Saturday, June 29, 2013

Changes



My last day of work at Cook’s Illustrated was on a Monday. On Tuesday, Greg and I drove to Maine. We spent a day in Portland, where we ate oysters and lobster rolls, house-made charcuterie and stout-flavored ice cream before we yet again hit the road. We arrived in Baxter State Park on Wednesday evening, where we camped in a lean to, learned how to play cribbage, and listened to the sounds of an aggressively gurgling stream. On Thursday, we climbed Mount Katahdin, the highest mountain in Maine.


I knew the hike would be hard. We’d heard about the boulder scrambling, the long and steep ascent, the long and steep descent. But I guess I didn’t think too much about it. I’m a runner. I used to be a backpacker. I’d just left my job for a new one. Summer was here. I won at cribbage. The world was my (local Maine) oyster.


But that hike? Man, it was hard. We climbed that mountain for almost 5 hours, sloshing in streams, scrambling up rocks, passing the tree line to reach the bald head of the peak. It was beautiful up there, all rocks and knife-sharp edges, fields and hills for miles and miles.


The descent was what really took it out of me. We hopped and jumped, balanced and hauled ourselves down a different (*slightly* less steep) trail. And at the bottom, 4.5 hours later, I was zonked. My quad muscles screamed. Even my wrists were sore. All I wanted to do was curl up into a little ball and sleep. The problem? We were still 2 miles from our campsite. We just needed to stroll along a flat dirt road to get there. But those remaining 2 miles felt like 1,000 and we decided to do the only logical thing: hitch hike.


A few cars ignored us, spraying clouds of dust into the air as they sped on by. But then one stopped. Two nicely dressed tourists from Japan let two supremely sweaty hikers climb into their pristine rental-car backseat. We tried to make small talk, but language was a barrier. We must have looked as bedraggled as we felt, because when they stopped the car in front of our campsite, the woman turned around and handed us a candy bar from deep in the recesses of her purse. “You need energy,” she said in halting English. It was a green tea flavored Kit Kat bar. She’d brought it from Tokyo. “This will help.”


The next day Greg and I drove to Acadia National Park and watched the summer solstice sunset from the top of Cadillac Mountain. It was just a sunset, but a gorgeous one, the sun a haunting red. It was the longest day of the year and time felt elongated. We stood on a rock and watched the sun sink beneath the earth, the season change, the beginning of something new. The next week I would start my new job as the managing editor of Modern Farmer magazine. Next month Greg will be moving to Texas for a new job of his own. In a previous life I would have felt crippled with anxiety over such momentous change. But then, there, I just felt happy. Energetic. I guess the Kit Kat worked.


Thursday, June 13, 2013



oh, hi.



Saturday, February 09, 2013

On a Dime

Last weekend I rented a cargo van and drove to Malden with my friend Mary to pick up the last of my things from Matt’s storage unit: A big cherry-wood desk and matching chair, given to me by my mother when I lived in New York. It’s been exactly one year since Matt and I split. The symmetry of this date was both pleasant and painful. The multi-story storage center was empty when we arrived, halls of concrete and bright orange doors fanning out in front of us, like we had wandered into a Stanley Kubrick movie. When I opened the unit, a small one in the back, I saw my desk and chair alongside a number of items I once knew so well (his Army backpack, our bike rack) and a few things I did not (a Christmas wreath, a bag of women’s sweaters). Mary and I lugged my desk out, down the hall, and into the van. I locked the unit and we drove home.

The next day I woke up with a cold. A bad cold. A sore throat, body aching, tissue grabbing cold. And all I wanted, as is true whenever I have a cold, was soup.

I made a tomato soup—(this soup)—one creamy and thick with sourdough bread and bright with cumin and cilantro. It’s from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s JERUSALEM, which, as you know, is a book I love. Jessica made this same soup for my 30th birthday party a few months ago—a lovely, raucous night filled with great friends and goofy photos. I loved that evening, for both the fun of the moment itself and what it represented as a start to a new year. Because last year? It was a hard year. A good year, but a challenging year. A lot of things changed. I learned what it means to be proud of myself. I learned what it means to let go.

