Debby was prepared to tell her son, who was six, many many things. Explaining why their Jack-O-Lanterns lay destroyed on the sidewalk was not one of them.
She stood there with him, tongue-tied as Finn stared wide-eyed down at the remnants of his Wolverine pumpkin (which had taken them over two hours to carve, thank you very much Martha Stewart and no, it was not “as simple and festive as the wink in her child’s eye” or whatever the page said when Deb went to print it) which lay shattered, partly on their front porch step and partly on the sidewalk. “Maybe it fell,” she said to Finn when she could finally think. “Maybe someone was walking by and a gust of wind! Came and knocked it over and…” her words trailed off as Finn looked at her dolefully. “Not buying it?”
Her son, who was sweet and hopeful, enough to make every day with him a fresh twist in her heart, frowned. “Someone smashed it,” he guessed and sounded bewildered.
“Come on,” Deb said with a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go back inside. Forget the mall. I’ll warm up some cider for us. We’ll watch TV, a movie.” Anything but Wolverine she thought, though it seemed to be on whenever she reached for the remote these days.
But Finn didn’t follow her. Instead, he stepped toward the bits of pumpkin and bent down. “Finn, I’ll do it later-” she started to say but stopped. “What’s that?”
He held a card in his hand and turned it over a few times before she finally took it. And then Deb frowned down at it.
The card had a picture of a pumpkin and a sword hovering over it like the pumpkin was a fat, round mantle. And on the other side, it read in fiery script, “Your pumpkin will be avenged!”
Warm Vanilla Cider
6 cups fresh apple cider (perishable)
2 Tablespoons of packed dark-brown sugar
2 Whole nutmeg seeds
1 Vanilla bean (split and scraped)
6 Ounces of (3/4 cup) bourbon, if desired
1 Cup of finely chopped walnuts
3 Tablespoons of honey
Pinch of coarse salt
1. Make the honeyed walnuts:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine walnuts, honey, and salt in a bowl. Toss to coat, and spread in a single layer onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake, tossing occasionally, until toasted, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
2. Make the cider:
Combine apple cider, dark-brown sugar, nutmeg seeds, and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan. Gently simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and add bourbon if desired. Remove and discard solids. Divide among 6 mugs or heatproof glasses, and top each with a dollop of whipped cream and a few honeyed walnuts.
Callie was not bothered by the fact that she had been born on Halloween. At least, until Halloween came and then she was very much bothered by it.
When she was very small, it wasn’t a problem at all. Her parents made quite a fuss over her birthday and banished the spooky, scary decorations to the basement. She was surrounded by grandparents and aunts, uncles, doting cousins who begrudgingly left their costumes in the car. There was cake and balloons and the only spider webs present were the ones her parents couldn’t reach with the feather duster while preparing for the party.
And then, slowly, Halloween crept in. A cousin defiantly appeared in Callie’s birthday pictures dressed as Spiderman, his arms crossed over his chest. The birthday party got pushed earlier and earlier every year, to make more time for trick-or-treating. Finally, the kiss of death- candy in little bags as the favor with a black spider clinging to the handle. Callie shook her head with disgust but could do nothing, lest she seem ungrateful.
As a young girl, she was resentful of the holiday’s intrusion on her birthday plans. As an adult woman, she shrugged and cast her birthday aside as most do. Some years, she was grateful that Halloween obscured it altogether.
It was her husband TJ who cured the Halloween birthday. For years, he stood back and watched as Callie struggled with how to handle the day. Finally, one birthday, when she complained on the couch during the umpteenth commercial that starred the sexy nurses dancing around with werewolves in front of one of those pop-up Halloween stores, TJ made his play. “Get your coat.” He ignored her protests and ushered her out the door.
It was late and they joined a group of kids on the sidewalk who were making the rounds. “What are we doing?” Callie asked. She folded her arms over her chest and wished she’d thought to put on a bra or at least her nicer sweatpants. TJ whirled her around and pointed to a house down the road. “Knock on the door and demand some candy for your birthday.”
Callie stared at him. “Are you insane?”
TJ gave her a look, the one he reserved for closing deals and proposing marriage after the fourth date. He folded his own arms over his chest and planted his feet. “Indulge me.”
Callie rolled her eyes. “This is nuts.” And she started to turn around and head back inside when she saw a group of nine-year-olds joyfully pocket their candy from the house across the street. She saw herself at nine, sitting at home with a birthday crown on her head, watching the kids walk by in their costumes, and grown woman Callie, lawyer Callie, responsible recycler Callie, marched up to the house those kids had just left and knocked soundly on the door.
Does it make me sound endearing to admit how much I love my birthday? I mean, it’s mostly food related. (Does that help me not sound like a five-year-old diva?)
The Year of 32 (as it will be known) was a big growing year for me. When you get to be a certain age, young things, you don’t grow in height anymore but you do grow in other ways (some years, not so much. What up, 25?!) This year for me was the year that I calmly looked myself in the mirror, smiled and said, “Welp, this is as good as it’s gonna get.” And actually meant it. Food and I, despite our many bumps, are finally at peace.
On every day except my friggin’ birthday. Because BIRTHDAY.
Birthday means pasta, a giant bowl of it. And a cream sauce. And pancetta. And bread. And garlic bread. And wine. And brownies, two kinds (one of them gluten-free! Do I have good friends or what?). And a magical coconut cupcake with a candle in it. And peanut butter and Nutella, by the spoon. And then in cookie form. Because we can do this, we have the technology. BECAUSE BIRTHDAY.
