Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Food: December 2009, Happy New Year

Going to a New Year's dinner party this year and need something to bring?  I am bringing a chocolate bundt cake from the tried and true Hershey's recipe that one of my cousins and my neighbor swear by!  Read below for the recipe.  My New Year's twist, I add a white chocolate glaze over the top of the cake and sprinkle with white sanding sugar and luster pearls for an evening sparkle that matches your JCrew champagne sequined tank-T .

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I sift this to lighten)
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans. 

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into greased bundt pan. 

3. Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. 

Make the glaze: Place 4 oz. white chocolate chopped in a bowl. Heat 1/2 cup cream in a small saucepan until simmering, then pour over chocolate. Let stand for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons softened butter, mix until smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened. Pour glaze over cooled cake. Sprinkle with Sanding Sugar and Luster Pearls.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Design: December 2009

White Bird Listening to Music on Headphones, Wall, Vinyl, Sticker, Decal

Now that shipping deadlines have come and gone, its okay to shop for the house and not for the holiday!  Wall decals have been the thing this year - the extremely affordable way to add design to your home.  The greatest part about it - pic something cute and trendy for the kids rooms and when they grow out of it, it comes off the wall without damaging wall or paint.  My favorite?  This little birdie from Design Fruit on Etsy who is adorable in your toddlers room, but hip enough with his headphones to transition into the tweens!  The best part - its a work of art in your home for $15.  Tweet Tweet.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Momma Like: December 2009: Eczema Blaster

 Do you and your kids get the itchy-stratchies this time of year?  In our house, alligator skin creeps in with the cold and doesn't leave until April.  My son's allergy Doc gave me the most obvious and best advice on his eczema - oil moisturizes and lotion or ointments seal.  My trick has been to use California Baby Oil for Sensitive Skin as a first layer and when its really bad, I seal it in with Unpetroleum Jelly or Weleda Baby Calendula Cream (calendula is a great holistic answer to dry, irritated skin).  Many dermatologists recommend Hydroladum or Aquafour, but I don't love using the petroleum products on my kids.  All three products are available at Whole Foods or more conveniently, at Diapers.Com - easy to through in with your diaper order on the fly and when you spend over $49, you get free shipping.  Want to save some money?  I make my own version of the oil by using 1/4 cup of organic Safflower Oil, 1/4 cup of organic canola oil, 4 tablespoons Vitamin E oil and 2 tablespoons of Evening Primrose Oil.  The most effective way to get the oil on your kids is by using a few tablespoons in the bath or spreading it on them in the shower.  If you are not in the mood to have to scrub the bath, just spread it on right after bath, followed by the sealing layer, followed by PJ's to keep it off the sheets.  As with anything, consult your doc and make sure none of the products are ones that your child has allergies or sensitivities to! 

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Food is Community December 2009: A Shared Jewish Tradition - Latkes

When I wanted to add an amazing family recipes to the blog this month, the first person I thought of was Liz.  She is the best hostess I know and is famous for having snacks in her home and on her person at all times for everyone.  You can be high up on a mountain, on your two boards, hanging over a crevasse and mention that you are hungry and out of her pocket comes cheese and crackers and crudite - I'm very serious.  I'm sure she gets this from her mom who is the ultimate event planner and hostess - both professionally and personally. Liz's sister Dee is in the Peace Corp - doing amazing work-, and I often wonder whether locals appear at her home and she instantly breaks out with hot wat and freshly baked injera.  Probably - its just the way with Hertzberg women.  So, because Liz's words were so elegant, here it is as she wrote it - their family recipe for latkes. 


Every good Jewish grandmother has her own latke recipe, and of course everyone of them cla
ims that theirs is the best.  Our family recipe is a combination of both of my wonderful grandmothers.  As with many family recipes it is not written down anywhere and it calls for a lot of "use your best judgment", but the more you make them the better they get!

salt to flavor

Bowl of cold water
Paper towels or cheesecloth
large mixing bowl
grater or Cuisinart
slotted spoon
large frying pan can be electric
cookie sheet lined w/paper towel or brown paper bag

6 medium russet potatoes
1 small yellow onion
2 or 3 eggs
2 - 3 tbs matzah meal (can substitute flour or even pancake mix)
1/2 c. vegetable oil

Recommended toppings:

Sour Cream
Apple Sauce
Cottage Cheese

An important tip before you begin: 
Complete all steps one right after the other, taking breaks is not recommended because the potatoes will brown and continue to oxidizing and discolor.  So leave yourself plenty of time.

