Snickerdoodles

IMG_0398.JPG

Sweetlips & The Bean insist that these are some of the best cookies I’ve ever made. They are big, fluffy and bursting with cinnamon and sugar. Frankly, they are addictive. They are also uber easy-to-make. But plan ahead - the dough should be refrigerated for a few hours prior to baking.

New favorite Snickerdoodle cookie recipe courtesy of Rebecca Firth’s “The Cookie Book” (@displacedhousewife)

Ingredients:

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temp

2/3 cup neutral oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1½ cups bread flour

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon sea salt

Coating:

⅓ cup granulated sugar (for the coating)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for the coating)

INSTRUCTIONS:

IMG_0400.JPG
  1. In an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the brown sugar, butter, and granulated sugar and mix on medium until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. With the mixer on low, add in the eggs one at a time, taking the time to fully blend the first, before adding the second. Be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Add in the oil and vanilla and mix 1 minute more. Take the bowl out of the mixer.

  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the bread flour, all-purpose flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt. Add this to the butter mixture and stir until the flour just disappears. Wrap tightly and put in the fridge for several hours, or until firm.

  3. Preheat your oven to 375-degrees and cover several baking sheets with parchment paper. Make sure a rack is in the top third of the oven at least 6 inches from the heat source. This is where you'll bake your cookies.

  4. To make the cookie coating, in a small bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar and cinnamon.

  5. Roll 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough into a nice ball. Give the dough ball a generous coating of the cinnamon mixture and set on the baking sheet, allowing two inches of space between dough balls.

  6. Bake one sheet at a time in the top third of the oven for 11 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes and then transfer to a rack.


ICELAND

Wine at Ion Iceland.jpg

STAY:

 

ion Luxury Adventure Hotel

As we approached the Ion, my husband turned to me and said, "I feel like we are on another planet." About a 40 minute drive from Reyjkjavik, with nothing but lava fields as far as the eye can see, the boutique hotel's location does seem otherworldly, which -- besides it's convenient location by the route of the "Golden Circle -- is precisely the reason to stay. After long drives and hikes to geysers, waterfalls and glaciers, a thermal outdoor hot pool and a wall-of-windows bar overlooking this spectacular vista is the perfect home base to recharge for the next day's adventure.  http://ioniceland.is/

 

 

EAT:

Reyjkavik:

Lunch at Saegreiffin (Sea Baron) fish shack on the marina. Let me be clear, this is an actual shack, but don't let it deter. It is THE place for amazing, fresh off the boat seafood. http://www.saegreifinn.is/en/

Dinner at Grillmarkadurinn - Fine dining in Reykjavik in an unusually chic atmosphere. 

http://www.grillmarkadurinn.is

En route along the Golden Circle (EYRARBRAUT 3A, 825 STOKKSEYRI)

Fjorubordid - A tiny little restaurant, in a house off a road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere! And if you want the best lobster soup in the world, you will go there. But plan out your evening route in advance to get there in time and make sure to have a reservation. 

https://www.fjorubordid.is

 

Notes & Advice:

Blue Lagoon: 

No trip to Iceland is complete without a visit to the waters of the famous geothermal spa. But, you MUST get tickets in advance. The best time for entrance is on the way back to the airport, as it is less than five minutes from the terminal and otherwise out of the way. Book an entrance that will allow for two hours before you need to be at the airport for your flight. An excellent way to end a memorable trip.

There is now a luxury hotel on the premises, so if you do have the time, no need to rush out. 

https://www.bluelagoon.com

 

Golden Circle:

Wear layers! You will go from needing a fleece, hat and gloves along a boat on a glacier, to wearing a t-shirt and sunglasses as you hike to a waterfall and then back again as the drive goes on.

Whenever you see a gas station, fill 'er up! It may be the last time you come across one for hours. 

There are plenty of companies that organize glacier hikes and site seeing. We chose to take a boat ride amidst the glaciers at the end of a long day's road trip via this group: http://icelagoon.is/tours/

Guide to Santa Barbara & Montecito (+ a Packing List)

We no longer live in LA full-time, but rather in denial that our life is not at least bi-coastally filled with palm trees, surf and skateparks. (More on that move here). When our new poolhouse flooded and needed to be gutted to the studs, I comforted myself by modeling it’s decor after the Beverly Hills hotel, Martinique wallpaper and all. We live in a farmhouse and barns, so the juxtaposition may be unexpected, but it works from both a design perspective and an aesthetic coping mechanism. My own version of hygge.