I shared this soup on Monday night with someone new, a someone that wants to share soup with me on a Monday night even if I’m sick and he may or may not believe soup actually qualifies as a meal. It’s early, so that’s all I’ll say about that. I know as well as anyone that life can change in an instant, can turn course on a dime.

But on Tuesday, I put the key to Matt’s storage locker in an envelope, which I then sealed, addressed, and stamped. I carried the envelope tucked in my purse for a day before I remembered to drop it into the mailbox outside my apartment building on my way to work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lately








There was Christmas. I roasted lamb. My brother and I grilled oysters. My mother and I made toast out of brioche baked by my talented colleague, Andrew. We may or may not have had a family dance party. Then there was New Years. Jess and I made potato gnocchi with tomato sauce. We made salad with fresh ricotta. We played Cards Against Humanity and laughed a lot. There have been breakfasts in bakeries. Early morning walks. Late mornings writing in bed. I spent a weekend in Vermont, where I went downhill skiing for the first time in eight years. I grew up ski racing, but I hadn’t touched a pair of skis since before the accident and resulting knee surgery. My knee has felt stable and strong for a while now, but I’d been holding on to my fear. I was afraid that I’d forgotten how to move. Afraid that I’d get hurt. It came right back, though, that muscle memory of boot in ski, of ski on snow. And as I stood on that mountain this past Saturday, an abnormally warm Saturday for January, the sky a brilliant blue above the lingering haze of fog, it felt good to let the last vestiges of my injury go.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies


On December evenings when I was a girl, my father and I would drive around town looking for the best (read: most garish) Christmas decorations. The more light, the more color, the more porches and lawns laden with statues and scenes and rotating Santa dolls the better. I grew up in suburbia, so these holiday tours involved a minivan on inky black roads, long stretches between fields and farms and gated neighborhoods. I remember the smell of those evenings. Of winter. Of cold—that deep dark blue scent that mixes so well with car exhaust and pine.

Technically, I’m Jewish. My father grew up in an actively Jewish household. But my Protestant mother converted to get married and brought with her a slew of Christmas traditions from her Danish past. The holiday was a hot button issue in our house. We celebrated when I was very small. But then when I began attending Hebrew school, we stopped. No more tree. No more Santa. Instead we went skiing in Maine. I missed it. My father knew.

We called our favorite house on this Christmas light tour the “Blue House”—because, well, it was blue. Not the house itself, which was the usual New England-style cloudy white. But the lights draped upon it were all blue. Neon blue. They covered the house—the roof, the windows, the door, and even the yard, coating every inch of every tree, snaking lines of light out into the sky like a spider web. I could stare at those lights for hours. We had entered magical world where gravity didn’t exist.

I wanted to do the same to our house. My father said no.

I hadn’t thought about the Blue House for a while. But then on a Saturday evening a couple weeks ago, I climbed onto a trolley parked at the Somerville City Hall. I was there with a friend and—bundled in down and wool, breathing misty clouds against the frosted windows—we were there for a Christmas light tour of our own.

The Illuminations Tour is a yearly tradition, a one-night-only option, a guided trolley ride among some of the more enthusiastically decorated homes in town. Our trolley was filled with tipsy hipsters. By the time the tour began it had been dark for hours, but was actually only 9:15. Laughter fairly exploded from the rows behind us. My friend and I weren’t tipsy, but we were verging on hipster, both sporting thick-rimmed glasses and skinny jeans. We had brought a bar of chocolate—dark chocolate with sea salt—and shared it square by square as the trolley rumbled up and down the streets, past the porches overflowing with glowing blow up dolls: the nutcrackers, the snowmen, the ghoulish-looking Santa Clauses. Plaster reindeers hung from roofs, ablaze with glitter and neon.

