Category Archives: Good stuff

Things I like today: October

As we slip into Autumn, I’ve bought a few new things and am dreaming of a few others. It’s funny how universal that Back to School urge is; this is the one time of year when it’s incredibly hard to resist freshening up my wardrobe and the house. So far I’ve remained pretty restrained, but I thought I’d share a couple things.

1. An older acquisition: Bridge gave me this awesome hand-printed towel as a birthday present, with a quote from Pride & Prejudice. (Oh, Mr. Darcy.) I couldn’t bear to use it as a towel so I tacked it up above the sink and I love the result. (It’s from the shop Brookish on Etsy, though I don’t see any more towels at the moment. Lots of other P&P stuff though!)

2. I had a lingering credit at Simon Pearce, up in Vermont, and while we were in NH last weekend we made the trip over to the main store. I totally scored! I got a salt pig on sale, and found fantastic Dwell placemats on clearance.

Even the little sheep likes the salt cellar:

3. I checked out Laurie Colwin’s “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking” from the library ages ago and I can’t bear to return them until my copies arrive from Amazon. Must make gingerbread. Adore Laurie Colwin.

4. Oh god, a couple years ago I became fixated on dark brown shearling-lined Bean Boots, but I resisted because they seemed like they’d get quite a bit of snow in around the laces. The L.L. Bean gods heard my excuse and now they taunt me with these beauties:

I have perfectly good snow boots. I will love them from afar. (And I do still really love the laced-up ones, too.) But they also have nice-looking Hunter-style wellies, complete with fleece liners! I want those. My rain boots leak a little.

5. In honor of fall, I washed out an old spice jar and filled it with cinnamon-sugar. Happy breakfast days for me.

(BTW, I found a roll of 100 of those round blue labels on clearance at Papersource a month or two ago, and I recently labeled the tops of all my spice jars. They are in a container, so I used to have to lift them out one at a time to find a specific jar. I should have labeled them ages ago, duh!)

6. I found a ring at Forever 21 and fell in love with it, but of course it’s, like, gilded plastic and is already starting to peel. I need to find a real-metal version of it, but somehow hollow (light) and sturdy (non-denting). Love love love.

This summer I gave in and bought American cheese to use on burgers. Because, I’m sorry, cheddar goes greasy and I don’t like blue cheese much and American melts best. Anyway, the other place American cheese sort of takes the prize is when you want a plain, non-fancy grilled cheese. And burger season is over so guess what I had for lunch yesterday?

You know you’re jealous.

Finally, in crafty news, I found these earrings marked down to $4 at Kohl’s (don’t ask) and thought they’d be pretty cool without all the extra loops. So I took them apart and put them back together.

Things I must do this month:
-Cook something amazing with the mound of shallots I scored from the farm.
-Re-do my desk chair, which is in sad shape with old foam crumbling out of the bottom and onto the floor. (Ew.) My solution has been a plastic bag taped to the bottom of the chair but that’s stopped working.
-Make gingerbread.
-Walk Lola, the darling dog who now lives downstairs!

Farm days

Regular readers are well aware of my adoration for Stone Soup Farm, the source of my wonderful CSA farm share for the last two years. The farm has kept us well fed with the most gorgeous vegetables (and eggs, this year!), continually reminding me of the value of eating local and supporting area farms. Stone Soup is owned and run by Jarrett Man, who only graduated from college a few years ago (with a bioengineering degree!) but has managed, despite weird weather and the myriad complications of running a small business, to organize a good-sized crew and grow an incredible range of crops.

Last summer we kept talking about driving out to Belchertown, Mass., (about 80 miles west of our house), but we never managed to make the trip. This year we were lucky enough to go twice, once in early August and once last weekend. I’d like to share a bunch of my photos of the farm from both trips. Jarrett always teases me for being weeks behind on my blog posts about he weekly share distributions, so hopefully this will placate him.


The barn holds offices, a kitchen, and the farm stand.

(I have always loved barns!)


