Design Mom » Raleigh-Elizabeth The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Tue, 28 Jun 2016 13:15:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Vermont Sail Freight Project Thu, 14 Nov 2013 15:30:12 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

the vermont sail freight project brings food down the husband by sailboat and into new york harbors. great slow food mission.

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image from the Vermont Sail Freight Project

My New Year’s resolution for 2008 was to go carbon neutral. I did my best to cut down on my carbon footprint, and what I couldn’t eliminate (it does get chilly in New York and I am Southern and therefore perpetually chilled), I compensated with carbon offsets. I bought as much food as I could at the farmer’s market (including flour, which up until then I didn’t realize you could buy there) and lived as local a life as possible. This went great — really, really great — until about March.

And then I flew to Prague and the whole thing fell to pieces. In Budapest I ate tomatoes flown in from Spain. In Vienna I went out for Thai and gulped down a Singha. Back in New York, I failed to pay for any trip offsets (plane fuel, it turns out, is really quite expensive to both buy and offset) and then, sin of all sins, I went to the grocery store, bought some veggies from Mexico, cooked up a box of mac and cheese with some Goya black beans, and watched a Masterpiece Mystery marathon.

My carbon zero project was pretty much an abject failure.

Enter: The Vermont Sail Freight Project.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project centers around the Ceres, a humble little sailboat that hails from (shockingly) Vermont, and sails from the chilly North with a farmer’s haul of produce from local, family-owned farms. It heads down the Champlain and the Hudson brings their bounty all the way to New York harbors where (also not so shockingly) thrilled New Yorkers get to buy delicious foods and into the neat project.

It’s all very old school and everyone including the New Yorker has already waxed poetic about it, so I’ll leave that to those far more skilled than I. What I will say is that I think that food tastes better when it hasn’t spent the majority of its life on I-95 in the back of a metal 18-wheeler, and I don’t think that’s asking too much.

Modernization is a wonderful thing. I love that I can fly to Prague, I love that I can sip a Singha in Vienna, and I love that I can eat avocados in November, even when there’s a surprise snowfall in North Carolina. But more than that, I love good food, good communities, and good missions.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve recently started my list of Thanks for later this month. I’m thankful for all of those things. I’m thankful for all of you (you’re wonderful readers and I have learned so much from all the conversations we’ve had so far). And I’m thankful for projects like this. Projects that connect us back to our food and remind us, once again, how not-simple all of our food consumption is.

As anyone who has ever tried to grow an herb can attest: Food is hard work. Getting it to us in good condition is even harder. And being part of the force that supports our farmers, honors our earth, and feeds our souls? That is hardest of all.

So for every little bit of that, I’m thankful. For the little Ceres, for its concept, crew, community, and the conversation it sparks. They’re like the little boat that could: Let’s hope more and more just like it pop up, and let’s support them every step of the way.

P.S: My husband says this makes me sound crunchy. I’m not really. I’m just a normal person who really, really loves food. And I think you are, too. Tell me: What do you do to try to connect yourself more to your food? Do you eat local? Grow your own? Just dream about it?

P.P.S: Thanks to all who weighed in about us moving to St. Pete. It’s so beautiful there! We can’t wait to call you neighbors. Come over for dinner!

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Chocolat Thu, 07 Nov 2013 15:30:32 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

four great truffles to make this holiday season

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Pistachio and Cardamom Truffle how-to from Buttercream & Roses, one of the most beautifully photographed food blogs out there.

Yesterday, my manly-man Marine husband turned to me in the kitchen and said, with what can only be described as childlike glee, “It’s almost time for Christmas movies!” While he proceeded to start quoting Christmas Vacation to our clueless four-month-old son, I started thinking about Rudolph, Frosty, and Chocolat.

Yep, Chocolat.

If you haven’t seen it, Chocolat is a fantastic movie about a young mother and her daughter who open a chocolate shop in small French town and shake up the status quo. It’s a precious watch and very belly-warming (which is like what Eat, Pray, Love should have been, because the “Eat” part of the book was really my favorite). After all, Chocolat has a great many things going for it. France! A cute child! A love story! French accents! Chocolates!

Note: If, like I, you think Chocolat is a slightly bizarre holiday movie selection, know you are not alone. Time Warner Cable sometimes has a lot of explaining to do. But when it comes to chocolate, should we ever look a gift horse in the mouth? I say no.

But I was not always a chocolate person. In those dark days before I’d come to my senses, smelled the chocolate, and seen the light, I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. Strawberries are delicious without chocolate. I can do without a Kit Kat. Why have a brownie when you can have a pie?

And then I discovered Vosges.

Vosges is a high to-do chocolatier based in Chicago (Edit: I was originally told by a saleswoman at a New York store that it was a New York company. Clearly, she felt that New York could only be bestowed the title of Best City Ever if Vosges called it home. Sadly for New York at least, she was mistaken. Ladies and Gentlemen, that award – today at least – goes straight to Chicago!) that specializes in what they call “haut chocolate.” It’s fancy schmancy, there’s no way around it, but it’s also not exactly chocolate. It’s an experience.

I got my first bar of Vosges chocolate at Garden of Eden, my former neighborhood grocer. The label was exotic: succulent red, rich brown, empty white. It pictured a cinnamon stick, a crushed pepper, and a square of chocolate that, to this uninitiated cocophile, looked like everything chocolate was supposed to be. And it was called the Red Fire Bar. Now, we all know I’m the kind of person who waxes poetic about food, but this was chocolate. And there was no reason for me to wax poetic about it, especially when I was standing there holding a fresh baguette and some good camembert. I could take or leave the chocolate.

But that label jumped out at me, and it was enough to have me imagining Rudyard Kipling nibbling on this chocolate. I could almost hear him saying Din! Din! Din! through the wrapper.

I obviously had to buy it.

The very next day, I went back for two more. The day after after that, more still. There were blood orange caramel chocolates, bacon and chocolate bars, chocolates with toffee and caramel and pink Himalayan sea salt. Soon, I had become a chocolate person and I hadn’t even realized it. I started amassing delicious-sounding chocolate bars to share with my friends and family and any students that wandered into my office (I worked at Columbia at the time).

I had chocolates to taste in small portion and chocolates to savor at dessert. I had truffles to bring to friends and bars to included in care packages and then, one day, eating the inordinately delicious dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels you can get in the bakery section of Whole Foods, I had an epiphany: If I am going to be one of those people who loves chocolate and consumes it like it’s her life’s purpose, well, then I ought to at least try to make it.

And that’s when I discovered that the only thing more fun than eating delicious chocolate is inventing and making it.

My first batch of truffles (pineapple, oolong, chocolate with some coconut on top) were nothing to write home about (no one could taste the oolong and the pineapple became gummy), but much like my love of chocolate itself, taste by taste, they’ve gotten addictive.

