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Posts Tagged ‘egg’

On my kitchen counter I keep a little stack of recipes that I’ve torn out of my weekend New York Times. Some, like Caribbean-style ribs, look astoundingly delicious, but I’m never going to make that just for myself or I’d eat them all and they’ve have to cut me out of my apartment through the window, the way they move grand pianos out of pre-war walk-ups in the city. Recipes like that I file away for when I cook for company. For me, I do simple but powerful.

A couple of days ago for dinner I pulled just such a recipe from the stack, a spicy open-faced sandwich from Mumbai called Eggs Kejriwal. The ingredients are fairly normal, but together sound maniacal: cilantro, Cheddar cheese, red onion, a chile pepper…and mustard? Then you top it off with a fried egg and serve it with ketchup? I did it all but the ketchup, which seemed like double overkill at the time (but now that I think about it, next time I’ll give it a whirl).

You butter both sides of a slice of Pullman bread and sizzle it up in a pan until it’s lightly browned. Then you top it with the mustard, the cheese, and the rest of the veg. Pop it under the broiler until the cheese melts. In the meantime, fry the egg. You can use the same pan. Top the slice of bread with your egg, add cracked black pepper, and go to town. It’s gooey, it’s drippy, and it makes you cry, but in a good way. A perfect dinner.

The cilantro and egg I got fresh from the farm; the latter came right out from under the hen and was still warm. The recipe calls for a serrano chile. But Tom at the farm is a friend of mine and gave me a ghost pepper for free*, so I cut up a teensy bit and added that. The ghost pepper, also known as Bhut Jolokia, is the hottest chile produced, doing the Watusi at around 1,000,000 Scovilles. I keep it in my fridge crisper where it’s likely antagonizing the leftover cilantro. Adding just a 1/4 teaspoon of ghost pepper at a time pretty much assures I’ll have it until Halloween. Appropriate.

Boo.

*With apologies to Billy Joel. You Gen Xers know what song that sounds like.

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I’ve spent the past five days in the house with a skin infection, slipping out when the sun goes down to breathe fresh air and wander under cover of darkness. It sounds more superhero cool than it actually is.

Still…I’ve been worn out from the inside out for a long while, and needed some down time. It’s probably good that I was forced to stop. And there have been some happy by-products: I revisited some of my vintage cookbooks and baked new stuff.

With the contents of my larder reducing each day, especially fruits and vegetables, I opened up the last of the mulberry-Petit Syrah compote that I made last June. Then I pulled out The Food Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places, clearly titled by someone paid by the word, and looked for a muffin recipe I could use with the mulberries.

I found one from The Crescent Hotel in Arkansas, which is still in operation (and apparently is haunted. Someday I am going out there to eat their ghost cookies and to go on their ghost tour.). Their huckleberry muffins looked easy. I followed the recipe to the letter, except I used butter for the fat instead of shortening; and I live in New Jersey, and hence don’t have any huckleberries lying around. I love that it says to bake the muffins in ‘a moderate oven’ (350 F), plus this mid-century charm: ‘Pop a batch into the oven for a Sunday morning breakfast surprise.’

Verdict: They could have used another egg or two; the recipe called for just one. As pretty as they are (see above), they’re so heavy that when I put them on a plate you could actually hear them land. I probably chipped half my counter. Hope I didn’t lose my security deposit.

Oddly, and also, the recipe also didn’t call for sugar. (Maybe huckleberries are very sweet?) But this I didn’t mind; my compote was made with brown sugar and wine, which came through like little troupers. Unless something I make is completely burned*, I can always salvage it. Treated the muffins the same way as I did my mattress-like chocolate sponge cake in April: I cut a couple of muffins into pieces, tossed them in a bowl, chipped the other half of the counter, and doused them with plain yogurt. It was a great, if chewy, breakfast.

Today I climbed down from the walls long enough to leaf through The Williamsburg Cookbook (1975) that I dug out from under a folding table at the Ocean Grove Ladies’ Auxiliary book sale a few years ago, and made a loaf of something called manchet bread. It dates back to 14th-century England, so they say, because it calls for unbleached flour. Back in 1975 that wasn’t very easy to come by, is my bet. Today, thank goodness, it’s fairly commonplace. I used a mixture of unbleached all-purpose and whole-wheat pastry flour. This recipe maker also had the sense to use butter. No salt, though.

