There is Nothing Good About Being in a Car Accident…

…but it is nice to come home afterward and discover something like Amazon‘s nominees for the best book cover of 2009.  I happened to read Jonathan Tropper‘s This is Where I Leave You not too long ago (at my dear friend Amee’s suggestion — thank you!) so I am a bit partial to its Gray318-designed cover for that reason.  I can say the same for Baking by James Peterson (designed by Nancy Austin and Katy Brown) and the Momofuku cookbook by David Chang and Peter Meehan (designed by Marysarah Quinn), both of which I got for my birthday last month.  And while I do like Doogie Horner’s work on Seth Grahame-Smith’s undead take on a Jane Austen classic, I couldn’t get past the second chapter of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so my biases work both ways, I suppose.

This is as good a time as any to direct you all to one of my favorite blogs, the Book Design Review, where book and design junkies like me can get a regular cover fix.

Oh, and I should tell you that Keith and I are fine.  Our car might not be, but we are.  In the (belated) spirit of the holiday, we are both very thankful for that.

My Version of a Traditional Thanksgiving.

We spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ this year, which is the first time in two years that Keith and I have even been around for the holiday.  (Last year we were in England; the year before we were in Spain.)  On Thursday, Keith telephoned his brother from New York to wish him a happy Thanksgiving.  Later, he told us that Brian was interested in our menu.

“He was very concerned that your parents wouldn’t make a turkey,” Keith said.  “I told him that we had a turkey, but he was appalled that we didn’t have stuffing or mashed potatoes or gravy.”

My mother laughed at this.  “This is how I’ve always done Thanksgiving,” she said.  “This is what I know to do, so this is our tradition.”

It’s true; I’d never tried stuffing until I had Thanksgiving at Keith’s mother’s, and I’ve still never had sweet potatoes with marshmallows — though I am totally fascinated by this combination.

Here’s what we have instead: phyllo dough stuffed with mozzarella, red pepper flakes and parsley (boereg); garbanzo, dark cannellini bean and black-eyed-pea salad with roasted red, yellow and orange peppers; mango-and-cucumber salad; fattoush; pilaf with cinnamon, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts and ground beef; some sort of beef dish (this year was rib-eye with peppers and tomatoes); and turkey with caramelized onions slipped under its skin.

My absolute favorite part of the meal is the boereg, which turns a beautiful burnished gold in the oven.  I’m not alone in my boereg love — anyone who has ever had my mother’s recipe has fallen for its crisp pepper-laced cheesiness.  During high school, her boereg made my mom famous amongst my friends; whenever they stopped by, they asked if she’d baked any “cheese things.”  It’s surprisingly easy to make, though a bit time-consuming.  I’ve got the recipe at home, but it’s written on a sheet of scrap paper that I think I tucked in Michel Guérard’s La Cuisine Minceur this past June.  Normally I’m more organized than this.  I promise I’ll make it a priority to find the instructions and post them here, because boereg is best shared.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Seven.

11.00 – 11.30 am: Breakfast of black olives, salami, baguette, pita bread (which in my house we just call bread), Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

1.42 – 2.06 pm: More olives, salami and pita bread, plus some Armenian string cheese, which I share with the dog.

5.20 – 6.01 pm: Turkey time.  Even though I don’t much like it, I eat bit of dark meat, along with my family’s version of Thanksgiving fixins — mango salad, bean salad, two and a half boeregs, holiday rice* — and a glass of Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Dry Riesling.

6.30 pm: Glass of Koehler Chardonnay in the backyard with the dog.

7.05 pm: Two slices apple galette, a bite of chocolate-chip meringue and a hazelnut truffle.  Then another few inches of galette.  Then some galette crust crumbs.  And a grape.

