Coloring Outside of the Lines Can be a Good Thing.

I forgot how nice it is to fit into clothes and feel confident again. I must say, I’m really digging it! I have a couple of new recipes to share, but I’ll save those for a post later in the week.

Today I want to talk about my other great loves…art (and Art History, for that matter. It was my Minor in College), crafting and design. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that my apartment is CRAMMED to the rafters with art supplies- paints (several different kinds), colored pencils, sketch books, markers (several different kinds), jewelry and metalsmithing supplies (more beads than I care to admit), resin, paper crafting supplies, oil crayons, wires, decorative embellishments, fabrics, sewing machine, sewing supplies, canvases, a dremel (drill thing), saw blades, etc. It’s making me claustrophobic just thinking about it. BUT. There’s a but. For the past couple of months I have slowly begun transforming my living space. I’M GOING TO HAVE A STUDIO! Yes, that was so exciting for me I just had to scream it!

I’ve drawn the plans out for the place and picked out the paint. I’ve started getting things like furniture and rugs. My problem, though? Too.Many.Ideas. I have a running list on my Macbook that’s 46 items long and a lot of things on there are decorative things- i.e. me getting waaaaay ahead of myself. This weekend I indulged in some of that “getting ahead of myself” stuff and purchased these amazing glasses. Don’t they look like they belong on the set of Mad Men?

These bad boys will go very nicely with my Pyrex Collection and certainly fuel my obsession with all vintage kitchenware. More to come on that and my pyrex hunting adventures in another post.

One of the most exciting parts of this whole interior design thing is that although I’ve lived in this apartment for 4 years, I never really made it my own. When you first move out, so much of how you decorate and what you have is dictated by what other people give you and the fact that you usually don’t make all that much money when you’re working at your first job. My apartment has very much been a mixture of my style dominated by hand me downs. No more. my space is my own and now I’m putting my stamp on it.  Time for this to be an adult apartment.

This is VERY MUCH a DIY makeover. Many people I know hate this sort of thing, but me? I LOVE figuring out and doing things for myself. Not only does it make it more “MINE,” it’s incredibly satisfying. I’ve discovered a few things: I LOVE antique pieces either refurbished or refinished for a more modern look; I love vintage; I hate having things that everyone else has; I have to trust my design instincts; and lastly, I would probably be arrested if I ever visited the set of Mad Men for trying to steal items from the set.

Above all, I’ve discovered that design doesn’t have to be about matching or follow a set of rules. I’m pretty much winging it and loving every minute. It’s slowly becoming a space that is ENTIRELY reflective of me and what I love.

Stay tuned for the “After” on this piece below, some wonderful Brimfield Fair finds, and my latest project, in which my mom and I temporarily became lumberjacks.

Oh, yes. Of course I bought more beads this weekend at a special show. Bad idea, Jenny. Bad idea. I’m like a cat lady, only with beads. Next time I’ll show you what I did with these:

Anyone else a DIY’er? Do you ever get a little too far ahead of yourself? If you have any cool projects you’ve done recently, please feel free to share! 🙂

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A is for Apple.

Lately, I’ve been missing my dad a lot. I think of him a lot in the fall. I think it has something to do with his love of apple picking, his obsession with football, and his penchant for referring to our neighbor as a “Schmuck” throughout the months of September, October, and November for raking/blowing his leaves onto our property. Inevitably, this segued nicely into stronger language as he struggled to right our Christmas trees in December.

Some of my best and funniest memories of and with my dad involve food (or getting food, rather). We’d go to Point Judith and get lobsters right off the boats when they came in for the day. My dad would open the cooler when we got home and let my brother Josh and I observe them as he and my mom prepared the rest of the dinner. He’d pick them up and pretend that they’d bitten him, causing us to shriek with laughter.

One year he very suddenly became obsessed with fishing, bought all sorts of fancy equipment and took me and my brother all over Rhode Island, teaching us how to bait hooks and cast the line out. He caught pounds and pounds of blue fish. It really was a shame that none of us liked it. It got to the point where my mom would groan every time he brought home his latest catch. He had to stop simply because we were running out of room in the giant freezer in the garage!

Then there was the purple chicken incident when he was still learning how to cook and had added red wine to his chicken. He had breaded it first for a nice coating and the red wine turned the coating and the sauce BRIGHT PURPLE. Even my mom was trying not to laugh. Subsequently, he also turned purple when Josh and I refused to eat it. I relented eventually. It really was quite tasty.

We’d watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (Shut up!) together some nights and every Monday night, he’d settle in to watch football downstairs in our finished basement. He’d have a bottle of diet Pepsi (he was in “his office” as he called it, and didn’t bother with such a formality as a glass) in one hand and sometimes a bowl of popcorn in the other. I’d sneak past my mom (hooray for deaf parents!) and go downstairs and sit next to him. He always shared his popcorn and we’d sit side by side. Those were the rare times he didn’t send me back to bed because it was a school night.

