Thursday, April 29, 2010

Going to the weeds

I have been a bad blogger this week because I've been engaged in the battle of my life . . .  against my lawn.

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The lawn is winning.

Let's get one thing clear: I'm not a "Mother Earth" kind of girl.  In fact, when I first told my friends that I was getting a lawn mower, one of them asked whether I would be mowing in an evening gown and Louboutins.  (The answer, by the way, is no; I mow in my sexy Lululemon sweat pants and Dansko clogs, thank you very much!)  But when one suddenly finds herself with the most ragtag lawn in the neighborhood, and a husband who, in addition to working a billion hours a week, subscribes to some Darwinian theory about letting weeds and grass fight amongst themselves for lawn dominance, one has no choice but to get her hands dirty.

I started out by weeding.

Left: Dandelions galore.  Right: No more dandelions!
And boy did I weed.  I weeded for days.  Because every day I would put in a good few hours of weeding, only to discover the next day that more dandelions had sprouted over night.  I swear I heard those fuckers laughing at me.

But while it drove me totally nuts, there was a part of me that took macabre pleasure out of staking those suckers in the heart, pulling them out of the ground, and throwing their limp little bodies in the garbage.  I filled up a whole 10 gallon container with those weeds.  Guess who's laughing now?

Yeah, they still are.

BTW, if you have a yard full of weeds, I'd highly recommend the Rocket Weeder.  It's a long-pronged device that lets you weed without having to bend over.  You just stick the pincher end of the device into the middle of the weed, use the foot pedal to rock it back and forth, and the whole weed -- root and all -- comes up easily.  It even has a weed ejector handle so you can dispense of the weed without having to actually get your hands dirty.

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I then dethatched the lawn.  From what I can understand, it appears that over time, a layer of thatch -- lawn clippings and other living and dead organic matter -- builds up under the grass, depriving the soil of nutrients and making overseeding pretty much impossible.  So every once in a while, you have to dethatch the lawn.  It's kind of like removing mats from under the hair of a dog.  You pull a thatching rake -- Ames True Temper is allegedly the best of the manual ones -- through the lawn, essentially giving your lawn a good brushing out.  Except it takes far more strength than brushing.  My back no likey.

After the weeding and dethatching, I was basically a Golem-like mess.  I actually crawled -- yes, on my hands and knees -- upstairs at one point because my lower back was killing me.  My lawn not only kicked my ass, it aged me by fifty years.

And I swore after that that there would be no more lawn shenanigans for the week.

But then I heard that it was going to rain for two days straight.  And being cheap, I had to take advantage of the free water.  So I got my tired, broken little body back outside to mow the lawn (manual push reel mowers may be great for the environment, but they were not built for a five-foot-three desk jockey with flabby arms and no core strength) and overseed it before the rain came.

After four days of dealing with the grassy patch outside, I'm officially done with all my lawn tasks for spring . . . until it's time to put down the organic pre-emergent herbicide and fertilizer and mow the grass again.

Home ownership can really suck.


Friday, April 23, 2010

Dear Amy Butler,

I usually find your fabrics too frou frou, but your rugs intrigue me.  I would not be upset if you were to send one my way.

Lacework Blue Rug
Morning Glory Rug
Wallflower Orange Rug
Modern Love Rug

That's all.  Thanks.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy birthday to my sister!

Yes, she's always had an attitude.  And strong opinions.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Lemon Pudding Cake

If love were a dessert, it would be lemon pudding cake.

Seriously, this lemon pudding cake is perfection: a little tart, a little sweet, crispy and airy like a souffle above, but gooey and creamy like a pudding below.  I don't know how such different textures can emerge from one batter -- it's a culinary miracle -- but oh mah gawd is it awesome.

Here's what you need:

  • 2 large lemons (I used 2 small meyer lemons and 1 regular lemon)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (I added an extra 1/4 cup of flour, per the suggestions of other Epicurious reviewers)
  • Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • 1 1/3 cups whole milk

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Finely grate 1 tablespoon zest from lemons, then squeeze 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons juice.

Whisk together flour, salt, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. Whisk together yolks, milk, zest, and juice in a small bowl and add to flour mixture, whisking until just combined.

Beat whites in another large bowl with an electric mixer until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Whisk about one fourth of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly (batter will be thin).