Apple Galette, from Everyday Cooking with Jacques Pépin by Jacques Pépin
Makes eight to twelve portions

½ recipe pâte brisée (recipe following)
5 large apples
¼ cup sugar
4 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon Calvados or Cognac

  1. Make pâte brisée.  Roll out dough 1/8 to 1/16 thick, in a shape that fits roughly a cookie sheet — approximately 16 x 14 inches.  If the dough is not thin enough after you lay it on the cookie sheet, roll it some more, directly on the sheet.
  2. Peel and cut the apples in half, core them and slice each half into ¼-inch slices.  Set aside the large center slices of the same size and chop the end slices coarsely.  Sprinkle the chopped slices over the dough, then arrange the large slices on the dough beginning at the outside, approximately 1 ½ inches from the edge.  Stagger and overlap the slices to imitate the petals of a flower.
  3. Cover the dough completely with a single layer of apples, except for the border.  Place the smaller slices in the center to resemble the heart of a flower.  Bring up the border of the dough and fold it over the apples.  Sprinkle the apples with sugar and pieces of butter, and bake in a 400° oven for 65 to 75 minutes, until the galette is really well-browned and crusty.
  4. Slide the galette onto a board. Dilute the apricot preserves with the alcohol and spread it on top of the apples with the back of a spoon and the top edge of the crust.  Take care not to disturb the apple pieces.  Serve the galette lukewarm, cut into wedges.

Pâte Brisée **
Makes enough pastry for two 13 x 16 rectangular crusts, or two 13-inch circular crusts

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) sweet butter, cold and cut into thin slices
½ teaspoon salt
Approximately ¾ cup very cold water

  1. Mix the flour, butter and salt together very lightly, so that the pieces of butter remain visible throughout the flour.
  2. Add the ice-cold water and mix very quickly just until the dough coheres.  The pieces of butter should still be visible.  Cut the dough in half.  Wrap and refrigerate for one to two hours, or use right away.  If you use the dough right away, the butter will be a bit soft, so you may need a little extra flour in the rolling process to absorb it.  When rolling, use flour underneath and on top of the dough so that it doesn’t stick to the table or the rolling pin.  Wrapped properly, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days, or it can be frozen.
* “Holiday rice” is what I call the rice my mother makes exclusively for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  It’s pilaf with ground beef, pistachios, almonds, pine nuts and cinnamon.  Whenever we come to visit, Keith asks my mom for holiday rice, and she refuses.
** I find this pastry extremely soothing to make, mostly because I love mixing the ingredients together with my hands. I think it’s really relaxing. I also like to trash-talk my dough while I make it.  Dunno why.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Six.

1.15 – 3.30 pm: Lunch at Eleven Madison Park with Keith and Ben; it’s my second time here in a month, and I’m excited to eat.  We decide to do the three-course prix fixe for $42.00.  After an amuse bouche of gougères, sashimi and cucumber panna cotta, I order the chicken velouté with veal sweetbreads and black truffles, the linguine with Alaskan king crab and Meyer lemon, and the bone marrow crusted beef tenderloin with saffron onions and braised shallots (for $15.00 extra).  Try bites of Ben’s scallop with celery, more Meyer lemon and black truffles, as well as the poached pear and the savoy cabbage that accompanies his boudin blanc — though neither of us can remember what it is until Ben texts me afterwards.  Also sample Keith’s slow-poached egg with Parmigiano-Reggiano and mushrooms, his ricotta gnocchi with artichokes and bacon, and his suckling pig confit.  Ben tries to get me to eat some of his salad of heirloom beets with chèvre frais, rye crumbs and edible flowers but I’ve had this dish before so instead I order a non-alcoholic cocktail called “Up the Alley” that is so good I promptly get a second.  We’re too full for dessert but we make room for the two plates of macarons we are given anyway; Ben and I share a caramel-popcorn and a rosemary-pistachio, but after that I eat my own sesame and chocolate-quince.

4.45 – 5.30 pm: Cinnamon-spiced apple cider at the Grey Dog.

7.10 pm: Bowl of pilaf standing up in the kitchen while my parents eat dinner and watch Jeopardy!