Neat and tidy greenhouse:

Some of my favorite vegetables, growing happily in the fields…

…and in the background, the poor, blighted tomato plants (agh):

Then I found the chickens. They have a lovely roaming coop, which is rolled to a new piece of field every week. The chickens peck up whatever is left in the field and fertilize the patch (adding nitrogen to the soil), then roll on over to a new area. There are three breeds, though I can’t remember the names. Jarrett told me next year there will be three new breeds, including the Araucana (Easter Egg) chickens Martha Stewart made famous for their pastel eggs!

I love chickens; I find them hilarious and charming to watch and I would have stayed for hours if the guys (Tom and Ben were with me) had let me.

Some of the ladies head my way while the proud rooster looks on:

Tail-feathers fluttering in indecision:

Each evening all the chickens march into their house to be safely closed in for the night.

I must say, watching the chickens was a delight. They were nibbling clover, wandering around a large fenced enclosure, strolling in and out of their cozy rolling house… Very happy birds in a very happy place.


Jarrett sent out an email inviting CSA members to share in the work of the farm, in addition to the bounty. There were 1000 pounds of onions (plus shallots and 5000 bulbs of garlic, though we didn’t get to those) that needed to be trimmed and cleaned before being handed out in the weekly shares. All those alliums were curing on the floor of the greenhouse, and we drove out for a “Smelly Potluck” to help get them all prepped.

Ben gets down and dirty:

More helpers, including Jarrett’s dad, on the left. (His mom sent along a big pot of soup!):

Freshly harvested onions are laid out to cure, pulling all the juices from the stems into the bulb:

Once they are ready to be used, the stems get trimmed off:

The loose outer layers of skin (often dirty) are rubbed off, leaving a clean, tidy onion:

We did our best but there was still quite a long way to go when we headed in for dinner around 6 (you can’t see the stacks of crates that had already been moved out of the greenhouse!):

Jarrett took us on a tour of the varied “root cellars” and storage spots around the barn–including a room downstairs and a refrigerated stand-alone unit. It was fun to see all the deliciousness we will get in the winter shares, and we also got to grab some squash and spare shallots to bring home.

We gathered at a picnic bench by the barn to enjoy the last of the sunlight and eat a potluck while watching the barn cat torment the visiting dog.

My back ached the next day. I am a soft-handed urban wimp!

Quick and Easy: Dad’s Iced Coffee

It may be pleasantly cool and grey today, but the weather has finally caught up to the whole ‘It’s August” thing recently, which means I can’t bear to drink hot coffee while sweating my brains out in my tiny office. Luckily when I was in Oregon in June, my dad taught me his spiffy new iced coffee technique:

Brew coffee in a stovetop espresso maker.


Sweeten while hot with BROWN sugar, to taste (the coffee is strong and bitter, so I needed a goodly amount of sugar). Does anyone else out there besides me and Tom drink hot coffee with just milk, but iced coffee with milk and sugar? I’m sure this has something to do with bitter flavor compounds showing up when the drink is cold.

Chill, then serve over ice with milk. About a one-to-one ratio is good, or even more milk; again, the coffee is quite concentrated.

iced coffee

I make the espresso the night before and then I just have to add ice and milk in the morning when I can’t be trusted to do anything complicated, anyway.

Make me a water bottle*

Our last night in Italy I fell so much in love with the bottle from our mineral water that I actually packed it in my suitcase and brought it home with me. I also discovered that photographing clear glass is incredibly tricky.

Once we got home I soaked off the small label that was on the bottom section of the bottle, and I will use it as a water carafe this summer. Those embossed raindrops kill me—so simple and great. Is it weird that I brought back a mineral water bottle as my favorite souvenir?


On a completely different topic, I am thinking a lot about my goals and wishes for this blog, and trying to figure out which direction to go with it. If you have time, do you mind telling me what you’d like to see more of, or what you enjoy reading about? CSA season starts in about 10 days, so I will have lots of produce to write about, and I’m considering a few more ambitious projects, as well. I would love your input.

*I am sad that Salome was kicked off Make me a Super Model while we were gone.

Heavenly Bellinis

I am still sorting and uploading Italy photos, but on the off chance that anyone is going to be in Venice in the next 24 hours I thought I’d better post a quick and urgent message: Go to the Gritti Palace Hotel, sit on the veranda outside, overlooking the Grand Canal, and feel smug and superior as you sip an outrageously expensive and yet worth it bellini.


