Friday, February 27, 2009

Off to California....

...enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Head to Toe

Well, as promised, I'm following up my green cleaning products post and my green facial products post with a green body products post.

I'll admit that when it comes to body level skincare I'm not particularly religious. I went through that whole fluffy plastic loofah and foamy shower gel phase in high school that every female I knew succumbed to at one point or another, but generally I am fairly laissez-faire about the whole thing. But occasionally, when the situation gets particularly dire, I snap to attention. And when I do, I need some products to use, and as I am now paranoid about my skin absorbing untold toxins, I need for them to be green.


I have always had a little bit of a thing for salt and sugar scrubs. I was a pretty loyal devotee of the aromatherapy scrubs at Bath and Body Works for a while, but once the price got up to $20 I couldn't really justify it anymore. I mean really, oil and salt? Let's be serious, shall we?

So I resorted to the granola option and started making my own. I took a very picturesque jar that I had picked up at the Container Store,

filled it about 3/4 of the way full with fine sea salt (but use sugar if you prefer), then poured enough carrier oil (I used sunflower oil, but sweet almond oil or another odorless vegetable or nut based oil would be fine as well) in to cover it by about an inch. I also like to add ten or so drops of an essential oil to the mixture (Neal's Yard has a high quality selection at very fair prices, I particularly like the lemongrass oil) so that I can give myself a little hit of aromatherapy in a steamy shower. This is such a moisturizing treatment that there is absolutely no need for any lotion or other moisturizer once you are out of the shower.

For days that you don't feel like dealing with a scrub, I highly recommend running a Japanese bath brush over your dry skin before getting in the shower, and then following up with a rub-down of argan oil after the shower.


I'll be very honest with you. I have never found an antiperspirant that truly stops me from sweating. I don't know if it was just that I never hit on the right brand or if I'm a particularly prolific sweater, but nothing ever seemed to work. So when I heard that conventional antiperspirants contained ingredients that were associated with various horrible health problems, I figured why not switch to a deodorant? Who cares if it doesn't stop sweat, the antiperspirant doesn't either!

After quite a few years of trying various brands (including at least a year of using various crystal rocks, for which I was mocked mercilessly by Zenia) I have finally settled on one: Dr. Hauschka Floral Deodorant.

I feel that I should qualify this a bit. The product smells amazing, and I find that it keeps me smelling reasonably good all day. But I should warn you that it is a fairly wet formulation, so you need to wait a bit for it to dry once you put it on. As I like to take my time in the morning, applying my eyeliner, blow drying my hair, etc., this doesn't pose a problem for me, but it may be a turnoff for some. I would imagine the $20 price tag might be an issue for some as well. I personally don't mind the splurge since I seem to have started making the vast majority of my beauty and grooming products, and thus am saving untold amounts.

Hand and Foot Creams

I've already mentioned my absolute love of Aveda's foot cream, and that adoration remains unabated. But I have got to add a plug for Dr. Hauschka's hand lotion (can you tell I have a serious thing for the good doctor? Really, everything from the line is fantastic).

The formulation is as perfect as a lotion could get. It soothes and smoothes dry skin, it absorbs quickly and again, smells wonderful. Although, like most Dr. Hauschka products, I can't quite identify what it is they smell like...just something natural and soothing, whatever it is.


And lastly, bath products. I actually really love to take baths, but don't do it too much. My tiny apartment in Philadelphia inexplicably had a big, deep bathtub, so I took quite a few very luxurious soaks, particularly in the winter. At the time I was pretty obsessed with L'Occitane's grape bath tonic, which provides some nice bubbles and an intoxicating scent.

Now, I'm back in New York and living in a bigger apartment but my bathtub is annoyingly shallow. I attempted a soak the other night and the top of my ribcage wasn't even submerged. Suffice to say I am no longer investing too heavily in bath products. So I'm sort of back to the do it yourself stuff...the bathtub version? Epsom salt! $2 for a carton, just throw a cup or so in a tub of water, add whatever essential oil you like (again, Neal's Yard) for a nice, cheap, relaxing soak. A little grandma but hell, we'll all be there eventually.

So there you for the whole body!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

About Face

In addition to being assaulted from all sides by the toxins in our household products, we also are apparently absorbing some worrying things from our beauty and grooming products.  I have no idea if this is true, but I've read that our skin absorbs 60% of what we put on it, so it certainly is worth knowing what you're slathering yourself with.

There is quite an extensive list of ingredients common to skincare products that one is supposed to avoid.  I can only ever remember one or two of them...parabens and pthalates are generally the ones that stick out.  I think because they both disrupt hormones and or cause cancer somehow, prospects that I find to be particularly unappealing.  But my point is that I cannot be trusted to weed out the OK products from the not OK products so I often throw up my hands and go for the hippie organic brands where I know everything is OK.  So if my skincare regime seems a little granola, that is why.


Forever I was in love with Shu Uemura's Cleansing Oil.  I would rave about it to anyone who would listen.  But then I began to realize that it was essentially mineral oil.  The formulation was genius, I mean this is mineral oil that washes clean away when you combine it with water, but mineral oil all the same.  And then I read somewhere that mineral oil essentially creates a plastic-like layer over your skin, which immediately grossed me out.

So I did a bit of internet research and discovered that one can make cleansing oil at home without too much trouble.  Just mix castor oil (this is apparently a cleansing, occasionally drying element) with some sort of carrier oil like sweet almond oil or sunflower oil (my personal preference).  For dry skin, it should be about an 80/20 split between carrier and castor, for combination skin (mine) 70/30, and for very oily skin, 60/40.

Now the one drawback is that the oil does not foam and wash completely away like Shu Uemura.  Instead, you need to rub pretty long and hard with wet hands, and occasionally you'll get a little oil on the towel you use to dry your face afterwards.  But, that aside, my skin has been looking absolutely great if I do say so myself (usually winter is a disaster for my face), and this little concoction costs about one tenth of the Shu Uemura cleansing oil.


ARGAN OIL.  Enough said.


I have been using Retin-A for about fifteen years, and will never give it up.  It would have to be pulled from my cold dead hand.  It makes my skin clear, smooth and soft like nothing else I have ever tried.  I have no idea if it is toxin free, but nothing evil jumped out at me when I perused the list of ingredients, so I will pretend everything is on the up and up.  I highly recommend begging your dermatologist for a prescription.

