Archive | November, 2011

Words of Wisdom Wednesday

30 Nov

Advertisements

Hostess With the Mostess

28 Nov

I love to host. Until the time guests start to arrive, and I realize that I much prefer being a guest! There’s so much responsibility as a hostess, and it doesn’t really matter how prepared you think you are; there are always last minute preparations and things to cut up/cook/organize/clean in the kitchen.

But really, now that I’m all grown up with a real dining room and a full set of china and proper seating, I do like to whip out the hostess card now and again. And with Thanksgiving over and Christmas and Hanukkah around the corner, I wanted to share some of my tips for holiday hostessing:

  • Set your table the night before. Yes, I know this is a little OCD, but it’s nice to not have to worry about doing the deed the day of, when you’ve already got your hands full.
  • Make the Charlie Sheen Appetizer (Why’s it called that? Because when you serve it you’ll be “winning!“): French bread, sliced thin and shmeared with goat cheese, then toasted in the oven. Warm up some honey and drizzle it on the toasts after they come out. Finish with a sprinkle of fresh thyme. Foolproof, and people will think you’re genius. Make a big tray – they go fast. And let’s not tell our guests we called it the Charlie Sheen app… ok?
  • Candles. Nothing sets a mood like candlelight, no matter how lackluster or mismatched your dining room may be. Dim the lights and create a centerpiece with a variety of candles at different heights. Just make sure to use unscented! No one needs their nose assaulted with sandalwood while dining.
  • I bought a 12.5 lb prime rib roast (for 10 people) from Chappaqua Village Market. It was a rather large cut of fairly expensive meat. So what did I do? I did what any sane person would do: I doused it in salt, of course. Salt Encrusted Prime Rib will make you look like Julia freakin’ Child. Here’s what you do: Lay the roast bone side down in a roasting pan. In a large bowl, empty a box of kosher salt, half at a time, and add water to make a paste. Coat the top of the roast in a thick layer of salt. (Don’t coat the cut sides). Continue salting until the thing looks like a big ole’ snowball. Then put it in the oven at 500 degrees for 15 minutes to sear it. Turn the heat down to about 225-250 and cook for 5+ hrs until the meat has reached an internal temperature of 135-145 degrees, depending on whether you’d like it medium rare or closer to medium. Take the roast out of the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes (remember, it’s still cooking during this time). Then, peel off the salt crust and voila – you’ll have the most tender, flavorful roast your mouth has ever tasted. Serve it with horseradish sauce or au jus or just crumble some of the flavored salt from the crust and serve it table side.
  • Let someone else do dessert. If you’re handling dinner, there’s no reason you need to play Heroine Hostess. Either buy some pies from your local bakery or take your Mother-in-Law up on the offer to do the baking. It’s one (or 3) things off your chest and you’ll be grateful for it.
  • Make sure you have decaf coffee on hand. There’s nothing worse than the sound of silence after someone asks for decaf with their dessert, and you – caffeine junkie that you are – just stare blankly at them, wondering what this “decaf ” they speak of is.
  • Always use proper cloth napkins when having people over for dinner. They’re an easy and inexpensive way to make a dinner table feel warm and show your guests you’re happy to host them. I love buying linen and cotton napkins in fun patterns – check out Anthropologie for some really pretty ones.

Have any tried and true hostess secrets to share?

Occupy Main Street

21 Nov

In a nutshell, local businesses are flailing. Struggling to survive against all odds (and odds being mainly greedy landlords and big-box retailer competition), the local small businesses that make each of our towns special are dwindling day by day.

In Mt Kisco alone, I counted 14 empty storefronts the last time I cruised through town. That’s 14 stores shuttered, and 14 storefronts that aren’t earning their owners a penny (except for the tax deductions they’ll be able to take on them, I suppose). More businesses are on their way out, if the rumors I keep hearing are true.

There is no doubt a place in my shopping agenda for Gap and Target. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t (and won’t continue to) shop at these spots for staples and deals. But this year, I’m especially mindful of the “small business,” and I hope you will be too. These are the shops that color our towns with vibrant store windows, unique merchandise, and personable service. Here are some of the stores I plan to personally support for my holiday gifts:

Beehive Co-Op, Mt Kisco

Beehive Co-Op (Mt Kisco) — If you’ve never been to Beehive, you’re missing out. It’s just the cutest store around, with handmade wares and one-of-a-kind gifts for everyone on your list. From babies to Bubbies and everyone in between, you’ll find something special for everyone – wooden rattles, artisan jewelry, hand-dyed scarves, and handsome pottery for example. And their prices are entirely competitive. Plus, they do a really beautiful, organic job of wrapping gifts for you for free. Added bonus: saving money on wrapping paper and ribbons this year!

