden they’re just part of your life and it is effortless and beautiful. I’m so grateful that I have friends who’ve become family and for my family who were my first and best friends.

Craft Kafe

To be honest, it has not been completely without effort. I read this book a bit back that was all about how the energy you put out into the world comes back to you, so I’ve been working very hard to put out positive energy. The theory is that, by doing so, I’ll attract positive people. So with that, should I be at all worried about the consequences of acting as a kind of happiness pump or the false virtue inherent of moral desert?

M’kay, I didn’t think so either.

On the topic of books and family, I have this Reader’s Digest anthology of “The World’s Best Fairy Tales.” This book has been in my family longer than I have and over the years, I’ve read it through a time or two. Along with my grandmother’s cookbooks and my mother’s silverware, it’s one of my dearest possessions.

I’m always a little surprised at the difference in the stories Disney tells when compared to the way the Brothers Grimm crafted them. The stories by Grimm are way brutal and quite a few are missing the requisite happy ending. I do love a happy ending. But at least the name “Grimm” sort of gives you an idea of what you’re in for. When confronted with the habitual and rampant slaughter of blood relatives and loved ones by the talented writers of Disney movies, I wonder just how exactly Disney is the world of laughter and cheer they advertise. Is it because the Disney stories end happily that makes all that carnage okay?

Today I reread “Little Red Riding Hood,” because that song Meet Me in the Woods by Lord Huron makes me think of it and has been rolling through my playlist since my sister sent it to me in response to my sending her The Night We Met a couple of weeks ago while I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner at Ocean Prime. All families partake in this sort of dueling song sharing, right??? BTW I highly recommend both the songs and the restaurant. The sea bass is money.

Okay, so back to Red and her story.

Let’s dissect how this story goes down: First of all, Red Riding Hood was taking her sick grandmother cake and wine, which I’m pretty sure should have warranted a call to child protective services by a concerned neighbor. I mean, right? So as Red’s traveling through the woods alone, with booze and cake, she comes across a creature that she doesn’t recognize as the stranger-danger wolf it is. Red – oversharer that she is – tells the stranger that she’s on her way to Granny’s house.

Then the wolf distracts Little Red Riding Hood by sending her off to pick flowers for her grandmother while he travels ahead, eats the grandmother, and when Red shows up and starts asking questions, he eats her, too. Soon after, a huntsman swings by to poke the head in only to find the sleeping and very full wolf. The huntsman cuts open the belly of the wolf to release Granny and Red. Then the three of them fill the belly of the somehow still sleeping wolf with stones trapping it in place… and well, blah-blah, happy ending for everyone except the wolf.

In all this, here’s what rings true to me from the story: the girl didn’t recognize the wolf for what it was.

Have you ever found this to be true, that you just didn’t recognize the type of person with whom you were dealing until they’d already become enmeshed in your life? I think it happens because we, like Red, only want to see the good, the positive, in people. We send out positive and expect that’s what we’ll get back, and mostly we do. But, sometimes, in projecting positive, we fail to see someone’s true character until we’ve already let him or her close. Then, we have to go through the painful process of cutting them out of both our life and our heart, with the latter being a bit harder for most of us, I’d say. When we finally do, though, there’s that sense of relief, a surprising knife-like slash of sadness, but gratitude, too, that it didn’t go on longer or cut deeper.

And I think we should just focus most on the gratitude piece, don’t you?

In a way, didn’t Red get off easy that these events unfolded as quickly as they did? Discomfort was quick, over soon, but the lesson learned will linger. It was a narrow escape for our girl but one that’s left her much wiser. While not exactly happy, perhaps that’s the best ending for situations such as these – for any of us.

Morning Sunshine!

I ran this morning at a local park. It was EARLY and I was able to catch the sunrise. It’s not what I intended when I set off on the trail, but as best I could I recreated a run I took with a friend about a year ago sans the stops for push-ups, random dog petting and getting lost in the woods. He’s someone who’s not in my life right now, and that’s probably for the best. But I think, too, that it’s important to remember friends who are gone, however they’ve left, and the things they brought into your life both good and bad. There’s a time to mourn.

I was listening to this oldie by Concrete Blonde and found myself reflecting on the things that have changed in my life in the last year, that despite the carnage and even with no happy ending in sight for anyone’s version of our story, how much further along I am in some ways because of this person. I’m grateful to him for that. I think he knows that. I hope he knows that. After all, we got lost together in those woods. Didn’t we?

