Simple Pleasures.

Simple Pleasures.
Irish soda bread on its way up North with Noah.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cheers! The 2010 Cookbook is Ready!

Another New Year. Crazy, huh?

I’m sitting here in front of the fire, putting the last touches on this year’s cookbook, and I feel like I can taste the future. Paul is sitting across from me glaring at his laptop. Ringo is sleeping nearby. And save for the clicking of computer keys and Ringo’s snoring, the house is dead silent. The boys and my mother-in-law, you see, are spending this Christmas break in California with Paul’s brother and his family. Paul and I are, for the first time ever, spending a week alone, without working, in our house.

I won’t go telling you how lonely we are without the guys here. We are, in fact, having a pretty excellent time. The only moment when I start feeling a little weird is when I step into my kitchen. Absent are the telltale pretzel trails left by hungry boys. Absent are the muffins or cookies I’ve baked and placed under the cake dome for them. Absent is that familiar voice in my head telling me to start preparing dinner. Absent are the aromas, the din, the taste of family.

I remember my mother-in-law telling me how she stopped cooking big meals when her kids left the nest. And how she stopped cooking all together when her husband Bernie passed away. I nodded my head as if I understood, confident in my belief that I’d never retire my apron. This week, however, gives me pause. I’m astonished by how quickly I abandoned my kitchen once the boys no longer depended on my being there.

I certainly hope I won’t lose my obsessive love for making all things edible. The kitchen still is the first place I head when I finish work or find a spare hour in my life. It’s the one spot where I can be creative, loving, industrious, nostalgic, somewhat girlie, and blissfully distracted, all at the same time. It will be pretty hard coming up with another endeavor that can give that scorecard a run for the money.

For now, though, I’ll go ahead and take the rest of the week off. There are so many things Paul and I want to do. And so much to think and talk about at the end of yet another year. Ben is a high school freshman and now owns his own razor. Noah is in his first year of middle school and is surgically attached to his cell phone. Yes, we tangle with them over everyday teenager stuff, but a short step back always reminds me how lucky we are to have such smart, affectionate, and hilarious young men in our lives. The grandparents are all well, my brother and his family are in Belize at this very moment, and my sister and her family are off living in Greece for the year. Good stuff for the most part, though I must admit I miss my sis.

I hope this year has been good to you. If it hasn’t, I hope the coming year brings better things. Thanks for following or occasionally reading the blog. If you ever have ideas or suggestions you'd like to share, I'm all ears. If you would like me to email you a copy of this year's cookbook, shoot me an email at and I'll send it your way. Cheers.

P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:

Canal House Scallion Meatballs (turkey)

Easy Cheezy Cheese Straws

Rosemary Currant Pecan Crisps

Thai-Spiced Butternut Squash Soup

Sexy Summer Fig, Mozzarella, and Prosciutto Salad

Pat’s Smoked Salmon and Potato Salad

Velvet Asparagus Pesto

Savior Ass Chicken

Asbury Park Lamb Burgers

Ina’s Panko-Crusted Salmon

Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate Chippers

Ina’s Insane Pecan Squares

Pretty Darned Good Apricot Passover Kugel

Flash Back Cheese Blintzes

Holy Grail Coffee Crumb Cake

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Leapin' Lizards! It's the New York Reptile Expo

Right this second, grab your phone and see if you've got anything going on Sunday, November 28. If not, and you live in the New York area, have I got a kooky family outing idea for you.

It's the New York Reptile Expo out at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. I know. You don't want a pet iguana. And reptiles aren't exactly cuddly cute little critters that make darling little children like yours swoon. So why on earth would you schlepp the family out to White Plains to look at hundreds of these scaly things, for Pete's sake? I was wondering the same thing when my friend Leila Loring--a fellow mom of boys--swore to me that the Freundlich clan would dig it big time. "No purchase necessary! You can just go and look!" swore Leila...though she admitted she did come home with a four-foot lizard that proceeded to terrorize her household. No doubt, I was about as interested in that prospect as I was about about having more frequent colonoscopies. But there was something alluring about having something somewhat amusing to do on a gray November Sunday, when it's too darned cold to run around outside, most Fall sports are done for the season, and my kids are hooked up to the Playstation as if they're on life support.

So, on the day of the big show, I packed up my extremely perplexed family and hauled them out to White Plains. What we walked into was an alternate universe--a place where latter-day Eves in tight jeans and suede booties swooned over slippery snakes that were longer than my own torso. Where children begged mommy to buy them pets that looked, essentially, like fish with legs. Where food stands didn't dish up hot dogs and hamburgers, but zip-lok bags full of frozen rats and mice.

Truth be told, the kids--and especially my husband Paul--were at first horrified. When Ben spotted the expo model wrapped in nothing more than skanty lingerie and a boa constrictor, I thought he was going to have a stroke. I was, however, smitten with the whole scene right from the start. I couldn't help eavesdropping on handholding couples as they strolled from one stand of creepy critters to the next as nonchalantly as if they were perusing sweaters at Bloomingdales. When I actually started to chat up vendors and shoppers, I was utterly hooked. "This one is a real mush. I hang him from my swing set and he swings along with the kids," gushed one burly guy, as he showed me a snake he had hidden in his backpack. "This one is the love of my life," said one middle-aged blonde as she flashed a snapshot at a vendor. "I couldn't bring myself to bury him when he died so I paid a taxidermist to stuff him. He's hanging in my apartment now." Part zoo, part sideshow, part anthropology could anyone NOT love this place!