Nutella Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies
1 Large egg
3/4 Cup of Nutella
1/4 Cup of creamy peanut butter (recommended: Skippy or Jif)
1/2 Cup of dark brown sugar, packed (light may be substituted)
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
1/2 Cup of all-purpose flour
1 Teaspoon of baking soda
pinch of salt
5 to 6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (70% cacao or higher)
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine egg, Nutella, peanut butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and beat on high power to cream ingredients, about 5 minutes (scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary). Note from Averie Cooks: The dough will go from very granular, gritty, and loose to smooth, oily, and well-formed in a large mound. If your dough has not come together or is at all gritty, continue to mix until it smooths out.
2. In a small bowl, whisk flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to mixer and incorporate. Another note from Averie: Dough will not look like normal cookie dough and will be tiny balls and flakes that seem almost feathery in the bowl. This is okay. Add the chocolate chunks and beat momentarily to incorporate.
3. Using a medium cookie scoop (about 2 tablespoons) or your hands, scoop out 15 mounds of dough and place them on a large plate. Using your hands, gently squeeze and compact each mound so that it’s tightly packed together. Dough will be both crumbly and oily, but when squeezed, it should stay together. Cover plate with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for at least 2 hours, up to 5 days, before baking.
4. Ready to bake! Preheat oven to 350F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment, or spray with cooking spray; set aside.
5. Space dough 2 inches apart (8 per tray) and bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or until top have just set, even if slightly underbaked in the center. Don’t overbake. Cookies will firm up as they cool, and baking too long will result in cookies that set up too crisp and hard (The cookies shown in the photos were baked for 9 minutes, with trays rotated at the 5-minute mark, and have chewy edges with pillowy, soft centers).
5. Allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes before removing and transferring to a rack to finish cooling. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Alternatively, unbaked cookie dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, so consider baking only as many cookies as desired and save the remaining dough to be baked in the future when desired.
(Did you miss us? We missed us too. Yay Nicole’s move is done! Yay to having a kitchen again, almost! YAY!)
Episode 37: Smitty & The Granddad
Read the First 36 Episodes | Previously on Smitty & The Girl: Frank Mathers Jr. has given his sister and her housemaid quite a shock, arriving in the middle of the night, searching for his long-estranged, cop daughter and not her con artist twin as they expected…
Sylvia awoke in her chambers with a start, the way a person wakes when they’ve just been trapped in a nightmare for hours. She placed one hand on the silk eye wrap she wore over her eyes and instead of removing it to take in the day’s light, she pressed her long, manicured nails against it. She wished she could go back to sleep, sleep through it all.
She didn’t know why her family had decided to arrive back in Cliffwood, and all at the same time, but she knew she’d had a year’s worth of drama in just one epically long day and she was tired. Lord, was she tired. Sylvia Mathers spent the majority of her silvery days swanning around town, perfecting an air of energy and an eccentric lilt, throwing parties, throwing scenes, treating her mansion like an old Hollywood retreat. Now, in her bed, surrounded by silk and cotton, she felt her age settle into her bones.
With a sigh, she removed the wrap from her eyes and they fell on Aggie, who slept slumped on the chaise beside Sylvia’s bed. This was not the first time Aggie had fallen asleep there, in Sylvia’s room. Most often, it was when Sylvia fell ill or drank too much after a party. Truth to be told, Sylvia always thought it was a bit passive aggressive, overkill, that her “loyal maid” would so dramatically position herself at Sylvia’s side, literally, when she was her most vulnerable.
But that morning was different. Sylvia rolled over to her side, felt the sharpness of her hip bones jut into the mattress, and watched Aggie sleep. It wasn’t just Sylvia’s family that had exploded into town, it was Aggie’s family too, the most jagged pieces of her heart had all come flying back at once. Frank was asleep somewhere in the house, probably blissfully unaware of the wreckage that he dragged with him. For a few minutes, Sylvia felt the full weight of the night’s events settle on her and her heart was heavy with it. When she arose from the bed, she would take charge of it all, she knew. She would summon the steel that had settled into her aging bones and protect herself, her and Aggie both. But for a few minutes, there was just silence, Aggie’s heavy breathing and the day’s breaking light.
Happy Fall, party people! Welcome to my most favorite month. Crunchy apples, crisp air, sweater coziness. The only thing I regret about this time of year is how badly I want to burrow under blankets when the alarm goes off in the morning. (Could I schedule some time every morning on my work calendar that just says “Burrowing” and get away with it?)
It feels like it’s been forever. We promise to have new recipes to share this month as Nicole settles into her new life in Philly (the move is over! They’re home!) and unpacks her many, many, many kitchen supplies (I assume that’s being unpacked first, right Nicole?). In the meantime, you can see what we’re cooking and baking every week here and here.
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6 and a half years ago Mike and I packed up our life in Philadelphia and made the move to Chicago, a city we knew very little about. We moved here for design jobs and didn’t know a single person in the entire state (probably the entire midwest actually). Next week we say goodbye to Chicago as we move back to the Philly area. We’re excited to be back on the east coast, close to family and old friends, and back where our roots are, but we owe a lot to Chicago and it’s hard to say goodbye.
Mike and I spent the majority of our time together as a couple in Chicago, we got engaged here, planned our wedding, spent the first 2 years of our marriage here and got our dog Lola here. We jumped around to a lot of different design jobs and met incredible people along the way. Judi and I met at one of those design jobs and started SKS on our lunch breaks. After 4 years of working at different design jobs, Mike and I went on our own and are now working for ourselves, and while we work way too many nights and weekends, it’s incredibly rewarding and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Chicago has given us amazing friendships and great work opportunities and we’re forever indebted to the city for that.
We’re excited for what’s next though. We bought a house, we’re moving to the suburbs, and I turn 30 next month, it’s all very strange and I officially feel like a grown up. We’re ready for some peace and quiet though and anxious to get the next chapter started.
Top food/drink places we’ll miss in Chicago:
1. Rangoli Indian Food
We eat here at least once a week, it’s by far my favorite food in Chicago. It the best food I’ve ever eaten actually.