Chocolate truffles are great this time of year because little is more festive as a hostess present than a small box of homemade truffles. These bourbon truffles from Southern Living are really fantastic (and not too bourbony), and I also really like these pistachio and cardamom truffles, which are just the right amount of fancy (doesn’t that sound fancy?) and the right amount of “Hey! That was easy! Let’s do it again!” These earl grey and vanilla bean truffles are perfect for your tea-loving friend, and who doesn’t want some chocolate pomegranate truffles?

Make some chocolates for your next dinner party. Take them to coffee hour at church on Sunday. Spice up the annual Cookie Exchange with a little truffle curfuffle. But whatever you do, give them a shot. The world is a better place with chocolate in it, and we’re supposed to be the good we want to see in this world, right? Clearly, that makes it our job to make more chocolate. Delicious, fantastic chocolate.

Tell me: Do you like chocolate too? What’s your favorite thing to do with it? (Recipe sharing welcome!)

P.S. — Here’s a helpful (and beautiful!) Guide to Tasting Fine Chocolate if you need any more encouragement.

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Pumpkin Soup Thu, 31 Oct 2013 13:00:06 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

pumpkin soup/gratin makes a great fall dinner (or appetizer with friends!)

By Raleigh-Elizabeth.

Supper is our favorite Halloween tradition. That’s really saying something, since we’re the crafty sort of people who start making our costumes before summer is even over and have been planning our son’s first Halloween costume since before he was even born. (We’re doing a Jurassic Park theme this year, and he’s a baby dinosaur. I’ve been working hard on his baby triceratops costume for awhile, and I think it’s come together pretty well! I just hope I finish before tomorrow.)

We love the whole trick-or-treating concept (and trunk-or-treating, our church’s version) and being neighborly with friends while watching the little ones have too much fun, too late at night, and with too much candy. We enjoy all of these things, but we don’t like them nearly as much as we love Halloween supper. And that’s because on Halloween, we eat our supper straight out of a pumpkin.

This annual feast began a few years ago, back when I lived in New York and my husband, Bill, made the trek up to see me from Marine Corps Base Quantico as often as possible. No matter what, he made it for Halloween. Halloween in New York is unlike Halloween anywhere else and worth experiencing like a local at least once in your life. The whole city seems to celebrate it, and watching children file in and out of all the neighborhood stores on Broadway only heightens the communal enthusiasm.

As a childless adult living in a building that was as childless too, I had to look for Halloween goodness elsewhere. I found it in Ruth Reichl’s pumpkin soup. It’s really more like a gratin: Cheesy, bready, pumpkiny deliciousness baked and presented rather gloriously in the gourd itself.

Ruth’s original recipe calls for heavy cream, toasted baguette, and a good swiss to be layered together in a hallowed-out pumpkin and baked for two hours at 300 degrees. After making it the first time, we decided to slightly alter the recipe to ensure we didn’t celebrate our next Halloween in a clogged artery-enduced grave. Now we use chicken broth and whole milk in the place of the cream, and it works like a charm.

The basics are pretty easy: Hollow out a flat-bottomed food pumpkin (an important note, because if you use a Jack-o-Lantern pumpkin, as we once did purely by mistake, it’s not delicious, not at all) and toast up a good baguette. Don’t use whole wheat. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t work as well.

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and, while the oven warms up, layer the toast and cheese inside the pumpkin. Fill it all the way up to the top. There is no such thing as too much cheese! Or toast! Or cheesy pumpkin toast!

Now for the liquid, you can do as Ruth does and go for the heavy cream, or you can substitute as you see fit. We’ve found about a cup and a half of liquid does the job for one small pumpkin, and we use an even split between milk and chicken stock. Add a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the mix, and pour it over the cheese and bread.

Put the lid on the pumpkin and gently brush the pumpkin with a little oil. It helps it stay pretty when it bakes.

As for cheeses, we do a mix of Emmental and Gruyer with a little brie layered in for fun, which gives it a rich, creamy depth the heavy cream never did. As you scoop the soup/gratin out, you pull the pumpkin flesh with it, and the whole thing is just sumptuous. We serve it with crispy fried sage and, when I really have my act together, candied bacon.

An equally delicious and more savory variation would be to use blue cheese in the place of brie and sourdough instead of baguette, and I can’t help thinking that the crunch of pepitas would add a welcomed fanfare on top or maybe some pistachios.

While we largely pass up the candy at this point (except Swedish Fish and Mike and Ikes, which I consume in quantities that would make my dentist squirm), this pumpkin feast is one we look forward to every year as our big treat on Halloween. As much as Jack-o-Lanterns on our front porch and welcoming the neighbors’ kids in costume, our meal-in-a-pumpkin has come to mark Halloween for us. It’s an ooey, gooey ode to fall, and one I can’t wait to dig into tonight.

Tell me: What do you fix for dinner on Halloween night? Do you have anything special planned tonight?

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Do I Really Need… A Kitchen Table? Thu, 24 Oct 2013 14:30:43 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

kitchen tables at

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Gorgeous DIY farmhouse table from iheartnaptime.  

When we moved into our current house, I struggled with where to put our dining table… and our kitchen table. This house has an open floor plan, and we have two wonderful tables. Both are pretty, old wood — a formal mahogany dining table, and a massive vintage oak table my husband convinced me would be perfect in its already-heavily-loved state. “You need some place to do all your projects,” he reasoned, “and someplace where I’m not worried about putting down something hot. And we need someplace where the kiddo can do his homework while we cook dinner. We’re kitchen people. We need a good kitchen table.”

We are kitchen people. We really, really are. In our current kitchen, we have a small sofa, a ghost chair, a really comfortable club chair that’s actually this chair from Ikea with a good upholstery job. We spend easily nine tenths of our time at home in the kitchen (if not more). We love the kitchen. It’s our favorite room in the house. Like I said, we are Kitchen People.

But we’re also Formal Dining Room People. We love the whole show of it. The candles, the pretty china, the routine of celebration and feeling like this meal is something special. But all meals are really something special, even if only in their everyday regularity, and more importantly, we couldn’t fit both tables in our small, open floor plan space. So the conundrum became: Which table do we keep?

I lobbied hard for the dining table (Christmas! Thanksgiving! Sunday dinner! This is why God made coasters!), but in the end, my beloved formal table has had its leaves removed, it moved upstairs, and it currently houses a lamp, a vase of flowers, and a small stack of books. We’re down to just the kitchen table.

And I’ve never been happier.

A kitchen table is the lifeblood of the family. It’s the center of domestic attention. It’s where the magic happens. And if it isn’t, it should be.

