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Archive for the ‘no recipe’ Category

“When you live in Iceland,” our taxi driver told us, “you have to know how to live. Our winters are so long and so dark that we have to appreciate every hour of sun we can get.”

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Natasha, my friend since high school, and I were en route to Vesturbæjarlaug, a sundlaug (community pool) recommended by our city tour guide the day before. It’s a twenty-minute walk from downtown Reykjavik and we might have made the trek by foot had we not gone horseback riding that morning. What we thought was going to be a one-hour stroll turned into a three-hour rambling tölta gait specific to Icelandic horses that’s supposed to be very smooth but I’m not sure that our tushes would agree.

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Before getting into the pools, we stripped down and washed off the horse farm thoroughly. Very thoroughly.

In addition to a lap pool complete with red twisty slide was a series of heated tubs. We entered the largest tentatively, securing empty spots on a bench, and quickly found a powerful jet for for an aquatic shoulder and neck massage. An older gentleman struck up a conversation and when we told him we had been horse back riding, he laughed: “You should be using the jet on your ass!”

Surrounded by murmurs and laughter among groups – families, friends, neighbors – our muscles relaxed as we each found comfortable positions, leaning on the walls, heads back, sun shining. We followed a circuit of hot pots and I eventually and gingerly made my way into the hottest – a literally steaming 111ºF.

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No, that’s not one of the pools – it’s Strokker geyser, silly!

The communal feel continued for the next hour and a half, as one silver-haired green-suited woman encouraged me to plunge from the heat into the polar (get it?) opposite pool at a frigid 8ºC. Yes, yes, it’s 46ºF, but gosh, doesn’t it sound chillier in celsius?

My first numbing dip was to my knees, second to my belly button, third past my shoulders, punctuated by visits to progressively hotter hot spots. The final time, stopping just short of my chin, I glanced up to see my cheerleader give me a thumbs up. As I rushed out, she smiled: “It takes me three tries also!”

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Afternoon turned to evening but the sky barely changed. As our fingers and toes wrinkled beyond recognition, we took one last pass at the jets and then joined a bevy of teens stretched out in a warm shallow pool. Half-immersed in the one-foot deep water, we turned our heads skyward, suntanning.

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***

Natasha and Gayle’s guide to Reykjavik, Iceland

Eat and drink

Icelandic food is on the heavier side – while there’s a lot of fish, local produce seems to be largely limited to root vegetables and some berries. It did pay to seek out a few nicer places for dinner that had interesting takes of traditional fare. The restaurants never rush you, and you have to ask for your check. We ate dinner late every night because we had pretty full days and making reservations the day before or the day of usually meant that 9 pm was the only available time. That said, it’s light until around midnight, so eating at 9 pm didn’t feel late.

Breakfast, lunch, and coffee

Sandholt. Great bakery on the “main strip” – Laugavegur. We ate our first (breakfast) and last (lunch) meals there and this was a prefect way to bookend our trip. Amazing breads and other baked goods – we should have eaten more! Ask for lemon curd with your skyr – you won’t be sorry.

Gló. When you’re jonesing for some fresh, raw vegetables, head to gló. The entrees are served with a selection of salads and you could probably get by with just the salads for a light lunch.

Reykjavik Roasters. I got my daily morning fix here as it was across from my hotel and they take their coffee very seriously. The baristas are nice (and cute) and the cafe has an eclectic living room feel, complete with wooden trunk turned table in front of lounge-y couch. It’s a little off the beaten path, but if you’re in the neighborhood, it’s worth checking out. And if the coffee doesn’t get you, the avocado toast will.

Kaffislippur. Another coffee place (with decent pastries) that’s in an industrial area near the marina. It’s inside one of the coolest hotels I’ve ever seen (see below).

Dinners (in order of preference)

Matur go Drykkur.  This was one of our favorite dinners and we had tasting menus (they even have a vegetarian one!) which included two desserts, including twisted kleina doughnuts with whey caramel (!!! – I found a recipe if you want to try your hand at making yogurt and then using the whey) and, surprise surprise, skyr with strawberries and green strawberry granita. I had one of the most gorgeous (and tasty) cocktails made with chervil (which I kept mispronouncing as chevril). The restaurante has an open kitchen and is cute inside, but it’s a storefront in the middle of a parking lot and the entrance is through a hotel. Do make a reservation – we made one the night before and only 9 pm was available, and they were turning parties away at the door.

