Saturday, December 24, 2011

Not a Creature Was Stirring...

Dear Mouse,

**unintelligible mumbling sound mouth full of cookies**

It's Xmas Eve!

"Santa Baby" last night at Joe's Pub. The Mayor as Santa Claus, The Boo as
Person Pretending Not To Know Santa Claus is really The Mayor.
(He took his pants off right after this.)

Hope you and The Husband are having a beautiful green Christmas down in sunny Florida - !! I'm writing to you from the suddenly Arctic realm of NJ, which is suiting me fine. After days of unseasonable balminess and coatless xmas shopping, December suddenly woke up and, well, made it possible/necessary for me to once again wear this hat:

Wolf Hat. The Gift that keeps on giving.

This will be a short one as it's nearly midnight on Xmas Eve and I have Visiting Faux-Aunt/Fairy Godmother-Style Preparations to attend to. I'm in our home state for Xmas Eve to visit my dear friends Mr. and Mrs. Lawyer (who are never going to speak to me again for giving them that handle which does not at all express their fabulous, creative, artsy personas and culinary prowess(es?)), and their adorable, hilarious 2.5 and 4 year old kids. Witness this exchange between Mom and Son during my last visit:

Mrs. Lawyer: Eli, {The Boo} is a professional actor. Would you like to be an actor someday?
Eli: (thoughtful pause) No. I want to look for god in my spaceship.

Wouldn't you jump at the chance to spend a winter's holiday with that guy?
(I bought him a Wolf Hat.) Not to mention the fact that Mrs. L has been cooking delicious things for me since almost the minute we met, and I'm talking an era in which I myself would not so much as scramble an egg for another person. At least unsupervised. Whatever she brings to the table, I will eat. It has always been this way.

So I thought I'd jump on here briefly to share the recipe which is being mixed up behind me right now! for Xmas Morning Breakfast. As per tradition, she is busy whipping up something wonderful, and I'm standing here running my mouth off.

God bless us, every one.

The Boo

Titusville, NJ Christmas Morning Bread Pudding
(adapted from Bon Appetit)


24 1/4 in. thick challah slices
1 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups lowfat milk
8 eggs
1/4 rum (optional; we're not using it here)
2 tbsp vanilla extract
2 pomegranate's worth of seeds
to finish: confectioner's sugar, rosemary - !

Preheat oven to 400°F. Using 3-inch-diameter round cookie cutter, cut round from each bread slice and arrange on baking sheet. Toast bread rounds in oven until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Bring cream, milk, and sugar to simmer in heavy large saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Whisk eggs in large bowl to blend. Gradually whisk hot cream mixture into eggs. Whisk in rum and vanilla.
Butter 9-in round pan. Place some slices of bread in a wreath in the buttered pan and top with some pomegranate seeds. Layer bread and seeds until it's all in there and then pour the custard over the top of it all. Let stand 30 minutes, pressing down on bread occasionally. (Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Bake bread puddings until tops are puffed and brown, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Sacral Chakra Sunshine Soup (say that 3x fast)

Dear Mouse,

** Warning: New Age Discourse Ahead**

What do you get when you take one Boo and add the following:

one aggressively renewed yoga practice with teacher given to standing on people
one bedtime-use mp3 of Deepak Chopra intoning chakra meditations over sitar music
several minor health issues that all seem to be localized in the, say, 'hips' area
a broken toilet
financial woes
...and a personal life that is beginning to resemble an Advanced Douchebaggery Obstacle Course?

This sentence:

"I think it's time to admit that I'm having some Second Chakra Issues."

(OK does anyone not know what that means? Pause for wikipedia visual aid...)

They have the numbers backward! Sigh. But I like this diagram.

The second, sacral, or svadisthana (thank you Deepak) chakra, is associated with the color orange, the huh come to think of it sense of taste, the mantra VAM, issues of creativity/sex/power/control/blame/guilt/finance, and is pretty much what it looks like as far as the physical body is concerned (hips, lower back, unmentionables, kidneys).

Since as usual my aim here is not to teach everyone about something esoteric and fascinating, but instead to talk some more about myself, I'll stop there. (Recipe below! Read on.)

I heard myself say the aforementioned sentence last week to visiting poet friend MM, while pensively chomping on one of her sugary, gummy-bear prenatal vitamins (what? she has a whole bag.) That night, I had a dream. In it, I was sitting by the Hudson River watching a fleet of fast-moving boats, all jetting out to (somehow) the open sea, one after another. The soundtrack (because there was one) sounded very Bollywood and synthesizer-heavy, with a female voice singing a chorus that went "Go find your water.... Go find your water", over and over. I remembered those words upon waking, and mulled them over constantly, until the day after THAT, when, an hour into yoga class, deep in pigeon pose, I heard the teacher say, "This is for your kidneys. Your kidneys are your water."

I went home, consulted google, found out that the kidneys are associated with the sacral chakra, and thought "It's on." The cure would begin with... food. (Natch.) Apparently Svadisthana responds well to liquids, sweet fruits, nuts, and of course anything orange.

Today, I made this soup and I heartily recommend it no matter the status of your Second Wheel. It's spicy, sweet, hearty, delicious, and looks like a bowl of sunshine. Loosely based on Ina Garten's "Roasted Butternut Squash Soup", it's a great way to spend a winter's lunch hour. I'd say add a loaf of crusty bread, but I'm pretty sure that's for your solar plexus.