Once upon a time, I read this fabulous Ode to a Kitchen Table (a marvelous rhyme of devotion) and had a flashback to my earliest, happiest childhood memories: Mornings at our kitchen table. The smell of coffee drifting upstairs to my bedroom, the low drum of NPR downstairs, the padding of slippers down the back stairs, and slumping quietly into my chair, knowing that my dad would take care of everything. Toast, problems with friends, trouble with conjugations, all of it. Breakfast at that kitchen table was what made whatever I ate the breakfast of champions.

It makes you wonder how I ever thought I should fight for the dining table, doesn’t it?

So we’ve found a happy medium. Our kitchen table, which seats eight without its leaf and takes up the single largest space in our house, is covered in remnant pock-marks of glue, glitter, and Prismacolor markers. It has scratches from a life we don’t even know about and a few we caused ourselves. It is also home to our fancy silver candlesticks, which are hand-me-downs from several generations ago, and a vase full of flowers that always seem happy to see me. It’s at once coffee bar and breakfast nook, home base for Thanksgiving and the place we toast our biggest accomplishments.

It’s everything it should be: The center of it all.

As we look for new houses (in St. Petersburg, Florida, so if you have neighborhood recommendations, please pass them on!), I’m constantly struck by the lack of space in kitchens. There’s no room for a big kitchen table. There’s usually no room for a little kitchen table. There’s no room for Hunter and his toys, the dogs and their beds, the grown ups and their appetizers. There’s no room for NPR mornings and reassuring breakfasts. There’s no room for magic. There’s no room for life.

Maybe we’ll find room a doorway away. Maybe we’ll find the perfect space right there. But no matter where we find ourselves, I know we’ll find our beloved kitchen table sitting front-and-center, making our new house an immediate home. So do you really need a kitchen table? I don’t know. I do. I can’t imagine life without one.

Can you?

P.S. — I must confess my life isn’t exactly Pinterest-picture worthy. But our real kitchen table, which I love with my whole heart, is right here.

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Laurie Colwin Thu, 17 Oct 2013 14:30:38 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

who are your food stars?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Picture of Laurie Colwin at the Empire Diner in New York in 1990 taken by Nancy Crampton.

We are guilty of watching far too much t.v. (NCIS, why do you continue to woo me despite your sliding plot lines?) but I rarely, rarely watch the Food Network. This seems kind of crazy to even me. I love food. I love Master Chef (and Master Chef Junior! Which is too cute for words!). I enjoy many of the recipes that originate on the Food Network, but besides a Thanksgiving marathon while I get the house and feast together, it’s just not something I like to watch.

Behind the scenes, though, it’s absolutely fascinating.

In his new book, ‘From Scratch,’ Alan Salkin delves into the realities of the Food Network and how it went from piddling, middling maybe-watched network into the media baron of the food industry. Did you know that in the beginning, Mario Batali was actually cooking without an oven? And when he pretended to be putting a dish in the oven to cook, he was actually stomping his foot on the floor to mimic the sounds a real oven would make?

Somehow, there’s a strange honesty in that to me. Like it says so openly, yeah, this is all performance, and we get it. That’s something I just can’t find there today.

All the gloss, adorable cake pops no human with a regular oven and a staff of one: self could ever make, shiningly polished pots and pans… they all make me wonder where the kitchen is. The real kitchen. I, for one, am always missing at least one ingredient from every recipe I make. My kitchen is pock-marked by birthday cards, mail we need to sort, stacks of unread magazines, and a small library of board books on every surface we can reach. It’s a maze of small-child toys and seating options that make you wonder if we’re opening an offshoot of Babies R Us.

My kitchen is, in all its regular, real life mess, an ode to every day food, and that’s exactly what I love best about it. I think about my favorite food writers, and I imagine they would feel at home here.

Take Laurie Colwin. Colwin (whom I fondly think of as Laurie, as if we’re old friends) is an American author who also happened to love to eat. And cook. And feed her small daughter. Home Cooking, and its follow-up, More Home Cooking, is in equal parts ode to cooking and eating. She’s one of those people who confesses to an obsession with beets and admits that she’s gorged herself on eggplant-as-meal more times than she can count in the fabulously titled tale, “Alone in the Kitchen with Eggplant.” How can you not love that?

Colwin cooked because she had a child to feed, and she ate because you have to. She graces us with a real-life approach to food that makes eaters of everybody… and even caused me to give beets a second try. (I am still firmly in the anti-beet camp. Please, share your conversion recipes in the comments. Beet lovers are very pro-beet, and I do want to like them.) Her roast chicken is just right, and she has a recipe for “damp gingerbread” that should come out of everyone’s kitchen in the next few months.

Laurie is real. She’s the kind of cook you meet in print and refer to by her first name. She’s the person you wish you could have in your kitchen just to chat while you slice up some onions and laugh as you start to tear up. She’s the kind of person you find yourself writing about one week because the most important thing you can ever think to talk about that’s food related is always Laurie Colwin, and you might as well give up ever being able to do her justice because she’s Laurie, and like any old friend, there’s just nothing you can say that will ever express your love, affection, and admiration quite enough.

Laurie died unexpectedly in 1992 at 48, long before we became friends. I like to imagine what she would be like on the Food Network today. How she’d stack up to the Stars. I can’t see her branding her own line of spatulas for sale at your nearest big-box store or festooning a plate with anything other than a fork. Instead, I imagine she’d run some well-written and decently-photographed blog, where, without much fanfare, we’d find lots of recipes for eggplant, beets, and friendship.

To me, that legacy is priceless. Laurie was a mother who successfully fed her child and filled her world with love and food, which are, in so many families, often the same thing, and wrote about it so we could all have it to keep as her own. As a new mother myself, I finally understand how hard that can be, and how great a calling. Although she’ll never make another meal, Laurie will continue to feed us for generations.

I wonder if the same is true for the food T.V. stars?

Tell me: Do you have a favorite food personality? You all know I love Nigella. But nobody, nobody nobody, will ever steal my heart from Laurie. After all, she’s the only person who has ever successfully convinced me to give beets a second chance.

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Breakfast in Bed Thu, 10 Oct 2013 15:34:14 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Do you like to have breakfast in bed? A perfect way to start the day at

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Pretty handmade blanket via Martha, who else?

Growing up, birthdays in our house were met with one, very special regularity: The birthday girl got breakfast in bed. As the most breakfast-averse child in existence, I loved this one treat. Breakfast in bed was a celebration, and it could be anything I wanted. Maybe a piece of festive, leftover pie. Maybe a cheese sandwich and some cocoa. No matter what was on the tray, I knew for certain before I opened my eyes that today was going to special: After all, the day started with breakfast in bed.

