My feelings exactly.

My feelings exactly.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Love in a Shoebox

For a bunch of years, I had too much to post on this blog and too little time to do it. There were  recipes I'd tried out on my hungry family that I wanted to share. Hikes and adventures the boys, Paul and I had done together that I was itching to tell other parents about.

And then--in a blink--the boys grew up. Ben went off to college. Noah became busy with friends and high school. My glass cake dome, once perpetually filled with snickerdoodles, iced molasses cookies, bodacious pumpkin muffins and mangled remnants of birthday cake, sat empty more and more. And we did things as a family unit less and less. Not a bad thing, of course. The whole idea is for kids to cultivate their own lives and experiences. It just tugs at the heart every so often.

So it is that I found myself this past Labor Day weekend crying into a bowl of batter.

After what had seemed like the longest summer of farewells, my youngest son's departure for college was only a day away. The extra-long bedding, shower caddy, suitcases and razor blades had all been purchased on those summer days when I'd used shopping jaunts to big box stores as an excuse to steal a few extra hours with Noah.

We'd had our "final favorite" dinners with the grandmas, cousins, best friends, best friends' parents and god knows who else.

And Paul, Ben, Noah and I had--the day before--made a long overdue pilgrimage out to Stokes State Forest and Walpack Inn. The pre-dinner hike at Tilman's Ravine that once seemed so formidable for my short-legged little sons was now a mere stroll for them, as they traced the river's edge and recalled each spot where, as boys, they had caught frogs or dipped in the ice-cold water.

The "forever" wait for a table at the restaurant--during which we had long-ago pacified the guys with Shirley Temple's, coloring books, and various games--passed fast, as we all drank our beers and played speed Scrabble for old time's sake.

The famous Walpack Inn deer outside the dining room windows that once thrilled the boys didn't get as much as a glance this time. We tucked into our hokey salad bar and teriyaki steaks, ignored our phones and the animals, and unabashedly relished each other.

With nothing left to do, Noah all packed, the dishes for our last at-home dinner put away, and only hours more to go 'til departure,  I stood, marooned, in the middle of my kitchen on Labor Day Sunday.

There were the cookbooks I used to pore over, as I waited in dim light at the kitchen table for Ringo to come in from his middle-of-the-night walk. There was that funky old brass knob on the basement door that Noah forever battled to fix and ultimately triumphed over just this past year. There was the stack of frayed placements, reminding me how I'll use fewer and fewer of them as the years march on. (I am on-my-knees grateful that Ben, who graduated from college last May, is currently living at home while he commutes to the City for work.)

And there was that empty cake dome.

As if possessed, I frantically began hauling out my smudged old canisters of flour, sugar, brown sugar and confectioner's sugar, the baking powder and soda, the molasses and the vanilla and the cinnamon, cloves and ginger. I grabbed my baking sheets and my parchment paper. I got my trusty green KitchenAid in gear and flipped open my book of recipes to the cookie section. After all of these years and all those batches baked, I still don't know any of the measurements by heart!

Then I started baking.

Too quickly, I finished making Noah's favorite iced molasses cookies. So I moved on to snickerdoodles. They too were ready all-too-soon. I let the cookies cool and then carefully layered them between crisp sheets of parchment. I taped the box closed. I went to bed, the house perfumed in its comforting cloak of cinnamon and warmed butter.

Drop off went just fine the next day. Noah humored us. He let me make his bed with him. He asked Paul and Ben for advice on poster placement. We all strategized optimal clothing and toiletry placement. We snapped pix with his new roommate and his family.

And then. We left.

On the phone a few days later, I asked Noah if he remembered that I had left the box of cookies on top of his closet. "Of course Mom!" he laughed. "I've been eating them every night. Thanks for doing that. Love you."

Ah. The sweetness of it all.

