Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice, and Mango Chutney

December has been rough.  Holidays in the face of waning bank accounts, complicated families, and confusing relationships.  Not to mention a lull in work, freezing weather, un-insulated apartments, and the flu. Oy.

I have been spending time in the kitchen and do have a fat handful of recipes I want to share.  Coq au vin, lemon meringue pie, and a crispy potato galette to name a few.  But to begin: something simple.

On Monday night, as the blizzard rattled against the apartment windows, I opened Amanda Hesser’s The Essential New York Times Cookbook.  It’s a wonderful tome of a cookbook.  I had already spent an hour or so reading it that morning in bed.  This book, a compendium of recipes published in the New York Times from 1850 to today, is a history lesson, a culture collection, a series of personal stories.  To write it, Hesser began by asking for feedback from the public:  “Readers wrote me about recipes that had held together their marriages, reminded them of lost youth, given them the cooking bug, and symbolized their annual family gatherings,” she says in the introduction.

I had trundled out in the snow that afternoon to buy the few ingredients I would need for a chicken dish—the one that Hesser’s husband served the first time he cooked for her, she writes.  It felt like weeks since I was last at home, cooking dinner for just two, and I wanted an easy, quick meal: Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice, and Mango Chutney. 

That night, wearing slippers, wool socks, and two sweaters to combat the frustrating cold of a not-properly-winterized apartment, I mixed the sour cream, mayonnaise, curry powder, and mango chutney in a bowl, squeezing in lemon juice to taste.  It created a silky sauce, which I poured over the chicken breasts that I had sliced in half and lined up in a baking dish.  Into the oven: 450 degrees.

As dinner cooked, Matt and I sat on the couch with tumblers of whisky, a blanket over our legs, seeking warmth in our cold apartment on a stormy night.  We began watching a movie about the end of the world, a silly-bad one, the kind with subpar special effects and acting so hokey we had to laugh.  It’s been a rough month, and it felt good to laugh again.

We ate dinner at the kitchen table, near the space heater, the room filled with the booming sounds of a Hollywood apocalypse.  The chicken was moist, and its sauce tangy and sweet.  I served it alongside rosemary-roasted potatoes and green beans sautéed in butter.   Recently it’s felt like everything in life is confusing and complicated.  But not this.  This dinner was simple.  It was good.  “This is delicious,” said Matt, and I agreed.

Chicken Roasted with Sour Cream, Lemon Juice, and Mango Chutney

2 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half
½ cup Hellman’s mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons Major Grey’s mango chutney
1 teaspoon curry powder
Juice of one lemon
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lay the chicken in a medium-sized baking dish.

Whisk together the mayonnaise and sour cream in a bowl.  Add the chutney and curry powder and whisk until smooth.  Add the lemon juice a bit at a time, tasting as you go.  It should be tangy.

Pour the sauce over the chicken.  Bake until chicken is just cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Season with pepper.  Serve.

Monday, December 13, 2010


Every December, my mother bakes cookies.  She makes five different kinds and the selection has never changed.  Will never change, so I thought.  After all, her cookie assortment has been exactly the same since I was a little girl and my brother and I, raised in a home that celebrated both Rosh Hashana and Easter, left plates of sweets out for Santa on Christmas Eve.

I love my mother’s cookies.  There are little pecan-studded rounds baked until bronze and coated in thick layers of powdered sugar, which are impossible to eat without a dusting on your clothes, like snow.  There are oversized chocolate-chunk “Monsters,” peanut butter disks imprinted with Hershey’s Kisses, and gingerbread men decorated with garish sprinkles.  My favorites are the sugar cookies, the ones that my Danish grandfather used to make when my mother was young, which are piped into delicate circles on sheets of parchment paper. 

Today, the production is down to a science.  These cookies are written in stone.   

But there I was this weekend, spending some time at home, helping my mother bake.  Inspired by Kim Boyce’s new cookbook, Good to the Grain, which I bought on a whim the week before, I decided to test something new.  Normally, I would not be drawn to a cookbook that focuses on the use of whole grain flours.  Cookies aren’t meant to be healthy, I think.  But praise for Boyce has been all over the web.  And, as I had read, her use of alternative flours like barley, corn, or rye add flavor and texture—not health, believe me!—to her goods.