This bellini is made with what they call peach juice (obviously), but what I believe to be actual peaches, thrown in a blender with prosecco. They could almost be eaten with a spoon. They were ridiculous.

If you want to justify it, watch all the people roasting in gondolas a few feet away from your cool, well-shaded table, and think to yourself, “For the cost of a gondola ride, I will be able to drink many, many of these heavenly bellinis.” And take further comfort in the fact that for a mere Euro you can take a gondola across the Canal after your bellini, on the traghetto that ferries people from side to side in areas where the bridges aren’t close by. There is a traghetto stop outside the Gritti’s door–very handy.

PS: They also bring you snacks.

PPS: We loved our bellinis so much we immediately had to go try the ones at Harry’s Bar, where they were famously invented. No contest. Those were normal bellinis, not glasses of heaven.

PPPS: Ben had never had a bellini. He asked if he was allowed to order them in bars from now on, and I said no. Besides, he’d only be disappointed, as the Harry’s Bar experience soon showed.

I am back!

We are back from Italy, and thoroughly exhausted. So many things in 8 days–next time we will start in the city and end in the country instead of alternating. My feet!

A quicky recap of things we saw:

Giant mountains as we wound sloooowly (and car-sickly) through the Dolomites:

Our name everywhere in Ben’s Dad’s hometown:

A cruise ship trying to eat Venice:

cruise venice

A moody evening in Tuscany:

Unseasonably warm ruins in Rome:

Also a total 70s pornstache in the Capitoline museums (sweet choker, too.):

Much, much more to come… The food was not as fabulous as in past trips, but there were some memorable meals and of course I have lots of photos of gorgeous produce. Currently we’re just trying to stay awake until 9 p.m.

Did I miss anything this week?

Sour cream coffee cake for a happy weekend

Do any of you get the Zingerman’s mail order catalog? When I was in preschool we lived in Ann Arbor while my Dad was in grad school, and my parents were big fans of the then-new Zingerman’s Deli. They now have an amazing mail order service, and my mom always ordered stuff from them as gifts. I do the same—few things are a more surefire hit than a coffee cake in a wooden hatbox, especially when the coffee cake is a really, really good one. They also have exceptional customer service, with real people on the phone who want to help you. HOWEVER. The prices are a bit steep for personal consumption, which is why I’m grateful for this recipe, which my mom has been making for as long as I can remember. It’s a heavy, dense cake, extremely moist and long-lasting (if you don’t eat it all up!).

Sour Cream Coffee Cake
1 C. butter
2 C. sugar
2 eggs
1 C. sour cream
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 C. flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt

½ C. brown sugar
½ C. pecans or walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon

* Preheat oven to 350
* Grease and flour a bundt pan; set aside
* Cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy
* Add eggs one-at-a-time and mix
* Add sour cream and vanilla and mix
* Sift together the dry ingredients and add, mixing just until incorporated
* Pour half the batter into the prepared pan
* Strew streusel over batter
* Top with rest of batter
* Bake about 60 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean

One thing I’ve noticed (I made the cake twice so far): It might be a bit too much streusel topping. Try to make sure there is cake batter exposed around the edges, or at least not a thick layer of the streusel, so the cake doesn’t end up with top and bottom halves, unconnected to each other.

The tricky bit it adding the second half of the thick, sticky batter, on top of the streusel. Careful dabbing with a spatula seems to work:

I have had some trouble with my oven ever since we bought the Viking. It’s not noticeable when I’m cooking meat, but when baking I sometimes find that nothing is happening after I’ve put the pan in. As in, the temperature has dropped to 150 and the baked goods are just sitting there, flabby and pale and sad. I was on the phone with Mom the first time I made this, so I popped it in the oven and kind of ignored it until about 45 minutes in, when I saw that the batter had set a bit but definitely not baked. It took an additional HOUR to cook. Anyway, that’s my oven’s problem, not the recipe’s. But does anyone else with a gas oven have that happen?

