Christmas dinner in Georgia, accompanied by a light snowfall outside the window.  For mama, brother, and me.

Clockwise, starting with the big yellow rectangle on the left: macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, collards, potatoes and carrots, pot roast, corn, and baked sweet potatoes.  That's a lot of good eatin' for just three people.  'Twas a pity that Tiny Tim wasn't around to join the fun.

Mom prepared the pot roast, which was cooked in her trusty Crock-Pot along with these here root vegetables.

I did the collards.  Not exactly true to the Southern tradition, as they were not simmered with a ham hock, but they came out tasty nonetheless with vegetable stock and chopped onions. 

The macaroni and cheese was just...baked heart attack, basically.  But Christmas ain't Christmas without a little baked heart attack.

Paula Deen's Cheesy Mac

Ditto for the green bean casserole.  But hey, at least there were real vegetables hidden deep in all that butter.

Paula Deen's Green Bean Casserole

It all made for quite a lovely table.  Notice that there are no place settings; we decided to go buffet style.

And of course it was all set off by my mother's lovely centerpiece, featuring pine, eucalyptus, and magnolia leaves from her own yard.  The candy canes added a festive bit of whimsy!

Merry Christmas to all.



If anyone has been out a-caroling yet this season, it's likely you have encountered the curious "figgy pudding" line in "We Wish You A Merry Christmas".  I cannot tell you how many times I've sung that little phrase while simultaneously wondering:

What the H-E-doublecandycanes is a figgy pudding?

So this year I did some research.  Found this article.  From here on out we can all hopefully sing a little easier.

NPR, All Things Considered: Now, You Can Bring Us Some Figgy Pudding

Now...howz about that "cup of good cheer"?



Ladies and gentlemen...let the Christmas cookie season begin.  What, I ask you, is more merry than a Christmas cookie?

Not snowflakes.

Not Bing Crosby.

And definitely not the mechanical Rudolph nodding in your neighbor's yard.

There's just nothing that's not fun about a Christmas cookie.  Santa-shaped, thumbprinted, or rolled and smushed with a fork, cookies are the shining stars of holiday foods.  Oh of course they're delicious, that goes without saying; but the reason we love Christmas cookies, deep down, is because of the memories they draw up in our minds every December.  For example, I was fortunate enough to grow up with a grandmother who baked approximately one million Christmas cookies during my childhood.  She would put them in tins and lay them out on the dessert table for all to graze on, and let's just say that no one ever really touched the fruitcake with those things around...Christmas just wasn't Christmas without them.  Gramma Betts, as we called her (short for Betsy, short for Elizabeth), took so much pride in making them for her family every year, and the special care she took in carrying on her traditions was certainly not lost on me.  I remember her cookies every year, and I like to think that now I can carry on her tradition.  Can love be expressed through food?  Without question. 

So, like I said, there is nothing more merry than a Christmas cookie.

And let's pause for a minute to consider the astounding number of varieties:  sugar cookies, peanut butter kiss cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies!  Gingerbread!  Shortbread!  Tassies, teacakes, sandies, snickerdoodles!  And, of course, macaroons...how it is a sin to forget the macaroons.

I made my first batch of the year tonight, and chose macaroons to kick off the season.  I do recommend running--not walking--to the nearest home kitchen and doing yourself a favor by whipping these up as soon as humanly possible.  Cheers.


2 2/3 cups sweetened shredded coconut
2/3 cup white sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 egg whites
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces dark baking chocolate

Mix together coconut, sugar, and flour in a large bowl.  The result will look like a tiny winter wonderland!  Who wants to ski?

Then mix in the egg whites.  I have yet to master the technique of separating the whites from the yolks.

Then you add in the vanilla extract, chopped pecans, and orange zest,

and this is what you get.

Scoop them with a spoon onto a cookie sheet, and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Make sure you use the right kind of wax paper when lining your pans, however...I definitely used the wrong kind and had a TIME trying to get the little buggers unstuck after cooling.

And now to the fun part!  Put the chocolate squares into a ziplock bag and melt them in the microwave until they're just squishy enough to become liquid, about one minute.  Snip a hole in the corner of the bag and pipe on the chocolate to your liking.  And if "to your liking" means piping half of it directly into your mouth, that's ok too.  It's Christmas for crying out loud.

Gosh they're pretty.  Here's to you, Gramma Betts.



Goodness gracious!  Apparently the holidays just snuck right up on me and I haven't written a thing in almost three weeks.  But that doesn't mean I haven't been busy in the kitchen!

This is the time of year when all we really think about is food.  Well, that and presents.  And perhaps goodwill toward man or something of that nature...hopefully, anyway, heh...but let's face it:  a good chunk of the holiday season is just about good eats.  Your neighbors come rap-tap-tapping on your front door with plates of shortbread, your coworkers lay out boxes of chocolate to share before the workday begins.  And at dinner parties, when your guests bring out the big guns--say, Grandma's classic mac and cheese recipe from the '60s or Uncle Herb's prizewinning gutsticking chili--you know that Kris Kringle must certainly be around the corner.  It's the only time of year when people stop counting calories and stop eating lettuce and just say to hell with it.  Gimme butter.  Gimme sugar.  Gimme seconds.