Cozy, Chewy Iced Molasses Cookies 

(see my post from 11/11/15, Cozy Cookie for Cold Days)


Snickerdoodles (simplest, easiest way to anyone's heart)

2 ¼ cups all purpose-flour
2 tsps. Cream of tartar
1 teaspoon Baking soda
½ teaspoon Salt
12 Tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, plus 3 Tablespoon For rolling cookies
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon Ground cinnamon for rolling cookies

1.     Adjust oven racks to upper and lower-middle positions and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment.
2.     Whisk flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt together in medium bowl; set aside.
3.     Either by hand or electric mixer, cream butter, shortening, and 1 ½ cups sugar until combined, 1 to 2 minutes with electric mixer set at medium speed. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add eggs. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.
4.     Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 20 seconds.
5.     Mix remaining 3 Tablespoons Sugar with the cinnamon in shallow bowl. Working with scant 2 Tablespoons of dough each time, roll dough into 1 ½-inch balls. Roll balls in cinnamon sugar and place on cookie sheets, spacing them 2 to 2 ½ inches apart.
6.     Bake until edges of cookies are beginning to set and the centers are still soft and puffy, 9 to 11 minutes. Don’t overbake!!  They shouldn’t look “done” when you take them out. Let cookies cool on cookie sheet 2 to 3 minutes before transferring them to cooling rack with wide spatula. Makes about 30 cookies.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A New Year


January 1, 2017

Here I sit in bed, blowing my nose, coughing like I have consumption, and positively tapped out by a cold I’ve been in denial about for the past week.

I always seem to get sick after the mania of the holidays. Too much socializing, too little sleep, and all that kill-ya kind of food and booze you just know is bullying your body.

This year feels different, though. I think that I, and so many others, feel utterly worn down. Not by parties and reveling but by the angst, anger, fear, heartbreak, stress, anxiety, despair, and (fill in the blank with just about any other miserable emotion) that’s eaten up the oxygen during these past devastating months in our country and on our planet.

I can’t count the number of people who’ve told me they’ve stopped reading or watching the news for basic self-preservation. Everything—drowning refugee children, terrorized nightclubs, marooned polar bears, Trump’s parade of goonish appointees--is just too terrible and tragic. My older son—once a progressive idealist-- returned from a semester abroad declaring he no longer saw any point in advocating for the poor, the environment, better healthcare, immigrant rights or anything else since our country was hopeless. How many people have remarked to me that the end of 2016 couldn’t come fast enough except for the fact that 2017 was looking even scarier?

Paul and I trudged around like stunned zombies after the election, alternately weeping and berating everyone and everything (including us) who made the Trump disaster possible. One week later, though, we pulled ourselves together enough to join several hundred other miserable souls at a rally sponsored by Blue Wave New Jersey, a progressive advocacy group based in our town. I saw all those good people in that room. I listened to dogged and determined speakers urging us not to give up. I learned about how important it is to fight on a state level to preserve rights that our Federal government may soon imperil. And for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt insanely proud to be from, yes, New Jersey: Land of strip malls and Turnpikes. 

Since that November day, Paul and I have committed ourselves to action through Blue Wave. Long conversations into the night have still not swayed my disillusioned son. But I have faith he’ll come around, perhaps after he’s spent some time back at school. Do I know if our efforts will actually pay off? Of course not. But I know that action feels way better than despair. And that at the very least, we’ll go down fighting.

You know what else has helped during these tough times? Just like after 9/11, I’ve found safe harbor in my kitchen. Post-election especially, I threw myself into cooking and baking, losing myself amongst my cookbooks, mixing bowls, spice-crammed shelves, grain-chocked pantry and freshly stocked fridge. Once again, that beat up old room with the broken cabinets and well-worn floors allowed the world’s worries to slip away, if even for a short time.  And I could love and comfort my family through food when words were often too hard to find. 

I know this cookbook travels pretty far...to friends, colleagues, acquaintances and total strangers. And as I write this I wonder if my strong views might rub some people the wrong way. If I’ve offended you, try to enjoy the recipes anyway.