Pour into a buttered 1 1/2-quart ceramic gratin or other shallow baking dish (or, as I did, into six individual-serving ceramic cups) and bake in a hot water bath until puffed and golden, 45 to 50 minutes.

Transfer to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

It's perfectly glorious by itself, though I suppose if you wanted to amp it up a bit, you could add a raspberry coulis or a bit of powdered sugar.

Make it.  It's like a hug in a bowl.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Now this is dancing with the stars

I never watch "Dancing with the Stars."  If I wanted to watch D-list "celebrities" make asses of themselves, I'd just park near a rehab facility; it'd be funnier and less painful.

But when I heard that my favorite real dancers -- Danny Tidwell and Travis Wall -- were going to be performing, I broke my no DWTS rule.

Sort of.

Thanks to Hulu and Youtube, I got to watch Danny toss off a zillion pirouettes without having to see even a single second of Kate Gosselin "dancing."  (The clips of her "performances" that I've accidentally seen made me cry.  For gahd's sake, point your toes, woman!)

Not only did Travis choreograph the piece, dancing alongside him and Danny were Nick Lazzarini and Jaime Goodwin.  Oh, also on was an impeccable Tiler Peck (oh what I'd do to dance with the New York City Ballet . . . .).

I'd prattle on about how awesome they are, but I gotta go watch the video again now.  I suggest you do the same.


Monday, April 19, 2010


After a dreary, soggy, miserable winter, spring has finally arrived in Boston.  And our yard, which for months looked like it was tended by a blindfolded and angry Edward Scissorhands, is beginning to resemble a garden that sane, somewhat responsible adults would have.

Clockwise: Magnolia tree across the street, our hyper-unruly daylilies,
cherry blossoms, and hosta leaves fighting through the woody undergrowth

To add to the gloriousness of this day, look what was waiting for me at my front door today:

Jess, not even my husband gets me flowers.  Consider this a proposal of marriage, whenever you get tired of that hairy spouse of yours!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Thomas Keller's Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Fennel, Olives, and Lemon

We've had summer and winter in one week here in Boston, going from warm, glorious weather early in the week to a dreary, rainy 45 degrees today.  In between, the autumnal scent of braised fennel filled our house as I prepared the crispy braised chicken with fennel, olives, and lemon recipe from Thomas Keller's flawless Ad Hoc at Home for a little impromptu dinner party.

It was fabulous.  I loved the contrast between the crispy, fried skin and the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the braised dark meat.  And while I don't usually like the anise-flavor of fennel, the chicken and lemon flavors really took the edge off the fennel, leaving behind only a slightly sweet, almost onion-y flavor.

I served this with spaghettini lightly tossed with olive oil, heirloom grape tomatoes, spinach, and garlic, and a side dish of Keller's smashed marble potatoes.  Easy, pretty, and delicious!

On a different note, chicken thighs are not only a flavorful and tender cut of meat, they are also really affordable.  Even at Whole Foods, the twelve thighs I purchased cost less than $9.  Our house is entertainment central, and we're always having people over for dinner, so I will definitely be keeping this in rotation for an economical way to cook for a group.

Here's what you need:
  • 3 large fennel bulbs
  • 12 chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • Canola oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1 cup Ascolane or other large green olives, such as Cerignola
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4 strips lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler
  • 8 thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • About 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves (for garnish -- I left this out and it was fine)

Cut off the fennel stalks. Trim the bottom of the bulbs and peel back the layers until you reach the core; reserve the core for another use. Discard any bruised layers, and cut the fennel into 2-by- 1/2 -inch batons. You need 3 cups of fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.

Season the chicken thighs on both sides with a pinch of salt. Heat a thin layer of canola oil in a large ovenproof sauté or roasting pan that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add the thighs skin side down and lightly brown, 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the heat of the oil in the pan. Turn the thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the fennel, turn the heat up to medium and cook, stirring often, until the fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour in the wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off the alcohol. Stir in the olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest and thyme, then pour in the chicken broth. Increase the heat, bring the liquid to a simmer, and cook until the fennel is tender, about 1 minute.

Taste the broth and season with salt as needed. Return the chicken to the pan, skin side up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. (The meat will be firm and the juices will run clear, and a thermometer inserted should read 165 degrees.)