In fact, I was so busy cooking food and enjoying it with my friends on Thanksgiving, that I managed to take only a few blurry photos of the mess after it had been ravaged by the crowd...so I won't bother posting those.  But luckily, we all know that Christmas dinner is really just a repeat of Thanksgiving dinner with some Christmas tree cookies thrown in at the end.  So I'll be sure to document every moment come December 25th...from teaspoon to table.



Sing a song of sixpence,
a pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened,
the birds began to sing;
wasn't that a dainty dish,
to set before the king?

The king was in his counting house,
counting out his money;
the queen was in the parlour,
eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden,
hanging out the clothes;
when down came a blackbird,
and pecked off her nose.

There was such a commotion,
that little Jenny Wren;
flew down into the garden,
and put it back again.

-English nursery rhyme, circa 1740s

Mushroom and Lentil Pot Pie with Gouda Biscuit Topping
(thanks to my dear friend Marcy for passing along this recipe--her blog is here)

Well, no blackbirds in this pie.  And it didn't quite come out dainty as it did hearty and comforting.  Here, with a side of sauteed swiss chard.

Oh, and for dessert:  roasted pear halves and ice cream.

For these, I melted half a stick of butter, half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of apple butter, three tablespoons orange juice, and three tablespoons water in a saucepan, and then poured the mixture over six pear halves in a baking dish.  Roast at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes, or until the pears are soft.  Spoon over vanilla ice cream.

Happy Fall, y'all.



We all know the scene--that scene--in "When Harry Met Sally",

filmed at Katz's Delicatessen on East Houston Street in the Lower East Side.  Meg Ryan may have boosted the place's...um...sex appeal(?) back in the late '80s, but this deli had been a New York institution for years and years before she and Billy ever sat and ate at one of its tables.

I stumbled into Katz's after a night of Drag Queen Bingo at The Bowery Poetry Club.  Luckily I had two lovely dinner companions on this occasion: my mother, who was visiting on a whirlwind trip from Georgia, and my friend Ali, who was mildly horrified when I told her that I'd never eaten a knish before.  I asked her whether I should try the regular knish or the sweet potato knish...her reply: "Get 'em both!"

So I did.

My mother and Ali got matching Reubens.  Apparently these have inspired a religious following of considerable size.

Here, the altar of pickles.

The beer I consumed at Bingo Night had admittedly softened my mental clarity...but after the two rounds of hearty potato knish I regained my senses and really got to take a good look around the place.  What a time capsule.  The wood paneling alone must be older than I am...and the celebrity photographs displayed so proudly on the walls?  Well if you need proof that they are aged, look no further than the picture of one Sarah Jessica Parker with dark brown hair.

I also enjoyed this one of the ultimate b-team boyband, 98 Degrees.

But all celeb endorsements aside, Katz's really is a gem.  A little old world, a little lowbrow. A lot charming.  And entirely delicious.

I recently read somewhere that the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Manhattan's Lower East Side as one of "America's Most Endangered Historic Places."  Considering this, I would like to give a little extra thanks to Katz's.

Stop by.  You'll see what I mean.



I am 25 years of age, and unfortunately too old to go out on Halloween and beg a gigantic stash of candy from the neighbors any longer.


But I remember getting a serious haul of treats every year when I was a kid...my brother and I (followed closely by our devoted parents, of course) would venture out into the chilled October evening, fighting our way through synthetic spider webs and "scary" lawn decorations, meticulously covering each street in several different areas of our town.  We persevered through cold, wind, fog, rain, and mobs of shrieking children with colored wigs and runny face makeup...those other little brats were no match for us, a candy-getting pair undeterred by any bloodsucking 4-year-old.  Outta the way kid!  It's 8:30!  People are closing up shop soon!  Just...one...more...MILKY WAY!  

We were: Trick-Or-Treating Professionals.

Upon returning to our lair, when the gathering was done, we spewed our heavy bags to gaze upon the night's collection.  A veritable waterfall of treats filled two large bowls, and we rejoiced devilishly in the smell and sight of the mounds of shiny candy.  The reds were so red, the yellows so yellow!  Ahhh...we ran our fingers through the little packets, lifting them, tossing them as a greedy cartoon man might do with a pile of cartoon coins.  Our mother allowed us to consume as much as we liked on Halloween night, but then she stored the bowls away in an inconvenient location and would ration us one piece per day until the supply ran out.  Yes, we ate Halloween candy well past Christmas.

The last time I ate a piece of Halloween candy after Christmas was many years ago. My costumes have all been sold at summer yard sales, and these days a younger generation takes to the streets on October 31st.  I guess I'm a grownup now.  But every year, when the wolves are howling and the mist covers the moon and the grocery store is selling treats by the 5lb bag, I remember all the loot of Halloweens past--plus all the fun I had with my family whilst procuring it--and the child in me still craves a handful of candy corn like nobody's business. 