2. Jeni’s Ice Cream
Free samples of the best ice cream on earth.
4. Mana Food Bar
Mana is a tiny vegetarian restaurant with delicious food and cocktails.
5. Violet Hour
When we want a classy cocktail I like to sit at the bar at Violet Hour and watch them make it. It’s dark and quiet inside, and the bartenders know what they’re doing.
6. The Aberdeen Tap
The Aberdeen Tap is our neighborhood spot. We’ve had many going away parties there (including our own next week), many late night dinners, afternoon drinks on the patio, and brainstorming sessions. And their fried mac & cheese squares and hushpuppies are going to be missed.
Episode 36: Smitty & The Child
Read the First 35 Episodes | Previously on Smitty & The Girl: 15 year old Freddy went for a late night bike ride and instead got the shock of his life- meeting his long-lost aunt and mother on the side of the road… Now they want to have a middle-of-the-night reunion with his dad.
The first time Freddy realized he didn’t have a mother, he was four-years-old. The kindergarten teacher asked them to draw a picture of their family and she ticked off names like reading off a grocery list- “Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters, pets, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, anyone you call family!” And then she wandered back to her desk, not knowing that she had just set a small bomb off in little Freddy’s head.
When his father, who worked nights then as a cashier in the supermarket, came to pick him up from school, Freddy asked him where his mother was. He had asked around and had determined quickly that he was supposed to have one. His father stopped walking and Freddy stopped too, on the sidewalk. He watched his young, handsome father stare down the road, not sure how to reply. “Some mothers leave,” his father said finally and he tightened his hold on Freddy’s hand and they headed home.
He asked his grandmother once. He was eleven. The question had lingered in the back of his mind, always there, and finally old enough to snoop around drawers and closets, Freddy had done his share of investigating. When the search proved fruitless, even the earlier pictures of him featured his father and grandmother, he waited until his father had set off on his shift at the bar and cornered, literally, his grandmother in the kitchen where she stood over the sink, washing potatoes for supper. “Who is my mother?” And when she froze, by then he surmised that it was a family trait, Freddy filled the silence with the questions that had surfaced and re-surfaced over the years. “Is she dead? Did she leave me? What was her name? Does she ask about me?”
His grandmother turned off the water, dried off her hands and walked to the phone. Freddy started to feel himself get angry, irritation rising up in him like a well, but she spoke to his father. She said, “Mike, we’re coming over.” And she grabbed her keys and took Freddy and they went to the bar, because his father had just started the job and wouldn’t be able to come home until his shift was over, she told Freddy.
They went into the storeroom of the bar and Freddy sat on a box of pickles and his father said, “Her name is Petula Mathers. We met in high school. She’s alive. She wasn’t ready to be a mother and that’s why she left town. I have not heard from her since, not once, but I’m sure she loves you, Freddy, because you are completely and thoroughly impossible not to love.”
Apologies for the delay! Nicole is moving! She and her family will be leaving Chicago soon and heading back to the East Coast. Get ready, Philly-area…
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When Chrissy heard the plan, she balked. Her mother was not surprised.
They stood at opposite sides of the kitchen island, at a standstill. Marguerite sipped her coffee and was calm. Chrissy gripped her phone and was not. “I don’t want to go to that.”
She studied her daughter and did what all mothers do- she pretended like she was not talking to her four-year-old, precocious angel fluff with her pig-tails and wide, blue eyes and was, in fact, addressing her fifteen-year-old angel fluff, in all her glory. Her skinny jeans, her carefully chosen slouchy, long-sleeved shirt, her thrift store scarf wrapped around her neck, slouchy hat, smudged eyeliner and her unpolished nails wrapped tightly around her phone. Chrissy’s three last requests to her parents were to be referred to by her given name, Christine; for leave to take a knitting class downtown on Thursday afternoons; for a pair of headphones that were so large and so expensive that Marguerite had been afraid to even handle them at the store when the bored saleskid led her to them. “Why not?”
She had thought this would be a no-brainer. The family would go up to the roof at three in the morning that night, a school night no less, and watch the Borealis Spectralis, which appeared every four years in the sky over New York. But Chrissy recoiled.
“Everyone is doing that,” she said pointedly. “Everyone. It’s been in the news for weeks, everybody’s talking about it, everybody’s going up there. It’s lame and I’m not going.”
Marguerite had not gotten the headphones. She had said yes to the knitting lessons. She called her daughter Christine to her daughter’s face and called her Chrissy everywhere else. On this, she was unmoveable. “I’m waking you up at 2:55,” she told her daughter and she sounded calm but her angel fluff’s expression made her grip the edge of the kitchen island. “I’ll carry you over my shoulder if I have to. Have a great day.”
They didn’t speak for the rest of it. Chrissy fumed and typed furiously on her phone. She stared at the walls of the living room, refusing to do her sulking in private. And, at 2:55am, she appeared, fully dressed, in the hallway as Marguerite, Jim and their younger daughter Brianna were preparing to depart.
She said nothing to her mother as they headed out of their apartment and joined the small crowd of neighbors who all shuffled up, yawns among them, to the stairwell and headed up, a fire drill in reverse. She said nothing to them as they claimed their space in the corner of the roof, which Marguerite had claimed herself earlier that day with chairs and potted plants and even a little rope to block it off. “Can you do that?” Jim asked, impressed, and Marguerite murmured back, “It’s amazing the respect people have for rope.”
They settled into their chairs and, for a second, she thought her daughter was asleep in hers with her head tilted back, her phone clutched in her hands. Brianna yawned, already dozing, and moved from her chair to Marguerite’s side, nestled in beside her, forgetting to be nine and too big for such things. Marguerite held on to her with both arms. And then it started, and everyone looked up.