On a more personal note, 2016 has brought good times and challenges for our family. Noah was busy with the optimistic task of applying to colleges this past Fall. The very idea of him flying away makes my heart ache with both pride and longing. Ben had the time of his life studying in Brussels first semester and will graduate from American in May. The grandmas have had their health challenges but are hanging in there and we see them often. Paul and I continue to plug away at work and are beginning to plot out “what’s next” once our nest is empty. A cabin in the Adirondacks? A condo in Montclair? Life in the revolutionary underground? Who knows! Whatever we do, I’ll find a way to cook up a storm.

Here’s to peace on earth. And snow for the polar bears.

Email me at pegSrosen@gmail.com and I'll send back your cookbook in a blink.

Love,


Peg

P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:
Sorta Healthy Roasted Fennel and White Bean Dip
Lovely Little Celery Toasts
Go-to-Flow-Through Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Crunchy Cauli Snowflakes
A Great Way to Make Broccoli Rabe
Marcella’s Essential Tomato Sauce
Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Fresh Ricotta and Basil
Cast-Iron Roast Chicken with Bread and Arugula Salad
Jeanie’s Chicken with Chick Peas and Chorizo
Kelley’s Turkey Cutlets with Cilantro-Almond Sauce
Sheet Pan Shrimp and Broccoli
Obama’s Short Ribs
Perfect Banana Bread
Yankee’s Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

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Monday, December 21, 2015

It's That Time of Year: Get Your Copy of the 2015 Cookbook!

          
Driving up my block one morning this week, I passed a cherry tree that was about to bust into full blossom. I smiled at its frothy buds and felt a wave of joy that spring was on its way.

Then, of course, I stopped dead in my tracks. I backed up the car and sat in front of that poor confused tree. And I said to myself, “It’s Christmas time. It’s bloody December. Oh…my….freaking…lord.”

Remember that Carly Simon song about the world turned inside out and upside down? I wonder how she would tweak her lyrics for 2015.  Kids ducking machine gun fire at school; fish jumping from poisoned rivers in Brazil; refugees fleeing on bicycles through the Arctic; cops getting away with murder in (name the city); and presidential candidates promising to build walls around this country.

 Carly goes on to sing that, “If, through all the madness, we can stick together, we’re safe and sound.” I don’t know if that statement holds much water these days. However, I do find myself holding ever more tightly to those I love. And I’m appreciating every uneventful, seemingly ho-hum day that comes our way.

I’m also trying harder to live more conscientiously on this planet. I won’t go into the ins and outs of my efforts (god knows I have a lot to improve upon). But in the kitchen, I’m finding it to be a particularly complicated endeavor. Everything we put in our mouths seems to be an assault to the environment, to animal rights, to our health, and/or to our wallets. And the “better” choices many of us try to make—cage-free eggs, “all natural” chickens, farm-raised fish—often turn out to be marketing ploys that are equally as injurious to our world and/or our bodies.

So what’s a well-intentioned non-farmer to do if she needs to feed herself and her family on a mere mortal’s budget? I haven’t really come up with a perfect answer, but I keep going back to two concepts. First, is Michael Pollan’s simple mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And second, “a little good is better than all bad.”

In my house full of hungry males, I can’t really stop serving animal protein and going all-organic is an expense I don’t choose to shoulder. So am I just a hypocritical doofus? Should I just not bother doing anything? Nah, I don’t think so. I think it matters that I’ve been composting for seven years now, that I stick to the periphery of the supermarket and that I bring my own bags when I shop. And this year I decided to drastically cut down on our red meat consumption. Who knew that giving up beef can do more to cut carbon emissions than giving up our cars? That farming cattle uses 28 times more land and 11 times more water than farming chicken or pork?

In addition, I’ve been buying and preparing less food all together. I’m sure my Jewish grandmother—for whom an overabundance of food was deemed as necessary as oxygen—would be horrified. And I won’t deny that at times the guys end up negotiating for the last slice of something. But it often means they’ll satiate their hunger by finishing up the veggies I’m serving or the remaining spoonfuls of quinoa. Or they’ll have some fresh fruit and yogurt for dessert.