Eye Cream

Eye cream is a hard thing for me to evaluate.  I don't quite have wrinkles around my eyes yet, just a vague crepeyness at the corners, so I don't know if the eye cream improves anything since there isn't a huge amount to improve (if I do say so myself).  I just use it to avoid future drooping and creasing.  And I have to say, I have really been enjoying Juice Beauty's Smoothing Eye Concentrate.

I will say that my little crepey droop does seem to be much improved after using this product.  Juice Beauty is such a lovely line (and all green/organic!) that I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.


I have been fairly obsessive about sunscreen my whole life.  My skin is pale, so my mom was slathering me on a regular basis when I was very young.  And from about the age of twelve, I began to use sunscreen daily, so I am at this point fairly informed when it comes the the product.

There are two different types of sunscreen:  those with chemical blockers and those with physical blockers, like titanium dioxide.  For quite some time I have been using Anthelios SX Daily Moisturizer (chemical blocker), and had been loving it.  But sadly, I discovered the dreaded parabens on the ingredient list so had to change.

Most organic sunscreens have physical blockers.  The one downside with these is that they give your face a whiteish cast when you first apply them.  The cast disappears shortly, but it is a little disconcerting at first.  I've tried quite a few different brands, and have found that they all have this same effect, so it is just something that I've learned to live with.  And I ultimately decided to go with Juice Beauty's Mineral Sheer sunscreen because I like the level of moisture it offers, plus it smells good.

Tomorrow:  Green products for the body

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Clean Green House

It seems virtually impossible these days to avoid reading about the multitude of environmental catastrophes that are constantly levied against the planet.  It is just stunningly depressing, so in order to avoid great despondence, I tend to push this knowledge to the back corners of my mind, only to be retrieved during moments of intense reflection.  Besides, generally speaking, there is little that we as individuals can do to stop deforestation, improper mining practices, pollution from coal power plants and effluent pouring into water sources so it is not particularly productive to get too overwrought.

However, I find it totally impossible to ignore what I learn about household toxins...otherwise known as common items in the home that we all use on a regular basis that are, to varying degrees, toxic.  Cleaning products are the most common offenders.

So because I am utterly psychotic about very specific aspects of my health (I am not a regular exerciser nor do I shun heavy cream yet I refuse to use deodorant with aluminum because I heard once that aluminum causes Alzheimers) I have been on a quest to find some greener household product options.

My first discovery actually originated from Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, which is quite a good reference book if you are so inclined.  She recommended Dr. Bronner's castille soap as a gentle all-purpose cleaner.  

I had vague recollections of seeing these ubiquitous bottles in health food stores so I figured the product couldn't be too poisonous.  Turns out it is vegetable based, biodegradable and the ingredients are all fair trade and organic.  Can't get much better than that for environmental cred.

According to the bottle this soap has 32 uses.  That is, of course, if you count their suggestion of tooth cleaner.  I personally do not.  But I have found three excellent uses for this cleanser.  First, as a dishwashing soap (for hand washing, not the dishwasher).  I dilute it with equal  parts water (and decant into my old dish soap bottle...recyling!) and I've got an excellent sink side companion.  Second, as laundry soap for my hand sweaters and, as my mother would say, my "unmentionables".  And lastly, as an ingredient for my all-purpose spray cleaner.  Or rather, the recipe that Sophie Uliano suggests in her book Gorgeously Green:  8 Simple Steps to an Earth-Friendly Life:  

2 cups water
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon castille soap (I up this to 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup hydrogen peroxide
20 drops of tea tree oil
20 drops of lavender or lemongrass oil

Just a suggestion: I would not ignore the essential oils.  This stuff smells a bit...strong, shall we say, if you omit them.

This is great for kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, shower tiles and toilets (excluding the bowl, obviously), and it is considerably cheaper than Fantastic, 409 or other similar unnecessarily specific cleaning products.  Especially if you go for the 99 cent spray bottles at Home Depot.  

Related to this, instead of Windex, buy yourself a second spray bottle and fill it with half water and half white vinegar.  Just as good, about 80% cheaper and totally non-toxic.

Back to Dr. Bronner's.  My personal preference is for the almond soap, but if you are going for the tooth brushing thing, knock yourself out with the is very, very minty.

My second discovery is hardly a discovery.  Apparently my grandmother uses Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser, as did her mother.

It is biodegradable, phosphate free (I'm not sure why this is good, but it sounds like a big plus), fragrance and chlorine free, and best of all, it is actually quite an effective cleanser.  I use it mostly in my bathtub, but have been known to scour my kitchen sink with it on occasion as well.

On to the toilet.  Now I'll admit that I haven't found a great toilet bowl cleaner that is green.  Ecover makes a decent one, but I need to use quite a bit of product to get the desired effect, and I do have to scrub a bit.  Ms. Uliano suggests dumping a cup or so of vinegar in the bowl and letting it sit for a while, which works for below the water but requires scrubbing above the waterline.  So bottom line, if you are willing to work a little (and it really is a minimal effort) there is no need to use traditional toilet bowl cleaners.

And lastly, detergents.  I adore Ecover's laundry detergent.

Ecover is a progressive Belgian company that has been producing green products since 1980.  This detergent smells lavender and some other unidentifiable herb.  Only a small amount of product is required to clean a huge load of clothes, it is easy on your garments, and you don't have to worry about toxins clinging to your clothes or washing down the drain into our water supply.

Same goes for their dishwashing tablets.

Now admittedly these last two items have less to do with not wanting to poison myself and more to do either with my yuppie tendency to buy nice smelling European products or my desire to minimize my own contribution to pollution.  I am going to go with the latter.  We all could stand to contribute to some sort of a solution to our looming environmental problems, don't you think?  

Tomorrow:  Green Facial Products

Monday, February 23, 2009

A Place To Lay Your Head

I have always loved to travel. My parents spent their pre-child days wandering around Europe (college and just post), exploring the backwoods of Mexico and backpacking throughout the Western United States (20s and early 30s). When my sister and I came along they threw us in the car for road trips to National Parks (I think I've been to pretty much all of them west of the Rockies, my first, I believe was Zion when I was two years old), and when we got a bit older we went farther afield (Costa Rica when I was twelve...other than the odd trip to Canada and a day trip or two across the border to Mexico, it was my first international venture).

