For the Love of Peeps

My team at work is simultaneously enamored and repulsed by my love of Peeps. There’s something about them – the soft marshmallow, the neon colored sugar, the two-bite size – they’re really the perfect food.

I wasn’t feeling great last week. Super tired, coughy, achy, run-down, and simply no energy at all. To lift my spirits, my team sent a Peeps-a-licious! cookbook (who knew there was such a thing!) as well as four packages of Peeps – traditional yellow, pink, purple, and blue. I was delighted and amazed. The next day, I got another box. I opened it, and inside were six individual packages of Peeps:

  • Birthday Cake
  • Root Beer
  • Fruit Punch
  • Sour Watermelon
  • Cotton Candy
  • Pancakes & Syrup

(I know! I was astounded, too, that there were so many flavors I never knew about!)

The way I’ve listed them above is the order I prepared to eat them, from the flavor I thought I’d love the most to the flavor I thought I’d love the least. Because even a not-my-favorite flavor of Peep is still a Peep and I knew I’d enjoy it. And here’s what I discovered. I’m now on Fruit Punch and I love each new flavor of Peeps even more than the previous!!!

There’s probably a life lesson in there somewhere. I’m just not quite sure what it is. Be open to new possibilities? Past performance is not indicative of future results? You only think you know what you want? Eat more Peeps?

Whatever it is, I’m grateful for my team, and I’m grateful for a stockpile of Peeps. And I’m definitely feeling better.

Welcoming 2020

I’ve just eaten the traditional New Year’s lunch of collard greens with bacon, black eyed peas with ham, and cornbread. Supposedly this will bring a year of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

NEW YEAR'S DAY LUNCH.jpeg

2019 was perhaps my most difficult year yet. Witnessing my Dad’s health decline, and his passing, was heartbreaking. Moving my Mom to Asheville, out of what she considered her forever home, was heartbreaking. Watching her cognitive struggle as Alzheimer’s progresses is heartbreaking. Grieving for a co-worker who passed; grieving for a friend’s spouse who passed. Grieving for the state of our nation and the hate that has rooted. It’s felt as though the year was overshadowed by loss.

And for all the grieving, and difficulties, and losses, there was incredible joy as well. I work with a team who are simply amazing. They are smart, compassionate, supportive, and bring a smile (and usually a guffaw) to my face every day. I visited friends in San Francisco multiple times. I celebrated milestone birthdays with friends I’ve know for decades. I witnessed the investiture of a dear friend onto the North Carolina Supreme Court. I visited Cape Cod for the first time (and ate my weight in lobster). I completed so many jigsaw puzzles (an activity which brings me overwhelming feelings of calm and peace). I completed a Sunday New York Times crossword without relying on any hints. I spent time in person with Mom several times each week. I celebrated EJI’s 30th anniversary and heard Bryan Stevenson speak in person. I saw Elton John in concert. I witnessed two dear friends get married in a stunning ceremony in the UK. I celebrated a bat mitzvah with dear friends who feel more like family. I welcomed many visitors to Asheville, making my cozy house feel more and more like home.

May 2020 be as joyful.

Food and Memories

Certain foods remind me of people and places.

Laughing Cow cheese – Marie in Kuwait
Mangoes – Christie in Egypt
Bulgogi – Chanta in South Korea
Little Star pizza – Brad in San Francisco
Amaretto – Bryan in San Francisco

And pork chops – Dad

When he started dialysis, they told him he needed to eat a lot more protein. A LOT more. I made him protein smoothies with frozen fruit a couple of times a day. Breakfast included two fried or scrambled eggs each day. Meat protein, which they encouraged him to eat, was more difficult. He had such a hard time swallowing. Chicken was nearly impossible to eat. Fish was better. Salmon and cod became go-tos. Scallops were fairly easy to get down, and pure dollops of protein. We tried pork chops one evening, and they were a hit. They weren’t too difficult to swallow, I made them with multiple different sauces, they were a high source of protein, and he found them tasty. And now whenever I see a pork chop, I think of Dad.

I made them tonight. Just one, just for me. In my kitchen in Asheville, not in his in Winston-Salem. And it just wasn’t as good.

Tea for Two

We started our tea tradition at The Plaza in New York three years ago. We enjoyed ourselves so much that it’s become a regular ritual. Sometimes we host teas at our houses (and invite others to join us as well), other times we try new places around San Francisco, and other times we return to favorite spots. Our goal is to have tea together in at least five different countries over the next five years.

Today we tried a new spot, Crown & Crumpet’s Tea Stop Cafe. When Rachel told me the address, I pondered out loud, “I think that’s in Japantown. I can’t remember ever passing a British tea shop in Japantown.” Sure enough, it was tucked inside a multi-purpose building, along with a theatre, a harajuku store, and several other small shops.