Whether Mike or I fly out for work or the whole family needs a west coast fix, Lola included, we are lucky enough to have the most generous friends-who-are-family living in our old west side of L.A. neighborhood and I thankfully still have the keys to their house. For all eight of us (ten including the dogs), the Santa Barbara, Montecito & Ojai area is our Cali happy place. When we lived in Cali full-time, its where we spent both of our 30th birthdays, where we went to rejoice when the day after we found out that I was finally pregnant with Sweetlips & The Bean, where we spent our first Anniversary with the boys and the place we set off for on any weekend that we need a little rejuvenation. These days, we still head up the coast on every trip, sometimes for a few nights, other times for just a jam packed day. When we’re back east, those amazing friends, along with their twin girls (our precious goddaughters), are on the ground reporting on the latest and greatest there. But no matter what we discover, our original go-to spots from skateparks to scones to sand are forever sacred...so here they are:

 Where to Go, What to Do and How to Get it Guide:

Santa Barbara & Montecito 

 

Lucky's Steakhouse

Lucky's Steakhouse

EAT: Drop in for a scone at favorite Montecito brunch spot Jeannine’s (my must-have is raspberry. Just sayin’.) Our friend Josh (see saint above) turned me on to Hoppy Poppy IPA from the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. Visit their beer garden in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone where you can order salads, sandwiches and pizzas from the Lucky Penny restaurant next door. Eat under the stars at the romantic and rustic-chic Plough & Angel at tony hotel San Ysidro Ranch. Rori’s Artisinal Ice Cream at the Montecito Country Mart is essential. The “3 Itty Bitty Scoops” for five dollars is a game changer for those that don’t like to choose — I go with Brown Sugar Banana, Nutella and Strawberry Cheesecake. Enjoy dinner at Lucky’s Steakhouse in Montecito. It’s our families’ favorite restaurant. Please order the mac n’ cheese.

 

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

Ojai Valley Inn & Spa

SLEEP: Ojai Valley Inn & Spa — A bit South of Montecito in Ojai, we often stay here in their Mediterranean villas amongst the lavendar. 

Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara — Just across the street from our favorite beach with access to their famed pool, Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club. If you can snag a cottage, make it happen.

When we want to zen just the two of us (and Lola, of course) with ocean views, we head to Bacara for utter relaxation. 

San Ysidro Ranch will set you back, but this retreat in the Santa Barbara foothills where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned is simply dreamy. Save it for an anniversary or birthday treat (hint, hint).

 

Sunset at Butterfly Beach

Sunset at Butterfly Beach

GO: Hit Santa Barbara Skater's Point Skatepark to see real Southern Cali skaters in action. The park is closed on Saturdays year round from 9-11 am for free lessons for the kiddos. Visit the lovely and very manageable Santa Barbara Zoo with your family. Make sure to get there in time to feed the giraffes. Head to Butterfly Beach directly in front of the Four Seasons Biltmore for a dog day afternoon (your pup will make many friends) or soak in the spectacular sunset over the Pacific. Off the beaten path, take a drive to Los Olivos for wine tasting and a little shopping. Sides Hardware and Shoes - A Brothers Restaurant, will make you glad you did.

SHOP: Browse William Laman for beautiful antiques and exceptional accessories. You won’t want to leave. While you are here by San Ysidro Village, check out House of Honey for glam home goods and Jenni Kayne for minimalist Cali girl designs. Wander the Montecito Country Mart where you will find Co, a pop-up shop by one of my favorite cult Cali designers, as well as chic tabletop shop Hudson Grace and swimwear favorite Malia Mills. My amazing friend Kerri (again, see saint above) introduced me to Raoul Textiles on State Street in Santa Barbara, the showroom for the company’s exquisite hand-printed textile designs, as well as select furnishings and accessories from favorite California based companies. 

 

Packing List

Days can be chilly in the shade and in the evening or quite warm in the sun. This time of year, I choose pieces that still work for summer and warm weather holidays, but can easily transition into layering for fall. 

For a Day of Shopping and Wine Tasting

sb packing list 1.png
sb list 2.png

 

DRESS/BOMBER JACKET/SHOES

For Afternoons at the Beach

packing list 3.png

Sales & Marriage

When Mike gets the mail, he carefully tears open the envelope, using two fingers to widen it so that he may peer inside without removing the actual bill. Craning his neck and squinting his eyes, while carefully poking at the still folded contents, he is able to locate the accounting total in the dark abyss of the legal sized stationary. From what I can surmise, it’s a coping mechanism — if the paper is never removed from its source, he’s never really seen it. But from the outside, it’s the kind of careful hesitation that someone might heed if they were bracing themselves for a crime scene. Then he leaves the bill for me, the official family bookeeper, so that I may take it to the office for payment, removing himself emotionally from the final assault of the burst pipe that resulted in our lovely plumber’s latest correspondence.