I had already made her “Chocolate Chocolate Cookies,” which are tender and nutty with spelt flour and cacao nibs.  I’d been eating her “Huckle Buckle,” a tame yet flavorful coffee cake baked with layers of blueberries, for breakfast for days.  But with my mother on Friday, I tried Boyce's Gingersnaps. 

These gingersnaps use fresh ginger as well as powdered, and a bit of whole-wheat flour alongside the white.  They aren’t crunchy but soft and chewy, intensely flavored with a spicy bite. I don’t think I can say much more than this: Make these cookies. 

Yesterday, in fact, my mother sent me a text message: 

Molly, can you send me the gingersnap cookie recipe?  It is a keeper and I want to make some for my Xmas cookie assortment.  What ingredients do I need to buy? 


Here you go, Mom:

Adapted from Kim Boyce (and Amy Scattergood)’s Good to the Grain

Wet ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup unsulphered molasses (not blackstrap)
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 egg

Dry ingredients:
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To finish:
1/2 cup sugar

Mix together the melted butter, sugars, molasses, ginger, and egg.  Sift the dry ingredients into the same bowl.  Stir to form a batter.  Wrap the dough in plastic and chill for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, positioning two racks to the upper and lower third.  Grease two baking sheets.  Pour the final 1/2 cup of sugar into a bowl.

Pluck pieces of dough around one tablespoon in size, toss in the bowl of sugar, and then roll into balls.  Toss each ball back into the sugar for a second time, rolling them around until, as Boyce says, “they are sparkly white.”  Place each on the baking sheets, leaving at least 2 inches between them all. 

Bake for 10 – 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cookies are dark in color and even all the way across.  When out of the oven, immediately transfer to a cooling rack with a metal spatula. These cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days.  (That is, if they last that long.)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Pecan Pie

We walked among the dilapidated foundations in the forest, the remnants of buildings that had burnt to the ground years before. I was small, and my brother even smaller, so we moved slowly. My grandparents led. In the woods, we sat on the edge of cinder-crusted stones, where we could see ancient logs and overgrown paths. We traced the outline of what was once a swimming pool with our fingers in the air, and then threw rocks into the nearby stream.

“It used to be great,” said my grandmother, who stood there in her fur-lined coat, with her shock of red hair. To me, she always seemed sad.

It was a few days after Thanksgiving. That’s when we always went to “The Hotel,” the small Catskills resort owned by my great-grandparents, the one where my grandmother grew up. After all, we were already at my grandparent’s house upstate for the holiday, and the remnants of my grandmother’s past were only an hour away. There wasn’t much left.

These trips to the woods confused me. I didn’t understand how empty foundations and slapdash piles of rock could mean anything, really. But there were still moments of magic: the brittle leaves crunching under foot, the scent of wet soil on my shoes. I loved the rustling branches, the splintered light through the trees. Once my grandfather fashioned me a walking stick out of a small fallen limb.  He carved my name into its flesh with a pocketknife. I kept it stored in my bedroom closet for years.

On our way home from “The Hotel” we stopped at the cemetery and stood in front of my great-grandparent’s graves. Bertha and Hymie, their names chiseled in stone. My parents wanted my brother and me to understand the path of our family, and the depth of the past. But we were too focused on finding the biggest, smoothest stones to place on top of the graves.

When we got home, we ate chocolate cake. It was leftover from my birthday, which always falls within days of Thanksgiving. I wasn’t a fan of celebrating my birthday around the holiday then. The attention at the dinner table made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like blowing out the candles while everyone watched. I especially hated not having a choice. I always wanted a piece of pie.


This year, the day after Thanksgiving, I visited my grandmother at a nursing home here in Boston. She is almost 92, and fading fast. I drove there with my brother, following my father in his car. We traveled in the blinding afternoon light, speeding down the Tobin Bridge toward Charlestown. I was tired and cranky. All I wanted was a nap.

When we walked in to the nursing home, we were greeted with the scent of old. Old people, old clothes, old food. I felt immediately uneasy and breathed through my mouth as we took the elevator up to the fourth floor and walked through a living space, a kitchen, and into my grandmother’s bedroom. She moved here from the house in upstate New York where she had lived for more than thirty years just this summer. She’s still adjusting to the change.  