I wonder why I hold on so stubbornly sometimes to things I should let go. Why when something hurts, I avoid it with silence, obscure it with a smile or a joke or hyperbole. Don’t we all disguise ourselves, though; hide those things that we don’t want others to see? Distract them with something pretty when they try to look too close. Just how complicit are we in these situations when each of us plays at this sort of mutual deception? Self-deception, really, in the way to which we cling to the idea of the fairy tale in spite of all evidence to the contrary.

Which of us is the wolf? Is it the one who upon waking finds herself filled with stones that trap a body, a mind, a heart here in this place that despite its darkness is still so beautiful? And those people we let in, that we finally do let come close, with those eyes that are big enough, and all the better to see us with, can we hold them harmless for devouring our idea of what we believed they were any more than they can forgive us for not being what they imagined us to be?

Vanilla Cake with White Wine Buttercream Frosting

3 cups flour (equal parts cake and all-purpose flours)
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 ¼ cups whole milk, room temperature

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking pans. Line bottom of pans with parchment or wax paper, or dust lightly with flour.

SIFT together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

BEAT butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color.

ADD eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition;

STIR in vanilla.

ADD the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk.

STIR until just blended.

POUR batter into prepared pan.

BAKE at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30 minutes, or until cake springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes before inverting onto wire racks to cool completely.

White Wine Buttercream

1 cup unsalted butter
4-5 cups confectioner sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup white wine

BEAT butter until creamy.

BLEND in the confectioner’s sugar, cup by cup, until well-combined.

FOLD in vanilla and white wine.

BEAT frosting until fluffy. Do not overwork, but if the frosting is too stiff, add more wine –  almost always the correct answer to every problem –  one teaspoon at a time

Out of Mind Brownies

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These brownies are baking right now, and my little home smells de-li-cious. Because, um, warm chocolate. On the yummy foods smell scale, that’s right up there with vanilla, pumpkin pie, apples and cloves, cinnamon,..

It’s autumn, people, which means that in my little area on the gulf coast of Florida, the temperature stays below 80 degrees until after 9 am. Woo hoo! I have pumpkin spice latte on the brain, but, yes, brownies in the oven. What can I say? I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle… soon to be wrapped in a lightweight sweater and some super cute boots. Just saying.

One of my good friends turned me onto her trainer and so far that’s going so, so well. I think we all get stuck in our routines, you know. I’d run every.darn.day – and practically do, come to think of it – but our bodies get to a place where what we’re doing just sort of maintains or, worse, wears out. We need to cross train. I’ve mostly relied on yoga and Pilates to mix things up. It’s time for weights, though, and my, clearly far too subtle, hints to that big guy at the gym that “I could use a tip or two on what to do on the machines” fell on deaf ears. To be fair, I’m 5’4″ and he is so much taller than me. I’m never sure that my voice carries all the way up there. He mostly just smiles and waves down at me. Thus, I now have a fantastic trainer who makes me do very hard things in a big ol’ warehouse (read: no air conditioning) but plays really good dance music while I’m doing them. #totallyworthit

So, not dance music, but this song by Tia Gostelow called Out of Mind made it onto my playlist. Digging the mellow beat and the lyrics: “What’s on your mind lately? I know your eyes say things. He is screaming but your mouth is closed.”

You see people like this, too, right? Everything looks normal on the outside, but you can see in their eyes that they’re going through something. I’ve been seeing this a lot lately. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like things are at a heightened state. Full moon was a week or so ago, so that’s not it. Holidays coming? Time change? Season change? I don’t know. Just life, I guess.

I ran into an old friend and the change in him because of what he’s dealing with in his life… you can definitely see it in his eyes. I felt like I didn’t even know him anymore. He’s just different. He even told me this had changed him. And it broke my heart to see him hurt. Never quite know what to say in the moment. In my head, it’s all platitudes. Trite. Redundant?

So often I’ve found that nothing heals like time, and in time, once you’ve decided to let this go, you’ll be okay. I promise. And when your heart is healed, you may not have forgotten the way you feel right now but the pain will not be as acute. You will stop being so angry. You will remember that you once loved this person and that the time you spent with her makes her part of you forever. Because of that – or maybe in spite of it – and because of this – what you’re feeling right now – you will love the next person better than you could have, better than you would have. And even though right now you can’t imagine loving anyone again ever, I promise you this, too: you will.