As adults, we’ve hung on to breakfast in bed. Before we became a family of three, we looked forward to rainy days where we could bring the newspaper back into the bed for a morning of flannel pajamas, fuzzy socks, and a cozy start to the day. Nowadays, our kidlet loves to snuggle with us in the morning, so we take every opportunity to spend an early Saturday just chatting about baby things with him all cuddled up in our bed… and breakfast by our sides.

As important as dinner at the table is for good family habits, breakfast in bed is the perfect start for a day of happiness.

Because I am evangelical about breakfast in bed, I don’t recommend getting all fussy and gourmet with it. Rather, I suggest starting with what you already love: Whatever your morning routine is, try waking up a few minutes early and savoring it in bed. I guarantee it’s better than hitting the snooze button. Even if all you do is snuggle out of the bed to grab some O.J. and snuggle back in, try it. It will make your day.

Yogurt and oatmeal are particularly bed-friendly, but things that involve crumbs warrant a breakfast-in-bed tray, be advised. These trays are not only useful, but they’re also super fun. We use a pretty silver tray that holds both of our mugs, Hunter’s bottle, and our two breakfast plates. The tray itself we picked up on the cheap at an antique store — I think we paid probably twenty dollars for it in its super tarnished state, but that was nothing a little elbow grease couldn’t fix. Crate and Barrel has a great melamine one, which is nearly as indestructible as ours, and most home stores sell the variety with legs that act like mini-tables. Somehow, I’m prone to knock those over more than a big tray on the covers, but I’m also particularly klutzy. When Hunter gets a little older, I’m going to get a rimmed cookie sheet and let him paint it so that he has his very own, personalized breakfast tray, too. (I figure that’s the most practical way to do it?)

We don’t serve anything special for our breakfasts in bed, since usually, there’s nothing special about our breakfast in bed other than that it’s breakfast, and we’re having it in bed. When we do go all out, Bill loves to make french toast or breakfast tacos (with chorizo, poached eggs, fresh pico, and charred peppers), and I love eating them. In turn, I specialize in filled pancakes and cheese grits (a Southern specialty if there ever were one, but mine are not yet quite as good as my mother’s).

Lately, with Hunter going through some unfathomable sleep regression and us being new parents exhausted by seven p.m., we’ve actually taken to having the occasional dinner picnic in bed, too. It’s nice — because we finally get to stretch out and be cozy — but it has nothing on breakfast. Breakfast in bed is the breakfast of champions — or, it’s at least the breakfast of really happy, calm, champion-dreaming people. (It’s easy to dream you can champion the day when you’re eating your breakfast in bed, after all, because no day can be bad that has breakfast in bed in it.)

By four o’clock in the afternoon, my morning coffee in bed almost seems like a dream. Like it’s impossible to imagine it happening this morning, and it’s completely magical that it might happen again tomorrow. But that coffee? Snuggled back into bed? It’s the best reason to get out of bed in the first place, and the very best reason to get back in.

Do you ever eat breakfast in bed? Would you do it on a regular Thursday, or do you just save it for special occasions?

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Apple Picking Thu, 26 Sep 2013 14:30:29 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

what do you do with all of your apple picking bounty?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Pretty apple picking engagement session (why didn’t I think of that?) from Something Turquoise.

For anyone who grew up in Cleveland, Patterson Fruit Farm is a fixture of Fall. The local epicenter of apple picking, every Autumn warranted an annual trek into the chilly fall air at Patterson’s so you could fill your arms and bags to the brim with fresh apples. McIntosh, Honeycrisp, Cameos, and Winesaps lined up single-file through their orchards just waiting for swinging children, families with ladders, and happy hands in woolen mittens. Fall means apple picking, especially at Patterson’s.

Patterson’s is a pick-your-own apple farm and apple market that makes anyone who has ever had the great fortune to visit immediately recall the smell of their famous apple fritters filling the air with sugar and spice the minute the weather starts to cool. I’ve yet to meet a Clevelander who hasn’t spent time at Patterson’s, and the day I do, I will drive this person straight to the farm and stand in line with them to treat them to a warm apple fritter. Patterson’s is just that kind of place.

No matter where you grew up, chances are high that you have your own Patterson’s, too: A place where you always went apple picking. A place that told you, in its annual regularity, that the year was really in full swing and that Fall was truly, finally upon us.

It always seems to me that in Autumn, we begin preparing ourselves for nostalgia. We reminisce about our first days of school as the children head back for theirs, we let our hearts get warmed by the simple act of pulling out our favorite fuzzy slippers, we ready our tables for our feasts of thanks. All of Fall feels like one big prelude to the season of joy and giving that follows it, and for me, there is no moment so full of tradition and sentiment as the day we all pile into an orchard to fill our arms with apples.

Only, my eyes are always a little bigger than my stomach. In fact, they’re always bigger than my whole kitchen. Apples galore!

How is it possible to pick so many apples in such little time? Has anyone ever figured this out? Surely there’s some rule of wisdom that says you shouldn’t be picking more apples per hour than one can possibly eat in the same amount of time, but if such wisdom exists, I have never heard of it nor adhered to it. I remember getting to the market at Patterson’s every single year to pay for our overload of apples and we would decide to grab a baked good for the ride home. You would think that after all the apples I’d consumed in the process of picking, there would be no humanly possible way I could stuff one of their famous apple fritters into my stomach, but every year, of course, I managed to. And no matter where Fall finds me, I always want more.

To this day, apple fritters remain one of my favorite things, and they’re a terrific way to use any apples you have from apple picking. In fact, there are good ideas aplenty for how to put all those apples to use.

My favorite non-fritter (or pie, which I believe is perfect year-round) use for apples has to be apple cake. It’s a great breakfast food, snack, and dessert, and when it comes to tasting like fall, it puts the pumpkin spice latte to shame. (Sorry, Starbucks!) This apple spice cake is topped with a dark and sticky brown sugar merengue that could not be more perfect. Because you bake the merengue with the cake, a light pudding layer forms between the hearty cake bottom and the merengue top, which serves double-duty by keeping the cake moist and delicious. It’s the kind of cake you make and people call you ten years later looking for the recipe. It’s that good.

Also really good are apple cider donuts, which, thanks to Patterson’s, my friend Laura cannot live without. This recipe is incredibly close to those we had growing up, although there’s something about having to wait in line for a donut along with a dozen other apple pickers that makes it taste almost marginally more delicious. Waiting for these donuts to cook is a close second.

I also like apple, brie, and sprout sandwiches, apple and squash soup, and apple pancakes… all good way to use up the leftover apples still lingering around your kitchen days after an apple picking party. As to an apple picking party, it’s getting time to have one again and make our yearly trek into the orchards, where we will load our arms with apples so that we, too, can fill our homes with bounty and our hearts with tradition before the chill of cooler days sets in.