Now, instead of dumping uneaten leftovers and unused produce at week’s end, I stand in front of my nearly cleared-out cooler with a sense of triumph. I’m glad that I’m adding that much less organic waste to our landfills—which is by far the planet’s largest source of methane gas emissions. Seeing how closely I can shop and cook to meet my family’s needs without waste is my latest favorite game.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t know if any of this will make a difference. But who knows? Every home has a kitchen and if each of us tries to make just one change, it might matter. What change might you make in 2016? I’d love to hear from you.

Those are my preachy thoughts at the end of 2015. As for what’s up on the Freundlich front: When people ask how our family is, it’s hard to say “great,” considering what’s going on around us in this world. I’ll just say, then, that for the Freundlichs, it’s been a loving and even-keeled 12 months. That’s something for which I am grateful. Noah, now a junior in high school, grew about 100 inches taller and has been feeling well. Ben has been thriving at American and is campaigning hard for Bernie Sanders. Sister-in-law Lonnie finished up her chemo and radiation and—as we had hoped—celebrated with us over Thanksgiving. And Ringo is as cute and as hairy as ever. 

Happy Holidays. Happy New Year. I wish you and the world peace and health in 2016. And shoot me an email if you want the 2015 cookbook: pegSrosen@gmail.com

P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:
Wowza Zucchini Tart with Herbed Goat Cheese
Quinoa Tabbouleh with Feta
Black-Eyed Peas Pulao
MFG’s Great Veggie Jumble
Addictive Roast Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette
Hot-and-Fast Broccoli with Garlic
Zingy Moroccan Carrots
Tula’s Snappy and Fast Sausage and White Bean Stew
Grilled Chicken with Lemon, Garlic and Oregano
Make-Ahead Chicken Curry with Cashews
Quick Maple-Mustard Pork Tenderloin
Cozy Iced Molasses Cookies
Dean’s Damned Good Lemon Bars


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Cozy Cookie for Cold Days

Now it's really November. The trees are naked, the skies are flat white, the tip of my nose is cold. My body craves comfort. Soft, thick socks. The familiar hiss and "winter's coming" smell of my archaic radiators. A big pot of pasta e fagioli on the stove.

And these glazed molasses-spice cookies. If I were Norwegian, I'd say they are the embodiment of "hygge"--that untranslatable word for embracing the season with happy-go-lucky-coziness. But I'm not Norwegian. Neither are these cookies. So I'll just say they are one of the very few things that make me look forward to the cold.

As a kid, I never understood the appeal of spiced baking. But as an adult who shivers her way through any season where the mercury dips below 60, the perfume of cinnamon, the pungent punch of clove and the bracing warmth of ginger seduce me at this time of year in a way that no other flavors can. They are the culinary equivalent of a Pendleton blanket.

The cookie itself (from Cook's Illustrated) is, pretty much, the perky ginger snap's consoling cousin. Baked into a buttery batter, made almost candyish by molasses, the heartwarming spices help create a deeply chewy and flavorful disc. Guarding the interior is a just-thick-enough crunch of crust that's given added dimension by a roll in granulated sugar before baking. Add to that an indulgent drizzle of icing and this cookie will almost convince you that Winter isn't so bad after all. On that note, anyone want to go shopping for snow shoes? I'll pick you up on my way to Ski Barn.

Molasses-Spice Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsps. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
12 Tbsps. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling cookies
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap or robust)

For Glaze:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Approximately 2 Tbsps. milk

Adjust racks to upper and lower middle positions and heat oven to 375F. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together in medium bowl. Set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, cream butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with mixer set at medium speed. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl.

Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. (I cloak a dish towel over my electric mixer any time I beat in dry ingredients. It's easier than pulling out that klutzy Kitchenaid attachment for the job and works like a charm at keeping flour from fluffing out of the bowl.)

