Animals quote

"Animals give their lives to feed us, so it's on us to eat every part of them. It's a form of respect, and it's a better way to live than just treating meat as a disposable commodity." —Seamus Mullen, Chef


The Boozy Baker—a review

I love to bake, I love cookbooks, so entering Bon Appetit's contest to win a copy of the freshly printed The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets plus 25 Cocktail Recipes was a no brainer. What made it even better was that I won, which is a pretty rare thing for me.

Written by Lucy Baker (I envy her last name!), a food writer and recipe tester, and a contributing columnist and recipes editor for, The Boozy Baker is the kind of cookbook that all the other cookbooks want to be—a little naughty, fun, yet still classy and chic. The photography is great, the book's design is playful with a little hint of kitsch, and there is an excellent variety of baked goods (and cocktails) represented.

Baker provides a rundown on the standard baking ingredients, as well as a breakdown of the liquors used throughout the book, describing the flavor profile. Very helpful, especially to those who may not have spent a ton of time perusing the liquor store shelves or pulling themselves off the local bar's floor at 2 a.m. (kidding!)

From "Old-Fashioned" Snickerdoodles (insert bourbon) to Red Wine Caramel Tart, from the Double Mint Fizz to Almond Iced Tea (both cocktails), there is plenty in this book to keep the creative and slightly offbeat baker entertained in the kitchen. The recipes also leave enough room for the intermediate-to-expert baker to play around, swapping out certain liquors for others to change the dessert at hand. 

My only criticism of the book—which has been echoed by other reviews—is the lack of photography. It would have been nice to see more photos of the finished desserts (there were 28 photos out of the 75 recipes), but the images that were included were superb, cohesively styled to match the rest of the book. I also understand that producing and printing a book isn't cheap, so 28 photos in 4-color is better than nothing.

After paging through the book several times, I decided to make the Lavender Honey-Nut Cupcakes and was happy with the results, though slightly tweaked to my liking (seriously, who doesn't make changes to a recipe?) I found the buttercream to be a bit too sweet for my liking, so I backed off the amount of confectioner's sugar that Baker calls for an added a bit more amaretto. The recipe was super easy to follow, and the cupcakes came out DIVINE. So far everyone who's eaten them has raved. It was totally worth winning this cookbook!


Lavender honey-nut cupcakes

Say hello to the Lavender Honey-Nut Cupcakes, packed lovingly for a lunch in Philly with friends. And yes, they taste as good as they look.

I sourced the recipe from The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets by Lucy Baker, which I won in a Bon Appetit cookbook giveaway.

I didn't alter the cake recipe (containing almond meal, lavender buds and amaretto), but I did make some changes to the honey-amaretto buttercream. The recipe called for a start of 2 cups of confectioners sugar, then adding an additional 1-2 cups of confectioners sugar. I only had approximately 2-1/4 cups in my cupboard, so I made it work. However, I still noticed that the buttercream is a bit too sweet for my tastes, so next time (I'll be baking these for my friend's daughter's first birthday), I think I'll start with a cup of confectioner's sugar and add a little bit from there.

Because I found the buttercream's sweetness to pop too much, I added a little extra amaretto and a smidge more light cream. I also have lavender honey, but I opted for clover honey because I didn't want one flavor overpowering the rest—I think that was the right decision.

The recipe calls for lavender buds as a garnish as well, but they're kind of hard to manipulate on the buttercream (my objective was not to mangle the tops of the cupcakes with my clumsy fingers). So, as a test, I garnished two of the four cupcakes I gave to my friends and told them to report back.


You say tomato, I say

... 25 pounds will give you 4 pints of marmalade and 6.5 quarts of canned plum tomatoes.

Following the Peach Party extravaganza at the Collingswood Farmers' Market, I picked up the crate of plum tomatoes I had reserved from DanLynn Farms. Or I should say that Ray picked up the crate, while I paraded our almost-a-win peach pie through the market.

For the rest of the weekend I slaved over the stove, blanching and cooling and peeling the skins from plum tomatoes. Ten pounds were dedicated to a tomato marmalade I whipped up that Saturday night while Ray was at a game developers meeting, and the following day I tackled the remaining 15 pounds to preserve as whole for the winter (though I totally already cracked into one jar for a barley dish I made the other night for dinner).