The Boo

The Boo's 2nd Chakra Sunshine Soup


1 pckg (1.5lbs?) butternut squash cubes
1 bag (1lb? I think) baby carrots (or 1-in carrot pieces)
2 Macintosh apples
2-4 C chicken broth
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 onion
olive oil (2-3 tbsp)
salt, pepper
orange juice (to taste)

Preheat oven to 425. Chop onion and apples to one-in pieces. You can also chop the squash/carrots if they're looking too big. Put apples, squash, carrots, onions on a baking sheet (you may need two) in a single layer. Toss with olive oil. Roast for 35-45 min. Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a soup pot on the stove. When the veggies are done roasting and are very soft, puree some or all (I like a mix) in a food processor with some of the broth, then add it back to the soup pot. Add curry powder, salt, and pepper. Then add a splash of orange juice, taste, see if it needs more salt/pepper. Add more chicken broth if you want, more orange juice, whatever, to desired volume/consistency. I would caution only against adding more curry powder as it will be too much of a muchness. I also recommend a few drops of sriracha just before serving, to heat up your bowl of sunshine even more.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chick-fil-OY (see what I did there?)

Dear Boo,

You know how when you learn a new word, or first meet someone, all of a sudden you start hearing that word or name everywhere you go? This is what happened to me back in November of 2008 when I was introduced for the first time to Chick-Fil-A. Let me preface this by saying that if you are from the southern or midwestern part of our fair country, you most likely just gasped with horror that I lived twenty-something years of a life devoid of this pleasure. All it takes is an utterance of the (ridiculous) restaurant name to see that wistful, hungry-eyed, salivating look come over the face of the devoted Chick-fil-A fan in your midst. And man, are they devoted. Chick-Fil-A was recently voted the third most beloved restaurant chain in the country, and a quick visit to their facebook page shows close to 5 million likes, just a few more than A Mouse Bouche has. While on their page I was tempted to click the "like" button, myself. Heck, their sandwiches are some of the best chicken sandwiches I've tasted. Anywhere. I was not immune to the Chick-fil-A magic, and fell in love the first time I took a bite. But I just couldn't do it. I couldn't click it. Why? Well, I'm glad you asked.

Back to 2008. I was on my way with the then Boyfriend to celebrate Thanksgiving at his sister's home in Virginia. We had decided to fly to D.C., where we met his other sister and her family, spent the day doing some sight-seeing with their kids, and then all piled into the car to drive the two hours (holiday traffic translation: 4 hours) to our final destination. After hours on the road following a long, wet, and freezing afternoon trekking around the Capitol, despite the fact that we knew there would be a feast waiting for us upon our arrival, we just had to stop for sustenance. Off the highway, somewhere in Virginia, I took a bite of my first Chick-fil-a sandwich. It was heavenly, though I couldn't quite explain why. The chicken was moist and perfectly crunchy, the bun pillowy and toasted with--was that a touch of butter? The pickles gave it a sweet and sour crunch and even without the added assorted sauces, it was flavorful, salty and dare I say, complex. Despite my disdain for fast food, I was an instant convert. I dreamed about that sandwich until that Christmas when, back in Tampa, I had the chance to indulge in another one, this time with waffle fries and a surprisingly delicious salad.

Between bites, the Boyfriend gave me some history on the brand. Founded by S. Truett Cathy in Georgia in 1967, the company is known not only for its delicious chicken sandwiches, but for its devotion to Christian values. The restaurant and all of its franchises are closed on Sundays. Their corporate purpose statement indicates that the company exists "That we might glorify God by being a faithful steward in all that is entrusted to our care, and that we might have a positive influence on all the people that we might come in contact with." They have an extensive scholarship program, a foundation, and even foster homes. They have basketball tournaments for kids. I could get behind all this. No one was prostelytizing while I ate my sandwich. The napkins were devoid of lines of scripture. And who doesn't want Sundays off? I returned to NYC with a heavy heart, knowing it might be a full year before I could have another taste.

Back in the city, all of a sudden Chick-fil-A was everywhere (and you thought I wouldn't bring this back around). A girl I was doing a show with happened to mention that her husband (from Texas) had founded a movement to bring Chick-fil-A to NYC, even creating a facebook page to garner support for the effort. Historically, Mr. Cathy has refused any bid to open a store in New York (too many heathens? Jews?). Later that week, a friend dropped that there is a "secret" Chick-fil-A in Manhattan, inside an NYU cafeteria, which low and behold, was located across the street from the Social Work building where I had just begun school. And then, a day later, as though God was sending me a message, I was walking down the street near my apartment, minding my own business when a woman approached me out of nowhere to ask where she could find this magical Chick-fil-A location. I kept meaning to go for lunch between classes, but something kept stopping me. Was it the calorie count? Or something more sinister?

Fast forward a bit. Chick-fil-A is appearing everywhere yet again. There's a flurry of online news articles about the the company's support of anti-gay groups, totaling $2 million in 2009 alone. I spot a flyer in the student lounge at NYU inviting me to a forum to find out "the truth" of Chick-fil-A's politics and practices. Then I learn about a 2002 lawsuit involving a Muslim franchise owner who sued when he says he was fired after he refused to join in a company prayer because of his religious beliefs (I don't claim to know the full story, and the terms of the settlement are undisclosed). Then I hear that potential franchise owners of Chick-fil-A stores have to disclose their marital status, dependents, and involvement in community organizations, including churches, and that the company prefers to hire married workers since they tend to be happier and more hard-working (in case you're not sure, married=heterosexual, though either way, the bias is pretty clear). Then I read that one of Chick-fil-A's charitable arms, Winshape, who runs a retreat center where they often host marriage conferences involving anti-gay, "pro-family" groups, has blantantly said they do not welcome homosexual couples at the retreat. And then, to top it off, this story comes out! I mean, you're going to attack KALE? in VERMONT? Good luck with that, buddy.