I was raised to travel so I continued to do so after I left home. It was particularly easy to do in college and grad school, but I always manage to fit in a good trip or two every year even when I am working.

However, with the exception of the odd weekend away, I haven't been out of New York since August, which honestly has me going a bit stir crazy, but also has put me in a nostalgic mood. After flipping through some old photos, guidebooks and the like, I've realized that not only have I been on some fantastic trips, but I've made some really nice discoveries on each one. And after reading Gwyneth's post a few weeks about her favorite hotels (she outed the Beverly Hills Hotel as one of the great gems of Los Angeles, thanks for that insider tip!) I was inspired to share a few of my own choices. They are all relatively cheap, all small, and all independently owned, just the way I like it.

Istanbul, Turkey

Kybele Hotel

My sister and I took a wonderful trip to Istanbul back in 2002, during which we stayed at this eccentric little place.

The Kybele's claim to fame is an obscene number of turkish lamps that hang from ceilings throughout the townhouse. Like, thousands of them, in the breakfast room for example:

A few in one of the sitting rooms:

There are lamps in some of the rooms as well:

The location is wonderful (for us tourists, anyway). It is a short walk to the Blue Mosque, the Haggia Sophia (my favorite of the mosques the city has to offer) and the Topkapi Palace. Not too far from the Grand Bazaar either if I remember correctly. And all of the famous hamams are just a stone's throw away, which is very convenient as you will not want to do much walking (or much of anything really) after being beaten senseless by the giant topless Turkish women who work in these places. By the way, being beaten senseless feels amazing, I highly recommend it.

In addition to having a most charming owner, who also imports rugs...good ones, from what I understand, not the imposters you find on the street in Istanbul, the Kybele also has one of the most amazing breakfasts you will ever have anywhere. The yogurt is beautiful, as are the tomatoes, the cucumbers, the cold cuts, the bread, the jam, the butter, the honey...I get hungry just thinking about it. And for those cereal lovers, they have quite the extensive selection of those as well.

My parents went to Istanbul for the first time last spring and stayed at the Kybele as well. They loved it just as much as we did, so I can only assume that it has held up well over the years. When Robin and I went I believe that it worked out to about $70 per night (I seem to remember that the country was still on the lira at this point), I think my parents ended up paying closer to $120. Either way, the place is a bargain.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Lina's Tango Guesthouse

Zenia and I took a trip down to Buenos Aires in the spring of 2007 and had an amazing time ambling around the city, eating, drinking and shopping for a week. It is a fabulous city...if you love cities, if you love wandering through them and discovering what they have to offer, Buenos Aires is your ideal destination. There weren't many "must sees" which left us free to explore on our own terms, which was exactly what the doctor had ordered for both of us.

Lina's Tango Guesthouse was our home base. What is the deal with the tango part you may ask? Well, Lina, the owner, is apparently a somewhat legendary tango dancer and she has a dance studio in one of the upper floors of the guesthouse. People come from all over to take classes from her, and stay in the guesthouse as they do so. Zenia and I were fairly sure we would be terrible, so skipped that part. Although the locations of various milongas (tango halls, often changing locations each week) were always posted in the front hall, so we went and watched the pros a few times. We became only more sure it was something we had no business attempting this time around.

Anyway, the outside of the place is nothing special. It is in San Telmo, an area that is, shall we say, gentrifying, at the moment. Therefore, the front is sort of fortress-like. Metal bars, metal door. The first time we pulled up Zenia gave me one of those "what have you gotten me into" looks (I get them fairly often from her, but then I deserve them fairly often). But then we walked into this:

...the courtyard where we would enjoy our breakfasts, and where the occasional tango party takes place in the evening. For those wondering, you eat breakfast here if it is raining:

Our room was just off of the courtyard:

Small but charming, and our bathroom was actually freakishly huge. The place is pretty bare TV and you need to do your own breakfast dishes, but this sort of adds to the familial feel of the place. We met some really wonderful people...all women if I remember correctly, many of who either made annual tango pilgrimages or who had retired to Buenos Aires and came by for breakfast and classes. It was a unique look into a community I had no idea existed, and provided a nice extra dimension to the trip.

Now if you like fancy hotels, this is not for you. Make your way over to the Faena if that is your deal. To me, it is the Gansevoort of Buenos Aires (not my favorite place by any stretch), but hey, to each his own.

Lina provides a true guesthouse. You feel, at least temporarily, like a part of a little family. And at $70 a night for the best room in the house, you don't ever worry that your family is ripping you off.

Salvador, Brazil

Pousada do Boqueirao

Kearney, Vivian and Laia and I spent a few weeks down in Brazil last January. Although we liked Salvador very much, of the four places we visited, it was probably our least favorite. I think it is probably one of those places that takes some time to get to know, that is not set up for tourists and thus takes some effort to like, so I do actually want to go back at some point and put in that effort. But weirdly, it was Salvador that I was saddest to leave, due I think to the wonderful accommodations we were forced to abandon.

Pousada do Boqueria is owned by a force of nature named Fernanda. By the look of the Pousada, which is essentially two townhouses on a hill combined, she is a lover of the arts. The airy spaces are filled with pieces, about 70% of which I wanted to take home with me.

The building is largely oriented towards the ocean, which provides a beautiful view to many of the rooms. Our first room was essentially the entire top floor of one of the townhouses that looked out on the ocean. It was, sadly, not air conditioned but there was a decent breeze from the ocean that kept us reasonably cool. And the gorgeous dark woods and mosaic tiles throughout were so wonderfully distracting that I could look past the minor discomfort.

We had to switch rooms the last night, and in exchange for a smaller, air conditioned room, we gained an amazing ocean-oriented terrace:

Me and Vivian taking it all in:

The lower floors of the pousada were no less spectacular. We ate our breakfast here every morning:

And chose from the beautiful buffet of fresh, amazing fruit, breads, cakes and eggs here:

It fortified us for a day of wandering around the neighborhood:

And checking out the local wares:

This is all meat in various forms, if that wasn't obvious. I was unsure why Laia was taking a picture of me in front of it, by way of explanation for my expression.