Tell me: Do you look forward to apple picking, too? What do you do with all of your apples? Are you smart and pick only what you can eat with a standard human size stomach? Or are you like us, overflowing your home with apple abundance and wondering what on earth to do with it?

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The Cookie Jar Thu, 19 Sep 2013 13:00:59 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

do you keep a cookie jar on your counter?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image from the Russian Discover Wedding.

When I was little (and, okay, still) the answer to that famous question — who stole the cookies from the cookie jar? — was always me. I did it. I stole the cookies from the cookie jar. Sometimes I stole all the cookies. Sometimes I stole all but one. Sometimes, like today, I wonder if cookies are the answer to all of life problems, because there is little that can’t be made better if it includes a nice cookie. Call it a biscuit, a wafer, a Girl Scout perfection, a piece of melty chocolate that makes you grin just thinking about it… but cookies in a cookie jar are a wonderful thing.

For some reason, now that I’m a grown-up with my own home, I don’t keep a cookie jar on the counter. Do you? I’m not sure if its absence is because I made some conscious decision about bugs one day after a particularly disturbing visitation by representatives of the local wildlife, or if the counter space just got eaten up by appliances, or if I just sort of forgot, but either way, I realize I need to bring it back. What is childhood without a cookie jar for sneaking?

My step-mom always used to keep an old ceramic cookie jar hidden in the far reaches of the kitchen counter filled to the brim with fruit newtons. I remember racing into the kitchen as soon as someone stepped out of the room to crane my arm in and fish around for a good flavor (which, at that point, was never fig). The cookie jar was the first thing I inspected when I got home from school and the last thing I paid attention to on my way off to bed. The cookie jar was my first introduction to independence in the kitchen, however monitored it was.  The cookie jar was a magical thing.

I think maybe half the reason we aren’t in possession of a cookie jar is that they’re sadly hard to come by these days. In our health conscious culture, cookie jars seem to be a thing of everyone’s past. I think it’s time to bring them back.

Super cute cookie jars for your kitchen!

These jars would be so cute on a kitchen counter. Clockwise from top left: fabulous little Kremlin cookie jars, a vintage Little Red Riding Hood jar that is reminiscent of Hummel figurines, the classic black and white checkerboard from Mackenzie Childs, and a little owl from Anthro.

Tell me: Do you keep a cookie jar on your counter? Did you have one growing up?

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The Perfect Wing Fri, 13 Sep 2013 18:00:44 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Make perfect chicken wings every time

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image taken by Bill approximately three seconds before I told him to stop taking photos already and let me eat!

As soon as it’s fall, I start craving food that matters. Not just the Pinterest-worthy picnic sandwiches I attempt to make all summer or a good pasta salad I can nibble on for days, but the kind of hearty food that makes your soul warmed and happy. And when it’s not yet November and not yet chilly, that doesn’t leave a ton of options. But there is one. A food perfect for football, fun to make, easy to do outside when the days are still comfortable, and just generally ideal for every kind of get-together you can imagine: The chicken wing. Fall is perfect for really, really good chicken wings.

As the regular sort of Americans who look forward to college football (go Dawgs!), crisp autumn mornings, and bouquets of newly sharpened pencils,* the idea of adding some chicken wings into culinary rotation sounded downright logical as soon as Mark Bittman suggested it.

Not long ago, he waxed poetic about chicken wings in his (beloved) New York Times food column. For him, fall (and the return of football season) isn’t just about fuzzy sweaters and wooly socks, it’s about chicken wings. Perfect chicken wings made on the grill. So, as happens when we’re reading Mark Bittman, we spent last Saturday devouring his article and then, nearly immediately, we were ready to devour everything he described. Luckily, the ingredients for wings are pretty easy to pull together and don’t require a ton of foresight.

But as the grill heated up and began to approximate the temperature of the still-sweltering midday sun, I began to question our decision. We’ve long made wings in the oven. Or on the stove-top. They’ve always been perfectly fantastic. Is there any reason we’re standing over a hot grill when it’s a thousand degrees outside and we could be cooling off at the beach instead? Is there any reason we’re not just ordering wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, where I can also get those really addictive and surely horrible for you mini corndogs?** In fact, besides being highly impressionable Bittman fans, is there any reason we’re doing any of this at all?

So I started grumbling, and Bill started cooking. We’re a good match like this, because when I get dissuaded from the a recipe mid-project, he keeps going. And when he thinks it would be super fun to go the county fair and look at all the pigs and the sheep and the cakes, I decide that what we really need to do is enter one. (A cake, not a pig or a sheep.) This makes for fun — and tasty — days in our family.

And around the time I’d started settling on what kind of cake I’d enter into the county fair and exactly how we should decorate it, Bill presented me with a plate of the most delicious wings I’ve ever tasted in my life. They weren’t anything like what you get at a wing-centric restaurant. They bore no resemblance to the wings I’ve made before. They looked, for all the world, like what God was thinking of when he first invented the chicken wing. They looked absolutely perfect.

Thank you, Big Green Egg and Mark Bittman.

The wings were easy enough on the grill and we served them with a chipotle lime sauce that was a cinch to pull together. In the event the picture didn’t get your mouth watering (the picture of the actual wings as made by us, real people, who don’t have the photographic know-how to make them mouth-droolingly beautiful with any photographic know-how tricks, or the culinary know-how to make it look all food-perfect in that awesome chef way, but as regular people taking pictures of just really good food), the recipe sure should.

Mark Bittman’s Delicious Grilled Wings with Chipotle Lime Sauce 
(with slight alternations to make the whole thing easier)

You’ll need:
3 pounds of chicken wings (we found them for a great price at Whole Foods of all places)
Olive oil
3T chopped chipotles in adobo (you’ll find these in the can, we like these the best)
3T lime juice
1T minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste>

Toss the wings with a little olive oil before you get everything going. This helps keep them from sticking, and that will make your life easier.

Get your grill going. You’re going to want your rack about four to six inches from the heat. You want the grill to be moderately hot, and you’re going to split it into two sides: a side that’s going to be cool and a side that’s going to be hot. The cooler side (where you’ll have as little fire as possible) will be used for indirect cooking.

While the grill heats up, mix 1/3 cup olive oil, the chipotles (and some of their tasty sauce), lime juice, and garlic in a large bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

When the grill is ready, start the wings on the cool side. Cover the grill and cook them for about fifteen or twenty minutes or until they’re cooked through, turning them once or twice.

When the wings are done, put them into the bowl of sauce and get them good and covered. Put them back on the grill – but this time, the hot side – and cook them uncovered, turning as needed, until they’re brown on both sides.


