I’m just a little bit in love with all the people I cook for.

If I’m going to cook for somebody I have to step up to the plate. It’s like the movies–if you didn’t believe Clooney loved the girl it wouldn’t work. Clooney has to love her.

The morning of every job I press my whites to stiffness, scrub myself, push my hair into a manageable twist and get ready to give everything I’ve got to make sure the food is delicious.

Last night: bruschette w/President butter and paper thin radishes w/sea salt and smoked salmon. Homemade piadine that I made with the rendered fat from slab bacon, stuffed with dressed arugula leaves and tiny lardon.
For the first: i Gnudi.
We could have stopped right there. 3 bundles of fresh baby spinach leaves (15 oz) sauteed in butter w/sprigs of marjoram and then squeezed until you can’t squeeze anymore. Chop it up. Add 3 egg yolks, a cup of whole milk ricotta, a flurry of nutmeg–I always have a nutmeg and grater in my bag; you never know–salt, pepper, and a handful of Parmigiano Reggiano. Add 1/3 cup of flour and not one bit more.
Drop walnut sized balls of the spinach mix into a pan of sifted flour and shift it around in your hand so that the flour clings to the outsides. Brown the best butter you can get your hands on with fresh sage leaves. Boil the gnudi in small batches until they float to the top of a pan of boiling water. Remove to plate, and then toss them when they’re all ready together, with the sage butter.
For the main: fresh artichoke hearts tossed w/fingerling potatoes and leeks w/a marinated (dijon, a lovely olive oil, lemon zest, heads of garlic, leeks, bay leaf, thyme sprig, parsley sprig and teeny weeny bit of peppercorns) and seared chicken breast roasted on the bone, and then bones pulled off before slicing/serving. Not too early in the season for cherry tomatoes to be made into confit to sit on top.
For the salad: pan fried asparagus w/arugula leaves, nicoise olives, shavings of parmesan and crostini.
Dessert just kept coming. We started with sorbet. Strawberries smelled like red sugar; I smashed a pound and a half of them with a sugar syrup of 4 T’s water and 3/4 cup of water and then added 2 teaspoons of syrupy sweet aged balsamic (if you need the stuff to be thicker/sweeter, reduce it for a minute in a sauce pan.) Squeeze in the juice from half a lemon or more. Taste for sugar and acid. Pour it into a shallow pan and this is the best part, stir it with a spoon every 30 minutes 3 times. After the second time, puree the whole thing until smooth and creamy. I made brutti ma buoni, a bowl of cut fruit, a plate of enormous black grapes and tiny saucers of passed sweets: French glazed prunes, miniature coconut cubes and candied ginger.
You can’t help but hug somebody after that.

Hold (onto) the zucchini

Not all men are the same, not all dirt is the same, not all haircuts are the same, and not all zucchini are the same.
What they have in common:

1. You can’t leave any of them in the bottom of a refrigerator drawer and expect them to improve.
2. If you start with quality, you won’t be as tempted to leave them in a refrigerator drawer.
3. Improvements can be made

My man started out fine and remains fine. The dirt out back was a bleak misery but has been nurtured, cuddled and caressed back to life w/fat juicy worms and compost. The haircut isn’t working flat out. Cutting my hair w/whatever scissors I can find in the junk drawer is over.
I have never met a good zucchini in this country. They are either bitter and nasty or bland and tasteless. I buy them because I hope in vain that they’ll be everything I know they can be and then leave them to whither because I know they’ll do nothing but leave me wanting.
Yesterday though, I won the battle. I sliced 3 cloves of hefty garlic cloves into paper thin slivers and sizzled them up in olive oil with flat leaf parsley. I peeled two strips of lemon zest from the pith underneath and threw that in with a few red pepper flakes. 3 zucchini in a small chop. Salt and pepper and then SUGAR! Only a little a bit, only a tiny scream of it, plus a solid squeeze of lemon juice gave me enough agrodolce zing zang to make the zucchini worth eating. I pounded a few tablespoons of pignoli w/sea salt, ripped arugula leaves from the garden and tore them up. When hardly half a box of orchiette were al dente, I added them to the zucchini w/the pignoli, the arugula leaves, a few tablespoons of the pasta’s cooking water and a good handful of parm. regiano.

