Remember when you were a kid and nothing in the world mattered, except for the love of your parents, Saturday morning cartoons, and a 'shotgun' system, which had you and your sister alternating turns in the front seat on the rides to and from school? (This was a big deal. I'd get the ride to school, and she'd get the ride home. These were hard and fast rules - zero negotiation. And to this very day, these rules still apply. In. Our. 30's.)
Those were the days when my sister and I would ride our bikes through the village in our pajamas, late into the evening. The summer evenings we'd run naked across the pier down by the beach and dive off the end with our cousins, into what seemed like a vast abyss, but probably didn't go deeper than about five feet. And they were the days we'd venture into town on our own, like adults, only to spend pocket money and be picked up by our parents, like the kids that we were.
When you were a kid, you ended the day tired from running around too much during recess, spending an afternoon splashing around in the pool and crushing seven Pixie Sticks, before realizing what you were in for.
These days, if I didn't know what was good for me, I'd probably snort a Pixie Stick, if it meant I'd be able to push past the inevitable 8:00pm shut down my brain goes through at the end of every work day.
These days, I don't sit down on the couch, unless I plan on waking up there two hours later. To be honest, I don't go home, unless I plan on staying there. Must. Keep. Running. I've been known to put on heels, line my eyes, and pre-game with a glass of wine or two, only to accidentally nod off and realize that the pre-game was actually the 4th quarter. (I swear I'm young and fun, just don't let me sit down!)
'Adulting' will take it out of you. There's a reason 'happy hour' is between 5:00 and 7:00 - after 7:00, the only thing that keeps us out, is momentum.
Admittedly, I don't do myself any favors by working a full time job and a part time job in a six day period, but I'm the happiest when I'm busy, so I don't see myself slowing down any time soon. Even with one job, I'd find a way to wear myself out - guaranteed.
As a reminder of the days when I'd head out to meet my friends at 10:00pm for a movie followed by a party, instead of 10:00am for a boozy brunch followed by a nap, I wanted to make something fun, bright and sweet. (Like me, during the first half of my day.) These days, however, bright doesn't come in the form of artificially colored boxed cereals and packets labeled 'fruit flavored'. These days, if it's 'fruit flavored,' I like it 'flavored with fruit.'
But hey, just because you've grown up, doesn't mean you can't still 'taste the rainbow.' These frozen yogurt pops are packed full of vitamins and protein, and will satisfy a craving for something a little bit sweet, as the warm days start to come. They may also give you that extra kick of energy you need to keep you out past dinner time, now that the days are getting longer.
Prep your fruits - puree the mango, kiwis, blueberries and raspberries in separate batches and divide them into 4 bowls.
If you're sweetening your yogurt, go ahead and do that before adding it to the fruits. I used coconut milk vanilla yogurt, which was already a little sweet, so there was no need - but see how you feel. A little honey ain't gonna kill ya, so if you need the extra sweet - do it! Also, it's best to chose a yogurt with some fat in it. A fat free popsicle will go a little icy in this case - doesn't have to be whole milk, if that's not your thing, but I don't recommend fat free. Your call. It's easier to layer yogurt with a thicker consistency. You won't have to freeze at all between layers, if your yogurt is thick.
Divide the yogurt among the four fruits, reserving some for the plain white layer. Mix them all thoroughly.
Start layering your yogurt into the popsicle moulds. White, yellow, green, purple and then pink. Place the lid on your mould, and insert the popsicle sticks.
Freeze them for a good couple of hours, or longer, ideally. (Mine have been freezing since last weekend, because I ran out of light and had to run to work.)
To be fair, I'd probably still dive bare-assed off the end of a pier with my sister and cousins - but only if we hit up happy hour, first.
For chilly mornings that need a little something extra
It's the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and it's cold and grey beyond the panes of my window. As a matter of fact, the rain is coming down in droves, and when I finally swung my legs out from beneath the covers and onto the bare wooden floor this morning, I promptly pulled them back up and safely under the covers. It's chilly, y'all!
