Soups on!

Soup is like a softly glowing and occasionally crackling fire in the fire place; it’s soothing, therapeutic, and nourishing all the way to the bones. Soup warms the belly, gently bathes the soul and simply does the body good.

Louis XV silver soup tureen

King Louis XV made soup an upper-class dish. He turned soup from “fuel” for the poor to pure pleasure to satisfy the court at Versailles.

We‘re still having heat waves here in Texas but we’ll be welcoming autumn before long. The weather has finally shown signs of fall; we’ve had a good amount of wind, the nights have cooled quite a bit and a few times a hint of that “something in the air” that we all recognize as a welcome signal of change.

The biggest sign that fall is here is that college football has begun. Fall, Football, Food…such a perfect combination that makes your senses come alive. I love to hear the noise of the game combined with good smells coming from the kitchen. A soup can simmer for hours and make the house smell cozy and just where you want to be.

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Julie and Julia is when Julie says, “You know what I love about cooking? I love that after a day when nothing is sure and when I say nothing, I mean nothing. You can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. That’s such a comfort.” I love that about soup. I can start chopping vegetables and hear the broth simmering and instantly feel better. After a long week, I needed to cook lots and LOTS of soup!

Perhaps due to growing up in Rhode Island where my husband Derek says he had soup so often as a child, (resulting in a few common scorched tongue memories), I have had a job to do in persuading him of the pleasure of a delicious bowl of soup.  After making the best chicken noodle soup he said he’s ever had, I think I’m winning him over to the soup side!

Here’s to letting your good evening turn into a “super” one. Remember, if fall, football and food are an appreciated combo at your house too, do your best to make each new serving a “super bowl.” It goes well with the season. And, if the soups too hot, do what Lauren Bacall said in To Have and Have Not,You just put your lips together and…blow.”

French Onion Soup:

2 T olive oil

4 red onions, thinly sliced

¼ t sugar

4 leeks (white part and a little of the light green) thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

8 C beef or chicken stock

½ C white wine

1 bay leaf

¼ t thyme

Salt and pepper to taste


¾ C Gruyere cheese, grated

In a large saucepan over medium heat sauté onions about 15 minutes. Add sugar and leeks and continue to cook, stirring frequently until caramelized. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add stock, wine, bay leaf, and thyme. Cover partially and simmer until flavors are blended, about 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into oven proof bowls and place sliced bread on top and sprinkle with cheese. Place under broiler until cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Tomato Soup:

12 Roma tomatoes

2 shallots, diced

3 carrots, diced

1 potato, diced

1 T tomato paste

1 T ketchup

½ C white wines

Dash of cumin

Place tomatoes under broiler for a few minutes then peel and remove skins. Sauté shallot in olive oil and add carrots. Pour in wine, add the whole tomatoes and diced potato. Cover with chicken broth and simmer until the vegetables start to fall apart. Process the whole mixture and strain the soup through a chinois. Stir in the tomato ketchup, paste, and cumin, then season. Optional: fry tomato skins in olive oil for garnish

Chicken Noodle Soup:

1 stewing chicken (about 4 pounds), cut up

5 celery ribs, coarsely chopped, divided

4 medium carrots, coarsely chopped, divided

2 medium onions, quartered, divided

1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

8 ounces uncooked medium egg noodles

In a large stockpot, combine the chicken, water, half of the celery, carrots, onions, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 2-1/2 hours or until chicken is tender. Chop the remaining vegetables; set aside.

Remove chicken from broth. When cool enough to handle, remove meat from bones and cut into bite-size pieces. Discard bones and skin; set aside.

Strain broth; return to stockpot. Add the salt, chopped onion and remaining celery, carrots, red bell pepper and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Add noodles and chicken. Cover and simmer for 12-15 minutes or until noodles are tender.

Leek and Potato Soup:

1 bunch of leeks (white part and a little of the light green) sliced

4 C diced potatoes

6-7 C water or chicken stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Bring leeks and potatoes to boil in the water, simmer 20-30 minutes. Puree soup and serve warm.

A French Country Sunday

Sundays are a time to enjoy good food, family, and friends. When everyone is seated around the table it can feel as cozy as Thanksgiving. A Sunday meal that lingers on for hours can be a true pleasure. Imagine a table with plenty to eat and the hum of good conversation and laughter, it can feel festive (even if it’s not a holiday). 

If you’ve ever seen the French movie, “A Sunday in the Country” you know the kind of Sunday I mean, a relaxing summery Sunday with a French country kind of feel. A meal surrounded by beautiful gardens, and exquisite yet simple foods. Maybe after the meal you will take a nap, read a book, sip some tea, take a swim…these little pleasantries are simple yet heavenly, especially on a Sunday.

People eat a bit more slowly on Sundays, drink a little more wine and purposely lose track of time.

I imagine Claude Monet had many Sundays spent like this in Giverny.

When The Julia Child Book Club met last Sunday to discuss the book Claude and Camille it was as if we’d stepped back in time to the French country side and became oblivious to the time. After all, it was TIME that we took a little more of, and eventually lost track of.

I read that Monet believed beautiful dinner service was one of the keys to a successful meal. This seems so French to me. It’s all about the details in the preparation that make a meal special and memorable.

I hope this brings you inspiration to have your own French country Sunday. And please, remember to take your time. Salut et bon appétit! 

Recipes from the Julia Child Book Club:

Mia’s Gougères

6 T unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 C water

Pinch of salt

Pinch of white pepper

1 ½ C flour

6 large eggs

2 C coarsely shredded gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 400. In a small saucepan, combine the butter, water, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat; then remove from the heat and stir in the pepper and the flour with a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to medium. Return to the heat and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to film the bottom of the saucepan, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time. The dough should have the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Stir in 1 ½ C of cheese. On a buttered and floured baking sheet drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough, spacing them 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with remaining ½ C cheese. Bake about 25 minutes, until the puffs swell to almost triple in size and become golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Ashley’s Soupe Au Pistou

2 medium leeks

3 stalks celery

2 medium carrots

6  slices pancetta

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 pound small red potatoes

4 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

2 zucchini

1 Tablespoon Herbes de Provence

Salt to taste

Clean and dice the leeks, celery, carrots and potatoes into approximately 1/2 inch pieces or slices, as the case may be.

Slice the bacon into 1 inch slices, and in a large pot, cook the bacon until mostly crisp.