Every fall we’d go apple picking and to get cider at Jaswell’s farm. My mom is terrified of snakes lurking in the tall grass of the orchards, so my dad would walk ahead and stomp wildly along the path, sometimes whilst also dramatically beating the ground with a stick he’d find. “See? All clear!” he’d shout back. He’d encourage us to pick and eat as many apples as we could right off the tree without getting sick- “They’re free if you’re eating them here! Why not?” he’d say and my mom would roll her eyes (often as she sank her teeth into the ripe flesh of a macintosh). My brother Josh and I would pick the low hanging apples and he’d get the ones that seemed sky high to us- I was convinced that those tasted better and he’d hand me one to munch on and then put five or six in the bag. It continued like that for an hour or so and then we’d pay for our apples, our hands sticky and our stomachs full. Since he died, apple picking has become almost sacred to me- it’s a link to him.

My mom’s favorite thing to make with our loot? Apple crisp. Over the years, I’ve put my own spin on it. Last night I made it for my mom and step-dad. Check this out:

APPLE CRISP

4 Large Apples
1 cup oats
2 cup Graham Crackers, crushed into crumbs
1/3 cup and 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter
2 tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tbsp lemon juice (fresh is best!)


Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1. Peel, core and dice your apples. You want the apples to be small and evenly chopped so that they cook evenly.

 

How picturesque are these apples? I used fresh macintosh, but Granny Smith are also delicious!

 

 

2. Add lemon juice, 2 tbsp sugar and cinnamon to apples, mixing throroughly and set aside to let the flavors marinate as you make the crust/crumble.

 

Fresh lemon is always best!

 

 

 

This pretty red bowl screams fall...and so does the smell of cinnamon!

 

 

3. In a blender, combine the almonds, remaining sugar, oats, brown sugar, 6 tbsp of butter, and graham crackers. The end result? A crumbly mixture, that, when pinched in your fingers, sticks together.

 

I know. Paula Deen would love this picture.

 

 

 

This stuff is so tasty raw, you'll want to eat it right out of here. Don't. You need it all for the apple crisp! I promise it's even better when cooked.

 

 

4. Use half of the graham cracker mixture and pressing it into a dish (you can use a 9×9 pan or, as I used, a 10×5 (approx) oval baking dish), form a crust on the bottom, like so:

5. Next come those delicious, lemon, sugar and cinnamon soaked apples…

6. Then sprinkle the rest of the crust/crumble all over the top of the apples. Then, make Paula Deen proud and using the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, place pats of butter around the crust. See below:

 

The butter will help your crust brown nicely. And let's just be honest- butter makes everything better.

 

 

7. Place in oven for 30 minutes. To test readiness, put a sharp knife through the dish and if it goes through easily, and the apples are cooked, it’s ready! For maximum tastiness, serve with ice cream while warm. Enjoy!

 

Ooooo, baby!

 

 

 

Step-dad's picture perfect bowl- Ice cream and warm apple crisp...delicious! Everything in moderation, people. 😉

 

 

Have a great day, everyone.


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Zsa Zsa does Bialas Farms.

This just in: I’m finally going to bite the bullet and buy an SLR, so you can look forward to MUCH better pictures around this joint. Anyone have suggestions?

Now, on with the show. I know we’re into fall at this point, but allow me, if you will, to bring you back to summer just for a little while. I promise it’ll be good!

This is one of my “go-to, must have, can’t live without eating it at least once a week in some way” recipes. I’m cooking for one much of the time now, but I have a tendency to go a little hog wild at the farmer’s market. One fateful day this summer the usual shopping frenzy hit when I spotted some beautiful eggplant and decided to stock up. Fast forward a few days and I had one left and I’d run out of my established ways to cook eggplant, so I knew I had to get creative. I knew it was good stuff when I made it for one of my best friends when I went to visit her on her family farm and she RAVED about it- the woman can COOK, so if she liked it, you know it’s good. More to come about the farm later, but first, you MUST make this and make LOTS of it- it freezes beautifully.

 

Eggplant growing on the farm

 

ROASTED EGGPLANT “PESTO”

1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
2 large cloves of garlic, quartered
5 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup feta cheese
2 cups fresh basil (dried won’t work)
½ tbsp lemon juice
salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (I use my convection oven for speed!)

1. Toss eggplant, 2 tbsp olive oil, garlic quarters, salt and pepper until coated. Place in a roasting pan and put in oven for approximately 12-15 minutes

2. While eggplant and garlic are roasting, put remaining olive oil, basil, feta, lemon juice in food processor and mix until fully chopped and mixed.

3. Add roasted eggplant, blend. Serve over polenta, rice, pasta, grains, with pita chips, tortilla chips, as a sandwich spread, etc. It’s versatile! Enjoy!

*Note: I often add kalamata olives for an extra kick.

This summer I visited one of my best friends on her family farm, Bialas Farms, in Orange County New York.

 

Fields are constantly tilled and rotated to ensure ample nutrients and plenty of growing room as the season goes on and new and more crops are planted.

 

My boss laughed at me when I told her where I had been. Her exact words? “Zsa Zsa does Green Acres, eh?” PSHHHHHH. To her I say, check out this picture. I was riding on the back of a mower being dragged by a tractor when it was taken!