Fiskelagid. Despite the uninspiring name (it means Fish Company), this place served another favorite dinner of ours. The restaurant is down a flight of stairs and the indoor seating is subterranean and a little cave-like, but it works. We opted to skip the tasting menus, and our skyr dessert featured a caramelized blondie, lemony sorrel crystals (ahem, granita) and merengue, and hazelnut gelato. Again, a reservation is probably a good idea – we made ours at the last minute, and like almost every other night, the only time we were able to eat was at 9 pm.

Laekjarbrekka. We had a very good dinner here on our fist night, perhaps a bit less innovative than the first two restaurants I mentioned and with an older, mostly local clientele. I had arctic char with a hollandaise sauce – a bit of an odd combination but the fish was great. This is the place that started our skyr obsession, served with a scoop of blueberry sorbet and oatmeal crumbles – the inspiration for the recipe in my next post.

Loki. Right across from Hallgrimskirkja church, this casual spot serves homey traditional food and the super dense, moist rye bread – similar to Boston brown bread – that steams overnight in a geothermally-heated dirt “oven.”

Play

CityWalk tour. This free two-ish hour walking tour of Reykjavik was a great way to get to know the city and I recommend trying to do it on your first day. Our guide was a grad student in art history, knowledgable, and, like my coffee dude, cute to boot. After the tour, he sent us a list of suggested places to visit, eat, drink, etc. We had originally booked a walking tour with Kex Hostel but after paying and arriving, we were told that the tour not offered and should have never been available on the website. The tour coordinator there told us about the CityWalk tour and, after a little bit of coaxing, cheerfully drove us to the starting point.

Eldhestar. Combination horse farm and hotel. They have a variety of horseback riding options through their rustic fields and creeks, and seem to cater to a lot of experience levels. We went with the newby crowd and were able to try the famous tölt gait. If you ride Kria, beware the shifting saddle. Included in our tour (horses and puffins) was a simple lunch at the hotel – they have soup every day and a basic sandwich bar that included some welcome vegetable, nothing fancy but enough to tide us over. Our ride was notably longer than the 1.5-2 hour advertised. They will lend you boots and rain jumpsuits which we foolishly declined and both ended up throwing out our sneakers and jeans (the horses seem to delight in wiping their grass- and snot-covered nostrils on our legs). Try to get a fly net for your face, otherwise you may end up eating a few insects. The farm  picked us up at our hotel.

Puffins! Our one hour puffin tour was led by Special Tours. The boat ride was a fun way to see the adorable little birds (they have powerful binoculars onboard for anyone to use) and catch a different view of the city.

Golden circle. This is the bare minimum of nature-based touring that anyone visiting Iceland must do. It includes the geysers of Haukadalur (Geysir is the original geyser, though it’s not as active as it once was, so we saw Strokker instead which erupts every 5-10 minutes), Gulfoss Falls, and Þingvellir National Park (where the North American and European tectonic plates meet). We booked our trip with Reykjavik Excursions which was good – we opted for the later departure (10 am) highlights-only trip, because jet lag.

Harpa. Meaning “harp,” this concert hall and performance center is a stunner from outside and in. It’s won a bunch of architecture awards and was apparently built to demonstrate that Iceland was coming out of its financial difficulties. We saw a funny, cheesy one-man show that was a good tongue-in-cheek introduction to Icelandic culture.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibition. This small museum is at the site of an archeological dig of what is thought to be one of the first houses in Iceland from the time when the island was settled (in 871 CE). We serendipitously caught a tour and the whole thing took about an hour including some wandering time. They have a bunch of games and interactive exhibits for kids and, well, kids like us.

Hallgrimskirkja. Tall church and national monument that apparently has great views. We didn’t make it up. Apparently they have a mediation with organ on Thursdays from 12:00 – 12:30 which I would have liked to go to, but we ran out of time.

Dip

Go to as many geothermal and community pools as you can. Enough said.