Add the olive oil and the vegetables, and sauté over medium heat until the leeks and carrots start to get a little tender, then add the chicken broth and water, add a pinch or two of salt, cover, and simmer over medium low heat for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, cut the zucchini into 1/2-1 inch pieces, and when the potatoes are starting to get tender, the zucchini. Salt to taste.

For the pistou:

4 oz basil, leaves only

¼ cup pine nuts

2 ounces parmesan

¼ cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and process until it forms a smooth paste.

To serve, ladle the soup into large bowls, and top with a large spoonful of pistou.

Linda’s Lemon Basil Sorbet

3 C water

2 C sugar

2 T lemon zest, divided

1 ½ C fresh packed basil

3 C fresh lemon juice

Prepare a lemon simple syrup with the water, sugar and 1 ½ T of the lemon zest by combining all three in a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. Cook mixture until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat. Once the simple syrup is ready, add the basil and salt. Let the mixture steep for 30 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate 2-3 hours, or overnight. Strain the chilled mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Turn on the ice cream maker; pour the mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and mix until thick.

Leslee’s Soubise

1/2 cup rice

4 quarts rapidly boiling water

1 1/2 tablespoons salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup (one-half stick) butter, plus 2 tablespoons softened butter

2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup grated Swiss cheese

1 tablespoon minced parsley.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Drop the rice into the boiling water to which has been added the salt. Boil five minutes exactly and drain immediately.

Heat the 1/4 cup of butter in a three-quart flameproof casserole and when it is foaming, stir in the onions. When they are well-coated with butter, stir in the rice, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Cover and cook very slowly in the oven for one hour, stirring occasionally. The rice and onions should become very tender and will usually turn a light golden yellow. Taste and re-season. (The recipe may be prepared to this point several hours in advance. Reheat before proceeding.)

Just before serving, stir in the cream and cheese and then the softening butter.

Olga’s Potato Galettes

1 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp olive oil

3/4 lb potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled

1/4 tsp crumbled dried rosemary

1/4 tsp crumbled dried thyme

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste


Grate the potatoes roughly. Using a large bowl, mix the potatoes with the rosemary, thyme, green onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, stir together the butter and the oil. Brush the bottom of a small cast-iron skillet with some of the butter mixture. Heat the mixture over moderately high heat until it begins to sizzle. Ladle a layer of the potato mixture approximately 1/4 inch thick and fry over medium heat for several minutes, until the base is golden brown. Flip and brown the other side.

Margot’s pork tenderloin Wellington and gravy

Seasoned the pork tenderloin with salt and pepper. Sear in a bit of olive oil to brown on all sides. About 1 1/2 minutes each side. Transfer to a cutting board to drain and let cool off completely.

Use the frying pan with the drippings and melt 1/2 stick of butter. Add 1/2 onion (thinly sliced) and sauté till golden. Add 8 oz of white mushrooms and sauté until they are starting to brown. Add white wine (1/2 cup) and reduce. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and reduce. Taste and add salt, pepper and finish with heavy cream to get consistency you like. It will thicken as you finish.

In another pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 1 small onion (thinly sliced) and sauté for about 4 min. Add 16 oz of white mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Cook until tender and liquid is evaporated. Add 1/4 cup of Sherry and cook until mixture is dry, about 4 min. Add some freshly chopped parsley and cool to room temperature.

On a floured surface roll out puffed pastry into a rectangle 1/4 inch thick. If using store bought you may have to overlap two pieces. Put some of the mushroom mixture in the center of the pastry. Place tenderloin on top of the mixture. Top the tenderloin with more of the mixture as well as the sides. Fold the long sides of the pastry and seal the seam with egg-wash. Trim the ends if necessary and fold up and seal. Place the tenderloin onto a baking sheet seam down. Chill for at least 2 hrs or overnight.

Preheat oven to 400. Place a baking sheet on the center rack until hot about 15 min. Brush the top of the tenderloin with egg-wash and cut 2 – 3 slits to let the steam vent. Carefully transfer the tenderloin onto the preheated baking sheet and bake until the pastry is golden brown. About 60 minutes. Cover with foil if it gets too brown during cooking. Let rest on the cutting board for 10 min before slicing.

Terri’s Chocolate Tarte

A word about the chocolate for this recipe before you begin. Good quality chocolate is essential for this recipe. I use chocolate that has an absolute minimum of 50 % cocoa. I think darker is better but tastes vary.

For the pastry:

½ cup butter, cut in small pieces

1 ¼ cups flour

¼ tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 large egg, slightly beaten

1 tsp vanilla extract

Sift together flour sugar and salt. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives, leaving small peas sized pieces of butter throughout the mixture. Add egg and vanilla and mix together only enough to make a dough form. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for a half hour before rolling out.

You can make your dough the previous day but make sure you take it out of the fridge for 10 minutes to warm slightly before rolling out.

Roll the dough into a 12 inch round and place in the bottom of a 10 inch tarte pan or pie plate. You will need to blind bake this crust for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F before adding the filling. Blind baking is essential so that the bottom crust will not get soggy.

To blind bake a crust, simply place a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil over the dough and cover the bottom of the pie plate with baking weights. (Marbles, dry beans, peas, rice or barley work just as well as anything else.)

For the chocolate filling:

7 ounces (by weight) dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

7 ounces whipping cream

3 ounces milk

1 tsp vanilla

1 large beaten egg

Bring the cream and milk just to boiling and pour the hot liquid over the chopped chocolate. Let stand for 5 minutes and whisk together until smooth. Cool for about 10 minutes before whisking in the beaten egg and vanilla.

Pour into the blind baked shell and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. The center can still be a little wobbly at this point. The surface should still be shiny. Cool thoroughly before cutting and serving.

Terri’s Crème Anglaise

½ C milk

½ C heavy cream

½ vanilla bean

4 egg yolks

¼ C sugar

Mix the milk and cream in a small saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the pan, then add the pod. Bring just to a simmer, then remove from the heat and let steep for 15 minutes or so to infuse the dairy with vanilla flavor. Partially fill the largest bowl with equal parts ice and water, and set the larger of the remaining bowls on the ice. Set a strainer in place over that bowl. After the vanilla has infused the dairy to your satisfaction, remove the vanilla pod, then return the pan to gentle heat and stir frequently. In the third bowl, quickly whisk the yolks and sugar together. Once the dairy reaches a simmer, remove it from the heat and whisk about a tablespoon of it into the yolk and sugar mixture, Continue adding the dairy to the yolk and sugar mixture slowly to avoid curdling. Once the dairy, yolks, and sugar are fully incorporated, return the custard to the pan and return the pan to the heat. Stir constantly for 1-4 minutes until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Pour through the strainer into the bowl over the ice. Stir until cool, cover, and refrigerate. If it sits overnight the vanilla flavor will be more pronounced. Serve cold, room temperature, or even warm over your dessert.