 

Kasha's mom is driving this bad boy! The mower is her favorite new gadget, even though she joked that her husband keeps saying, "Stop mowing down all my fields, woman!" 😉

 

You know what, though? It was this visit that served as the catalyst for getting me back on track- I have never felt more at home and at peace with myself than when I was at the farm. I just kept thinking to myself, “WHY, when I can have all of this, am I not feeding my body the very best things for it?”

First of all, Bialas farms is my favorite place on the planet- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve been a lot of places, but it’s the farm that makes me cry to leave it, it’s the farm that makes me appreciate the most simple things in life, that makes me stop and think about my place in the world.

 

My little old point and shoot cannot do the farm justice. I cannot wait to go back with my SLR and attempt to capture some of the magic.

 

I’m a city girl (although maybe I’m really a farm girl at heart?), so seeing where my favorite foods come from and pulling them from the ground with my own two hands was a pretty profound experience. I’d never dug up potatoes, pulled leeks or beets or onions, or seen an artichoke flower. I’m ashamed to admit that I never even realized that when an artichoke is allowed to mature it looks like this:

 

Kasha's dad told me that for years, people didn't even realize you could eat artichokes!

 

I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I was also outfoxed by my tour guide when I first arrived, Thomas, Kasha’s incredibly charming and very clever six-year old, who advised me that I should just dig for the potatoes, including the fingerlings. Along came his grandma on her giant mowing tractor, took one look and said, “What the hell are you guys doing? Just pull out the whole plant!” See?

 

When you pull up the plant, the potatoes are attached to all the roots!

 

Yep. The little con artist knew what he was doing all along! Good thing he’s so freakin’ cute.

 

Thomas was very relaxed riding the mower. ME? I was holding on with BOTH hands. NO WAY was I going to become "the city slicker who fell off the mower that one time!"

 

How about peanuts? Ever seen those growing? Yes, they are…phallic looking, as Kasha’s aunt Gerry was quick to point out!

 

These weren't quite ready yet, but they're getting there!

 

And the corn. The glorious corn.

 

Bialas Farms grows several types of corn. Their popcorn is second to NONE!

 

 

Yes, TWO corn pictures. I'm having corn withdrawal since they aren't carrying it at the farmer's market anymore. 😦

 

How about this celery? Bialas farms was a celery and onion farm when it first started.

 

This is what you see when you look at the celery...it took me a second to realize what it was!

 

 

I'm a dork, but picking onions was particularly exciting. I remember seeing a little girl in a favorite picture book of mine doing it when I was young.

 

 

Yellow onions!

 

 

There is nothing better than walking barefoot in the fields. Except maybe the water fight Thomas and I had with the hose before Kasha would let us in the house afterwards.

 

As I stood in my bare feet, sinking into the luscious black dirt (glaciers moved through the valley many years ago and took out the forests. The dirt is peat. Kasha’s dad, Sonny, told me that when he tills the dirt, sometimes he unearths leaves that have been buried for thousands of years) and looked out on the fields, divided into neat rows of all sorts of vegetables and fruits, it struck me how sad it is that too many people never know, think about or understand where their food comes from. I can’t quite explain how awe inspiring it was to see fields upon fields producing SO MUCH FOOD.

 

New crops are constantly being added and/or tended to as the season progresses.

 

It’s also difficult to contemplate that so much of it just goes to waste when there are too many people starving in this world, or family’s relying on ramen noodles and other cheap foods to get their families through lean times. It’s unbelievable how much food you can grow on 50 acres- and the Bialas’ farm isn’t even considered all that big! These pictures are a very very small look, and I so wish I could show you absolutely everything!

 

I picked these carrots and holy MOLY, they were amazing!

 

 

Kasha's aunt was a fabulous guide to the farthest reaches of the farm- and she held my radishes so I could take a picture!

 

 

Oh, glorious beets!

 

 

THIS is a brussel sprout plant. They were just starting when I was there, but make no mistake, I MUST RETURN FOR THEM! Again, thanks to Gerry for being so patient and holding back the leaves so I could take pictures!

 

 

These things were like candy. This was during the sorting process, as I helped Kasha's mom (who is hysterical and awesome, btw) prep for markets.

 

 

Aunt Gerry showed me how green beans are most effectively picked- yank the whole plant and hang it upside down-voila! It was very interesting because at my mom's, we'd never pull the plant up, because she has so few. On a farm, a machine yanks the plant and separates the bean from the plant.

 

 

This eggplant was one of my favorite discoveries!

 

And Kasha’s family? I have never seen a group of people work harder in my life- they work seven days a week tirelessly (we’re talking sun up to long after sundown) and still manage to be some of the friendliest, kindest and most genuine people I have met in my life- MAJOR RESPECT. I also have to say that the passion and love that they have for their land and what they do emanates from every single one of them. I think to work as hard as they do, you simply MUST love it.