By the time I rounded up the rest of the Freundlichs, Paul was pretty pale. Ben wanted to get the model's phone number (just kidding). And Noah was begging, pleading, insisting upon getting a painted dragon. We left, thankfully, reptile free. And by the time we got home, Noah's sudden, desperate need for a pet reptile was easily supplanted by our fuzzy, cuddly decidedly nonreptilian dog Ringo. Next year, I fear, we might not be so lucky.

Wanna Go? Need to Know:
When to Go: The next New York Reptile Expo is Sunday, November 28, from 10 AM-4 PM. If you miss that date (or just can't get enough), there are additional NY shows in April, July, and September. The Expo also travels to New England and Long Island. Log on at for locations, dates, and further 411.

Getting There: If you're coming from the Montclair, NJ area, you can take the Garden State Parkway North to the exit for 287 East. Cross the Tappan Zee Bridge and proceed from there. This is a pretty trafficky drive so be prepared. I think it took us over an hour. Click here for specifics: www.reptileexpo/nydir.htm

What to Bring: An agreement in writing (just kidding, well, kind of) as to why you are going (sightseeing, pet shopping) and what you intend to bring home (nifty memories, scary lizards, lacerations). Bring lots and lots of antibacterial gel for your hands. Other bringalongs: Camera. Smelling salts.

Costs/Services: Admission charge is $10 per adult, $4 for kids 7-12, kids under 7 are free. There may very well be more than rats for snacks at the Expo but, I dunno, do you really want to eat in a giant reptile house? We pit-stopped at a diner on the way in.

Fear Factor: Shoppers are allowed, to some extent, to handle the reptiles. I guess you or your child could get bitten or strangled. At the very least you could get a nice case of salmonella. As you can see from the photos, I did get up close and personal. What can I say, it's as close as I'll come to living dangerously at this point in my life. Do what feels right for you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Belize Part III: Luxe Lodge, Hidden Bargain

Last post left you at Lamanai Outpost, a jungly river retreat adjacent to the ancient Lamanai ruins in Belize. Up Next: Three nights at Chaa Creek, a "wildly civilized" nature lodge located in the cooler, mountainous Cayo District further to the south. Here's the scoop:

Getting There: You can shell out big bucks (and pop a few sedatives) if you want to puddle jump it to the tiny airport near Chaa Creek. We played it safe and cheap with a return boat trip down river and a van back to Belize International, where we were easily handed off to our Chaa Creek driver. From there, it was a two-hour drive to the mountainous south, a clearly more prosperous region, replete with horse and cattle ranches. The last couple of miles along a jangly dirt road led us finally to the lodge.

The Spot: Chaa Creek's got that whole "cushy wilderness resort thang" down: Neatly pressed staff trade cool drinks for dust-covered luggage when guests arrive. Artful thatch-roofed cottages nestle among riotous blooms. Stone, iguana-dotted paths lead to civilized perks like a freestanding spa, butterfly garden, and a breezy white tablecloth restaurant. And yep, there's a drop-dead gorgeous infinity pool, flanked by canopied massage tables and crisply clad chaise lounges.

Before you go rolling your eyes, let me tell you what makes this place truly likeable--and downright doable--even for us non-investment bankers: First, as gorgeous and extravagant as it is, Chaa Creek happens to also be a pioneer in sustainable eco-tourism. The owners--an American and a Brit--are long-time champions of the cause and stick by their commitment, creatively recycling waste on property and milling much of their own furniture with the help of local labor. So if you choose to indulge, you can actually feel good about being there.

Second...and this is my favorite part: While staying at the main resort is a kick-ass awesome experience for sure, there's a far-less-publicized, and more affordable alternative just a 10-minute walk down/up river along a well-groomed trail. Called Macal River Camp, it's basically 10 treehouse-like casitas clustered around an immaculate central bathhouse, convivial bonfire pit, and a rustic Belizean dining room. Since Macal River Camp is owned by the Chaa Creek folks, guests who stay there get to take take advantage of the resort's amazing amenities...for a fraction of what the fancy folks are paying. Granted, this option ain't for everyone. We didn't stay there because my workaholic husband puts up with my crazy camping stuff all year long and I knew he craved some comfort (and just a bit of privacy) on this go round. But if you're open to a more communal, close-to-nature experience--and want a lovely home-base in the Cayo region--Macal might be a fantastic option for you. I personally would have preferred staying at Macal because the vibe was so much hipper and friendlier than at the main resort. And, as you know, I'm just soooo hip and friendly.

The Digs: Rooms at the main resort are ripped straight from Conde Nast Traveler. Cool stucco walls, clay tile floors, double-sheeted queen and king beds, handwoven textiles, and a huge bathroom with an array of eco-friendly unguents are standard. Our digs even had a separate, landscaped outdoor shower. (Great for late-night hi-jinx when you're sharing digs with kids). Flower petals sprinkled around the bathroom and towels twisted into swan shapes on the bed had me looking around for errant honeymooners. Not that I'm complaining but it did feel a little bizarre sharing our tropical sin bin with two adolescent boys.

As for Macal--don't imagine muddy pup tents at some skeevy KOA campground. These are permanent structures, simply but prettily appointed with colorfully covered single beds (some casitas accommodate 4), private hammocked porches, and screened windows. What they don't have is plumbing, electricity (guests use kerosene lamps), Four-Seasons-caliber mattresses, or glass on the windows (any romance has to be low key here). If I had a "camp" like this in Lake George, I'd stay there year round.