And as we left what had been a wonderful home for our week in Salvador, Laia, Vivian and I couldn't help but purchase some of the pieces that Fernanda had for sale in her front room. Vivian and I both came away with slightly deranged looked ceramic horse puppets (I to this day am thrilled with the purchase) and Laia bought a papier mache clown, which required quite the packing job:

We named the object Richie, and carried it faithfully into the wilderness of the very remote Pantanal. Here we are, beginning our six hour trip on a dirt road into the wilds of central Brazil. Despite the stunning mosquito situation, it was amazing.

But I digress. At approximately $150 per night for a room that accommodates four, Pousada Boqueirao can absolutely not be beat. It was exactly representative of my idealistic image of Brazil, which is about the highest praise I can offer.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Brodie is a friend of mine who is quite simply, very cool.  He's from Pennsylvania but has a distinctly Berkeley vibe about him, he has played in various bands (and from what I understand these are actually good bands...he was on TRL once) and is kind, considerate and smart to boot.  He was one of the great surprises that business school offered.  Not the kind of person I thought I'd meet there, but the kind I had hoped to meet.

When I met his wife, Claudia, I realized that in addition to all of his other good qualities, he also had great taste in women.  She is cool as well, in the same down to earth way that Brodie is.  A real woman's woman, she's just a very comfortable, fun, smart person to be around.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to find out that their four year old daughter Margot is also cool.  My main recollection of this kid is of watching her run around a vast expanse of lawn in back of a professor's house on the Main Line and thinking that her outfit was way hipper than the hippest outfit I have ever put together.  With her Italian soccer jacket and frilly skirt over pants, she was straight out of Williamsburg, but in a good way.  

Now I'll admit I'm picky when it comes to children.  Many of them are annoying.  A few of them are cute.  She's one of the cute ones.  Very cute.

Although I've known Brodie and Claudia for a few years, I only just realized a month or so ago that Claudia has been writing a blog called Mothering Mini about their little family (mostly about Margot) for the past three years.  The things you find out about people.

Anyway, I just spent a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon on the couch in the sun perusing her archives and the exercise has left me with quite the warm fuzzy feeling.     

Brodie with Margot, the early years:

I love this because this is how my dad used to carry my sister and I around when we were little, so it brings back some nice memories.  But our backpack was lime green, and it mostly was used in national parks, not so much for everyday stuff.

Here's Margot looking like a little oracle:

And here she is all grown up.

Beautiful, no?

Just when you've had it with bratty kids (I think I go to the Whole Foods in Tribeca too much...there is a particularly high instance of brat in that place) you can bring yourself back from the brink with a glimpse into the Ruland household, where the kid is bright and precocious yet well behaved, and the parents are just great people who love each other and their child.  A valuable resource indeed.   

A Kindred Soul

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it before, but I am totally obsessed with Bravo.  It's anti-intellectual of me, but I love every single one of their reality shows.  Top Chef, Project Runway, Rachel Zoe, Flipping Out, Millionaire Matchmaker...and the crown jewel that is the Real Housewives series.  Orange County, New York and Atlanta.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that overall I prefer New York, 

but I love Orange County for the fake boobs, 

and Atlanta for the wigs.

Through my Housewives obsession, I came across a hysterical blog called Scented Glossy Magazines that, at least lately, is devoted entirely to witty commentary on the Housewives episodes.  The woman who writes it is just...witty I guess is the best way to explain it...equally as good as the Fug Girls, which is really saying something as they are the queens of the snarky and yet sympathetic comment (my favorite kind).  She belittles the evil women, calling them out for what they are, spares the sympathetic, generally good women while poking a little good natured fun at them.

Now you likely will not find this site particularly relevant if you don't follow the Housewives on a regular basis (I'm not sure why anyone wouldn't, but it does take all kinds), but if you do, Scented Glossy Magazines will have you in stitches.  

Friday, February 20, 2009

Breakfast: Part III

It never ceases to amaze me how like my parents I am.  There are certainly big differences...they eat dinner early, go to bed early, I eat dinner late, go to bed late.  They live in a bucolic location surrounded by gardens, I live in a apartment (albeit plant-filled) far from any soil.  West coast/east coast, liberal/centrist...the list goes on.  

But there are a lot of little commonalities.  As a child, I remember going with my mom to Berkeley Bowl (the grocery store to end all grocery stores) each Saturday at 9:00 a.m. to help her with the week's food shopping.  Now, as an adult, I do my food shopping on Saturday mornings as market, the butcher, a swing by Citarella if I need anything I haven't found at the first two locations. 

And growing up, my dad used to make us all breakfast each and every Sunday.  It was usually some sort of sweet bread type thing...muffins, coffee cake, cornbread...there was generally fruit and always whole wheat flour involved.  It was a wonderful treat, and always something I looked forward to.  A very cozy family moment, and it took the sting out of the specter of school the next day.  And now, I am the one who cooks breakfast on Sundays.

But, unlike my dad, I am not particularly imaginative when it comes to this ritual.  Rather I've found one breakfast bread that I like (and Paul loves) and have pretty much stuck with it for the past four years:  Chocolate Brioche. 

These buns are little packages of loveliness.  Rather than butter, the dough uses olive oil, which gives it a certain austerity that I love.  

And this austerity is tempered just a bit by a morsel of chocolate melting in the middle.  

It takes a little work to make these, but much of it can be done the day before, leaving only the shaping and baking to do in the morning.  Then you can go about your business enjoying coffee, papers, your loved ones and a steaming hot chocolate brioche.  Perfection.

Baby Chocolate Brioche
From At Home In Provence by Patricia Wells

Makes 12 rolls

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons lavender honey (or other fragrant honey)
250 ml (8 fl oz) lukewarm whole milk (about 105 degrees)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
About 1 1/4 pounds flour
90 g (3 oz) bittersweet chocolate, preferably Lindt Excellence, divided into 12 portions

For the glaze:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Note:  Because I don't have an electric mixer, I make this recipe by hand.  I actually prefer it that way, because I think it makes it easier to get the amount of flour correct, but do as you please.

1.  In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, honey and milk, and stir to blend.  Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the olive oil, eggs and salt, and stir to blend.

2.  Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest possible speed until most of the flour has been absorbed and the dough forms a ball.  (be careful at this step not to add too much flour, it is better to have a dough that is a little too sticky than too dry)  Continue to knead until soft and satiny but still firm, 4 to 5 minutes, adding additional flour to keep the dough from sticking.