Finally, after weeks of prematurely dressing for the season of cable knits and densely wovens, I find myself reaching for a sweater and scarf out of necessity, and not a feeling of confused obligation. It's the moment I've been longing for! Not only because, as a southern California resident, I crave seasons like a plant in dry soil craves water, but also because it signifies the beginning of days spent with family, of Holiday parties, and of efforts being made. It's the time of year when we find ourselves going the extra mile and speaking our hearts more freely. And, perhaps because of the cold, we find comfort and warmth in our friends and family as mush as we do in the balls of thick yarn that cloak us.
I'm three days away from going home, and I've already checked out. My bag is mentally packed (though not physically, of course - that'll happen at 2:00am before a 6:00am flight on Wednesday, at which point I'll undoubtedly forget underwear, my toothbrush and anything that actually comes together as an outfit, but hey, family doesn't care), I've stopped grocery shopping, and I find myself in an emotional holding pattern, just waiting to join in the fun. I'm already sat on the bed, late at night, gossiping with my sister and watching an episode of something scary that will inevitably have her passed out long before I dare close my eyes. (Cue the gentle nudging and the 'hey Alex, you're still awake, right?') I'm already listening to the clinking sound of my dad making the tiniest Manhattans in the biggest glasses, to which the follow up is a chorus of the popular tune 'let's have another!' And I'm certainly already elbow deep, seasoning the cavity of a turkey that'll feed an army, while my mother holds its legs unceremoniously in the air.
So, in an effort to tide myself over and indulge in a morning perfect for caramelized custard and syrupy apples, I whipped out my cast iron skillet and the scraps left over from an evening that ended before the baguette ran out, and made myself French toast. Because, why not.
And because it's the Holiday season, I threw in bourbon. (It's a three hour time change, after all, so even if it's not yet five o'clock here, the rest of my family is certainly breaking out the jiggers and shakers, and I'll be damned if I'm not participating, even if in the abstract.)
For French toast:
Heat your cast iron skillet to low-medium and add the coconut oil and butter to melt. Then add the apple slices, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until soft.
Meanwhile, whisk together the milk, eggs, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla and salt to form the custard.
Dunk your baguette slices in the custard and submerge them fully, allowing them to really soak up the liquid. Set them aside, momentarily.
Once the apples are soft, stir in the cinnamon and maple syrup, and cook for a further minute. Then move the apples to the sides of the skillet, add another tablespoon of butter, and place a couple of slices of soaked bread in the center.
Cook the toast until golden, about 2-3 minutes per side.
Serve with more maple syrup and a little powdered sugar, and then enjoy the heck out of it!
No, I'm not yet able to join in the family fun, but I do take a little pleasure in knowing that the onslaught of bourbon French toast and the like, doesn't happen until I get there. So, as much as I'm looking forward to going home, they're most definitely looking forward to having me.
Because when your grandmother goes rogue, you have complete license to follow suit.
Every family has recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. And by recipes, I mean scratchings on the back of a cocktail napkin, vague instructions passed down verbally (that seem to change just slightly with every iteration) and faded, grease-stained cookbooks, with certain pages in particular that reflect the smeared and fingerprinted popularity of a treasured dish.
As memories blur, tastes change and scribbles fade, the passing-down of recipes becomes a bit of a game of Chinese Whispers, and what once may have been the Arnoldi family's recipe for its world famous apple crumble (in some, very discerning parts, anyway), has become whatever version of said crumble our 94-year-old grandmother choses to remember.
Jean Arnoldi, the matriarch of my mother's side of the family, is a woman of great strength, intelligence, wit and perseverance. Jean Arnoldi is also a woman who is never wrong. (I'm pretty sure that trait was passed down to all the women of the family, along with an appreciation for dark chocolate and deeply disturbing television thrillers.)
My grandmother refuses to age and thank goodness for that. She climbs stepladders to hang Christmas ornaments (despite the fact that she can barely see or balance), sticks her head in the pot to make sure the water is boiling (I mean, I just can't) and insists that apple crumble was always, always made with an oat topping. On this final point, I can assure you, it was not.
Crumble has been my family's go-to dessert since I can remember. It's simple, quick and always delicious – it's the dessert that wins you major points, with barely any effort. It featured prominently at the end of a many-a-weekend meal, summer beach picnics, and the occasional, particularly grizzly school night, when a little something extra was required.