Radishes I dug up from the dirt and green olives

Ferdinand had a flow of snacks–a cut up orange, a cut up apple, “Tings”, a glass of milk, a two egg omelet, a carrot, a dish of peanuts and then we pogo sticked it down the piers; he crashed a private party and won a pat and ball and giant bubbles but was found out before he could enter the race to win a fruit basket.
“Why don’t you have a job at the Blood Bank? Then I could have won that thing.”
We came back home for chicken soup made from the bones and bits of meat still clinging to them for Ferd and hot pink radishes that I pulled up from the black dirt of the garden to chew on with a side of picholine for me.
Jonny brought home a bottle of Rose from somewhere in the Loire Valley to celebrate his brand new sky blue 1966 MG arriving in tact if not a bit scratched up, from Alabama. I can’t remember what he ate.

Passed hors d’oeuvres

Not everybody eats when the food is served.
Because I am in love with it, obsessed with it, hunger for it, long for it, dream about it..I can’t say I understand on a cellular level, but as a cook I know it to be true.
Actors at an after party will be ready with their own fork before the show is over and will eat everything on the table, plus any Hostess Pies you have tucked into the glovebox for the ride home. Young men at a plated dinner party will follow you into the kitchen a breath behind you and the last chop on the table and ever so sweetly with their head tilted and their napkin ready to ask you to come back with more. The very old will taste just about anything but are happiest to get back home, the very young will either eat more than a grown and and actively competing olympian, or nothing. Women at a party will eat with abandon only if they are happy and know the crowd and other women are eating.
It’s not an easy business. If the menu is passed hors d’oeuvres and the dress is business casual, count on 2 1/2 pieces per person and expect that you will have enough left over to feed you family for at least two days.
On the menu:

Chicken marinated with cloves of garlic, thyme sprigs, parsley, cilantro, fresh ginger, slivers of lime, and olive oil, roasted at 400 til just done, cut into chunks and served on a slice of green apple, garnished with a south indian coconut curry dipping sauce (saute 1 onion til delicious with 1 clove garlic and knob of ginger; add pepperoncino, and enough to fit in the palm of your hand when you cup it of each: cumin, coriander, cardamom, and a bit more of fennel–smash all of those in a mortar and pestle–add a can of Thai coconut milk and let it simmer. Taste for salt and lemon juice.)

Seared tuna sliver topped w/tomato chutney of canned, seeded smushed tomatoes, sauteed onion, fresh ginger, parsley, thyme, coriander seed, pepperoncino and finished w/bit of butter and squeeze of orange and lemon

Flank steak cut on the bias and then into bite size bits garnished w/lime, ginger, soy mayo (be sure to use best quality olive oil when you make this or if you don’t have use grapeseed oil. You don’t want the oil to overpower) After steak is seared on both sides, rest on wooden spoons and rub w/chile pepper, thyme sprigs and give a squeeze of lemon

Tiny crab cakes made with fresh lump crab, 1 egg per pound, dollop of homemade mayo, bit of chive, shallot, fresh thyme and parsley and the outsides only dusted w/flour. 1 hour in the fridge, then saute in butter and olive oil.

Braised then roasted Cauliflower flowerets onion, shallot, cumin and crushed almond (thank you Mr. Oliver)

Bowls of cherry tomatoes and cut radishes

Bowls of homemade shoestring potato straws w/sea salt and rubbed lemon zest

Dates stuffed w/ever so slightly sweeteened mascarpone, lemon zest

Pass the trays w/loads of love and encouragement of a good appetite

The crackhead cook on youtube

When I was 9 I smoked a cigarette with Susan B. and loved it so much I took up the habit the only way a nine year old can with no means. If I was at Susan B.’s on a Saturday, she had the cigarettes, and I smoked them. I loved them so much that it made me pause. I didn’t live in the suburbs; I lived in what people from the suburbs call “the inner city” and in the “inner city” they showed you a video every couple of months about what a nearly perfectly good person looks like before drugs and what their sorry self looks like after. They put up posters of chain smoking grandmothers no older than 35 and with no teeth to make the message clear–if you start smoking now, tomorrow nobody is going to be looking for you and your needle in the gutter. There won’t be a desk for you in the fifth grade, because you won’t be needing one. I took it to heart and crushed out my last cigarette and a career as an addict. I never, not one time after that took a puff or a pill or a hit of anything. I can safely say I was the biggest prude going and would be the last person you would want to ask advice for about cooking up some crack.
When I was a senior in high school I wore my hair long and skinny no name jeans that I bought with the money I’d been making since I was 12 babysitting other people’s children and cleaning their houses in that way that you can when you’re not allowed out on a Saturday until you need dark glasses to dull the shine coming up off of the toilets and the floors.
I woke up at 5 o’clock to do my homework, went downstairs to make my breakfast and pack my lunch and was at school by 7:15 to do more homework, shoot the breeze with Nilsa and pray that Jacques from Portugal would walk past me in a hallway so that I could lock my vision on a wall, internally hyperventilate with undying love and become mute in a panic that he might say something that required a response. By one I was on a bus to work slapping out frozen yogurts with enough toppings to get skin and bone secretaries through to dinner and then I was back on a bus to ballet where I would dance until it was time to get home before it was too late to go to bed. Funny enough, if I forgot myself and didn’t walk a straight line with my eyes on the floor when I made my way into the cafeteria but got carried away with the freedom of life in that moment of no more latin, no more algebra, no more english literature for 22 minutes and my body fell into the chasse` that I did over and over and over on any given night on sweaty linoleum in front of a fogged mirror to whatever was being banged out on the the piano after after serving yogurt and before bed BUT NOT IN A CAFETERIA, I would inevitably hear, “Are You on Drugs?” from an ever present Greek chorus at the ready to notice things like that and if your socks matched.
So funny enough there is a video now on youtube of “cook on crack” and it’s me. Not on crack at all actually.
HAH!
Still not drugs. Just a mother and a cook and a wife with a will to live without looking at the floor. All of this does make me think of that one poster that they also hung up with the fried egg.
I like my fried eggs crispy on the outside and runny on the inside. Especially over perfectly poached asparagus all silky with Irish butter and a shower of sea salt still grey with specks of unknown but entirely acceptable bits.