Action Plan: Chaa Creek's 365-acre private nature preserve is there for you to explore and enjoy in numerous ways, mostly for no additional charge. There are guided hikes, medicine walks, canoes to paddle down the river, bird watching tours, horses to ride, mountain bikes to borrow (good luck...the trails are so vicous I ended up walking mine the entire way), and a butterfly garden and natural history center worth checking out. The really serious planning takes place each night, when guests take turns sitting down with the very official white-garbed concierge to sign up for the off-site excursions. This is where you spend real money (some trips cost as much as $100 or more per person), but this is also where it's truly worth it. We opted for a half day at the nearby ruins of Xunantunich, a half-day canoe paddle into stalactite/stalagmite riddled Barton Creek Cave, and the full-day Actun Tunichil Muknal adventure, which took us on an hours-long cave hike through waist-high water to ancient Maya sacrifice grounds. Truly, one of the all-time nutsiest adventures we've had as a family. There's also ziplining at a nearby resort (which seemed like a touristy knock off of Costa Rica); cave tubing; an excursion to Tikal in Guatemala, and more. Truly, if I could only call one place in Belize home base, Chaa Creek would be it. There really is THAT much to do.

Grub: Chaa Creek, like many upscale properties in Belize, did a diligent job of serving up the kind of fare that high-ticket travelers might want. There's just something about eating braised lamb shanks and creamy fettucini when I'm in the middle of a wilderness lodge...that doesn't work for me. I crave local food. And therein, I'm guessing, lies the rub. Belizean food, while tasty, is pretty simple and can get monotonous. It always seems to be some type of stewed meat or poultry and rice and beans. And I guess high-end hotels don't think their guests want that. We, however, preferred simple and local and thus took most of our meals at Macal River Camp, where traditional food and local beer are served up as a matter of course and guests are happy to devour it.

The 411: Three nights at Chaa Creek was about all we could afford, time-wise and money-wise. But given our druthers, we might have stayed a little longer. The semi-all-inclusive high season package rate for our cottage, which had two double beds and a day bed, ran about $ 215 per adult per night; $55 for each child. Another option is to pay a flat nightly room rate of $300 (which includes breakfast); order box lunches from Chaa Creek ($12/pp) or pick up lunch in town en route to your excursion; and eat dinner ($12/pp) at Macal River Camp. Rates at the main resort decline considerably after May 1 and Chaa Creek also offers affordable packages. Transfers from Belize International to the resort are $ 150 for 1-4 people. At Macal River Camp, the charge is $55 per adult, including breakfast and dinner. Kids under 6 no charge; 6-11, $ 12.41; and 12-18, $ 24.63. That's right. What a deal. Could make a camper out of the best of us, huh? For info and rezzies go to

Friday, October 1, 2010

Getaway on the Lagoon: Belize Part II

As promised in my last post--which detailed WHY Belize is such an easy and amazing family adventure--I'm giving you the lowdown on the three great places we stayed during our trip.

Here's the scoop from the first leg, which took us from Belize International Airport up to a far flung lodge on the New River:

Lamanai Outpost:
Getting There: A driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the Belize International Airport, quickly whisked us into his van, and drove us about an hour to a jungly but tidy landing on the New River. A way cool--and kid-pleasingly fast-- little motor boat then snaked us up the river for about an hour to the Outpost.

The Spot: Directly adjacent to the lush Lamanai ruins, Lamanai Outpost truly feels like an Outpost. About 20 thatch-roofed cabins crouch among the palms, overlooking an enormous, lake-size lagoon and acres of rustically tended plantings. Paths lacing the property lead to a beautiful open-air pavillion, where down-to-earth guests hang at the bar, eat meals, and sign up for daily activities.

Our Digs: Our woodsy cabin--hewn from local materials-- struck that perfect balance between comfort and rusticity: No A/C, TV, or shiny tiles, but good linens on the bed, screened and louvered windows, a stylish yet lowkey bathroom, and our own private little porch with chairs for reading. The coolest amenity: A troop of howler monkeys who inhabited the overhead canopy of trees. Waking at sunrise to their insane, gutteral shrieks rates as one of the most mystical and hilarious experiences we've had together.

Action Plan: Each day, we could sign up for two activities--which was generally enough to keep us busy and provide some time to just hang out at the cabin or swim and sun off the river dock. These included sunrise canoeing (think birds, birds, birds) and spotlight safaris on land or on water (think bats, scorpions, crocs). We toured the neighboring Lamanai Maya ruins in the early morning with a guide who knew just how to engage the guys and how to avoid the daily cruise ship crowds. We zipped out on an airboat in the pitch black (the guys were blown away by how cool these things are) and helped preservationists tag baby crocodiles. We took a guided "medicine walk," and learned about trees and plants that traditional Belizeans use to treat everything from anemia to athlete's foot. One afternoon, our guide walked with us into the nearby village, where the guys helped the cooks at a small restaurant grind hominy and make chicken tamales --I think the simple, Belizean meal we had there was the best we had on the trip.

Grub: Since there ain't that much else around, guests generally eat all their meals under the gorgeous thatch canopy of the central lodge. The food is okay--beats me why they're serving up heavy, American style meals in the middle of the tropics. But the waitpeople are all very accommodating and the kitchen is pretty good about whipping up something to placate picky kids and health-conscious parents.

The 411: Three nights at the lodge was plenty for us. After that, you might have to start repeating daily activities. But hey...if you like just chillin' at a remote river outpost, you might want to stay longer. All-inclusive rates--which even cover transport from and to the airport--start at about $260 per adult/$80 per kid from December--mid-April. The beauty part: From mid-April -December, those numbers drop to $149 per adult/$55 per child. A Screamin' Deal we happily took advantage during the kids' spring break. The weather was perfect. And yes, there's Internet in the main lodge. For rezzies and more go to Or email me and ask!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Itching for an Easy Adventure? Think Belize.