1. Grate onion with either hand grater or Cuisinart. 
2. Pat onions with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
3. Grate potatoes 2 or 3 at a time.  
4. Put grated potatoes into cold water for a couple minutes and give the a good shake, to rid of starch.  While the first 2-3 potatoes are in the bath grate the remaining potatoes.
5. Transfer potatoes into bowl with slotted spoon.  While transferring hold paper towel in other hand and firmly press each spoonful of potatoes removing as much water as possible.  Or put all into cheesecloth and squeeze out all water. 
6. Add onion, eggs and matzah meal, alternating 1 egg then 1 tbs. matzah meal.  You are looking for a consistency of which the potatoes will bind together while frying.
7. Heat oil in pan over medium heat to 350F.  I like a little less than 1/4 inch. 
8. "Test" your oil and your batter - put one spoonful of batter into the oil.  I suggest a heaping tablespoon full, which ends up being a little smaller than the circumference of a baseball about 1/4 inch think.  The batter should stay together when you flatten it out.
9. Don't touch it!!  Let it fry for about 2 minutes than flip it and fry for about 90 seconds.  It should be brown and crisp. 
10. Adjust your oil and adjust your batter by adding more egg or matzah meal if necessary.
11.  Put 4-6 spoonfuls in your pan as quickly as possible as to not change the temp of the oil.  Try not to let them touch.
12.  Remove them and place on lined cookie sheet.
13. Salt as soon as possible.
14. Can be kept warm in the oven.

Serve them as soon as possible after they are made with a variety of your favorite toppings. 

Friday, December 18, 2009

To Do: December 2009: Get Real and Keep it Simple

I usually shy away from parenting advice, particularly on the blog.  What may work for one parent or child may not work for another.  In the midst of the annual holiday baking season, however, I have to remind myself of something that I want to pass on to you.  The perfect holiday is having your family together happy and healthy - not about how perfect the food, the gifts and the decorations are.

Need some perspective this holiday season, check out Conscious Moms, a site that helps you bring it back to what its about - joy.  Alexandra T. Singer, the founder, writes in her letter about having a child with special needs, "Perfectionism is not a worthy goal, for my child, or myself."  The site is loaded with daily meditations and perspectives on parenting that help you feel centered in the craziness of the holiday.

One of my oldest and best friends, and my son's godmother, Danielle, is a full time working woman and full time mom and she is responsible for hosting Christmas Eve for her family every year.  Instead of stressing out and getting grumpy to her kids and her husband trying to get it all done, she orders Chinese Food and everyone has a blast - that everyone includes her.  That's wisdom.  Having a cocktail party this season - buy some Peppermint Bark from Williams-Sonoma, put together a cheese platter, put out a few baguettes with honey mustard, a slab of cheddar and a store-bought rotisserie chicken.  Everyone has fun if you are having fun.  Having me over?  I'll take a hunk of stinky cheese and some holiday M&Ms - I'll bring the red wine.  Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Food is Community December 2009: Christmas Cookies Part III

In the town where I live, the Crabtree sisters are legendary for their beauty and mad tennis skills but get to know them better and you'll find they can bake too!  These sisters are fortunate enough to live all within a thirty minute drive of each other, and amongst the cousins growing traditions together is getting together with the kids to decorate Christmas cookies.  Who doesn't love the classic holiday sugar cookie shaped with cookie cutters and decorated with icing and candies!?  Sugar cookies allow for the most kid participation because of the decorating - Frosty the snowman?  Christmas tree?  Star?  or in the case of my kids Unknown Object with too much icing and sprinkles?  Its a holiday tradition in the making.  The little hint about any batter with this much butter that you want to shape - if the dough gets warm the shapes will not be crisp, so make sure to keep what you are not using in the fridge.  

Sugar Cookies
2 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup soft butter
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract

(1) In food processor, beat softened butter (cut up), sugar, eggs and
almond extract until light and fluffy.  (2) Mix salt, baking powder and
flour together in separate bowl.  (3)  Gradually add flour mixture in to
food processor mix.  (4) Form a ball with the dough and refrigerate for
2-3 hours to firm.  (5) Cut the ball in half and place other half in the
refrigerator while you work with the other half.  (6) Place 1/2 of dough
on a floured pastry cloth and roll dough flat and shape with cookie cutters.
(7) Bake on a greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes or
less. (8) Frost/decorate as you wish! 