7.59 pm: Handful of dried mangoes, which my dad has always fed to the dog, who stares unblinkingly at me — and indignantly huffing — until I share.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Five.

11.45 am – 12.21 pm: Milk with Spanish honey — my dad is determined to find The Perfect Honey, so he has several kinds in the pantry.  Also, pieces of baguette with Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Tomme Crayeuse and Brebis Ossau.

2.35 pm: Coke Zero (!) and quarter of an orange pepper that I’m supposed to be dicing for tabbouleh.  The dog begs for a piece of the pepper’s spongy innards; it’s a favorite snack, along with cucumber peels.

3.18 – 4.14 pm: Light lunch of tabbouleh and oven-roasted Brussels sprouts.

9.45 pm: La Chouffe at Vol de Nuit.

10.15 pm – 1.03 am: Dinner at Babbo with Joann and Keith.  We debate over whether we want the traditional or pasta tasting menus before deciding on pasta.  Our meal consists of the following: black tagliatelle with parsnips and pancetta; “casunzei” with poppy seeds; garganelli with “funghi trifolati;” pyramid-shaped ravioli with pomodoro; papperdelle bolognese; cacciotta fritters with honey and thyme; and chocolate with shaved dried chilis.  I swap my full plate for Keith’s empty one, much to Joann’s dismay.  I can’t eat spicy food, even if it’s chocolate.  For our last course, we each get a different dessert — Joann a pistachio and chocolate semifreddo, Keith a lavender honey spice cake with sweet potato gelato and me a Tyrolean carrot and poppyseed cake with an olive oil drizzle and orange gelato.  I may be a little biased, I think mine is the best.

Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic Vinegar, Pine Nuts + Parmesan
Makes three portions

2 ½ cups Brussels sprouts, cut in half lengthwise
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup Parmesan cheese, grated

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°.  Toss the sprouts in a bowl with the vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper until well coated.  Line a roasting pan with tin foil, then arrange the sprouts in a single layer across the bottom of the pan.  Roast for twenty to thirty minutes, or until the sprouts brown.
  2. While the sprouts are in the oven, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, three to five minutes, stirring often.
  3. Remove from the sprouts from the oven and transfer to a serving dish.  Mix with pine nuts and Parmesan, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Five Things About Me: 46 47 48 49 50.

46. I couldn’t tell you precisely why, but I find World War II utterly fascinating.  When I was in Amsterdam not too long ago, Keith pretty much had to drag me out of the Dutch Resistance Museum.  And this was after we had been there for more than three hours.

47. I don’t think, in the past five years, that a day has passed in my life where I haven’t eaten some cheese.

48. Much to Keith’s and my parents’ combined chagrin, I have no interest in money — by this I mean investing, CDs, IRAs, bonds, stocks, whatever.   I can’t help it; it all makes little sense to me, and if I have someone taking care of it for me, what’s the big deal?

49. I had a very scientific method for selecting the paint colors in my apartment.  I didn’t just choose colors I liked or thought went well together, I chose ones that both Keith and I look good in.  I figured that we’re going to be “in” the shades the most, so we may as well look our best.  My favorites are the blues in the living room (“December Eve”) and bedroom (“Bayside”), both by Behr.

50. This isn’t very “cool” to admit but here goes: I’m not really into Thanksgiving, mostly because I don’t really like turkey.  What I do like are the sides, though the kind of sides my family has aren’t even remotely traditional.  I’ll tell you more about that in a few days, I promise.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Four.

10.03 am: The largest mug of warm milk and honey in the world, or at least the house.  The honey is from my dad’s friend, who harvested it from his apiary in upstate New York.  I drink it while sitting on the kitchen floor, with the dog’s head in my lap.

2.15 – 2.53 pm: A hodgepodge of a lunch.  My dad, Keith and I toast salami and cheddar sandwiches on baguettes; then we eat leftover cold ratatouille, Cabot clothbound cheddar and Tomme Crayeuse.