Enjoy with our club’s sommelier pick, Brandi’s French white wine: Les Jamelles Viognier


A Serendipitous Summer

Serendipity has always been one of my favorite words.  It makes me think of Sri Lanka because Serendip was the former name for Sri Lanka. It came from English author Horace Walpole, who formed it upon the title of the fairy-tale The Three Princes of Serendip.  As the Princes traveled they were always discovering some of life’s unexpected pleasantries and good fortune by accident.

French scientist Louis Pasteur said, In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind.  Our minds must be open to finding serendipity. I think it was serendipity that American physicist, Joseph Henry, read Pasteur’s quote because he then said, The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them.

The meaning of this delightful word is: unexpected discovery and extremely pleasant surprises.

Imagine the sounds of summer: ceiling fans, ice cream trucks, waves at the beach, splashes at the pool, sizzle of the grill, the ding of a bicycle bell, the music of cicadas…What would happened if you followed or searched for these sounds? You might find your own serendipity. Summer is the perfect time to search for unexpected treasures because there is more time to wonder. The days are longer, there is more of a relaxed state of mind and a slower pace to explore.

If you are ready for something good just around the corner, chances are you will find it! As a middle of the road personality (half type-A/half free-spirited) I think this makes me a good traveler because I have a plan but sometimes the plan is to have no plan! You know the saying, All roads lead to Rome? To me it just means, even if you’re bad at directions (which I am), you will still find where it is you’re meant to be.

The best example of serendipity I have happens to be in Rome! My husband Derek and I realized we left our camera in the car at the airport on the way to Rome. We were both so bummed out! Our first night in Rome, we took a walk not knowing where we were going, had an amazing meal and on the walk back to the hotel in a random corner of the street where no one was around was a photo booth. It’s one of our favorite memories because it was one-hundred percent serendipity!

I don’t think you can plan real serendipity but its fun to imagine what you might find. If you’ve ever been geocaching (an outside game of searching for hidden objects using a GPS), this is similar (exept you know you’re looking for something). Geocaching can be a bit serendipitous because you are seeking to discover something that remains a mystery until you’re at the correct coordinates and unbury the treasure.

Two people meeting by chance after a long time in an unusual place could be serendipitous. Have you ever run into someone you know on a vacation? That’s serendipity!

Sometimes you have those days when your light inside is shining brighter than usual and there is a certain energy that attracts others to you, kind of like magnetism; either you have that energy or you don’t!

When you look at a bride, her light is definitely on; a bride has that radiance and energy that draws you near her.  

I believe serendipity leads to more serendipity.  I took my children to an unplanned trip to my favorite grocery store this past week, Central Market (a place filled with the most unique and delicious foods), where we were just browsing and looking to see what appealed to us. Sometimes those are the best shopping trips, when you don’t have a list and you just shop with your senses. I wasn’t sure what we would make with our random items but that’s when my friend Margot came in helpful. I showed her my ingredients and the light inside her turned on bright; in her kitchen she created serendipity!

I think if you are too busy and wrapped up; you might not find your serendipity. Part of the magic is being open-minded and allowing yourself to wonder.

Hopefully, we can all remain ready, willing and able to enjoy serendipitous eureka moments. Good luck finding yours! Like a sailor, set out in good faith and find your summer serendipity.

Photo: Pino’s painting titled, Serendipity.

Easy as Pie

The expression, “Easy as pie” is so true because pie IS easy! I’m a pie person. I’d choose pie over cake any day. It’s because there’s more love put into a pie. You also have to use your hands more when making it that’s why it’s one of those foods that allow you to really taste the love that goes into it. Homemade pies are not only delicious but also comforting and nurturing. Pies do for the belly what a child’s blankie does for their feelings; pie makes you feel warm, safe, cozy, and loved. 

 I vividly remember going to my grandma’s house and seeing an apple pie cooling on the counter when we arrived at her house in Midland.  I have a similar recollection at my Louisiana grandmother’s home.  It’s a comforting and happy food that makes memories with your smell and taste senses forever.

I think of pie as a southern dessert. I even like to say “pi” and accent the long “i” sound like a real southerner. A pie is not as elegant as a tart; you see the real handy work, flaws, and finger markings in a pie as opposed to a tart which is more elegant and not near as rustic. I also love the free form shape of a gallette, the most rustic of all pies. It’s fun to think outside the circle and make a free-formed pie.

Every season is pie season but my favorite time for pie is right now; fresh fruits are in abundance and they are ripe and just begging to be picked and baked.  Most people have pie making staples already in their pantry: flour, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla, coconut, lemon, chocolate…

There are many good reasons to bake a pie. I was inspired just this week by a rumbling Texas storm. I was reading one of my favorite books by Patricia Polacco, Thunder Cake, to my second grade class when I knew I had to go home and bake a pie. Thunder Cake is one of those stories that prove just how therapeutic baking is. It teaches us that once you truly emerce yourself in a project all those negative thoughts (in this case it was a little girl afraid of thunder) just vanish.

I have noticed many really good pie makers often have old fashioned names like Daisy, Honey, and Evelyn. This makes me think they were named after their mother’s mother and probably follow the same recipe that they used way back when…I very much want to be that grandmother whose house smells warm and inviting with a pie on the counter. Who knows, maybe my grandmother name will be Honey!   

I have three favorite pie recipes that I use all the time: almond crumb crust, my grandmother’s recipe for basic pie crust, and the French pie crust, pate brisee.

Almond Crumb Crust

1 ½ C flour

A heaping C of toasted finely ground almonds

½ C sugar

¼ t salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature and cut into small pieces)

Mix dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Pate Brisee

2 C flour

½ C cornmeal

1 t salt

1 T sugar

2 sticks of cold unsalted butter

½ C ice water

Place ingredients in a food processor and pulse, then add butter and process about ten seconds.  Divide in half, wrap, and refrigerate at least an hour.

My Grandmother Dodo’s Pie Crust

3 C flour

1 egg

1 1/3 C shortening (butter flavored)

4 T water

1 T apple cider vinegar

Pinch of salt

Mix in a food processor. Cut in half and roll. Makes two crusts.