The lights danced across the sky, all colors. For one night, the lights in the sky were brighter than the lights of New York. The neighbors fell silent across the roof. Marguerite’s family looked up too, absolutely all of them, silenced by the sky.
Here’s to the waning days of summer.
Here’s to long weekends.
Here’s to purple fruit with crumbly crusts.
Here’s to you too.
For the Filling
3 Pounds of peaches, nectarines or plums, each cut into 6 wedges (we used plums)
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1/4 Teaspoon of kosher salt
1 Tablespoon of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or other fruit brandy (optional)
Topping and Assembly
1/2 Cup of all-purpose flour
1/4 Teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 Teaspoon of kosher salt
1/2 Cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, room temperature
3 and 1/2 ounces of almond paste
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
3 Large eggs, room temperature
1/2 Cup of sliced almonds
Powdered sugar and vanilla ice cream (for serving)
1. In a large bowl, toss together the fruit with granulated sugar, flour, salt and kirsch (if using). Transfer to a 13 x 9″ baking dish and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.
4. In the bowl of a stand or electric mixer, beat butter, almond paste and granulated sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each. Mix in dry ingredients.
5. Drop dollops of batter over fruit (batter will even out during baking). Sprinkle with almonds. Place baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until topping is golden brown and fruit juices are thick and bubbling. 50-60 minutes.
6. Let cobbler sit at least 20 minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar and serve with ice cream.
“This is absolutely delicious.” The interviewer covered her mouth with a laugh and put down the fork to pick her pen. She waved it over the pie like a wand. “I’m going to ask the most obvious question that you could ask someone of your caliber,” the interviewer said. She poised the pen over the paper. “How did you get so good at making pie?”
The baker glanced around her little shop and for a brief moment, marveled herself at its hectic pace and the long line of customers. The framed articles and reviews had started to climb up from the clear front counter to the walls. The air smelled like gingerbread and burnt sugar. She gave a little laugh. “I burned a lot of pies.”
The interviewer frowned. “Burned?”
“Oh yeah.” The baker grinned. She adjusted the little knot that tied her hair back and caught a glimpse of the lines of scars along her wrists and hands. “See that?” She pointed them out, all of them. “Dozens and dozens. I burned them all.”
“Sure.” The baker shrugged. “You gotta make your way through all the burned ones first.”
We are back.
Many changes are afoot here for myself and Nicole over the last few weeks. Some are big, outward, obvious, great. Some are small, internal, seismic shifts. I can speak openly about my own so that’s what I’ll do.
Before I left for vacation, I went to the doctor. I’d been having trouble with stomach for months and it was time to finally face the music that something was definitely Not Right. The doctor ran some tests and agreed- something definitely was Not Right. It’s all totally manageable (with a change to my diet as opposed to medication, which was a relief) and I’m completely and wholly fine most of the time, something I’m grateful for as I know many, many other people aren’t as fortunate. But still. When you love food and new things and want to continue a life that’s full of both, and everything, and anything, hearing that there have to be limits (or you will suffer) is… difficult. It’s an adjustment. It’s a tiny, baby heartbreak. I am still coming to terms with it.
Part of the reason why I was drawn to cooking and baking in the first place was because I am one of those creatures that love, and relish, control. And part of the uncompromising truth of getting older is recognizing that you have less control than you realize. And, actually, cooking/baking (of all things) helps you accept this realization- a place where you try the exercise the most control (the kitchen) teaches you again and again and again that you have less control than you realize.
You could do everything absolutely perfectly and still the dough will not rise. You could do everything absolutely as written and still, it tastes flat and uninspired. You could everything right and use your instincts and those tricks you learned and still, the end result has to go into the garbage. You accept these little lost battles with a shrug and you roll up your sleeves, you put out the fires and you go back to work. These moments should be discouraging but they’re actually not, in a weird way. They happen all the time. They happen so much and so often, dispersed between many, many, many more victories, that the loss loses its sting. It’s not you; things just didn’t work out this time. Move on.
Roll up your sleeves and bake another pie.
Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie
1/2 Cup of softened unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons of sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
4 Egg yolks
1/2 Cup of lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream, for garnish
Coarse sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.2. Crush the crackers finely, but not too finely (use a food processor or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or use your fists and some spare rage). Add the sugar to the crumbs, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8-inch pie pan.
Episode 35: Smitty & The Reunion
Read the First 34 Episodes | Previously on Smitty & The Girl: 15 year old Freddy went for a late night bike ride and instead got the shock of his life- meeting his long-lost aunt and mother on the side of the road…
Freddy stared at the woman, confused. “Home?”
“To your father.” Rose smiled brightly. She leaned on the open door of the car, clearly delighted with her own idea.
Freddy wasn’t sure he liked the look in her eyes. He walked back over to his bike and gripped the handles, his mind spinning. “No thanks.” He saw Rose’s smile fall, her frown, and he tried to ignore it. His heart was beating like a jackhammer. His mother. His mother was there.
Rose said nothing, as if she could hear his thoughts, see his internal struggle. He had turned away to leave but he’d stopped. He heard her sigh. “Petula. Open your eyes, dammit.” And when there was no response, Rose reached into the car and grabbed her sister by the arms and pulled her out, like an angry cat out of a bath. “Time to face the music.”
Freddy watched as the woman unfolded herself from the backseat of the car, emitting low hisses and howls as she smacked her sister for the rough treatment. “You really are,” the red-haired woman said with a huff and she railed on her twin, “the worst,” she huffed and slapped, “possible human being on the planet.” She let out an exaggerated breath and pointed to her forehead. “You could’ve given me brain damage! Do not say it, Rose,” she warned as soon as the sentence was out of her mouth. Both women, mirror images of each other, glared.