Verdict: It mixed up easily; and baked, has a crusty crust and nubbly, tender insides. Despite the sunken center. And it needed salt. So I buttered some slices and sprinkled on some dukka, an Egyptian spice mix I made of cumin seeds, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, cinnamon, and salt, all toasted and ground up with a mortar and pestle. On the bread, it was freaking glorious.

So here’s what I learned this week: 1) Resourcefulness is key, even when you’re tired and worn out and moderately itchy 2) There are times when the present becomes just too darned much, and the past offers a sweet refuge. Even if your muffins end up like Timberlands and your bread shows signs of economic collapse, it’s kind of heartening.

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*If you burn a slice of toast, grab a butter knife. Hold the toast over the garbage bin and use the knife to scrape off the top burnt layer. It’s golden underneath. Little trick I learned from reading Louise Fitzhugh’s 1970s comic jewel, Sport. Go Young Adult lit!

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I ate goat for lunch today.

Those from tropical cultures find this about as unusual as your basic American would find eating a burger from Five Guys. This particular goat came from a homey Filipino restaurant. Mixed with some of my roasted vegetables it was fatty, rich, meaty, and lip-smacking. The first goat I ever ate was a few years ago in a tiny Mexican restaurant.* It was just as delicious and I never forgot it.

Exotic food can be daunting, granted. The late food writer Laurie Colwin said she would never eat fish eyeballs, and I’m right with her. I’ll add to that the Filipino delicacy balut, a duck embryo eaten directly from the shell.** This is not a criticism of this traditional food, mind you; I just know what I can manage and what I can’t.

But I do want to push my luck as much as I can, not just because there is a world of magnificent food out there (and there is), and not just because sharing brings us all closer together (and like smiles, or music, food can do that), but because it’s important to pull the rug out from underneath ourselves sometimes.

(It’s also fascinating not just to see what people eat, but how they eat. I recently read about a native of Guam who happily munches right through baked chicken—bones and all. My Filipino friend Teresa loves picking at fish bones, slurping every tasty morsel from them, while her brother picks out the choicest pieces of cartilage to chew on. I’m a nibbler myself. Isn’t it reassuring to think that despite Louis Vuitton handbags and Tru-Green manicured lawns and eyebrow threading treatments that humans still, miraculously, maintain vestiges of our primitive selves? Could anyone plausibly argue that food doesn’t taste better when we get good and sticky-fingered with it? Sticky-faced?)

How much poorer I would be had I not found that little Mexican grocery store almost-restaurant, where the ladies sliced fresh limes behind the counter and grinned at this porcelain-white girl and her Japanese buddy licking our fingers over goat and tripa in homemade soft tacos. Or pulled over on the scrubby road just outside Gainesville, Florida to try spicy crocodile jerky. Or tasted Teresa’s mom’s wonderful monggo (traditional Filipino mung bean soup, complete with little shrimp heads). I love it; I love it all.

*’Restaurant’ might be pushing it, actually; it was in the back of a narrow little Mexican grocery store, and you had to go through the store to get there. The joint wasn’t much bigger than a box of Froot Loops, and I don’t even think it has a name. But they sure knew what they were doing.

**Man, if the goat didn’t drive my mom to the edge, that sure did.

 

 

 

 

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I read that in some communities you don’t dare leave your car unlocked in high summer or you risk finding your backseat packed to the ceiling with your neighbors’ surplus zucchini. Hit-and-run altruism. Or desperation, take your pick.

Despite the myriad uses people have come up with to use this prolific squash*, a favorite of mine today was a Sunday morning staple when I grew up, simply called zucchini, onions, and eggs.

It’s hardly a recipe, really; like most memorable dishes, it was invented with what happens to be around. Right now in New Jersey it’s this.

Slice zucchini into rounds and saute over medium-high heat in a pat of butter or a good drizzle of olive oil. Turn them when you can start to smell them; that’s a sign they’re speckled with brown underneath.

Chop up some onion and throw it in with the zucchini, stirring often until it’s lightly browned. Hit the mixture with a little salt.