Yet, the credit card bill that arrives during sale season is an altogether different affair. I probably keep ten percent of what arrives, so as far as I’m concerned, the initial number is just a rough estimate — like overpaying your taxes, knowing that you will get a lot of it back at the end. But while I whittle down my purchases significantly, there’s a lot happening on that pre-returns bill. So I prefer to intercept it, hold onto it for a few days, and then nonchalantly stick a random post-it on Mike’s desk with a non-descript total. This way, everyone is on the same overall marital page about where our household expenses are going. Sometimes I’ll jot a little asterix with some diversionary highlights - *Dentist. *School Supplies. *Lola’s health insurance (i.e. that dog really needs to get a job). I then try to discreetly slip out of his office and back into mine hoping the post-it gets lost amongst the paper recycling plant that doubles as his office.

You see, I treat sale season like someone would a side hustle, working the night shift into the wee hours, stalking the internet for the shoes and jackets that at full retail seemed like irresponsible purchases. During these few times of year, my porch looks like a shipping and receiving dock and I’m constantly worried that Lola is going to give herself a heart attack from the anxiety of the UPS and FedEx drivers that she can see making their daily rounds down my driveway from her living room perch. She has literally spent the last two weeks barking at the constant clanging of the trucks’ metal doors rolling up to reveal my concealed garment bags stacked within.

In the throes of my sale season compulsion, I truly believe that I am saving us money when making these purchases. Plus, when I end up returning something and the funds are credited back to my card, there is a fairly large piece of me that feels justified in the conviction that I am actually making money. I do realize that this sounds like a fashion Ponzi scheme.

For Mike, there is no question about what is going on here. We share office space and he is fully aware that my company’s business shipping is done from there. This is personal and, as he side steps over the cartons that are often stacked in the foyer, he knows exactly what’s happening.

The other night, knocking on the door of my closet, which is just a tiny room filled with cheap rolling racks, Mike peaked his head in and jokingly asked, “What do you do in here?” 

“I try on clothes,” I responded. 

Again, very direct. I was surrounded by boxes, tissue paper, plastic hanger bags, return labels and a box cutter, which I keep in my costume jewelry drawer for slicing through packages with ease. Having one on hand is a habit I picked up as an editor wrangling in product for photo shoots, so keeping one in an accessory drawer seems not only appropriate, but also professional. In full disclosure, I also store a tape gun in there for proficient returns.

Yet, when it comes to the credit card post-it, before I make it to the door I inevitably hear a stunned, “Nic…what was on this bill?” 

“You know, life stuff,” I usually respond. To deflect further questioning I might even throw in, “Do you know how much the co-pay is for the boys’ pediatrician? It’s insane!”

“Can I look at it?,” he’ll call out to me without the accusatory tones I surely deserve.

The man knows to the penny what the cable bill will be every single month and yet he won’t make eye contact with it, but this of all financial reckonings he wants to see? Why did he not grasp the full implications of this operation when the postman was using a dolley?

Yet, every four months, we do the same dance. I go back to my office in our shared suite, returning with the paper and acting excessively nonchalant, which by definition is not at all nonchalant. I’d normally insist that if he wants to see something, he needs to walk to my office, but tactically I prefer that he is sitting down. Mike leans back in his chair and, clearly practicing great restraint, calmly scans the bill.

My husband will then rub his temples to settle himself, look up at me and, without irony, ask…                                                                        

“What did you buy at Trader Joe’s?” 

And while this pattern repeats itself, I am almost always shocked by the purposeful evasion of the actual matter at hand. 

The way the breakdown of designer dot coms reads, most rational people would assume their wife’s credit card was stolen. And yet my husband projects his astonishment and distress on the supermarket, which we both know carries life necessities. Food for our children, for example. It’s a ridiculous charade. 

But instead of playing along with the grocery game and appreciating Mike’s impulse to protect our marriage from the issues that have plagued so many couples before us, I react as though I am being accused. Which, in fairness, I am - but under the guise of buying too much food to feed our sons. 