Not to put another thing on your plate. But just in case you're hoping to take a vacation this year, now's the time to start planning, or at least dreaming. Here's my pitch: Go Belize. I know a zillion people might already have told you about it. I know there's press up the wazoo about what a trendy Green destination it is. I've just gotta say, though, that after taking a two-year hiatus from big ticket travel, this trip was not only just what the doctor ordered last Spring. It was probably the best trip we've taken as a family. Here's why:

1. Logistics are stupid simple. Hop an easy flight to Belize City with a switch in Houston or Dallas (in many cases). Then let those smarty-pants Belizeans take it from there....the resorts work together, picking you up at the airport and getting you back to the next resort driver for the coming leg of your trip. This isn't hoidy-toidy chaffeur stuff...just a smart strategy to get timid tourists off the beach and inland to explore (and spend money in) the rest of the country. To top it off: There's no significant time difference, English is the official language and American dollars are accepted just about everywere. Truly an adventure vacation that doesn't leave you needing a vacation.

2. Belizeans actually seem happy to see us. Call me neurotic, but it's nice traveling to a place where people don't want you dead. Plus, although Belize is relatively poor, the country--unlike many Caribbean islands--has an economy that extends beyond tourism, so you don't have that feeling that everything is hinging on you and your Tourist Dollar. Plus, the tourism economy itself is being developed in a relatively environmentally and culturally responsible way. In short: You don't feel guilty vacationing here. You might actually feel like you're doing something good.

3. There's plenty to keep culture vultures happy. Archaeological ruins, along with excellent, government-licensed guides, are everywhere. Bonus: Unlike a number of other ancient sites, many of these are in lush jungle, so you're not burning up under the blazing sun. If you're really hot on ruins, Tikal (in Guatemala) is an easy day trip from Belize's popular Cayo region.

4. There's outdoor adventure up the wazoo. Sure, you've heard about the diving and snorkeling. But inland is a wonderland, too: We canoed through pitch-black caves used by the ancients for human sacrifice (the skeletons are still there); we zipped off on airboats into the night and helped preservationists capture and tag crocodiles; we woke at dawn to the screech of howler monkeys congregating over our cabin; we hung out with a brigade of bat researchers at our lodge at Lamanai and actually hung with the bats, too. Who needs Disney's thrill rides when real thrills await?

5. The country is compact. You really can get a taste of everything without getting all "planes, trains, and automobiles" about it. We spent three nights at a far flung river outpost in the jungle, three nights in the mountains and three nights on the beach near the second largest reef on earth. Not for even a minute did we feel rushed, overwhelmed or harried. You can also hole up at one spot, do some day excursions and be perfectly happy.

6. There are amazing and affordable places to stay. Belize has its share of budget and backpacky accommodations. But it also has a wealth of gorgeous, comfortable and unique resorts that meld beautifully with their surrounding culture and ecosystems. These places aren't cheap by any shot of the imagination. But many, if not most, offer packages that include excursions, activities and meals, which makes it easy to budget for your trip. All said and done, we spent less on this trip than we did on a 10-day vacation at the Basin Harbor Resort in Vermont two years ago. And it was a fabulous and and less costly alternative to the Galapagos trip we've long dreamed about but will likely never be able to afford.

Want details on where we stayed and what we did? Stay tuned for Part II, coming soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Next Best Thing to Eating Naked

Blink and you'll miss it. I'm not talking about the state of my newly organized, freshly scoured, and flotsam-purged third-floor office. I'm talking about fig season. Fig season??? If the only word that comes to mind when you hear the word "fig" is "Newton," you're probably saying, "Big whoop Peg! I'd rather come take a look at your new filing system." 

But if you happen to be among the culinary cognscenti who understand just how luscious, unctuous, and utterly sensual a fresh mission fig can be on a late summer afternoon, you're nodding your head knowingly. You blush just thinking about how that velvet skin gives way to your gentle nibble, revealing wildly pink, honey-sweet flesh. Your heart beats just a little faster as you imagine the titillating crunch of tiny seeds, as the fig's heart slides satisfyingly over your palate and down your throat. You can feel yourself reaching for another tender orb, wanting, needing to experience it all again. And fast....since the magic time when figs arrive at the markets in late summer is over faster than a first kiss. (There's a crop in springtime, but I always miss it. And the summer crop supposedly ends in mid-October, but I am seldom able to find them so late.)

If you're not yet a fig fan, consider this your wake up call. Run out and hunt down whatever vendor is smart enough to sell them--your local greenmarket is a great option, my local King's also sells them for a royal ransom. Sure, you can rinse 'em and eat 'em just like that. But figs are so wondrous because of the way they make other foods sing. For breakfast, I chunk them up, fold them into thick Greek yogurt, and sit out on my deck pretending I'm in Santorini. Sliced, they are the star of the most sophisticated dessert in my repertoire: a fig-and-lemon mascarpone tart in a cornmeal rosemary crust. And notched at the top and drizzled with honey, fresh lemon juice and fruity olive oil, they are the cornerstone of an appetizer that guest after guest at my home--die-hard fig lovers and virgins alike--have variously raved about as "a salad that the best restaurants could charge big bucks for," "crazy, insanely delicious," and "so obscenely yummy it should be eaten in private." I still favor the name that came from its creator, Jamie Oliver: "The Easiest, Sexiest Salad in the World." It really is crazy simple. It showcases some of the best foodstuffs on the planet. And after you make it once, you needn't follow the recipe at all. Give it a try and I promise--you'll get lucky, even if you manage to keep your clothes on.

Fresh Fig, Mozzarella and Prosciutto Salad

6 ripe figs, black Mission preferable (not too ripe; you don't want them to be super mushy) 

6 slices of prosciutto (splurge on good di Parma or something similar--a little goes a long way and this recipe is so simple, it's all about the quality of the ingredients). 

