Friday, August 29, 2014

Blueberry Pudding Cake

Let’s go back in time. About a month ago, I was living in Hudson, New York, and working like a madwoman in order to finish the sixth print issue of the startup magazine where I worked. The last two weeks before shipping a completed magazine to the printer were always intense. All of five of us on the editorial staff devoted pretty much every waking minute to one purpose: finish. Late nights in the office. Early mornings in the office. As the managing editor, I kept track of each story in the page proofing process, and would dream of spreadsheets. In my dreams I wouldn’t really be doing anything. Just sitting there, staring at spreadsheets.

In the middle of this last magazine close, on a Sunday afternoon, I forced myself to not think about work. Instead, I baked. It was late July, and when I went to the market that Saturday, I spent about a million dollars on blueberries, and every one of those dollars was worth it. Especially when I baked a blueberry pudding cake, which tasted pretty much the way summer should taste, even if you spend your summer mainly just working. I brought the leftovers to the office on Monday. The pan was empty in a few hours.

Let’s go further back in time. Nine years ago tomorrow I was in the accident that caused me to lose my sense of smell, change my career and begin writing. This anniversary sneaks up on me. But every year, a few days before August 30, I begin to feel a nagging anxiety, a trill of panic deep in lungs. I don’t understand it until I look at the calendar. Then I remember where I was that morning (happily planning my first days at culinary school) and where I would be that afternoon (in a Boston hospital with a head contusion, severed knee ligaments, shattered pelvis and a vanished sense of smell). It’s been almost a decade but it scares me, still.

Now: go eat cake.

Blueberry Pudding Cake
From Gourmet, circa 2005

1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 heaping cups blueberries
1 cup flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a small saucepan, mix together the first 1/3 cup sugar with water, lemon juice, cornstarch and blueberries. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Take off heat.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and remaining sugar in a medium bowl. In another large bowl, whisk together egg, milk, butter and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to this, stirring until just combined.

Pour the batter into a buttered 9-inch baking pan. Spread evenly. Pour blueberry mixture of the top of the batter, and let sink in. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan. Leftovers keep well, though won’t last long.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Well Hello

It’s, uh, been a while. Anyone still out there? Is this thing on? Bueller? (Sorry.)

So I haven’t written here in more than a year. That feels strange. I started this blog back in 2005, when I barely knew what blogs were, and ever since then it’s been a constant companion, a small but semi-permanent recording of my life in real time, patches and pieces and recipes and photos, never regularly updated but always present. Always something to return to.

And so here I am! Returning! The last year and a bit has been wild. I moved to the Hudson Valley for a job. A phenomenal but an intense job. It consumed me and all my hours and most of my life. I loved it. But now I’m returning to Boston for another job, one that I’m likewise wildly excited about. I missed Boston, and am happy to be coming home.

What else. I wrote a bit. I read as much as I could. I edited a lot. I made new friends and reconnected with old. I spent a lot of time flying to Texas, trying to make a long distance relationship work. I cooked only a little, but drank, well, like a journalist. I ran on trails in the woods, early in the fog-ridden mornings, and discovered that if I forced myself to both sign up and pay for the evening hot yoga class before noon, I might actually attend. I survived a breakup, mainly by watching Jane Austin-inspired movies on my laptop over and over for a month.

Many weekends I took the Amtrak from my tiny upstate town to NYC, hurtling along the Hudson River to attend parties and book readings and dinners with my brother, Ben, perched at the bar of one funky restaurant or another downtown. Sometimes I went to the city just for the particular thrill that comes with being anonymous.

When I finished my last day of work, I went to Maine for a week by myself. I wanted the scent of the ocean and the sound of crickets at night to rid my brain of the static built up over the last year.

After four days alone, I was happy to spend time with my friends Steph and Kathy, both who live nearby. On that Thursday night Steph and I shared some of the best deviled eggs I’ve tasted at The Black Birch in Kittery. On that Friday night, Kathy cooked. We drank rosé and walked around her sweeping garden, all tomatoes and potatoes and asparagus fronds. She grilled a huge pan of paella and we ate it in the yard as the sun went down. Later that night we listened to a New Orleans-style brass band in a one-room theater space in town, and I sat in the back and tapped my foot and watched an older, white-haired man dance magnificently in the center of the room, alone.

Saturday, June 29, 2013


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


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.