And crumble was always made with flour, butter, sugar, a pinch of salt and apples. That's it. No more, no less, and certainly no oats. But at some point, during the last 10 years, granny started throwing oats into the mix. No big deal, right? I mean, it's apple crumble – as long as it's delicious, who cares? It's just that our stubborn grandmother insists it was always made that way. It's like the scribbled-on cocktail napkin was lost – like the torn notebook page had been misplaced. And there's no use arguing, because even when my granny seems to concede, she waits til you turn away, before mouthing the words 'you're wrong of course, darling' under her breath. Infuriating? Yes. But wonderful at the same time. I'm convinced that a nature so stubborn pushes you forward. It pushed her through her time as a nurse during the war, through raising five children, through being the devoted wife of a brilliant (and very busy) doctor, and through the almost 21 years alone, since his passing.
So, if my granny wants to believe (whole-heartedly) that apple crumble was always made with oats, well then the rest of us will respect our elder and take her word for it! (Until she turns away, and we collectively whisper 'you're wrong of course, darling' under our breaths.)
Having flown the nest long ago, and realized that, apparently, nothing is sacred, I've started making my own memory-lapsed versions of this family classic. I figure, as long as I call it crumble, think of my grandmother when I make it, and throw at least four of the primary ingredients in, I'm not going any more rogue than granny did.
So, this week, I incorporated a snack that I've absolutely fallen for. It's called Gigi's Remix, and it's ridiculously delicious. Somewhere between granola and trail mix, this crunchy, sweet and wholesome blend of sprouted nuts, goji berries, cacao nibs and coconut flakes, among other things, is as crave-worthy as it is healthful. When you read through the list of ingredients clearly printed on the front of the packet, you find yourself turning the bag to look for additional items, perhaps sneakily listed on its back side. It can't possibly be this good, and not have at least one thing I can't pronounce hidden inside it, can it?
Apparently, it can.
This stuff's good as is, in a bowl with any milk you like, and, as I've recently discovered, baked into the non-traditional topping of an ever-evolving apple crumble.
Cue the remix.
For the crumble topping:
For the filling:
Set your oven to 350*F.
Peel, core and chop your apples into bite-sized pieces, then mix them in a bowl with two tablespoons of sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, Gigi's Remix, sugar and salt, and then cut in the butter in chunks.
Using your hands, incorporate the butter into the flour mixture, until you have a crumbly dough. You want the butter evenly distributed throughout.
Butter a pie dish, add in the apples in a fairly even layer, and crumble the topping over them. You want nice chunks of buttery topping covering all the apples.
Oh, and I also threw on a few pumpkin seeds, because I love 'em, but this was more of an afterthought, rather than part of the recipe.
Bake the crumble for 45 minutes to an hour, until golden on top and bubbling. Then serve it up as is or with a big scoop of soon-to-be-melting, vanilla ice cream on top.
That's my take on it, anyway, and I'm curious to find out how it goes down with the head of the family. Perhaps we're back to an oat-free rendition come Christmas time when I see my lovely granny next, at which point this may be far too revolutionary. But then again, you never know.
I don't think we'll ever win the battle on irresponsible stepladder usage or steam facials not administered by a professional, but at least we still get crumble when we come to visit, even if it's different from what we grew up on.
*Gigi's Remix is primarily sold in California, however you can oder it online from anywhere. You can, of course, and by all means, incorporate your favorite granola instead. Something heavy in nuts, berries and seeds, rather than clusters, works best.
** If you're using a particularly sweet apple, such as Golden Delicious, you can cut the sugar down to ¼ cup – unless you like your desserts on the sweeter side.
Sure eggs are flashy, but the true test of any breakfast joint is what they can do without them
When it comes to breakfast, eggs seem to have cornered the market. Poached, scrambled, fried, boiled and baked, these babies get all the love. And whether they're smothered in butter, cheese, cream or the like, it seems that these days, the more over the top you go with them, the better.
And though breakfast is meant for consumption, in today's Instagram-able world, it's also meant for picture taking. Chefs may as well serve their food cold, because the reality is, by the time table 42 finishes with the photoshoot bound straight for the glossy pages of, umm, Facebook, the only heat left at the table is radiating from the back of an iPhone, struggling with storage issues. (#nomnom and #meltinyourmouth only apply if you ate the food while it still really was 'nom nom' and before it actually melted on your plate.)