My Mom’s Three Berry Pie

1 C sugar

1/3 C flour

2 eggs

1 ½ C sour cream

1 C blueberries

1 C blackberries

1 C raspberries


1/3 C flour

1/3 C brown sugar

1/3 C nuts of your choice

3 T butter

Whipped cream

Combine sugar, flour, eggs, sour cream and vanilla in a bowl. Gradually fold in fruit. Spoon into unbaked pastry shell and bake 350 for 40-45 minutes.

*Try one of the pie crusts above. My favorite for this pie is my grandmother’s crust.

Ashley’s Fruit Galette

1 pint strawberries

1 pint blueberries

1 pint blackberries

1 stalk of rhubarb

½ C sugar

Juice of one lemon

2 T cornstarch

Pinch of salt

Lavender flowers

1 egg

Roll out cornmeal pate brisee to about 14-inch round and transfer to a baking sheet with a sill pad. Preheat oven to 375. Toss together fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and salt. Arrange fruit mixture on top of the dough in the center. Fold border over the fruit overlapping and pressing down gently. Brush edges with egg and sprinkle with sugar and lavender flowers. Bake about 1 hour.
A book for your wish list is, Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies. I read Mrs. Rowe goes through about 35,000 pies a year and customers order their pie before dinner because her pies are so quick to run out. That’s got to be a REALLY good pie!

When the moon hits your eye like a big “southern pie” that’s amore!!

Our Daily Juice: Sweep the Kitchen


My husband says there’s just something about fresh juice, it sets you right! It feels so good to give it to the ones I love knowing that what I give them will love them back.

My juicer was a birthday present from my husband almost five years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. It is by far my favorite kitchen appliance.

I’ve always loved fresh juice but my first awe inspiring experience was at the airport in Venice. It was five o’clock in the morning and I ordered an orange juice thinking I’d get a plastic bottle of minute maid; boy was I in for a treat! Watching a little Italian lady put whole oranges in a giant contraption, my jaw dropped. When I tasted the mouthwatering tang of frothy freshly squeezed orange juice, I knew I had to have one of those magical machines!

There are certain restaurants that offer specialty juice drinks like The Noho Star in New York City. I remember eating there with my mom before we went to visit my cousin who lived down the street off Bleecker. I remember feeling like a weary traveler until I ordered fresh carrot, celery, parsley and apple juice and was transformed into the energizer bunny.  

Fresh juice has magical qualities, not only do you get pleasure from the taste but you feel good instantly. The raw fruit and vegetables you fill the juicer with are loaded with vitamins, minerals, enzymes that happen to be supremely good for you. There’s not a better start to the day. There’s a basic human instinct to be healthier and happier and what better time than the morning for a fresh start to the day.

Once you get into the habit of making your own fresh juice the combinations are endless and there’s no way you’ll ever crave minute maid again. You’ll start to feel a little like a bartender, and it’s fun to create. I love that my children prefer fresh over carton juice. My daughter loves orange juice, my son prefers apple. I mix in other fruits and vegetables like accessories: orange/strawberry/blueberry or apple/carrot/celery both make nice combinations. It’s fun for the kids to make up our own juice names like “grapple” or “pearple.” I can also throw in a handful of spinach or kale so I don’t have to worry about vegetables the rest of the day. You can make your own V8 and have the best Bloody Mary ever!

Another great thing is that nothing in my kitchen is wasted. Everything gets used or juiced; I literally “sweep the kitchen” into the juicer! I make small batches and we drink it immediately because juices don’t save well, plus the nutrients start to decline the longer it sits.

I like to dilute my juice with a little Pellegrino because it gives a zippy quality and is even more hydrating.

If you decide to invest in a juicer, I highly recommend the Breville . It’s durable, beautiful, fabulous accessory to your kitchen, and it’s Italian (è molto buono)!  Don’t wait to squeeze the juice out of уουr fruit and veggies and into your life. Remember, the only way to have a really great day is to get a really great start on it. Cheers or Cin cin!

Florence: Pizza, Pasta, and Piazzas

When you travel to a new place, you notice that your surroundings aren’t familiar and you’re constantly observing and discovering; senses awaken and you become alive! In Florence, even if it’s a repeat visit, this feeling never ends! Travel recharges the batteries and wakes up the spirit. Only in Florence will your senses scream la dolce vita! You can see art of the Renaissance, touch the thin crispy crust of a pizza Margarita, taste the Chianti wine, smell the fruity olive oil, and hear Giotto’s bell towers…I become zoetic in Florence with its beauty, history, and love. Florence is surreal; the images that you’ve seen in photos and movies magically come to life before your eyes. It truly is a different world. 

Florence was originally named Florentia which means “may she flourish.” Considered to be the most beautiful city in the world it is also the birthplace of the Renaissance. What I love is that the people of Florence are so proud to share their country with you; they are very helpful and eager. It is home to Dante, da Vinci, Michelangelo, the Medici family, and Galileo.  Florence is the capital of art; not only art history but the decoration of their houses, gardens, and fashion is perfection.

I am a fan of all things Italian: gelato, Sienna cinnamon colors, maze of paved stone streets, vespas, pizza, pasta, terracotta pots with colorful red flowers, piazzas, osteries, trattories, lemoncello, leather, jewelry, lace lingerie, Pinocchio…

I used to imagine myself as a travel writer/food critic before we had children. I still subscribe to Condé Nast Traveler and love thinking about planning our next trip. I really look forward to taking our children to Italy; once my youngest gets a little older I think we could do it. Italians love children, that’s not what worries me, it’s the flight there! Italy is known to be the best country in the world to have a child, and to be one! Children are greeted everywhere with enthusiasm.

Enjoying Florence takes time and that’s exactly what you’ll need if you plan to share this extremely fabulous town with thousands of sightseers. The good news is everything in Florence is within walking distance: restaurants, churches, museums, outdoor discotheques…The bonus is that once in the Italian time zone, you magically have more time to just be!

Walking around you will find the Florentine bats are confident creatures (just like Italian men); they are not afraid to swoop down and check you out (again…just like Italian men)! Both are harmless, it’s just their way!

It’s difficult for Americans to adjust to the Italian lifestyle; they linger over meals (being slow is a privilege); taking long strolls, naps, and they never talk about money! Traffic lights are optional and more of a decoration! When an American comes back home they long for that slower pace of life like they felt in Florence, unfortunately that is not American! Unless driving, Italians rarely say vai! vai! (go)!

You can eat very well in Florence, the simpler the restaurant, the better the food. I prefer that simple unrefined cooking that has no airs. It is very Italian to eat what you know; Italians are comforted by the familiar. The Florentines are convinced that the origins of French cooking are directly attributed to Catherine de’Medici’s move to France, naturalmente!