Mint Premium Foods, Tarrytown

Mint Premium Foods (Tarrytown) — for the foodies in your life, hand-pick items to make a personal gift basket. Hassan, the owner, stocks the most amazing selection of cheeses, noshes, spices, exotic beers and more. Ask him for samples of some of his favorites. You’ll be surprised what flavors you uncover!

Marmalade, Chappaqua

Marmalade (Chappaqua) — This is a one-stop-shop for hostess and holiday gifts. Cindy, Marmalade’s proprietor, has such a great eye for sophisticated housewares and decor. From candles to serving trays, jewelry to bedding – her shop offers a well-edited mix of high and low price points – which, if you’re anything like me, is exactly what you love to see in a local home + gift shop.

Kids enjoy storytime at Little Joe's Books, Katonah

Little Joe’s Books (Katonah) — (Cover your ears, Jack…) This is where I plan to buy many of my son Jack’s gifts this season. This sweet kids’ bookstore has such a warm feel, and features books for all ages (from baby board books to teen angst dramas) as well as puzzles and games.  And what’s better than being able to grab a hot coffee or hot chocolate when you’re finished shopping? Just walk downstairs to Noka Joe’s and you’re set! Easy peasy.

American Express is hosting their second annual Small Business Saturday this weekend – it’s a national effort to support and infuse some energy and staying power into local “Main Street” businesses. So this year, instead of being part of the Black Friday rat race, hold off until Saturday and spend the day supporting your local economy!  Think Big: Shop Small!

What local shops do you plan to support this holiday season? Give your favorites a shout-out, here.

Rachael Ray Is Wrong

17 Nov

Nothing to see here... the mark of a delicious meal!

Everything you’ve learned about that whole “EVOO, 2 turns of the pan” routine? Un-learn it. Because it’s downright silly (Sorry Rachael, I know you’ve built an empire around it.) At least that’s what I learned last night from Eric Korn, Chef and Owner of Good-Life Gourmet cafes in Irvington and Scarsdale. I was invited to join a small group of local women bloggers for a private cooking class in Good-Life’s Irvington shop.

We noshed on cheese and figs, sipped some fab Pinot Noir, and spent some time getting to know one another before we headed back to the kitchen area and got down to business. We were there to cook, after all. Chef Eric didn’t waste any time before pelting us with “aha” moments. Here are some that I’m still woozy over:

  • Olive oil should not be used for cooking, it should be used as a garnish or finisher. Canola oil is lighter, odorless and therefore does not impart any pungent flavor into your cooking the way olive oil “obviously” does. (Yeah, obvious to me now…) Today I started an Olive Oil Fund – it will contain all of the money I save by cooking with inexpensive Canola oil as opposed to it’s aggressively priced cousin, EVOO.
  • Salt should be sprinkled over food from way up high to get more even distribution. So go ahead, be dramatic about it. And sprinkle some on your salad greens before dressing them.
  • No more cutting into your pretty salmon filets to know if they’re done. (Oh, no one else does that?) That white stuff that forms between the pan and the fish? That’s your sign. See? You’re on your way to Martha Stewartsville now!
  • Making your own salad dressing is easier than tearing the annoying wrapper off a store-bought one. Here’s all you need to know: 1 part of every ingredient to 3 parts of oil. We used 1 part maple syrup (the real stuff, no Aunt Jemima, ya hear?), 1 part course mustard, 1 part cider vinegar and 3 parts oil – with a sprinkle of salt. Shaken, not stirred, and it was the best vinaigrette I’ve had in ages.
  • Quinoa is amazing. It can be eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast, cook it up with some OJ, water and apricots. For lunch and dinner, cook it in a veggie or chicken stock, caramelized onions and chopped sundried tomatoes. Holy superfood, Batman! Hey rice and pasta: consider this our break up letter.
  • Your body could probably use a detox now and again. I suppose this should be obvious, but it’s never really been for me. Letting your body clear itself of toxins is smart a couple of times a year, especially if you’re known to dabble in the bacon business now and again. It’s like a reset button for your liver, skin, and bowels. Good-Life Gourmet offers a Juice Detox. It’s $50/day and they deliver to your house. You drink 5 juices a day for a week. It’s a big commitment for a foodie. I can’t even give up food one day a year on Yom Kippur – how I’d give it up for a week in place of broccoli/carrot/spinach juice would be stressful. But after hearing about everyone’s detox experiences last night, I’m totally intrigued and willing to give it a try!