Whisk together some eggs and pour them over the veggies. Add freshly ground pepper and some Italian seasoning, or any variation of fresh or dried basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

If you want to get fancy and have good wrist skills, by all means flip that dude over and call it an omelet. Or just stir gently until set through. I like it lightly browned as well.

There, you’re done. Wait! I just thought of this—a shaving of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano would be incredible.** That’s new.

I upped my game with the dish this year by using local ingredients and it was so good: zucchini and ‘candy’ red onion from Silverton Farms in Toms River. I also sliced in some of their sweet uncured garlic.

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The eggs were from Wyman Farms, from in county. Then I dressed it up even more by making fries with some of the first of Silverton’s itty bitty fresh-dug potatoes, oven roasted with olive oil and tossed with salt. This is breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I don’t have a garden. But if you do, let me know and I’ll leave my car unlocked for you.

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* I also read people use them as baseball bats—good for precisely one hit, I’m guessing. I need to stop reading so much.

**Caveat: if you’re at all tempted to use anything that started in a green can, please disregard entirely the above suggestion.

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I’m writing this with the taste of the above incredible dish still in my mouth, which, as decisions go, isn’t a half bad one.

The name and recipe are an adaptation of the much-beloved English dish, Toad-in-the-Hole. It was generously offered to me for my cooking project by Mike Batho, an English breadmaker*.

My also much-beloved Cooking of the British Isles (1969) says the dish was created as a way to use up meat left on the joint from Sunday dinner. Today, though, it’s usually enjoyed with sausages plopped into the center of Yorkshire pudding batter.

Huh? says the average American layman. Right, imagine a popover, that eggy, addictively yummy half roll, half souffle. Now imagine it saturated in rosemary oil and meat drippings so it crackles when you bite into it, making the staunchest vegetarian want to pounce face first into the pan like a manic Shih-Tzu. There it is.

A word about the sausages: I wanted a plain sausage for this. It’s not as easy to find in the contemporary U.S. as you might think. Not that there’s anything wrong with Sun-dried Tomato or Mild Italian or Apple Chardonnay—okay, fine, there’s something wrong with that last one—but I wanted to taste this in a traditional way. So I went with all-natural, local breakfast sausages, seasoned only with salt and pepper. Totally didn’t fail me.

And a note: bake this in a big enough pan. I used a pie dish, which made the oil pool up and drizzle into the oven in an unappetizing manner. (You’d think I would have remembered the events of this debacle. Didn’t). If you, too, are more charmed by your yellow Le Creuset ceramic pie dish than by practicality, set a rimmed cookie sheet underneath it.

The dish comes together very quickly. The batter takes about 5 minutes, then it goes into the fridge to relax. Once you’re ready to cook, it takes about 20 minutes.

Mike’s comments are in parentheses; mine are in brackets.

For the Yorkshire pudding mix I used approximately 200g {1 cup} of plain flour, 200ml {about a cup} milk (I used semi) and 4 large free range eggs. Whisk everything together until smooth, & season with salt & pepper. I made the batter a good few hours in advance as it benefits from sitting in the fridge a while. You can make it the night before if you like.

In a small saucepan, heat a mixture of olive & sunflower oils & add a few sprigs of rosemary*. You want about an inch of oil in a small milk pan. When the rosemary has become crisp and has infused the oil, turn off the heat & let it stand until you’re ready to cook.

Heat the oven to 200g {about 400 degrees F}. Place your sausages in the bottom of a large, shallow ovenproof dish. Allow them to colour in the oven for about 15 minutes. Add your rosemary oil to the dish & return to the oven until smoking hot. Pour over your batter and cook for 20 – 25 minutes or until it’s puffed up & golden. Don’t open the oven for at least 20 minutes or you might have a disastrous collapsed pud.

Serve with whatever veggies you like. {Sauteed mushrooms for me.} We had ours with a huge mound of colcannon & red onion gravy. {Though I would not quibble with this.} Bleeding marvellous it was too.

*

Here in the States we’d call this oeuvre something like freaking amazing, but I am an Anglophile, so I’d have to echo Mike’s review.

And just to gild the pud with bacon drippings or however the saying goes, I read Good Omens (Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett), classic English novel, while eating this classic English dish.

Cheers, Mike!