There are beautiful details throughout the city; even the street names… Via delle Belle Donne (beautiful women street). Another reason to walk, you never know what street you’ll end up on for that Renaissance photograph.

Before you go, find inspiration and get the most for your upcoming trip by reading or watching A Room with a View, The Light in the Piazza, and Life Is Beautiful. Listen to the Big Night soundtrack and prepare your palate and belly for the ultimate gastronomic experience.

Things to do in Florence…climb 400 some steps of the Duomo, see the Uffizi museum (make a reservation), see David at the Galleria dell’ Accademia , the original baptistery door panels by Ghiberti , Fra Angelico’s “The Annunciation” at Museo de San Marco, eat at Villa San Michele (don’t stay there, they will bankrupt you), Piazza Signoria where you can see the most perfect example of a tirebouchon (corkscrew) sculpture.

Photo: Above, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines stands outside Palazzo Vecchio. Below, one of Ghiberti’s original baptistery panel.

Then in the end it’s always nice to throw down the guide book and follow where your instincts tell you to go. My husband and I loved stopping in a Tabacchi to pick up cigarettes and wine to enjoy on our hotel balcony. Those were some of the most memorable nights; people watching in Florence you will find a plethora of entertainment. Having a gelato in the piazza, you will see just how small our world is. We are all neighbors! I remember seeing the same couple several times during our stay there; I may have gotten a little too friendly when she thought I was going to eat her dessert!

During these last winter weeks you might be suffering from the blues, you could become your own therapist and prescribe a week or more in Florence. It has medicinal cures that are sure to revive your spirit. Even if it’s a long way away until you’re able to go, its fun to plan for the future and Florence awaits with its pizza, pasta, and piazzas! Buona Fortuna! Cin cin! Ciao!

Photo: My husband Derek getting “Italian” therapy!

Classic movies and recipes for an extended evening


classic movies howtomarryamillionaire

I’m a cozy classics girl! Although modern in other ways…like shoes, I prefer the old classics and stick to them. There’s something to be said for the familiar. Maybe it’s because I favor comfort…especially in food!

My favorite kind of night-in involves: a fireplace, books, magazines, comfort food, and old movies. It all starts with Thanksgiving; our bodies naturally start to store up warmth and comfort that we crave for the winter. We become a bit like bears over the holidays; eating heavier foods, maybe not going outside as much… We build our own bear cave at night; in front of the fireplace and TV.

Do you ever have that fantasy that once you put the kids to bed you simply won’t need sleep and can stay up all night watching old movies and not worry about work the next day? Well, I have a plan for the day that happens (unfortunately I am notorious for falling asleep in front of the TV)! My plan is highlighted by a cozy night of cinema classics planned in front of the fireplace with a 50’s style TV tray full of cozy goodness.

I have a thing for the 50’s: clothes, hair, music, food, cocktails, and of course…movies! I love the glamour of the time: the brooches, scarves, high heels, red lipstick… One of my favorite designers of today is Kate Spade; she has a retro-chic flair of the 50’s, except with a modern twist.

I’ve paired four of my favorite old 50’s movies with four inspired courses: cocktails, appetizer, entrée, and dessert. Each movie has something special…White Christmas has Rosemary Clooney’s voice, Vera-Ellen’s dancing, African Queen was nominated for four Oscars and has the amazing Katharine Hepburn (I love everything she was ever in), hunky Humphrey Bogart (I could have easily fallen for him), How to Marry a Millionaire showcases a famous beautiful trio (who doesn’t love Marilyn Monroe), and Hitchcock’s Vertigo is dark, and suspenseful and also one of the most mesmerizing movies ever!

You wanna catch a mouse, you set a mouse trap. All right so we set a bear trap. Now all we gotta do, is one of us has got to catch a bear.

How to Marry a Millionaire, 1953

Three “Hot Toddy” models (Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall) move into a large New York apartment together, which is supposed to be used as a trap to attract millionaires. Unfortunately, the great plan doesn’t exactly work out. Of course, they each find their man! This romantic comedy is just plain fun!My “bear trap” would include this cozy blanket and a hot toddy!

Hot Toddy
4 slices of red apple
3 cinnamon sticks
3 slices of orange
2 cloves
16 oz of whiskey
16 oz simple syrup (equal part sugar dissolved in water)

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan and put over low heat. Slowly bring up to a simmer to infuse the bourbon, and keep over low heat for 5-7 minutes until the fragrance of the mixture becomes more apparent. Serve warm.
Hot Toddies are traditionally enjoyed before going to bed, or in wet or cold weather. They are perfect for the season.

classic movies WhiteChristmas

I want to wash my hands, my face, my hair with snow.
White Christmas, 1954
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play war buddies turned entertainers who fall for a pair of sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen). The guys follow the sisters to a resort, which is owned by their former commanding officer, and he’s in danger of losing the place. What better reason to stage a show than to keep the resort in business?
Irving Berlin’s music is what makes the singing and dancing in this movie a classic: White Christmas, Count Your Blessings, The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing, and my favorite, Sisters. My sister Paige and I have always liked to sing this song… Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister And lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man!

This glamorous movie calls for silk pajamas and empanadas!

1 ¼ cups chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
¼ cup Italian sausage
1T olive oil
¼ cup Marsala
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/T thyme
½ t lemon juice
Salt and pepper
½ cup crumbled feta with herbs
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 pkg purchased pie dough
1 egg yolk
1 T water

1/3 cup toasted whole hazelnuts or almonds
1 T sugar
1 garlic clove
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained
2 T red wine vinegar
Salt and red pepper flakes to taste
Preheat oven to 400; line a baking sheet with a silicone pad or parchment paper. Sauté mushrooms, shallots, and sausage in oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium/high heat. Cook until onion is soft and mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes, breaking up sausage into small pieces. Deglaze with Marsala and simmer until nearly evaporated, then stir in spinach, thyme, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Cook until spinach wilts, transfer to a bowl, and cool to room temperature; stir in feta and mozzarella. Unroll 1 sheet of pie dough onto a work surface, and cut out circles using a round cutter. Place 1 t filling on each round, fold in half, and pinch to seal. Arrange on baking sheet and crimp sealed with a fork; repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Blend egg yolk with water and brush on empanadas. Bake until crust is golden, 15-18 minutes. Pulse hazelnuts, sugar, and garlic in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until pureed.
Find something glamorous to eat your empanadas off of like Kate Spade appetizer plates.
classic movies vertigo
Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.
Vertigo, 1958
Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is one of the greatest American movies of all time. James Stewart plays Scottie, a police detective with a fear of heights. He’s obsessed with a married woman, Kim Novak who he follows for an old friend. This movie sucks you in and keeps you mesmerized, even if you’ve seen it before, Vertigo never loses its suspense.
I think this soup is magical, maybe if Scottie had some, he’d be cured of his vertigo!

