ode to the first really nice day

i have several tangential yet wholly unrelated thoughts to offer in honor of the first really nice day of the year.

there is something magic in the air--i feel it especially at night--every year in the early spring that call to mind remembrance of years past. it's fleeting, with no specific scent or identifying factor, yet i feel it triggering my sense of smell, followed by a trick of the light, and suddenly i am separate from all of my troubles and concerns for a few brief moments of undiluted joy. there is a lightness in my step and my mind goes racing, remembering that day i played hooky with D. and C. and went walking in central park. i wore my yellow skirt with the butterflies and i felt all cute and elegant, i remember telling my friend in florida, even though i am not, and have never been, elegant. the firefighters down the street all stared as they watched me skip down the street.

or i remember opening the windows of the gilman clock tower during a writing workshop, as we climbed on to the roof for a few precious minutes of sunlight--or the day i skipped class altogether to sit on the quad with the cute guy who lived on another floor in my building, or maybe the night L. and i sat in some random stranger's garden on calvert street until 4 in the morning.

nothing drives home for me how much i love new york like the first really nice day of the year. i breathe the air--although it is not "fresh" by any conventional definition of the word--and i start walking everywhere. today the realization hit me as i walked up sixth avenue and watch the sun set crosstown on 42nd street.

i feel as though i am emerging from a hibernation.

i have been remiss in not sharing some of my adventures this winter. in new york, it often seems as though the sun sets as early as 4pm because the buildings are so tall. this makes me tired and disinclined toward further activity--even cooking--once i have reached the sanctuary of home.

and so, i make an offering for the glory of springtime: my vegetable patch. i can't lie, it isn't new. i made these weeks ago after a really very unpleasantly difficult day at the office. i needed to do something whimsical and have colors and, as an added bonus, use my kitchen mallet to make a lot of noise. the cakes are zucchini bread--which is the only way i can actually eat zucchini--with chocolate chunks thrown in. i made a basic icing, using icing sugar and water, with some seriously bright food coloring. for added whimsy i populated my vegetable patch with several gummy worms slithering around the formerly-oreo-cookie dirt (this would be where the kitchen mallet made a cameo).


sometimes, you just gotta do what you just gotta do

do you ever come home and just feel compelled to make a pie? because that is what happened to me today. i even found out-of-season rhubarb hiding among the vegetables at the WFM downstairs. i took a jar of sour cherries and a LOT of sugar and baked away. the crust, i think, was my most favorite part.


dinner with alicia

chicken and honey tagine with my new tagine that grandpa gave me as a housewarming gift. alicia had never eaten tagine before so she didn't notice that i totally overcooked it.


three perfect words

pancakes for dinner. orange ricotta with chocolate chips, sectioned blood orange and valhorna cocoa. who says you can't be decadent in the middle of the week?


the day that camille left me

today C left me to go back to grenada. as much as i love being able to see the floor in my guestroom and not finding leftover cups of tea everywhere...i miss my camilleque. friday night dinner as usual only i set the table for a change to make everything look pretty. C made the muffins for me at 2am this morning, i think, because she needed a break from packing.


good morning, 2008

I greeted the first morning of 2008 rather earlier than I would have preferred, when I rolled over at about 9.00a and garnered the attention of my cat who, sensing that I was awake, determined that I had stayed in bed quite long enough, thank you. He flipped over onto his belly and started purring in his stentorian way and, when that failed to command my notice, took the more direct approach of poking at my face with his paw until I finally threw off the covers in resignation, pulled on an acrylic-paint-stained pair of sweatpants and my knitted slippers, and crawled over to the couch. Where he followed me and jumped on my stomach, leaving several paw prints in his wake.

From this still horizontal and yet less cocoon-like vantage point, I sat and wakened—and watched the Law & Order marathon on cable—until I was able to savor the day. The fourth in a series of days that involved no office work whatsoever, and the first following a delicious meal with plenty of food, friends and wine, the day promised to be an excellent one in spite of the lousy weather. I spent several happy hours in my new darkroom, covering myself in acrylic paint with the smell of cooked eggs, from my tempera prints, perfuming the air.

Above all things, it was a brilliant day for leftovers. I saved the cooking liquid from my cassoulet pot and purloined two of the extra sausages I’d purchased, re-dedicating them to a new purpose. I threw in half a bottle of leftover Brunelo di Montalcino and left the entire concoction to simmer in a rice cooker for an hour.

The smell in the kitchen was unbelievable, the rice salty and sweet and rich with flavor. The sausages, I regret to say, did not fare as well, but I had no regrets as I ate my New Year’s Day dinner.

Then, heedless of my cat, I fell asleep.