But I didn’t say any of those things. I saw in his eyes that he wasn’t ready to hear them and by the time he is, he’ll know them. On some level, he already does.

Instead I gave him a very big hug, told him how sorry I am that he’s hurting, and then I baked him some brownies.

Hazelnut Brownies

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted Nutella
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts

PREHEAT oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 9 pan with parchment paper
POUR melted butter into a large mixing bowl. Whisk in sugar by hand until smooth.
ADD in eggs and vanilla extract. Whisk for one minute.
WHISK in melted Nutella until combined and smooth.
FOLD in in flour, cocoa powder, and salt until just combined.
STIR in chocolate chips and chopped hazelnuts.
POUR into prepared pan.
BAKE in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Let cool completely before slicing.

Banana Bread for Naeem

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Making banana bread today. I found a new recipe that’s not overly ambitious, not even seasonal really, but today I have some overripe bananas and the need to create something. What I didn’t have is enough nuts, so I popped into the local market to pick some up. 

While I was standing in line, the very nice lady behind me asked me if I soaked my grains and nuts before eating them. They’re easier to digest and are more nutritious if you soak them ahead of time, she told me, and will make for a crunchier nut in baking. I’m totally game for all of the above, so this time I did.

Early last month Bon Iver dropped a new album and I’m totally obsessed with the song Naeem. I had the song on repeat for this morning’s run, and through my AirPods, Justin Vernon serenaded me all through this recipe. The line, “All along me, I can hear you” is particularly poignant to me right now as I’ve been thinking more and more about family and friends and how they become such a part of us and we them.

They say we’re each the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time, so it makes sense that we’d want to surround ourselves with the most positive people we can. Those people who challenge me to be better while making me still feel accepted and loved are the ones with whom I try to spend my time and energy.

I’ve had people in my life, though – I think we all have had this – and found that it’s better for them or for me or for both of us that we’re not in each other’s lives. That can be a hard thing to accept, but sometimes the very best way you can love someone is to not be in his or her life. Especially if the relationship isn’t benefitting either of you. Harder still to be the one to make the decision to step away when that’s not what you want. Especially when it’s not what you want. That’s the loneliest form of love, isn’t it?

I fully believe, though, that some people come into your life and their purpose is to teach you something or move you to the next place in your life, to the place you’re meant to be. They’re not supposed to be with you forever. They’re just meant to touch your life or you theirs. It doesn’t mean they’re not wonderful people who bring value to the world. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. It doesn’t mean they’re not significant to you or to your life.

In some ways they are the most.

Banana Bread

ADJUST the oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare your baking tin. I’m old school and smear the sides and bottom with butter and then dust the insides with cake flour. 

WHISK the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a large bowl.

CREAM the butter and brown sugar together. 

ADD eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 

BEAT in the yogurt, mashed bananas, and vanilla extract until combined. 

MIX the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. 

FOLD in the nuts, if using.

SPOON the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. After about 30 minutes you’ll want to cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil to avoid scorching the top and sides. 

REMOVE from the oven and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack.

COVER and store banana bread at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer (wrapped well) for up to three months. 

Cookies and Prufrock

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In honor of Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, I baked cookies this weekend.

When I claim to have “baked” cookies, I mean that I made the cookies from scratch rather than slicing flat discs off a pre-packaged roll of refrigerated dough, placing the them onto a Silpat lined cookie sheet and sliding them into a 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes before pulling them out of the oven and triumphantly proclaiming to anyone within earshot, “Huzzah! I have baked cookies.”

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and technically, that is the job.

I tend to bake, though, when something’s weighing on my mind and it’s usually all that’s required to take my mind off whatever that something is. So I cut butter into teeny tiny cubes, and I level off cups of flour and sugar; measure out teaspoons of baking soda and salt, thinking of Prufrock as I do. I unpack brown sugar and carefully pour in vanilla and beat in eggs – one at a time – before stirring in the mixture of flour and baking soda and salt and finally, folding in the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

I’m about four months, and one very casual dating situation with someone who keeps telling me what a “down chick” I am (can someone please tell me if that’s a good thing?) out of my last relationship, and I’m really in no rush to start down that road again. When it happens, it happens, and I’ve no doubt it will happen. And indeed there will be time, or so Mr. Eliot has promised.