These days, my grandmother is lucid. But she’s also lost. On this visit, she told me about the job she just began at Macy’s, greeting shoppers and picking out their clothes. She is paid two hundred dollars a week, she told me, and therefore just purchased her own condo back in New York. Sometimes, she said, my grandfather comes up from Florida to visit.

I listened. I nodded. And as I did, I felt simultaneously old and very young. My grandmother had a stroke more than a decade ago. She can no longer walk, or use her left arm.  My grandfather, she often forgets, died in 2008. I hope that when I reach 90, my imagination will remain just as strong. 

When we got home later that afternoon, I was hungry. For Thanksgiving, I had baked a pumpkin pie, a pecan pie, and a chocolate cake. This chocolate cake, like my grandmothers, was for my birthday. The night before we had stuck candles in it and sang. I’m 28 years old now. And I choose pie. 


Pecan Pie

In the original recipe, this pie is baked into what looks like a magical tower in a 10-inch spring-form pan.  I used a regular pie plate.  Therefore, I adjusted accordingly.  Also, never a fan of booze-laden desserts, I left out the rye.  The recipe below is my interpretation.  It's very good.

2 ½ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
½ pound cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
½ cup ice water, more as needed
About 5 cups dried beans (for baking), or pie weights

5 eggs
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup molasses, dark or unsulfured
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups finely chopped pecans
2 ½ cups pecan halves

Make the crust: In a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine flour, salt and white sugar at low speed. Add butter and mix until pea-size lumps form. Raise the speed to medium-low and add ½ cup ice water in a slow, steady stream, mixing just until dough holds together. To test, pinch a small amount of dough. If it is crumbly, add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time. Shape dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in plastic, then roll it into a disk. Refrigerate at least one hour, or up to 3 days, before rolling. (Dough can be frozen for up to a month.)

On a lightly floured surface, roll chilled dough into a circle just a few inches larger than the diameter of your pie plate. Lift it and let it settle into pan, fitting the dough down into the edges. Trim the excess dough hanging over the rim with kitchen scissors so that it hangs over by one inch. Fold or pinch in the excess to create a neat border.  Use the prongs of a fork to make indents and seal it all in place.  Refrigerate in pan until very cold and firm, at least 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prick bottom of dough with a fork. Lay a piece of parchment or wax paper in pan, then a piece of aluminum foil. Fill foil lining with dried beans or pie weights to top of pan. Bake 15 minutes, until the sides of the crust have set and turned a very light golden brown. Remove from oven and lift out the beans or weights, foil and parchment. Bake 10 - 15 minutes more, until also a light golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before filling.

Fill the pie: Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, brown sugar, melted butter, molasses, corn syrup, vanilla, and salt. Place baked pie shell on a sheet pan. Gently pour in the filling. Sprinkle chopped pecans evenly over surface. Working from outside in, arrange pecan halves in concentric circles, without overlapping, until entire surface is covered. (Use only as many as needed.)

Bake 50 to 60 minutes, just until filling is firm and a wooden skewer comes out clean when inserted into center.  (If the overhanging crust becomes too dark, take a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap it around the edges of the pie to prevent further browning.)  Let cool completely.  

Best served warm, with whipped cream.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup

Five years ago, last month, a woman named Shauna commented on this blog.  I had just begun to write again after the accident that changed my life—when I was hit by a car while jogging and fractured my skull and pelvis, tore the tendons in my left knee, and lost my sense of smell.  I began to write again after the headaches and vertigo receded enough to let me focus my eyes on a computer screen for more than a few minutes.  As it is, I don’t remember much of that autumn.  So I’m glad I did decide to again write on this space, even if my attempts were shaky, sugar-coated efforts to convince myself that I was okay.  I’m glad that I heard from Shauna.  

Shauna wrote to tell me about an experience she had with a car accident, and how it ultimately changed her life.  For the better, she wrote.  For the better? I remember thinking.  No way.  It would be the same for me, she said.  “Your smell will come back.  The pain will ease.  And you’ll be a better cook, a better writer, and a much more alive person once you’ve survived this.  Time, my dear.  Time.” 

The searing pain that I experienced for weeks after the accident, the kind that enveloped and consumed me, radiating up from my bones, had very recently ceased to be a part of my day-to-day when I heard from Shauna that first time.  It was more like a light fog around the periphery of my experience, a constant low thrum easy to ignore.  Enough time had passed for that, at least.