4.11 pm: What was supposed to be an apple, but turns out to be only half, since Keith keeps on eating slices of it even though he says he’s not hungry.

8.05 – 9.07 pm: Dinner of mixed greens with a balsamic-herb vinaigrette, cucumbers, steamed white rice and grilled flank steak; my mother had marinated the meat in a mixture of soy sauce, Tabasco sauce, garlic, pepper and Sherry, and I eat three pieces.  Afterwards, have a mango Whole Fruit popsicle, which I smuggle out of the freezer without the dog noticing, though my dad blows our cover by feeding him pieces under the table.  Beg a bite of apple tart from Keith, then two Roman Egg Stella D’oro cookies with my mom before we pick the leaves off of three bunches of parsley for fattoush and boereg and watch Dancing with the Stars.  We both think Mýa will win, but I’m rooting for Kelly.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Three.

10.08 am: Warm milk with honey.

12.21 – 12.29 pm: Split half an apple with Keith while watching the Battle at the Berrics semifinals.  I spread mine with peanut butter, which I then get all over my fingers.  I’m messy.

1.30 – 3.30 pm: This is technically supposed to be brunch at Craigie on Main with Keith, Kelly, Nancy and Jonah, but since it’s after noon I say it counts as lunch.  I have something like three cups of coffee, all with cream and whatever sugar cubes Jonah doesn’t eat, as well as a yogurt-drenched fruit cup with some amazing figs, grass-fed and house-brined corned beef and tongue hash with a slow-poached egg and crispy onion rings and chocolate-smothered profiteroles with what is supposed to be mint-chocolate ice cream but really is just overwhelmingly minty.

6.35 pm: Coke Zero and half an order of large fries from McDonald’s while  we drive to New York. Keith eats the other half while I lick the salt from my fingers.  I know fries aren’t the healthiest choice in the world, but I love them so.

8.11 pm: A bite of Keith’s banana-walnut bread from Starbucks.  I’m the one driving at this point, so I pretty much cram the bread into my mouth in a very unladylike fashion.  My mother would be so ashamed.

10.06 – 10.46 pm: At my parents’ house, where I drink one of my dad’s Beck’s and share two and a half lamejun with the dog. He doesn’t mind that I’ve sprinkled my food liberally with fresh lemon juice.

11.15 pm: Two glasses Torii Mor Late Harvest Gewurztraminer with Keith and my parents while we discuss dogs, nightmares and Thursday’s Thanksgiving menu.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day Two.

11.43 am: Way too much batter while making meringues.  I saved my unused egg whites from last night’s soup recipe, and at lunch yesterday Stephanie mentioned she wanted to make meringues, thus planting the seed of meringue-making in my head.  I love watching egg whites froth up and turn into peaks.  And I apparently also like using the words “making” and “meringues” as much as possible in a single sentence.

1.031.28 pm: Leftover soup plus the first of my beloved Coke Zeros for the day.  These things are seriously addictive.  I know this because I’m hooked.

2.22 pm: Warm milk and honey.

4.13 pm: Meringues!  I think I may have put in too much sugar, but this doesn’t stop me from eating three.

6.13 – 6.43 pm: Two slices pepperoni pizza at Keith’s Aunt Mary’s house, plus a Diet Pepsi.  It’s good, but it fails to hold a candle anywhere near my Coke Zeros.

7.34 pm: Coffee with cream and sugar, mostly because I am freezing.  That’s the thing about getting over being sick — adjusting to feeling normal again.  I’m wearing a T-shirt over a camisole, a cardigan and a scarf, and still I’m cold…

8.02 pm: …but not too cold to enjoy a piece of apple pie.