Tomato Marmalade
Servings: Makes about 4 pints marmalade
Note: Adapted from Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections.

4 Valencia oranges
6 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup water
10 lbs plum tomatoes
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the skin from the oranges, then slice into thin strips. Juice the oranges, saving 1 cup; the remainder can be saved for another use.

2. Place the juice, 1 cup sugar and the water into a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then add the peel. Continue to heat until the mixture comes to a boil.

3. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the peel appears slightly translucent and very soft, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

4. While the orange peel is cooling, skin the tomatoes. Cut a small X at the base of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then drop the tomatoes in the water, several at a time. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon when the skin has just begun peeling from the X, about 20 to 30 seconds. Immediately place the tomatoes in an ice bath to stop the cooking, then peel the skin from the tomatoes when they are cooled. Repeat until the skins are removed from all the tomatoes.

5. Seed and roughly chop the tomatoes and place them in a large pot. Stir in the remaining 5 cups sugar.

6. When the orange is cooled. place the chopped orange peel in a small bowl, reserving the poaching liquid.

7. Heat the tomato and sugar mixture over high heat, stirring frequently with a large wooden spoon or heat-resistant spatula. Cook the marmalade until it begins to thicken, about 45 minutes to an hour. (It will boil and bubble furiously while it cooks; stir frequently but not constantly.)

8. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the poached orange peel, salt and pepper, stirring constantly. Taste the marmalade. If you prefer stronger citrus notes, add some of the reserved poaching liquid now. Continue cooking until the marmalade is very shiny with a thick consistency.

9. Can the marmalade for approximately 10 minutes at full boil. After 10 minutes, turn off the heat and leave jars in the canner for 5 minutes, then remove.


Views of Buffalo's outskirts

Here are just a few panoramic photos I pulled together using the iPhone app AutoStitch. It's pretty snazzy, and easy to use, which is always a plus

This is Rach's backyard. Makes me want to find a place outside of Buffalo and settle down.

Taste in East Aurora. Possibly one of the coolest coffee/sandwich/baked good shops. If you order food, you receive a laminated card with a celebrity's name on it. Then when the food is ready, the counterhelp call out "Harrison Ford! Come on down!" Rach was Harrison (she had apple pie) and I was Catherine Zeta Jones (chocolate and peanut butter pate). Totally kitsch.

The waterfall at Glen Falls in Glen Park in Williamsville.


Help Burlington County Farmers' Market Become America’s Favorite Farmers Market!

It’s summertime and that means two things: 1) There are loads of delicious farm fresh produce available at Burlington County Farmers' Market every week; and 2) American Farmland Trust’s America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™ contest has kicked into gear and we need your votes to win!

Local Food and Local Farms

The process is simple. To vote for our market, all you have to do is:
1.)    Go to
2.)    Type in Burlington County Farmers' Market; and,
3.)    Click “Vote.”

That’s it. That’s all it takes to bring Burlington County Farmers' Market one step closer to being America’s favorite farmers market! Entering into its fourth season, Burlington County operates a weekly, produced-driven community farmers' market featuring local farmers, crafters and first order food vendors. Ray and I find some of the best produce from Darmo's Farm (such lovely tomatoes and canary melons!), and a trip isn't complete without a visit to Barbie Lu's Salsa Table, Griggstown Quail Farm for chicken sausage and an iced coffee from The Daily Grind, based in Mt. Holly.

Want to support multiple markets in New Jersey? Search by state and you can vote for more of your favorites—just remember, you only have one vote to cast per market! To keep track, the American Farmland Trust has introduced leader boards that present the Top 5 markets receiving votes in New Jersey.
According to American Farmland Trust (AFT), the purpose of this contest is to reconnect local consumers to local farms, with the ultimate goal of keeping our nation’s farm and ranch land productive and healthy!  Buying at the farmers market keeps money in the local community and helps farms and ranches remain economically viable. By voting, you’re helping support farms and communities across the nation. As American Farmland Trust says, “No Farms No Food™!”

So don’t forget to vote for Burlington County Farmers' Market at and spread the word! And if my favorite farmers' market isn't yours, go to anyway and find the market nearest to you. Vote if you go there regularly and LOVE it, otherwise head out there the next market day to see what it's like!