They put me right to work and I absolutely adored it. From washing lettuce to tomatoes and selling at two farmer’s markets, I was in the thick of it. My reward? ALL THE FRESH PRODUCE I could fit in my Zipcar, and then some. Check this out- this is stuff I picked in the fields, and then I had my pick of whatever I wanted at the market and from the cooler:

 

This is what I picked, laid out in one of the pieces of machinery that is used to sort and wash produce. I learned all sorts of things about how produce is prepared before it leaves a farm!

 

Oh, the things I cooked and am still cooking! I shall tell you more in tomorrow’s post, which will undoubtedly take us back into fall. It’s all about the SQUASH! I’ll leave you for now with some pictures from the farmer’s markets, which, quite honestly, make me want to jump for joy. Or eat. Probably both.

I know, I know. These last few pictures are a little oddly skewed. But aren’t they beautiful, anyway? I hope you enjoyed reading about this as much as I enjoyed being there. If you are in the NY area, the Bialas’ have stands at the Goshen Farmer’s Market, Pleasantville Market, and the Ringwood, New Jersey Market. They’re also doing a CSA this year, and I only wish I was close enough to participate! Thanks again, Kasha and family.  I hope this post did the farm an iota of the justice it deserves and that I was able to communicate how much I love the farm.  On another note- I’ll be back, so hide the popcorn.

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Christmas decorations already?

Wow.  My CVS is already carrying Christmas decorations. I haven’t even ordered my Halloween costume yet, people!  I don’t know if I should be sad that this doesn’t surprise me.

Yeah,  yeah, yeah.  It’s been a while.  Here I am, alive and well.  Disappointed? Muahahahaha!  I’m back just in time for fall, a season I dreaded as a child (who wants to go back to school when they’ve spent their summers lounging by a pool and antagonizing the mean old lady next door?), but LOVE as an adult.  What’s not to love (other than the monsoon-like conditions in Boston lately)?:  A chill in the air, pumpkins and other squash, soups, stews, brussel sprouts, New England foliage, the heralding of ski season, Frye boots, tights…the list goes on.  Oh, yes, must also mention the fact that in less humid weather my hair stops looking so much like this:

So, late this summer I have made some serious changes and I’ve been away for so long because I was implementing those changes.  When my dad died three years ago of complications from Type 1 diabetes, he made me promise that I would take better care of myself than he did.  I promised.  I lost 80 pounds and kept it off for a year and a half.  Then I got sick and gained a significant amount back. Even when I got it under control, I continued with unhealthy habits and kept gaining.

I’ve been ashamed since I started this blog and I think that’s what’s prevented me from being the kind of dedicated blogger I would like to be.  I felt so out of control and like a hypocrite calling myself a “healthy food blogger.”  Can you be overweight and be a health food blogger?  I wasn’t eating chips or junk food.  I was eating copious amounts of homecooked food- bread, cheese, etc (remember this post?).

This summer I took control.  I just made the decision and didn’t look back.  Since August 17, I’m down 22 pounds.  I’ve set my goal a bit lower than last time, so I’d like to lose about 38 more.  You know what, though?  It’s just a number.   Maybe I’ll lose 25 more and feel great.  Maybe I’ll lose 40 more.  Who knows?   I’ll let my body decide where it wants and needs to be.  I’ll trust it.   I already feel so good about what I’m doing- good about myself, the choices I’m making.  With the help of a truly wonderful friend, I’ve made strides in ending the “fat talk.”  I don’t cringe when I look in the mirror.  It feels as though the final piece of the puzzle is snapping into place.  It feels like I’m coming home- to me.

One of the things that I sometimes struggle with is last minute dinner preparation.  I often get home really late and as a general rule of thumb, I try not to eat past eight.  So, what’s a girl to do when she’s spent the night after work buying fabulous shoes buying things she desperately needed and doesn’t get home until 7:15?  Here are some tips for quick, easy and painless healthy cooking:

  • If you don’t already have one, invest in a convection oven (it doubles as a toaster).  I haven’t turned my stove on in months and it cooks incredibly quickly. You can bake or broil.  Roasted veggies are a CINCH! I’m partial to brussel sprouts this time of year.
  • If you have a Trader Joe’s, they have ready made brown rice, wild rice and lentils.  I can’t tell you how easy it is to throw together a grain salad with this stuff.
  • Keep ready made salad dressings for grain salads and salads handy.  Try this recipe (I’ve been subbing agave for honey lately and adding a splash of cider vinegar for extra oomph)and this little tool is a fabulous investment.  Mine’s always ready to go in my fridge!
  • Two words: polenta cakes.  Use quaker five minute cornmeal, stir in whatever spices you may desire, a little parm if you’d like, form patties and then in a non-stick pan (this part is very very important), pan fry in olive oil until crispy.  These can be topped with just about ANYTHING.  One of my personal favorites?  Salsa, black beans, soy cheddar and fat-free plain greek yogurt!
  • Keep grains handy- cous cous cooks in three minutes in the microwave.  I always have cooked bulgur, wheatberries, etc. handy.  You can toss in all sorts of veggies, make a faux risotto, or sautee up some mushrooms and onions and do a “rice pilaf.”
  • Batch cooking.  Some people shudder at the thought of this.  Sometimes I find it less daunting to just throw my leftovers in the freezer without even thinking about it.  My planning never works out, so sometimes I just have to wing it.
  • Beans, beans, the magical fruit…These little guys pack a huge punch and cans of beans can be used to make everything from a quick falafel to two minute bean burgers.  You can also use them to bulk up all manner of salads.
  • Keep frozen veggies handy- my staples are spinach, corn, edamame and broccoli.  I must admit that these don’t hold a candle to fresh, but you’ll find that there are some that are a-ok.
  • Don’t beat yourself up.  Some nights I feel like Martha and some nights I feel like turning on a stove burner could send me to the looney bin.  It’s perfectly ok to heat up a can of soup.  I LOVE Amy’s soups.