He stared at them both, transfixed. “Um.” And they both turned to him, with those angry eyes. But Freddy only had eyes for his mother. He looked at her and tried to understand what it was he was supposed to do or say. What do you say to a woman you’ve just met on a dark street in the middle of the night, if that woman is your mother? Freddy waited. And when the woman, his mother, went to open her mouth, something in Freddy snapped like a rubber band. His heart went into overdrive. In one fluid motion, he hopped over his bike, turned it and raced down the street, and away from them.
Well hello! I’m not really here. It looks like I’m here but I’m not. I’m away on vacation right now. Except I haven’t left yet. But by the time you read this, I’ll be gone. This is weird. I’m having a great time! I hope!
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“Just do it! Go!” Jenna nudged Chelsea forward and laughed. From where they stood, outside the gypsy tent, the fairgrounds smelled sickeningly sweet, like cotton candy had melted into the ground all around them. Which it most likely had.
Chelsea ignored her friend and continued to check herself out in the mirror from her purse. Teased, sky-high bangs- check. Royal baby blue eyeshadow and matching eyeliner- check (except a smudge, whoops.) Candy red Lip Smackers- check. Three pieces of Doublemint Gum- check. Her favorite angora sweater dress with shoulder pads and its embroidered pink, sequined tiger on the front- check, check and check (God, she loved that sweater dress.) Chelsea gave herself one more look, winced at the pimple on her chin and finally looked at Jenna. “WHY do you want me to do this, exactly?” She adjusted the gold strap of her purse and dropped the mirror into the side of it. She looked finally at the gypsy tent, where a bored, dark-haired woman was filing her nails over a crystal ball. “So lame.”
“I know right? That’s why it’s funny!” Jenna smacked her gum and gave her a shove. “Come on, let’s do it. Please.”
The “fortune teller” coughed and tossed her nail file over her shoulder as they entered. “Ladies,” she said in a heavy accent, even though Chelsea could’ve sworn the woman worked over at the roller rink on the weekends. “Please, sit. Welcome to your future.”
Chelsea rolled her eyes at Jenna as the woman leaned over and grabbed a deck of cards. “Tarot? Or shall we look into the Crystal Ball?”
“Ball!” Jenna giggled. Chelsea shrugged. She was already tired of the carnival and tired of Jenna and the woman’s tent, which smelled like nail polish remover and moth balls. She wondered what Matt P. was doing right then, if he was still on the Ferris Wheel with Jessica H.
The woman leaned over and her long, dark hair swung over her shoulders. She draped her sleeves over the crystal ball and then lifted them dramatically. Inside the ball, smoke appeared in a little, gentle cloud. Chelsea was impressed, despite herself. She wondered if she had gotten it at the mall. “The future speaks to me. And it speaks to me of you,” the woman said and she pointed at Chelsea, her eyes dark and serious.
“Your future is very clear, the most clear I have ever seen.” The woman narrowed her eyes as she stared into the ball. “I see you, as a grown woman. You live in a city. Not New York, no. Los Angeles, perhaps. Or Miami. Someplace warm. Your hair is long and it is two colors- brown on the top and blonde on the bottom. Yes. It is wavy and long.” That’s stupid, Chelsea thought. And really, really specific. She frowned. “You will wear very tight pants, always, and high heels.” Ew, Chelsea thought. Like a hooker? “Your handbag will be designed by a reality television star but it will be surprisingly well made. You laugh when you tell people. You work in computers.” WHAT? Chelsea thought, and her mouth fell open. “Tweet, tweet. Something with birds. A lot of birds. You send the tweeting birds for celebrities. You are very famous but not famous at all.” The woman took a deep, long breath and the smoke bloomed again. “You are addicted to something called ‘an iced mocha latte.’ You drink one every day, even when it is very cold out. If you do not have one, you become very enraged.”
“That sounds like you,” Jenna said, her own mouth agape.
“You have many friends, hundreds, but no friends, none.” The woman coughed and the smoke cleared. Jenna stared, amazed, and Chelsea scoffed. “Five dollars, please.”
Happy Weekend, noodles!
I’m off to New York tomorrow for a week and then (there is no way to say this without sounding a little ass-hatty) on vacation in Italy (a friend’s getting married!!!) and Prague (friends live there!!!) for 7 glorious days. While I’m away, take care of Nicole, would you? And make lots of fun things and eat lots of fun things and spend time in the sun and laugh a lot and maybe hit up a carnival or two. See you when I get back.
Iced Almond Macadamia Milk Latte
1 Generous cup (150 grams) of blanched almonds
1/2 Cup (50 grams) of macadamia nuts
1/3 Cup (40 grams) of pitted dates
1 Liter of filtered water (fancy)
2 Shots of hot espresso
1. In a large, lidded plastic container, combine almonds, macadamia nuts and dates. Add water to cover and let soak overnight, at room temperature, for at least 12 hours.
2. Process mixture in a blender, at highest speed, for 3 to 4 minutes until finely pureed.
3. Strain the mixture through a nut bag or jelly bag (I did not know what either of those things are so…) or a fine mesh sieve over a bowl with two layers of cheesecloth. Strain mixture. The nut milk should be silky and creamy. Marvel at how much work this is compared to those giant containers of almond milk at the store. Wonder how many almonds are sacrificed for nut milk every day. Cry a little. (Nut milk can keep in the refrigerator up to 5 days. Shake before using.)
4. To make a latte: combine 8 ounces of chilled nut milk, a double shot of espresso and ice in a glass or cocktail shaker. Shake or stir for 30 second, strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice.
The girls looked up and over at Ted, the bartender, who stared down at his phone and shook his head. “What?” M said with a smile. She invoked her mother’s voice, her Queens accent. “Who’s dead.”
Their smiles dropped. They were theater kids, the three of them, and had been since high school. They’d gone to different high schools, the three, but had met in New York and recognized each other instantly. Q instantly looked at her own phone and typed in the words, needing her own confirmation. “Shit. She is.”