I wanted to believe that she was right.  But I couldn’t really move, I could barely read, and I certainly couldn’t smell.  I knew I wouldn’t be able cook, not in the way I wanted.  Shauna’s words were kind but also kind of crazy, I thought.  But later, in an email, she passed along a quote: 

"Let everything happen to you,
beauty and terror.
Just keep going.
No feeling is final."

It’s a quote from Rilke.  She had it taped next to her computer, she said.  I copied it onto a yellow Post It and stuck it onto the top ridge of my laptop, too.  Then, whenever I sat down to write, I paused to read it again.  And though I’m not a “quote person,” not a saying person, not even really a Rilke person, you know what?  It helped.  That little reminder (nothing lasts forever!) helped me to move on and through.  Today—now years since I last experienced that kind of pain and believed that I would never, ever be okay—it still helps. 

This is a roundabout way of getting to my point: Shauna, as my grandmother would say, is a mensch.

And Shauna has been up to a lot these past few years.  She’s been writing.  Cooking, too.  Her second book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, just hit the bookstore shelves across the U.S.  Today she has rounded up a group of bloggers to share some gluten-free recipes for Thanksgiving.  And these days, I have a lot for which to give thanks.

Now, I eat plenty of gluten, a type of protein found in most grains and cereals.  If I could be a healthy human on a diet that consisted solely of bread and cheese, I would.  I’ve never had to contend with the restrictions of those with celiac disease like Shauna.  But I’d like to share a recipe in her honor, one for my favorite butternut squash soup, which is completely gluten free.

I’ve made this soup for my family's Thanksgiving dinner for years.  I made a batch last weekend, too, and served it as the first course of a dinner party.  It’s light and creamy, rich with both roasted and simmered squash, and with just a bite of pepper.  Thomas Keller, who originally published this recipe in Bouchon, serves it with browned butter and little leaves of frizzled sage.  Though delicious, I find those additions a bit too fussy.  I think it’s perfect with a dollop of cold nutmeg crème fraiche plopped right onto its steamy orange belly.  

Butternut Squash Soup with Nutmeg Crème Fraiche
Adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Bouchon

1 3 – 3 ½ pound squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
Salt and pepper
2 sage sprigs
1 cup thinly sliced leeks, white and light green parts only
½ cup thinly sliced carrots
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
½ cup thinly sliced onions
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons honey
6 cups vegetable stock
1 bouquet garni, which consists of 8 thyme sprigs, 2 Italian parsley sprigs, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon black peppercorns, all placed in cheesecloth and tied up in a bundle with kitchen twine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup crème fraiche
pinch of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Cut the neck off the butternut squash, and set aside.  Cut the bulb in half, scoop out and discard seeds.  Brush with 1 ½ teaspoons canola oil, on both the inside and out.  Season liberally with salt and pepper.  Tuck a sprig of sage within each open bulb, place the cut side down on the baking sheet, and roast for an hour.

Remove the squash from oven and let cool.  Scoop out the flesh and set aside.  Meanwhile, peel the skin off of the rest of the squash.  Cut its flesh into ½ inch pieces.  You should have around 4 cups.

Place the remaining tablespoon or so of canola oil into a large stockpot set over medium high heat.  Add the leeks, carrot, shallots, and onions.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes.  Add the cubes of raw squash, the garlic, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.  Cook for 3 minutes, stirring.  Then, add the stock and the bouquet garni and bring the pot to a simmer.  Cook for around 15 minutes, until the squash is tender.  Now, add the reserved roasted squash and simmer together for around 30 minutes, to let the flavors meld.  Remove from heat and take out the bouquet garni.

Now, puree the soup in a blender in batches, or, as I do, in the pot with an immersion blender.  Thomas Keller recommends that you run the soup through a strainer to remove any chunks or impurities.  I don’t think it’s necessary.  But do taste the soup for seasoning, and add salt and pepper to taste.

To complete: place the crème fraiche in a bowl and whisk it vigorously until it holds small little peaks.  Season with nutmeg to taste.  Place a dollop of the crème fraiche onto the top of every bowl of soup.  Enjoy!