NYCT&LC does NYE for the sixth consecutive year

in the winter of 2002, i had just come home from a semester abroad. i was tired. like, existentially so. even a quiet day in london involved two hours' commute on the tube. most of my friends were five time zones away and my local ones tended to while away evenings chain-smoking hand-rolled cigarettes at the pub.

which is not to say that any of that was a bad thing.

but the point is, by december of 2002, i was eager to be back in a place where we drive on the right side of the road, where the sun set later than 4pm, where the food was edible at places other than wagamama. my friends and i wanted to have a grand celebration together for the new year. of course, grand ended up involving my parents' pied-a-terre in new york city. grand ended up ad-libbing a paella and having too many martinis and almost missing the new year's fireworks. but there is always a sort of grandeur in the birth of a tradition.

for the past six years, we've managed to spend new year's eve together. it doesn't always go well. people get sick, they get engaged, they break up, they get married, and sometimes, i am ashamed to say, my recipes don't work out the right way. but i always find that the key element is that we spend it together.

this year, that almost didn't happen. maybe it was the ad-hoc nature of the year, but we all looked toward new year's eve with a lackadaisical attitude and tended to assume, without actually planning, that we would be together. funnily enough, this did not get confirmed until this morning. by noon, i decided that i should get around to cooking dinner.

in contrast to earlier years, i decided to make a simple meal--and to clean out my fridge instead of adding to the clutter. from the depths of my freezer, i found 2 duck confit legs, several sausages, and a ham hock. a can of tomatoes turned up in my pantry. i snagged a can of beans at gristede's. my very first cassoulet was born.

my friend camille has been squatting on my couch, so we made the best use of our time and conspired together on the appetizers. camille was in charge of salad, and spend hours researching different flavor combinations and their new year's eve symbolism, settling on pomegranates, blood oranges, walnuts, gruyere and spring greens. for the gentlemen, we got escargot. camille utilized her artistic talents to put together a looker of a cheese plate, and i spent the entire day rolling puff pastry for a twelfth night cake, accompanied by a small batch of madeleines.

four bottles of wine later, i think we can call the evening a success. here's to tradition!

(recipe from January 2008 Martha Stewart Living)

Serves 6.

  • 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 celery stalk, halved crosswise
  • 1 leek, dark-green part only, rinsed well
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces fatback or uncured pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 8 ounces pork shoulder, cut into 3/4-inch dice
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 1 3/4 cups whole peeled tomatoes with juice, chopped (from a 14 1/2-ounce can)
  • 2 cups dried navy, Great Northern, or Tarbais beans, soaked in cold water for 12 hours
  • 1 garlic clove, halved
  • 2 legs duck confit (homemade or store-bought), skinned and separated at the joint
  • 8 ounces fresh garlic sausage (see the Guide), cut into 1/2-inch half-moons
  • 4 cups coarsely torn fresh bread (preferably from a crusty, rustic loaf)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Bundle parsley, bay leaf, rosemary, thyme, celery, and leek to form a bouquet garni, wrapping kitchen twine around the aromatics several times to secure -- which ensures easy retrieval of the ingredients after they've infused the cooking liquid with flavor.
  2. Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add fatback or pork belly, and cook until it is golden on all sides and has begun to render its fat, about 5 minutes. Add pork shoulder, and cook until golden on all sides, about 8 minutes total.
  3. Remove pot from heat. Discard carrot, onion, and bouquet garni. Transfer ham hock to a cutting board, reserving liquid, and let cool slightly. Trim meat and gelatin from the bone, dicing and returning them to the pot. Discard the bone.
  4. Remove pot from heat. Discard carrot, onion, and bouquet garni. Transfer ham hock to a cutting board, reserving liquid, and let cool slightly. Trim meat and gelatin from the bone, dicing and returning them to the pot. Discard the bone.
  5. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Rub cut side of garlic clove over the entire inner surface of a small (5-quart) Dutch oven or other ovenproof vessel. This allows a subtle though distinct garlic flavor to infuse the resulting cassoulet.
  6. Using a wire skimmer or a slotted spoon, place half the bean mixture in the Dutch oven, spreading it evenly. Leave the cooking liquid in the pot.
  7. Arrange the duck confit and sausage on top of the beans in the Dutch oven to create a single, snug layer. Spoon the remaining beans over the meat, reserving the cooking liquid.
  8. Add enough cooking liquid so the beans are almost, but not quite, submerged. Reserve the remaining liquid. Transfer pot to oven and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours. Check the liquid every 30 minutes to make sure it is no more than 1/2 inch below the beans, and add liquid or water as necessary. Do not stir.
  9. After the cassoulet has cooked for 2 hours, toss bread and butter in a bowl. Sprinkle over cassoulet, and return to oven until beans are tender and bread is golden, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  10. Before serving, let cassoulet stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to cool and to allow the beans to absorb some of the liquid. You can refrigerate cassoulet in an airtight container for up to 3 days; rewarm in an oven heated to 300 degrees.