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*Mike Batho

Manchester, England

breadstead.co.uk/test-2/

**I went to the store to buy this, and by went to the store I mean I walked six blocks to my old apartment where I planted herbs out front 15 years ago, and plucked a sprig. The next recipe that calls for oregano will have the same outcome.

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Hot sourdough bread with butter.

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Same slice. I just couldn’t decide which was the purtier.

So maybe it’s because I went from making a 12-ingredient* fruitcake over Christmas to drizzling Baileys into snow last week that’s really making me appreciate the value of simplicity. Or maybe it’s because I’m an editor as well as a writer, and stripping the superfluous out of everything from copy to my Facebook friends list to food ingredients appeals to me. Or—this is probably it—it’s that the simpler the ingredients and prep, the more satisfying the dish.

People usually assume that since I’m a food writer I put all of my focus on fancy restaurants, but to be honest, the opposite is true: I don’t care about fine dining. I care about ingredients. Choose the best ingredients and don’t mess with them too much. Why should you? They already had big plans to speak for themselves.

Years ago Dr. Andrew Weil said his idea of the ultimate dessert was good-quality dark chocolate along  with fruit, in season (this matters) and perfectly ripe. It’s both healthy and heavenly.

For a real challenge along those lines, for a week (or more) keep recipe ingredients down to the bare minimum—three to five, tops. Pared down just to the essence of themselves, offered in the best possible light with the matchmaking** of your two sweet hands, and people start to call you a good cook. It’s nutty.

The shots here are bloody good memories of mine. Every component of every dish is of good quality and consequently didn’t fail me. And none have more than five ingredients.

I’d continue, but I don’t want to shoot my premise in the foot.***

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Just-picked organic strawberries and cream.

Mozzarella in carrozza: a cheese sandwich dipped in egg, dredged in flour, and butter-fried.

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Organic figs I picked, then dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel.

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Scotch Woodcock: toast smeared with butter and anchovy paste, then topped with very softly cooked scrambled eggs and a couple whole fishie cuties.

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Lemon curd: lemon zest, juice, sugar and eggs, plus a little pat of butter.

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Gianduja (homemade Nutella): dark chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, sugar, cream and butter.

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Popovers: all-purpose flour, eggs, milk, butter and salt.

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A pineapple kebob-like thing I came up with: fresh cut pineapple doused in Malibu rum and dusted with sweetened shredded coconut.

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Another invention of mine: mulberries picked from the tree outside my balcony and cooked down into a jam with sugar, several hefty splashes of Petite Syrah, and ground cardamom.

*And it would have been 13 but I couldn’t find candied angelica.

**I couldn’t think of this word. I could only think of ‘shiddoch’. True story. So I Googled that to get me to the English word. The nine remaining drops of my sanity are going to fall out of my ears one of these days.

***I also mix metaphors the way good things come to those who take the bull by the horns.

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Skimming through my 1924 Hallowe’en party book (written back when they still threw in the apostrophe), I’m struck by all of the activities people did by hand. The book offers hosts and hostesses ideas such as cracking whole walnuts, removing the nuts within, slipping a fortune inside and gluing the shell back together; making homemade cakes and hiding more fortunes within; and setting up tubs for apple bobbing. Water, paper, mud, flour, paste—all are liberally applied in the projects provided. It’s clear the author assumed people would put their hands in stuff and think little of it.

I’m also amazed at how fearless it seems earlier generations were. In 1924—long before the advent of the Sharpie marker—instructions direct hostesses to heat the point of a knitting needle over hot coals and burn it into walnut shells to make facial features; to poise chestnuts at the tips of knives, then give to children to hold during relay races; to bob for apples with no worry for germs (the biggest risk, it seems, was spoiling your hairdo); and to douse cattails in kerosene and set them on fire, as makeshift torches.

The drawing above is on the cover of the book I mention. The little girl stands on a chair so she can reach to scoop the inside of a pumpkin. She’s five or six at best, but no adult is standing behind her to make sure she doesn’t fall. And the boy—eight? nine?—wields a chef’s knife bigger than the one in my kitchen; and again, adults are conspicuously absent.

