We had our neighbors over for dinner on Sunday. They’re a lot of fun. By that I mean that they like to imbibe just as much as we do (and they’re really nice, thoughtful guys). We’ve been known to get sucked into the vortex of their porch, where wine is poured freely and in great quantity. A quick hello turns into a three hour gossip session.
When we lived in South Boston, we knew our neighbors but we didn’t have a close relationship with any of them. Most of them were pleasant. Others, not so much.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think much about the whole neighbor thing until we’d been here for a few weeks and got to meet everyone. We live on a smaller, dead end street. Everyone’s been here for a number of years. Many grew up on the street, which I think says a lot about the area. They all look out for one another, helping with yard work or cleaning the gutters or shoveling. It’s all very sweet, in a Pleasantville kind of way. (Except this is Massachusetts… where everyone has a bit of an edge)
Well, I got off track a bit. Our neighbors. Dinner. Sunday. They came over (at 4, because I know our track record and figured it’d be best to start our martini consumption early). Eric smoked a duck on the grill, I made the sides. One of those sides was this roasted beet dish, which our guests enjoyed immensely. In fact, I knew these two were good people when one of them said, “Oh, are these beets? I love beets!” I hear so much from the naysayers (They taste like dirt! Beets? Gross!) that I was thrilled to have a fan in our midst.
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We got home late Sunday evening, unpacked the car, put up a pot of tea, and got ourselves situated on the couch. Maki promptly passed out. We read a little, before heading to bed. I knew that last week wasn’t going to be relaxing. We had a lot on our plates. There was the drive down, the multiple days of cooking, which was then followed by a family brunch, a trip to New York to see Hedwig (our second time this year), and a wedding shoot in Brooklyn. It’s not that we didn’t have fun. We did. But it was the kind of trip where we came back and just crashed.
I avoided work as much as possible on Monday. I took long walks with Maki, watched a movie, and I even got myself on the elliptical for a few minutes (having not used it in over a month, it wasn’t the best experience). There was a little time spent in the kitchen, too. For a while now, I’ve been meaning to create a Brussels sprout recipe. My family is well aware of my love of these guys. The web is inundated with Brussels sprout recipes, though (do a search for “roasted Brussels sprouts” and you’ll see what I’m talking about). The goal was to come up with something a little different and yet keep the dish familiar. As I started thinking of what to do with them, I figured throwing pasta into the mix couldn’t hurt. But how to bring it all together? A creamy grapefruit sauce, rich and slightly tangy. A touch of thyme. A sprinkle of cheese and a hearty dose of freshly ground pepper. And… done.
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I’ve been on an ice cream kick recently. And by recently I mean since the beginning of the summer. It was such a harmless idea. My sister-in-law thought it’d be fun to bring an ice cream machine down to the Cape house to show her kids how to make it from scratch. A great rainy day activity. They loved the ice cream, but were less interested in the process of preparing it. The adults, on the other hand, became obsessed. The vanilla ice cream we made using a recipe from Melissa Clark over at the New York Times was wonderful; smooth, creamy, and not overly sweet. At that point, we were hooked. What would should we make next?
While there have been a few misses, most have been hugely successful. Favorites were coffee, Oreo, and, the biggest hit, blueberry crumble. I took a short break from making ice cream, but, over the last month, have gotten back into it. Pumpkin was delicious, as was this cranberry sauce ice cream that I prepared for Friendsgiving. Served with apple cake, it was the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Having made four batches of it over the course of a week, I think I could do with my eyes closed.
Part of the joy of making ice cream comes from watching your creation churn in the mixer. For a while, I’d been using a machine that was a gift from my mom. It worked well enough, but it was starting to slow down. Time for an upgrade! I’d heard from a number of people, including my mom, who’s also fallen hard for homemade ice cream, that the KitchenAid attachment worked well. So, I reached out to my friends over there, who were generous enough to send it over for me to play with. Since receiving the attachment, I’ve used it a half a dozen times, and it’s worked beautifully on each occasion. I find that the bowl freezes quickly, which was not the case with my last machine. The paddle does a great job scraping the sides of the bowl, too. Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with it.