Updated 11/25/10: The 4 tablespoons of butter in the recipe can be used in the final stages of preparing this soup.  Originally, I omitted this step, though kept the butter in the ingredient list (apologies!).  To use: Before serving, melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Watch it carefully as the foam subsides, and then turns a golden brown.  Don't leave it on the heat for too long, just long enough to color and smell nutty and rich.  Pour the browned butter into the pot of soup and stir, or spoon it individually over each bowl.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lemon Tart

On Sunday night Matt and I threw a dinner party.  There were eight guests in total.  They trickled into our home in twos and threes soon after dusk, and we crowded around the two tables pushed together in the center of the living room floor.  It was a big crowd for our already small apartment, which seemed immediately to shrink in size.  

Most of our guests were friends of Matt’s from graduate school.  They came along with their husbands, wives, or dates, and, in one case, the cutest one-year-old little boy.  Many were in the military—active duty officers who have, like Matt, been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or both.  Even though I’ve been with Matt for three years, including a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, and have been spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about the military, about military families, and what it means to serve, I will admit: I was intimidated.  What do you cook for a group of people who have done so much?  Who have seen things I can hardly imagine?

As it turns out, I cooked what I would normally cook for an overwhelming number of people crammed into a small space: dishes easy to make ahead.  Butternut squash soup.  Coq au vin.  An arugula salad and a bunch of crusty bread.  To finish: a lemon tart and a plate of chocolate bouchon.

As I sit here writing this post now, days later, I’m thinking about why, exactly, I felt so intimidated by this dinner party.  In the week leading up to it, I focused my anxiety on the menu.  But I’m pretty sure that wasn’t it.  After all, I’ve cooked for that many people many times before.  I've cooked all those dishes before.  But never for so many veterans.  Not for their families, too.  And as today is Veterans Day, I think that’s something important to address.

My experience of war and deployment has been a solitary one.  When Matt was in Afghanistan, I lived alone in Brooklyn.  A hip neighborhood in Brooklyn.  As far from the front lines as one can go.  I’m almost embarrassed to say that before I met Matt, I knew no one who had fought in these wars, which have raged now for almost a decade.  I know I’m not the only one.

Until we moved to Boston where Matt met several fellow students from the Army, I had never spent any time around a military community.  I’d never really met people who understood the ups and downs of deployment, the triumphs and struggles of those who serve.  And for all of my talk about the disconnect between those in the military and civilians in America today—I wrote a little about it here; there have been other great articles published, like this one here—there I was, embodying that very separation with my jittery nerves.  I mean, these men and women are warriors.  They have experienced things I cannot comprehend.

This blog isn’t about the distance between the military and civilians during these wars, I know.  It’s about food and smell, and the memories and pleasure that come from them both.  But this is universal: there is little better than a group of people who feel connected, sitting around a table full of food.

And, as it turned out, there was nothing for me to worry about on Sunday night.  Everything went well.  The food was good and the company, even better.  Our guests were a hilarious bunch, really.  I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. 

I’d like to write about all of the recipes from that night, because I love every single one.  Maybe I will sometime soon.  But to start: the lemon tart.  It’s a simple though intensely flavored dessert that I’ve made countless times with a recipe from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon.  The crust, which is made of pine nuts and butter, comes together easily in a Cuisinart.  The filling, a tart and creamy lemon sabayon, takes some arm power and a whisk, but ends up a beautiful pale yellow, light as a cloud.  

Lemon Tart
Adapted, barely, from Bouchon

Lemon Sabayon: 
2 large eggs, cold 
2 large egg yolks, cold 
3/4 cup sugar 
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice 
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Pine Nut Crust:
You will only need one third of the dough from this recipe.  But with only one egg, it's hard to reduce the quantity of the finished product.  Freeze the extra for another time.
10 ounces (2 cups) pine nuts, (I toasted mine in a dry skillet beforehand)
1/3 cup sugar
1 pound (3 cups) all-purpose flour
8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the crust:
In a food processor, pulse the pine nuts a few times.  Add the sugar and flour and continue to pulse until the nuts are finely ground.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the butter, egg, and vanilla extract and mix to incorporate all the ingredients (either by hand or with the paddle attachment in an electric mixer).  Divide the dough into three equal parts and wrap each in plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes before using.  The two extra dough bundles can be frozen for up to a month.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Butter and flour a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.  Refrigerate the pan while the oven warms up.  