White Bean Chili

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 poblano peppers, chopped
4 minced garlic cloves
2 teaspoons oregano
dash of allspice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-2 teaspoons pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
3 4oz cans chopped green chilies
2 cans cream of celery soup
5 cups chicken broth
1-1 ½ lbs cooked cubed chicken breast or a rotisserie chicken
4 cans Great Northern beans
4 Cups grated Monterey Jack
In a large heavy stock pot on medium heat add olive oil, stir in onion, poblano peppers and garlic (sauté about 3 minutes). Add chilies, cumin, oregano, cayenne, pepper, allspice and cook until onions become translucent (about 5 minute). Add soup and broth. Bring to a boil. Then add chicken, beans, and cheese and simmer on low 1 hour stirring occasionally or add to your crock pot. Cook on low 15 minutes. Serve with sour cream, chopped avocado, remaining cheese, and chips. 

classic movies AfricanQueen

                                                 African Queen, 1951

African Queen is a story of adventure and romance of Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in Africa just as World War I got underway. Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), a rum guzzling captain and Rose (Katharine Hepburn) a straitlaced missionary take on a German gunboat while falling in love.

Bread Pudding

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
6 T sugar
½ cup dark rum (in honor of Bogie)
4 t cornstarch

Bread pudding
Panettone bread loaf cut into inch cubes
8 large eggs
1 ½ cups heavy cream
2 ½ cups whole milk
1 ¼ cups sugar
For the sauce
Bring the cream, milk, and sugar to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently. In a small bowl, mix the rum and cornstarch to blend, and then whisk it into the cream mixture. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
For the bread pudding
In a large buttered casserole arrange bread cubes. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, cream, milk, and sugar to blend, Pour the custard over the bread cubes, press down gently to submerge. Soak for at least an hour or overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Bake the pudding until it puffs and is set about 45 minutes. Cool. Serve with warmed sauce.

Truly, this would be an extended evening and one that would require commitment for the full effect. If you want to try to break them up into more manageable segments, the Hot Toddies mix well with all of the other menu items. Cheers to you for Cozy Classics!

Reserve Your Night

I remember eating outside at Ambasciata D’Abruzzo, a restaurant near Rome, and the waiter brought me and my husband a giant platter of antipasti and some of their house wine. We were so content I think we may have taken off our shoes! This is my favorite kind of meal, a casual family style meal with antipasti and a good table wine. Yellow Tail Reserve wine and their new site brought four friends together for a summer night of spa, movie, and food (a mini staycation). It was the take off your shoes kind of atmosphere. Who needs to go out when you can gather together with your closest friends to put on a mask or two (or five) and watch a movie with some fabulous food and company?!?
I love wine; I love the way it brings out the flavor in food, the many varieties that it comes in, and the opportunities it provides to visit another country through a bottle. What I love the most is the number of different and pleasant ways that wine brings people together around the table.

This inexpensive evening was a treat and I’d say more fun than going out to the movies or a commercial spa because we could talk to our friends, enjoy wine, get beautiful, and see a movie all in one evening. It’s a bonus if your friends like to cook like mine do. Our Yellow Tail Reserve went perfectly with chicken pasta salad and blueberry cobbler.

I love movies about wine: Sideways, French Kiss, A Good Year, Bottle Shock, and Apres Vous are some of my favorites. However, my friends and I had just seen ABBA in concert and decided to watch Mamma Mia. Seeing the Greek islands on the big screen provided us the perfect spa environment. The art of tasting wine involves the sight, smell, and taste senses.

One of my favorite movies is French Kiss. In the movie both characters (Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline) compare wine to people. Two of my favorite lines in French Kiss that I know by heart are: “Wine is like people. The wine takes all the influences in life all around it, it absorbs them and it gets its personality.” -Luc (Kevin Kline) When Luc asks Kate to describe the wine she says, “It’s a bold wine with a hint of sophistication and lacking in pretension. Actually, I was just talking about myself.” -Kate (Meg Ryan)
It’s so funny because it’s true, wine IS like people! We can use the same adjectives to describe wine as we can for people: elegant, complex, bright, peachy, fruity, nice, bold, rich, smooth, full-bodied, earthy, sweet, bubbly, mature…

I have read that Australia is one of the most technologically advanced wine countries in the world. Yellow Tail Reserve is the perfect table wine. What’s better news is that it’s available everywhere, reasonably priced, and pleasing to the senses. My friend Margot said she liked the Yellow Tail Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon because it is really nice and fruity. What’s funny is that in a separate conversation my friend Jen said almost the same thing, that the same wine was light and fruity! I found Yellow Tail’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon to be silky and elegant. I tend to drink wine seasonally; cold white wine in the summer is what I enjoy now. My friends and I also sampled a Yellow Tail Reserve Pinot Grigio which is my favorite wine. It is soft and easy on the palate.

I will never be like Paul Giamatti, sticking my nose deep in my glass and saying something like, “there’s the faintest soupçon of asparagus!” But those who drink wine know what they like just as you know if you prefer mild to sharp cheddar or milk to dark chocolate. Taste is emotional and personal. I believe any wine that taste good to you is a good wine.

When preparing beauty treatments for our spa/movie night I followed the same wine cooking rule: Never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink! I didn’t make a beauty treatment that I couldn’t eat. I used fresh quality ingredients and I really think they worked! My four year old daughter got in on the action when I was in the kitchen blending up masks. What do you think her favorite was? Chocolate! The good news is that everything was edible. My daughter actually wanted a bowl full of the avocado mask to dip her chips into while she also wore it on her face!

I hope you will be inspired to “Reserve your Night” and try a spa/movie night with your friends before summer ends. AND…If you have children, let them get in on the action with you testing out the beauty treatments before your friends arrive! You will be glad you did!

Half of a small fresh watermelon
¼ C vodka
4 Tablespoons witch hazel
Blend ingredients and use cotton balls to apply. Store in fridge. Keeps approximately one week.