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A chill has arrived in the air. It’s crisp and harsh on the nose. Extra layers of clothing and warm, fluffy socks go on before heading out. The pace of our walks has turned brisk. I look forward to a mug of coffee or tea, as hot as I can get it without burning my tongue, which I’ll make as soon as I get home. Maki doesn’t seem to want to spend extended periods of time outside either. As soon as we get inside, she immediately curls up on her bed, as if to say, “Ok, I don’t need to go out there for a while!”.
We’re gearing up for our first Friendsgiving dinner in our house. The menu is coming together: a slow-cooked brisket, smoked on the grill and then transferred to the oven for eight hours, and herb and garlic roasted fish. The side dishes are coming along as well. One that will be gracing our table is this cauliflower salad. Or maybe it’s a slaw. Whatever you want to call it, there are some great textures and bright flavors in this side. And pomegranate adds a bit of tartness and, of course, that pop of color that makes this so striking to look at.
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I have to admit something. This dish wasn’t a recipe I had been developing for months and months. In fact, the whole concept came together in a matter of minutes. Two of its key components, the lentils and the poached egg, were premeditated. But I had NO idea what else to include. When I looked around the kitchen for guidance, I realized there wasn’t much to work with; only a head of lettuce in the drawer and a big bag of potatoes on the counter. And then I saw a small container of roasted acorn squash that I’d prepared the night before. “That should bring the whole thing together.” I thought.
It’s a hearty bowl, ideal for these chilly nights, and, like most of the best weeknight meals, can be adapted based on your crew. The poached egg is a nice choice for protein, as the yolk creates a dressing over the lentils, but sliced chicken or a piece of fish or a crumbly cheese would also make for a nice addition.
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One of our favorite pieces of furniture is an antique ice box Eric’s mom gave to us as a “house cooling present.” Weighing close to 500 pounds, it took four large men, and some guidance from Eric, to move it in. It will remain exactly where it stands for as long as we’re here. The thing is a beast. But it’s a beautiful beast and we have a very special use for it: it’s where we store all our liquor. Well, most of our liquor. Beer and wine is stored downstairs. The ice box has everything else. Want bourbon? We have at least four kinds. Gin? Oh, we have plenty of that. Scotch, rum, tequila, vodka? Got it.
Recently, I’ve been playing around a bit more with tequila and mezcal. I’ve always been a fan of agave-based spirits. Its vegetal flavor (mainly, notes of green pepper) is unlike anything I’ve experienced in other liquor. I know not everyone enjoys them as much as I do. I have to wonder, though, if maybe the negative association comes from a bad experience with it in college many years ago and now they’ve sworn it off. It might be time to give them another try.
When I’m out at a bar, I’ll often request a combination of mezcal and citrus. I know I’ll get a balanced cocktail with those two ingredients. One evening at The Baldwin Bar, a gem of an establishment that is located north of Boston, I asked Ran Duan, the bar manager, to make me such a drink. A few minutes later, he presented a highball glass with a metal straw sticking out. The first sip took me aback. What is that? It’s good. I know that flavor. I like it. Is that… sesame oil? It may not have been the first time someone’s made a drink with oil in it, but for this guy here, it was life-altering. And that’s where the inspiration for this mezcalita came from.
You know who else would enjoy one of these drinks? Jessica of How Sweet It Is. Though, there’s a slight problem. Well, maybe we shouldn’t call it a problem… but it’s something that’s getting in the way of her consuming one (or a pitcher) of these: she’s having a baby. A bunch of us bloggers have banded together to throw a virtual baby shower for Jessica. Knowing her, I think she’s going to love every one of these recipes (the epic list can be found below). The idea was to do “trashed up” versions of different food and beverages. When it comes to drinks, though, it’s just all about the booze. And creating a drink that you want to have multiple rounds of. Pretty sure I got those things covered with this mezcalita.
So, I’m raising my glass to you, Jessica! I have no doubt that you’ll be a wonderful mother: caring, thoughtful, and a lot of fun. Just a few more months and you’ll be able to sip on one of these! I’m sure you can’t wait.
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