There are lots more things I can think of, but some are just obvious- fresh fruits and veggies, veggie/bean burgers, salad fixin’s, hard boiled eggs, etc.  These are all terrific options for quick, easy, and healthy meals.  I do have one last thing to share- a gadget I recently rediscovered that’s been very helpful to me.

Personally, I think this is worth the small investment.  I have quite a liberal hand with the olive oil bottle (I’m Italian.  I bleed this stuff).  This gadget not only really helps me keep the oil spillage and my portions under control, it also helps get a nice even coating on the pan, veggies, popcorn or whatever else I’d usually be dousing with the stuff.

It feels good to be back in this community that I love.  Now, who’s going to Fitbloggin’11?  Yours truly will be there and so many others I’m truly excited to see/meet!  And do tell- what’s your favorite thing about fall??

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Where in the world is Jenny?

She’s in New Hampshire!  And not referring to herself in third person in real life, as that is really quite annoying when it comes down to it.

Anyway, my glorious four-day weekend (hooray for working higher education!) is off to a terrific start.  This morning I did some errands and I picked up this:

Dior gloss in "Little Red Dress"- goes on a pretty sheer

I walked out of Sephora wearing this lipstick and was pleased to discover that if the whole grad school thing doesn’t work out, it appears I have a fallback career as a Disney character waiting for me.   I was going up the escalator and in front of me was an adorable little girl in a navy dress.  She kept looking back at me and smiling shyly, before finally tugging on her mom’s hand.  She bent down and the little girl whispered in her ear, and the mom looked back at me.  “She thinks you look like Snow White.”  I laughed and smiled at the little girl and said, “Well, thank you.  That’s a lovely compliment.”  So, TAKE THAT, everyone who called me “pasty.”  I look like a lovely princess who befriends dwarves.

Boston seems awfully far away now, though.  I’m in the White Mountains and while some people might find this hard to believe, I actually really do love the whole “getting back to nature” thing.  Tomorrow I plan to abandon my phone and enjoy the day as it was meant to be enjoyed- there’s a parade, a river rubber duck race, and fireworks.  In short, I’ll be reverting to a five-year old and loving it, thankyouverymuch.  It’s good for the soul, wouldn’t you say?

We got here at around dinnertime and before we ate, my cousin Sarah and I went for a quick walk to pick some wildflowers for the dinner table.

Wildflowers!

That’s all for tonight. Happy weekend!

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Walking through Beacon Hill at the Liberty Hotel: Taste of Beacon Hill 2010

Wednesday night I put on my dancing shoes and headed out to “Taste of Beacon Hill,” at the amazing Liberty Hotel, thanks to Yelp Boston- thanks for the tickets, Yelp (and if you’re in the area, follow Yelp on Twitter and maybe you can win cool tickets, too!) ! Fortunately for those that would’ve had to witness me breaking out the moves, there was no dancing, but what I got was far better- the chance to sample summer fare of 26 restaurants on Beacon Hill in Boston.  They had it all- the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Luckily, the ugly was few and in between.

The Liberty Hotel, which I have been dying to check out for AGES, is absolutely STUNNING.  It was the Suffolk County Jail for 120 years, until it was deemed unfit for housing prisoners in 1973.  It took over 30 years for it to be converted and the result is a dynamic building that preserves the historical and dynamic appeal of its history with the modern and hip.  I can’t even explain it.  You can read about it and see pictures here.

Now, for those of you keeping score, I AM a vegetarian.  However, lately, I have been considering pescatarian, and last night I went into the event with the attitude that if I wanted to have seafood, I would.  I didn’t try every restaurant, particularly the ones that were serving meat, but I assure you that by the end of the night I was STUFFED like a Thanksgiving turkey, as was my aunt, who I brought along for the ride.

When we got there, we discovered that “Taste of Beacon Hill” was a benefit to sponsor “Future Chefs,” an organization that provides scholarships, career assistance and mentors to underprivileged, at risk and low-income students from the Boston area that are interested in culinary careers.  I was particularly pleased and surprised to hear that in addition to fundraising, schools often donate scholarships to the program, as well.  With the economy and shrinking endowments, more and more schools are being forced to reduce their scholarships, so it makes me happy that there are schools that give to causes that matter.  There were several alums, current students and a staff member in attendance at the event and they were all very enthusiastic and grateful- just wonderful to see.