So while I want to say, “What the f do you think I bought there?,” but should in solidarity say, “Those boys just plow through snacks,” and then get myself the hell out of there, I instead sarcastically respond with, “You know, a Chanel bag. They are nineteen cents like the bananas, so I bought a ton.”

“Nic, you don’t have to get defensive,” Mike always responds reasonably. “I’m just asking because I can’t understand what you do with all of this money at the supermarket. I mean, what happened at Whole Foods?” 

“Well, I know the Whole Foods charge seems a little high, but they had the Marni sandals I’ve been searching for,” I quipped the last time. Is he kidding? If he ever went to the supermarket, he’d know how much organic lettuce runs these days.

Of course I’m defensive. We have two children and a 120-year-old house that is falling to the ground and I’ve got a warehouse of designer shoes being unloaded in the driveway. I am a maniac. Feeling victimized is my only option. And if anyplace can make a wife a martyr, it’s the supermarket.

In truth, we have always had a democratic marriage when it comes to money and everything else. As adult partners that share the responsibility of two children and a household, there is simply the unwritten understanding that we have priorities, but we trust each other to make individual decisions about the personal purchases we make. 

The issue with this arrangement is that I know in my heart it is completely imbalanced. Mike doesn’t even buy underwear and wears the same “vacation shirt” on every trip that we have taken since I bought it for his first visit to St. Maarten with my grandparents almost twenty years ago. Every fall he has the boots resoled that I got for him at the Barneys Warehouse sale before we moved to California. We lived in Los Angeles for nine years and we have been back for three, so you do the math. Last Father’s Day, my boys asked if we could get him a new bathing suit because, “Daddy always wears the same one.” If only they knew that he was wearing those trunks when we were counselors at sleepaway camp decades ago. It would not surprise me if his name and bunk are written in them. 

He’s no buddhist, but my husband is a person who truly wants for nothing. At least beyond his wife and childrens’ happiness. So, while I would have never married someone who didn’t feel that I was free to make my own financial decisions without oversight, I do realize that my material values may be called into question in comparison to someone who doesn’t wear underwear because it seems like a waste. 

Mike simply wants to enjoy his home and the world’s many experiences with his family. I do too, but sometimes momma wants to do it in a new pair of shoes. I may be defensive about this twice (ok, thrice) yearly compulsion, but I have enough self-awareness in hindsight to admit my shortcomings. And Mike, to his credit doesn’t judge me.  More often than not, when I have buyer’s remorse, he urges me to keep the pants. “They look cute,” he said to me the other night as I was hemming and hawing over a new arrival, smiling at me like he used to when we were teenagers. Everytime he does that he reminds me that I have all that I need, so those pants will likely go back. Maybe it’s a tactic. 

Reflecting a little, I can see why Mike's reaction touches me. My  grandfather adored my grandmother Leona, always wanting her to have beautiful clothes, taking true pleasure in seeing her enjoyment in getting dressed. When "Loni" recently passed, we found stacks of photos that he had taken of her often standing at the top of their stairs, modeling her outfit before a night out. But they grew up during the depression and my grandfather’s desire was born of a need to give his love the life she had only dreamed of in hopes of erasing those memories of never having enough. And yet, for her, from the time she was in high school with a wardrobe that could fit neatly in a grocery bag, he was already her everything. 

Always reminding me, “You don’t love things, you love people," for my grandfather it was never about the clothes, but rather the wish to see someone you love enjoy a little uncomplicated delight in an uncertain world. I can draw no comparisons to the bread lines that my grandfather was too pained to speak of, but I did grow up wanting to emulate my grandparents’ relationship — one where I would wake up everyday appreciating feeling treasured. It may sound trite, but that’s how I feel when Mike smiles at me lovingly and tells me to keep the pants. It reminds me of my grandparents. If I close my eyes, I can vividly picture my grandfather grinning at Loni and telling her the same.

“Ok,” Mike will finally say about the bill. “I think if we can both make a concerted effort not to waste, we’ll reign in the supermarket runs and be back on budget.” 

Having come to my senses I always answer, “I totally agree,” both of us knowing that nothing will change but the seasons.

_____________________

A few months ago, friends requested that I share some of my finds during my frenetic nights of sale season. Some of my best gets sold out, two of them because of me, but here are three handfuls of items that have either made their way to my door or I have my eyes on.