The difficulty of friendships for nomads

Having friendships is a key part of being human, but I also think it can be one of the more difficult things to maintain.

In 28 years, I have lived in 4 different states, attended 8 schools during K-12, and maintained 10 different addresses (not including the 4 I had while in undergrad). Was I a military kid? No. A product of divorce? No. We just moved a total of 5 times before I turned 18. And then I took it from there, moving away for college, moving even farther away for grad school, and then moving in with my then-boyfriend, now-husband.

With major moves in both 2nd and 11th grades, it was tough hanging on to friends. I will never have the story about a BFF from kindergarten who later became my maid of honor. After I moved from Virginia to New York in 11th grade, I was able to keep up with my southern friends for a whopping 6-10 months, and then we went our separate ways.

I don't think it's because we didn't care, it was just extremely difficult. None of us had time to spend hours on the phone or AOL instant messenger when instead we had SATs and school plays and field hockey practice. It wasn't personal, we were just all busy growing up.

I graduated from a high school I had spent a year and a half in and walked away with 3 really great friends. Of that smallish group, I can honestly say I fell out of touch with one and was greatly upset when another—a reader at my wedding—texted me 5 days before the wedding to say he couldn't afford a plane ticket and a motel room.

So that leaves one friend from the high school group that I do keep up with (he made it to the wedding, no problem). But he lives outside of DC and is an extremely busy engineer, growing his career with a great firm. We might see each other once a year, but I have a feeling we'll always keep in touch.

I think that's how it works with me and friends. Sometimes I am just awful at keeping up my end of the friendship. I often don't like chatting on the phone and usually am pretty busy throughout the calendar year, so taking off for a 3-day weekend can be tough. I know I'm the only person I can blame for some of my friendships fizzling.

But then, there are other friendships I have that seem to do just fine. Like my friend Rach. We were in the same wing of the Dork Dorm freshman year and became good friends.

Good friends that could scream at each other one minute, and then be cool in an hour or two.

Good friends that could maintain a friendship after Rach transferred to a different college junior year.

Good friends that could maintain a friendship after I moved to Philly.

Are we on the phone once a month catching up? No. Do we e-mail each other regularly? Not really. We might comment on Twitter posts or "like" something the other has posted on Facebook. But in reality, Rach lives her life and I live mine. But when we DO reconnect, it's almost like no time has past. And to me, that's one of the best friendships.

So this weekend, that's where I'll be. Jetting off to the 716 in search of Bison chip dip, the Erie County Fair, and some much needed time away from life.


Fuel efficiency joys

I love my Honda Civic. To note, I had just turned the car back on after going to the gas station. And based on my receipt, I still had close to 3/4 of a gallon left, which would probably equate to 10-20 miles.

Ah Civic. You may not be a hybrid, but you treat me well.


Competitive baking

The pie baked up beautifully, with the aroma of lavender and cardamom settling in throughout the condo Friday evening. Saturday morning, we headed out nice and early to make it down to the farmers' market (this week forsaking our much beloved Burlington County Farmers' Market) so we could park and take the pie immediately to the judging tent.

According to the e-mail I had received, there were 3 categories, with $50 market gift certificates going out for the following:
  • Best peach pie—consisting of peaches as the only fruit used
  • Best not-just-peach pie—consisting of peaches plus other creative fruit or ingredient combination
  • Best presentation—the most photogenic pie
We thought the star pseudo-lattice but all-punk sugar-sprinkled top crust could snag us the prize for best presentation, but I honestly didn't know what else I was going to be up against. Would mine be the only pie, or would have the entire Camden and Burlington counties put on their oven mitts and got to baking? We had no clue.

I was the second one to the tent, dropping off the pie. We got some compliments on the star cutout crust and double-checked the judging time. Then we wandered off in search of a much-needed breakfast and to see what this market had to offer, since it was our first time.

We definitely enjoyed the variety of produce we saw at Collingswood, but both agreed that we preferred the atmosphere of our own, slightly smaller market. It seems like there are fewer double strollers and pushy old ladies at the Burlington County market in Moorestown. Plenty of pooches though, and who couldn't love the fact that the BC farmers' market is AT a working farm? But I digress ...