3.  Cover the bowl tightly with film and refrigerate.  Let the dough rise until doubled or tripled in bulk, 8 to 12 hours.  (The dough can be kept for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator.  Simply punch down the dough as it doubles or triples.)

4.  About an hour before you plan to bake the rolls, remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Punch down the dough and divide into 12 even portions, each weighing about 90g (3 oz).  With the palm of your hand, flatten each portion into a disc.  Press a piece of chocolate into each portion of dough and shape into a neat round, pulling the dough around itself to form a tight ball so that the chocolate is completely covered with the dough.  Place the portions of dough on a baking sheet, cover with a clean towel and let rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

5.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

6.  Prepare the glaze:  Place the egg yolk in a small bowl and beat lightly with a fork.  Add the milk and sugar and blend.  Remove the towel and brush each piece of dough with the glaze.  Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven.  Bake until the rolls are a deep golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes, turning the baking sheet from time to time if the oven is heating unevenly.  Some chocolate may seep from the rolls, which is normal.

7.  Remove the rolls from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool.  Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  If stored in a sealed plastic bag, the brioche will stay fresh for 2 to 3 days.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Breakfast: Part II

As promised, today is all about fantastic, satisfying non-egg breakfasts. I rarely have anything but eggs in the morning, but occasionally I have mild concerns about the effect this habit has on my cholesterol, so for brief periods I take a little break from the world of chicken ovums.

The fact that I need protein first thing during the day does not, however, change. So on weekdays (I am less concerned with my performance, energy, concentration, etc. on the weekends) that do not include an egg, I need a protein stand-in. Due I guess to a very intense infatuation with French Women Don't Get Fat a few years ago, I am extremely fond of plain yogurt (the french apparently love it). Ronnybrook full fat is my brand of choice.

But yogurt alone won't do it...I need at least a little variety to wake me up. So what I've come up with over the years is a banana cut up with yogurt on top, topped with walnuts (I always keeps them in the freezer...they are really cheap at Trader Joe's) and honey (worth getting some really delicious stuff for this...either from the organic floor at Fairway or from SOS Chefs). It is the perfect combination of sweet/sour soft/hard counterpoints. I tend to eat it a lot in warmer makes me feel sort of like I'm in Greece or something.

As good as this yogurt dish is, on a very cold morning it just doesn't click. So until the weather warms up, I must rely on steel-cut oatmeal.

Now McCann's is great, but to be honest, I just save the tin (again, I think Trader Joe's has a very good price on this) and refill it with bulk steel cut oats that I get from the bins at the health food store. Much cheaper than buying the can each time.

If, unlike me, you don't like to take too much time to cook your breakfast in the morning, you can soak the oats in water overnight (I figure about 1/3 cup per person) and then they only take about 3-5 minutes to cook in the morning. Or if you'd rather do it all in the morning, simmer water equal to four times the quantity of oats, then add the oats, put in a good pinch of salt, and simmer, covered, over low heat for about 30 minutes. I usually check and stir about 15 minutes in just to make sure it isn't sticking too much. If you have a rice cooker the oats can also be prepared in it, but I prefer to use a pot because I find that I like the texture retains a tiny bit of crunch with the pot method.

And lastly, I am a huge fan of muesli. However, I am not a fan of the price...$7 for a small box?!! Just because it is Swiss?!! Highly offensive if you ask me. But luckily, muesli really is as simple as it looks, and is just about the easiest thing in the world to make. Unsurprisingly, Nigella comes to the rescue with a recipe...her granola is so great, why should her muesli be any different? With some good milk (again, Ronnybrook for me), it is an intensely satisfying start to my day.

From Feast by Nigella Lawson

200g mixed nuts (hazelnuts and walnuts are wonderful)
200g organic oats
75g sunflower seeds
150g sultanas (dried sour cherries are also nice)
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Note: I unfortunately only have the weights for these ingredients, not the volume measurements, but honestly just mix the ingredients above until you have the type of mix that looks good to you. There's no need to be precise.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Put the mixed nuts into a food processor and pulse so that some are finely chopped to blend with the oats and others are bigger to give texture.

Spread the oats, mixed chopped nuts and sunflower seeds on to a baking sheet and toast for 20 minutes. After 10, take the tin out, give it a good shake so that everything toasts evenly, and put the tin back in the oven.

Then, when it's had its full time, take the tin out again, give the contents a stir around, and then leave in the tin to cool completely.

Once cool stir through the sultanas and brown sugar and store in an airtight container.

Tomorrow, Sunday breakfast.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Breakfast: Part I

I am just about the biggest proponent of breakfast that you will ever find.  I work about two blocks from my apartment, and yet I still get up two hours before I have to be at work so I can make a good breakfast, eat it at a leisurely pace and read my newspapers.

Everybody has different requirements when it comes to breakfast.  Some people aren't hungry in the morning, some people like something very light, like toast or a brioche, and others, like me, need some serious protein to get through until lunch.   

For the protein crowd, I present to you the poached egg, the greatest breakfast on the planet, and my weekday staple.

I know that poaching an egg in the traditional way (i.e. dropping a raw egg into simmering water) is not particularly difficult, but honestly, in the early morning, such machinations seem like too much.  So instead I employ my trusty egg poacher, a pot with a rack that holds four egg-sized cups over boiling water.  From the looks of the thing it's been in my family for quite some time...a family heirloom that my parents sent me off to college with.

But it really couldn't make things simpler.  You put an inch of water in the pot, set the rack over it with the cups in place, and coat your chosen cup with non-stick spray.  When the water comes to a boil, break an egg in your cup, put the lid on and cook for as long as it takes for your toast to toast (assuming you are toasting frozen bread and like your yolks runny).  Perfect each time. 

Occasionally I need a change of pace so I go with the soft boiled option.  It's a little more work, so generally I save it either for the weekends or for days I don't need to be at work particularly early.

No special equipment necessary...just boil a pot of water, turn down to a simmer and drop your egg in gently.  If your egg came straight from the fridge, simmer for 4 1/2 minutes, if it is closer to room temperature, 4 minutes.  The timing is very important, so set your kitchen timer.  While it cooks, prepare some toast.  Butter it lightly, and then cut into long strips, or soldiers, so that you can dip them into your egg once it is cracked.  Once egg is done, fish it out of the water (I use a chinese strainer) and place it in an egg cup.  Cut the top off (I find a serrated knife works best) and place it next to egg.  Sprinkle coarse salt (I like Maldon) over both the egg and the lid.  Dip toast soldiers in the egg until yolk is gone, then dig the rest out (both the egg and the lid) with a spoon.  Delicious, and oh so civilized.