Note: I just made these this week - if you are looking for great decorating yummies - like the old fashioned pearl candies - check out Williams Sonoma stores!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Food is Community December 2009: Christmas Cookies Part II

The Needham girls - originally of South Jersey- are the kind of girls you don't like at first.  They roll out of bed looking like the rest of us look after serious effort, and they look better in a bikini (weeks after having their second kid) than most women before they had kids.  But if you can get past all that - and I know its tough - its worth befriending them for the oatmeal cookies they bring by when you are having a rough day and the cupcakes made with the secret family recipe that get dropped off "for your kids" on their birthdays (I try to shove them in my mouth before my kids see so that I don't have to share.)  

After serious begging, I convinced one of the sisters to share this simple but totally yummy recipe for holiday treats - here it is with two different versions.  If you are interested in more fun desserts with pretzels click on the Snyders link below.  

Chocolate Covered Pretzel Bites
1 bag "snap" pretzels (Snyders brand...and not butter snaps!)
hersheys kisses


Turtle Pretzel Bites
1 bag "snap" pretzels

Preheat oven to 350.  Unwrap all the hersheys kisses or rolos (hardest part I swear).  Lie pretzels out flat on baking sheet and place a rolo OR hersheys kiss (depending on which recipe you are following) on each pretzel.  Bake for about 3-5 mintues (the rolo or kiss WON'T look melted).  
When they come out and are still warm squish a M&M onto the kisses OR pecan into the rolos.  They take a LONG time to cool.  I usually let them sit on pan on the counter for a few hours to stiffen and then eventually place them in the refridgerator to really firm up!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Momma Like: December 2009: Be Nonchalant

If you happen to be in Wakefield, RI and you stumble across this amazing place - lucky you!  Its the convergence of natural parenting and natural style.  If not, check out Nonchalant Mom online on her blog or online store.  From Benk wool to Hable Construction pilows and my  new favorite.... Rosenberg Cph oilcloth tablecloths which the kids can spill on, do art projects on and still the table looks modern and clean!
Looking for parenting advice from an all natural voice - check out the tips on everything from breastfeeding to - believe it or not - flatulence.  

Momma Like: December 2009: This is Warm

Utility Canvas

One of my oldest friends, Annick, is the kind of girl who could make the trunk of her car look good.  An amazing photographer, she has an eye for design but because she is an even better photo editor, she knows how to edit her space.  Years ago, she introduced me to one of her go to stores Auto - and since then, this is auto, has been one of my favorite online reads.  My pick this year is the utility canvas blanket for $125.  Perfect for stroller, bed, car, picnic and lets face it... couch, its just the right amount of soft and textured (see below), comes in pungent colors (see above) and is heavy enough for evening snuggles in front of the 1947 Maureen O'Hara version of Miracle on 34th Street.  
<B>Utility Canvas</B><P>
Inspired by vintage mover's blankets, these colorful throws and blankets are garment dyed to give it a worn feel. Soft yet sturdy, it's great on a bed, couch, in a car, at a picnic or at the beach. 
<li>100% cotton </li> 
<li>Size: throw 56 x 70</li>
<li>Machine washable</li>

If not in stock, lead time is  6-8 weeks
As featured in <i>The New York Times</i> Gift Guide 2008

Monday, December 14, 2009

Buy of the Day: December 2009: Alpaca Baby

Pearl -  Baby Alpaca Hat in Ecru with Ears and Pom Poms

Everywhere in the Northern part of the U.S., winter has finally arrived - just a few days shy of its official entry on the winter solstice, December 21st - the shortest day and longest night of the year.  Ready to bundle up?  Treat your little one to this Etsy find, a baby alpaca wool hand-knit hat for $40.  Knitka's shop is loaded with luxuriously edgy hats for boys and girls this winter.  My next favorite is the Soho Girl's Headband for $35 - an adorable gift for the seven year old girl who is too cool to wear her hat to school.    Wishing you cozy shopping with your laptop next to the fire!  

Friday, December 11, 2009

Food is Community December 2009: Christmas Cookies

What's better than a cookie party right?  You bring a couple dozen cookies to a friends house and trade with a bunch of women who make equally yummy treats and create a great selection at Holiday parties or even around the fire.  This year, I am highlighting sisters and their holiday cookie recipes - please write in and tell me about your sisters and your favorite recipe to make together.  