Turn on the broiler, and put the pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the chicken skin. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with the parsley leaves.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

B is for . . .

In May, I'll be co-hosting a co-ed baby shower to celebrate the imminent arrival of bridesmaid B's daughter, who we've nicknamed Lil' B.

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Naturally, a bee-themed shower is in the works.  But if Lil' B is anything like her mom, no literal black and yellow bee theme would do.  I'm thinking something along the lines of a sophisticated palette of yellow, gray, and white.

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The gray and yellow palette of this shower is exactly the look I'm envisioning for Lil' B's party.  And I love the use of the graphic gray and yellow runner on the table; I'm going to search paper and fabric stores for a similar print for the runner and for cute flag garlands and circle mobiles.

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I've been searching for the adorable honeycomb paper above: not only are the popcorn cones too adorable not to replicate, the honeycomb pattern is a chic way of incorporating the bee theme without being too bee-zy.

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I adore these bumblebee sugar decorations.  They'd be so sweet on cupcakes or stuck on the rim of a martini glass.

Image: MadebyGirl
This fab gray LOVE print would make a perfect focal point for the shower decor.  And since Lil' B is getting a fuschia, indigo, and gray nursery, the print can do double duty afterward as nursery decor too.

Image: Sweetbeets
But this letterpress alphabet card would be just as lovely framed, no?

So many ideas!  Oh how I love party planning!  If only I could do this for a living . . . .


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Have a gleeful Sunday!

A brilliant Lea Michele, the entire cast of "Glee," Michelle Obama rocking out (slightly offbeat) in the front row . . . what could be better?

Except "Glee" returning on Tuesday, of course!


Friday, April 9, 2010


It's a hard life.


I've never met a cupcake I didn't like

. . . until now.

The other day at the mall, I happened upon Shot Cakes in the food court and decided to celebrate the end of Passover with a red velvet cupcake.  Filled with chocolate ice cream.

I know, it sounded good to me at the time too.

But oh was it not.

Do you remember that episode of "Friends," when Rachel attempts to make a trifle and accidentally combines the trifle recipe with one for shepherd's pie?  Joey loves it, of course.  ("What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Goooooood.")  But everyone else's reaction teaches us an important lesson: just because the individual elements of a dish might be good, the combination of those elements together might be very, very bad.

Cupcakes + ice cream = meat trifle.

Or more specifically, a really dry, overly sweet, and obviously stale cupcake + ice cream = meat trifle.

Repeat after me: "Avoid meat trifles, avoid Shot Cakes."

You may thank me for saving you $3.00 and a tummy full of wasted calories.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Thomas Keller's Potato Pave

If you can't already tell by the contents of my blog, I like food.  But I usually wouldn't go so far as to say that I like like food.

That is, until I met Thomas Keller's Potato Pave.

Potato Pave is one sexy mofo.

As gorgeous to look at as it is delicious to eat, this potato dish is nothing short of dreamy.  You'll want to make out with it.

Here's what you need: 
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds russet potatoes (three 1-pound potatoes if possible)
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon softened and 4 tablespoons cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Canola oil
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 cloves garlic, skin-on, lightly crushed
  • Minced fresh chives (I subbed in chiffonaded sage instead, since I was too lazy to go out to the garden for fresh chives)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour cream into a large bowl; season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Peel potatoes. Trim all sides of one potato to make a rectangular shape (I forgot to do this, and it was fine). Set a mandoline over bowl of cream and, starting with the flat side of the potato, slice potato lengthwise into very thin slices (alternatively, if you cannot set your mandoline over bowl, slice potatoes, adding slices to cream as you work). Toss potato slices in cream occasionally to keep them from oxidizing. Repeat process with remaining potatoes.

Brush a 10-by-5-by-2 3/4-inch-high baking pan with half of the softened butter. Line pan with parchment paper, leaving a 5-inch overhang on all sides. Brush parchment paper with remaining softened butter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Trim slices to form an even layer in the bottom of the pan; repeat process to form a second layer. Dot with a few cubes of butter; season with salt and pepper. Continue layering potatoes and adding butter and seasoning after every two layers until pan is filled. Fold sides of parchment paper over potatoes. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil and transfer to oven.