When the tour ended, the trolley dropped us back off where we began. We clomped back out onto the ice-studded streets. We stopped to drink some hot cider, standing in the corner of a bar filled with people wearing red and green and the occasional Santa hat. We decided to again seek out the street that had some of the best-lit houses from the tour. This time, on foot. We could take pictures.

It was close to 11pm by the time we arrived and only one house was still lit. All the others were dark. The street was empty and quiet. We walked side by side down the center of the road, each footstep an echo. The air had grown cold, and, jamming a wool hat over my hair, I breathed in that familiar scent of winter.

When we reached that final house, we paused in front. It was a fantastic house, plastered with colored lights and redolent in blowup dolls. A particularly friendly-looking plastic snowman was fastened to the roof; he smiled down on the street.

Then I heard a door slam. A click. A switch. And suddenly the lights shut off. All of them. We stood in the middle of that now inky black road and watched as the snowman began to deflate. He lost his air rapidly—surprisingly so. We watched as he began to bow, leaning slowly over himself. He made an elegant fall to the ground.

I woke up the next morning and decided to bake cookies.


Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies 
Adapted from Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain and about a gazillion blogs

These cookies have been written about all over the place. But, dudes, they’re great. The whole-wheat flour doesn’t make them heavy (or healthy, I promise), but instead lends a nutty, earthy flavor that complements the richness of the butter and bittersweet chocolate. This dough can go straight from the bowl to the oven, but I know folks who recommend chilling the dough first, sometimes already portioned out on the baking sheet and then wrapped in plastic. (This chilly pause will make your cookies a bit more plump and, depending on how long you leave them in the fridge, a bit more flavorful). My friend Jess tops them with some sea salt flakes. I made this batch plain. 

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (or bar chocolate, roughly chopped)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (with racks positioned in the upper and lower thirds of the oven). Butter two baking sheets (or line them with parchment).

Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt) in a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Put the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. On low speed, mix for about 2 minutes, until just blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the chocolate and blend until evenly combined. (If there are still pockets of flour, use your fingers to massage the dough a bit. You don’t want to do any overbeating.)

Make mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size. Place them onto baking sheets, about three inches apart, or about 8 cookies per sheet (they will spread as they bake). Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, making sure to rotate the sheets halfway through. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Repeat until all the dough is used.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Article, An Interview, An Event



Hi, friends. I have a couple things I'd like to share.

First: I know that this may be a shocker, but I do occasionally write about topics that aren’t cooking- or sense-of-smell-related. And I’m happy to report that I have just such an essay up on Cognoscenti, the new opinion page of WBUR (Boston’s NPR affiliate), as well as up on the Huffington Post. The essay is about my (relatively short, so far) experience with online dating. It’s about the stories we tell ourselves, and the stories we tell others, and how these stories align. Online dating, to me, is a collision of stories, and I find it fascinating. It’s certainly teaching me a lot about myself.

In fact, I’ll be on WBUR’s Radio Boston to talk about the essay and my online dating experience tomorrow - Monday (11/19), sometime between 3 and 4pm (!!). Tune in!

Second: Cook's Illustrated's THE SCIENCE OF GOOD COOKING, the book that I spent about 18 months editing, is tearing it up. There have been all sorts of interviews conducted with my boss, Chris Kimball, as well as Jack Bishop, who was the driving force behind this scientific tome. Jack also gave a fantastic lecture at Harvard this past week. 

And on Tuesday (11/20), I am going to be giving a talk with fellow Cook's Illustrated editor Dan Souza, who was in charge of the test kitchen experiments published in the book (and who also writes a delightful column on chips for Serious Eats), at the Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge at 7pm. The event is part of the NOVA Science Cafe series, and will most definitely be a good time. We will talk about the making of THE SCIENCE OF GOOD COOKING, as well as what it's like to be an editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine (where I have been working full time since I finished editing the book). There may even be some Thanksgiving cookery tips involved. I'd love to see you there.