Life is busy, though. I find myself very focused on the changes going on in and around my life now. I look forward and there are dreams, plans, and goals. I’m not anxious to write them down or talk about them, though, because I’m afraid that, like a birthday wish, if I say it aloud, it won’t come true.

Reading that now, it seems so silly, but that’s a real thing. I heard once that if you share a goal, speak it aloud, you’re actually less likely to follow through with it. It’s as though saying you want to do or achieve that thing – whatever it is – fulfills the largest part of that goal for you. Like you’re recognized as a better person for even ASPIRING to do it. As though that were the impetus for having the goal in the first place – to be seen as someone who would do, achieve, or aspire to such a goal.

I know people who won’t talk about what they’re doing or writing or pursuing until it’s real, and I kind of dig that about them. I can’t put my finger on why exactly. I guess I just admire them for being able to keep secret something they really have to be so excited about. Don’t you think that takes incredible restraint? But instead of exposing that wonderful project or creation, they protect it until it can stand on its own. Like a child or a new relationship, they keep it close and safe in order to allow it to grow and develop without the influence of the outside world. I think there’s something beautiful in that.

I ran this morning. I ran yesterday morning, too. Then I went to yoga and after that I dropped off some chocolate chip cookies to an ex-whatever that was and current friend, someone I still think is very cool. He’s one of those people who will hold on to an idea or a goal or a secret, or even just a memory, to keep it close and safe…just like, once upon a time, he did for me.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

BAKE at 375° F for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Cheese, Please…

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My son and his family live in a tiny little town in California. I always tell people that he lives in Northern California because it’s north of San Francisco and it is, literally, always cold when I visit. Every.darn.visit. Somehow for me that translates to being in the North. Someone who’s actually from California told me that the area where he lives is considered “Middle” California.

Is that like “Middle-Earth”? I want to ask, because I fail to see the distinction. Should I be on the lookout for a gold ring, a golem and a hobbit to save me, and my UGGs, from the endless drizzle and 40 degree weather in the month of MAY?


The state is so, so amazing, and I love my time there. But they are a nation unto themselves. Seriously.

My son, who to me is much more King in the North than Frodo, and his beautiful bride were lured to California years ago by an organic and vegetarian food business that hired the boy out of college to be a dairy buyer for them. The company rewarded the leap of faith they made to leave their family on the East Coast to make a home on the West Coast by sending the boy all over the world to buy cheese while my daughter-in-law busied herself by becoming an award winning cheese maker. Long story short, they’re now both cheese makers for a tiny little cheese company they’ve started called Folly Cheese, and we’re real proud of that.

Also along the way, they added another member to the family. We’re all in love with her little self, so the visits have become more frequent and that much sweeter – cold, drizzle, and golems be damned!

Brown Steer

On my last visit, I asked the Boy to show me how to build the perfect cheese plate, since this is his business and he would know.  I thought I would share with you all on Father’s Day, in honor of the fact that the Boy turned out to be one of the best Dad’s I know, his perfect cheese plate.

Basically, the key to building the perfect cheese plate is variety, combining flavors, colors, and textures that complement each other. For our plates, we used a bolder cheese and a flavored cheese. Shortbread crackers, artisan crisps, red grapes, dried apricots, walnuts, apples, charcute, olives, blue cheese, a European hard cheese, Brie, a nice imported aged cheddar, feta, and some honey.

Cheeses should be served at room temperature or you won’t really taste them. To make our cheese plate we used some imported as well as some local cheeses from Mount Tam from Cowgirl Creamery, Point Reyes blue cheese, a soft cheese from Tomales Farmstead Creamery, and of course, Folly Cheese.

Presentation is important, but you don’t need to get fancy unless you’re really feeling fancy. Even just a simple cutting board can do double duty as a cheese plate. Come to think of it, a cake plate, a platter, a basket… just about anything works as a cheese plate. Go crazy.

Throwing a full wheel of cheese on a board is beautiful but guests typically won’t want to make the first cut. Go ahead and break up the cheese into some chunky pieces and leave some cutting implements and spreading knives on the plate.

Also, crackers, crisps and crostini take up a lot of room so it’s better to serve those in a basket on the side. You really can’t mess up though, so do what feels right and looks beautiful to you.