Ta-da! Done and delish.

We like to hang on to the leftover sauce for dipping purposes (if you have too much, it’s also great for tacos or even huevos rancheros), and we found the wings were delicious when served with a kale Greek salad. The feta was a nice counterpoint to the spiciness, and the kale provided enough healthy crunch that we didn’t feel bad about stuffing our faces with vast amounts of wings.***

Truly, between the two of us, we killed 24 wings. And then made them again yesterday. And immediately killed all of those.

I like these chicken wings for dinner. I like them for lunch. I would eat them for breakfast if they were offered. They’re pretty delicious leftover, cold, and straight out of the refrigerator. They’re fantastic packed up in a lunch pail the next day. They are crispy on the outside (in a way the refrigerator doesn’t ruin) and incredibly moist on the inside. It’s like the best of the frying pan and the oven all in one. And the sauce was just fantastic, too. A nice, sweet heat that kept me going back for more.

My weight in chicken wings later, I can tell you one thing for certain: We’ll be making more this weekend. You should, too. It’s the perfect way to welcome fall and, with it, football.

So when it’s suddenly Superbowl Sunday, and your family realizes it just can’t survive without another helping of wings, know that we’re right there with you, standing over our grills in the middle of the snowstorm, mittens and hats stalwart against the wind, unfazed by the blinding blizzard, turning our wings on the grill until they are perfect for this family-friendly feast. And until then, we can all just be glad Mark Bittman reminded us how completely delicious a good chicken wing is.

Tell me: What’s your favorite food to welcome fall?

* Every autumn should also include a mandatory screening of You’ve Got Mail. I spent  a decade on the Upper West Side, and let me tell you. They captured the feel of fall in New York perfectly. Nora Ephron (who was also a self-diagnosed foodie) was a gift to our time.
** Don’t kill my happiness.
*** One day I will pretend to be lady-like. That day is not today. Or as long as I’m capable of eating wings.

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Wedding Cake Thu, 05 Sep 2013 08:00:06 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Creative wedding cakes:  how about a cake of cheese?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image by the incredibly talented Ellie of Dearly Loved Photography. Ellie is a family photographer, so if you’re in the Atlanta area, be sure to check her out.

I love cheese. I know we’ve established this so many times it comes as no surprise, but maybe that I’m writing about it at the same time that I’m writing about wedding cakes should.

After all, as much as I love cheese, I love cake. I eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dessert. (I consume vast amounts of vegetables at dinner in an attempt to make up for this cake indulgence. But cake is delicious!) Cake, from its hearty breakfast forms to its most delicate, intricate dessert styles, is a wonderful reason to eat.

But wedding cakes get a bad rap. First of all, they are zillions of dollars. (Everyone remember Steve Martin in Father of Bride upon seeing the hefty price tag of the cake? “A cake, Franc, is made of flour and water.”) Secondly, they really are made of flour and water. And almond and buttercream and raspberry filling and eight layers and covered in sugared lilacs and edible pearls and who could forget the fondant and… well, the cake just about gets lost in there.

Which brings me to cheese.

Cheese, the world’s most perfect food, is terrific as appetizer, meal, and dessert. Which is why we had it at our wedding, layered, stacked, and towering… in cake form: Rounds of crottin, petit basque, brie, Thomasville tomme, Appalachian Tomme, and San Joaquin Gold piled high.

It was overwhelmingly delicious and I remain grateful to the good people at our caterer for not rolling their eyes at me and sending me elsewhere upon hearing my request (especially since I also requested that we ditch a sit-down meal in favor of a passed cocktail supper). Instead they indulged us and created a monument to all things cheesy one could ever want to consume, and with it were fig spreads, grissini, honeycomb, and crackers galore.

We served it at the beginning of the meal, when we toasted our guests (we did everything sort of backwards. We skipped the traditional toasts in favor of us toasting everyone else, and then we served the cake first!), and it was really fun, delicious way to kick off the evening. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

But my mouth waters for other unconventional wedding cake ideas, too. A good friend had a candy bar (it had lots of swedish fish and was therefore perfect) that doubled as a favor-station. Another served beloved family-recipe cookies made by aunts and grandmothers the day before so they were still fresh. My sister-in-law served donuts!

All these fun takes on the wedding cake has me thinking about the original: Pretty white cake shimmering with icing and cut with a special cake knife the couple will always remember. (Bill sliced our cake of cheese with his sword in Marine Corps tradition. We had to be careful not to use the word “cut.”)

Nowadays even the old-fashioned wedding cakes come in a hundred varieties. Charm City Cake in Baltimore makes a spiced pear cake to die for, and the blackberry sour cream sounds pretty phenomenal too. Add in swiss butter cream and a sentimental cake topper, and I think that’s a pretty sweet start to ever-after.

Not that a savory start is so bad, either.

Tell me: What kind of wedding cake did you have? Or dream of having? If you were to do it again, would you do the same thing? I have to admit, I think I would want to skip the reception in general and have a tamaledad instead!

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¡Hot Tamale! Thu, 29 Aug 2013 13:00:27 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Tamales are an easy dinner and so delicious!

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Pretty tamales from Fake Food Free, which features the delicious-sounding Jerk Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamale recipe from Ham: An Obsession with the Hind Quarter.

Does your mouth water the minute you hear the word taco? Do you find yourself hunting down street fairs just to buy an arepa?* Does the word “masa” instill your heart with hope and your kitchen with potential? Do you go to Trader Joe’s just to buy tamales?**

I do. Guys, I really, really do. I go to Trader Joe’s to buy steamed pork buns I can microwave. I go to Trader Joe’s to buy lentils ready-to-eat in the produce section. I go for their chocolate covered mango coconut bites (which should be illegal), habanero lime tortillas, and cut-rate Port Salud cheese. But mostly, I go for their tamales. Delicious, magical, hot tamales.

Tamales, for the uninitiated, are like extremely delicious hot pockets made with masa flour or cornmeal. Now everyone who has ever eaten a tamale forgive me for the dumbed-down description, because a tamale is so much more than that. It’s a vehicle for consuming delicious foods in a yummy wrapper. It’s a reason to sit down to dinner. It’s an invitation to love food.

Tamales date back to at least 5,000 B.C. As the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas took to the battlefield, they brought with them a number of women whose portable kitchens kept the warriors as well-fed as possible. Soon, everyone realized that while stew is delicious, it’s not exactly portable. Enter: the tamale. No one is sure exactly who first invented it, but what everyone knows is that as soon as there was the first tamale, everyone wanted one. Tamales came in all shapes and sizes, and every flavor possible. There were spicy meat tamales, sweet corn tamales. There were banana tamales and chocolate tamales, bean and cheese tamales, tamales with peppers. There were even tamales made with squash blossoms. I’m drooling.

And while tamales are native to South America, they have become standard fare in America. In the Mississippi delta, tamales are their own food group. Julia Reed, one of my favorite writers in general and devoted foodie, frequently waxes poetic about the tamales you can get in her native Greenville, Mississippi. Doe’s Eat Place, which was recently proclaimed an “American Classic” by the James Beard Association, sells them by the half dozen and, in Delta fashion, serves them boiled (not steamed) so that they become juicy, tender, and incredibly addictive.

Bought from a fancy restaurant, a street vendor, or even in the freezer section at Trader Joe’s, tamales are always addictive. I like mine with cheddar, beans, and chicken. Bill likes his made with sweet corn and filled with sweet peppers and cheese. What we both would like, without question, is more.

Tell me, y’all: Do you like tamales as much as we do? Have you ever tried making them? What’s the one food you just can’t get enough of?

* The arepa may be the world’s most perfect food. There is not a day where I don’t crave it. Intensely.
** Is it even possible to say exactly what we go to Trader Joe’s for? In fact, what don’t we go to Trader Joe’s for?

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Grown-Up Sandwiches Thu, 22 Aug 2013 14:30:18 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Yummy recipes for delicious grown-up sandwiches

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Photo of Hi-Rise Bread Co.’s Georgia Ruben by Will Levitt for Serious Eats. I ate my own sandwich way too quickly to take a photo of it!

As every school child knows, there’s nothing better than a good sandwich: crusts off, peanut butter and jelly in equal parts, maybe even a little nutella and banana for a treat. But for those over the age of ten, sandwiches can get a bad rap. They get traded for wraps, for salads, falafels. And while I’m all for falafel, it doesn’t hold a candle to a good sandwich. A good, grown-up sandwich.

We spent the last week wandering around Cambridge, Mass., the culinary epicenter of good, grown-up sandwiches. As easy to find as Harvard students and Boston Red Sox Fans, are sandwiches built with rustic breads so fresh you can still smell the yeast. They are piled high with meats and vegetables perfectly spiced and slivered, slathered with cheeses, spreads, and homemade mayos that make you wish you had an old-school lunch pail to carry one to work in every day — or at least a good sandwich shop close by. And they make you remember how there’s little as good in the middle of the day as a tasty, delicious sandwich.

Take Hi-Rise Bread Co., purveyors of what might be the best sandwiches in the entire world. (I say this having eaten a LOT of sandwiches, so take me seriously.) I got to know Hi-Rise a decade ago, when I was seduced by their delicious breakfast sandwiches which I ate (rather gluttonously) on the way to Sunday services. And while indulging in one of their sammies on the way to church might come close to something of a sin, it’s only because they are so incredibly good: Ooey, gooey organic egg yolk, thick cut bacon, gorgonzola, tomato, red onion, and honey-mustard on delicious sourdough made fresh that morning in house.

And then there’s their lunch sandwiches. Really, they’re not so much sandwich as an ode to all things delicious: The #55 is homemade pork and veal pates served with pickled carrots and cucumbers, radish, cilantro, jalapeno, and serrano mayo on baguette. Or try El Presidente: Grilled Bell + Evans chicken breast alongside harissa, kalamata olive spread, tomato and red onion, all on sourdough.

These are the kind of sandwiches that get my mouth watering and, in my book, reinvent the classic lunch meal. In second grade, I started making apple and brie sandwiches on pumpernickle to take to school, but I thought I was always the odd one out. Now that I’ve grown up, I’m beginning to see that I just had a precocious start. Grown up sandwiches are delicious!

Now and again, I remember my love of really good sandwiches so much I attempt to remake them at home. This pork meatball bahn mi is pretty easy, and completely wonderful to eat — even for dinner. I also really like this Moroccan chicken sandwich, although keeping the ingredients in house is rather challenging unless you’re the sort to eat Moroccan chicken all the time. (Maybe we should be!) I also frequently make a wrap that’s a complete remake of one our college cafe served — they called it the Amour De Cosmos, and it’s spinach, chicken, apricot preserves, and jasmine rice… and it’s really, really good. Or you could go with the old standby: a delicious thanksgiving sandwich.

But the honest truth is that no sandwich is as delicious as those that come from a good, grown-up sandwich shop, perfectly wrapped in butcher paper, and ready to make the middle of your day a little bit of happy, yummy heaven. It’s the grown-up equivalent of that perfect lunchbox sandwich and a little note from mom, and just like that, it can be the little thing that makes your day. A delicious, grown-up sandwich kind of day.

Tell me, do you have a favorite sandwich place? Is there a grown-up sandwich that makes your mouth water, too? Or are you a PB&J classicist? (And for those of you living in Boston, be sure to check out Cambridge’s Flour and Darwin’s, too. Flour’s lamb sandwich is delicious, and you can’t go wrong at Darwin’s.)

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The College Kitchen Thu, 15 Aug 2013 13:00:37 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

The 5 things you need in every college kitchen

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image via Iowa State, where cooking is no longer required ed.

How did you feed yourself when you went off to college? Did you live on macaroni and cheese? Microwave popcorn? Takeout chinese?

A decade later, and I still don’t regret my freshman fifteen. Sure, this is because I put on my weight in steamed pork buns that melted in your mouth and delicious sandwiches from Milano Market, but if we’re all being realistic, there are much better ways to give eating the old college try. A man should not live off Cup Noodle alone. And thanks to a few helpful gadgets, that’s never been easier.

For starters, every dorm basically requires a rice cooker. It should be on the “you absolutely need to pack this” list right next to an alarm clock, some notebooks, and a calendar with Grandma’s birthday and phone number written on it. For the foodie and the non-eater alike, the rice cooker is the most underrated and versatile kitchen appliance. And it doesn’t even require a kitchen! Pair it with the Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success.

But no dorm room is appropriately kitted out until it also has an electric grill, a french press, an electric kettle, and — seriously — a crock pot.

Bill and I spent hours arguing the merits of the electric grill and electric griddle, and after years of dorms (interminable years of graduate school for me) and barracks (interminable years of training for him), we are going to call it for the electric grill. I had a hot sandwich press in college that made amazing Hot Pocket-like meals out of everything you put in it (my favorite was always brie, honey mustard, turkey, and sliced green apple on wheat, which turned into this oozy baked brie deliciousness), but it didn’t cook chicken and I couldn’t use it to sear eggplant. These turn out to be wonderful components of a dorm room meal, and if what little space you have is going to be taken up by an appliance, that appliance should make those things easy.