“You think I’d make it up.” Ted pushed himself away from the bar and swung backwards, grabbed a bottle of vodka and three glasses. “No way,” she said. “Gin.”
“Who knows? But it feels closer.” She beckoned for her glass with her finger and he put it down, poured her a shot. One for Q and one for himself. M nudged Q. “Pay attention.”
Q looked up, already broken up, in that vague and sudden way you could be broken up about someone you didn’t know in the slightest but knew all the high notes. “Damn. She was cool.” She laughed a little and scrolled through the things she’d already read, the quotes and the barbs. “Shit and crazy.”
“First we toast and then you tell us,” M said and she lifted her glass. But when she opened her mouth, she found she didn’t have the words. She looked at Ted who shook his head again. She looked at Q, who was itching to get back to her phone. “What should we say?”
Q frowned and lifted her own glass. “To New York,” she said. She sounded sure of her words. But then she always did.
We fixed you a drink. You looked like you could use one.
Wait, is that insulting? Is it like remarking to someone that they look tired? (Gee, thanks.) We just meant… you know, maybe it’s hot outside and too cold inside, where you are. Maybe the news of late is making your head hurt and your heart ache. Maybe you’re content and on the porch of your new house (it feels like everyone is buying houses, all of a sudden) and your hand is empty, needs a glass. Maybe it’s the end of the week and you just got paid. I don’t know. Sometimes you just really, really could use a drink. Preferably a drink that’s cold but warm with vanilla, has a sharp and sour and sweet bite. Something like the one we just mixed up for you.
Rhubarb Vanilla Cocktail with Grapefruit
Makes: 1 Cocktail and extra syrup | Print Recipe
For the syrup:
1 LB of rhubarb stalks, cleaned, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
2 Cups of water
1 and 1/2 Cups of sugar
1 Vanilla bean
For the cocktail:
1 Oz of gin
1 Oz of fresh grapefruit juice
Lemon peel (optional)
1. To make the syrup, combine rhubarb, water and sugar in a small saucepan. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean down the center and scape out the seeds. Add the seeds and bean to the saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for 15 minutes.
3. Remove from heat and strain liquid, removing solids. Cool syrup.
4. To make the cocktail, combine 1/2 oz. cooled syrup, 1 oz gin and 1 oz grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice.
5. Shake vigorously and pour into a chilled glass. Garnish with lemon peel and additional ice if desired.
“You’re the keeper of time for the queen,” said Alice, making conversation. She straightened in her chair. Her spoon was still in her hand, still plunged into the bowl of sticky, sweet ice cream. She longed to take a bite but knew it would be impolite before Rabbit had even served himself. She lifted her chin and tried to remind herself that she was a grown up lady, who didn’t care about such things as a rapidly melting ice cream treat.
“No no no,” replied Rabbit. Behind his round glasses, his blue eyes grew wide. “I do not keep time for the Queen! No one can keep time, Alice. It is its own beast with a heart all its own. It has legs and will run if you try to catch it. No no no.” To Alice’s dismay, he put down the serving spoon and both of his white, furry paws went to clutch the watch in his vest pocket. “I cannot keep time from marching on for the Queen. No no no. Every day, the sun flies overhead and take the hours with it. And there are so many things planned, you see, and sometimes time says, ‘No no no, not today. That will not happen today, no no no. It will have to be tomorrow.’ And sometimes it does happen tomorrow but more often than not, it does not. And time just keeps on with its march and we are all helpless behind it, Alice, even the Queen herself.” And there, she was quite relieved, he took a pause to catch his breath and his whole white rabbit body trembled.
“I only meant,” she said in the brief silence that his pause allowed, “that you tell the Queen what time it is.”
“Oh!” Rabbit’s paws dropped from the watch. He took a hankerchief from his pocket and wiped his furry brow. “Yes yes yes. That’s what I do for the Queen, yes. I tell her the time.” He looked quite relieved.
Alice picked up her spoon and resolved to eat her ice cream whether Rabbit did or not.
I don’t want to alarm you but it’s already the middle of July. I know.
My parents were visiting Maine this weekend and on Saturday morning, my mother and I went to get breakfast and we talked about summer. To be specific, we talked about how much I, and my sister Melissa, dislike summer as a season (This is the weather version of hearing someone doesn’t like chocolate or cake but it’s true.) and how we can’t wait until fall. I told my mother that, beyond my Cons list for summer which is all typical complainy stuff not worth mentioning, what I struggle with the most is the untold pressure behind “enjoying summer.” Especially in Maine where the season is short. Did you go outside? Are you enjoying it? Did you do anything fun this weekend? How fun was it? What are you doing next? There’s a pitched excitement, an intensity, where the undercurrent is “Enjoy it while you can!” and sometimes, it’s all just too much for me. It can be hard to remember to slow down and take it all in. It can overwhelm. Overwhelm + heat is not my favorite place to be.
That intensity, that over-the-top, everything has to be Extreme Everything Everything, is probably what led me to attempt this ice cream sundae for my brother’s birthday this past weekend. Nicole used a donut for hers, mine has buttermilk biscuits which I opted to make from scratch (that shouldn’t be taken as a brag but more as a cry for help), honeyed buttermilk ice cream, whiskey caramel sauce, whipped cream and nuts (gravel for Nicole and she made the better call, frankly). A donut sundae. A biscuit sundae.
Whatever you want to call it, it’s a decadent monstrosity that’s perfect for an intensely [happy] summer.