P.S. If those Marni sandals pop up in a 7 (they run big!), be a friend and message me! Happy Sale Shopping. xoxo

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SLIDES 4. BLOUSE 5. JEANS 6. LOAFERS

 

1. TOP 2. PANTS 3. SANDALS 4. T-SHIRT 5. CULOTTES 6. SANDALS

 

PETAL PUSHERS

Despite my lack of training and only sporadic success, my passion for flowers and gardening borders on primal. The psychological connection to growing life is obvious, but it’s the satisfaction of getting my hands dirty in the outdoors, too physically consumed in the work to focus on my daily worries, that often feels like therapy. 

Sweetlips & The Bean preparing our first project at the Barnhouse

Sweetlips & The Bean preparing our first project at the Barnhouse

Sometimes I deadhead roses in solitude to methodically clear the clutter in my head. Other days, Sweetlips & The Bean help me prepare our summer bulbs and dig holes for the carrots they proudly plant.  Despite a partnerhship with my husband, much of my job feels solitary, but this is a project with responsibilities that my boys and I can share together. (Mike struggles with the garden hose, so this type of work is not a good fit for him.) When I really need uplifting, I’ll give myself a summer Friday, play my favorite music through the speakers and spend the whole day singing and tilling the Earth. In full disclosure, I once did this for hours on a 100 degree day and Mike came home to find me saying “Hello” to the wheelbarrow. Happy, albeit delusional: life lessons from the garden.

Some of it, I have realized is instinctual, like my relationship with the old-fashioned rose bush I lovingly brought back from the dead when we moved into our turn of the century farmhouse. The stairs were collapsing, carpet removal uncovered holes in the floor that exposed the dirt below and the pool quickly took on the appearance of a swamp. One day in our dream home and it felt like we were starring in a remake of “The Money Pit.” I decided that if I could bring back this decrepid and forgotten rose bush, I could bring back “The Barnhouse.” Our finicky abode will always be a work in progress, but that now spectacular rose bush, which I nurture like a child, gives me hope. 

Other plantings have been trial and a lot of error. When we were still living in Los Angeles, I became compulsively determined to grow bougainvilla on our small deck. Each week my bougainvilla plant died and each weekend I went back to purchase another one. After months of nursery runs and shattered hopes, a friend not-so-gently pointed out that bougainvilla bloom with abandon everywhere in LA — gas stations being her first example — and perhaps gardening was not my strongsuit. While I never gave up, that bougainvilla always alluded me. Looking back I can now see that regularly firing up a barbecue grill inches in front of the trellis that I was hoping flowers would climb was not well thought out. Actual fire, it turns out, is not the same thing as full sun.

Last year's tomatoes

Last year's tomatoes

In addition to reading gardening books and looking for advice online, I now ask tons of questions when I’m beginning a new project. I cornered someone knowledgeable at the garden store and borderline interrogated him before constructing our first raised vegetable bed last year. I took actual notes while he answered my rapid fire questions, ranging from the time frame that each vegetable could be planted to how many mint crops I’d need to grow mimosas all summer long. This patient man finally put his hands up in surrender and quickly removed the piles of beautifully packaged seeds from my shopping basket (they were going to look so nice on instagram!), replacing them with container plants that could withstand my lack of expertise. Being green, ahem, I had no idea that I would need to cultivate the seeds indoors before they were ready to be transfered to the ground. When we construct my fantasy greenhouse, I can promise that I will be learning to start from seed, but thanks to the expert, we had the freshest tomatoes and basil (caprese, anyone?) all summer long.

 

 

 

________________

Since I am clearly just a hobbyist, here are a few places for inspiration and tips, as well a selection of garden variety goods that are going to look so chic in that greenhouse one day: 

The Goods 

1. CLIPPERS  2. GARDEN SCISSORS  3. GLOVES  4. SEEDS 5. WATERING CAN  6. APRON  7. TRUG

 

Books

 

 

When it comes to the vegetable garden, a friend raves about the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew, which is a guidebook for both experts and beginners. I just ordered my copy.

 

 

 

 

 

More aspirational than attainable, I keep this beautiful gardening tome on my coffee table as a magical escape. While it is unlikely that I will ever have the acreage or expertise of Carolyne Roehm, I am inspired each time I leaf through the stunning pages of At Home in the Garden

 

 

 

 

 

I am patiently awaiting the arrival of my copy of Salad for President, the debut cookbook by Julia Sherman, creator of the "Salad for President" blog, which thoughtfully shares anecdotes and interviews along with complimenting salad recipes in collaboration with people "living their lives" artfully. It's pretty genius and, well, very cool. 

spring Cookbook Roundup

Among my many collections - heart-shaped rocks, vintage table linens, scraps of bubblewrap (they can be reused, people!) and flower vases in the shape of heads — my accumulation of cookbooks may reign supreme. Curling up with a morning coffee and a scrumptious food tome of recipes and fare can be deeply satisfying, especially when the dishes are accompanied by the stories or anecdotes that inspired them. When I read a cookbook, to me it is no different than a novel. I start from the beginning and become absorbed within the story of someone’s kitchen, never missing a chef’s note or an ingredient. It’s a ritual that is part curiosity and part comfort that can only be found through the nurturing solace of food. 