It seems that for eggs in particular, it's all about the close up shot. Yolks oozing, omelets browning and edges crisping in butter, render pictures so salacious, it's no wonder the term 'food porn' was coined, because eggs are, in fact, the porn stars of breakfast. And they will always smile for the camera.
When you're dining at a restaurant, chefs know this - that's why the egg dishes get all the attention. Even the decidedly unsexy egg-white-only dishes get names like 'The Warrior Omelet' and 'The Personal Trainer Scramble', because eggs, no matter how they're served, are where it's at.
You know where it's not at? Oatmeal. Glance at a restaurant's breakfast menu and you'll find it listed somewhere between granola and the '20% gratuity included on parties of 6 or more' line, as just that, 'Oatmeal'. And more often than not, it's really poorly done. Dry, lumpy and under-salted, oatmeal seems to be the red headed stepchild of AM dining. But you know what? I find that a bit of a cop out. If you can't make something as simple as a bowl of boiled oats taste good, then you can keep your big-busted, camera ready eggs - we all know how much butter it took to get them to look like that anyway.
This is why, the first time I dine at a restaurant for breakfast, more often than not, I order the oatmeal. I consider it the litmus test of a place, and if it passes, well then maybe we can talk oozing eggs next time.
Add the coconut oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the apples to the skillet and sprinkle over the cinnamon. Cook the apples for about 10-15 minutes, until soft, stirring in 1 tablespoon of honey, 5 minutes before removing them from the heat.
Meanwhile, bring your water to a boil in a small sauce pot, add the oats and salt (salt is absolutely essential! Unsalted oatmeal is a crime), cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. If you're using 'quick cook' oats, your oats will cook in as little as 5-7 minutes, but for regular steel cut oats it will take considerably longer. Read your packet for cooking instructions. If you notice that the water is evaporating too quickly, add a little more as needed. You want your oats soft, cooked through and not dried out.
Whisk the remaining tablespoon of honey into the greek yogurt.
Spoon your oatmeal into a bowl, top it with the apples and yogurt, and sprinkle over some pomegranate seeds, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with a little extra honey, if you're so inclined.
Sure, it seems silly to extract yourself from the depths of your warm, comfortable bed on a weekend morning, drag your tired bones all the way to a restaurant, inevitably stand in line for far longer than the food actually warrants, and then order oatmeal - I know that. I'm tellin' ya though, when you bother to perfect the simple, everything else is just icing on the cake.
As a bachelor, my dad had a trick or two up his sleeve.
My father, native of Yonkers, New York, former Pan Am captain and Marine Corps veteran for life, knows a thing or two, about a thing or two.
Dad could fly 288 passengers safely from New York to New Delhi, rocket down the double blacks of Austrian, snow-capped mountains, and solve almost every cantankerous calculus problem my sister and I encountered. (We're still working on things like navigating Instagram and programming the iPhone, but hey, that's what daughters are for!)
Though no son or daughter likes to speculate too much about 'life before mom' (what life before mom?!), it's pretty clear to me that a career as an airline pilot for the world's most glamorous airline, Pan Am, may have come with a few perks. Perks like flight attendants and free travel. Or was it free travel with flight attendants? I'm not sure. I won't ask. In any case, my dad was either in uniform or a bomber jacket. You get the idea.
As a happy bachelor, who literally traveled the world, dad was armed with three things: A moustache (it was the 70's, after all), a passport and a recipe - Breakfast soufflé.
The significance of this recipe didn't really become clear to me until later in life, but I get it now. Any man who can whip up a soufflé, is ahead of the game. He actually scoffs at the game.
So here you have it, in his own words, as emailed to me by my father...
"Tess, this actually has a name. It is affectionately known as the 'I had you last night, breakfast soufflé' - perhaps that should be left out.
Put the butter in the soufflé dish and put into a 425*F oven until the butter melts and starts to bubble, about 10 minutes. Watch it! The minute you turn around, it burns!
Beat together eggs, milk, sugar, flour and salt until smooth.
Throw the mixture into the bubbly butter as soon as you take the dish from the oven.
Return the whole thing to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Sweeten your fruit as you think necessary and dump it into the center of the soufflé.