Blue Lagoon. Super touristy and you should go anyway. This is a natural geothermal pool – it sinks of sulfur, but you get used to it pretty quickly. Do the silica mud mask, pay a few dollars for the algae mask as well. Let them take your photo – they’ll make you look pretty, and email the picture to you. There’s a restaurant inside – LAVA – that’s supposed to be very good but we weren’t in the mood for a fancy sit-down lunch. You need a reservation for the lagoon (we booked the comfort package which includes a towel) and any tour company can schedule it for you along with transportation. Many people go straight there from the airport since it’s so close, but I’m not quite sure about the luggage storage situation. Even with a reservation, the line to get in took at least 15 minutes, but once inside everything runs really smoothly. If you want to get a massage or other spa service, you need to book in advance. Unlike other pools, the shower here have doors if you’re squeamish about that sort of thing.

Vesturbæjarlaug. This is a community pool recommended by our walking tour guide. He said it’s a 20 minute walk from City Hall (near the bottom of Laugavegur) where our tour ended, but we took a taxi from our hotel. This is the real deal if you want to feel like part of the neighborhood. The multiple pools are chlorinated and at various temperatures. The majority seem to be in the 36º-38ºC range while there are a few “hot pots” reaching up to 44CºC and a cold bath for quick dips (or, if you’re a native, a nice long soak). Be prepared to shower and wash in your birthday suit in a single-sex room.

Buy

Woolens. I picked up a blanket and hat at Nordic Store (where Laugavegur dead-ends onto Lækjargata). Prices and brands seemed pretty consistent across stores.

Salt.  There is a wide variety of locally harvested salt. Norður is a flaky sea salt – think of it as the Maldon of Iceland. Saltver also makes a fleur-de-sel like product,  but I opted their interestingly flavored more chunky salts (about the consistency of Diamond kosher salt) and picked up a pretty jar of birch-smoked in a 10-11 convenience store (think 7-Eleven) which had a much lower price than tourist or grocery (Bónus) stores. I also bought no-name black lava salt in a souvenir shop.

Blue Lagoon skin care products. We hemmed and hawed when we saw the price of the silica mud mask but on the last day of our trip, we broke down and each bought a tube. I’ve used it since the trip and I’m happy I ended up splurging – the mask just feels so good! If you don’t pick anything up at the lagoon itself, there’s a store on Laugavegur and one in the airport. Prices are the same everywhere.

ChocolateOmnom is a loved the salted almond. I even tried the licorice chocolate bar by accident and I did not hate it. Definitely buy at the grocery store and there happened to be a pretty good deal at dutyfree in the airport. Apparently they have a factory tour – next time, definitely next time. Nói Síríus is the oldest and largest chocolate manufacturer in Iceland and they make an addictive milk chocolate bar with toffee bits.

Licorice (“lakkrís”) everything. Ok, not for me but it’s everywhere and in everything.

Sleep

Hotel Klettur. We booked this in a deal with our flight and were very happy with it. The hotel is located about two blocks from the top of Laugavegur, so it was quiet and peaceful and still really convenient. We had a fairly basic room with a view of the water and the all-important blackout curtains. A breakfast buffet was included – it was decent and held  us over, though I did get my coffee across the street at Reykjavik Roasters.

Icelandair Hotel, Reykjavik Marina. We didn’t stay here, but we had coffee at Kaffislippur, and wandered around the funkiest hotel common spaces I’ve ever seen: musical instruments hanging over a stairwell, a library, screening room with loungers, gym with a climbing wall, and who knows what else. There’s also a lot of public art around the hotel.

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Thanks to LizKathyLizzie, and Natasha’s friend David for sharing your recommendations and experiences in Iceland, and helping us have an amazing adventure!

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Still life with eggs.

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

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Also known as Passover baking.

Over the past week, twenty-four eggs have passed through my hands. One made it into breakfast. The remaining twenty-three were mixed into five batches of mini chocolate cakes and three of macaroons. Those macaroons will have to wait a few days but they’ll show up here soon enough.

I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about my kitchen. There’s a blog called a stove with a house around it – it’s been dormant for a while, but the name stays with me, and I think of my place as a kitchen with an apartment around it. One peek and I was ready to sign the lease. My apartment in Boston had a big kitchen (you can see me cooking in it here), much more than I needed as a single chick living on my own. But now that I’m back in New York, living in an apartment a third of the size of my old one, my kitchen can best be described as, well, efficient. In real estate lingo that would mean small. But in my lingo, it means small but (and!) it works really well for me.