The Little House books, which recall everyday life in the late 1800s, similarly depict an ease with skills—again, from a very early age—that may surprise us. Here is little Laura chopping vegetables alongside her mother over a primitive stove, there is her five-year-old sister Mary stitching on her nine-patch quilt. With a real needle. I used to work in nursery schools, and any project that required stitching was done with a large, plastic, dull-tipped ‘needle’. And even so, we teachers supervised at every moment.

It’s fascinating to me that earlier generations took hands-on skills for granted. I don’t support helicopter moms who scamper after their kids all day long with mini bottles of Purell, but neither would I let a child of today use a sharp needle, let alone handle a knife or hold a lit torch. I wouldn’t let a child take food out of a hot oven, or cook over a hot stove top. But apparently it’s a modern-day phobia.

A chicken and egg conundrum comes to mind: Were people a few generations ago braver than we are today? Or did handling knives and needles and fire on a regular basis make them braver, just by cultivating confidence in their ability to use tools and to harness elements safely and effectively?

Let’s take it a step further. Looking around at where we are today, ever in pursuit of the faster, the shinier, the more advanced, have we lost pertinent skills?

With a few exceptions, we tend to buy our quilts today. Meals often mean microwaving or eating takeout. Not many prepare party foods from scratch, opting instead to cater some or all of it. Does the average person know how to slice an onion anymore? Does it even matter?

I posed this question to a friend who both cooks and thoroughly enjoys his gadgets. He said some skills are worth more than others, and one could argue that it matters more to know the ins and outs of technology rather than kitchen skills. If you really needed something chopped, you could hire someone to do it or (increasingly) buy it already prepared.

Most of us in the modern world need to know how to operate cell phones and work laptops, as those before us knew and used skills that were essential for their time. I’m all for any technology that brings people and ideas closer together.*

I guess I’m just wondering if forgetting how to sew on a button by hand or how to slice an onion is worth what we’ve otherwise gained. I’m a cook and an artist, so my hands are everything. I’m compelled to get my hands dirty to access a personal, almost primitive power that makes me feel more human. But that’s one person’s take.

What’s yours?

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*Recently set myself up on Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/mcproco/) and Twitter (@evesapple7).  Come play!

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So many of you commented on my last post (thank you) with thoughts on why people might choose what looks like quality versus what actually is quality; and it’s clear that the possible reasons, as well as solutions, to the question are many. One reason stuck out for me, though. Let me know if you agree or not.

It’s distance.

Most of us are just too far away from the source of our food—literally, figuratively, or both—so we buy what looks pretty and go about our day.

Distance, and the detachment that goes with it, is a big fat theme in today’s culture. We watch TV alone, instead of visiting friends. We grab fast food and eat it in our laps in the car instead around a dinner table with family. We message electronically instead of speaking face to face (and yes, I see the hypocrisy of kvetching about it on WordPress, but a girl’s got to start somewhere).

Moreover, with a few exceptions, we buy food from massive organizations located hundreds of miles away, run by those we’ve never met and whose philosophies may or may not match our own. And we usually don’t care. A few decades ago food manufacturers made sure to depict wheat and other natural ingredients on their packaging because they knew if they were going to woo housewives, they needed to reassure them that their products were the real deal. Those women grew up on farms, just like their forebears, and strictly trusted their own two hands and consciences or those of well-known neighbors for every single thing their families bit into. They weren’t going to trust perfect strangers. They were wary, and rightfully so—wild, in a sense, and in the healthiest way.

Now we’re tamed, and the worse for it. We don’t require it, so an assurance of integrity has gone the way of disco. The link from farm to fork has been broken.

I recently mentioned to someone that most chickens are raised poorly (to say the least) and he cut me off quickly: “I don’t want to know.”

Because knowing means responsibility—the word begins with ‘response’—and we don’t want to. It means wanting accountability, but we don’t insist on it. We don’t want to do something different when we’re all so cozy with our routine, so we cloak ourselves in the illusion of safety. I suspect a lot of us know it’s all going to bite us in the butt sooner or later, but we do it anyway.

So when faced with two bins of apples, the one on the left featuring unshiny, uneven fruit that was grown locally for flavor, and the one on the right featuring lip-glossy red fruit grown in North Jabibb and bred purely for durability, we pick the one on the right. And we give mediocrity another point.

Man. Now I’m depressed. But I have an idea on how to turn this around. You’ll likely come up with many more (and please fill us in).