1/2 pound fantastic mozzarella, torn into strips (I get mine from my local Italian grocer while it's still warm and practically pulsating; you can also do very well with a hunk of beautiful buffalo mozzarella. Just don't use that rubbery stuff from the supermarket.)

Healthy handful of green or purple basil

For the Honey and Lemon Juice Dressing

1 Tbsp good honey
6 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsps lemon juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Putting It All Together:

Cut a criss-cross in the tops of the figs, but not quite to the bottom, and then, using your thumb and forefinger, squeeze the base of the fig to reveal the inside.

Place the figs on a beautiful serving plate and weave the slices of prosciutto around and among the figs.  Intersperse this perty arrangement with strips of mozzarella and the ripped up basil. Drizzle honey, making sure each fig has some in the the middle, then sprinkle the olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper over all. Or mix all the dressing ingredients together in a bowl and season, to taste, then drizzle everything with the honey-and-lemon-juice dressing. 

Go nuts.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Forget the old "Boil and Butter"...Get Those Artichokes on the Grill!

Just got back from my extended family's annual Lake George camping trip. If you know me just a little, you know that this excursion is a pretty kooky one, about which I've written, joked, grimaced, and reminisced relatively often. If you don't know me too well, basically imagine 11-15 Jerseyites (and ex-Jerseyites plus one pure-blood westerner) on a 1/2-mile long island in the middle of an Adirondack lake, with a couple of outhouses, a stone firepit, a handful of tents, and copious amounts of Deep Woods Off, sunblock, bacon and vodka---and you've basically got a picture of what life is like during the two family weeks we've spent there each summer over the past 52 years.

Now, up at the Lake, division of labor is serious business. My brother John is the wood, fire and fishing guy. My sister-in-law Julie is the only one kind enough to pay attention to the gaggle of mud-covered juveniles running wild around us. My sister Fred, our group's very own untouchable, cleans the outhouse. My parents worry about the weather and make cocktails. The kids haul buckets of water from the lake and chop kindling. And I have, over the years, taken over the role from my mom of grocery shopper (via boat) and cook. All of this makes for a pretty darned efficient and fight-free environment. Though I suspect we'd each be up sh&*t's creek if left on the island to survive on our own.

Anyway, people are always very curious about how I cook for 14 odd people for 14 days without the benefit of electricity or running water. More often than not, my friends muse about the gourmet feasts I must be able to innovate with nothing but an open fire and the great outdoors to inspire me. And my answer is the same: Food up at he Lake is basically calories. It provides energy so we can do all the other crap that needs to get done, like hauling wood, running up Black Mountain every morning, and chasing rattle snakes off the campsite.

Sure, my siblings and I went through a period where we tried to prove our parents wrong. We hauled up special spices and did our best Bobby Flay impressions. But after hours spent hovering over misbehaving flames, washing too many pots, and cowering in front of singed disasters (my pitch-black-but-raw country pork ribs come to mind), we've all arrived back at that sensible place that tells us to stick with what's easy, fast, and tasty. That means a pretty predictable rotation of steak, burgers, spaghetti, tacos, and iceberg lettuce salads.

There have been some notable additions over the years, however...dishes where the finished product exceeds the sum of its very few parts and still manages to get us out from under the kitchen tarp in a jiff. Case in point: My brother John's recipe for grilled artichokes, which he imported to the island two summers ago. I swear to you, once I tasted artichokes from the grill, I haven't once considered returning to my boiling ways and never even entertain the idea of dipping those delicious leaves in butter. Certainly, you can tackle this dish over an open fire like we do up at the Lake. But it's easier (and better for your complexion) if done on your tame little backyard grill. Give these a try. And let me know what you think.

John's Grilled Artichokes

Artichokes (figure on 1 per person; nice, fresh ones generally feel heavy for their size, sport tightly packed leaves, and have plump, non-shriveled stems)

Salt and Pepper
Exra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

Put a large cauldron of water on to boil or, if a you're a steamer-type of person, set up a steamer large enough to accomodate your artichokes.

While the water heats, prepare the artichokes. If you've never wrestled with these critters before, be brave. I'll walk you through it....the pictures here should help. First, give them a wash. Next, use a sturdy pair of scissors to clip the tips off of the bigger, visible leaves. Once the outer leaves are de-tipped, you'll have the delicate inner leaves sticking up from the center in a point. Use a sturdy knife to just whack off the whole pointy cone and discard what you've cut off. Finally, cut the bottom off the stem (if your artichokes still have theirs). This part of the artichoke, especially if it's a big artichoke, is pretty tasty, sort a continuation of the heart. Sometimes, though, they can be a little bitter. Just put them aside later if they are.

Now, once your water is boiling, drop the artichokes into the boiling water or put them in to steam for 15 minutes. While they are cooking, spray your grill with some Pam so the artichokes won't stick later and THEN heat up the grill. If you have one of those veggie grates that you can lay on top of your grill grate, go ahead and use it. No reason not to play it safe. As for how high to heat the grill? I'm not exactly picky about the setting since, as mentioned, I'm usually doing this over an eyebrow-singing fire. I'd say a medium fire is fine.

After about 15 minutes of boiling or steaming, your artichokes should be almost, but not completely, cooked. It's important not to overcook them at this point because they will fall apart on the fire. And if you undercook them, the heart may still be hard when you take them off the grill. The goal is for a knife or cooking fork to be able to pierce through the artichoke with just a little resistance.