And so it was, that my love affair with the Chicken Classic came to an abrupt end. For a few blissfully ignorant months, I was one of the fanatic few, who jonesed for a location in NYC, spoke longingly of the sandwich I ate six months ago, and agreed to a layover in the Atlanta airport just so I could have lunch there.

Here's the thing. I have nothing against the company's Christian message. If your devotion to your spirituality means you feel it should guide every aspect of your life, then why not let it guide your work life as well? And if the principles of those beliefs are "being a positive influence" on those around you, then great! I wish more corporations took that to heart (since, as people, they must have hearts, right?). And I'm all for scholarships! And basketball tournaments! And foster homes (well, that depends...)! But I'm having a hard time reconciling a positive influence on others, with supporting groups who promote hate towards any of god's children, like the Family Research Council, who has actually been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (great organization--check them out) because of their aggressive anti-LGBT stance. Chick-fil-A is well within their legal rights to give money to whomever they choose (though not to discriminate in their employment practices, AHEM), no matter how despicable, hateful, or ignorant. And I am happy to exercise my legal right to spend my money elsewhere.

Like on this sandwich, which may just put the Chick-fil-A to shame.

From Tebaya, a local restaurant around the corner of my apartment, it is the perfect Asian take on the gloriousness of the CFA sandwich. The chicken katsu sandwich is two (TWO!) breaded fried chicken patties slathered with a special sweet miso sauce, a bit of wasabi dressing, and a layer of crunchy cole slaw on a buttery fluffy bun. It's ridiculously delicious, and a great alternative to Chick-fil-A, which frankly, even if you support their politics, you'd be hard-pressed to find in NYC (minus that secret location, though you'll have to pose as an NYU student).

You know that for me, tasty food is a priority. I will compromise on a lot of things for a good snack. But in this case, I just can't stomach it.

I'll miss you, Chick-fil-A. Change your ways and I'll be the first new 'like' you'll get on facebook.


The Mouse

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MouseBouche on TV: TOMORROW!!! 12/1

Dear Mouse,

It's here. Our moment. TOMORROW, December 1, 2011, 11AM on the Hallmark Channel.

THIS GUY!!!!!!!!!!!!
(So, these shorts never again. Live and learn. I was like 10lbs heavier. But not from Emeril!)

I saw an old friend for drinks the other night. He had just come from his costume fitting for his first Law & Order and was sort of bemusedly reflecting on the fact that finally, finally, he was working in TV!! which he'd been working toward forever! and making a little bit of money!! and yet ...

"I'm not really acting," he said. "Like, at all." Pause. "They have me wearing pasties."

And, scene.

The grass is always greener. I mean, I get it. MY FIRST MOVIE (don't blink or you'll miss me) is coming out in about a week. The two-day shoot last fall was very exciting, I ate a ton of snacks, met famous people, made a small pile of money ... and spent most of the time on the set glancing around wildly trying to figure out where the camera was and if I was supposed to be "doing something".

My point, and I do have one, is that maybe that's the deal on the small screen. Every commercial I go in for pleads for some variant of "less is more", "throw it away", or "don't act", whatever that means. And sometimes that's weird, and sometimes...

... LIKE ON EMERIL'S TABLE...!'s a pleasure. Sake, true chef starpower, fake eyelashes, and mounds and mounds of noodles for the slurping, set up for us before noon ... and our only job is to look interested and happy? DONE. Who needs to pretend?

Tune in tomorrow, 12/1, 11AM, Hallmark Channel, to see us Not Acting with the best of them. I'll bring the soy sauce.

The Boo

PS Anyone who misses it can make it up to me/us by attending the upcoming Winter Solstice Concert at the legendary Joe's Pub NYC. TICKETS HERE.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

With thanks to the millions of green beans who will give their lives for Thanksgiving dinners everywhere

Dear Boo,

Did you see this article in the Science section of the Times on Tuesday? It's all about how good an 'attitude of gratitude' is for our health. It's an age-old sentiment found in ancient texts and espoused by new-age gurus alike, and yet somehow I always feel I need to be reminded of just how essential gratitude is to our overall happiness. It's like going to the gym--I know it'll make me feel better, and I know it's good for me, but somehow, somehow, I'm pretty much always tempted to skip it. Sure, I give good lip service to gratitude, saying thank you probably hundreds of times a day, and often following a complaint with a quick disclaimer that I know, I know, this is a good problem to have, and I know, I know, I should be grateful for what I do have instead of focusing on what I don't. But how often do I actively practice gratitude? I'll be honest. Not very. The Husband and I tried to start a habit of silently naming three things we're thankful for, just before bed. It came out of an effort to sleep better, to put aside the worries of the day, and to reset our brains to focus on the good (and there's a lot of it). And it was great for a while, until, well, we forgot. But, rather than beat myself up for doing Life wrong or having the luxury of taking my blessings for granted, I'm taking a gentler approach. I'm going to take tomorrow as an opportunity not only to slip comfortably and guilt-free into a turkey/sweet potato/gratin/pumpkin flan/pecan pie coma, but to reintroduce conscious gratitude into my life. It doesn't have to be the major things always--sometimes being consciously grateful for Health and Privilege and Freedom feels to immense or too abstract to be genuine. I have a lot of big things to be thankful for this year: love, a new family, a new marriage, a new job, my education, my artistic community. But all those big things are made up of lots of tiny bits of grace, and they all deserve some acknowledgement. So I'm starting small. Because isn't life, and gratitude, really in the details? And maybe being grateful for the small things will help me keep the big stuff, good and bad, in perspective.

So, here we go. Today's Moment of Gratitude:

yes, really, I'm talking THAT small.