Bake until potatoes are completely tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 1 hour and 50 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Cut a piece of cardboard slightly smaller than the size of pan; wrap with aluminum foil. Place foil-wrapped cardboard on top of potatoes and weight down with heavy cans (naturally, I used two bottles of leftover Manischewitz from our seder); let potatoes cool to room temperature. Remove weights and tightly wrap pan. Refrigerate potatoes at least 6 hours or up to 2 days.

To serve, run an offset spatula between the parchment paper and pan to release. Using the parchment paper overhang, carefully lift pave out of pan or invert onto a cutting board. 

Trim sides of pave and cut into 12 equal pieces; let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add enough canola oil to coat. When oil is hot, add potatoes, cut-side-down, along with thyme and garlic. Cook, basting with oil, until browned on first side. Carefully turn and brown on opposite side.

Transfer potatoes to a serving platter and arrange browned side up. Place a small piece of butter on each and sprinkle with chives (in my case, fried sage).  Serve.

The pave effect of the potatoes is really beautiful, and the texture of the potatoes is just amazing -- crispy on the outside, tender and creamy on the inside.  Well worth the prep time.

By the way, I think this would be a really impressive and easy side to make for a dinner party.  You can do all the prep before hand, so that the only thing left to do when you're ready to eat is to saute the pave. Your guests will think that you have some fancy French cooking skills.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Diary of a Secret Housewife: Caramel Chocolate Matzoh Crunch

Since it's Passover, I've had to do without my all-too-frequent stops at the local bakery for chocolate chip cookies or red velvet cupcakes.  Sure, I could use the holiday as a reason to cut down on my carb and sweets intake and get myself trimmed down for bikini season.  Alternatively, I could use the holiday as an excuse to cover all the "kosher for Passover" items around my house with caramel and chocolate and get myself plumped up to fill in some mumus for the summer.

I chose the latter option.

I made Marcy Goldman's "My Trademark, Most Requested, Absolutely Magnificent Caramel Matzoh Crunch."  With a title like that, you know it has to be awesome.

And it was.

Here's what you need: 4-6 unsalted matzohs; 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine; 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar; and 3/4 cup coarsely chopped chocolate chips or semi-sweet chocolate.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large cookie sheet completely with foil. Cover the bottom of the sheet with baking parchment — on top of the foil.

Line the bottom of the cookie sheet evenly with the matzohs, cutting extra pieces, as required, to fit any spaces.

In a 3-quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter or margarine and the brown sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil (about 2 to 4 minutes). Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour over the matzoh, covering completely.

(I wasn't very careful to pour the caramel evenly across the matzoh, so I had to do some spreading afterward with a spatula.)

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350°. Bake for 15 minutes, checking every few minutes to make sure the mixture is not burning (if it seems to be browning too quickly, remove the pan from the oven, lower the heat to 325°, and replace the pan).

Remove from the oven and sprinkle immediately with the chopped chocolate or chips. (I also added some crushed candied nuts and a bit of fleur de sel to half of the matzoh, just for a bit of added crunch and dimension.) Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate over the matzoh. While still warm, break into squares or odd shapes. Chill, still in the pan, in the freezer until set.  (I wasn't able to fit the pan in my freezer, so I put it in the fridge instead; it was fine.  This was after I ate 1/4 of the matzoh straight out of the oven.  Restraint is not one of my strong suits!)

The resulting confection was -- hands down -- the most heavenly sweet thing that ever came out of my kitchen.  My favorite were the chunks with fleur de sel: the salt not only balanced the sweetness of the chocolate, it also added a bit of crunch and texture to the chewy caramel layer.

I could not stop eating it.  I had caramel chocolate matzoh crunch for an afternoon snack, for the first course of dinner, and for dessert yesterday.  Thank goodness we had some visitors today who gleefully polished off the remainder, because otherwise mumu season would be here early.

If you're celebrating Passover, and you have 5 boxes of matzoh sitting around and no will to have yet another matzoh and margarine "sandwich," make this.  Even if you're not celebrating Passover -- heck, even if you've accepted Thetan as your savior -- go get a box of matzoh from the supermarket -- trust me, it'll be on sale -- and make this.

What are you waiting for?  Go now.

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