Our crostini here were delicious and so easy to make. Here’s the recipe:


Olive oil

PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon sheet.
SLICE baguette into rounds about ¼ inch thick and toss those into a gallon-sized plastic bag.
DRIZZLE into the bag about ¼ cup of olive oil
ADD salt and pepper to taste
SEAL and then shake, shake, shake the bag
SPREAD bread slice over a cookie sheet and put into the oven for about 6 minutes, turn over and cook for another 6 minutes or until brown

The Constant Gardener’s Pasta

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When I was a child there were some smells that just meant summer: Coppertone sunscreen, the off-gassing of plastic pool tools when you walk into the local Walgreens, the sharp scent of ozone after a four o’clock sun shower. As an adult, nothing smells more to me like summer than fresh basil, and it’s allegedly easy to grow, too. For me, though, basil and, to be honest, most other plants are not so easy to sustain. Over the last several years, and about thirty different plants, I’ve only managed to keep a fern, some philodendron, a shamrock plant, a poinsettia (I don’t know why either), and a blue daze. The blue daze is my favorite. Sshhh… Don’t tell the others.

I wish I was a better gardener. I’ve read about gardening – researched it. I had raised beds one year and grew strawberries and melon and tomatoes, and basil, of course. I even grew the most beautiful cucumber I’ve ever seen. Then the squirrels got to the plants, and the bugs fought past the diatomaceous earth and, well, Autumn was coming anyway. You know, though, I keep trying because, I want to be that person with the green thumb. I want to be one of those great Southern ladies who grows roses and gives away tomatoes and zucchini and honey from her very own beehive and who makes just about the best buttery biscuits to serve with that honey… There’s something just so Earth Mother about it. It feels like something a woman should be able to do – to plant something, watch it grow, and, most importantly, keep it alive. Am I being a genderist? Is that a word?

So after surrendering to the squirrels and bugs, I scaled back and started to just plant herbs. No matter how promising my basil plants begin, though, after my first harvest, they just sort of dwindle away not unlike the summer months that accompany them. I’m always a little sad when they go, when I finally give up the ghost, pluck that shriveled up stem out of the dirt, and dump out that pot of soil in the corner of the yard where I buried the rest of my poor plant children. More and more, I wonder how my human child made it to adulthood, but I digress.

Besides smelling like heaven and sunshine, basil is such a versatile herb. I’m thinking of a basic salad of basil, watermelon, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar or maybe a caprese salad or the crisp crust and gooey cheesiness of a grilled margherita pizza or chicken with basil and sun dried tomatoes or my absolute favorite weeknight dinner that I can whip up in less than 20 minutes and for which I always seem to have the ingredients on hand. I’m not sure where the recipe originated, but I started making it ten years ago when I first flirted with vegetarianism. I threw it together in desperation one night because I was starving and still hadn’t figured out how to feed myself without throwing a steak on it. It’s basically my version of a scaled down primavera, and to this day, it is my favorite comfort food.

You should make it yourself and eat it while you watch one of my favorite movies, “The Constant Gardener” on Netflix before it goes away at the end of the month. The movie’s named for the character played by Ralph Fiennes, who actually is quite a competent gardener in the movie, both of plants and of people. He’s such a great actor, isn’t he?

I’ve never actually named this dish, and though you could load it up with all the veggies in your garden that are fit to eat, I keep it basic: tomato, garlic, basil. It’s light and, paired with a nice Sauvignon Blanc, will offset the heaviness of this movie that tells a story of those people out there who will fight for what’s right and for love no matter the cost. Anyway, just like my constant efforts at growing my own basil, not to mention those various and sundry other living things I’ve attempted to grow, both the dish and the movie are delicious and well worth trying.

The Constant Gardener’s Pasta

2 servings, angel hair pasta
1 T olive oil
1 C grape tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 T butter
¼ C + more for topping Parmesan cheese, grated
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Handful of torn basil

PREPARE the pasta as directed. Reserve about 1/8 cup of the pasta water when you drain and rinse the pasta.While the pasta is cooking..

HALVE the tomatoes, slice the garlic, and wash and pat dry the basil.

HEAT the olive oil in a deep-sided sauté pan, or if you’re not too fancy, just use the now empty pasta pot.

SAUTE the tomatoes and garlic for no more than three minutes and then add the quarter cup of reserved pasta water and the butter. If you like saucier pasta, now’s the time to add a splash of that white wine you’re drinking.

STIR the pasta into the melted butter.