For starters, we can support local farmers as often as possible.*

Here’s my thinking: Buying locally from a trusted source…

1) gives us a chance to be won over by quality goods. It starts with taste, and you simply can’t compare the taste of a sweet grilling pepper grown locally to one on a shelf at the supermarket. You just can’t. Don’t even try. And it’s more nutritious because it’s was picked so recently; its store bought counterparts lost nutrients during travel time.

Fighting personal insecurities that make us buy crap that looks good but isn’t…worries that, to our peers, we’ll appear inferior if we buy lumpy pears…that’s a bigger hurdle. But I believe taste will win us over. I fantasize about a day when buying misshapen local food is rad.** Then we’ll demand quality goods on an even wider scale.

2) forges a brand spanking new link to where our food comes from. Along with taste, the link will be soldered by a relationship between us and the farmers. A smile, a handshake, a joke, a story, a lesson—face to face!—these build trust. Introduce yourself at a farmers market and ask questions. Foster a rapport. It’s fun. Buy some of their eggs. Find out what eggs are supposed to taste like, go into a faint, and go back for more. When we buy from the big boys at a generic supermarket***, we’re supporting strangers who may or may not give a crap about us. When we buy from local farmers, we’re supporting neighbors that, if given the chance, will become our friends. They want to keep raising laying hens, they want us to have the best, they don’t want to give up their farms to developers because agribusiness pushed them to it. Choosing to buy locally means we can relax that we’re not being duped, and eat really, really well. And we’re supporting those who provide this goodness so they can keep on providing it.

200 years ago on my native soil a handful of farmers got tired of being the establishment’s lap dogs. They became makeshift soldiers, fought back with blood and won—won big.

A soldier I ain’t. But I can buy local eggs.

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North Bridge, Concord, site of the shot heard ’round the world and the start of the revolution. That’s a plow at his left side.

*If we buy organic, another 10 points for Gryffindor.

**I’m a child of the 80s. Obviously.

***Whole Foods is an exception.

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Flying in the face of tradition today, kids. I’ve decided I’m going to make New Year’s resolutions that I can get stoked about. Why should I come up with some gruesome list that will make me feel panicky and guilty? I might as well stay behind in 2012 with a pocket flask of Tanqueray in my hand and the covers over my head. I refuse.

Instead, here are a bunch of good resolutions; and not surprisingly, they’re all food related.

I’m going to…

1. …bake bread more often. I miss punching down dough, I miss the smell of it browning up in the oven, and I miss pulling apart warm chunks of it and scooping up butter with it.

2. …cook some classic treats from the UK that I have always wanted to try—Dundee cake, Cornish pasties, pork and apple pie, maids of honour pastries, game pie and toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy.

3. …illustrate recipes for my posts, along with photos. I want to get back to where I started: with Ebony and Berol Prismacolor pencils.

4. …get my paring knives sharpened.

5. …freeze more of summer’s fresh produce for the winter. I used to do that and it saved me extra trips to the supermarket, was more nutritious, was better for the environment, supported local farms, and even saved money. Just took an hour of prep time each week. I’m chicken, because Hurricane Sandy just defrosted my freezer for 11 days. But I’m going to do it anyway.

6. …keep up with making up vanilla extract. I don’t buy the stuff from the supermarket because there’s a much cheaper way, and that is to buy a bottle of plain vodka and some vanilla pods, slice the beans in half lengthwise, and stick them in the vodka. Every few days give the bottle a shake, and after a couple of months the extract will be brown and murky, with happy little bits of pod and seed floating around in it. The bottle lives in your fridge and will always be there for you. Unless you’re me, and you’re down to the last 16 drops and don’t have a backup bottle ready to rock.

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Lame.

7. …bake treats on Valentine’s Day to give to my teeny town’s local cops and volunteer firemen. I had a stressful December and was only able to make a small plate of cookies for each over Christmas. When my boiler blew, the cops came over inside two minutes and duct-taped off my most hysterically spouting radiator. The firemen cheerfully changed the battery in my smoke detector, at 1am, on my narrow, hairpin-sharp angled steps. They’re amazing, selfless guys, and deserve more than I gave. I’m making it up to them in spades.