We prepared and then enjoyed an amazing, clean salad with roasted apples, pumpkin seeds and that vinaigrette I told you about earlier. Then we sealed the deal with salmon, quinoa and roasted red peppers. And just like that, this foodie rejoiced. Go see what Chef Eric has up his sleeve – your palate will thank you.

In addition to the Juice Detox and daily cafe offerings, Good-Life Gourmet offers meal delivery. Their weekly plan includes 3 meals a day plus a snack, delivered Monday through Saturday, for $300/pp. Check out their website for more info.

Not Guilty.

15 Nov

Jack struts the Halloween runway at daycare (albeit missing his garden gnome hat!)

I’m a working mom. I know that’s a bit of a redundant statement, and one I hope doesn’t offend any stay-at-home-parent readers. But I’m a working mom in a job other-than-the-hardest-job-on-earth-known-as-parenting. And truth be told, I’ve never really imagined it any other way. My son – now 15 months old – is in daycare 9 hours a day, 5 days a week. I drop him off between 8:30 and 9am. I pick him up at 5:30pm, after a day filled with outdoor play, story time, lunch, afternoon nap, snack and art activities. (His day, not mine, unfortunately for me.)

We then head home and I get to hear all about his day through a carefully detailed report (I even know at what times he pooped!). We eat dinner and play together, have bath time, read stories, snuggle, and hang out until daddy gets home. Then it’s bedtime.

I often field inquiries from friends and family into my daily doings and watch as the eyebrow goes up right around the time I mention that Jack is in daycare full-time. “But you work from home, right?” Sure do. And let’s get something clear as crystal: I work hard as a marketing copywriter — a job I would never be able to do with a toddler in tow!

I adore my time with my son. Every minute is a gift I treasure — even the painful ones, when he’s throwing a temper tantrum — I know that within minutes we’ll have both moved on from it and be warm and fuzzy again. And… honest statement alert: I don’t think I would appreciate my time with him nearly as much if it were 24/7. And I don’t think it would be healthy for me or for him to have it any other way than we have it right now.  There is not just one way to be a great mom or dad. There’s no formula for success. Some people have to or want to work, others don’t. Some parents can’t imagine doing anything other than be home with their kids all day. I don’t judge. As long as you’re happy, that’s what matters. Because in the end, your happiness (or lack of it) is going to rub off on and impact your child more than anything else.

My hubby and I carefully chose a daycare we thought would be right for Jack. More like a school, they treat every day as an opportunity to teach, to socialize, and to grow. It’s not just a place that guarantees a watchful eye on your kid (although they certainly do that too). I’m grateful that they are a trusted partner in our child-raising experience and are part of Jack’s life in such a positive way. They hug him and love him and keep him safe and teach him things and make sure that every day is special. Those are the most important things to me, and the same things I promise to do for him every day for the rest of his life. And did I mention he loves it there?

So no, I don’t feel guilty about my kid being in daycare. For me, my career is an extension of who I am. It’s my contribution, one creative line of copy at a time. Someday, my “contributions” will help put him through college. For now, they keep me productive and inspired and make evenings and weekends my absolute favorite moments in life.

How about you: do you feel guilty about your career vs. family choices? Please join my discussion here!

More anything? More everything!

5 Nov

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

The hubby and I decided to finally lose our Blue Hill at Stone Barns virginity, in celebration of our 4th wedding anniversary last week. We’d waited long enough to answer the question, ‘does it live up to the hype?’ We had to know.

We started the evening with a drink at the bar. I ordered “The Ford,” a smooth, velvety Old Tom Gin cocktail with some ingredients I’ve never heard of, and Stone Barns cardamom leaf bitters. Hubby ordered the “Cucalyptus,” a cucumber, eucalyptus and thai long pepper-infused cocktail with gin made on-site. He called it the best cucumber drink he’s ever had. Not sure how many cucumber drinks he’s had in his life, but “score” nonetheless.