Take your artichokes out from the cooking water and set them on a towel for a few minutes (go ahead and squeeze your lemons and wash your cooking pot while they cool. ) Now, use a sharp knife to cut each arichoke in half lengthwise. Once that's taken care of, your next job is to take out the hairy pokey stuff from the center. Here's how: Using that sharp knife, make a nice shallow smiley-face-shaped cut right along the line where the heart ends and the thistles begin (see picture. ) Then, use a melon baller, measuring spoon or plain old teasopoon to scoop out all the hairy stuff and tiny leaves above that cut line. No leaves that are too small and spiny to eat should be left.

Whew. Now that that's done, just brush the cut side of the artichokes with olive oil, and sprinkle them lovingly with salt and pepper. Lay them cut side up on the grill (close grill if you're not using an open fire) and cook for 10 minutes. Then flip them so they're cut side down and cook for another 5-10+ minutes, or until they are nice and crispy and and nut brown in spots.

Okay. Now lay these babies out on a platter. Drizzle with olive oil and lots of fresh lemon juice. Devour. Mmmmmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Looking For Close-to-Home Adventures This Summer? Click Here.

Okay, here's the big, exhausted sigh. Siiiigggggghhhhhh. Or however you spell the sound that basically captures the "I'm so pooped I can't bring myself to stand up and I can't believe we actually made it to the summer and before I know it I'll have to start making lunches and badgering kids about homework so I'd better make the most of this supposed summer break."

Maybe you don't even feel that way. But if you've got kids in the house--and haven't been able to con them into spending 8 weeks at summer camp like my parents did with me and my sibs--I'll bet you're looking for things to do with them over the coming steamy weeks.

This is just my friendly little reminder for you to CHECK OUT THE SERIES I WROTE LAST SUMMER. There are numerous blog entries covering everything from hikes in NJ to bike rides on the West Side to evening outings in the Meat Packing District. And all suggestions are all affordable and kid friendly. I'll be making more entries as I go this season. But for now, check out what I already have--you'll see a full listing on my home page on the right side, somewhere below my profile picture and the email subscription box. And please, please feel free to post any suggestions that you might have. I'm always eager to discover new adventures in the area.

P.S. I don't quite know how to correct it now, but Buddahbar, which is mentioned in "To Hell With the Hard Rock: Take the Kiddies to Buddah Bar" blog, is now a similar spot but with a new name. It's called Ajna Bar.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Need Party Food? Be a Genius. Make This.

It’s that time of year. School is winding down, graduation parties are kicking in, bbq’s are getting into gear. And we all stand in our kitchens, scratching our heads about what to contribute to all those potluck parties etched in our calendars. Right here is a recipe that you’ll kiss me for. This cilantro shrimp appy from some old issue of Gourmet (may she RIP) is not only super delicious and makes everyone believe you’re a genius cook. It’s got all the right elements that make it perfect for a party bring with. It’s a snap to make (so you can devote more time to putting on your false eyelashes). It feels a little special, since pink little crustaceans are in the picture. It’s waistline friendly, since it doesn’t have all the mayo, sour cream and other artery busters that plague most party appetizer platters. And it can be served warm or at room temp, so you can make it at home, dump it onto a pretty dish when you arrive, and let it sit out on the table ‘til the last little shrimp vanishes. Don’t count on that taking too long, mind you. I don’t call this dish Gone Light Lightning Cilantro Shrimp for nothing. For the first dozen times I made this, I think I got to taste about three. Most of the time, they disappeared before I got my coat off. My kids actually love these shrimp so much that I am perpetually slapping their hands while I’m cooking to stop them from snitching. I stave off a full fledged mutiny by making this dish even when there isn’t a party. To stretch it from appy to main course, I whip up the recipe, then pour out the shrimp and some sauce onto a pile of angel hair pasta or thin rice noodles, toss it all up and holler “dinner!” Problem solved. Note: The original recipe calls for 1 pound of shrimp but that is a lot of work for such a skimpy output of food. I’ve found that the marinade can easily accommodate two pounds of shrimp or perhaps a bit more. You can also use half the marinade for one pound of shrimp. Then make it again a few days later with another pound of shrimp for your next shindig.

3 large garlic cloves
1 1/8 tsp. salt
½ cup fresh lime juice
¼ cup sweet orange marmalade
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
4 tbsps. Olive oil
1 tbsp. Soy sauce
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. or more large shrimp in shells (21-25 per pound), peeled, tail and first segment of shell left intact, and deveined

optional garnish: fresh cilantro sprigs

Using a large knife, mince and mash garlic to a paste, with 1 tsp. salt. Whisk together garlic paste, lime juice, marmalade, cilantro, 3 tablespoons oil, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Transfer 1/3 cup mixture to another small bowl or ramekin and reserve for dipping sauce. Combine shrimp with remaining mixture in a large sealable plastic bag and seal bag, pressing out excess air. Marinate shrimp, refrigerated, turning bag once, for 15 minutes.

Drain shrimp and gently pat dry. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat. Add half of shrimp and cook, turning occasionally, until golden brown and just cooked through, about 3 minutes. (It’s tempting to cook all the shrimp at once, but try to resist. It cools down the pan and the shrimp will sort of steam instead of brown.) Transfer shrimp to a platter and cook remaining shrimp in remaining 1 ½ teaspoons of oil in the same manner. Garnish shrimp with cilantro, if desired, and serve with dipping sauce.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Benefits of Braless Spinning

I was on my cell this morning, explaining to my friend Gail that I did actually intend to go to some work-related event tonight, but that I'd forgotten to RSVP. "I've been dropping balls everywhere," were my last words before I hung up the phone and ran into my local spin studio for my 9:30 class. Only when I warmed up a little and--like always--tore off my sweatshirt, did I realize what other balls I'd dropped this morning: I was still in my pajamas. And as if that wasn't bad enough, I had no bra on. I thought about getting off the bike and sparing everyone in class a rather scary show, but decided to stick it out. Having survived, I share here the hidden benefits of bouncing around a spin class without any support whatsoever:

1) I squeezed some extra mileage out of my tad-too-small pajama top, which is now two sizes larger.