I prefer to cook unfussy dishes that are more soul soothing than snap worthy, but when it comes to my cookbook obsession, how often I will put the pages to use when I am at the stove is of no matter, as I do not treasure them for their utility alone. Some books in my collection have added only a single recipe to my repertoire and others are dotted with dozens of sticky flags, the pages splashed with syrupy evidence from the preparations of countless celebrations. I cherish cookbooks mostly for the joyous opportunities that they represent — homemade gestures of love, sharing a table, coming together, celebrating life.  

While planning the menu for a large family dinner at my home, I recently came across an old cookbook that my grandmother had given to me shortly after I graduated college. Covered in the same pink and violet floral wallpaper that decorated her kitchen, as all of “Loni’s” cookbooks were, her 1965 second printing of “The Blessings of Food and Flowers,” had originally been compiled as a synagogue fundraiser, the mid-century heirloom describing itself as, “The most prized recipes of members of the Sisterhood.” 

The plastic spiral binding disintegrated long ago, but it is still easy to get lost within the volume’s pages, the dishes and entertaining tips a window into a bygone era. The options are neither fancy nor complex, like beef stroganov and “Tanta Betty’s Chicken in the Pot.” Offerings like cottage cheese jello salad are no longer de rigueur and others, like deviled tongue, should probably be left to the archives. When it came to grocery lists, sherry was clearly essential to a well-stocked pantry. Proper recipe format was abandoned for what presumably appeared on the handwritten recipe cards of inherited tradition or were dictated like familiar instructions recited from friend to friend over a rotary phone.  “Have fish dealer roll sole around salmon,” begins Mrs. Bases’ recipe titled “Sole and Salmon Rolls.”  Some of the notes are cinematic in the Mad Men era images they now evoke. Mrs. Louis A. Jaskow’s recipe for “College Punch” consists of three types of fruit juice, four cups of sugar and eight bottles of wine. It serves 100. I would like to have been invited to one of Mrs. Jaskow’s parties.

The potato puffs that I baked in homage were ultimately less inspiring than the evening I spent immersed in the kitchens of women I will never know, but I went to bed that night with an unusual sense of calm, imagining that our current volatile world was momentarily replaced for a simpler time, at least within my home. Both cooking and the written word can have that effect. 

________________

 

The fantasy renovation plans for the Barn House (more on that another time) include a kitchen library, complete with floor to ceiling shelves dedicated to the food alters that are currently stacked around my home, an antique ladder to add some culinary drama and a cozy reading nook to soothe my soul. Below are my most recent additions to those shelves — one made me laugh, two made me cry, all gave me a sweet escape. Try them. You’ll like them. 

Jack's Wife Freda: Cooking from New York's West Village

A couple of years ago, inspired by one of those last warm New York nights of summer, Mike and I decided to take the boys for scooter rides and a family dinner date downtown. We were in the area of Jack’s Wife Freda, a West Village restaurant whose accolades we were eager to affirm, but figured a last minute seating request on a Friday night with two toddlers in tow was unlikely to be met with the same enthusiasm. But, as I now know is customary, we were warmly greeted amongst a patient gathering of patrons, our server quick with crayons for the kids and a glass of wine for their momma. Having lived on both coasts in cities that can sometimes be more scene than substance, this is just a warm and happy place. Mike and I still reminisce about that magical New York night with our boys, which was highlighted by our time at their neighborhood table. The food is, as it’s regulars testify, delicious, but their welcoming approach truly elevates the experience.