Yeah, yeah…you want to hear about the food.  I jotted down some quick notes when I got home so that I wouldn’t forget anything and I have to tell you, I might’ve had a little too much wine because I’m reading things like, “She called THAT  hummus?”  and “Sadness piccata.”  There’s some other stuff, too, but I don’t want to be barred from Beacon Hill.  In my defense, I didn’t know there’d be sangria to try when I had that first glass of Chardonnay.  However, when Upper Crust serves sangria, you have to try it out of sheer curiosity!

While I want to say a huge thank you and commend them for participating in such an awesome event, I have to tell the truth, so I’ll start out with the mediocre and disappointing and get that out of the way.

No one is sadder than I am that I am including this place, but No. 9 Park made my “What the heck happened?!” list this time around.  This place is legendary, with Chef Barbara Lynch serving up rustic Italian, and I have had some of the most incredible culinary experiences of my life here.  Of course, when I found out they were going to be serving, I was pretty pumped.  Admittedly, I sent “prune stuffed gnocchi!” vibes.  Now, Barbara Lynch also owns Menton, a restaurant in Boston that only serves fixed course menus, ranging from 85-145 dollars a person.  I was expecting James Beard worthy dishes.  What did I get?  Raw oysters on the half shell.  Whoop-de-freakin do.  I know they’re a delicacy (although the snot-like quality really turns me off), but they weren’t even shucking them in front of us.  Could you have picked a lazier dish to showcase yourselves, No. 9?? It was horribly disappointing and a really poor showing, in my opinion.  If I was ever so inclined, I’d get oysters at Union Oyster  House (only thing I’d go there for- it’s a tourist trap because it’s the oldest restaurant in the country), or Jasper White’s Summer Shack.

Another slightly disappointing dish was the naan dish from Scampo (Lovely, Jenny- continue to piss off some of the best chefs in Boston!).  Lydia Shire (of Biba and Locke-Ober- a Boston Institution) herself was cooking this right in front of us.   Scampo is actually located in the Liberty Hotel itself, and I peeked in- fantastic space.  I’m going to give the chef the benefit of the doubt on this one because I didn’t have the lamb that I assume would’ve pulled the whole dish together.  FYI: I have to tell you that it’s a little awkward saying to Lydia Shire, “No lamb for me, thanks!”

What I ended up with was a piece of naan (cooked in quite a bit of oil in a skillet) topped with hummus, a pea and bean mixture, yogurt with herbs, red onion, and a sprinkle of sumac.  The flavors worked- it was Lydia Shire, for Pete’s sake!,- but there just wasn’t a WOW factor.  I often have naan with hummus, yogurt and veggies, so maybe that’s why, but it wasn’t impressive to me.  I did, however, appreciate the sumac, a spice that I so rarely see used.

What I am happy to show you was the other offering from Scampo.  Check out this chocolate mousse.

Seems pretty run of the mill, yes? What you can’t see is the Kahlua poured on top of it!  My aunt tried it as I don’t eat chocolate (obviously, she knew it was her duty to my readers) and said that it was very rich, but quite good!

Another disappointing one was Beacon Hill Bistro.  I hadn’t eaten here before and had heard mixed reviews, so I was quite curious to see what they had to offer.  I really hope that what they served wasn’t indicative of the rest of their menu, although that WAS the point.  It was a sampler plate that included a pepper jerky (neither my aunt nor I tried this), a mini salted chocolate sundae and smoked salmon on a cracker with dill and god only knows what else- all I could taste was the dill, which makes sense as there were sprigs the size of palm fronds.  The good news is that this place focuses on local and organic products, so at the very least, I was probably ingesting pesticide free and environmentally friendly dill.  My aunt tried the chocolate salted sundae, took one bite and politely set it aside- the balance of salt to chocolate was waaay off.  Final Score: 0 for 2.

Harvest Gardens was another restaurant with a poor showing.  I actually hadn’t heard much about this place, so I went in with no preconceived notions.  When I saw the mini lobster rolls, my hopes went through the roof- lobster rolls are to New England what fish and chips are to the British.  It started out beautifully- I spotted them, noted the mini hot dog (I think it might’ve been challah bread?) rolls toasted on both sides, saw the lobster salad tucked in and calling my name and I snatched it up, nearly mowing down a woman sidling into the Scampo line (ha! joke’s on you, lady!).  I took my first bite and my taste buds and brain were at war.  My eyes said, “Lobster!” and my mouth screamed, “BUTTER!” All I could taste was the butter that they had apparently SOAKED the roll in.  The lobster salad just wasn’t flavorful enough to stand up to the lobster.  Sadness lobster.  And I’m just going to not say anything about the tuna tartare because the chef was so nice.  Perhaps it was just an off night?

Now, before I get myself blacklisted from the Boston food scene, let’s move on to the good stuff!  I don’t even know what to talk about first- The cupcakes?  The best scallop I have EVER eaten?  Ok, let’s start with the great stuff and move our way up to the practically orgasmic.