It didn’t have the formal (stuffy) air of many of the other places we’ve visited. The walls were stark white and bright sunshine shone through the tall glass windows. The tables were covered in tablecloths with bright blue and pink flowers and hot pink accents were abundant. The servers were incredibly friendly and wore delightful aprons. We both prefer the savory treats to the sweet ones, and we weren’t disappointed. The vegetarian mini-quiche was melt-in-your mouth delicious, the chicken curry sandwiches were seasoned perfectly, and the cinnamon scones were some of the best we’ve had anywhere.

One of the reasons I love our tea outings is that the ritual of taking tea forces you to slow down. We pour the tea and as we wait for it to cool to a drinkable temperature, we catch up on everything – work, social, travel, upcoming events. The conversation alternates between serious topics and discussing which treat we should try next (we both have the same strategy – try the things we think we’ll like least first, then end with favorites).

We left excited about our new find, adding it to the short list of favorites to return to.

Baked French Toast

I love having people over for brunch. It’s early in the day (but not too early) and there’s no sense of rush, particularly if there are young children invited. One of my absolute favorite recipes is baked French Toast, which you prepare the night before, then pop in the oven the morning of the brunch. It’s an incredibly sweet concoction, basically a combination of buttery brown sugar goodness that melts in your mouth.

  • 2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick butter or margarine
  • 4 tablespoons flavoring of choice: vanilla, hazelnut, almond, etc.
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 1 loaf Italian or French Bread cut into 1 inch thick slices (I actually prefer Challah)
  • Cinnamon

Place brown sugar into 13 x 8 inch baking dish. Melt butter or margarine in microwave. Blend brown sugar, melted butter and 2 tablespoons flavoring until its makes a glaze in bottom of baking dish. Whisk eggs, milk and remaining flavoring in a shallow bowl until well blended. Dip each bread slice into egg mixture, thoroughly soaking both sides. Lay bread on top of sugar mixture in baking dish. Kind of push the slices into the sugar mixture and pack in the slices so that they are touching. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Refrigerate overnight.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown in a 375 degree oven. Flip each slice of bread over so glazed side is up. Serve hot. Serves 6.

I Do Not Like Green Eggs and Ham

There are only a few foods that I don’t eat: bell peppers (they make me throw up), cream cheese (it tastes bitter to me), sour cream (yuk), and mayonnaise (double yuk). I haven’t liked these foods since I was a small child. Every so often, though, I’ll give them a try, to see if maybe my taste buds have changed and I suddenly like them.

Tonight was the opening night of the San Francisco Food and Farm Film Fest, where you watch fabulous movies and eat great food. Match made in heaven, right? It’s running for a few more days, so if you’re in San Francisco, check it out.

Tonight’s program included eight shorts (plus one bonus) accompanied by a fabulous spinach and orzo salad. And a thick slice of homemade toast from Josey Baker Bread, slathered with… cream cheese. But it wasn’t any cream cheese. It was Sriracha cream cheese. A thing I love mixed with a thing I don’t love. Which love/not love would win out?

As I sat with my piece of toast, I pondered my options. The Sriracha cream cheese was evenly spread in a thin layer to every corner of the perfectly square slice. Had it been thicker, I probably could have scraped most of it off. Given it was so thinly spread, that wasn’t really an option. The slice of toast was thick enough that I could probably could just eat from the bottom. It would be messy, but I could make it happen. Or, I could just eat the slice of homemade toast, cream cheese and all. After a few minutes of staring at the slice, I decided on the third option.

I broke a small piece off of the corner. I popped it into my mouth and chewed, immediately tasting the freshness of the bread, perfectly toasted. Crunchy on the outside, but still soft inside. And then, the flavor of the Sriracha cream cheese. The hot spiciness cut the bitter flavor that I so often taste. I had another bite. And another. And another. Soon, my plate was empty.

I suddenly felt like narrator in Green Eggs and Ham. “I do so like cream cheese – BAM! Thank you, thank you, Sam-I-Am.”

A Day of Cooking

The taxi dropped us off at a remote Tuscan bed and breakfast, weeds and wildflowers lining the driveway. As we got out of the car, we saw a tall woman in a pristine white chef’s jacket walking towards us, carrying handfuls of fresh herbs. She introduced herself as Gina and led us into an old mill which had been converted to a one room kitchen/rec room for the family that owned the bed and breakfast. Exposed stone and high ceilings greeted us. We introduced ourselves to the others: couples from Minneapolis, New York, and Austin.

We snacked on fresh lava beans and soft, fresh pecorino cheese while waiting for the class to begin.

Fava beans and pecorino

Conversation flowed easily among us. We prepared dessert first, a “sweet salami” that contained crushed crackers (like animal crackers), sweet and unsweetened cocoa, butter, sugar, sweet wine, which we mixed all together and refrigerated. When we rolled it out, it looked like salami, though certainly didn’t taste like it. Each of us volunteered for tasks as we prepared what would turn out to be an amazingly delicious, yet simple, lunch.