And last but not least, I absolutely must have my tea every morning, regardless of what I eat.  It is, without fail, PG Tips.  I always go for the loose tea over the tea bags.  I won't try to tell you that I can taste the difference, but the loose takes up much less room, it's a less wasteful option and I like the daily ritual of the teapot and strainer. 

My tea cabinet:

Teapot from the Tao of Tea (lovely gift from my mom), PG Tips Paul brought back from England (they seem to sell the bags in the US, but it's hard to find the loose tea), tea strainer from god knows where (but you can get a similar one here) and the jar is filled with dried hibiscus blossoms from SOS Chefs that I use to make tea in the evening on occasion.

Tomorrow:  non-egg breakfast options.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From Across The Pond

I own an embarrassingly large number of cookbooks, but like many things, I have a few favorites that I find myself reaching for time after desert island cookbooks if you will. This is a series of posts that will describe these books that make up my core collection. I hope that you find them and the recipes they contain as enjoyable and useful as I do.

Well, as this is my fifth post in this little series, it feels only right that it should be my last.  I mean, you couldn't really take more than five books to a desert island, now could you?

And it seems only fitting that my last choice should be the most basic of the bunch:  How to Eat by Nigella Lawson.  For the record, my runner up choices include Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking (this is a small, old-looking paperback that I picked up at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks in the West Village, and does not seem to be on Amazon), The World Vegetarian, Serena, Food & Stories, and At Home in Provence.   

We're all more than familiar with this doyenne of domesticity at this point.  She of the provocative finger licking, suggestive mmmm's and bosom-showcasing tops.  Whatever you may think of the new richer, slicker version of Ms. Lawson, I believe that her basic ethos has remained unchanged:  food should be pleasurable, and to be pleasurable it must be both good and easily doable.

What I love about this book is that, as her first, it is just undeniably her, and her ethos shines through unfettered.  There are no pictures, just pages and pages of wonderful, imaginative recipes interspersed with charming witticisms, light philosophizing and stories.  It almost is a book that you could sit down and read as you would a novel (I actually have done so, albeit in a piecemeal fashion).

The recipes alternate between things that your vaguely alcoholic but very cultured British aunt would request, if you had one that is (I personally have always wanted one, she would eat the Rhubarb, Muscat and Mascarpone Trifle), things that a man with very basic taste in food would love (Minute Steaks With Bearnaise Sauce), things that a sophisticated 30-something woman would prepare for dinner on her night in (Sole With Chanterelles), and things that a family as a whole could enjoy together (Spanish Stew).

I have a particularly soft spot for the Barbados Cream (I believe you are supposed to serve it over fruit or something similar, but embarrassingly, I tend to eat it without accompaniment...while standing in front of the refrigerator) and Anna's Chickpea and Pasta Soup.

Barbados Cream
From How to Eat by Nigella Lawson

Serves 6-8

1 1/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cup plain yogurt
about 1/3 cup light brown sugar (I like to use dark)

Mix everything together and beat till fairly but not too stiffly thick.  Pour into a shallow bowl measuring approximately 8 inches in diameter.  Sprinkle over it a thick carpet of brown sugar, cover with plastic, and leave somewhere cool for at least 12 hours or, better still, 24 hours.

Anna's Chickpea And Pasta Soup
From How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson

Serves 8

2 cups dried chickpeas
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons salt
3 quarts vegetable stock, meat stock, white wine and water, or water
3 rosemary sprigs
8 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 pound tomatoes, skinned and seeded (I just used canned whole tomatoes here)
salt and freshly milled black pepper
8 ounces small tubular pasta such as ditalini
2-3 tablespoons chopped parseley (optional, but I like it)
chili oil, for serving (optional)
grated parmesan, to serve

Put the chickpeas in a bowl and cover with plenty of water.  Mix together the baking soda, flour and salt and add enough water to make a thin paste.  Stir this mixture into the bowls with the chickpeas and leave to soak for at least 12 hours, and preferably 24 (I would err on the longer end here, I've found they can take as long as 36 hours).

When the chickpeas have doubled in size (you don't have to get your ruler out; trust your eyes), they are ready to be cooked.  Drain and then rinse them.  Put them in a large pot and add the vegetable stock

Tie the rosemary sprigs in cheesecloth and add to the pot.  This will make it possible to remove the rosemary without leaving any needles to float in the soup.  This might sound persnickety, but when I ignored the advice, I found the sharp and, by now, bitter needles an unpleasant intrusion.  If you feel intimidated by the idea of cheesecloth then use, disgusting though it sounds, an old clean knee-high stocking and tie a knot at the open end (I would just interject that I would bite the bullet and go with the cheesecloth), or use a tea infuser.

Add the garlic to the chickpea mixture and pour in half the oil.  Cover the pot tightly and bring to the boil.  You will have to gauge this by ear without peeping in.  Lower the heat and cook over the lowest simmer until the chickpeas are tender, 2-4 hours.  Take a look after 1 1/2 hours.

When the chickpeas are tender, remove the garlic and the rosemary bundle, which should be floating on the surface.  Puree the tomatoes in a food mill or in a food processor and add to the soup with their juice.  Stir well, add salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 10 minutes further or so.  This is the point at which you should stop when you're cooking the soup in advance.

When you want to eat it, put the soup back on the burner and reheat it, so that you can proceed to the final step, which is to cook the pasta.  Before you add the pasta to the soup, check that there is enough liquid in the pot.  If not, add some boiling water.  Now, to the boiling soup, add the pasta and cook till al dente.  At this point, I like to add chopped parsley, but the glory of this soup will be undiminished if you prefer not to.  But do pour some of the remaining olive oil into the pot of soup, and drizzle some more into each bowl after you've ladled the soup in.  Serve with chili oil and parmesan on the side.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Valentine's Redux

Sadly, dear sweet Paul was in the City of Angels this past weekend, so I was sans romantic partner for Valentine's Day for the first time in several years.  As such, I opted to have a dinner party with my girlfriends on the big night.