First contribution is from my family and it requires history.  In the 1940's, when my grandparents married, it was nearly scandal in my grandmother's Italian community that he was Greek, and maybe more so with his family.  Early in their marriage, to make my grandfather happy, my grandmother, Lillian, worked very hard to learn the famous Greek dishes for each of the holidays.  Though she never said so, I imagine it must have been a moment of great pride when, after years of work, her version of the families Greek recipes eclipsed her mother-in-laws.  With no recipe was this more evident than the Greek Christmas cookie - κουραμπιέδες (or pronounced in English - at least in my family- {GCoo-lah-byeh-thes}).  These almond flavored, powdered sugar covered version of shortbread are named appropriately as celebration cookies - traditionally for Christmas, baptisms, anniversaries and weddings.  These cookies are so good that my grandmother would have to hide them - more from my Dad and his sisters than from me and my cousins.  I cannot recommend them enough - they will be fantastic the first time you try them but better each and every time after that. 

My Dad's sisters and their sister-in-law - my mother - make these every year and they are the best.  One of the women makes it better than the other two (I am not mentioning names) but she swears her secret is putting a picture of my grandmother in the kitchen while she is baking them.   On a personal note - the adorable little boy in both pics is my cousin Tom who is getting married this month to a fun and gorgeous woman - GO TOM!


1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup chopped almonds
1 lb. salted butter, softened
5-6 cups of flour (start with 4 1/2, add rest gradually)
Confection sugar after they come out of the oven.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, bake.  Cream the sugar, butter, egg and chopped nuts.  Add flour last, mix and pinch to know if more needs to be added.  The pinch should remain for a few seconds if the dough is ready.  Roll out into the shape of a chunky letter "s" or into a round cookie.
Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 for about 20 mins.
Look at the bottom, if they are slightly brown - just starting to brown, they are done.
Roll out wax paper, sprinkle with confectioners sugar, put hot cookies on it, 
add more confect. sugar on top...

Buy of the Day: December 2009

Hooded Cardigan
Any babies on your Christmas list this year?  Check out miniboden's 50% off sale today.  The sale started Monday and will continue for a few weeks, but frequent Boden shoppers will tell you sale stock flies fast.  My pics - this Hooded Cardigan for babies is a steal at $32.  The girl's silk party dress is perfect for Holiday parties, birthdays and an evening at the Nutcracker - love it in raspberry!  Want to splurge for you?  The Marylebone coat, adorable in green dots and practical in black and navy, is a 100% wool lined jacket for $165.  As the English say - "Happy Christmas."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Momma Like: December 2009: TadaShop

Meet hadley bottom (Page: Meet Hadley)

Looking for a way to streamline your holiday shopping this year?  Check out TadaShop.  These two moms of three each launched a fresh site which allows you to see at a glance everything hip this season without searching several different sites.  From the mass market JCREW to the boutique Pink Chicken, these ladies have it covered for you.  On a budget?  Check out the sale page (great sign that they opened with one - don't you think?) and their special affiliate promotion codes.  Visions of my little guys in TadaShop inspired looks will be dancing in my head this holiday..... (photo from TadaShop)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Momma Like: December 2009: Give Wool

photo courtesy of Swans Island.

Is there anything more cozy than snuggling by the fireside with a wool blanket?  The artisans of New England don't think so.  From Maine to Massachusetts, there are several options for every budget and purpose.  For the organic wool lover looking for an heirloom to pass on for generations, go to Swans Island which produces an all local wool textile that has won the Smithsonian Blue Ribbon for craftsmanship.  These blankets are the perfect statement as a fireside throw or as the finishing touch to a master bedroom.  Looking for something more reasonable, Bullrush Farm in Vermont makes their own wool and sends it to weavers on Prince Edward Island, selling them for $115 to $150 depending on size on Local Harvest.  For something more artistic in design, check out Bedfellow Blankets by Peggy Hart based in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  

If you are willing to venture out of New England, Pendelton - originally of Oregon - is still the master of the American wool blanket (the Grand Tetons Blanket has been a favorite camping and fishing accessory of mine forever), and right now, they are making a washable wool blanket for Lands End that is on sale for $89 - just the right price for a blanket that might start out in the stroller, and end up in twelve years at football games.  Cozy up!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Food December 2009: The Pomegranate


The Pomegranate, along with the fig and the olive, are to me evidence of a higher power.  They are absolutely perfect in their natural form but can be used in so many ways to celebrate food.  My love affair with the pomegranate started in 2001 when I saw Nigella Lawson cut one open on Nigella Bites on the Food Network.  This weekend, with the holiday parties and open houses beginning, I saw it featured in several ways that got the juices flowing...

As a cocktail served over ice with 1 shot of vodka, 1/3 cup of champagne and and 1/3 cup of POM juice. 