STIR in Parmesan cheese and, if you like it a little spicy, crushed red pepper.

TOP with fresh basil and more Parmesan cheese.

Grandma Was No Cream Puff

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When I was a little girl, I loved the water. I learned to walk on Florida beaches and at home you couldn’t get me out of the pool. I started young. I’m still reminded of the time when I was two years old and just jumped in the pool and right onto my head. My mother jumped in right after to pull me out, so tragedy averted. Still, I was definitely a water baby.

Along with my eyes, I inherited my love of the water from my grandmother. I remember my grandmother showing me her medals from when she was a competitive swimmer in New York in the late thirties and forties. I’m especially grateful for these stories and for the time I had with her now that she’s passed. It was a year ago this month.

My grandmother, born Lauramay Mary Martin (try that three times fast!) on April 14th, was such a sweet and special lady. There was an innocence about her, even after raising six children and losing two sons and a husband. She was tough, though, too, not a little stubborn and very competitive. You didn’t want to sit down with her for a game of Yahtzee without knowing that up front. Even though she was not even allowed to watch PG movies, I’d heard her cuss like a sailor at the game table. The lady did not like to lose. And, she didn’t let it happen very often.

Like a hummingbird always in motion, one of the many activities that my grandmother won at was baking. Even in her baking, though, she was competitive. Example: when I asked her why she stopped subscribing to Martha Stewart Living after being a charter subscriber and years of gifting me Martha Stewart cookbooks every.darn.holiday, she replied, and I quote, “Because that [rhymes with witch] keeps stealing my ideas.”

Grandma loved nothing better than to throw themed parties she would cater herself and often sold cakes and pies to local restaurants. One of the deserts she was known for were her cream puffs. They were always light and airy, filled with delicious custard cream and topped with dark chocolate.

In honor of what would have been her 96th birthday today, I’m sharing her cream puff recipe. Make them, and I promise you will love them as much as we all loved her.

Cream Puffs

Grandma’s Cream Puffs

The Puffs
1 cup water
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs

Pastry Cream
1/4 cup cake flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 cups milk, separated
6 egg yolks
1 vanilla bean, split
2 T unsalted butter

Chocolate drizzle
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

BRING water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add butter and stir as it melts, then return to a boil. Add flour and salt all at once and stir vigorously until mixture forms a ball. Remove from heat and add eggs, one at a time, stirring vigorously after each until smooth. Drop by heaping tablespoons, 3 inches apart, on a cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven at 450 degrees F then reduce heat to 325 degrees F and bake 25 minutes more. Remove puffs from oven, split and remove soft dough from center. Turn oven off, and replace puffs to dry in cooling oven, 20 minutes more. Cool completely on wire rack.

SIFT flour and sugar together. Whisk 1 cup of the milk into the egg yolks. Then add the flour and sugar, whisking until completely smooth. Heat remaining milk with the vanilla bean in a heavy saucepan. As soon as the milk come to a boil, whisk approximately ½ of it into the egg-and-flour mixture and blend completely. Pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the milk. Stir constantly until the custard thickens. As it thickens, the custard will go through a lumpy stage. Increase the speed of your stirring. Continue to stir vigorously, and the custard will smooth out and thicken right before it begins to boil. Allow the pastry cream to boil for approximately 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove the cream from the heat and immediately pour it into a clean mixing bowl. Fold in the butter just until melted. Do not over mix. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream, and chill over an ice bath.

PLACE chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring 4 ounces heavy cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Pour hot cream over chocolate and whisk until chocolate is completely melted and ganache is shiny and smooth.

REMOVE vanilla bean from the pastry cream, and transfer cream into a piping bag with a star tip. Pipe cream into each puff shell.

DRIZZLE melted chocolate over tops of cream puffs. Serve immediately.

Great-great Aunt Bridget’s Irish Soda Bread

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In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I wanted to post this recipe. The recipe comes from my Great-great Aunt Bridget. She brought my Great-grandfather over to the States from Ireland when he was orphaned in the early 1900’s. Without her, I wouldn’t be here, so she definitely deserves a mention. I mean, right?

If you ever decide to make it yourself, give me a shout, and let me know how you liked it.

Great-Aunt Bridget’s Soda Bread

3 C flour
5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar

MIX dry ingredients together, then add:

2 eggs, beaten
3/4 C milk
1 C raisins
1 T caraway seeds

BAKE at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.