While we had wandered about, a number of pies had come in for the contest. Some with lattice top crusts, some with nuts. I detected a few with berries, which wouldn't be my direct competition, as our pie was in the peach-as-the-only-fruit category.

At that point, the nerves crept in—not necessarily bad ones though. I was excited and eager for judging to begin. The contest coordinators looked to have their hands full, repeatedly exclaiming on what an amazing turnout this was! Twenty-five pies were there at the official start time, though they did let in a 45-minute late entrant (I wouldn't have ... contests have rules for a reason).

The first judging round was for presentation. While there were a number of lovely lattice crusts, I can honestly say there were an equal number of sloppy-looking and crumbling top crusts. To each their own, but I'm a strong believer in good presentation when it comes to food.

The winner was announced after ballots were tallied, and unfortunately, our pop-punk peach pie did not take home the gold. Instead it was the upside down pie, which looked more like a cake than anything else. I licked my wounds, shrugged it off, and got ready for the taste-testing.

Now, I have to say that Ray deserved a gold star or something for dealing with me, muttering about other pies and some of their bakers (this contest, like most I'm sure, attracted some odd birds). Like the mother who got pushy about the missing number card for her daughter's pie—totally gave me a short story idea about a girl being pushed into competitive baking. All throughout, he remained as cool as a cucumber as we waited for the judges to get their fill of pie and cast their votes.

My category, which had the majority of the pies in it, was up first and the winner, with 9 points, was announced. It wasn't me. But, because I had selected a choice spot for watching, I DID see who did vote for me. I received 2 points from a local food writer, which I took to be a high compliment. That put me at 5th or 6th place. Not bad out of 20+ peach-only pies.

Though slightly let down at the loss, I was still jazzed that I tackled a fruit pie and was a contender. Maybe not first place, but hell, the first place winner used a family recipe that was her Nana's! She baked with her family history, and if I have to lose, I'd happily lose to that.

We got to take our pies home, due to a local health code law, but before taking it back to the car, we grabbed a fork and dug in. The lavender honey's flavor burst in the filling, and the choice of slightly under-ripe peaches gave a tartness to the pie, which we both loved. The crust held up to the weighty pie filling, and the stars were flakey and buttery.

As we dug in, one of the contest volunteers came over to us and complimented the creativity behind the top crust. I told her it was my first attempt at baking a fruit pie and immediately pointed to Ray and announced him as the crust guru. After sharing the pie's contents, we convinced her to have a little taste. She also sneaked a fork off the table, slipped a biteful of crust and peach out of the pie plate and grinned as she had the sample. She agreed that the cardamom could be increased, and thought it would be interesting to try with different honeys. It was so cool to get someone else's feedback!

Triumphant for trying, we paraded the pie back to the car, locked it up and headed back into the crowd to pick up my order of 25 pounds of plum tomatoes, as well as some fruits and veggies we had eyed up earlier. If the market hosts a fall apple pie contest, we are SO going to be there, with yet another cutout top crust. I consider it my new pie signature.


The art of pie

Last Friday, I took my first step into the world of fruit pie baking. Sure, I've made my fill of cherry cheesecake pies, chocolate pudding pie and pumpkin cheesecake pie. They all used a store-bought graham cracker crust and were a cinch to whip up.

Then along came the Collingswood Farmers' Market and its e-mail for the upcoming Peach Party, with peach products galore from farmers and vendors, a canning class, and a pie baking contest.

I'm a baker, something that runs in my blood from BOTH sides of my family. My great grandmother Emma taught my mom the importance of every scrap of pie dough, while my Gramma Betty taught me how to make snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies and lemon meringue pie during my summer visits to her home in upstate NY. I've made lemon AND lime curd by hand, can my own jams and marmalades (yeah, I know that's not baking), can bake cookies in my sleep and have made a number of cakes. But pie? Real fruit pie? I've never made one.

Now, my husband Ray can make a mean apple pie, with a light and buttery crust. He encouraged me to enter the contest, taking on the role of sous chef. I hunted through recipes, taking a little from one and more from another, and came up with something we thought would wow the judges.