Chocolate Chip Meringues, from Martha Stewart
Makes 2 ½ dozen cookies

6 large egg whites
1 ¼ cups superfine sugar (see note)
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Cocoa powder, for dusting

  1. Heat oven to 175°. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Sprinkle a few spoonfuls of superfine sugar over beaten egg whites, and whisk in on low speed.  Increase speed of mixer; whisking constantly, continue adding superfine sugar, a spoonful at a time, until all has been incorporated and mixture is firm enough to hold stiff and glossy peaks. Fold in chocolate chips.
  3. Pipe or spoon small mounds of mixture onto baking sheets, spacing mounds about 1 inch apart. Bake meringues until completely dry to the touch, about 3 hours.
  4. Transfer sheets to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days. Before serving, dust meringues with confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder.

Note: No need to buy special sugar for this.  Just measure out the amount you need into the bowl of a food processor and blitz.

Food Diary, Vol. 2: Day One.

11.49 am: Medium latte with sugar-free vanilla syrup and skim milk at South End Buttery.  The world’s most adorable shaggy-ish black dog with a red leash and matching collar is trying so hard to get inside, but not only is he tied up, but there’s a brick on his leash, further impeding him.  Still, he stands in the middle of the doorway, trying his damndest.  When I bend over to say hello on my way in, he wipes the entire right side of my face with his tongue, from my jawline right up to my eyeglasses’ frame.

12.04 – 1.08 pm: Multi-seed bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese, plus the extra cheese Stephanie scrapes off of her bagel, as I love schmear upon schmear of cream cheese and Stephanie does not.  It takes us ages to eat because we won’t shut up about dogs, having/not having babies, 30 Rock and Thanksgiving.

3.19 pm: Mug of hot milk with honey.

7.04 pm: Coke Zero while cooking.  It is sick how much I love this stuff.  I blame my parents — I was only allowed to have soda when we had pizza, was at someone else’s house or at a restaurant.  Now I can’t get enough of it.

7.56 pm: Two slices Kraft American cheese while cooking dinner.  What I said about Coke Zero up there?  Ditto for American cheese.

8.24 pm: Coke Zero number two.

8.50 – 9.15 pm: Garlic soup with spinach and pasta shells, along with toasted baguette slices and Gruyère cheese. It’s not quite cold enough outside for soup, even though it’s November, but it’s still pretty darn good.  And just barely over two hundred calories, in case you were curious…

Garlic Soup with Spinach + Pasta Shells, by Martha Rose Shulman for the New York Times
Makes six portions

2 heads of garlic
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon olive oil
A bouquet garni made with a bay leaf, a couple of sprigs each thyme and parsley, and a fresh sage leaf
Salt to taste
½ cup small macaroni shells
6 ½-inch thick slices country bread, toasted and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic
½ cup Gruyère cheese, grated and tightly packed
4 egg yolks
6 ounce bag baby spinach

  1. Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice and water. Separate the head of garlic into cloves and drop them into the boiling water. Blanch for 30 seconds, then transfer to the ice water. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then drain and remove the skins from the garlic cloves. They’ll be loose and easy to remove. Crush the cloves lightly by leaning on them with the side of a chef’s knife.
  2. Place the garlic cloves in a large saucepan with 2 quarts of water, the olive oil, bouquet garni, and salt to taste, and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer 1 hour. Strain and return the broth to the saucepan. Taste and adjust salt, and bring back to a simmer.
  3. Add the macaroni shells to the broth and simmer until cooked al dente.
  4. Distribute the garlic croutons among 6 soup bowls and top each one with a heaped tablespoon of cheese. Beat the egg yolks in a bowl. Making sure that it is not boiling, whisk in a ladleful of the hot garlic broth.
  5. Add the spinach to the simmering broth and stir for 30 seconds to a minute, until all of the spinach is wilted. Turn off the heat and stir in the tempered egg yolks. Stir for a minute, taste and adjust seasonings. Ladle the soup over the cheese-topped croutons, and serve.

Advance preparation: You can make the garlic broth a day ahead and refrigerate.