The kitchen itself is a galley, but by far the most luxurious one I’ve ever had. With a large, even slightly over-sized, gas stove, I can fit a full sheet pan in the oven with room to spare (think twenty macaroons per pan!). Then there’s … get this … a garbage disposal. And a dishwasher.

Turn around, and you’ll bump into a narrow counter and a French door refrigerator with an ice cube maker that I spent six weeks trying to turn on. Turns out, when a fridge isn’t connected to a water supply, when there is no water supply it can be connected to, it can’t make ice. No matter how many times you press the reset button.

To the right of the fridge is a doorway. And to the left of the fridge is a doorway. What it lacks in counter space, the kitchen makes up for in open space.

When I first moved in, I was concerned about the counter situation. I dragged over a waist-high wire shelving unit for storing pots and pans and other things that I always need in easy reach, but it’s not sturdy or deep enough to chop on.

I use my pantry for dishes and appliances and baking sheets because it’s too awkwardly-shaped to stockpile cans and other staples. I use my cabinets for those staples. I store my plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper and the like in a trash bin under my sink – everything stands up and the rolls stay put. I only have three drawers, so I keep my two sets of silverware in the same one, with milk utensils facing upside up and meat ones upside down.

It took me until this week to get the hang of my kitchen and to appreciate its efficiency. All those eggs up there put my kitchen to the test and I’m pleased to say that she (he?) made it through with flying colors. One counter was the mixing station. The other, the cutting. In between photo shoots, the table served as a scooping station. And then a cooling station. With the small space, I was forced to clean up while I worked. And because it was small, it didn’t take long to clean.

A few hours ago, I left the dishwasher running and now I’m in New Jersey with family.

To those of you celebrating Passover, enjoy your seders tonight. And to everyone, happy Spring.

xo

 

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I’ve been called a lot of names, but “a Christmas miracle” is a new one for me.

And yet, there it was last week on my computer screen when I told my cousin Judy that I’d be able to drive out to Pennsylvania for her twenty-fourth annual Christmas Eve party. With geographic distance and a rapidly growing clan came the need for holiday celebrations that once fit around a (very long) table to separate into two. I hadn’t seen Judy’s side of the family in years, and when I walked through the door, a cheer erupted, followed  by hugs and kisses all around and a running squeal from my little cousin Clover.

The family was gathered around the kitchen counter, and someone quickly offered a stool and pushed a glass of wine into my hand. There was a round-robin of catching up until the cries of the kids could no longer be ignored and we all dove under the tree to dig out our gifts. On the pine needle-strewn floor, I found a bag with my name filled with a kaleidoscope of kitchen tools. Over cake, Clover and I assembled glow-in-the-dark necklaces. 

Bedtimes drew near and the crowd thinned out. As we approached midnight, just a few of us remained. Over the last drops of wine, we packed food into containers and neatly fit them into the refrigerator like a 3D Tetris game. And then the real catching up began. There were stories about my father as a kid, about lives reinvented, about family members I’d never had the opportunity to meet. Apparently my great-grandmother Lillian used to watch TV with a blanket around her legs because she didn’t want the anchorman to look up her skirt. Classic. Just classic.

I woke up the next morning in a red and green haze. I hadn’t heard Santa overnight, but I had no problem blaming him for the few  forkfuls of cake that disappeared before I got the coffee brewing. Judy, her husband Michael, and I shared a lazy morning and then I showered (in a tinsel-bedazzled bathroom) and got back in my car to drive home.

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lately

Hello, hello!

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year, and today was the warmest it’s been in months. I was driving about this afternoon, popping over to Crown Heights for a little barbecue and a few pretzels, and as I headed home in traffic and the sky darkened into night just a few minutes later than it did yesterday, I shot a few photos.

Here’s to longer days. And more sunshine. 

Manhattan Bridge N train

Apparently, the North Pole is somewhere on the Upper East Side. Where? Not sure.