All-Butter Pie Crust Recipe
From Gourmet, July 2009, sourced from the Epicurious app on my iPhone (best app EVER)
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt in a bowl (or pulse in a food processor). Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender (or pulse) just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Drizzle 1/3 cup ice water over mixture and gently stir with a fork (or pulse) until incorporated.

Squeeze a small handful of dough: If it doesn't hold together, add more ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring (or pulsing) until just incorporated, then test again. Do not overwork dough, or pastry will be tough.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 8 portions. With heel of your hand, smear each portion once or twice in a forward motion to help distribute fat. Gather dough together, with a pastry scraper if you have one, and press into a ball. Divide in half and form into 2 disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Ray was happy with the dough's consistency, and when tasted, it offered up a buttery light flavor, with a hint of salt. It's our go-to crust recipe now.

Now, for the pie. Trusty Epicurious app in hand, I thought about the flavor profile I wanted to work with. Definitely spices ... cardamom, maybe cinnamon. I wanted to keep the flavor balanced and the filling not too runny, for fear of wreaking havoc on the crust. Reading through the recipes, I picked 3 to work off and came up with the following recipe:

Cardamom Lavender Honey Caramel Peach Pie
  • 3.5 pounds barely under-ripe peaches
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup local lavender honey
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons egg whites
  • 1-2 tablespoons raw sugar
Preheat oven to 425°F.

Blanch the peaches for peeling. Remove pit and cut into 1/2 inch slices.

Toss peaches well with cornstarch, flour, lemon juice, cardamom and salt.

Bring 1/2 cup sugar, honey and water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber, about 5 minutes.

Remove caramel from heat and add butter, swirling pan until butter is melted. Pour over fruit and toss—most likely the caramel will lump into a strange shape. Don't sweat it.

Roll out 1 piece of dough (keep remaining piece chilled) into a 13-inch round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Prick with holes, then brush on egg whites until well coated (leave some for top crust). Bake for 8-12 minutes, removing from oven when crust is golden.

Roll out remaining piece of dough into a round on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin. Using 2 different sizes of star cookie cutters, cut out 10-12 large stars and 12-14 smaller stars. Chill.

Transfer filling to pie shell, mounding it. Place wad of caramel in the middle—as the pie cooks, the caramel will distribute.

Place stars to form a decorative, pseudo-lattice crust (totally my idea!). This gives the pie a unique look, while not having to deal with steam vents.

Brush top crust of cutout stars with remaining egg whites. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Place pie on a baking sheet that has either foil or parchment paper on it for easy clean up (the filling will leak, trust me).

Bake pie at 425°F for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Continue to bake until crust is golden-brown and filling is bubbling, about 40-45 minutes more.

Cool pie to room temperature.


It looks like a river ran through it

Some rights reserved by kavehkhkh
I commute into Philly 5 days a week, 4 weeks—sometimes 5—a month. I schlep out of the PATCO tunnels, round a couple city blocks, and board a shuttle bus to my office (after a short stop at my favorite caffeine dealer). It's usually 7:40 a.m. by the time I make it into the City of Brotherly Love, and sure, sometimes I'm barely awake.

It's a similar story for my commute home, just in reverse and sans coffee. Schlep in, schlep out, rah rah rah. Nonetheless, I manage to keep a pleasant, yet neutral, look on my face for the majority of the time. And you know what, it's not that hard and my skin will thank me for it 20 years down the road.

I just don't get the women I see in Philly, with their Coach bags, neat string of pearls, smart suits and sunglasses affixed to the top of their perfectly coiffed heads; or the not-so-pulled together women. Both groups always with the same accessory, no matter the economic status: a hellacious frown.

I'm not talking slight furrowed brow and down-turned corners of the lips here. I mean full-on "I think I smell shit" look, with massive frown lines imitating fledgling river canyon fissures. It's pretty ridiculous and often  mind-boggling. I mean, c'mon, it's 7:42 a.m. on a fairly non-humid yet sunny day in Philly—how bad can it be? Do you really need to look like you might suddenly morph into the Incredible Hulk and tear someone apart? I don't get it.

I can totally get behind neutral looks and sunglasses in place to avoid unwanted conversations with the less desirable mass transit patrons; I'm sure we all can. But ladies, the ugly frown is OUT. Relax your brow, unpurse your lips and let it go.

Unless, of course, you're looking forward to Botox.