Happy Halloween.


5. Skittles

4. Milky Ways

3. Kit Kats

2. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

1. Twix


5. Crunch bars (sorry, the chocolate is so waxy!)

4. raisins (come on...who do you think you're fooling?)

3. Bottle Caps (unless you like to eat sour chalk)

2. Mary Jane Peanut Butter Kisses (the mystery meat of sweets)

1. Smarties (it's a love 'em or hate 'em thing...well, I hate 'em)



The most beautiful things I saw at the market on Friday morning.



One paella,

Two paella,

Three paella,





I like Diet Coke.

I don't really drink it at restaurants, and I don't really buy it for home.  But every once in awhile, it hits me--that I just NEED ONE.

Normally these moments involve the presence of pizza.  But late the other night, as I was stumbling through that long passageway from the A train to the N/Q line at the Times Square station, on my way home, a little bleary from the day, the feeling struck.  No pizza necessary.  And it struck hard...all of a sudden I felt the exasperated dehydration of a thousand days in the desert, desperately parched:  O late-night subway snack kiosk, where were you??

Ah.  You were actually just around the corner and under a large staircase.

Thank goodness.

I zeroed in on the kiosk drink cooler as a hawk eyes its prey from above.  The cans and bottles were haphazardly strewn about the racks, as if lots of other thirsty people had recently descended upon the little fridge and ransacked its contents; a line of purple Gatorades had toppled on their sides, a once-perfect row of green Sprite bottles had been broken up and intermingled with Sierra Mist...what was going on here?  I started to search for the color red...because where there was Coke, there was Diet Coke.  I found red, and then silver.  Victory!  I grabbed a can and strutted to the register.

I put the can on the counter, and glanced down into my bag to fish out a dollar.  When I looked back up with dollar in hand, I saw the shopkeeper wiping off--or rather polishing, with a special sort of care--the top of the can.  He then smiled courteously and took my money, wrapped a fresh white paper napkin around the can, and handed it to me with a straw.  I thanked him, and began to walk away.

That's when things started to get silly in my mind.  I was about to pop the can open, but hesitated when I looked down and really took stock of what I held in my hand...was I actually about to drink a Diet Coke in this busy public space with a napkin and (even worse) a straw?

Who does that?  70-year-old wives on Golden Anniversary cruises to Acapulco do that, but do 20-something New York transplants such as myself do that?  After midnight, on a subway train to Queens for crying out loud?  The napkin suggested such propriety, and the straw--such occasion!!  Certainly a Diet Coke on a subway ride to Queens is no cause for celebration.  Cans of carbonated beverage are gulped and discarded, not enjoyed.

But as I was about to toss the straw and napkin in the garbage can, I had a change of heart.

I wrapped the napkin back in place around the can, and plunked the straw down into the brown aspartame-y water.  Nope, I was going to enjoy this one.

I felt primmest of the prim on the ride home, and imagined other scenarios where women might be drinking Diet Cokes with straw and napkin...maybe at the Kentucky Derby if they were tired of mint juleps.  Maybe in an upscale nursing home somewhere, over a game of Scrabble.  Places where there was a touch of old-world luxury, where the situation was being savored on Sunday afternoons or Tuesday mornings.  A little smile curled over my face, and suddenly I felt like a pioneer!  Savoring something on the subway!  A snooty strawberry blonde with an ipod gave me strange looks as I sipped, probably wondering, as I had only moments before--who does that?--but I just kept on sipping.  Yeah, the subway is a place where everything is fast and faceless and frazzled...but for those few little moments I actually, and truly,

enjoyed it.



New Yorkers do NOT play around when it comes to dumplings.

Oh sure, they love their bagels and their cheesecake, and they're wholly devoted to their pizza...but their love of dumplings is a curious thing.  They want them authentic, fast, and above all else, cheap.  That's really the kicker.  I recently overheard a bitter dispute in the street:  "Your dumpling place is six for three bucks?  Pfff, yeah well mine is four for a dollar!!"

The Dumpling Wars.  Each New Yorker claims to know of the very best spot.  But the truth is, folks, that there are dozens of great spots and all it takes to find one is a little Googling.

In your search, you will undoubtedly stumble upon the name Prosperity Dumpling, at 46 Eldridge Street in Chinatown.

Oh it's dirty.  It's cramped.  There are items on the menu scratched out in Sharpie.  And yes, that "Open" sign is upside down.  But you better believe you are going to get a good dumpling here.

I will now state, with the same pride and hostility of the aforementioned street quarreler, that I got eight--eight!!--vegetable dumplings for $2.00.

And wait a minute...if you're really looking to indulge, you may want to pick up one of these sesame pancakes filled with carrot sticks and cilantro for a whopping $1.25.

And there you have it: a grand total of $3.25.  Hey, big spender.


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