Donut Heaven Sundae
From Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts
1 quart of Honeyed Buttermilk Ice Cream (or your favorite store-bought ice cream)
Bauer House Biscuits (or your favorite decadent donut, as shown)
Salted Whiskey Caramel Sauce
Salty Graham Gravel
1. Ready a bowl.
2. Add donut.
3. Add scoops of slightly softened ice cream.
4. Spoon over caramel sauce.
5. Add a dollop of whipped cream.
6. Sprinkle gravel (I used sliced, toasted almonds on mine) over top.
Episode 34: Smitty & The Truth
Read the First 33 Episodes | Previously on Smitty & The Girl: Flashback- A teenage Petula is in the hospital, having just given birth to a son that she doesn’t wish to see. On the second night of her hospital stay, she’s visited by an old man named Smitty…
It occurred to Petula that the old man, whom she’d never met before, looked vaguely familiar. Had she seen him at the big house? She felt a trace of panic. Did he know her Aunt Sylvia? “Do I know you from somewhere?”
The old man smiled and kicked up his legs to cross them at the ankles. He smelled old, she thought, but it wasn’t that bad of a smell. His pants were neat and ironed, his shirt clean. “Have you been to the old diner in town? The only diner.”
Petula frowned. She only spent summers in Cliffwood and those summers were mostly spent poolside, in the shady escape of their property. “Yes. Once or twice.” Her eyes widened slightly as she remembered the back of the plastic menu there, the photo of a man and woman encircled over a paragraph about the old place. The old man smiled. “There it is. If Vera hadn’t insisted we put our pictures on the menu, I could’ve lived a long, anonymous life in this town.”
Petula thought of the diner and its busy counter, where people met to gossip over pie. She recalled the hustle of the waitresses and the crowded tables where people often jumped up and joined other tables. Cliffwood was small and the people there seemed to relish it in the diner, where they were known by all. “If you were going for anonymity, I think you chose the wrong profession.”
“Agreed.” He shrugged. “It was Vera’s dream. She was the face behind the counter. I worked in the back, on the books. It suited us. Now,” he said abruptly. “Let’s talk about your predicament here, young lady.”
She felt a wave of despair. Crap. A do-gooder. Any second now, this pleasant conversation would take a turn and she’d end up with Holy Water splashed over her. She shifted in her bed uncomfortably and wondered if she could stave him off. “I’m fine,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I’m fine, the baby’s fine. I’m going to take him home and raise him,” she lied with a soft smile. “And we’ll be fine.” She was going to stop there but the words, they just kept coming. “I have a lot of help. Mom and Dad, they were upset at first but we’re going to do this together. And my sister said she’d help whenever she can and we’ll have a room at the house, they have a room right for the baby, and I’ll finish school and go to college and get a job and everything’s going to be great.” She blinked, uncertain why the lie had taken on a life of its own. It worried her. She’d always been a truly excellent liar. Her father said it was her finest quality, in fact.
It took her a minute to realize that Smitty said nothing in response but just watched her, his face clear of judgment or reproach. He nodded thoughtfully. “The nurses told me that the father’s taking the baby.” When her eyes widened, he did shake his head with some reproach. “Terrible gossips, those old crones.”
“I’m sure they just think he’s so great,” Petula croaked, her hands trembling under the pillow. She gripped the case to steady herself. “What a hero, raising that baby alone, the most popular boy at Cliffhood High, such a promising boy with his whole future ahead of him, ruined by that rich brat who lives on top of the hill.” She felt a full tremor take hold of her and her eyes locked on Smitty’s. Why did she care what this old man thought of her, she wondered. Why did the truth, after all these months, suddenly seem like it was going to claw its way out of her? “They’d be shocked to know the truth, wouldn’t they,” she whispered. “They’d be shocked to know that they met at a party and that she didn’t know anyone and he gave her so many drinks that she felt dizzy and he decided it would be a good idea to take her outside, so she could get some air. And that she didn’t exactly say no,” she said out loud for the first time, her eyes locked on the old man’s, “but it wasn’t yes either. Wouldn’t it just break their hearts, the truth of it all.”
Smitty leaned forward and put his hand over hers, under the pillow. It was thin like paper but warm. There it stayed, for a long time, until there was nothing left to do but for Petula to close her eyes and find her way to sleep.
Everything feels more dramatic in summer. Must be the heat…
Download your July Desktop and iPhone Calendar:
For your computer:
Click here for 1920 x 1080 version.
“I don’t have time for this!” Marnie barked as she tripped over the dog. “Sorry! I’m sorry, Marmalade! Jezzie, come get your dog!” With one hand trying to insert her favorite earring and the other trying to put her high heel on her foot, Marnie bounced at the door and accomplished neither. With a grunt, she gave up on the heel.
Around her, children ran from one room to the other, their backpacks flying. “That’s mine!” “Mom!” “Where’s my lunch?” They yelled to each other from every room in the house and someone had let Tiger’s pet bird out and it swooped overhead like a metronome. Marnie checked the watch on her wrist and swore. “We’re LATE. Let’s go! Drop whatever you’re doing and move it, move it, move it.”
She used her no-nonsense voice and the kids snapped against it like rubberbands and flung themselves toward the door. She had thought it a good idea at the time, the transition from school to camp, but the mornings were not easier on those long, summer days, as she had envisioned. The only difference was that by the time Marnie got to the office, she was dripping with sweat.
Out the door they went, all five of her children. Jezzie first with her hands still tying her braids (her mother’s daughter, to the core), Tiger who was calm and tidy but who cast a nervous eye up at the ceiling, worried about her bird as it swooped near the ceiling fan, Louie with his trombone out, marching in the world’s shortest and most frantic parade, True and Porter who had lately developed a game of walking through doors side-by-side so they could get stuck and someone could push them out the door. Today it was Marnie who gave them the nudge and they went flying, all arms and legs, and the other kids laughed. “Stop laughing! Move!” Marnie pointed to the sidewalk where Mrs. Andowitz was idling at the curb with her minivan to take them to camp, her own children quiet in the car and as silent and hollow-eyed as ghostly cherubs.