As an hors d'oeuvre served on top of crostini and a small slice of fois gras, see with december 2007 Gourmet magazine to learn a date puree to go with it.

and my favorite straight from Nigella Lawson, with the seeds of 1/2 pomegranate sprinkled over a bowl of fresh hummus and the other 1/2 squeezed fresh juice over the top.

Tip from Nigella - to get the seeds out most effectively, just turn one side upside-down and smack with a wooden spoon on the peel side.  At first nothing will happen but before the minute is up, the seeds start to rain.  My favorite entree this season is a roasted lamb served with a pomegranate demi-glaze.  ENJOY!

6 lb. leg of lamb, bone -in 
1 head fresh garlic, crushed
10 sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 lemons, juiced
2 teaspoons sea salt crushed 
1 teaspoon fresh crushed pepper
 1/3 cup olive oil

In the morning, add the crushed garlic, chopped rosemary, juiced lemon, salt, pepper and olive oil to a ziploc bag and smush it around before adding the lamb.  Let sit in fridge at least 8 hours.  Take out of the fridge to bring to room temp and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place the lamb on a roasting rack on the rosting pan and set aside the marinating juices in a bowl.  Place the lamb in the oven and immediately reduce heat to 325 degrees.  It will roast about 2 hours (or 20 minutes a pound).  Approximately every 20-30 minutes, use a couple of tablespoons of the marinating juices to baste the lamb.  I take the lamb out at 150 degrees - or slightly more than medium rare.   Let sit for 5-7 minutes before serving.

As soon as the roast is in the oven, begin the demi-glaze process.  A true glaze can take up to 24 hours, but this short cut version is delicious. 

1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1/2 cups lamb stock(whole foods, gourmet stores)
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup POM or fresh squeezed pomegranate juice
pinch of salt
pinch of finely ground pepper

On medium heat, heat the oil in a high sided, small saucepan and put in garlic, stirring for 30 seconds.  Add the stock, wine, and juice as well as salt and pepper.  Let come to a simmer and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Watch the sauce reduce by more than 1/2 over 1 1/2 hours until the sauce is thicker - almost a syrup. If after 1 12 hours, you are still runny, turn the heat up, watching carefully Set aside.  

When lamb is ready, slice thinly with a staggered stack and drizzle with the demi-glaze.  Serve.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Food December 2009: Harvest Vegetables

While cooking dinner for a friend this week, I - without knowing it - made her the two vegetables she was least likely to eat - one of which was brussel sprouts.  Miraculously she ate them.  I may have a convert on my hands, not because of how I cook them, but because while brussel sprouts are everyone's least favorite vegetables growing up, when they are rediscovered in adulthood they are likely your favorite.  Here's a simple way to bring out their sweet spicy flavor. 

1 pound brussel sprouts
1 small sweet potato or yam cut into small 1/2 inch chunks
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt ground - pinch
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 crushed cloves of garlic

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  To prep the sprouts, cut off the stem on the bottom and peel the top few damaged, yellow or brown leaves.  Toss with sweet potatoes in the olive oil - remember that its okay to be generous here because the extra oil will be left on the pan and because olive oil is so good for you.  After fully coated, add spices and toss again.  Place on a flat roasting pan or sheet pan and cook for roughly 35 minutes - stirring frequently (at least four times).  If they are starting to brown early, then you are not stirring enough. They are done when a fork easily and smoothly pierces them.  The sweet potatoes should be almost falling apart - like a garnish for the main contender - the sprouts.  YUMMY!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Momma Like: December 2009: Advent Calenders

Buckets of Joy Advent Calendar

Starting on December 1st each year, Santa's elves visit our house every night and leave surprises in the advent calendar.  Sometimes its a treat or a little toy but many times its a poem or a note with news from the North Pole, an update on the reindeer or a "Naughty/ Nice" report.  If you are judging - you are right - much like "Elf on a Shelf," this is potentially a cheap way to parent... but I like the tradition and my kids LOVE it.  With so many different options of advent calendars, and so many different ideas of what to stuff them with - the elves have a lot of fun.  If you are worried that the holiday season has become a little too materialistic, there are creative choices.  Have the elves leave your children a task every day, instead of a gift; e.g. coming up with a toy that they don't use anymore to give to a local children's shelter, baking cookies for their teacher, writing their brother or sister a note telling them why they are special.  Pottery Barn Kids and Land of Nod usually have great calendars, but my favorite this year is from Growing up with Garnet Hill and its on sale until December 15th for $48.