Remove the tart pan from the refrigerator.  Using your fingertips, press the pine nut dough evenly over the bottom and sides of the pan.  Trim off any excess.

Bake the crust for 10 - 15 minutes and then rotate and bake for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the sabayon:
Bring a couple inches of water to boil in a pot that is just slightly bigger than the bowl in which you plan to make the sabayon. Meanwhile, in a large metal bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks, and sugar for 1 minute, or until smooth.

Set the bowl over the pot of boiling water and, using a large whisk, whip the mixture while you turn the bowl (for even heating).  After about 2 minutes, when the eggs are foamy and have thickened, add one-third of the lemon juice.  Whisk vigorously.  When the mixture thickens again, add another one-third of the juice.  Whisk until thickened.  Add the final one-third of the juice.  Continue to whisk vigorously, still turning the bowl, until the mixture is thick and light in color and the whisk leaves a trail in the bottom of the bowl.  This should take around 10 minutes total.

Turn off the heat but leave the bowl over the water.  Whisk in the butter, one piece at a time.  If the sabayon loosens, don't worry: it will thicken as it cools.  Pour the warm sabayon into the tart crust, and place on a baking sheet.

Preheat the broiler.  While the sabayon is still warm, place under the broiler.  Keep a very close watch, leaving the door open and rotating frequently for even browning.  This will only take a few seconds.  Remove the tart from the oven and let sit for at least an hour.  Serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Season To Taste

Something exciting arrived in the mail today: the first galley copies of my book

I found the package sitting on the steps of my apartment building when I arrived home from the local library this afternoon.  I picked it up, and brought it upstairs.  At my kitchen table, I ripped open the envelope, pulled out the first copy, and held it in my hands.  I could feel the weight of its 320 pages, which smelled of fresh ink and crisp paper, on my palms.  My name is on the front.  My picture is on the back.  It’s real.  Please wait a moment while I hyperventilate. 

So here it is.  Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way.  It’s being published by the wonderful folks at Ecco/HarperCollins.  Though it won’t officially be out until next summer (so far away, I know!), I’d love to share the jacket cover.  It’s original art by Janet Hill, a talented painter who lives in Canada and has a wonderful blog of her own.  I couldn't be happier.  

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Anxiety, and Pie

Yesterday I wrote a piece about a pie.  It was a cute piece about Thanksgivings growing up and the mornings my father let me eat leftover dessert for breakfast as a little girl.  I had planned to post it here last night.  It included my favorite recipe for pumpkin pie, which I baked after running the half marathon last week, and then again the other day.  (It’s really that good.  I swear.)  Sweetened with maple syrup, the filling is creamy and light.  The crust is crunchy and thick with butter.

But then I had an anxiety attack.  Sitting at the table after dinner, my heart began to beat quickly.  There was a shooting pain in my left shoulder and arm, and I felt like I couldn’t breath.  I’ve never experienced anything like that before.  Terrified that something was terribly wrong, that my heart would explode, I waited for it to pass.  And it did.  Today I’m totally fine.  But there it is.  The anxiety is back.

Last year I was anxious all the time.  For good reason.  Matt was in Afghanistan and I was on deadline writing a book.  I was terrified that Matt would die, and that my writing was no good.  I felt positive that when Matt came home and I turned in the manuscript, I would never have anything to worry about ever again.  Ever!  Again!  My inner monologue would never raise its staccato pitch; I’d never wake up at 3 a.m. with that wild low thrum in the back of my mind.

Well, I was wrong. Duh.

I don’t know exactly what I’m anxious about right now.  I’m pretty sure that it involves finishing one project and beginning something else.  It probably has to do with living in a new city, around new people, doing new things.  There are the usual distractions: money and health insurance, therapy and exercise and love.  But when it comes down to it, I’m living in Boston with my boyfriend, who is safe and sound and whom I love.  My book is available to pre-order on and my family is healthy and close.  I make a mean pumpkin pie.  I’m really lucky, I know.  But I’m also anxious.