This green bean recipe, which is so, so much yummier, and healthier, and more interesting than the traditional casserole, and which as a bonus, can be made ahead and served at room temperature. With tiny bits of minced garlic, lemon, parsley, and parmesan mingling together over slowly sauteed silky beans, there's a lot of things to be thankful for in this one simple dish. You're welcome.
I mean, Thank you!!
(still learning)

Happy Thanksgiving!


The Mouse

Green Beans with Lemon, Garlic, and Parmesan Gremolata
Thanks to the Splendid Table

Serves 10 to 14 as part of a large meal (like the one we'll be having tomorrow).

extra-virgin olive oil

3 pounds green beans, stem ends trimmed

Salt and fresh-ground black pepper

1 cup water

5 large garlic cloves, crushed

1/3 cup water
Shredded zest of 2 large lemons (organic preferred; after all, you are eating the entire rind)

1 tight-packed cup Italian parsley leaves
1-1/2 cups coarsely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Lightly film the bottom of 2 straight-sided 12-inch sauté pans with oil. Heat them over medium-high heat. Add the beans and generous sprinklings of salt and pepper, and sauté for 2 minutes, or until the beans begin to brown. Add 1/2 cup of water to each pan and immediately cover it. Turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the beans for 15 to 20 minutes, checking them often for burning and adding a little water if necessary. You want the beans very tender.

As the beans cook, make the gremolata. Put the garlic and 1/3 cup water in a coffee mug and microwave 1 minute, or simmer in a small saucepan to 1 to 2 minutes (this mellows the garlic just a little). Then, in a food processor, mince together the garlic (with its liquid), lemon zest, and parsley. Salt and pepper the mixture to taste.

When the beans are tender, uncover them, cook off any liquid in the pan, and turn them into a serving bowl. Toss the beans with the gremolata and the grated cheese.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

All Hallows Risotto

Dear Mouse,

Happy (Belated) New Year!

Halloween 2011. Myself as an obscure character from Game of Thrones, and a bottle of The Kraken rum, which is the only thing to put in your mulled cider, and which coincidentally also makes an appearance in Game of Thrones (though I think they mean the actual kraken).

Anyone who knows me knows that in some circles, Hallowe'en is seen as a New Year's Eve of sorts, and that's the way we do it Chez Boo. The season changes, the sun recedes, the Dark Half of the year begins. Out with the old, in with the new. Winter is Coming. (Ok I'm done.)

For I think seven years now??? I've made the same dinner for you all: Chase's Vegetable Tian --for some unknown, completely unseasonal reason-- and, to make up for that, the sensational Pumpkin Raviolis from Russo's on the Lower East Side. Served up with melted butter, torn sage leaves, and toasted hazelnuts, they always seemed to be the perfect tribute to Fall.

"Halloweenies" (mini pigs-in-blankets) at Mr. and Mrs. Mighty Hunter's Party.
Pictured here for no reason at all except come on, that's hilarious.

This year, in the spirit of "in with the new", I went in a different direction. My lovely friend KG had just given me The New York Times Cookbook as a very belated birthday gift and it is full of gems. Mouse, I see your pumpkin bread (which I have now baked THREE times since your post) and I raise you:

Jamie Oliver's "Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut, and Bacon Risotto". Yeah that's right.

This was my first risotto! and I'd like to report two things: One, it is NOT as difficult as you think it is at ALL. It's simple, just a bit labor-intensive. Two, that there is almost nothing more halloweeny than having to stand over a simmering cauldron, repeatedly pouring in cups of steaming broth and stirring, stirring, stirring. I tried to get in a good menacing cackle to go along with the whole scene but I was just too happy about making this.

A few tips: 1. You can use butternut squash in place of pumpkin. It's easier to find and tastes almost the same. 2. Dont bother with fresh chestnuts. 3. I cut the amount of butter in this recipe by half and it was still oh-so-rich and fabulous. I know it's unorthodox, but it happened. 4. I dont think you need the mascarpone, but it is nice. 5. Get your sister, if you have one, to share the labor of stirring. Your arms will thank you.

All photos in this post taken by Mr. Mighty Hunter, who didn't want me to include the one of the risotto but I did anyway.

Jamie Oliver's Pumpkin, Sage, Chestnut and Bacon Risotto

1 small sweet cooking pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, about 2 1/2 pounds
(Or just buy it cut up already.-The Boo)
Olive oil
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
Sea salt and ground black pepper
12 slices bacon or pancetta
2 ounces shelled chestnuts (vacuum packed are fine)
15 fresh sage leaves
4 cups chicken stock or canned broth
3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
5 small stalks celery, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
About 1 cup mascarpone, optional.

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Halve pumpkin lengthwise, and remove seeds; rinse seeds, drain, and reserve. Cut pumpkin lengthwise into thick slices, and spread in a layer across a large baking sheet. (If using squash, cut into quarters.)Again, you could just buy in already cut up. Sprinkle pumpkin with olive oil, and set aside. Using a mortar and pestle, pound the coriander seeds until crushed. Sprinkle over pumpkin along with salt and pepper, and bake until soft, about 40 minutes.

2. Remove pumpkin from oven (leave oven on), and spread bacon over it. In a small bowl, combine reserved seeds, chestnuts, sage and salt and pepper to taste. Add tablespoon olive oil, and mix well. Sprinkle over pumpkin and bacon. Place back in oven until bacon is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Remove pumpkin from oven. Scrape bacon, chestnuts, sage and pumpkin seeds onto a small plate; reserve. Finely chop about half the pumpkin. Chop other half so that it is slightly chunky; reserve.

4. Place chicken stock in a small pan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to very low to keep warm. Place a large saucepan over medium heat, and add tablespoon olive oil, shallots, celery and a pinch of salt. Stir, cover, and cook for 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, and add rice. Stir constantly until rice is translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in wine until it is absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes.