Owners Maya and Dean Jankelowitz’ new Jacks Wife Freda cookbook begins with an introduction that is as much biography as it is culinary, offering a glimpse into the flavors of their childhoods in Israel and South Africa through the homemade dishes of their families, including Dean’s grandparents for whom the restaurant is named. It probably says a lot about someone’s emotional capacity if a cookbook can move them to tears, but I too have a business that is named after my beloved grandparents whose love inspired me, and so I found myself getting choked up at the preparation of Dean's family's Friday night feasts. I am an untethered happy crier, but I presume that most readers will have the fortitude to indulge in chef Julia Jaksic’s trademark grain bowls and zucchini chips without drama. Although, the savory croque madame could make any sane person emotional. I waited patiently to inaugurate the grill this season with chicken kebabs and Peri Peri sauce, while I anticipate the Bloody Marys and mint lemonade becoming hallmarks of our summer. And just as the recipe for smoked paprika egg salad is my lunch dream come true, the prospect of warmer nights promises we’ll also be scooting back for dinner real soon. 

 

Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

From that special night at Jack's Wife Freda (@garlandcollection)

From that special night at Jack's Wife Freda (@garlandcollection)

Like many home cooks, when in doubt, I turn to Ina. From “my” signature mac n’ cheese to “my” trademark brussel sprouts, the foundation of many of the dishes in my rotation are found within the pages of her Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks. Even last night’s craving for a sweet butternut squash sans sugar was scrumptiously resolved with a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and maple syrup via a frequent culinary Google search, “Ina Garten recipe for (fill in the blank).” Sometimes I follow the direction to the 1/2 tsp of salt and other times it is a method of preparation or squeeze of lemon that I borrow to inspire when my own creation is just missing something. 

In her latest book Cooking for Jeffrey, Garten fills her devotees in on the relationship that has fortified her recipes and career. A culinary valentine, Garten writes about her husband Jeffrey’s early belief in her and his encouragement to follow her passion. Knowing firsthand what it feels like to be buoyed by a husband’s unwavering confidence and support, her words reminded me to count my blessings…and also to keep cooking for him. In full disclosure, I once again cried from a cookbook without even a chopped onion to blame, but true love is a trigger point for me.

The book’s skillet-roasted lemon chicken and tsimmes have both made their way to our table and the pumpkin flan will no doubt have a Thanksgiving debut.

With considerably less success, seeing that I almost poisoned Mike on my first attempt, I too began cooking as a young college graduate wishing to care for the person I loved, and I can count Ina Garten’s many books as guidance on my road to competence in the kitchen. Her recipes are usually simple in approach, but also flavorful and foolproof. But as I plan to attempt the chocolate creme brulee shared in her latest pages, operating a kitchen blow torch does give me pause. I hope that if he is running for the fire extinguisher, Mike once again remembers that it was made with love. 

 

Food Swings: 125 + Recipes to Enjoy Your Life of Virtue & Vice

In order to curb my compulsion for carbs and brisket, I try to avoid meat and pasta during the week so that on weekends I can blissfully eat like I’m on death row. If health was not an issue, I’d enjoy a steak dinner every night with an appetizer of bolognese and I’d only scoop out a bagel if I could stuff it with pasta. But that sort of gluttony is apparently frowned upon. 

Food Swings, Jessica Seinfeld’s latest cookbook is separated into “Virtues” and “Vice,” offering meal choices ranging from healthful to downright indulgent, depending on your mood or, in my case, day of the week. I wonder what it is says about someone when a cookbook makes them feel understood. 

Nightly family dinners with our two boys feature wholesome ingredients and a variety of flavors and dishes, so cookbooks that include hearty vegetarian options, like Food Swings’ eggplant cauliflower meatballs and “Deceptively Delicious Tacos,”  keep my whole family feeling satisfied with a single dish. Plus, those “almost vegan” tacos call for sour cream, which albeit accidentally, I once literally drank through a straw. I typically switch it out for greek yogurt, which tastes less like sadness than you’d expect, but if Jessica Seinfeld proposes the real deal in a virtuous recipe, I am obligated to follow direction.

As for vices, I spent the better part of an evening planning my Saturday morning cookoff, flipping back and forth between the cinnamon buns and the strawberry shortcake. The sweet and sticky ribs were obviously a given. Chocolate-popcorn-almond-clusters were a hit with the boys during a family movie night screening of “The Money Pit” (I want them to be cultured foodies) and strawberry buckle muffins are now officially in the repetoire. 

The bottom line…As many of you know, I am constantly encouraging people to just cook if you want to cook! Don’t say you can’t because it’s not your thing. It’s not that deep! You don’t have to be a professional cook, the best cook or even a good cook. Just start somewhere. Follow solid recipes for those staple dishes that make people happy and you’ll learn. Have fun. Enjoy the process.  