On to the good stuff. We were seated at this ridiculously comfortable banquette. The upholstery fell somewhere between felt wool and cashmere — I swear. It was the kind of banquette I could fall asleep in. And you might do just that after this epic meal,  so request a banquette. Although I was slightly jealous of the ladies at the tables throughout the center of the restaurant, who were brought mini-ottomans to place their handbag on so they didn’t have to touch the floor. For real. A purse ottoman. Now that is money.

The Sommelier brought us 2 glasses of Riesling to start the meal off with, before cracking open a bottle of 1998 Bovio Barolo. Because that’s how we roll-o.

Here’s a plate-by-plate summary of the 8-course Farmer’s Feast meal ($149/pp):

No. 01 – baby veggies perched on a fence, tomato soup shot, crispy kale sheets, potato crisps, crispy white beans, beet burgers, root veggie “corn dogs.” The major winner for me? The beet burgers. They were these bite-sized sliders that were the most divine, buttery melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. That’s my very technical culinary description.

No. 02 – Baby lettuce and herb salad. When the plate arrived, I experienced a pang of disappointment. Although plated beautifully, this looked like a single-layer smattering of  baby greens and a few slivers of beets and beans sprinkled on a plate. No dressing? Really? Well slap me silly and call me salad… er, Sally. This was the most insane plate of greens I’ve ever eaten. In my LIFE. Each bite was sweet and flavorful. We were blown away. I definitely am never going to be able to look at grocery lettuce the same again. Damn you, Dan Barber.

Brioche with warm fresh ricotta and veggie puree. 

No. 03 – Soft poached egg with foam. This was my least favorite of the dishes, as the egg was super runny. Even the whites just broke into liquid as soon as I pierced the super-thin skin. Meh.

Onion bread with mushroom salt.

No. 04 – Seared wreckfish in a Manhattan seafood chowder (with mussels, lobster). Oh dear God. We’re only up to the 4th course. At this point I’m wishing I hadn’t worn that super skinny high-waisted belt. It is definitely going to come off. This dish was HEAVEN. Seriously, if heaven were a fish, it would be swimming around shipwrecks (which is how this fish got it’s clever moniker.) It was seared and sliced into perfect rectangular bites and placed atop this sweet chowder with mussels and lobster. I could have just eaten that bare herb salad and this fish and been the happiest chick in the county.

No. 05 – Purple potato and ricotta gnocchi. These looked more like little pasta cannoli’s than gnocchi, but who am I to argue with the Best Chef in America? I loved every bite of these clouds of pasta perfection.

No. 06 – Veal tenderloin and tender baby carrots. Now when we started our meal, we were asked by one of the waiters if we had any allergies or food issues. We both shook our heads no, mainly because the guy scared us a little (he was bald and intimidating in a James Carville kind of way) but also because we were just hungry. When the waiter responded, “so you’re okay with brains and heart?” We both snapped back into reality and coolly replied that no, we weren’t interested in organs. So he named off the next level down of proteins, which included lamb, veal, pork. This we were fine with. Sure. Well little did we know we’d only get one meat course, and it would end up being veal, our least favorite. BUT – that said, this veal was delicious. It was served as two cuts – tenderloin and something else. (The technical name for it, obviously). And it was totally worth it, even if it did make us sad for a minute or so.

No. 07, No. 08 and a surprise No. 09 – dessert. At this point we entered food comas, and I have no idea what these consisted of. None. It’s as if it didn’t happen, but it obviously did happen. I’m sure it was good. It probably was even great. But like I said, I had tapped the mat at that point. The belt had come off, I think I may have even taken my Spanx off right there at the table. Who knows… class goes right out the window when you’ve just eaten an entire farm.
Bottom line: Was Stone Barns worth the hype? It most certainly was. The food was amazing. The service was impeccable, with nearly a staff member for every table in the place, who have each been trained to sneak in and out without disruption to refill glasses, bring fresh plates, replace a napkin…you name it and they are there. I’m sure I could have gotten a backrub from one of them if I had started rubbing my shoulders at some point.

So choose an occasion with a date at least 2 months out (they’re booked solid otherwise) and start saving. Sure, it may cost as much as buying an actual cow, but why get the milk at home when you can get Dan Barber down the street?