5. Begin adding broth to rice, a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly. Allow each ladleful to be absorbed before adding next; process will take about 20 minutes. When ready, rice will be soft with a slight bite. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. Remove rice from heat. Add chopped pumpkin, and stir vigorously until mixed; fold in pumpkin chunks. Mix in butter and Parmesan. Place a lid over the saucepan, and let sit for 2 minutes. To serve, place a portion on each of 6 serving plates. Top each portion with crumbled bacon, and sprinkle with mixture of chestnuts, sage and pumpkin seeds. Add a dash more cheese. Garnish each plate with a dollop of mascarpone if desired, and serve immediately.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Long Overdue

Dear Boo,

I cannot believe how many times on this blog we have mentioned the unbelievably good pumpkin bread which is a staple of fall in our family, without giving the recipe. It's positively criminal.

I can't remember a time before this autumnal treat graced our Thanksgiving table, and how many countless years did we set off to school with loaf upon loaf wrapped in colorful cellophane and tied with a bow to be bestowed upon our teachers before the holidays? It's truly the perfect baked gift--it travels well, freezes well, and doubles or triples well. I brought six loaves of these, carrying them on the plane, through a day of sightseeing in DC, and in the car, to the very first Thanksgiving I spent with the Husband's (then, Boyfriend) family, winning me instant cred and a repeat invitation (now they're stuck with me, loaves or no. mmwwahahaha!)

This recipe comes from our beloved Aunt, an incredible baker and cook, of Arlene's Bakery soon-to-be-fame. And we're in luck! Since re-creating anything you grew up eating and loving, never quite works out as perfectly as you remember it, we can get the actual real deal from the source at our cousin's super exciting and unbelievably tasty new spot for a perfect sandwich or cookie, The Commons in Chelsea! More to come on this, for sure. I can't wait to plant myself at their adorable counter and eat my way through the menu. If you happened to stop by their Organicoa concession stand at the Hudson River Park this year, you've gotten a delicious taste of what we're in for at The Commons.
Also available at The Commons (though pictured here at home), are Arlene's Bakery's massive and perfect chocolate chip cookies. Get thee to The Commons.
You know what I'm talking about.

As our auntie pointed out recently, the beauty of this recipe is its simplicity. It's got few ingredients, and sure, it's sweet, but not overly so; rather, the pumpkin flavor itself is front and center, with just a hint of warmth and spice from the cinnamon. I would have to agree its virtually perfect on its own, with one exception. I happen to love the combination of pumpkin and chocolate, and in past years I have taken to adding a handful of chocolate chips to one of the loaves for a more decadent version which is often the first to be polished off. I also like adding some cranberries to one of the loaves for a tart little kick. I remember mom used to do this with cranberries and walnuts, but I'm not a huge nut fan so I just do the berries.

Here's how I see it:

cranberry loaf = to be eaten for breakfast
plain loaf = to be eaten with dinner
chocolate loaf= to be eaten for dessert

In my book, this bests over-rated pumpkin pie any day of the week. (I'm willing to go head-to-head on this in the comments. Bring it.)

Stay tuned for more news from The Commons in the coming weeks! Wanna go with me for lunch on opening day?

The Mouse

Pumpkin Bread
Courtesy Arlene's Bakery for The Commons

Makes 3 loaves

3-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

3 cups sugar

1 cup oil (corn or vegetable)

2 cups pumpkin puree

2/3 cup water

4 eggs

Optional: chocolate chips, frozen cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350°
Combine first 5 (dry) ingredients in a large bowl. Add last 4 (wet) ingredients and mix until smooth. Divide into 3 well greased & floured loaf pans (disposable aluminum foil ones work great, as do the paper loaf liners you can find at specialty baking stores). Mix in chocolate chips or cranberries to your liking. Bake for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

*And if you've got leftover pumpkin puree after making this, here are some great ideas for how to use it (other than making some more loaves and bringing them to me.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Honeymooners

Dear Boo,

This morning I woke up to the hissing of my radiator for the first time this season, and I don't know if you've heard, but there's supposed to be snow tomorrow. SNOW. 8-14 inches in parts of New Jersey! It's hard to imagine that only a couple of weeks ago I was sweating in 95 degree heat, baking in the sun with my toes in the sand, a michelada* within arms-reach, and my delicious husband (!) by my side. Sigh. Some days or weeks are almost too magical for their own good. Once they've passed it becomes harder and harder to hold onto the reality that they actually did for real, in the flesh, with witnesses to prove it, happen. I'd say a good portion of this month (the beginning and most significant part of which you've so beautifully chronicled) falls into that category. So forgive me if some details are fuzzy and you find it hard to grasp the chronology or geography of this narrative. I'll do my best.

A walk along the virgin beach we stayed on during the second half of our trip. One day we walked for 30 minutes and saw 2 people and a herd of cows.

Our requirements for a honeymoon were pretty simple: we wanted to do it as close to our wedding as possible, since we knew we would be in desperate need of rest, quiet, and alone time following the most intense and overwhelmingly beautiful and meaningful day of our joint life. We also wanted to be somewhere warm, on a beach. We could not go somewhere where we would feel pressure to do intensive sightseeing (no Hart girl style Paris circa 1999), or be forced to interact with other honeymooning couples. There had to be good food and plentiful cocktails. And time. Lots of unplanned, unscheduled time.

Working on my to-do list.