Place remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small, shallow bowl. Working with approximately 2 Tbsps. of dough each time, roll dough into 1 3/4-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. (I line my sheets with parchment.)

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets (from top to bottom and front to back) halfway through baking, until outer edges begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, 11 to 13 minutes. Watch them carefully as the bottoms can burn in a blink!! Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring to cooling racks with a wide spatula. COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE GLAZING!!

To Glaze:

Once cookies are cool, measure confectioners' sugar into a medium-size bowl and gradually add milk until glaze is just the right consistency to slowly drizzle off the back of a spoon and create a nicely opaque ribbon. You may or may not need all 2 Tbsp. of the milk that is suggested. Adjust consistency of your glaze by adding more milk or more sugar, if necessary.

Dip spoon into glaze and drizzle over cookies, which you've set out on wax paper. Allow icing to set for a few hours before packing them or layering them on top of each other.


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last-Hoorah Lemon Bars

A really good lemon bar is the perfect summer sweet. It’s got that snappy acidic edge that shakes up lazy taste buds. A snowy cap of confectioner’s sugar that fairly screams “cool, cool, cool.” And—despite its decidedly caloric content—it seems just a little lighter than, say, a dusky slice of  fudge cake. Did I mention you can cut them into those cute little squares, which makes them that much easier to sneak? (Go figure they’re made with a winter fruit. But I’m ignoring that little detail.)

So, I’ve tried a lotta lemon bars in my day. Some memorably good. Most too sweet, too runny, or just plain blah. In fact, I think it had been a good decade since I’d even bothered sampling a lemon square when some doozies caught my eye at this year’s Fourth of July blowout at our friends Gina and Louie Napolitano’s house.

I knew I was onto something when in-the-know revelers abandoned their broccoli rabe and ribs and started buzzing around the outcoming tray like tipsy bees. “Oooh! Gina’s lemon squares. These things are unbelievable,” cooed a burly guy holding a beer. I instantly put my reporting skills to work. Apparently, these weren’t the love children of Gina, of the Louie and party-hosting fame. They were created by Gina’s friend Gina—a hilarious pixie who looks like she’s never eaten a lemon bar or anything else caloric in her lifetime.

I pushed the other bees out of the way and got to work, gobbling down around five in one go. They were perfection: An uber-buttery, crisp crust, cradling lemon heaven that was just right balance of sweet and tart, sturdy and silky. And those killer corner pieces?? Don’t even get me going on where they sent me. I accosted little Gina in the kitchen and demanded the recipe pronto. The good news: She drummed it up right on her phone. The bad news: It’s, um, Paula Deen’s! But you’ve got to know that if I am giving this icky woman any positive exposure a) I apologize b) I apologize and c) THESE LEMON BARS MUST REALLY BE THAT GOOD!!!!

Make them for your Labor Day last hoorah. And maybe make a donation to Deen’s least favorite charities if you feel you must pay some sort of penance. It’s worth it!

One note: I like these babies chilly. Build in enough time so that yours can cool completely and spend some quality time in the fridge. 


For the crust:

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish (if you are baking on a hot day, don’t let the butter get too too soft. It should be firm enough to still be able to cut into small pieces but not hard)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

4 large eggs
2 cups of granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9x13 inch baking dish with foil and butter the foil. Make sure foil is flat and has no creases, otherwise it will catch filling and stuff and be hard to peel from the bars. Also leave enough extra foil coming up the sides so you can lift the bar easily out of the pan in one piece. 

Make the crust: Whisk the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers to make a crumbly dough; press into the prepared baking dish. Bake 20 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Mix the eggs, granulated sugar and flour in a bowl with a fork. Mix in the lemon juice. Pour the filling over the crust and bake 25 more minutes; transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Sprinkle generously with confectioners' sugar. Lift out of pan in one piece and cut into cute little squares. Store in the fridge.