Everyone had jobs –

  • butterflying the turkey breast
  • chopping the fresh herbs – rosemary, parsley, basil
  • preparing the asparagus
  • sautéing the mushrooms
  • preparing the artichokes for stuffing
  • slicing artichokes for the pasta sauce
  • making a bread crumb mixture to stuff in the artichokes and to put in the stuffed turkey breast
  • making homemade pasta dough (so simple!), rolling it, and cutting it on guitar pasta cutter

Danielle making spaghetti

There were enough tasks to keep people busy, but not too much work to prevent us from chatting and enjoying wine as we cooked. A few hours later, we sat beneath a covered picnic table and enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

Stuffed turkey breast (with prosciutto and artichoke bread crumbs) and asparagus – delicious!

Last Supper in Prague

A former neighbor, Frederic, recommended a rooftop restaurant in Prague. I discovered, quite by accident as I was wandering one evening, the hotel where the restaurant was located was quite close to my apartment. Knowing Frederic’s exquisite taste, I decided to have my last dinner there, because I knew it would not disappoint. Except, that it was closed because of the cold weather. Sigh. The concierge recommended I try a restaurant, Terasa, in their sister hotel not too far away.

I walked through the winding streets, sure I was lost, then came upon the hotel. I took the lift to the top floor, then climbed a narrow staircase to the small restaurant. The maitre d’ greeted me.

“Do you have any availability for dinner?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, we are a small restaurant and completely booked for the evening.”

Disappointed, I sighed. “Oh. Okay. Can you recommend another restaurant?”

“Please try the rooftop restaurant at Aria, our sister hotel not too far from here.”

I started laughing. “They sent me here. They’re closed for the winter.”

He laughed too. “One moment, ma’am.” He left and came back a few moments later.

“The kitchen says if you would like to eat right now, we can serve you.”

It was only 4 pm, but I was starving. I had been sightseeing all day and had not stopped for lunch. “That would be lovely.”

He escorted me to a table for two to a window overlooking what seemed to be all the rooftops of Prague.

View from Terasa restaurant

He took my coat and pulled out the chair for me. After I sat down, he lit a candle on the table. Being the only person in the restaurant, I felt like a queen. As I perused the menu, I realized that no matter what I ordered, it would be delicious. After two plus weeks of eating heavy meat dishes, I was ecstatic to see several seafood dishes on the menu. After I ordered, he returned with an amuse-bouche of salmon terrine. I love the concept of amuse-bouche. I’ve never taken French, so I don’t know the direct translation, but in my mind it means, “A little kiss of food. Just for you.” It’s always a surprise when it arrives and I’ve never been disappointed by what the chef offers.

salmon terrine amuse-bouche

The first course was a goat cheese and sun-dried tomato mille feuille. When I saw it on the menu, I liked all the ingredients, but, have never taken French, was not sure how to pronounce it. “I’ll have the mmmmm….” I said, pointing at the menu. “Ah, the mille feuille. An excellent choice,” rolled off the waiter’s tongue.

goat cheese and sun-dried tomato mille feuille

It had a delicious pesto on the side, which complemented the richness of the goat cheese nicely. For my main course, I ordered a seafood risotto. When I ordered it, the waiter described a special of the day, which I assume was also seafood. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, even after asking him to repeat it several times. In my head I was thinking, “I don’t want to be *that* American. The one that says, “Huh?” “What?” So I smiled and said, “That sounds delicious, but I think I’ll try the seafood risotto. Thank you.”

And I wasn’t disappointed. It came, a plate of creamy seafood with a light garlic sauce surrounding it. Grilled John Dory, a huge tiger prawn, a few tender scallops, crisp snow peas, and grilled baby squash sat upon the clouds of risotto.

seafood risotto

At this point, I was watching the sun set and the lights start to flicker on in the town. I was thinking about how my vacation couldn’t have been any better. For five days, I had been surrounded by beautiful music. I had eaten delicious local cuisine. I had been surrounded by beautiful design, almost everywhere I went. I had ridden a train through Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. I was feeling very lucky, and very grateful.

And then he offered me the dessert menu. I guess sometimes life can get better. I asked him what his favorite dessert was. He grinned, then said the creme brulee sampler. Creme brulee? My favorite dessert of all time? Four individual ramekins of deliciousness, all different flavors? Yes, please.

creme brulee sampler - lemon-thyme, pistachio, coffee bean, saffron

The creme brulee was perfect. Tiny ramekins, a couple of bites each, of deliciously flavored sweetness – lemon-thyme, pistachio, coffee bean, and saffron. Somewhat to my surprise, the saffron was my favorite. The savoriness of the saffron contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the creme.

And that was my last supper in Prague. A perfect way to end a perfect vacation.