North Pole

There’s a green market outside my apartment every Friday. You can never have enough apples.

apples

Or cranberry applesauce
cranberry applesauce

And then there’s Cuban artist Alexandre Arrachea‘s No Limits exhibit – The Sherry Netherland in Union Square

Union Square

I’m having fun being back in New York.

ps – Did you notice that it’s snowing on my blog? It starts every year on December first and continues until I’m not sure when. Love it.

pps – Want to make your chocolate chip cookies exactly the way you want them? Here’s a start. To make my own recipe even better (crispy crispy crispy), I should try 100% white sugar, melt the butter, use only baking soda, just barely mix all the ingredients together, and let the dough rest overnight before baking.

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what I’ve got

In the middle of long chains of emails titled “Thanksgiving menu,” my aunt Leslie started a new subject: “Holidays”

She wrote, “I was thinking…just a suggestion…that in lieu of gifts for any of these occasions*, we consider making contributions to worthy causes.”

My uncle Michael responded: “My first response is not serious — only if contributions don’t have to be wrapped and they can be designated as last year’s gifts**. Seriously, you have made an excellent suggestion which I would support!”

My aunt Linda added, “The money we are fortunate enough to be able to spend on a wonderful family dinner is plenty. Too many people can’t even afford a turkey.”

And then my mother, “In violent agreement. Many good causes for our donations.”

So, while I’m finishing up tomorrow’s stuffing, I wanted to share a few of the causes that my family cares about and supports.

Michael, Linda, and their son Ben volunteer with the Community Food Bank of NJ.

Every year, we buy Thanksgiving pies through Sharsheret‘s Pies for Prevention Event, organized by my friend Adeena and her sister. I wrote about the organization’s work to raise awareness about ovarian cancer and support research.

The ML4 Foundation raises money to research treatments for Mucolipidosis Type IV, a genetic disease that afflicts Eden, my friend’s daughter. This video explains more.

The Wounded Warrior Project honors and empowers wounded service members. My grandfather was in the air force.

My sister helped design and build the Lower East Side Girls Club whose goal is to raise the next generation of ethical, environmental, and entrepreneurial leaders. Also, they have the second largest planetarium in New York City, after the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History.

cornbread apple stuffing

In a day or two, there will be better stuffing photos and the recipe. Today, I’m happy with what I’ve got. And that’s pretty good.

* Today is my cousin Zach’s 21st birthday. Happy birthday, kiddo!

** I don’t think I’ve ever received a present from my family on my actual birthday. The day after? Maybe. Months later? Probably. The day before the next birthday? Yup. And we don’t believe in gift wrapping.

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howdy

I just got back from a few days in Austin and want to share a few photos of this live-music-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, two-stepping, hot-hot-hot food mecca.

Have a great week, y’all!

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Happy Place

Maria

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fiddle BW base

mura twinkle

Bloody Marys

Jo’s Cafe
242 West Second Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.469.9003
And other locations

Maria’s Taco Xpess
529 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
512.444.0261

The Continental Club
1315 South Congress
Austin TX 78704
512.441.2441

Austin Food Trailers – all over

La Condesa
400A West 2nd Street
Austin, TX 78701
512.499.0300

Allen’s Boots – yup, I bought cowboy boots!
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704
512.447.1413

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good things

Hey there. It’s been a while.  All’s good, just hectic since I started my new job.

This past week was full of wonderful surprises. A call from a sorely missed friend. Last minute tickets to see Alvin Ailey. An invitation from a chef to her birthday party where I got a sneak peek at her upcoming cookbook (I’ve already pre-ordered a copy). And lots of getting-to-know-you time with a pair of babies and catching-up-with-you time with their mama.

I was on the phone with another friend who, after I bubbled over with excitement telling her about all the good things that had happened to me this week,  reminded me, “Good things are always around you. You just need to be open to them.” So, while I haven’t been able to tote  my camera around much these days, I wanted to share a few good things that I captured with my phone since January.

No recipe today, but don’t worry though, there are some lemon macaroons just around the corner.

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The mug I use in the office for tea with milk.

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Salted pumpkin caramels to fuel me through a day working from home.

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Salted pumpkin caramels, an  hour later. And yes, I’m still in my pjs.

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Biscotti and gelati day at work. There was vanilla, lemon, and peanut butter chocolate chip gelati. Lime and dried cherry cornmeal biscotti. And experimental lemon black pepper cookies.