2) I have a renewed appreciation for my humbly endowed chest. If I were built like my sister, I might have blinded myself or even been liable for inflicting grave (and embarrassing) harm on the biker next to me.

3) My erratically bouncing torso was so distracting, no one noticed the cellulite on my ass.

4) I was so busy laughing at my goof, drumming up fodder for this list,and trying to keep my chest under control that my torturous hour of hamster spinning passed like lightning.

5) This whole incident gave me the perfect opportunity to touch base and apologize for not posting this past month. As mentioned, I've been a little busy. And now that I might have to schedule a surgical lift, you might not hear from me until August!

In all seriousness, keep your eyes posted for a great appetizer recipe that will be your new "go to" for all those upcoming, end-of-year pot luck events. I just have to find time to make the darned dish and take pictures. Oh, and to fix my camera, which fell in a river. But that's a whole 'nother story....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Forget Spring Training. Hit the Bronx!

Got Yankee fans in the house? Can't think of what to do while the snow melts and spring sports haven't yet monopolized your weekends? Here's an awesome idea: Pack up the family and head to the Bronx for a behind-the-scenes tour of Yankee Stadium. Maybe you're saying, "Well duh, Peg, we did that when the kids were still growing baby teeth." But maybe, just maybe, you're as clueless as I and the rest of my family was and you have no idea that this opportunity even exists.

We discovered the Yankee Stadium tour back in December while trying to figure out what to do for my older son Ben's family birthday outing. On a whim, I logged on to the Yankees web site--looking for I don't know what. Divine inspiration, maybe. But I noticed a little line on a pull-down menu about "stadium tours." Further reading revealed that the Yanks offer these one-hour adventures through the stadium several times a day, seven days a week during the off season. Tours are also offered during baseball season, but only when the team is on the road. At $20 a head, we figured what the heck. If it turned out to be a real bomb, we'd just head straight for lunch or dinner at Arthur Avenue.

Well, what a great surprise the whole day turned out to be. Without the usual baseball crowds clogging the area, we zipped up to the House that Ruth Didn't Build in just about an hour and parked right next to the stadium. We checked in about 20 minutes in advance and joined a group of about 15 others (ranging from Korean tourists to local fans). There was something eerily wonderful about wandering around that massive new stadium--utterly empty save for some isolated foot steps. We checked out the Yankee Museum first for about 20 minutes and then walked over to Monument Park, a collection of big plaques honoring the most illustrious Yanks. All of that was interesting enough. But then things really got juicy. Our Yankaholic guide (a retired cop)marched us down to the dugout and invited us all to sit right in it (!). We then meandered over to the batting cages and practice rooms, which was way cool. Best of all--we were waltzed right into the Yankee locker room. And let me tell you--that place ain't no tile and metal athlete's foot hatchery. It was so cushy, so fancy, so over the top, it looked more like a high-end gentlemen's club than a place where sweaty athletes have towel fights. Ben was swooning at the very idea of being so close to greatness. I was nearly faint knowing that I was mere feet from where Derek Jeter has actually stood naked. We even got to see what was in Johnny Damon's locker (I assume he's since packed up those cleats and Yankee jerseys).

The tour wound up just around 4, perfect timing for us to get down to Arthur Avenue (Bronx's Littly Italy), park on the street, and snag a table at Roberto's newish pizza trattoria, Zero Otto Nove, which doesn't usually take rezzies and opens for dinner at 5. What a great spot--really pretty, really cozy, with a huge wood-burning pizza oven right in the middle of the dining room. There are lots of great options other than pizza on the menu but the pies really were to die for. I devoured La Riccardo, a crispy crusted beauty topped with butternut squash puree, smoke mozzarella, pancetta, and basil. Noah was in utter bliss over his Patate Salsiccia e Provola, a tasty tangle of sliced potatoes, sausage, and smoked mozzarella. Glance at the menu and you will start salivating. Promise. And dinner won't put a huge dent in your wallet. Really.

And that was the day. Perfect. Weather friendly. Pretty affordable. And truly, truly a hoot. The only downside? I can't imagine doing the tour more than once every many years. So now I'll have to find some other excuse to get up to Zero Otto Nove for that butternut squash pizza.