While we succeeded on all of this, and then some, it turns out it's hard for the Mouse to not plan or obsess over things like meals. No big surprise there. But I tried my best to turn off the foodie/crazy part of my psyche and remember, as I did with our wedding menu (which rocked, thank you very much), what the real point of this trip was. If we wanted to eat lunch or dinner at our (awesome) hotel, something I would scoff at on any other trip, well, so be it. Also, this wasn't such a bad spot for a bite:Yeah, that's a bed.

And if we wanted to go back to the restaurant we went to two days ago because their tacos al pastor were the best we'd ever had and we hadn't had a chance to try what looked like incredible fish tacos, well then I would have to quit it with the "every meal should be a different thrilling adventure!" neuroses and go eat the best fish tacos of my life.

The Husband still claims mine are his favorite, but I think that's just because
he has a crush on me.

Oh, and here are those tacos al pastor. Did I mention they were the best I've ever had?

And this, it turns out, aside from being recently married to the love of your life and having an amazing party with all your favorite people and then going on vacation, is what's awesome about a honeymoon: there are no rules. Except that you should have no rules. That means, no 'I really shouldn't have another taco.' and no 'Should we feel bad about not going to check out that historic site in town?', and no 'We should take a run on the beach to make up for that dinner last night,' and no 'We really should save that money for something more practical than a massage." It's great. And it turns out, if one is honeymooning in Zihuatanejo, one can have no/break all foodie rules and still eat some incredible food. Here's a few tastes of our honeymoon in food. Our honeymoon in all other things will remain private. tee hee.

Coffee and pastry delivered to our balcony makes this Mouse happy.

So does fresh coconut water. Recipe: take one enormous coconut direct from the tree. hack off the top with a machete. Stick a straw in it.
And for lunch that day: fresh fish and vegetables steamed in a bag, with a side of ocean.

Sometimes tacos will show up on your plate and they might be fried.
And that might be just fine.

Especially when they're accompanied by the freshest, spiciest, tangiest pico de gallo with chips hot from the fryer and a cold local Victoria, and the ocean a mere shell's throw away.
Guess what shoes I was wearing when I ate this.
None. No shoes.

An appetizer of beans and rice with mexican crema and local Oaxacan cheese eaten at a roadside restaurant in the middle of nowhere after our taxi driver poo-pooed the restaurant we asked him to take us to and spotting fellow eating enthusiasts, took us to the place he goes to get local favorites like iguana.

The Husband opted for Javelina Barbacoa. Unbelievably good.

And I had this incredible shrimp soup with whole head-on, unpeeled shrimp so huge and so sweet I thought I might be eating lobster. I should also mention the restaurant had the family pet squirrel in a cage in the dining room.

If you go here, to Barra De Potosi, you will see the most beautiful place where a lagoon meets the ocean and fisherman walk on the water casting their nets.

Take a boat around the lagoon and you'll see all variety of birds and fish leaping out of the water, families fishing for their dinner, a place where they harvest sea salt, and this former shrimp farm:

Apparently when it was functioning, someone stayed here day and night to tend to the shrimp.

Afterwards you should pull up a hammock at one of the open-air fish restaurants
along the shore

and order these camarones alla diabla, or tiritas, the local specialty which consists of strips of fresh fish marinated in lime juice and tossed with shaved red onion and slivers of chile, and served with saltines, and which I did not eat nearly enough of.

You should probably also take the public transportation back from town, bouncing around in the back of the truck with a young couple on their way into town for date night, a grandma in her apron and slippers, and an old man in a wide brimmed hat and cowboy boots, carrying his guitar on his back.

No one could explain to me how to bring this view home with me as a souvenir. I'm still working on the technology that would allow me to replace the Verizon building next door
with this skyline.

Luckily I found a way to bring home the best souvenir of all.

This bartender I met at Senor Frog's!*

Just kidding.

And if you ever needed any proof, check out the Mouse tail I'm sporting above.


(Mrs.) Mouse

P.S. The Ministry of Tourism is planning a major development including a cruise ship pier which will greatly affect the complex ecosystem and way of life of Barra de Potosi, a fishing village where locals have been able to live in harmony with nature and make a living at the same time. This would endanger the wide variety of species that live here, cut directly through the beautiful and unspoiled lagoon, and according to the locals we talked to, bring in workers from other parts of Mexico with experience in the hospitality industry, leaving villagers there with less work, not more. This is a truly beautiful place and it would be tragic to see it demolished or spoiled in any way. You can click here for more information and to take action.

*Michelada: a mexican beer cocktail whose ingredients may vary depending on the region but most often involves beer (I like it with Modelo, corona, Pacifico, or Victoria), fresh lime juice, salt, and ice. Research tells me that it also usually includes a dash of worcestershire, and/or some form of tomato juice, but every time I got it in Zihua, it was primarily if not only, beer and lime juice with a salt rim.

*We did NOT go to Senor Frog's in nearby Ixtapa. Honeymoon or no, neither of us was interested in being subjected to a tourist mob scene in which waiters pour tequila down your throat. We might have eaten at our hotel, but we do have our dignity.

*Also, I should note that this is a terrible picture of both of us, that I am swallowing my pride and sharing because the tail was too good.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apples to Apples

Dear Mouse,

OK this is totally my third post in a row but A) this gives you more time to prepare The Honeymoon Post (!!) and B) I'll just be a second. Consider this a Breaking (or, Baking) News Flash.

Every once in a while I am lucky enough to discover/assemble/fall into something in the kitchen that sends me literally scurrying to the laptop like one of your kind to share it with the world.

It's the thick of autumn, and that means apples. And if you're lucky: apple picking.

Hard-Won Macouns.