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Passover in Miami.

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And waffles. Who doesn’t love waffles?

See you back here soon. Happy Monday, everyone.

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on the other side

I’m off to Peru, friends, Peru!

I’ll be gone for a while, so it’s going to be a bit quiet around her until after the new year.

The past few months, I’ve been preparing like I’ve never prepared before. I booked my flights six months in advance. Hotels? Check. Machu Picchu? Check. Altitude medication? Check. Cooking class? Check.

I bought hiking boots two weeks ago and have been breaking them in at the gym. Which is miraculous for two reasons – first, I’ve been wearing hiking boots and second, I’ve been going to the gym.

My bedroom is covered with piles of clothing, organized into sections. There’s the wedding section (congrats, Veronica and Brian!) and the city section (Lima! Cusco! markets!) and the swimming section (pools! beaches!) and the hiking section (one of the seven wonders of the world!).

As I finish packing, I want to wish you a great last few days of 2012 and a fabulous 2013 to come. I’ll catch up with you on the other side.

***

PS I’ve been reading about Peruvian food – turns out there’s a lot more than cebiche with yams and pisco sours. Some call Peruvian cuisine the next big thing. Over a decade ago, the New York Times wrote about the melting pot that is Peruvian food, and years before that, Nobu Matsuhisa brought Japanese food with Peruvian flair to the US. Peru’s recent return to the culinary spotlight may be due to Ferran Adrià’s launching in Barcelona next month his newest venture, Patku, a restaurant dedicated to the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and techniques referred to as Nikkei gastronomy.

Famous chefs and fancy restaurants aside, where should I eat in Lima? Cusco? What should I try? Let me know, and I’ll report back soon. 

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November 30

It’s the last day of November, which means it’s the last day of NaBloPoMo. Let’s take a quick look back at the month.

There were twenty-six blog posts. Seven sweets. Three salads. Three soups. Four other assorted vegetables. I bought a pressure cooker and am still trying to figure out how to use it. I got raw kale to finally work for me. I tortured you with the study of words and the study of microbes. I gushed about two inspiring chefs*. I traveled to Philadelphia and thought about The Netherlands and Miami.

Writing every day has been invigorating. More food has come out of my kitchen in the past month that any other month ever. Many nights I couldn’t fall asleep because I was too excited about what I wanted to write the next day. And some days it was a struggle. I let you in. And you, probably for the first time, got a glimpse of how I was feeling.

To top it all off, today I made bread. There’s a little more to that story, but for now, just a picture.

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It’s been quite a month. Thanks for joining me for the ride. See you in December.

* For more on Ottolenghi, check out Jane Kramer‘s article in this week’s New Yorker (December 3, 2012). You can’t access the full article unless you’re a subscriber, but I’d actually argue that this issue — the food issue — is worth the price of the entire subscription. Good reading, folks. Good reading.

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We don’t have much time to chat today because I’ve got a date with an oven and a family to catch up with.

Here are a few articles that I read while waiting in the airport this morning that I thought you might enjoy during your own travels.

Eight Thanksgiving stories by some great food writers.

Elissa Altman on being OK with change on Thanksgiving.

Michael Chabon on embracing change on Thanksgiving.

Fast Company on the origins of Thanksgiving and the importance of  harvest.

Ruth Reichl on her five favorite food books.

And now, our menu.

Nibbles: edamame, tabouli, hummus, guacamole, baby carrots, pita chip

Spicy butternut squash soup

Spinach and endive salad with toasted slivered almonds, cucumber, and strawberries, with balsamic dressing

Roasted turkey with oranges and onion

Cornbread stuffing with onion, mushroom, and apple

Crispy lemon roasted Brussels sprouts

Roasted sweet potatoes with brown sugar and pineapple

Pumpkin-cranberry bread

Cranberry relish with orange and pineapple

Applesauce (classiccranberry)

A little red, a little white (that my aunt Linda picked up at Sonoma County Grape Camp)

Pumpkin pie

Chocolate chip cookie dough pie

Pumpkin seed and spice biscotti

Fruit

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Let the eating begin!

I’ll be taking off the next few days. See you back here on Monday.

 

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