Since his days of bachelor-dom, dad has expanded his repertoire to include a few other recipes, including bolognese, damn-fine chili and an oh-so-fancy scallop dish with fried sage, but this sweet number is just a little legendary. It truly is delicious. I mean, it would have to be. Mom was a flight attendant. The rest is history.
Because-it's-wednesday-Afternoon-and-you-remember-you-have-a-waffle-Iron waffles. And because, Bourbon
Honestly, sometimes I wonder what's going through my head when it comes to planning a meal for myself.
I can wake up and think of Vietnamese pho, and my day is not complete until I have either driven way out of my way, across town (in horrific, pull-your-hair-out Los Angeles traffic) to find it, or spent three hours making it myself, only to realize I don't have air conditioning, and all this aromatic, soupy steam is giving me a panic attack.
Today, it was waffles. Scrolling through Instagram, I happened on a gorgeous golden, buttery stack and I knew that, despite the fact that I only ever really want two perfect bites of waffle before I lose interest, I had to make some.
As a side note, waffles are kind of a thing for me. Mainly it's the idea of them that sends my cravings through the roof. I never order them on a menu - I can't commit to that. I have, however, built them up in my head as the perfect marriage of pillowy sweetness and satisfying crunch, and for that reason alone, I respect, admire and crave them.
I think the most excited I've ever gotten over a Christmas present, was the waffle iron my sister gave me one year. The irony of being pulled aside from the security belt at Brussels international airport by a guard, when my bomb-shaped waffle iron set off alarms in my hand-luggage, does not escape me.
Fortunately, I was allowed to keep said iron, and today i reap the benefits.
Being a bourbon drinker, a former resident of Atlanta, Georgia and a waffle fantasist, I set my mind to pairing them with roasted peaches, bourbon-caramel sauce and (just for good measure) a little Greek yogurt to lighten things up.
Set your oven to 400* F.
Toss the peaches with the cubed butter, honey and a pinch of sea salt, arrange them on a lined baking sheet and bake them for 20 minutes, turning them once, halfway through.
Meanwhile, make your caramel sauce and waffles. Add the sugar to a thick-bottomed saucepan and heat it over low heat, until the sugar begins to melt and takes on a golden color. You need to watch the caramel, as it can burn easily. Don't mix the sugar around! Just let it do its thing, and once it's all melted, you can gently give the pan a swirl. Let it reach a deep brown (but not black - black means you screwed up)
At this point, remove the saucepan from the stove and add the cream, bourbon and salt. It will bubble vigorously, but eventually simmer down. Return it to the heat for a few moments, until everything is nice and smooth and cohesive.
Make your waffles according to your favorite recipe. If that happens to be the back of a box, more power to you for taking back an extra half hour of your day.
Whip the yogurt and honey together until completely combined.
Finally, top those beautiful peaks and valleys with your roasted peaches, whipped yogurt and bourbon-kissed caramel.
Now remind yourself it's Wednesday, you're a grown-up and you just made waffles happen in the middle of the day.
Spice up that Melon Salad with just a hint of Thai Chili.
As we're nearing the end of summer, i find myself desperately craving every last bit of sunny sweetness the season has to offer. As much as I look forward to warming dishes prepared with winter citrus, apples and pears, i want to taste summer for just a little bit longer.
Labor Day was the perfect excuse to whip up a dish that satisfied that exact craving, and melon salad was what my sun-soaked heart desired.
Did I reinvent the wheel with this one? Hardly. If you've never had a watermelon, feta and mint salad, you haven't lived! However, the addition of slow-burn, mouth-on-pleasant-fire, Thai chili, really sends it over the top. So, yeah, wheel reinvented...ish.
In a small bowl, combine the juice of three limes, the sliced chilies and chopped mint.
In a large bowl, combine all three melons and pour over the lime and chili dressing. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, allowing the melon to soak up some of that sweet and spicy juice.
Before serving, toss in the cubed feta, garnish with additional fresh mint and season with a little flakey sea salt.
It's spicy, it's sweet, it's cooling and it burns so good. This old stand-by just got a little pep in it's step, and is pushing all my summer-lovin' buttons.
*Note; When buying feta cheese, look for the authentic, Greek, sheep's milk kind, sold in brine. The flavor can't be beat!