Pineapple helps rid the skin of dead cells and dirt and is a mild astringent. Olive oil has excellent healing properties and is a good source of vitamin E, which restores the skin’s surface.
In a blender, combine 1 fresh pineapple 1/3 C olive oil. Blend until almost smooth. Apply mixture to face with fingertips and leave on for 15 minutes. Rinse face with warm water and pat dry. The acidity may make your face feel itchy so I suggest following with the soothing avocado mask.

summer 2010 644

This mask combines avocados, which are rich in Vitamin E, with carrots, which are high in beta-carotene and antioxidants, and cream, which is high in calcium and protein. These ingredients will rebuild skin collagen, improve tone and texture, and fade age spots.
2 avocados, mashed
½ banana
1 carrot, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons honey
2 T cottage cheese
Combine all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Spread gently over your face and neck, and leave in place 10-15 minutes.

This creamy mask is an excellent moisturizer, leaving your skin baby soft.
1/3 cup cocoa powder
3 tbsp. heavy cream
2 tsp. cottage cheese
¼ cup honey
3 tsp. oatmeal
Mix all ingredients together in a blender and smooth onto face. Relax for ten 10 minutes (enjoy the smell), then wash off with warm water.

If you swim in a chlorinated pool, the same damage you’ve noticed happening to your skin and bathing suit, is happening to your hair. Try this treatment at home to keep chlorine damage to a minimum.
2 eggs
¼ C olive oil
1 peeled cucumber
Blend until smooth. Spread evenly through your hair, leave on for 10 minutes, and then thoroughly rinse.

Zooey's chocolate mask

My daughter, enjoying her chocolate mask…a little too much!


The Fresh Flavors of Summer

I have an obsession with fresh seasonal fruit. To me the ideal dessert is a summer peach, that’s it!

Summer is quickly ripening fruits and vegetables. Julia Child said, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces-just good food from fresh ingredients.” Fruit stands and farmers markets are buzzing with fresh flavors. It’s hot in Texas and we need something to quench and refresh us.

Certain flavors and spices come to mind during this season abundant with smell. My favorites are: cinnamon, blueberries, tomatoes, avocados, cherries, and lemons (to name a few).

I am reminded of summer by one of my favorite songs. Corinne Bailey Rae sings, “Summer came like cinnamon… So sweet, Little girls double-dutch on the concrete.” School is out and I find myself in the kitchen hungrier than ever, I’ve been starving for summer!

Cinnamon is my favorite spice. Did you know it’s a small tree? It grows in India, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Brazil. Cinnamon is one of the oldest most deliciously known spices. It also has great health benefits. It can be used for that dreadful cold, improve to enhance energy, and help with digestion.

There are endless ways to use it! Some of my summer favorites include sprinkling it on peaches and cream, iced chai tea, and cinnamon ice cream. This is one of my favorite treats during those long HOT Texas summers.

Ashley’s Summer Time Cinnamon Ice Cream:

6 large eggs
1 large vanilla bean
1 3-inch cinnamon stick or ½ t ground cinnamon
1 ½ C whole milk
1 ½ C heavy crème
¾ sugar

Separate the eggs in a bowl. Split vanilla bean, add milk, 1 cup of crème, and sugar to a saucepan with the vanilla bean. Add remaining ½ C crème to the bowl with the egg yolks (I like to save the egg whites for breakfast). Whisk the yolks and crème. Temper the egg yolks (add about ¼ C of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture so they don’t scramble). Then add it all to the milk mixture. Stir on medium low heat until the back of a wooden spoon is coated. Add cinnamon. Strain custard and discard cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. Cool, chill, then churn.

Another summer favorite is the avocado. Did you know it’s considered the world’s healthiest fruit? Get your potassium and regulate your blood pressure with an avocado a day to keep the doctor away!!

I recommend chef, Craig Alderson’s award winning recipe for Guacamole:
4 ripe avocados
Cilantro (handful chopped)
1/4 red onion finely diced
2 Serrano chilies minced
2 limes
garlic (2 cloves minced, and into paste)
2 tomatoes (Roma) diced/seeded
salt and pepper to taste with a dash of tabasco

Cut avocados in half, and scoop out flesh into mixing bowl. Squeeze two limes into mixing bowl to prevent oxidation of avocados.
Chop tomatoes, onion into medium dice add to bowl.
Add chopped cilantro
Add minced Serrano chile peppers
Add garlic
Mash avocados to your desired texture. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve chilled.

When I was little, I watched the movie The Jewel of the Nile over and over again. I consider the blueberry to be like the precious “Jewel of the Nile!”

The highest antioxidant capacity of all fresh fruit is the blueberry. Blueberries are: immune builders, age fighting, cancer fighting, heart healthy, good for vision, and also an anti depressant. Yes, it’s a super food!

I’ll never forget the summer I was fifteen and went to spend a week with my friend Jen’s grandmother in Tyler, Texas. We picked buckets of blueberries and froze them. They tasted like sweet cold candy! We couldn’t get enough of them and my children are the same way.

My favorite way to use blueberries is with a coffee cake.

Ashley’s Blueberry Coffee Cake:
stick of softened butter
tub of mascarpone cream cheese
cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 C flour
1t baking soda
¼ salt
1T vanilla
Container of blueberries (or as many as you like)
2 T Cinnamon sugar (just mix the two)

Beat softened butter and cheese at medium speed of an electric mixer until creamy; gradually add sugar beating well. Add eggs. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into butter mixer. Stir in vanilla and fold in berries. Pour into a 9-inch round cake pan coated with cooking spray or butter. Top with sprinkled cinnamon sugar. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.

I am a magnet for cherries! They might be my most favorite thing to eat! I prefer them straight from the bag, no baking necessary; just a bowl to catch the pits! Cherries are loaded with fiber (I craved them when I was pregnant). Like blueberries, cherries help with heart disease, fighting cancer and are loaded with antioxidants.

For summer birthday parties and showers I love to make little cherry tea cakes.
Ashley’s Cherry Tea Cakes:
1 ¼ sticks unsalted softened butter
1 C flour
1 ¼ C ground toasted almonds (or hazelnuts)
1 C sugar
1 t salt
5 egg whites
4 t cherry brandy
1 T vanilla
30 sweet cherries

Preheat oven to 400. Spray with Pam with flour. Melt butter. Whisk together flour, ground almonds (or hazelnuts), sugar, and salt in a bowl. Beat egg whites in a seperate bowl, and whisk until fluffy with an electric mixer. Stir in cherry brandy and vanilla. Pour in butter, and whisk to combine. Then combine the wet mixture to the dry and let stand for 20 minutes. Use a mini ice cream scoop to pour batter into each muffin tin, filling about half way. Push a cherry into each, keeping the stem up. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean and cakes are golden brown, 12 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. Run a knife around edges to loosen, and unmold. Cakes can be frozen or stored in airtight containers at room temperature overnight.