And I thought I’d write about this rather than my memories of Thanksgivings past.  Not because I have a solution or even a plan for these feelings. There’s no tidy ending in sight. But after the wonderful things that have happened to me in the last two years - regaining my sense of smell, writing a book, Matt’s safe return from war - I’ve felt like my life has been neatly wrapped.  I was hurt and I recovered.  I was scared and now I'm safe.  Sometimes I feel like I have been tied so tight with a pretty pink bow that there is no more room for hurt or pain, confusion or anxiety. 

At least there’s always room for pumpkin pie.

Maple Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Gourmet

Pastry Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
7 – 8 tablespoons ice water

Whisk together the flour and salt in a large bowl.  Using your fingertips, quickly blend in the butter until the mixture resembles a course meal.  Add the ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with a fork or your fingers to combine, until the mixture begins to form a dough.  Pour the dough out onto the counter, and smear is around with the heel of your hand in a few forward motions to bring it together. Form into a ball and flatten into a disk.  Wrap in plastic and chill for at least an hour.

1 cup maple syrup (Grade B suggested)
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs

Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  On a lightly floured surface, roll it out with a rolling pin into a thin disk, a few inches wider than the pie plate you plan to use.  Place in the pie plate (I used a 10-inch), and then shape and crimp the overhang into an even decorative edge.  Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a heavy saucepan, gently boil the maple syrup until a small amount dropped into a bowl of cold water forms a soft ball, which is around 210 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer.  Let cool slightly. 

In a bowl, whisk together pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, salt, cream, milk, and eggs.  Then, whisk in the maple syrup.  Pour into the pie shell.  You can brush the edge of the pie dough with an egg wash here—one egg yolk whisked together with a tablespoon of water—if you want. 

Bake in the middle of the oven for one hour, or until the filling is set but the center still shakes slightly.  (The filling will continue to set as the pie cools)  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


On Sunday I ran a half marathonIt was my first.  I learned a lot.

I learned that to get to a half marathon, one that is located in Lowell, one that begins at 8 a.m., one with a lot of traffic, you have to get up really early.  Four in the morning early.  I learned that eating one breakfast in the pitch-black pre-dawn and then another right before the 8 a.m. start is a good idea.  But I also learned that it would have been a better idea to pack something else, one of those high-sugar bars, one of those caloried Gu packets that I saw empty and littered all over the ground on the course, because halfway through my run I was hungry again.  Really hungry.  I learned that running among hundreds of people can be tricky, with all the pacing and passing and maneuvering curves.  I learned that I’m really competitive, even when I don’t mean to be.  I learned that pushing myself hard—harder than I expected—is painful.  But also awesome.  I learned that I love to run.  And that I don’t love to race.

So there you have it.  My first half marathon. I ran it in an hour and fifty-four minutes.  The little medal that they hung around my neck as soon as I finished is now hanging on my fridge.  I’m glad I did it.  I’m glad it’s done. 

When Matt and I arrived at home after the race on Sunday, I limped up the stairs, chugged some water, and I took a nap.  A long nap.  And then I got up.  And then I cooked.  My mother and her boyfriend, Charley, came over for dinner.  They brought a nice bottle of wine and a hunk of my favorite cheese.  I made Chicken Normandy, a lovely dish rich with apples, apple cider, brandy and cream.  I served it over puddles of creamy polenta and alongside green beans, which I simply sautéed in butter and seasoned with salt and pepper.  For dessert: pumpkin pie.  Whipped cream.  Sleep. 

Friday, October 15, 2010


Last weekend, my friends Ben and Philissa got married.  Matt and I flew down to North Carolina for the event and stayed in a hotel near Chapel Hill, which was packed with Tarheel fans for the Saturday game.  It was warm down south—up into the 80s during the day, a sudden step back into summer.  It’s hard to imagine as I think about it now, sitting at my kitchen table in Cambridge, listening to the cold autumn wind whip past my window outside.

I had been to Chapel Hill once before.  I went with the future bride and groom for a weekend last summer, when Matt had already been deployed to Afghanistan for a few months.  It was a sweet gesture, bringing me on their trip to find a spot for the wedding.  I think they hoped to distract me from thoughts of war, to show me where Philissa grew up, to eat some good food.  I was perpetually anxious, however, and always on edge.  I’m not sure I was all that much fun.  I remember going on long runs through unfamiliar neighborhoods. The sky seemed always on the cusp of a storm.  While Matt was in Afghanistan, I had a hard time staying still.  