8. …have company over more often. There’s nothing like sitting around my dining room table with my favorite people, eating something sweet, and splitting our sides laughing. I want to have a chocolate-off with one group of friends this spring and a local hard-cider-off with another group this fall. It’s so much fun to gobble and sip, compare and contrast, and write about what I learned.

9. …make little coconut souffles for my sister’s birthday. You take them out of the oven and then you dig a little hole in the middle of each and pour warm chocolate goo into it. I have a sneaking suspicion she will find this appealing.

10. …figure out a way to make food—writing it, editing it and shooting it—a full-time gig.

11. …go out for Indian food again because I miss those flavors, try authentic ramen noodles in NYC, and have the lardo pizza—which is exactly what it sounds like—at Porta in Asbury Park, NJ.

12. …try not to roll my eyes when, at a restaurant that prides itself on serving genuine Italian food, the pasta carbonara sports a cream sauce with little bits of ham in it instead of egg and pancetta. (No promises, though. I’ve already fouled this up this once.)

13. …learn to make an old-fashioned candy called divinity.

14. …buy my eggs from local farmers once they’re in season, when the weather turns warm.

15. …make pumpkin butter with nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar and eat it straight out of the pan.

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Coming soon, to a kitchen near me.

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I love to make treats for the casts and crews of my shows, and to give as holiday gifts and thank-yous. 99.44%* of the time people love it. But that itty bitty percentage** left over gets all judgmental on me.

‘How can you make these things knowing there’s such an obesity problem in this country?’ they ask. I’ve even had people ask how I can live with myself, as if baking with butter and sugar is akin to mooning a Gymboree. Here’s my thinking.

Yes, a massive pile of Americans are obese. But they didn’t get that way from having a brownie at a Saturday night barbecue, or a couple of Bubbe’s latkes at Chanukah, or Cadbury eggs on Easter. And goodness knows I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. But I have mambo’ed with weight gain and loss my whole life. As my ninth grade biology teacher said, if you consistently eat more than you burn off, you gain weight. That’s how it works. So with a few exceptions, I’m pretty sure those suffering with serious weight issues got that way from consuming too much, or consuming rich foods too often—foods that are meant to be once-in-a-while treats.

Your Great Anye’s German stollen, that wonderful buttery dried-fruity holiday bread—that’s a treat. You’re not supposed to live on it. It’s a Christmastime joy, along with goodwill and empty parking places. The problem comes when the line between treats and everyday healthy foods becomes so blurred that for breakfast we grab a doughnut made with shortening and fake colored sprinkles instead of scrambled egg whites and whole wheat toast, or for lunch we choose Cool Ranch Doritos instead of a turkey sandwich. Many of us have forgotten the difference, forgotten to be discerning.

And so we get fat, and we judge ourselves and others for it. We forget that eating, like most things in life, is about balance. We’re supposed to make healthy food choices most of the time. And we’re supposed to celebrate with indulgent foods at special times. Yes, supposed to. If we can decide to live by that tenet, maybe we’ll work out this obesity epidemic (or at least come closer to doing so). And I can’t think of a better time than now, holiday time, to emphasize balance in eating.

Please, have some of your mom’s killer lasagna bolognese and your best friend’s oatmeal cookies this holiday season. Just go easy the rest of the time. Get your veggies in there. Drink lots of water. Take care of yourself.

The really good news is when we choose to live this way, choose to eat healthy foods*** most of the time and blow it out a little on the weekends and on holidays, we’ll look forward to those special treats that much more. Remember anticipation? We’ll feel like kids again.

Full disclosure:

1) Last week I overdid it: I drank hot chocolate every single day without fail. Even with 1% milk, that’s a lot. This week I have to do better with balance.

2) I’m totally in the mood to make my mom’s sour cream coffee cake, but it’s something that we kids grew up eating on Christmas morning. I am making myself wait, just like I did last year, and I know I’ll be glad I did.

I’m so excited for that cake. It’s something, like the stollen, that says yesterday is gone, tomorrow is later, and I am living for this flavor, this texture—this luxury—right now. And there’s no crime in that.

*With apologies to Ivory soap. You’re doing a fine job.

**Don’t make me do the math.

***Which doesn’t mean it should taste like a loofah sponge, by the way. Find recipes that use spices, herbs, garlic, the good stuff, and you will not deprive yourself.

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