This was a remarkable two-time orchard excursion week for me, with visits to Solebury Orchard in NJ and I-can't-remember-its-name in NY on Sunday and Monday. To pace myself, I decided to leave all the beautiful Solesbury winesaps and topazes with my friends in NJ... and then found myself cursing this restraint while shaking and climbing the nearly-bare NY trees for the paltry few Golden Delicious and Macouns still hanging on. (At least I know I can still climb a little, with the right incentive.) So.. the moral I guess is... gather ye winesaps while ye may.

Synchronized Fujis

I still brought home probably a good five pounds of rosy speckled globes. And the very first thing I made with them is, quite simply, the best apple-related dessert that I, personally, have made...

Rosemary-Apple Crostata. You heard me.

.. and made UP! On the fly!

Ok I am certainly not the first person to think of this flavor melange. However, while it there is nothing new under the sun and it turned out there was already in fact a recipe for 'Rosemary Apple Tart' on the very splendid Splendid Table web site, I didn't yet KNOW that when the thought of rosemary flitted across my brain. So I still feel a kind of proud ownership.

In the end, I conflated two recipes: the Splendid Table Tart with its bewitching rosemary-lemon-rubbed sugar, and the simple, rustic form of the Apple Crostata from Ye Olde Ina Garten. And let me tell you ... it works. Not only does it work, it makes me never want to eat apples baked without rosemary again. It's homey, sweet, classic, appley . It's woodsy, perfumed, autumnal, intoxicating.

And now I just need to do something with the other 4lbs.


The Boo

The Boo's Rosemary-Lemon Apple Crostata
(with love to Lynn Rossetto Kasper and Ina G.)

Ina's recipe sets you up with a crostata's worth of extra dough in your freezer! I rolled it out quite thin and wound up cutting away some of it, which I liked a lot ... but I'm not really a thick-crust kind of girl.

2 C all-purpose flour
1/4 C sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound very cold unsalted butter, diced
1/4 C ice water

Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. **Note: I approximated this by hand as I don't have a food processor.** Pulse a few times to combine. Add the butter and pulse 12 to 15 times, or until the butter is the size of peas. With the motor running, add the ice water all at once through the feed tube. Keep hitting the pulse button to combine, but stop the machine just before the dough becomes a solid mass. Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and form into 2 discs. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate one of the discs for at least 1 hour. Freeze the rest.

1 lb (ie, 3 med apples or 2 large), peeled, cored, chunked

1/3 C sugar
2 tsp loosely-packed fresh rosemary leaves
zest from about a third of a lemon? Maybe a half, up to you
1 tsp cinnamon
somewhere between 1/4 and 1/2 C flour
5 tbsp (a little more than a half a stick) cold unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 450. Roll out crust to an 11 in circle and lay it on a parchment-lined baking sheet or in a sprayed/floured pie pan (I liked the pan). Arrange the apples in the center of the circle leaving a 1.5-in border.

Put the sugar in a small mixing bowl. Grate the lemon zest directly into it and rub it in with your hands a bit (it will smell fantastic). Add the rosemary leaves and maybe squnch again (again with the fantastic). Add the butter and flour and rub in with your fingertips til it starts holding together. Sprinkle/distribute it evenly over the apples.

Fold in the edges of the dough in a circle, all around the apples, leaving it open in the middle a la the picture above.

Put it in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until crust is golden and apples are tender.

Let it stand for 5 minutes after you take it out. And then I suggest pouring a bit of cream over
the slice you cut for yourself directly afterwards.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Mrs. Mouse!

Dear Mouse,

"OMG We are totally at your wedding right now!" (sophisticated opening line of The Boo's wedding toast)


It's really so miraculous, isn't it? One minute there you are, trudging along your daily existence, resigning yourself to the humdrum and the mundane and thinking "well, I guess this IS all there is"... and then, in a heartbeat, everything changes. Suddenly, there's the One. The Game Changer. An addition to your life that changes it so profoundly, in a thousand small ways, that you can't imagine living without it. Just to behold it is a joy:

I got a coffee maker!!
(...why, what did you think I was talking about?)

All kidding aside, what a freakin' gorge-tasti-fabu-rific WEDDING!!!

Congrats to The Mouse ... AND to The Husband!!!!

(flowers, streamers, confetti, trumpets)

It really was one for the history books. I've been putting off writing this post because I'm totally intimidated. I'm aware that, unless I have a very specific angle, it could be the very War and Peace of blog posts... or leave out significant things and get me scolded in the Comments section. And, although a picture is worth a thousand words, there are at least a thousand pictures-- and we haven't actually even gotten the photographer's shots back yet! So I'll only be able to really report on a small, personal slice of delicious coconut wedding cake ... um, er, I mean, of the Event itself. (Anyone who's' reading please feel free to leave your favorite memory in the Comments section!)
Hair and makeup with The Mother & friends. Andaz Hotel NYC.

Everyone is going to have their favorite, definitive moment from your wedding. It's hard to pick one. I'm going to say that mine, for obvious reasons, is going to have to be the night before in the hotel room, when a Very Agitated Mouse could not find the Food Network on TV, and only calmed down enough to sleep when her sister read her the entire Room Service menu aloud.

Drenched Mouse on the bus en route to Rehearsal Dinner, clutching Boo-Assembled Ribbon Bouquet. It was pouring. We couldn't get a cab.

But there's so much more! The CEREMONY, beautifully located on the grounds of Lyndhurst Castle in Tarrytown NY. (Anyone who has great location shots or comments let us know, as of course we were cloistered in the Bridal Holding Pen right up until showtime.) The Bride's gorgeous, dramatic entrance from between the tall iron doors of the mansion, glimpsed from a distance, was breathtaking. The Groom's love-drunk, tear-filled eyes as he spoke his vows. The eleven adorable flower girls who all, in unison, miraculously failed to drop a single flower petal from their tightly clutched paper cones. The way the officiant said "now you shall feel no rain" as the wind picked up and just a few drops started. And, oh yeah, probably the part where I got up to sing, made it three lines into what was supposed to be a beautiful Irish ballad, burst into tears and yelled, "I TOLD you this would happen!". During the ceremony. Well, at least it got a laugh. And at least it isn't captured on videotape. Oh, wait.