Wanna Go? Need to Know.
Getting There: It's a snap getting up to Yankee Stadium when no games are on. Go to, click on the Stadium pull-down menu and you'll see an option for "Getting to the Stadium," which includes public/private transporation info and parking details. There are a couple of parking garages right on River Avenue, as well as some nonmetered street parking.
When to Go: You can reserve spots on the Yankees site through Ticketmaster--seems like openings are pretty scarce at this point, probably because all those baseball fanatacs are getting pumped for the season. If you can't get tickets for now, keep this trip in mind for next winter when you've all got cabin fever and can't figure out what to do with yourselves. We were able to get tickets just a day ahead of time, no problem. As for timing, try, if possible, to get a 3 PM tour time. That will get you out at just the right time to have dinner at Arthur Avenue, which is about a five or ten minute drive away. If you get out earlier, I guess you could also go for lunch or wander around and shop for cheese.
Services/Costs: Each ticket is $20. There might be a surcharge if you use Ticketmaster. There's also a kids price of $15, but it never seems to be available. I noticed that you can also bring a group of kids for a tour of the stadium--that brings the per kid price down to $8. What a concept for a birthday. You could also book an actual birthday package for $40 a head for kids 14 and under, which includes lunch, etc. at the on-premises Hard Rock Cafe, but that might be a little steep if you're bringing more than just a handful of buds.
What to Bring: If you come when it's cold out, dress warmly. If it's damp, you might even want to pack an umbrella. There's coverage from the elements for the most part, but the place is, well, an outdoor stadium.
Fear Factor: None, unless you get caught in rush hour traffic. But I'm assuming you'd be coming on a weekend, so that shouldn't be a huge problem.
In the Area: Arthur Avenue is a natural landing place after a Yankee tour--much better, I think, than overpaying for a meal at one of the chain places on premises. ( The Arthur Avenue Market ( for hours, info), if it's open, is a great place to kill time if you have it before or after your meal--it's sort of a covered bazaar with a million cheese, meat, veggie, olive oil, and god-knows-what other types of Italian vendors. There are even guys handrolling cigars in there. There are also about a zillion bakeries, cheese shops, ravioli shops, and more lining Arthur Avenue and the streets that radiate from it. Roberto's, probably the finest restaurant in the area, is a great bet--but snagging a table can be tricky and it's not exactly a cheap family dinner. There are other popular spots--Emilia's and Dominick's come to mind--but they are more along the lines of the red-sauce-and-melted cheese tourist traps you find in Manhattan's Little Italy. I think Zero Otto Novo--an offshoot of Roberto's--is a terrific option. It's less expensive and not quite as crowded as Roberto's, but the food is quite yummy. Do get there at 5 PM if you come on a Saturday and don't want to languish on a line. Line ups, after all, are for baseball teams (and criminals, I guess). For info on both restaurants:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Frozen Solid? Don't Be a Fool............................ Make This Pasta Fazool.

A good six or seven years ago, my friend Pat raved to me about an amazing version of pasta e fagioli she had come upon in her latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated. She loved Cook’s take on the classic Italian pasta and bean soup, she said, because it was thick, chunky, and absolutely bursting with Parmesan flavor. It didn’t hurt either that the whole hearty shebang could be whipped up in just about an hour’s time.

A couple of days later, Pat appeared in my third-floor office waving a copy of the recipe and urged me to have a go at it. Of course, I was game but when I glanced at the recipe I noticed that it called for a large rind of Parmesan to be tossed in with the other ingredients. That was a bit of a problem, since—I’m semi-ashamed to admit it—I don’t tend to use chunk Parmesan as my everyday Parmesan. And the Parmigiano Reggiano chunks I do keep in the house are treated like a controlled substance: Seldom is there more than a tiny nubbin of rind left when I am through with it. So did I simply blow off the recipe? Did I take a stab and ignore that cheese rind demand? Not bloody likely. Instead, geek that I am, I taped the recipe over my computer and proceeded to squirrel away parmesan rinds one tiny nub at a time.

Finally, one September my little bag in the freezer boasted what I though would equal the 5 inch by 2 inch rind the recipe called for. I could barely contain myself with excitement as I assembled my other ingredients. I followed the recipe to the letter and you know what? It didn’t just rock, it ROARED. My family, which will never recognize soup as a meal, went for it that night like wolves. Even Noah . . . who doesn’t eat anything that has even a blush of tomato. The entire batch was polished off by the next night’s dinner.

Like a good apostle, I reported back to Pat. I raved. I swooned. I lamented the fact I would have to wait another three years until I had enough Parmesan rind to make her amazing Pasta Fazool. Which is when Pat said . . . “What are you talking about? You can get Parmesan rinds at just about any good deli or Italian food store. And sometimes the even give it to you for free.” Do I need to say more? Other than the fact that what Pat says is true and I’m grateful she didn’t tape a “kick me” sign on my back. And, oh--you don’t even need to use Parmigiano Reggiano rinds. Any rind from a nice Parmesan will do just fine. Enjoy.

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

3 ounces pancetta, chopped (Supermarkets usually sell it at the deli counter where the slice meats are. Ask them to just cut you a chunk.)

1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 celery rib, chopped fine (about 2/3 of a cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 heaping Tbsp.)
1 tsp. dried oregano
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
3 anchovy fillets, minced to a paste (about 1 tsp.)
1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes, with their liquid
1 piece Parmesan cheese rind, about 5 inches by 2 inches
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3 ½ cups canned low-sodium chicken broth
5-6 ounces small pasta shapes (Ditalini and Tubetini are both great, orzo will do, as well)
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Ground black pepper
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)

1. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it is shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and anchovies; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minutes. Add tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Add cheese rind and beans; bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, 10 minutes. Add chicken broth, 2 ½ cups water, and 1 tsp. salt; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender, about 10 minutes (refer to package instructions for a better estimate of the pasta’s cooking time.)

2. Discard cheese rind. Off heat, stir in 3 Tbsps. of the parsley; adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (taste before you sprinkle—the pancetta already packs a salty punch). Ladle soup into individual bowls; drizzle each serving with olive oil and sprinkle with a portion of the remaining parsley. Serve immediately, passing the grated Parmesan separately. Makes about 3 quarts.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Get Your Free Cookbook. Yes, It's Free!

No blog this month. I've been busy putting together the ninth edition of my yearly cookbook. Kind of the mother of all my blogs. If you haven't already gotten an email from me, I'm blogging to let you know I'm finally finished and will be happy to email you a free copy. You can either keep it on your computer or upload it to Kinko's or some other copier place, ask them to print it double-sided, coil bind it and give it a clear plastic cover. Should cost about $20, but ask first so you can decide if it's worth it. Just let me know where to send it. And I always welcome your feedback and suggestions. My email is: