Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Real Food Rehab in Chicago Sun Times Food Section

 Today I am so proud to share that my article (and photos) on eating for one that originally appeared on Melissa Graham's blog, Little Locavores, was picked up by the Sun Times Food Section. Click HERE to read it in full.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

All The Single Ladies: Cooking For One

This is excerpted from a guest blog post I just wrote for Melissa Graham's Little Locavores blog. She is a passionate writer and real food activist and I hope you will click through and check out her site.

I'm a single gal and I work from home so, on average and with the exception of dining out, I have the luxury of preparing my own meals two or three times a day. Some of you may think I must be joking - luxury? But I'm dead serious. I do consider it a luxury to prepare my own meals. Why? Because I never have to question the quality of my food since I source it. I never have to compromise on what I feel like eating because it's me I'm satisfying. I also welcome the chance to break up a day spent inside my head in front of a computer, to get back into my body and work with my hands in an intuitive, tactile and sensual way.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the article...

Friday, July 30, 2010

So Long, Mr. Coffee

I have a love hate relationship with coffee. I love it and it hates me.

It's like an abusive relationship. I'm addicted to the ritual of making it, intoxicated by the smell that permeates my home, the deep, rich flavor and how the caffeine highs can make me feel almost invincible. But then, the euphoria gives way to the heart palpitations, the extreme blood sugar dips and the fits of anger - but yet I stay - I love him anyway and convince myself we're good together. The angst, I tell you.

Recently, I switched to decaffeinated for the sake of my health and only treat myself once or twice a week. I treasure our times together and make sure I purchase only the best coffee I can find. Just a year ago, it was hard to find good decaf, but that's not the case anymore.

Coffee, like other foodstuffs these days, is going through a renaissance. All across the country, specialty purveyors are roasting limited-edition coffee beans using artisanal methods and sustainable practices. These are the beans you should seek out, whether going out for coffee or bringing the beans home. Because of the attention to detail, the taste is incomparable.

Here are some of the best artisanal coffee roasters in the country who will ship you beans online tout suite:

Intelligentsia Coffee
Metropolis Coffee Company  (They make my absolute favorite - Decaf Redline.)
Blue Bottle Coffee
Gorilla Coffee

The real question is: Are you willing to give up your relationship with Mr. Coffee? The seemingly indefatigable, saggy-assed octogenarian who piddles out his weak-brewed love day after day? You really want to settle for that?

I didn't think so.

You need an Italian Stallion. One who has proven his mettle time and time again creating a dark rich brew that really satisfies.

Stovetop Espresso Maker, $39.95 by Bialetti

To learn more about what you need to make a great Latte or Cafe Au Lait at home (inexpensively!), click to read the rest of the article on The Possessionista.

Also, be sure to read my post on Maria Callas & Coffee. It's a goodie.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Quick Fix: Baby Tomato Recipes

Brace yourself for the onslaught of summer tomatoes. I especially love baby tomatoes. They're versatile, easy to use and as the band Cameo says, "They taste like Can-day." Get them at your local farmers' market now through September. Baby tomatoes come in a vibrant array of varieties, so the more you mix and match, the more colorful, tasty and healthy your meals will be.

Here are some super quick and easy recipes you can make with baby tomatoes throughout the season.

One Recipe, Many Uses
Slice the tomatoes in half and catch their juices in a big bowl. Mix with minced fresh garlic, torn basil leaves, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for a few minutes to let the flavors meld. Then, toss over:

A piece of fish, chicken or steak hot off the grill.

Hot pasta like farfalle or spaghetti and finish with lots of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Some garlic-rubbed, grilled bread for a great bruschetta appetizer.

Slice tomatoes in quarters, catch their juice and mix with chopped red onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let the flavors meld and use as chunky salsa for chips, over grilled quesadillas, or fish or skirt steak tacos.

Also, check out this 15 minute roasted tomato pasta recipe I wrote last summer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Beginner's Guide To Homemade Salad Dressing

Antico Frantoio Muraglia 'Intenso' Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Dean & Deluca

Consider this an intervention. Those of you still buying bottles of Paul Newman's or Annie's or God forbid, Wish Bone salad dressings at the grocery store - it's over. I'm sorry but it's over. Additives? Corn Syrup? Xanthan Gum? That's not who you are.

You are someone with exquisite taste who appreciates and understands quality. And, you're about to become someone who confidently knows how to dress their own salad. Do not underestimate how important this is. I want you to experience real pleasure and satisfaction when you sit down to eat. The days of settling for mediocrity are over. Now, let's get down to business.

Buy the best ingredients you can afford.
Every time you use quality ingredients, your food is going to taste better. Period. You can buy the inexpensive extra virgin olive oils at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and use them to cook with, that's fine. But if you are buying the freshest, best tasting produce for your salads at your local farmers' market, I want to suggest that you spend more money for high quality oils and vinegars. Ones that you use only for drizzling over foods and making into vinaigrettes, not heating.

Ratios of oil to vinegar
The traditional ratio for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar. This ratio doesn't really work for me. I enjoy a brighter flavor. The ratio for my palate is almost equal parts oil to vinegar. To find the right acidity level for you, simply taste the dressing as you're adding the oil and stop or add more to your liking. Know that if it's too acidic, you can simply add more oil to balance it out. You are the master of your dressing domain.

The quick drizzle method

Some days, I don't feel like making a full-on vinaigrette; I want super quick results. So here's what I do: Take the bottle of olive oil, cover the spout part ways with your finger and slowly drizzle lightly over your salad. Do the same with the vinegar, sprinkle some good sea salt, fresh ground pepper, gently toss with your hands and you're done. It's might seem like a crap shoot but it works. If you're unsure, start by adding less versus more because you can always add but you can't take away.

The authentic vinaigrette method
Grab a clean, empty jar with a lid. Add your minced garlic or shallots in the jar with your acid (i.e.vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, verjus, yuzu, etc.) and your salt. The acid will help mellow the sharpness of the garlic and shallot, deepen the flavors and also help "melt" the salt. Salt doesn't melt well in oil. Let it sit for a few minutes - say 5 to 10. Then add your oil, screw the lid on tight and shake like mad. You can also make the dressing in a bowl and whisk the oil in slowly. You want to make sure it's emulsified. Do not make dressing in a metallic bowl unless it is stainless steel. Your acid will be altered in flavor and not in a good way.

Here are two simple recipes to try from the great new cookbook, Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen

Sherry Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the shallot, garlic, vinegar, mustard and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in a few drops of the oil and then begin adding the oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously until all the oil is incorporated.

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (optional)

Combine the shallot, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in a few drops of the oil and then begin adding the oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously until all the oil is incorporated. If using dill, add right before serving.

Storing your dressing

According to Michael Symon, if your homemade dressing contains aromatics - garlic, shallots, herbs, it will only last about a day. If not, it will last up to one week in the fridge.

I asked some talented food professionals to offer up their tips on salad making as well as some of their favorite oils and vinegars.

Christine Cikowski, Chef/Founder of Sunday Dinner and Eat Green Foods

Olio Verde Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Estate bottled in Sicily, unfiltered and made from Nocellara Olives.

Villa Manodori Balsamic
Made in small quantities, matured for 10 to 20 years. Aged in barrels of juniper, chestnut and oak.

Salad making tips
Mix your salad in a large bowl with your hands for even coat of the dressing. Don't over dress your salad. Start with a little and add slowly.

Iliana Regan, Artisan and Chef of One Sister Pierogi and the underground dining sensation - Mermaid Dinners

BLiS sherry vinegar - BLiS ages extra old, fine sherry vinegar in 18 year old, maple cured, single bourbon casks. It's AMAZING.

Salad making tips

As for sourcing, I use my own garden. Most people probably don't know that you need fairly little soil - just a two inch even layer of moist soil - and you can just throw lettuce seeds on top, no rows or planting - to have an awesome patch of lettuce. And I use lots of my own sprouts and microgreens, like sunflower and radish in my salads at home. HERBS, fine herbs, tarragon, chervil, parsley and chive, make an awesome addition of flavor on top of any salad. And, I keep it simple: lettuces, sprouts, bright herbs, a touch oil, touch vin, a little lemon or citrus zest - Grapefruit is awesome if it's hot and you're outside drinking sauvignon blanc - and finally salt and pepper. I like to play with peppers. I use a five pepper blend. One of my many favorite kitchen tools is the juicer. How that works for salads? Juice the greens, season with salt, and pour the juice onto a lined sheet tray and freeze. After it's frozen, drag a fork along in rows to make granita, mist with a little sherry vinegar and serve as a palate cleanser for a summer barbeque!

Alisa Barry, Creator/Owner at Bella Cucina

Bella Cucina's Taste of Tuscany. It's an estate grown and bottled oil, made exclusively for Bella Cucina that evokes my favorite flavors of the Tuscan hill towns. In Tuscany, the olives are picked in November while they are still green. This gives the oil its rich color and fruity, peppery and green flavor. Another fave is Bariani California Olive Oil. Estate grown and bottled in northern California.

Verjus from Terra Sonoma in Northern California. This California winery lets nothing go to waste. Fine wine is left to age into a delicate and slightly sweet vinegar in the traditional French style. I love it as a seasoning for cooked bitter greens like lacinato kale and escarole.

Kim Shambrook of
Bespoke Cuisine

Some of my favorite olive oils are by Yellingbo – produced in Australia and quite tasty – herbaceous, yet not too heavy. I’m also a big fan of the Greek extra-virgin olive oils. I find them to have a great depth of flavor, the color is beautiful, and all you need is a little lemon juice and salt & pepper to make a simple vinaigrette.

Salad making tip
I use a Microplane grater to add lemon zest to my vinaigrettes.

Chef Paul Virant of

I love Spanish olive oils made from Picual or Arbequina olives. As far as vinegars, we use Champagne or Cava vinegar the most in conjunction with leftover preserving liquids that usually have infused flavor. (read idea, below) Our source for Spanish olive oils and Cava vinegar is La

Salad making tip
Say you've made or bought some pickled dilly beans and the liquid is garlicky and spicy. Bring up the the acidity level by adding some fresh lemon juice and add some oil and your done. This could be a nice marinade or dressing.

Terra Brockman, Farmer, Speaker and Author of
The Seasons on Henry's Farm

Napa Valley Naturals extra virgin organic olive oil.

Salad making tips
Buy salad greens from a local farmer you know, and to ask them which variety of lettuce is best at the time you are buying, since some varieties are much better in the cool, wet spring, but get bitter in the summer. Add Herbs! To liven up your salad, add some fresh herbs -- parsley, dill, tarragon, thyme or sorrel . . . whatever strikes your fancy. Add Flowers! You can find these at some farmers markets, or grow your own: johnny jump-ups, calendula, chive flowers, sage flowers, nasturtiums.

Tracy Kellner, Wine Babe & Owner of Provenance Food & Wine

Right now anything by A l'Olivier - I've tried their passion fruit, tomato, espelette, chili & fig...mild acidity and lots of the fruit's pulp is left in for a thicker, more flavorful texture. I've used them with any oil because the flavor is so good.

Salad making tips
I save small jars with lids and use them to make/shake/store my homemade dressings in smaller amounts so there is less waste. However, in summertime when there are so many great tasting veggies at their peak, I tend to use either one really high-quality oil OR vinegar, depending what flavor I want to complement or enhance in the dish or salad. That with a sprinkling of good salt and freshly-ground pepper, is all I need!

Flora Lazar, Artisan at Flora Confections

I love the Cassis Balsamic vinegar from Old Town Oil.

Salad making tip
I love, like Balthazar in NYC, to put a tiny bit of truffle oil in my salad dressing. I also love cut up pate de fruit in my salad, especially the raspberry and blueberry varieties. (Flora makes these beauties by hand using local, seasonal fruit. They're available online and Saturdays at Green City Market.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Quick Fix: Butter, Radish and Sea Salt Sandwiches

This was my dinner last night. This was also an appetizer I served to friends last week before a big, fried chicken dinner. It's incredibly delish, simple, fast and you will surprise and delight your friends and loved ones when you serve it.

You will find radishes on the scene at your local farmers' market right now. There are different varieties out there; you might want to try one you haven't tried before. They will vary in color, shape, size and flavor. Try French breakfast radishes if you can find them. They're oblong and red with a white tip. They have a crisp texture and more delicate flavor than some other varieties.

You can go about this a few ways: You can slice up a great loaf of bread, slather it with room temperature butter, throw some thinly sliced radishes on top, sprinkle it with sea salt (try Maldon or maybe a chunky, high quality grey salt) and call it a day. For the bread averse (I know you're out there), you can simply dip your trimmed radishes in the butter, sprinkle some sea salt and enjoy it that way. Your call. On a hot summer day, these babies go great with a glass of Rosé.

It goes without saying you'll want to use the best ingredients you can find. Find an artisan loaf of bread. Nope, sorry, Panera, doesn't cut it. Check your farmers' market. Check your food coop. Check smaller gourmet shops and bakeries. Is there someone in your area making gorgeous hearth loaves of bread from scratch? That's the bread you want to buy. In Chicago, we have some great options which include Anne at Crumb, Cook au Vin, and the prolific Pamela Fitzpatrick at Fox & Obel.

There are also local creameries making small-batch butter with sweet cream from cows grazing on pasture! Once you taste pasture butter you will never go back. And ahem, this butter is loaded with good fat! Did you know that milk from pastured cows also contains an ideal ratio of essential fatty acids or EFAs including Omega 3s and 6s? Read it and weep, people! It's healthy for you! Consider yourself unshackled.

The award-winning Nordic Creamery in Wisconsin is selling their Summer Butter right now at Green City Market and at Provenance Food & Wine. You can also buy it online. And it is not simply hyperbole when I say this butter is life changing.

This is butter that killer hostess gifts are made of. Enjoy!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

My Stage With Chef Paul Virant of Vie

Black Perigord Truffles

The Excuse

Here's a lame story for you: I was fortunate enough to stage in the kitchen with Chef Paul Virant of Vie back in February and never wrote about it. Why? I took a gazillion photos then lost the memory card in my home somewhere, knowing it would eventually turn up. It finally did, inside a shoe I haven't worn in three months! So now, much after the fact, I finally get to share the experience with you, visually enhanced by my photos.

The Restaurant

Vie is a three-star restaurant serving seasonal contemporary American cuisine, located in Western Springs, an older, established and very charming suburb about fifteen miles west of Chicago. Lots of beautiful, architecture - everything from art deco bungalows to grand Arts and Crafts-style manor homes. You don't see any new construction or McMansions there, which I appreciate very much. There's a sweet, thriving business district with a family owned butcher shop, bakery and hardware store that have all been there forever. Paul's restaurant, Vie, is nestled on a side street off the main street in its own store front. The BNSF Railway also runs through the center of town, with its long, ambling freight trains which gives the place a slower, Mayberry kind of feel.

The reason I asked to stage in Paul's kitchen is Number One, I find him approachable, gentle and kind. I used to run into him at the Green City Market a lot when I worked and shopped there. He never struck me as an irascible, fry pan-throwing, type of chef. This was comforting to me. Number Two, he is passionate about local, seasonal and sustainable food. That is what moves me most. Paul uses the best ingredients and has close, longstanding relationships with farmers and growers. He cures and smokes his own meats and seafood, pickles and preserves his own produce and he's been doing this long before it was trendy. For lack of better terminology, Paul Virant is the bomb.

The Mindset

So, on my way out there, I was really nervous. I kept envisioning I was going to make a giant ass of myself which wasn't out of the realm of possibility. Working in a professional kitchen felt like a big challenge to me and I had no idea what to expect. I was imagining I would cut myself, burn myself, shatter many plates and drop expensive cuts of meat on the floor. It was like a montage from a bad Jerry Lewis movie. After all, this is a three star kitchen helmed by one of the best chefs in the city: Food & Wine Best New Chef 2007, one of Gayot's Top 40 Restaurants in the Country, the list of accolades goes on and on. The pressure in my chattering monkey mind was building. Not to mention I was a few minutes late because of that damn freight train. Oy.

The Goal

My immediate goal? To learn as much as I could. To have an experience without any expectation. To be open to everything. To not pretend I knew anything I didn't. To be gracious. My long term goal? To use the experience as a building block to become more fluent in the use of seasonal ingredients. There are ingredients I long to take home from the farmers' market but feel mildly intimidated by how to best use them.

The Menu

This was not an average night at Vie. This was a very special night. Paul often executes seasonally themed dinners throughout the year and this was his Black Truffle Dinner. Paul bought a large amount (serious Ca-Ching!) of fresh, black Perigord truffles to infuse into every course. They are a fungus named after the Périgord region in France and highly prized for their earthy, pungent flavor - nothing tastes quite like them. Paul explained that a lot of hard core Vie regulars were guests that night, many of them accompanied by prized bottles of wine from their own cellars. He told me about one guest in particular who was coming, who had eaten at Vie about 500 times! (but who's counting?) Here is the glorious menu:

Black Truffle Dinner
February 3, 2010


black truffle and parmigiano-reggiano gougères


edelweiss creamery emmenthaler fondue, celery root, croutons, black truffles

08 Rebenhof, Ürziger Würtzgarten, Riesling Kabinett, Germany


moose island scallops, black truffles, puff pastry, honey vinegar

08 Westrey, Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon


maine lobster, black truffles, leeks, yukon gold potatoes, butter “en papillote”

07 Pulenta Estate, Chardonnay, Mendoza, Argentina


terrine of au bon canard foie gras with black truffles and château montifaud cognac, three sisters pea shoots, roasted apple, black truffles

08 Domaine du Tariquet, Ugni Blanc-Colombard, Côtes De Gascogne, France


gunthorp farm chicken and black truffle “scotch egg,”

spinach, jus de poulet mayonnaise

07 Stoller, Pinot Noir, JV Estate, Dundee Hills, Oregon


roasted hawks hill ranch elk tenderloin, salsify, port and truffle sauce

07 Poderi Aldo Conterno, Masante, Langhe Dolcetto, Monforte D’Alba, Italy

To Finish

local honey, truffle, and walnut butter cake,

truffle chiboust, black walnut and truffle nougatine

black walnut and honey infused death’s door white whiskey

The Prep

My nervousness subsided a bit after I was greeted warmly by everyone in the kitchen. The staff were all young and very accomplished. There was one woman who had left a long stint at Alinea to work with Paul, another culinary veteran who owned her own farm in Michigan during the growing season and worked at a couple restaurants doing front and back of the house during the off season. One chef had been with Paul since the beginning and learned everything on the job.

Kitchen Meeting

Paul called a meeting to go over the specific preparation of each course and to delegate prep. He let me know this was not your average high stress night in the kitchen where everyone is ordering something different at different times. This was a pleasure trip by comparison: all courses would go out at the same time. We'd wait until the guests had finished one course, then put together the next and so on.

We were each put to work - there was another stage there, a recent culinary graduate named Tom, and he and I were assigned to peel the soft-boiled eggs for the Scotch Eggs without breaking them and spilling their runny centers. The eggs that didn't make the cut were served to the staff as a snack on grilled bread. Meanwhile, Paul was next to me killing live lobsters in the most humane way possible which I learned is by running a knife all the way through their heads into the cutting board to make sure their brains are severed before poaching them in water. It was a little heartbreaking for me to watch, I must confess. But I'm a very conflicted eater when it comes to living things and also a hypocrite. I love lobster.

The Kill

Nothing gets wasted - even the lobster shells. Everything is composted and recycled. Mint Creek Farms comes and gets their scraps for their compost pile.

Still Life With Compost Heap

Chicken Wrap

Paul and the other chefs showed Tom and I how to complete all the steps for the Scotch Eggs. After they were peeled we wrapped them in housemade Gunthorp Farms chicken sausage that were laced with a ton of sliced truffles. Paul estimated there was about $8 worth of truffles in each egg alone! He was very generous with the truffles that night. I gotta say, they were really flowing. The eggs were then rolled in flour, egg and bread crumbs and put in the deep fryer later before the course went out.

Scotch Eggs Right Out Of the Deep Fryer

I never got to touch a knife that night - but I cleaned spinach and also put together the papillote packages for the second course: we laid out circles of parchment paper and brushed them with butter. Then we stacked the ingredients on one half of the circle so we could fold over the other half to seal and then bake the packages. The Yukon Golds came first, then the sauteed leeks, lobster, black truffle slices, a big beautiful blob of butter, and a squirt of Pulenta Estate Chardonnay (the same wine paired with this course on the menu).

Lobster en Papillote

The terrine of goose liver, truffle and cognac was made in-house, in advance and here it is in all of its visually stunning glory. They look like granite paperweights from the shops along the Arno.


A couple of other cool things that were happening while I was there - the pastry chef was brewing homemade root beer and one of the chefs was smoking pork belly so the kitchen smelled like heaven all day long.

Smoked Pork Belly

The Show

Before guests arrived I went out with Paul to watch him go over the menu with the front of the house staff, talk about the wine pairings and how the evening would unfold. It was clear that Vie is a family restaurant and that Paul has cultivated a very devoted staff. I have worked in restaurants where there's lots of drama and dysfunction and Vie feels nothing like that. Paul had just gotten in a new small batch bourbon that day and he opened it and gave all of us a nice pour to take the edge off before service began. We drank out it out of short, plastic to-go containers. It was freaking fabulous.

Bourbon Neat en Plastique

Once the guests sat down I stood at the end of the line and watched the chefs do their thing. I did get to contribute to the plating here and there and Paul made a few extra dishes for the staff so we all got to try every course and also taste the wine pairings.

Line Dance

Another major bonus were these Vie regulars, who would come back in the kitchen and leave the staff glasses of their 1983 Mouton Rothschild for us to try. Sweet!! I mean come on, this is my kind of place.

Mais Oui, Monsieur

It surprised me how much I loved the dessert. The truffle-walnut-honey combo was a winner; the cake so buttery-moist and the truffle very subtle. That combined with the crunchy nougatine and the infused Death's Door white whiskey? It smacked of a real manly man's dessert. Lots of earthy and rich, deep and sweet flavors.

The Favorites

Chicken Brickle

My favorite things of the night were elements on the plates of two different courses but both were so simple and flavorful and I could replicate them very easily at home. One was the crunchy, seasoned chicken skin that topped the Scotch Egg. I call it Chicken Brickle. It is perhaps the greatest salty snack of all time. I can see serving that as a cocktail snack on it's own or as an accompaniment to a great salad. I know, completely decadent but so good. My dad eats this old world Jewish dish called gribenes - it's fried chicken fat - kind of like pork skins but chicken instead. I have to make it for him. Here's how:

Chicken Brickle Recipe
Heat oven to 300, lay the chicken skin (seasoned with salt and pepper) between 2 sheets of parchment paper. Place between 2 sheet pans and bake until skin is crisp, 1 hr.


The other is this fresh, gorgeous pea shoot salad that was served with the terrine course. It's tossed with shaved black truffles, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar! So fresh and so clean, clean.

Pea Shoot & Shaved Truffle Salad

The Recipe
Since many of us don't have the budget for live lobsters, I've asked Paul to give us an easy, simple Spring recipe using papillote - which is wrapping your ingredients in parchment paper pouches and cooking them in the oven - which seals in juices and causes the ingredients to meld beautifully.

Great Lakes Whitefish Papillote
(serves four)

4-5oz pieces whitefish filet, skin removed


5 T butter

2 globe radishes, washed and thinly sliced

2 spring onions, washed and sliced

1 white hakuri turnip, washed and sliced

4 dried tomato slices (olive oil packed)

4 T sauvignon blanc

1 c loosely packed herbs, picked (basil, tarragon, chervil, parsley)

4 ½ sheets parchment paper

Preheat an oven to 400F. Season whitefish with salt. Place sheets of parchment, shorter side facing you. Spread 1T of the butter evenly on each sheet. Place an equal amount of radishes, spring onions and turnips just below the center of the parchment sheets, season the vegetables. Place fish on top of the vegetable bed. Place 1T butter and 1 tomato slice on each fish. Top the fish with an equal amount of herbs. Fold shorter side over to meet the opposite shorter side. Starting by one crease, begin folding the parchment, each consecutive fold overlapping the one before. Continue folding to form a half cirlcle, just before you make the final fold to seal, add 1T white wine to each. Make sure each “bag” is sealed properly. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 8-10 minutes (parchment should puff and resemble pillows), serve immediately. Cut parchment tableside, discard paper, enjoy!

The Big Thanks

One of the unfortunate things I did, that I feared might have gotten on everyone's nerves, was my propensity to say, "This is awesome," in a completely geeked out way every ten minutes or so throughout the day. It was an authentic statement for sure, but no doubt, highly annoying. I was so happy to be there, so honored to experience all that was going on, to learn, watch, taste and sip. And very grateful the staff was so kind and open towards me. I was like a kid in a candy store (chicken candy, that is). I love to learn and I value experience over things any day. I was tired when it was all over. I think I was on my feet from 1 pm to about 11:15 pm. But it was so worth it.

Big thanks to Paul, Jimmy, Albert, Anne, Kyle, Abra, Kennard, Tom, the Pastry Team, the front of the house staff, that regular (you know who you are) who brought the amazing wines to the kitchen and anyone else I'm forgetting - I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it!

For those of you who haven't experienced Vie, be sure to get there, special occasion or any occasion (the bar is great too) and also check out their cooking classes (scroll down the page) which I also hope to experience myself this summer.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Matisse-Inspired Apple Tart

Henri Matisse (French, 1869-1954). Apples, 1916. Oil on canvas, 116.9 x 88.9 cm (46 x 35 in.) The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of Florene May Schoenborn and Samuel A. Marx, 1948.563. © 2010 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This past Saturday, The Art Institute of Chicago launched an exhibition entitled, Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917. In the words of the curator, "this exhibition examines what is without question the most innovative, momentous, and yet little-studied time in the artist’s long career." It's at the Art Institute through June 20. You must get there.

For me, it was a great excuse to collaborate with fellow food blogger Megan Fizell and her site Feasting on Art, which I profiled a few posts back. Megan creates and photographs recipes inspired by great works of art. We decided to each create a dish - one savory and one sweet - inspired by a painting in the exhibition and, you guessed it, it's the one above, Apples, which is actually in the Art Institute's permanent collection and a real stunner, especially in person.

Megan chose a savory apple recipe - Apple & Shallot Croquettes, and I chose a rustic apple tart from David Tanis' brilliant book, A Platter of Figs, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Definitely check out Megan's discourse on the Matisse painting on her blog post. She's an art historian and her knowledge of this period of Matisse's career is highly illuminating.

But let's get on with the tart. It's both rustic and elegant. It's simple yet also a showstopper. I think your guests will agree. Serve alongside creme fraiche.

Apple Tart
adapted from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs
enough for 2 tarts


2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for sprinkling
2 sticks cold butter cut in thin slices
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg beaten plus enough ice water to make one cup
8 medium, crisp apples
1 cup sugar for the glaze plus extra for sprinkling
1 cup water


Put the flour, butter and salt in a bowl. With your fingers, work the butter into the flour until it looks mealy, with some large flecks of butter remaining. Pour the egg-ice water mixture into the bowl and quickly knead the dough for only a minute or two, until it comes together. It will be soft, a little sticky, and, though gathered together, a little rough looking.

Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pat into a rectangle about an inch thick. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Divide the pastry in half (there will be enough for 2 tarts; you can freeze one half for later.) Sprinkle your surface with flour and roll out the pastry to a rectangle, approximately 11 by 16 inches, using a 15 1/2-by-10 1/2-inch baking sheet as a template.

Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and let it relax, then trim the edges to fit the pan with a little dough going up the sides. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Peel the apples and cut into quarters, Remove the cores and use to make a glaze as follows: Combine the 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water with the cores. Stir first to dissolve the sugar, then simmer to a thick syrup. Strain and reserve. Slice the apples as thin as possible. Arrange the apple slices over the pastry in 5 rows, overlapping them like cards in solitaire. You can see I wasn't so strict on this point, below. Crimp the dough around the edges of the apples with your hands. At this point the tart can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 8 hours. It's OK if the apples darken.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Sprinkle the sugar generously over the apples and bake until they are beautifully browned and the pastry is crisp about 45 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Just before serving, reheat the glaze. Slide the tart from the pan to a cutting board. Paint the apples with the warmed glaze. Slice into small rectangles and serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pairing Music & Drink with Wine Expert Josh Kaplan

Josh Kaplan is someone who has seriously influenced my interest and education in wine. We both worked at mk the restaurant many years ago; he, as their beverage manager and sommelier and me, as their publicist. I used to eat and entertain there quite often and Josh never made the experience of selecting wine stuffy or uncomfortable. He also never assumed anything about your level of knowledge - it didn't matter. What he brought to the table was a genuine and palpable excitement about turning you on to great wines that would heighten your experience and make it a memorable one. You understood that beneath the suit and the elegant demeanor was a man who was downright giddy about wine. That kind of passion is what draws me to people. I love to learn and with Josh, there is no pretense or snobbery; just a desire to openly share with you all he knows.

Josh saw my post on
Beautiful Food Rituals and asked if he could contribute his own. He's a serious audiophile and offered to turn us all on to some great beats perfectly paired with time and place, great coffee, wine and even a digestif. Here's his piece below. Thank you so much, Josh!

The pairing of music and drink occurs for most of us on a daily basis. When you walk into a coffee shop or a bar, there is always something on. Usually in the background. Most likely that music was chosen to suit the overall vibe of the establishment, rather than as a specific accompaniment to an actual beverage.

The approach I like to take when pairing music and drink is not so much literal (Joni Mitchell's Blue and a blueberry frappé) but rather geared to the moment, the time of day and the season.

One of my favorite times of day to pair music and drink is early Sunday morning.

Just after the sun has risen, my home is bathed in a golden, yellow light. The beans are ground and the coffee is brewing. What to play?

Well, I'm an amateur audiophile. I have an extensive collection of vinyl I've been collecting since the late Eighties. Gotta say, my favorite Sunday morning LP is side one of Richard Davies' There's Never Been a Crowd Like This. The album is rich with crisp, strummed acoustic guitars, offbeat instrumentation, immediately tuneful melodies, witty lyrics and an overall sense of joy. There is a crystallized moment when the hot jolt of caffeine hits the bright morning and combines with Davies' lush arrangements that makes for a perfect way to start the day.

OK, let's say it's not sunny. It's grey. It's nasty. Snow. Everywhere. Urrgh. You have to adapt to the conditions. Chirpy, happy music is just going to be aggravating, so you need something that has a lilting, melancholy, grey feeling. You need Sigur Ros. Maybe it's because they're Icelandic so I associate their music with cold. Maybe it's because they tend to release their albums in winter. Maybe it's because their music can be slow like a glacier. I think it's because there's an abstract quality to their songs that gives them a strong, cold weather feel. Most particularly the album ( ). I mean...just look at the cover. It screams 'brrr' or maybe since we're talking about Sigur Ros, it gently whispers 'brrr.'

I recently tried the much-hyped Stumptown Coffee at Bagel on Damen. Best cup of coffee I've had in my 20+ years of drinking coffee. Thick and oily in texture, super-concentrated and intense, vaguely hallucinogenic - prepare to be blown away.

In general, since it is early in the day, I don't play anything too ruckus. I save the Sonic Youth for later.

Music and wine presents a wider array of options. It's the start of your night and you're drinking Alsatian Riesling or Rose Champagne. The music needs to be upbeat, fun and not too heavy. I'm a fan of Erlend Oye's Unrest. Definitely side 3. Quirky, stripped down beats, slinky eighties-style synths, gently sung lyrics. This record is just plain fun.

For Rose Champagne, I was recently turned on to Fluteau Carte Rubis Brut Rose. The wine is packed with crisp, bright red berry fruits and brimming with zesty bubbles. Another reason to pop the cork is the $32.99 price tag - a rare value from this typically pricey appellation. You can find the wine at Binny's.

Moving on to red wine. Something heavier. A little richer. Bolder. Chateauneuf du Pape. On the stereo it's My Morning Jacket. ROCK AND ROLL. Side one of It Still Moves.

Everything about those first three songs is boozy and over the top: huge guitars, outsized hooks, Jim James' reverb-soaked vocals...easily the musical equivalent of 15% alcohol Chateauneuf.

One of my favorite producers of high octane Chateauneuf du Pape is Domaine de la Janasse. Their CNDP bottlings start around $50 retail, depending on vintage. A more cost effective way to sample their wares is buying one of their wines from a different appellation. The vin de pays Terre de Bussiere is a mouthful to say and drink. At $15, it is totally worth it. The fruit is so rich and jammy, it's practically spreadable. Like My Morning Jacket, it's a crowdpleaser with integrity.

One last record for end of the night contemplation. A nod to Radiohead's In Rainbows, a brilliant late night album, but instead, I feel the need to mention Woodbine and their album Best Before End . Not too well known in the States, or their native England either. I just stumbled across this band a few years ago. They are kinda like Portishead minus beats, plus acoustic guitars. It's an intense way to end the night, but highly rewarding. Both sides. Fine with cognac. Or more red wine.

Although bourbon is fashionable now, let's not push cognac aside. Jean Luc Pasquet has a permanent home on my liquor cart for many reasons. Artisanal? Check. Cool label? Check. Value? Check. Warm fuzzies? Check.

You should be good to go.

Josh Kaplan grew up in the world of hospitality visiting Chicago's best restaurants with his father, well known restaurant critic, Sherman Kaplan. Early in his career, he worked at Evanston's Va Pensiero and at Michael Symon's Lola Cafe in Cleveland. Most recently he was the Beverage Director for mk the restaurant and theWit Hotel. Currently, he is the assistant General Manager at the soon-to-open Benny's Chop House in Chicago. Amongst friends, he is well-known for having an enviable record and wine collection.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Changing Old, Ingrained Eating Habits

This photo speaks to me in the most primordial way. I am a Leo, astrologically speaking, and an occasional carnivore. I also enjoy eating with my hands and have been known to voraciously enjoy my food. And for this very important post, I didn't want to use a tacky stock photo of someone nervously tapping their fingers next to a bowl of peanuts. It needed to have some weight, some gravitas. Because this is serious business. At least it is for me.

For the last few weeks, I've been keeping a journal of observations on how I eat, what I eat, what triggers my eating, what's working and what isn't. I've been feeling physically out of sorts for a while and winter sure doesn't help. I simply don't move my body as much in the winter and that's a big part of it. But there was something more - something deeper to untangle and it was time to face the music.

I want to point out that this detective work I was doing on my own behalf came from a place of loving observation, not condemnation. This was the perfect exercise for me to experience that the old, mean-spirited and hyper-critical voice in my head had virtually disappeared which was stupendous news.

So, here in brief, is what I've observed about myself:

On a day to day basis, I am not in touch with my natural instincts around food.
I often eat because it's breakfast, lunch or dinner time and not because I'm hungry.
I occasionally use food as a means to distract and disassociate from the moment.
I sometimes eat to combat stress.
I can use food and cooking to procrastinate.
I eat too mindlessly too often.
I sometimes reach for foods that don't make me feel good but have long been a source of comfort.
I will often resist what makes me feel good. (what the?!)
I desire to be more comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

What I also know is this: I am going through major change. And along with the tumult and discomfort inherent in change, also comes this feeling of being ungrounded, which is no freaking day at the carnival, let me tell you. It brings up a lot of fear. So, I've found myself wanting to cling to patterns that are comfortable and familiar just to feel grounded. But the reality is, those old ways of being no longer serve me. I have to create new ways to cope, ones that are life-affirming and make me feel good instead of keeping me physically and emotionally incapacitated.

I love this quote by the brilliant numerology expert, Christine DeLorey:

"Feel your fear, accept its presence, and allow it to move through you, and out of you. This process develops courage, and the ability to recognize those things which really do need to be feared, and those which need not be feared at all. Your feelings are your senses and instincts which, in turn, are vital to your survival."

Here's the other MAJOR thing I figured out from my observational experiment:

I do not allow myself the space to fully feel and acknowledge my feelings. This pattern was set in childhood. It is so old and obsolete and I am still, blindly following its lead. I need to slow down, breathe and acknowledge to myself what I'm feeling. I need to assure myself that everything's alright and that I am safe. This is a new pattern that will take time to gel but one I am forever committed to returning to.

Again, another liberating insight from Christine DeLorey:

"You will learn that your feelings are your only means of activating personal freedom. We have all been conditioned to believe that emotional expression denotes weakness and is "negative." In fact, emotional expression is our strength, our own self-healing mechanism, our only means of freedom, and the ultimate tool of creativity. "

Now, with this new found knowledge, I tried another experiment. I removed what I suspected to be "trigger" foods for me for one week and ate a very simple diet full of clean, organic animal protein and all the fruits and vegetables I desired. The foods I removed were coffee, alcohol, soy, wheat, sugar, dairy, red meat and my beloved salty, snacky treats. I also made a lot of green smoothies where I'd throw handfuls of dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and chard in a blender with berries I'd frozen in the summer, a banana, some papaya or pineapple and water and blend until smooth. I had a lot of energy that week. I started to feel great. I was definitely on to something.

The question became, could I realistically sustain this? Wouldn't it interfere with my social life? Would I begin to feel lonely and outcast? Would I feel deprived? I love a good pizza and a cocktail from time to time. How could this ever work? I honestly don't know.

But I do know that I don't respond well to absolutes. Ideally, I believe in finding balance. I like the idea of simply following what feels good for my emotional and physical well-being one day at a time. Noticing whether my body is saying "yes" or "no". Trusting myself to make decisions in the moment that are in my best interest and to catch myself when I hit slippery slope territory - when I'm building backwards momentum and not feeling my best. Right now, this is what makes sense to me.

When I look back on my long relationship with food, I hit on some remarkable memories that are significant reminders of how far I've come. My ex-boyfriend Joe, whom I lived with for many years in my twenties, recently shared that one of the things that endeared him to me was that I used to like to smoke Camel Lights and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream at the same time! I mean, come on! That's hilarious - my ersatz version of a menthol - I totally love it. But, I'm just so grateful it would never occur to me to do that now!

So, from what I've learned so far (and I'm sure there's more to come), these are my steps for changing outdated eating habits. I firmly believe that excavating the truth - your personal truth - will truly set you free.

Observe yourself in a loving and kind way, not a critical one.

Get clear on what your triggers are. Be honest with yourself about them and know that it's OK.

See if you can begin to cut your triggers off at the pass by kindly acknowledging how you're feeling in the moment and breathe deeply into your body.

Write about what you're feeling in a journal if you need to.

Begin to take notice of your authentic hunger cues. Let yourself get hungry before you eat and see how that feels.

Observe what foods make you feel good and which ones make you feel bad.

Try removing those foods one at a time (or all at once if you're up to it) for a while and see how you feel.

Find a movement/exercise practice that allows you to get out of your head and into your body.

If any of you are moved or can relate to this in any way, I'd love to hear from you. danajoy at realfoodrehab dot com.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Being A Contribution

Not long ago, I set out to reinvent my life with the sole purpose of being the most authentic version of myself that I could be. In my search, I've found many books that have helped me on my path - books that synchronistically seemed to jump off the library shelves right when I needed them. This book, The Art of Possibilityby Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, created a profound shift in how I view what's possible in my personal life, my relationships and in turning around difficult situations to the best advantage for myself and others.

One of the chapters in the book that had the greatest influence on me was called, Being A Contribution. It opened with this parable:

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them out one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her, "There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?" Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, "It certainly makes a difference to this one."

Reading this chapter was a beautiful wake up call. I recognized that I measure and judge my place in the world far too narrowly: everything is either right or wrong, I am a success or a failure, I am too much or not enough. I am also guilty of occasionally making decisions out of fear based on what other people might think instead of from a place of strong personal belief and integrity. Benjamin Zander, a successful speaker and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, came to the conclusion that instead of measuring his achievements in traditional ways, he could simply declare himself to be a contribution:

"I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, "Is it enough?" and the even more fearful question, " Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?" could both be replaced with the joyful question, "How will I be a contribution today?"

The idea of declaring myself a contribution was liberating. It redirected my way of thinking.
I started to view difficult situations as personal challenges where I had an opportunity to rise to the occasion. I was recently in a work situation that was new and very perplexing. I was mired in negativity about finding a solution to a big problem. I was feeling like a victim and wanted to blame others for my predicament. But then I realized I wanted to resolve this with integrity and for me, that means not finding fault and blaming others but taking personal responsibility. So, I asked myself, "What is the best contribution I can make to this situation?" I visualized a happy outcome for all without having expectations about how it might unfold. I held the tension of not having answers but believing I could find one and ultimately, I did.

Frankly, I am tired of seeing the negative in every situation and of hearing myself say the words, "I can't." (again, fear talking). I knew at my core, that's not who I am or who I want to be in the world. When pressed in dilemma, when I think I have no options, I remember there is always another way and that's the perfect time to declare myself a contribution.

"Naming oneself and others as a contribution produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is an arena for making a difference. Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring kind, though less predictable than the trio of money, fame and power that accrue to the winner in the success game. You never know what they will be, or from whence they come."

Excerpted directly from the book, here are steps to The Practice of Becoming a Contribution:

1. Declare yourself to be a contribution.

2. Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why.

"When you play the contribution game, it is never a single individual who is transformed. Transformation overrides the divisions of identity and possession that are the architecture of the measurement model, recasting the tight pattern of scarcity into a widespread array of abundance."

We all desire abundance. Whether it's financial freedom, friendships, love or creative flow. What if abundance wasn't simply about "me, me, me - that's mine." The scarcity mentality thinks "I can't share this because then there won't be enough for me." The idea that no matter how much we have, there is never enough. That is surely fear talking; we've all experienced it but it is simply not true. I have lived with this mentality my whole life. It has been passed down from generation to generation in my family and I am committed to ending its legacy for good.

I'm going to end with another parable from the book that speaks to possibility and to our "limited understanding of the nature of the gifts the universe holds in store for us."

Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, "Where, where?" but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm had its best harvest ever.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feasting On Art

I recently discovered this incredible blog, Feasting on Art. Its proprietress, Megan Fizell, has combined her passion for food, art and photography and created a unique genre all her own: She creates culinary masterpieces inspired by classic and contemporary works of art, many of them still lifes.

Piet Mondrian, Composition No. 8, 1939-42
Oil on canvas, 74 x 68 cm, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth

Mondrian's Pound Cake (click for recipe)

Megan is educated as an art historian and currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia. I love the way she describes the original works - for me, it's like getting a double major in art history and culinary education at the same time. Moreover, her site is so visually and sensually exciting - a very inspired place to visit so I hope you will check it out. Below, is my interview with Megan. She also shares her culinary experiences in Sydney, a place I dream about living someday...

How do you describe Feasting on Art?

Feasting on Art is an innovative translation from painting to plate. Taking cues from the ingredients depicted in each work, recipes are composed to reflect the artist's creativity. As a broad survey of both the role of food in the history of art and the gastronomic traditions of the culinary arts, the blog acts as a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

Can you describe your day job and how Feasting on Art intersects with that? How do the two inform one another?

By working at an art gallery I am exposed to new and exciting art on a daily basis in the gallery collection and by the Sydney scene in general. I used one painting on the blog that was sold at the gallery many years ago by Weaver Hawkins.

Your recipes and images aren't literal, but inspired by the original work. Can you describe your process?

The process varies depending on the painting but generally I start with an artwork I find interesting and want to learn more about. I have a large archive of paintings I hope to study and find myself picking art based on the season. I am currently in the middle of a series about Frida Kahlo who created bright and vibrant paintings - perfect for our hot Sydney summer. Sometimes I find beautiful produce at the market and then search for a matching painting to research. Those posts are much harder for obvious reasons.

Frida Kahlo, Still Life, 1942
oil on copper, 64.5 cm diameter, Museo Frida Kahlo, Mexico City

Are these your proprietary recipes?

It depends on the specific recipe - I alternate between adapting recipes by other authors and creating my own. I cite the recipe's original source if adapting so unless otherwise noted the work is my own.

What is your cooking background? How often do you cook for yourself and others?

Up until my move to London my kitchen skills were very limited. I had a very inspiring roommate who introduced me to cooking as a creative outlet. I am self-taught and spend each Sunday testing new recipes. I cook for the blog on Mondays so that I can photograph the food in the fantastic natural light in my flat. When entertaining friends for dinner I often make chipotle chicken enchiladas and a berry lemon cream cheese pie for dessert.

Edouard Manet, The Ham, 1875
oil on canvas, 13 x 16 cm, The Glasgow Museum

I love how much I learn about art and artists on your site. Tell me more about your fascination with still lifes.

Still life paintings are the meeting place of my two passions, food and art. The paintings are so much more than a depiction of a pile of foodstuffs, often the works are saturated with iconography. Food is central to culture - illustrated by it's continual presence in the visual arts.

Can you describe what it's like to be food-obsessed in Sydney, Australia? What are your favorite places to eat?

For me Australia is a small slice of heaven. I can get my greedy little hands on beautiful tropical fruits including my favorite, lady finger bananas, as well as incredibly fresh seafood. I have been in Sydney for less than a year so I am still in the exploration stage of the food scene here. There are so many restaurants on my list to try that I haven't had the chance to go back to the few places where I've had really memorable meals. One of them was at Buon Ricordo in Paddington. While photographing a friend's wedding reception I sampled one of the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth cuts of beef that I ever had. This was proceeded by the restaurant's famous dish,
Fettuccine al Tartufovo described as a fettuccine with cream and Parmesan, topped with a fried truffle egg that is brought to the table and mixed in front of you in all of it's velvety rich glory. I have Buon Ricardo to thank for my current arancini infatuation. Before that fateful meal I had never even heard of the dish and now it seems, wherever I dine, the deep fried risotto balls are popping up on every menu. Last week I had a variety with spinach and parmesan at the North Bondi Italian restaurant below the RSL. Perfect with a squeeze of lemon.

The only restaurant I'm a regular at is a little place in Chinatown on Thomas Street. Sadly, I don't even know the name (if it even has one). It is one of those places that you are brought to, I would never have gone otherwise. It is a small room rented out in a large building that is always full of customers. People sit on whatever they can find including overturned milk crates. You order while you wait and mill about out front with the other 15 or so customers until the waitress calls you over. As you squeeze between the tables, you arrive at a table already laden with food. Everything I've had there has been delicious - thick homemade noodles with a sour-sweet sauce, floury pancakes with moreish meat filling that I spoon onto anything I can get my hands on, as well as the best hot & sour soup with thick meaty strips of black Chinese mushrooms. The decor is wonderfully bizarre, yarn tapestries of cows and fake plastic grape vines that hide the ceiling. I have a fondness for kitsch and appreciate that it provides a little clue for finding this hidden gem. Lastly, I love the restaurant Svens, a Swedish wood-fire pizzeria. My favorite pizza is called Ragnarök - "Judgement Day", complete with chorizo, smoked ham, pancetta, pepperoni and chili creme - so delicious!

You're experiencing summer right now, and I am so jealous. What foods are exciting you? Can you describe it in detail and make all of our mouths water - we're in winter's dark trenches so please share anything you've got!

Image top left, Frida Kahlo, Lágrimas de coco (Coconut Tears),1951
Oil on masonite, 22.8 x 29.8 cm, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I traveled to New Zealand during Christmas break and while walking along the harbour I found half a coconut on the rocks. To me, a girl from Flint, Michigan, the idea of a coconut washing up onto the shore was utterly romantic and for this reason the first post of the new year featured coconuts. To combat the summer heat I selected a smooth coconut milk ice cream - the combination of flavours couldn't be tastier: sweet coconut milk, sour lime juice and spicy ginger, with thick slices of caramelized papaya.

More on Megan Fizell: Here is a great piece on Megan's Top Ten Favorite Things on the blog, Parliament of Two.