The group of invitees eventually swelled to about ten, so when I thought about a menu, some large piece of roasted meat immediately popped into my head.  Easier to feed a crowd this way, I figured.  And then I thought of lamb, and then I remembered I had this wonderful recipe for leg of lamb...

Within a short time I had a whole menu visualized.  And only then did I realize that the menu was identical to that which I had prepared for Paul on our first Valentine's Day together.  It also was, I believe, the first meal that I prepared for him at all.  It went over quite well...I seem to remember him being ecstatic to find that I could cook.  I figured that a repeat performance would only bring good luck in love to those who partook. 

The lamb recipe came from a Food & Wine article from March 2001, and I came across it on the Red Cat website years ago in their press section, as the article featured the owner.  I used to frequent the restaurant when I first moved to New York, so I suppose I must have been perusing their website in search of the menu or something.  It's still a wonderful place, there is absolutely no reason I shouldn't still frequent it I suppose.

Anyway, the recipe is quite special (despite the fact that I overcooked the meat):  Leg of Lamb with Dried-Cherry Sauce.

photo credit:  Food & Wine, March 2001

To my mind, the perfect accompaniment is decadent starch (in this case, potato gratin, with cream please, not milk) and a refreshing vegetable (blanched haricots verts).

The dinner was a success, helped in no small part by some delicious contributions from my guests.  Elizabeth outed herself a quite the chef with her Indian chickpeas on toasts, as did Amy with her fabulous fruit crisp.  It was so fabulous, in fact, that I completely forgot to serve the salted caramels I had made to go along with it, and am now stuck with 36 of these tempting little goodies.  And despite her protestations, Kearney's Thai chicken meatballs were a wonderful start to the meal.  I've been snacking on the leftover balls all day, in fact.

And the very important contributions of various wines and spirits were of course no less important nor less appreciated.  I believe I am now well-enough supplied to drink myself into oblivious for several weeks on end.

Leg of Lamb with Dried-Cherry Sauce
From Jim Bradley, owner of the Red Cat, printed in Food & Wine, March 2001

Serves 10-12

6 ounces basil, leaves only (4 cups)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 coarsely ground black pepper (I just crack it in my mortar and pestle)
One 6-pound boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and tied (I just asked Florence Meat Market for a leg that would feed 10 people, I think it was probably a bit less than 6 pounds)
1 cup dried sour cherries (1/4 pound)
Boiling water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup rich beef stock or veal demiglace
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

The roasted lamb can be prepared through Step 1 and refrigerated overnight.  Bring to room temperature before proceeding.

1.  In a food processor, pulse the basil leaves just until coarsely chopped.  Add the olive oil and the coarsely ground black pepper and pulse just until a coarse paste forms.  Rub the basil paste all over the lamb and set the roast on a rack set in a roasting pan.  Let the roast stand at room temperature for 45 minutes to marinate.  After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2.  Meanwhile, in a small heatproof bowl, cover the dried cherries with boiling water and let stand until plump, about 30 minutes.  Drain.

3.  Season the lamb with salt and pepper.  Roast it on the bottom shelf of the oven for 30 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and roast the lamb for 1 1/2 hours longer, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the roast reads 125 degrees.  Note:  I would suggest checking after an leg was a bit more well done than I would have preferred.

4.  Transfer the roasted lamb to a carving board, cover the roast loosely with foil and let stand for 15 minutes.

5.  Meanwhile, spoon off the fat from the roasting pan and set the pan over 2 burners.  Add the red wine and balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes, then strain the liquid into a small saucepan (I do not find this step to be necessary for home purposes).  Add the beef stock and cook over moderately high heat until reduced to 3/4 cup, about 15 minutes.  Add the reconstituted cherries and the butter, season the dried-cherry sauce with salt and pepper and keep warm.

6.  Remove strings from the lamb roast and cut it into thin slices.  Arrange the meat on a platter, and serve with the sauce on the side.

Potato Gratin (Gratin Dauphinois)
From In Madeleine's Kitchen, by Madeleine Kamman

Serves 6 (I doubled it for my dinner party)

1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons butter
4 large potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/6-inch slices
pepper from the mill
nutmeg to taste
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Crush the garlic clove, rub it all around a shallow ovenproof baking dish to coat the dish.  Discard all traces of the garlic.  Butter the dish with all the butter.

2.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Add the potato slices to the dish.  Season with salt and pepper and dust with nutmeg.  Toss together well, pour the cream over the potatoes and shake the dish back and forth until the salt has dissolved.  Taste the cream.  It should be salted through.

3.  Bake until the cream has reduced completely and breaks butter at its edge (this will take approximately 1- 1 1/2 hours).  During the baking, the crust will build rather rapidly.  Break it several times so the brown cream is again submerged by the yet unbrowned cream in which the potatoes cook.

The cooked gratin will keep at least 2 hours in a slow oven.  

Haricots Verts

Serves 10

1 1/2 pounds haricots verts
2 tablespoons olive oil

Bring large pot of aggressively salted water to a boil.  Blanch haricots verts briefly (1-2 minutes), until bright green but still crisp.  Strain, empty into serving bowl, and toss with olive oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper (I prefer Maldon sea salt here).  Serve warm.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Man After My Heart

I am a dyed in the wool Democrat.  I've spent the better part of my life living in the Bay Area and in New York City, so it would be pretty hard for me to be any other way.  But that said, I love George Will, the conservative pundit at George Stephanopoulos's roundtable on his Sunday morning talk show.

Mr. Will is crotchety but very smart...possibly even brilliant, I can't quite tell.  Although I don't always agree with his politics, I feel like he consistently is the voice of reason in any debate...along with Cokie Roberts, with whom I generally agree politically, and who is also a regular at George's table.

But today my man was on particularly good form.  In response to Sam Donaldson's pontificating regarding the stimulus bill (a vote against it is a vote to do nothing, was essentially his message), Mr. Will responded, after one beat of silence during which he had one of his signature looks of incredulity on his face, "You are a pyromaniac with a fuel of straw men."  Brilliant, I love it!

The Circle of Life

I've never been a huge fan of the donut.  Growing up, my sister and I only got them once a year.  In my elementary school, it was customary for children to bring treats for the class on their birthday, and despite the fact that my mother is a wonderful cook, she had pretty much had it with baking 30 cupcakes by the time I hit third grade.  So on the way to school on the big day, we'd stop by Colonial Donuts in Montclair Village and pick up a couple of dozen bits of sweet fried dough.  They were fine for the occasion, but were certainly not the greatest representation of the donut.  So I assumed donuts were just not that great.