It’s not summer without enjoying the many varieties of tomatoes the markets have to offer. We need our lycopene! No other fruit or vegetable has the concentration of lycopene as the tomato. There are more health benefits eating a tomato than you can imagine: preventing cancer, heart disease as well as high cholesterol.
Ashley’s Summer Tomato Pasta:
8-10 roma tomatoes (peeled and seeded)
1 lb farfalle (butterfly in Italian) pasta
Fresh grated black pepper
4 cloves minced garlic
1 C chopped basil
2 t mint
2 t salt
1 t red pepper flakes
½ C extra virgin olive oil
½ fresh parmesan
1 C fontina cheese (diced)
½ fresh mozzarella (torn)
1 C kalamata olives

Peel, seed, and chop tomatoes. Mix ingredients and let sit at least 2/3 hours or overnight. Boil pasta. Add cheeses and tomato mixture while warm. Top with grated Parmesan.

Photo: Ravello, Italy overlooking lemons galore!

You know the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?” Well, I think that’s because lemons are known to lift your spirits. Maybe it’s the color yellow, or that the smell is rejuvenating and calming. Whatever the reason, it’s always nice to have an abundance of lemons in your kitchen. I’m crazy about meyer lemons and like to make lemoncello from them. When in Ravello, Italy my husband and I had never seen so many lemons before. Miles and miles of gorgeous yellow that smelled heavenly. I suggest a summer spritzer of lemoncello, Pellegrino, and perhaps some chocolate mint.When in Italy, one of our favorite things to eat is linguine and clams. It has such a delicate flavor and adding lemon makes it fresh. My husband and I like to make this one together. He grew up in Rhode Island where he used to hand pick little neck clams right by his house. Can you imagine growing up in Rhode Island and having clam bakes?!?

Derek’s Linguine with Clams
1 lb spaghetti
½ C extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 lb little neck clams, scrubbed
½ C dry white wine
½ C chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ salt
½ pepper
2 T butter
1 T fresh lemon juice
Freshly grated zest of 1 lemon
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt (a lot). Add linguine and cook until al dente. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium high and add shallots and sauté until soft (about 3 minutes). Then add garlic and sauté until golden. Add clams, wine, lemon juice, ¼ of the parsley, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until most of the clams have opened, about six minutes. It is important that you discard any clams that do not open. Whisk in butter to thicken the sauce. Drain pasta (save about 1/3 cup for the sauce. Toss pasta with clam mixture and add reserved pasta water to moisten. Sprinkle with lemon zest and garnish with remaining parsley. Serve immediately.
Marcel Proust said, “The smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment…” Now is the time to reap the benefits of summer.

Knitting cookies, baking sweaters


The happiest people are those who do things for others. Just put a bit of yourself in a homemade gift. Making something, anything, is one of the very best ways to show your love for family and friends. Children love to do for others if given the opportunity.

I don’t knit, but I appreciate the love that goes into the creation just like baking. I think knitting and baking are similar in the way that both take concentration in putting it all together, but there’s also something very therapeutic and meditative about each process.

I’ve always heard people who practice yoga are some of the happiest people on earth. I think it’s that quiet meditation found in yoga, but it can be found in other activities like baking and knitting, too. It’s that pure creative process that gives off an inner peace. I find that same peace when my hand touches the ballet bar for plies, practicing Pilates and hearing just the sound of my breath, and again when I’m baking and making the house smell good. What makes knitting and baking different from other activities is that it’s a gift. You are creating for someone else, something made from love.

Baking is a great way to get the kids involved in the kitchen and they get to help with a gift for someone they care about. Children can be taught to knit, too. I remember my grandmother teaching me something simple; I made headbands in all different colors for my family. I see knitting and baking as a great activity for children because it can help with fine motor skills.

My grandmother knitted sweaters, Christmas stockings, and blankets for all the grandchildren. They are all little treasures to our family. What better time to think of knitting than with new babies and holiday gifts. I was very lucky to have my friend from ballet knit a baby blanket for my daughter and my friend’s mother from Austria knit a baby sweater for my son. The feel of the blanket and sweater is plush and soft. You can see and sense the work that goes into knitting.

It seems like knitting was becoming a lost art for a while. A knitted gift has such a long lifespan that continued appreciation for them far exceeds feelings for anything “store-bought.” I think of my little red and green stop and go mittens my grandmother made for me that my children now wear. It’s like they are wearing hugs on each hand.

Don’t have a granny or friend who can knit you something? There are websites that let you pick out your own granny to knit a hat or scarf. When you look at the grannies’ faces you can tell the result will make you smile. How could you not love something someone made for you? You may not just see grannies knitting anymore now that Kate Hudson has made knitting hip and young people have taken it up again. There are many books and magazines that have made knitting chic and not just for babies. There was a gorgeous hat Carrie Bradshaw wore in Sex and the City when she was in Paris. I would love to make something like that someday.

Where I am in my life, working with small children, I can’t bring myself to add a “new” activity like knitting right now. If there were only eight days a week, ah the things I would do. I have to pick what to do with my windows and what makes me a happy person is doing ballet and baking. That’s what I have time for now. One day I’ll make room for learning how to knit, until then I will appreciate what others can do.

Click on these links for more knitting information:

Please enjoy a family favorite that my mother, daughter, and I love to bake during the holidays.

Spiced Cardamom Cookies
5 ¾ C flour
1t baking soda
1T salt
1T ground cardamom
1t ground allspice
¼ t ground pepper
¼ ground cloves
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 C dark brown sugar
½ C sugar
½ C dark corn syrup
¼ C water
¼ C heavy cream
1 large egg
2 t vanilla

Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, cardamom, allspice, pepper, and cloves in a large bowl. Place butter in a mixer bowl. Bring sugars, corn syrup, and water to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Pour hot sugar mixture over butter, and then beat on low speed until combined. Beat cream egg, and vanilla in a bowl, then add to butter mixture, Beat on medium speed until well combined. Reduce speed to low, and add flour mixture, beating until just incorporated. Divide dough into thirds, and flatten each into a disk. Wrap each disk in plastic, and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Roll out 1 disk between lightly floured parchment to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut out shapes with holiday cookie cutters. Spacing them1 inch apart on cookie sheet. Bake cookies until edges are golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. If small start checking after 8 minutes.