The makeover

If I put both of my hands flat on my face and pull to the side, it’s an improvement. If I wore jeans with an elastic panel that worked in sort of an opposite way to the ones you get when you’re pregnant, that it would do wonders for the sad situation around my navel.
The problem is, I went through major surgery before I hit twenty and I can’t get a tooth pulled without going under, so I’ve had enough of getting cut up and makeover favorites like pinning up eyelids or casting a stomach into the concrete flat slab I dream of is hard for me to get whooped up about.
Every once in a while I think about my hair or flap on some mascara or if the weather is exactly right and matches up with remembering to buy razors, I’ll wear a skirt, but the truth is I struggle thinking about what I look like.
What gets me really breathing hard is making happen what moves me.
I was schooled at the academy of Nice At Any Price, so for a long time I had no clue. When I left home I was a “yes” girl, a “sure, no problem” girl and it didn’t matter if you were asking me to move over or work 12 weeks of consecutive double shifts wearing tight toed boots in a questionable restaurant or give up me all together for everything that was you because that’s what I thought I wanted.
But because of cramps I changed.
Now it’s clear as a cow bell who I am and what I want to do and who I love and what I love and I want to build a fire under each of all of it.

I want to speak more Italian and I want to get more people to love food the way I do, I want my boy to love his life the way I love mine.

For dinner tonight I’m making chicken soup with the leftover bits of the chicken I roasted last night with lemon and pearl onions and rosemary. On the side I’m going to do thin strips of zucchini dipped in egg and flour and then fried a little of the best olive oil I have and then wrapped around an olive or a bit of cheese along with some spicy greens.

On moving

On Saturday I went with Ferd to Rockaway, three blocks from the ocean, to walk on the beach and sit on the front porch with my friend Liz. She made us pasta w/roasted and smashed butternut squash and grilled shrimp w/roasted cherry tomatoes and feta and we sipped on seltzer and iced tea and soaked up the sunshine and talked until the sun couldn’t stay up anymore. When Mr. Softee rolled around the corner on the dot of when he always rolls around the corner, Liz’s husband Rob bought us and every kid on the block ice creams and then we went home.
Ferdinand told me he needed to move to Rockaway. He loved the kids and you could run from one yard to the other, and why wouldn’t I move? Why couldn’t I get a job that would buy a house with a yard and a beach? I told him we could visit. “Every day he asked me? Are you going to visit every day? No, you’re not.”
It can be a challenge to have a nine-years-old-and-relentless interrogator in the back seat when you’re fighting one lane traffic on the BQE.
I was as thoughtful and considerate as I could be until I ran out of thoughtful and considerate and then brought back my mother, may she rest in peace: “I’m driving!”
On Sunday we went to my friend Kostas’ in Chappaqua. He had a whole lamb marinated in fresh garlic and lemon and rosemary, turning on a spit. We sat on the back porch and ate and ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. Ferdinand ran from yard to yard, ran through a sprinkler, popped balloons, jumped with 8 on a trampoline meant for 3, looked for eggs in hedges, in the flowers, on the very tip top of the jungle gym, ate delicious food and soul satisfying desserts and grabbed cold sodas from a cooler in an all day chase out the backdoor and in the front.
On the way home he told me if I wanted to know what would make him happy, it was Chappaqua. If I wanted to make him happy, we would move to Chappaqua.
He had done his research before he left. “I asked Kostas if I could move in with him and he said yes. Alexander said he wants a little brother and I was born one day before he was. He’s older than me. I love Jennine.”
“Ferdinand” I told him, “I can’t live in the suburbs. I am a big city girl, a millions of people from every corner of the earth, loads of noise and traffic a booty shake away and hand pulled noodles from the north of China any time of day you want them kind of girl. I need to know I can wear blinking orange headlights draped around my neck with a purple bodysuit underneath and fake roses in my teeth and my neighbors will keep snoozing with their eyes open on the train.”
“I have never seen you wear that.”
“In eight years you can move wherever you want. You can move to Chappaqua or Rockaway and love it like you should, but I’m not moving.”
“On Saturday” he said, “I’m going to put my money in my pocket and stand in the street until somebody gives me a ride.”