Then, on a college crew training trip in Florida one of my teammates started waxing poetic about Krispy Kreme.  I was skeptical...I mean how good could they really be?  She insisted on driving to a store right then and there.  Our first stop was a store that didn't make the donuts in house.  So we had to drive another thirty minutes into the wilds of strip mall land to find the place they were actually made.  So I got a hot Krispy Kreme right off of the line...the creme de la creme of the donut world.  My response?  Eh.

So, still not so into donuts.

But I was in Balthazar Bakery one day (not an uncommon state for me) and noticed that they had started offering donuts. 

                                         photo credit:

I gave the basic sugar dusted version a try.

                                         photo credit:

A whole new world.  It was not even remotely greasy...more cakey than anything.  Perfectly balanced with respect to sweetness, and although I'm sure this little confection does quite a valiant job of clogging one's arteries, it didn't feel heavy in the least.  I am now a donut convert.  

So much so that I am now trying other flavors:

                                        photo credit:  Serious Eats, A Guide to the Best Donuts in New York

Banana nut...I believe it was pecan, but possibly walnut?  Yum.  Although I'll admit I didn't taste much banana in this banana nut creation, the glaze was satisfyingly hard, shattering as it should when you bite into it, and the nuts were a nice added texture.  I found this version slightly heavier than the classic sugar and just a tad greasy, but that is not to say I didn't thoroughly enjoy it.  One needs a bit of obscene decadence every now and again.

So now it seems that I do, in fact, like the odd donut now and again.  As long as it comes from Balthazar, that is.  Although I've heard Per Se does a nice one as well, so I suppose I shouldn't be too exclusionary with respect to my accepted donut providers.    

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Eyes Have It

I rarely leave the house without at least a bit of makeup, and yet I wouldn't call myself a beauty junkie.  Rather, I have a fairly consistent set of products I use regularly, so when I add an item to my little arsenal, you can be sure that it is quite something.

A few months back, I found myself a little bored with my usual colors, so, using a wedding I was to attend as an excuse, I stopped by the MAC store in Soho to pick up something new.  

Now I've always liked the dramatic look of liquid eyeliner, but after some very tragic episodes in high school, it became abundantly clear to me that I had no business even attempting to use it.  Then these gel eyeliners started popping up, and I was intrigued.  It seemed the perfect answer to my ineptitude.  I bought a couple a few years back but they didn't turn out to be the silver bullet I had hoped for.  They were too thick to begin with and dried out within weeks.

But the adorable makeup artist at MAC used their Fluidline to create the most fabulous Minnie Mouse-esque swoop on me, and I was infatuated with the possibility of reproducing it myself, so, against my better judgment, I bought the navy blue (waveline) one.  At $15 it wasn't actually too much of a gamble.

Turns out the consistency is smooth and perfect, and once applied it stays put.  So it was a keeper, a new addition for me.  But I was still vaguely dissatisfied...not with the product, but with my application.  It took me ages to get a decent looking line, and I never could quite get it right.  

For a time I figured that I was just hopelessly pathetic.  But then I saw the very talented Shu Uemura makeup artist applying eyeliner to my sister with what seemed like the perfect brush.  She was making a flawless cat's eye look pretty effortless.  I silently acknowledged that it was probably her superior skill, but allowed that the brush could have something to do with it.  So again, I took a gamble (again, at $22 it wasn't a terribly big one) and bought the Shu Uemura sable 5F brush.

And you know what?  It makes a surprisingly huge difference.  I actually get compliments on my eyeliner now.  Crazy.  I always knew that the Shu brushes were the best, but I didn't know that they were this good.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Luck of the Irish

It always amazes me what a mystique the Irish hold for Americans. Walking down the street on St. Patrick's Day, even the most non-Irish are sporting clover stickers on their cheeks, and those who have a miniscule of Irish heritage claim themselves fully Irish (which seems to be a constant annoyance to those who truly are).

But on the other hand, I sort of get it. Ireland's a beautiful country, the people are stand-up types who are loads of fun, and the food is great. I was reminded of this last point when I came across a beautiful post on the blog Goldilocks Finds Manhattan about Irish lamb stew. This is a most charming blog written by an Icelandic woman named Ulla. As a photographer, her images are of course beautiful, and I was utterly captivated by the photo of her stew. It was bright, colorful, and just somehow looked satisfying, but quite healthy at the same time.

I absolutely had to give it a try...oh what success! I tweaked it a bit, and it was lovely. Perfect for my Sunday dinner with Zenia. The potatoes cooked long enough to thicken the sauce, the lamb was tender, and the vegetables and herbs lent a lightness to the whole thing. Sadly though, the dish was halfway eaten before I could take a decent photo.

Irish Lamb Stew
Adapted from Ulla from Goldilocks Finds Manhattan's adaptation of Darina Allen's Irish Traditional Cooking: Over 300 Recipes From Ireland's Heritage

2 pounds lamb shoulder chops
salt and pepper
2 small onions, diced
5 medium potatoes (Yukon Gold or similar type), cut into one inch pieces
3 carrots, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon chives, diced
1/4 cup parseley

Trim fat from chops, remove meat from bones, and cut into one-inch pieces. Alternatively, have your butcher do this, but be sure he reserves the bones for you.

Salt and pepper reserved bones, and roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes in heavy bottomed, oven proof pot (preferably a Dutch oven).

Remove bones from oven, and put pot, with bones in it, on stovetop. Add ten cups of cold water to pot and simmer over low heat for one hour, topping up with cold water if the level of the liquid gets too low. Reserve stock, discard bones.

Season the cut up meat with salt and pepper. In pot used to make the stock, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown the meat, in batches if necessary. Once browned, set meat aside in a dish.

If necessary, add another tablespoon or two of olive oil to the pot. Saute onion until translucent, then add lamb, along with any accumulated juices, to the pot, as well as potatoes. Add lamb stock, and if stock does not cover the contents of the pot, top up with water. Simmer for thirty minutes.

Taste, and season with salt if necessary. Add carrots, thyme and chives and simmer for another 30 minutes. Taste, season if necessary, stir in parsley and serve.
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