I have a fondness for formulas – mathematic formulas, scientific formulas, photographic formulas, and, of course, kitchen formulas. I feel that if I follow a formula, nothing too bad can happen. If I you think about it, living “the good life” is one huge formula waiting for us to figure out. The key is knowing that formulas build on one another. Like a pyramid, the most highly specialized ones – recipes, techniques, ratios, etc. – form the foundation. I think many people equate a formula to something that is dull and predictable. “That novel was so formulaic, it bored me to tears,” someone might say. But on the contrary, I see formulas as a road maps of sorts. They are the best and fastest way to live the life to which we aspire with the least amount of interruptions or obstacles . No one would ever consider planning for retirement or purchasing a home without a reliable formula to consult first. There is a reason we have the phrase “a recipe for success.” . . . And while I don’t often cook with recipes, formulas are something from which I never stray.
This past Monday was my birthday. I always bake my own birthday cake, and this year I took the occasion to make my favourite – a vanilla butter cake with the most luscious salted, brown butter icing. Not that we should ever need an excuse to bake a cake, especially this one, but if we do, a birthday is a pretty good one. I love that this is a small, single layer cake, perfect for serving 6 – 8 people, with no leftovers. And though it’s small, it’s decadent in its simplicity. The crumb is moist and airy, but the real treat is pouring over the brown butter glaze in thick ribbons, flecked with vanilla beans and sea salt. Continue reading “Vanilla Raspberry Cake”
The summer months are buzzing with activity around here. We have friends or family over several times a week, the kids running around the yard, the men on the deck or in the garage. I have an open-door policy, literally. love to open all the doors so that people can drift in and out, from one yard to another, like waves on the shore. On days when I entertain but can’t bring myself to turn on the oven (the house is hot enough with all the doors open!), instead of cooking a big meal, I will set out a generous charcuterie board overflowing with an assortment of meats, cheeses, marinated olives, cherry tomatoes, cornichons, grapes, nuts, crackers and slices of baguette, and let everyone help themselves.
If there’s one thing you will always find on my counter or kitchen table in the summer, it’s a watermelon – the bigger the better. Like a basket of apples in the fall, or pumpkins in winter, it’s an iconic part of our ever-changing “kitchen table still life.” I will let it sit there, getting riper by the second in the afternoon heat while I admire its variegated jade and emerald skin, until someone reminds me that I really should cut it so that we can enjoy it with more than just our eyes. And then the boasting starts. Who can eat the most? Who will take the title of Watermelon Master? This contest is almost always initiated by my husband, Rich, who claims to be able to eat the entire watermelon in one sitting. I don’t doubt that he would, if given the chance, but it’s an accolade that the kids are not willing to let him have. While I certainly don’t condone these brutish, gluttonous brag-fests, I have to admit, they’re wildly entertaining. Continue reading “Watermelon Mojitos”
“To air condition or not?” That’s the question . . . at least it has been in our house for the last month.
A friend called on Monday. “How are you handling the heat?”
While our current heatwave is nothing compared to the one that swept Europe last month, there are afternoons when we all start to melt like snowmen and slink downstairs to seek refuge in the cool rooms on the lowest level of our house. Our home was built in the time before air conditioning. And really, many houses here in Colorado don’t have it. We just don’t need it, at least not for about ten months out of the year. As for those other two months – July and August – despite the scorching afternoons, the nights are cool enough that, if you open the windows wide when it’s dark, by morning the house is blissfully cool. And that’s just what we do. As soon as we wake up, with coffee in hand, we wander around the house closing all the windows to keep the heat out. It’s become almost a ritual, and it keeps the house cool until late in the afternoon when the cycle starts all over again. Continue reading “Tomato Galette with Sweet Basil Crust”
Fickle summer weather! It will be beautiful in the morning; I’ll wake up dreaming of lighting the grill, seasoning meat, pouring a glass of wine and cooking dinner outside while the kids run through the yard and the dog barks at the neighbor’s chickens, only to have the dream shattered mid-afternoon, when storms race in over the mountains and force us inside. Other days we wake up to a cool, cloudy drizzle and I think, there’s no way I could start the grill in weather like this. Only after I’ve panned a meal inside does the sun come out and the weather becomes perfect for grilling. The dichotomy of Colorado weather is that it can go from soggy to parched in a matter of hours, thanks to the elevation and the drying mountain winds. Sometimes we go weeks without even a drop of rain, and everything gets so dry that just the tiniest rogue spark from the grill’s coals could ignite a wildfire. On these days, all outdoor fires, including those in grills, are banned as a precaution. All of this poses a problem, because I’m a planner when it comes to cooking, and grilling so often must happen spontaneously. When the weather happens to be perfect, the stars align and I have all the essential ingredients to create a feast on the grill I have to seize the opportunity. That is, unless, I have something that works just as well on the grill as it does in the oven. That’s why I love this salmon. Each of these recipes can be made in either. Problem solved. Continue reading “Cedar Planked Salmon, Three Ways”
I’m a bit selective when it comes to bringing items into our home. My husband would argue that I’m just paralyzingly picky. I blame it on my tendency toward perfectionism. I spent a year scouring antique shops and flea markets for a painting for our dining room. Something with a bohemian flare to fit with the rest of the house, in soothing hues of blue and green to match the green walls in the room, which, I should mention are not yet green. When I finally found it – an antique reproduction of a John Audubon blue heron – I knew intuitively that it was the one. But about the green walls – that is to say, the walls which are currently just a vision of a painting project we planned three years ago. I can’t seem to find just the right shade. Green, but not too green – more of a silvery-teal, like Tuscan kale after it has just been washed. I’ve been through dozens of paint swatches, each an infinitesimal variation on the same shade, of which my husband claims to see no difference. I haven’t settled on the right one. Selective or just picky? The problem, I think, lies in the curtains. Continue reading “Moscow Mule + Ginger Beer Tonic”
We all know the rules: drink 8 glasses of water a day, limit alcohol and caffeine, cut out refined sugar, etc, but I believe that what we are drinking is more important than what we’re not.
I’ve written a lot about my inside-out approach to skin care. While I try not to obsess over what I eat (or drink), and I thoroughly subscribe to the notion of everything in moderation, including moderation, I do like to make conscious decisions and choices that naturally nourish my skin from the inside out. I don’t spring back from a day of eating junk food or a night out drinking as easily as I did in my twenties, and it shows on my skin. Continue reading “Green Tea and Rose Spritzer”
Sundays. I spend the whole day in the kitchen – no time constraints, unhurried, set apart from the pressures of the work week – piecing together whatever we might have been craving in the days prior. There’s often a pot of pinto beans simmering on the stove for my husband who grew up eating them with every meal. I make a big batch that he can dip into during the week. Meat is braising slowly in the oven with tomatoes and red wine, thyme and bacon. Continue reading “Crêpes with Strawberries and Cream”
I often write about visiting my aunt and uncle’s farm when I was a child and how, every spring, we would forage for wild asparagus near the stream on the edge of the apple orchard. When I moved to Europe at 18 I was enthralled by the assortment and variety of asparagus available. The only asparagus I had ever known was that wild and wiry green variety that grew beneath the apple trees. At the markets in Pisa there were crates full of milky white asparagus, thick stalks of green asparagus with purple tips, and even a sweet variety that was entirely purple from tip to toe. How much fun I had learning to cook with them all! Continue reading “White Asparagus with Vinaigrette”