The PARTY. DANCE Party, that is. I think I actually did see some cows coming home as the last person teetered off the dance floor. The photobooth, which was hijacked by small children enacting complex narratives and adults in delightfully obscene postures ... The speeches (laughter, tears, applause for all of them) ... The farm tables (!!), rose-gold-purply autumnal flowers, and japanese lanterns. The band, a delightful assemblage of horns and suspenders, who led us all down the hill from cocktail hour into the main hall. And who could forget the night's second-most passionate union:

Ladies and Gentlemen... in from Cleveland OH... the only other Hart Girl in existence, Isabel!!
Who we had never met (shame on us) and who is a Dance Machine.

Also, we looked awesome. I need another reason to wear that dress, stat. YOUR dress ... I can't even get into it or we might have another Irish Ballad Malfunction.

And, of course, who could forget the delightful last-minute thrill of the US COACHWAYS bus that simply never arrived in NYC to pick up half the guests and, like, BRING THEM to the wedding in Tarrytown. No phone call, nothing. Eventually The Fiance got through (who gave him a phone??) and the charming US COACHWAYS company rep SHOUTED and HUNG UP on him. The ceremony started 45 minutes late, the plucky guests in question had to walk to Grand Central and buy train tickets, and the one US COACHWAYS bus we had, I hear, treated folks to a white-knuckle Ride of Terror back to Manhattan. Oh and now they're offering a 20% refund. (!!!) That's US COACHWAYS, all you brides-to-be out there.


I realize, as this post natters on, that I have not said one word about the food. And that's probably because I barely ate. (I hear that happens. Again, go for it in the Comments!) So I feel I have a good excuse to talk briefly about The Bridal Shower and the Bachelorette Party! though they are not strictly on-topic. That was the first time I've ever been called upon to host, well, anything besides a dinner ... and it was such. a. good. time. First lesson of hosting: delegate. Without your beloved childhood friend CC's artistic talents, how could all the ladies of the Bachelorette have worn these T-Shirts ?

American Apparel Saga to come later.

And without The Mother and The Aunt's advisory, how could the Bridal Shower guests have snacked on these?

Personalized M&Ms: Possibly even tastier.

For a classically lovely, girly bridal shower, you could really do worse than the private 'Evelyn Nesbitt Room' at Lady Mendl's Tea Salon in Gramercy Park (finger sandwiches, clotted cream, champagne cocktails), and for a classy-but-still-risque bachelorette party, I highly recommend a Saturday night at the small, beautiful TriBeCa supper club Duane Park. The dinner/show combo ($60/person) features a really impressive prix-fixe menu (hon. mentions to shrimp & grits appetizer and pork loin with honey-plum-barebecue-I-ate-all-of-it sauce), a live smokin' jazz band, and an old-timey burlesque show hosted by downtown's beloved drag king Murray Hill ("Showbiz!"). Cocktails are additional but stellar, if it took a while to get them. (Oh, and an afternoon in the waterfalls and steam of Spa Castle in Queens won't hurt none either. I'll never forget lounging in the rooftop whirlpool bath with you, A-Mac, and CC, sharing a Pina Colada and watching the sun set. Good times.)

Were there two cameras? What am I looking at?

Since, as they say, Brevity is the Filet of Sole, I will stop there. (Cod! That's what I had at the wedding. Cod. It was tasty.) I would like to give two particular food-related wedding shout-outs. One is to Lady, your personal attendant provided by catering, whose timing ("I came to see if you need anything" right as we found out about the second bus) was flawless and who did not bat an eye when we requested 4 vodka shots at 4PM. They came ice cold and accompanied by a plate of the cocktail-hour latin-themed finger foods (mm tamales). Well done, Lady.

The other is to YOU for your wedding cake stroke of genius.

It's really second only to The Cat Lady's 22 -Cake wedding in my book.

After that last agonizing round of decisions, where you, The Fiance, The Mother, and I sat half-asleep trying to decide whether to go with "white sponge" or "yellow cake", and grumbling that no one was going to eat it anyway, you finally just called the caterer and asked if they'd be willing to make the below recipe. The Aunt makes it at least once a year for us and it's always a showstopper. This time was no different, and like everything else in this wedding, was joyful, delicious, and unforgettable.

The Mouse's Ingenious Wedding Cake, nee Ina Garten's Coconut Cake

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pans
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup milk
4 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
1 pound confectioners' sugar, sifted
6 ounces sweetened shredded coconut

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, then line them parchment paper. Grease them again and dust lightly with flour.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. Crack the eggs into a small bowl. With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl once during mixing. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well. The mixture might look curdled; don't be concerned.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk to the batter in 3 parts, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.
Fold in the 4 ounces of coconut with a rubber spatula.

Pour the batter evenly into the 2 pans and smooth the top with a knife.
Bake in the center of the oven for 45 to 55 minutes, until the tops are browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 30 minutes, then turn the cakes out onto a baking rack to finish cooling.

For the frosting, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and almond extract on low speed. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix until just smooth (don't whip!). To assemble, place 1 layer on a flat serving plate, top side down, and spread with frosting. Place the second layer on top, top side up, and frost the top and sides. To decorate the cake, sprinkle the top with coconut and lightly press more coconut onto the sides. Serve at room temperature.