Everyone knows that Upper Crust makes great pizza.  It’s not some well kept secret, and I was actually a little surprised (but not complaining!) to see them at the event.  I had a mini slice of tomato, basil and mozzarella pizza, which, as I already knew, was delicious, with a crispy crust and a sauce that would make my Italian great-grandmother proud.  I would think she would’ve appreciated the sangria, too- it was a DELICIOUS surprise.  I must admit that I knocked back my chardonnay a teeny bit too quickly just so I could taste it- i wasn’t disappointed. It was wonderfully fruity, refreshing, the perfect summer drink and kicked ass against the sangria from another restaurant serving cuban sandwiches (the name escapes me as I didn’t try their food- just their booze.  Go figure.).  I hope they are actually serving this stuff at the location near me!

Whole Foods was there, as well, with a HUGE display of mini cheesecakes.  I don’t really have much to say about these, because they were standard Whole Foods fare- quite tasty.  Vanilla Bean and Raspberry were heads above key lime, but my favorite part about this was the display and I probably wouldn’t have even bothered telling you about this station, except I want to show these pictures:

Sadly, these weren't for sampling

The one thing that I have never been able to master when it comes to arborio rice is the art of the risotto cake.  One place that does it right?  Hampshire House.  Not only was their presentation one of the best at the event, it lived up to its aesthetic charm.  A veggie risotto cake sat on top of red pepper coulis and baby basil- which not only acted as a garnish, but did enhance the dish, which I always appreciate.  Superfluous items on a plate annoy me.  Don’t put stuff on the plate I can’t eat unless it’s a lobster.  I digress.   It was a perfect combination that left me feeling like I had just eaten the city’s most sophisticated bite of comfort food.

For those of us that don’t want to face the onslaught of tourists with fanny packs and stand in line at Mike’s Pastry, Boston’s most infamous cannoli dispensary, I assure you that a respectable substitute awaits you at Panificio Bakery and Bistro.  The cannoli, which was filled right in front of us, was delicious- the cream was a lovely consistency and there was a hint of lemon, making for a really fresh and light taste.  I have actually found that the cannoli shells, when done poorly, can be a little oily- but these were crunchy, delicious, and the only residue on my hands when I shoveled in the last bite was the powdered sugar.  The savory dish, heirloom tomatoes on a toasted bread, was nothing to write home about, but I’m willing to overlook that if they’ll just keep those cannolis coming!

Most of the restaurants I had at the very least heard of before, but Lala Rakh was not one of them.  This is Persian/Iranian cooking at it’s finest and the only Eastern Mediterranean restaurant in the city.  I will forever be grateful to Taste of Beacon Hill for introducing me to this place.  The only problem I could find with this place was that they ran out of food before the night was over.  There were two dishes in particular that I wanted to swim in…a spinach and yogurt dish that they served with a perfectly crusty bread for dipping (or in my fantasty, perhaps as a kickboard?), and another dish consisting of eggplant, tomato, garlic and egg.  The farmers at my market had better get ready to sell me some eggplant, garlic and tomato ASAP because I need to figure this dish out for myself.  I snagged a menu from their table and was pleased to note that the prices were reasonable and the selection vast.  If you are in Boston- this is a must try.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite thing because I’m torn between two things- a dessert and an entree.

Say what you will about Todd English, Fig’s and Olive’s.  I know, I know- overbotoxed, overpriced, and overrated, but I will not let you besmirch his cupcakes.  I should preface this by saying that I actually am not usually a cupcake fan.  In theory, I want them.  They look awesome, but then I take a bite and the cake is dense and the frosting is too sugary and leaves me wanting a gallon of milk straight out of the carton.  That was before.  Wednesday night I met a cupcake of a different kind.

My aunt and I were confused that the Fig’s table was covered with adorable mini cupcakes and were told that Todd English is opening a place called “Curly Cakes” in a couple of months on Beacon Hill.  I thought many things to myself:  “He’s a little late to the cupcake party,” and “I wish we had Magnolia Bakery.”  Then I ate one. Two. Five. Ok, fine.  By the end of the night I had five freakin’ mini cupcakes.  Ok, six.  I swear to you.  Just six.  And don’t judge me- you would’ve done the same freakin’ thing.  There was raspberry, strawberry, chocolate mousse, and vanilla bean.  The chocolate moose and vanilla bean had a delicate candy coating on the frosting.  If the sounds my aunt was making while eating the chocolate mousse one was any indication, it was as good as the vanilla bean.  I cannot impress upon you how delicious these things were.  The cupcakes were moist and beautifully flavored- light, somehow.  The frosting was the best part, though- not too sweet and melted in your mouth.  I don’t know another way to describe it except that it was like ice cream, but not cold.  I cannot believe I have to wait two months for Curly Cakes to open.  Seriously.  I’m afraid I won’t be able to help myself.  There may be talk of a cupcake intervention on this blog somewhere in the future.  You heard it in this post first.  I’m spitting on the memories of three of the Golden Girls by saying this, but these things put the Whole Foods cheesecakes to shame.