Not the best distribution of streudel on that outing, but still a great cake. I baked the first one for a girl’s weekend a couple months ago, and Bridge declared it the best coffee cake ever! But really, how can you go wrong with 2 sticks of butter, a cup of sour cream, and all that sugar? Soooo healthy.

(Brussels) Sprout-Fest

Oh, brussels sprouts, I love you so. The one downside to the CSA was the fact that they didn’t grow (or had bad luck with) sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower last year, and since I was working my way through what they DID grow I never bought any, either. Ben actually accused me of withholding sprouts, can you believe the nerve?

In response, I bought two pounds from Trader Joe’s and went to town. Herewith, a window into how food and leftovers live out their lives Chez Girl Reporter.

The first night, I roasted all two pounds.

brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts 2

roasted brussels sprouts

I won’t lie, I don’t have the roasting quite perfect. I feel like they get smooshy by the time they are cooked and not bitter. Maybe next time I’ll parboil them? Actually, next time I’ll shred them in the food processor and then roast them on high heat like Greta does. Oh god, that’s good.

Anyway, we ate them with polenta cakes and sausage.

sausage dinner

Now, two pounds is a lot of brussels sprouts, even once you’ve trimmed about a third off. The next night Ben was at a meeting, so I was on my own. We had some no-knead bread that was bordering on stale, so I toasted it up, heated up some sprouts, and fried an egg in olive oil. Truly an awesome dinner.

fried egg brussels sprouts

The next day at lunch there were still a few left. Also, two rounds of polenta. I don’t have a photo of the cold brussels sprouts (sue me) but here’s what I ate on the side while I fished them out of the pyrex bowl, still cold and more delicious than ever:


Ok, so Ben, who was so concerned about Sprout Deprivation, only got to eat them for one meal and I ate them for three. But I also cleaned them all: fair’s fair!

I finally caved and joined Twitter, after watching Aileen …tweet….things all weekend. If you are interested in scintillating stuff like what I’m eating for lunch or what the squirrels outside my office are up to, I’m here.

The vegetables of winter: Turnips and Swede

I am unnaturally obsessed with vegetables, but even I know that most people don’t get too wound up about the root vegetables that locavores in northern climes are working their way through this time of year. I also think we should all give up on the word Rutabaga altogether, and follow the Euro lead in calling it Swede. No wonder no one cooks the poor thing; what an awful name. But my Bubble and Squeak didn’t use a fraction of the vegetables I’ve got in cold storage, so prepare yourselves for a few more entries on how to use The Other Root Vegetables.
(Alternative slogans:
We’re not sexy but we sure store well!
Lumpy but delicious!
Off your feed? Try some Swede!

(Oh my god, someone help me.)

ANYWAY. Look, turnips!

I tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted for….a while. A long while. I kept tasting every so often once they looked cooked, and by the time Ben had grilled [more] steaks they were wrinkled-looking but tasted awesome.

Now for the really photogenic stuff. Go get some swede. Seriously, go. It’s a huge wax-covered lump in most grocery stores, though mine were much smaller than normal since they came from the CSA. I used two small and one medium; a normal-sized large one would do all by itself.

Peel and cut it up into smallish pieces so it will cook quickly and evenly. Be careful while cutting it and keep in mind that before pumpkins were common in the British Isles, the original jack o’ lanterns were made from swede. These things are tough. Cover the pieces with water, add some salt, bring to a boil and cook until soft.

Drain, add butter and get out your trusty masher (I found an Oxo one
that resembles Jamie Oliver’s, and I like the design a lot.)

Mash. Add salt and pepper to taste. Do a little dance to celebrate how tasty this nutritious vegetable is (wiki tells me it’s a cross between a turnip and a cabbage! I love cabbage!). Serve with something good: in this case, crispy pork cutlets and corn from the farm that I froze in August.

Oh, and by the way. While this is what winter looks like in these parts (snowier, actually; it’s snowing as I type)…

(The beach in Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA in mid-January)

…I have to celebrate our wonderful annual visit to our friends Josh and Keren and The Amazing Adley in Florida. This is their reality:

Here I am, baffled by this “sunshine” and “warm weather” of which I’ve heard so much:

It was hard to come back to this:

But I have pretty tulips this week and I know spring will come eventually.