While there are plenty of recipes in Food Swings for those who already wow guests with their culinary creations (see key lime pie), this is also the perfect cookbook for easing yourself into the enjoyment of finding your happy place in the kitchen, no matter if you are hoping to nurture a family or nourish yourself. Seinfeld’s friend to friend style will give you a comfortable start. Basically, she keeps it real. Plus, she writes about her granny and you can imagine how I feel about that. Many of the recipes, like chicken parmesan and meatballs marinara, are personal takes on traditional dishes that may not be groundbreaking in menu, but are savory signatures for adding to your new epicurean resume. Then you can make me the pasta carbonara. Also the chocolate banana pudding. And the lasagna. But only if it’s the weekend.

None the Worse for Wear

(from the archives and updated with a new "Get" list below)

 

No matter where in the world we travel, be it Botswana or Belize, Baja or Boca, there is always one setback that I can count on and, regrettably for me, it’s not delayed flights or lost baggage. To my unbridled discontent and even preemptive stern warnings, my husband will, without humility or even self-awareness, wander the hotel’s grounds and enjoy the property’s amenities clad in nothing more than his complimentary hotel bathrobe.

I have stumbled upon him enjoying the open view of the bush in the lobby of a South African lodge in this getup, jovially greeting stunned new arrivals as they checked in. I have found Mike in his man-robe, enjoying a snack by the pool in Florence while sophisticated Europeans enjoyed Prosecco nearby. Most recently I witnessed him dressed for a bubble bath while reveling in a nightcap at a quaint boutique hotel in the Berkshires. The other couples still wearing appropriate cocktail attire were at least inebriated enough at that hour to be easily amused.

Mike firmly insists, “That’s what the robe is there for.” I cannot imagine that the other guests who enter the business center to find Mike tapping away in terrycloth would agree. We have never stayed at a nudist colony.

To add insult to injury, he wears the plush wrap tied low, Tony Soprano style, and balances out the show of misinformed masculinity that is the chest hair peaking out of the over-exposed neckline by completing this well-edited ensemble with the equally flattering, and also complimentary, bedside slipper mules. I mean, he can’t wander Ojai barefoot, right?

I shouldn’t be surprised. This is the same person who has coined the phrase “No Pants Tuesday.” You see, Mike spends this day with our toddler boys, taking them out for a “Dudes Lunch” and then to a wild afternoon of bonding at the playground. Just envisioning my three men together out on the town truly warms my heart, which is what I like to focus on. Because when I arrive home at the end of the day, eager to see my crew, and even though Mama has curated an enviable wardrobe for Sweetlips and The Bean, no one is ever wearing pants. Because it’s “No Pants Tuesday.”  (He swears that everyone leaves the house fully clothed.)

So, when despite my earlier protests, I do inevitably encounter my husband swathed in his jetsetting finest and chatting up other fully clothed patrons who are trying to engage in polite conversation while praying that this affable guy has boxers under there, I try to take a photograph to document my plight. When it comes to marriage, always have proof.

I like to send these displays of mortification to my mother-in-law. Why do I bother to involve her? Because she made this bed and now I have to sleep in it. You see, it is my opinion that this sort of blissful oblivion to basic human protocol had to be ingrained as either acceptable during childhood, or at the very least it was consciously overlooked. So while this may seem like a coping mechanism, I blame my mother-in-law for all of her son’s shenanigans, and if I have to suffer through them now, I’m not going to let her retire and take a cruise. As she always says, “Hey, you married him.” Yeah, well you made him.

Yet, we’re still traveling.  The truth is, against my better judgment, I can’t help but laugh. I’m literally an enabler of the inane. When I give a stern warning, it’s simply because I fear that we won’t be allowed to return, not because I want to change him. As his co-parent, I’m glad that Mike is showing the boys to take life seriously by making the details more fun. And I can only hope that one day Sweetlips and The Bean’s partners will continue to bring me in on the joke. Even in our darkest moments, I believe that we pressed through because we’ve been able to unearth even the slightest morsels of humor or levity. Or, in the case of the bathrobe, which my husband truly believes that the hotel has offered for his all-inclusive comfort, I’ve learned to just let certain things go for the sake of my sanity.

The bottom line is, he has no shame and for fourteen years this has been good for me who has plenty. While he’s lucidly padding around a resort in a bathrobe and slippers, you can be sure that I am meticulously accessorized within an inch of my life. We balance each other.

What can I say? Love is blind.

_____________________

Since this essay was pulled from the archives, I've added my new wishful packing list for an upcoming summer getaway...and a little something for the hubby too.