Ok.  I’ve made up my mind.  I’m going to have to give the award for Best Dish of the Night to Scollay Square.  Anyone who can cook a scallop THAT perfectly in front of a crowd of people with broken and misbehaving burners deserves an award (and a stiff drink!).   This is “heaven on a plate (I SWEAR to you that is a direct quote from my notes.  I underlined it about three times, too.)”:

This is a seared scallop sitting on top of a risotto leak cake with a dash of lemon sauce and a few crispy sauteed veggies as a flavorful garnish. The chef was nice enough to chat with us and told us that he simply seared the scallops in a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and threw in a little whole butter in the end to aid in caramelization.  I couldn’t believe it was really that simple because the flavor was just so delicate and refined, but there you have it!  Of course, if I try to recreate this magic, i’ll probably set the things on fire.  The risotto cake, although made at the restaurant and brought over, was still absolutely perfect- a crispy and crunchy exterior and a perfectly seasoned and textures inside.  I plan to get to Scollay soon and if you are in the area- SO SHOULD YOU.

This was such a terrific night and although I didn’t win that gift certificate for botox at the silent auction…KIDDING (although I kid you not, that was one of the items you could bid on), I enjoyed every bit of it.  So, again, one last thank you to Yelp and also my lovely aunt for coming with me and not abandoning me when I whipped out my camera.   And one final note: To whoever DID win that botox gift certificate…LESS IS MORE.

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If I Can Cook, So Can You. Trust me.

First, a little Public Service Announcement: You know how Milky Ways are INSANELY awesome when you throw them in the freezer? Well, frozen PB&J Lara Bars are the health food blogger’s answer to the frozen candy bar. There you go. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I was thinking about how much I love to experiment in the kitchen today as I struggled to think of more spinach recipes (I hate you, Costco.). Naturally, this got me to thinking about how many failures i’ve experienced over the years. Unless you’re baking, cooking, in my book, just isn’t an exact science. I’m like a mad scientist (although decidedly more fashionable than that Bill Nye person) in the kitchen (unless making family recipes that were ingrained in me by age 8).

Now, I don’t profess to be graceful. I set my hair on fire once, bending over to smell a candle as I was getting into a bubble bath. The flame was blue, shot up my hair shaft towards my face, thanks to the products in it (I assume), and left me with a big chunk of singed hair. This look doesn’t sit well with the high school crowd, i’ll tell you that much. That one pyro kid in AP Bio was totally fascinated, but that was about it (I think he’s a fireman now. Go figure.).

This tendency towards the ridiculous has followed me into the kitchen on several occasions. I’ve set three microwaves on fire (Sorry, mom.) and cut my finger almost to the bone cutting an avocado in my palm (Sorry, people who don’t do gore). I’ve made oatmeal raisin cookies sans raisins (Sorry, Erin.) and cakes that would make Martha Stewart fall over and die of disgust (Sorry, Chels and Sues.).

I will say, though, that for all the trauma that has ensued in my kitchen and various kitchens that I have cooked in over the years, there have also been many triumphs- and I’m not just talking about the day I truly realized that wine wine added to pretty much anything makes everything taste better.

It still surprises me when I hear people say, “I can’t cook. I’m just afraid.” Afraid of what? Setting something on fire? That’s what they have fire extinguishers for! Knives? Use a handheld chopper! Producing something disgusting? Well, that’s how you learn! Do you think Evan Lysacek never bruised his butt practicing his triple axels?

This is Evan falling on his ass at the 2006 Olympics

This is Evan with a Gold Medal at the 2010 Olympics

Now, I’m not saying you’re going to get a gold medal for cooking. In fact, the closest most of us will ever get is this:

But my point is that sometimes it’s the things that you learn from your past failures that help ensure your future success. I sure as hell never leaned over a candle with loose long hair again!

I’d like to officially recommend THIS book. Every beginner should have this in their arsenal because it covers everything from the bare bones basics like how to properly chop (with pictures!), to obscure ingredients and techniques.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I will say it again. One of the most valuable lessons my Nana taught me (among MANY MANY others), was how to cook. She believed that every young woman should have at least basic cooking knowledge- and it wasn’t because she was old fashioned and wanted me to be able to feed my husband, but because she knew that it was the best way to nourish my body and take care of myself.

When I cook, I know what’s in my food, where it came from and what i’m eating. I’m so very grateful to her for patiently teaching me. Some of my best memories are of the two of us in her kitchen, side-by-side as she kept up a stream of conversation, explaining each step, pausing when I interrupted her to ask a question (usually, “Can I stir?”). There was no better place in the world to be.

On a final note, I’ve talked a little bit about creating in this post. I’m a pretty creative person- whether it’s cooking, mixed media, jewelry design, design, painting, drawing, decoupage…the list goes on and on. What has always truly fascinated me is this notion of “inspiration.” Where does it come from? Is it tangible? and of course…what inspires people? On that note, I’ve decided to launch a new interview series called “People Who Create.” If you’re interested in participating (and you can be a creator of absolutely ANYTHING- writers, artists, crafters, cooks…you name it and i’d love to hear what you have to say), please drop me a line at Colorhungryjenny@yahoo.com.

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