“Bye, Mom!” They all yelled at her as they clamored into the van like wild monkeys and Marnie waved good-bye, battleworn and weary even though the day had just begun. She waited until the van had disappeared down the street and then she dropped the charade of digging through her purse for her keys. She smiled and ducked back into the house.
Five minutes later, her husband’s car appeared. It stopped in front of the house and Ed opened the door. “Did they buy it?”
“Yup.” In one swift movement, Marnie had removed her heels. “You get the beach chairs and I’ll get the food?”
“Deal.” He was already taking off his tie and headed for the garage. “Hot today.”
“Perfect today.” Marnie walked in the other direction and slipped out of her blouse to reveal the bathing suit underneath. They would need sunscreen, she thought, and the pile of books by the bed. Magazines for Ed. Smuggled bottles of beer. That sorbet she’d been saving in the freezer- she’d replace the container with her cell phone and leave that on ice for a change.
She clapped her hands and whistled and the bird swooped down and around her and into her cage.
Appropriate story when you’ve taken a summer Friday off of work and it’s a spectacular day in Maine- don’t you think?
Welp, gotta go. I have ice cream and sorbet to make and friends (and a delicious baby) on their way here. Have a good weekend, kittens.
Source: How Sweet Eats | Serves 4-6 | Print Recipe
5 and 1/2 Cups of freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (about 6 large grapefruits)
1 and 1/2 Cups of granulated sugar
1. Juice the grapefruits.
2. Combine 1 cup of grapefruit juice and all of the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves, cooking for about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in a large bowl, mixing it with the remaining grapefruit juice.
3. Refrigerate for 25 minutes, or until chilled.
4. Once chilled, pour mixture into ice cream maker and churn according to directions. (You can also use the KitchenAid attachment and churn for 25 minutes.)
5. After churning, pour into a container (or loaf pan) and freeze for 6-8 hours until frozen.
I’ve lived alone for a number of years now so having my brother stay with me for a few months has been pretty eye-opening.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that having someone live with you for weeks is SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT than a weekend visit (right? Am I right?). After a few days, once he’d settled in, I quickly settled in too, right back into the my cherished routine… and now my poor brother has a front row seat to the inner workings of my daily life that no one else in my family has ever really seen. And he is BAFFLED by me.
The food thing is probably the biggest thing, which is why I’m bringing it up here.
He’s always known that I like to cook and bake but I don’t think he realized until he moved in, how much I am consumed by this hobby. Hell, I don’t think I even really realized it until he walked into the living room his first Saturday morning here and saw me on the couch, watching a cooking show, a food magazine open next to me (okay, two magazines open), surrounded by a fort of cookbooks and an iPad open to Pinterest on the coffee table. He stopped and said, “Uh, this is kind of intense.” And I glanced around me at all of my happy things and blinked at him, formerly oblivious to the den of insanity I create every weekend morning.
He made the mistake, on day 2, of mocking Nigella’s accent while I worked steadily on my meal plan for the week. He has not made that mistake since.
Apparently, I study and practice and practice and study cooking all the time. I had not even realized how intensively I was doing it, how much I’d amped it up lately- I just like it and I’d suddenly gotten to a sweet spot of cookery where things suddenly felt easier and more fluid and I wanted to keep going.
It’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you suddenly have an audience.
Luckily for Lee, obsession has its rewards, especially when it comes to being obsessed about cooking good food. That boy is up to his elbows in homemade ice cream, giant bowls of gleaming, summer salads, slow-cooked and fall-apart meats, and there’s more on the way. Like grilled pizza, which is, incidentally, tonight’s dinner.
Lemon Basil Pizza
Your favorite pizza dough
High-quality extra virgin olive oil
6 Thin lemon slices
3 Ounces of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
1 Cup of baby spinach leaves, loosely packed
1 Ounce of smoked provolone, grated
1. Preheat oven to 500°F. (If using a pizza stone, place on middle rack in oven while preheating.)
2. Shape pizza dough on pan until it’s about 10-12 inches in diameter.
3. Drizzle dough evenly with olive oil and layer toppings (spinach, then mozzarella, lemon, basil and top with provolone.)
4. Bake for 15 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese begins to brown.
She unfurled the letter and read. I hope this note finds you well. No. More than that. I hope it finds you sitting in a room, in a chair, with the light falling softly around you. I hope there is stillness there, in that room, within the circle of that light. I hope you look up from the paper and your eyes linger over the dust in the air, the way it sparkles. I hope it is quiet and I hope you are glad that it’s quiet. I hope your heart is still and calm and you wonder where you end and the light begins.
I hope that for you. I hope that even if none of it is true, if the world around you is crashing and loud and full of bodies and sounds and wants and needs that are not your own, that you are surrounded by cymbals and jackhammers, that there is still a piece of you residing in that room, in that chair, surrounded by that light. I hope you feel it, all of it and nothing.
We’re back! Kind of. I’m back, Nicole is still on the road. I dove headfirst back into my life and holy shit, I could use a cold glass of ice cream that’s sinking into beer. Can’t you?
Our friend Jack at The Hop Review helped us pick out the stout for this coffee stout float. We used Vanilla Java Porter by Atwater. Other good options for this, says Jack, are Coffee Bender by Surly Brewing Company or Edmund Fitzgerald by Great Lakes.
Coffee Stout Float
Source: Brooklyn Brew Shop | Makes: 1 Float
1/2 Cup of stout beer (see recommendations above)
1 Cup of your favorite vanilla ice cream
Chocolate syrup, optional
[If you add chocolate syrup] drizzle as much as you’d like into a chilled pint glass.
Pour your beer into the glass; Leave about 1/2 inch of room at the top.