And despite going from venue to venue, farm to inn to antique home on that first trip, I had a hard time imaging that this wedding could actually take place.  To imagine that would mean to imagine the end of Matt’s time at war.  The months still left of his deployment seemed to span out before me forever right then.  We still had to get through the rest of the summer, and then the fall, and then the winter, and then the spring.  Hundreds of days of the constant unknown, the persistent fear, were still to come.  Imagining an end point seemed impossible. 

But then it happened.  Matt came home.  And now Ben and Philissa are married. 

The wedding was held outside at a country inn, among willowy trees and Bocce courts, a photo booth, a klezmer band and a whole of lot of family and friends.  The ceremony was beautiful and the reception fun. 

At the end of wedding, as the sun began to set and the day careened toward evening, Matt and I sat next to each other under the tent where they had served lunch.  I could hear laughter and a bit of music, the clanging of the caterers beginning to put away their wares.  The temperature was sinking fast, and the mosquitoes had just come out to bite.   The next morning we would have to wake up before 4 a.m. in order to make an early flight back to Boston.  But right there, right then, we just sat, his arm warm around my shouldersIt’s easier, now, to stay still.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I took the apples that Matt and I picked last weekend and turned them into sauce.  My mother has been making homemade applesauce every fall since I was small, and now October doesn’t feel real if it doesn’t include a steaming bowl or two. 

 My mother’s recipe is simple—more like a technique, really—and doesn’t take much time.  It requires a food mill, which can be a pain.  But I’ve lugged mine around from apartment to apartment over the last five years just for this recipe here.  Not to overdo it on apples, autumn, and their aromas, but as this sauce cooks, the house fills with the welcome scents of cinnamon and nutmeg, the ripe sugar bouquet of long-baked fruit. 

I like to eat it warm in a bowl with a dollop of vanilla yogurt on top, carefully constructing every spoonful so that it includes a small portion of each.  It’s a magical combination, really – hot and cold, creamy and smooth.  As legend has it: this was the only way that my little brother would eat fruit for years. 

adapted from my mother

1 bag of apples (however many, whatever kind you want) (here, I used a mixture of McIntosh and Macoun)
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
ground cinnamon, to taste
ground nutmeg, to taste

Chop each apple in half, and then the halves in half, and then the quarters in half at 90 degree angles.  (Otherwise known as 8 chunks.)  Place in a large pot.  Add the cinnamon sticks and then a healthy dose of ground cinnamon, as well as a few shakes of ground nutmeg.  Add a quarter cup of water to keep the apples from scorching at the start.  Cook at medium-high heat, covered, until the apples begin to bubble away.  Turn down the heat to low, and let simmer until soft.  Then, run the mixture through the food mill, discarding the stem, seed, and skin detritus that is left behind.  Shake some additional ground cinnamon on top.  Serve with vanilla yogurt. 

Thursday, October 07, 2010


Matt and I went apple picking last Sunday afternoon.  We picked Macouns, McIntoshes and Empires at an orchard in Harvard, Massachusetts.  It was chilly out, like fall is supposed to be, and I wore a thick yellow sweater that my grandmother gave me for my birthday.  The orchard store, where a blue grass band played live on the porch, was surrounded with the bright autumn colors of pumpkins and gourds. The air smelled of dirt, grass, and the vaguely fermented twang of wrinkled apples rotting on the ground. 

I thought about the first autumn after the car accident, the one when I could no longer smell.  Then, I watched the landscape change from the window of my bedroom at my father's house, where I recovered from knee surgery.  I could see the leaves fade from green to earthy shades of red and the grass wither and die.  But the season changed without me.  I could see it, but I couldn't feel it - not without the familiar scents of apple cider, butter crusts, and decaying leaves.  Like watching a movie, I was present but not participating.  Interested but not engaged.  The world was no longer as I recalled.

These apples that Matt and I picked this year are particularly delicious.  They are fresh and crisp, practically bursting with juice.  I've been eating a lot of them raw.  But last night I cooked pork chops with onions and apples, a recipe adapted from Martha Stewart online.  The chops browned in butter and oil, the onions and apples caramelized in the leftover fat.  Tonight I'm making an apple sauce, and then an apple pie. I'm happy to again possess fall.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010