The problem is we are cut from the same piece of purple spandex. Getting Ferdinand to do anything but what he’s set his mind to once he’s decided is fruitful like trying to get Lady Liberty to get her left arm up instead of her right. She’s not going to do it.

Dinner w/the kids

Why we do the things we do has as many layers as the earth’s crust.
Most parents say they want to eat dinner with their kids, but what can feel
like the truth isn’t actually the truth or at least not all the time.
Inviting kids to dinner can feel necessary, since they are your kids, but
on a lot nights it might be nicer to have someone to the table who said
“Fine thank you,” along with a few choice tidbits when you asked them how
their day was instead of, “Why are you asking me??!!!”
Or a guest that at the first smell of dinner cooking comes into the kitchen
and asks, “anything I can do?” instead of “Oh my God I hate that! are you
going to make me eat that? I can,t eat that!”
We love our new guests, we would throw ourselves into oncoming traffic to
save our new guests, but they might keep us late at the office without
realizing how many times a week we,re late or make us professionals at
making dinner, getting it on the table and clearing it up in under half an
hour without asking/wanting help, thank you very much, because
I-have-my-system-and-I,m-tired-of-fighting.

Dinner w/ the Kids

Cheese and crackers

On Easter:
toasted almonds w/lemon zest, fresh thyme, whole cloves of garlic, a tiny bit of sugar and salt
pan seared asparagus carbonara tossed w/ penne and finished w/fried basil and parmigiano reggiano
tiny seared lamb chops w/rosemary and garlic and side of roasted new potatoes, fresh artichoke,&leeks and lentils w/red onion sauteed w/fresh mint
my grandmother’s cheesecake

Last night:
leftover lentils and a hardboiled egg w/a side of noodles for Ferd
two crackers w/cheese and the rest of a bag of chips for me

The Top Ten

My friend Liz and I went out to lunch yesterday at Prune in the East Village. I love my friend Liz like crazy and I hardly ever see her. She lives about half an hour from me. Every once in a while we push, shove everything to the side and hurl ourselves to a restaurant or park bench and eat lunch. Otherwise I would never see her. There’s a lot of things like that–they mean a lot to you, and it feels like there’s a wall of China between you and making it happen, but the truth is, if you just change your schedule for a minute, or find a space you know for sure is legal, you can spend your money on new underwear instead of a parking ticket.

I ordered a skate wing w/capers and lemon and for dessert we split churros w/warm dark chocolate for dipping and she told me that she had recently made a list of the 25 things you would do if time and money were no issue. Number three on her list: knitting Who would make it to 50 she said and not know how to knit if knitting were number three on The List? She took a few lessons, bought some yarn and is now flying at making baby blankets, fingerless gloves and sweaters.
“I could knit you a three family home. I could knit you a whole new head of hair. I can do anything.”
It got me thinking. What’s my List?

1. I have another friend who lives in LA whom I miss like a right arm. I need to see her more. There is a book called the Happiness Project that says one hour of sleep is worth $60,000 to people on the happiness scale. I would rather see my friends than win the super ball or whatever that lotto is called.

2. I want Ferdinand to go to a school he’ll be happy at and thrive in

3. I want a bicycle helmet

4. I would love to not have a dusty, disorganized house and I would love to not be the one cleaning it. Ever. I hate cleaning, I am terrible at it, and I’ve done my time.

5. I want a paid creative staff for dinnerlist.com

6. I want a paid production team for dinner confidential

7. I want to learn more Italian

8. I want to have more people for dinner. (I get really nervous inviting people over–I worry that my house isn’t clean enough–the truth is it’s not that bad if you shove everything in the cabinets and they’re only here for a limited amount of time, what do they care?)

9. I want to have potlucks

10. I want to learn to be a relaxed mother (I’m not sure there’s hope for this but I’m writing it down anyway.)

10a. I wish I had a new skirt and underwear a person could be proud of