We have — and love — a George Forman that we still break out on occasion, even though we’ve put our temporary housing days behind us. It’s a great thing to keep on hand in a move, too, because long before you’ve found your pots and pans, it’s an easy way to get dinner going, and we all OD on takeout at some point. (Unless takeout consists of steamed pork buns. Then no, I’m sure that’s impossible.) There are countless things you can do with one of these handy little machines without ever stepping out of your dorm room: salmon with a nice pineapple salsa? What about cinnamon french toast? Armed with a little Forman, you don’t need to go broke at brunch, dinner, or any meal in between. You can serve up deliciousness right where you are.

And that’s even easier when you’re also in possession of a french press, which is great for the obvious things (coffee), but is also completely brilliant when it comes to tea and hot chocolate. This cocoa nib hot chocolate is insanely good, and while we’re all far, far away from those cold December nights, there’s no chilly, rainy afternoon a little cocoa won’t warm. Part and parcel for making that french press work is owning a little electric tea kettle, which is a brilliant investment anyway because one day you might find yourself in a cubicle that’s freezing cold and the only way you can make it through your work day is with hot water an arm’s length away. I’m not speaking from experience or anything. I’m not known for appearing at work for the first day armed with a smile and a tea kettle. No, no, not I. (No… I’m known for being armed with said tea kettle, a smile, AND COOKIES.)

But, shocking everyone, I’m a big believer that no college or temporary kitchen is done there. Despite my Do I Really Need A Crock Pot? post, I really do believe there are a few times in one’s culinary life when a crock pot is vitally necessary, and college is one of them. How else can you plan to make a fantastic chili to eat while you and your friends all watch your alma mater torpedo the rival team? Whatever would become of your stew-craving, pizza-overloaded homesick stomach? Bonus: it’s great for making big batches of oatmeal, too. From coq au vin to chowder, there’s a lot a crock pot can do to keep you fat and happy. Plus, there are always a billion slow cooker recipes on Pinterest worth trying that might make you the best chef on campus.

Armed with a crock pot, a tea kettle, a french press, an electric grill, and a rice cooker, any college foodie is bound to be that, anyway. Or graduate school foodie. Or anyone else tight on space. If only I’d figured all this out before I bought eighty gadgets for my New York City postage-stamp sized kitchen.

Bill wants me to note that many dorms ban the use of electric cooking items, but I will have you know that I was That Person who marched down to the Public Safety office armed with the list of what was banned (where my sandwich press was not specifically cited) to preemptively show the automatic-off safety features and also pointed out that I’d never be dumb enough to leave any of these items plugged in. I also usually brought cookies with me. (You’ll note the running theme of “and I brought cookies” in my life.) But, as I explained to them, with the countless hours I spent huddled outside with my dormmates after people set off fire alarms with microwave popcorn, I had no intention of adding to the traffic with a crock pot disaster. But I’ll tell you, when we came back in from those fire alarm drills in the middle of a rainstorm in the freezing cold? We always had something delicious to eat.

Tell me: How did you feed yourself in college? What was the one thing you couldn’t live without?

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Do I Really Need… A Rice Cooker? Thu, 08 Aug 2013 14:30:57 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Do I Really Need... A Rice Cooker?

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image from the Golden Rice Humanitarian Board, which works to eliminate micronutrient deficiencies worldwide.

There is little in this world I need like a rice cooker. Sunshine, barbecue, some sparkle, a good book… And a rice cooker. Preferably this little cheapie red one, because loyal little kitchen starlet that it is, I’ve been relying on it for going on twelve years. And I can’t imagine my kitchen without it.

It’s light. It’s long lasting. And lo, does it make magic happen.

Maybe because I was a lazy single woman who hated heating up a whole pot of water to make one poached egg for going on a decade, or maybe because I’m a very inventive small-apartment-kitchen genius* channeling the culinary ingenuity of Clementine and Laurie Colwin, for years I relied heavily on this little rice cooker for zillions of meals.

And it always got the job done.

Here is a short smattering of things we’ve made in our rice cooker in the past year: quinoa, oatmeal, pasta, grits, steamed pork buns, dumplings, ravioli, lentils, rice, mac and cheese, all manner of vegetables, chicken, and crab.

Yes. Crab.

Bill once notably caught a crab while stationed at Dam Neck Annex in Virginia Beach and, being far from our Manhattan home and armed only with a rice cooker, he proceeded to make boiled crab and pasta for dinner with a nice butter sauce.

All of this is to say, your rice cooker can get things done.

Maybe you aren’t the type of cook to throw freshly caught seafood at a twenty dollar appliance (I’m not either, but I’m allergic), but with a rice cooker you can be. And you should be.

If your kitchen were to have only five appliances, this should be one of them. And it should be at the top of the list.

These days, you don’t even have to settle for my little rice cooker that just does rice. You can get one that does double and triple duty: Fagor makes a 3-in-1 slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker combo machine that looks like heaven in a kitchen appliance (I’ll report back). Whatever you get, make sure it has a steam basket. You’ll find yourself turning to it gratefully when you’re famished, want something healthy (nice steamed veggies! And grains!), and need it in a snap.

Keep it at your office. On your kitchen counter. Send it to deployed Marines (my husband used his to feed himself for the last seven months in an Afghan outpost). Make sure every college student you know has one. When it comes to your rice cooker, the question isn’t even Do I Really Need One? It’s Who Do I Know Who Needs One, Too? Engage in a little kitchen evangelism. Rice cookers: Everyone needs at least one.

* A girl can dream.

P.S. — Find all the “Do I Really Need A…” posts here.

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Pantry Pests Thu, 01 Aug 2013 21:30:17 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Summer means Pantry Pests!

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Beautiful moth (welcome in my home at any time) from Red Tree Designs.

They come in in your flour. They procreate while you aren’t looking. They ignore the baby on board, organic only, no-pesticides-here-please signs littering your life. They make you the most popular person on the block out of thin air.

And now you have to find a way to get rid of them.

At least, after a seven month deployment and an eight month decampment at my mother’s through my recent pregnancy, that’s what we came home to. A newborn, a reintegrating Marine, a new mom, and a kitchen full of meal moths. And let me tell you: I’m not a big fan of bugs.

It doesn’t matter where you buy your groceries or how clean you keep your home (as I keep learning, almost punitively), pantry pests are the peril of anyone who cooks. My stepmom — the family food guru — maintains that they come in and you just can’t help it, they are simply a part of food life. Every other kitchen queen I know agrees. But I can’t help it: “No, no, no!,” I yelp. These critters make my skin crawl.

So we find ourselves in battle again. Them, taking wing to drive me nuts, and me, giving up all things green and calling in the big guns — the exterminator.

A good treatment and a few thorough vinegar and water washes later, our cabinets have returned to a temporary normal, but sanity is still on the loose. And we all know I’m not in this boat alone. How do we keep our kitchens free of pantry pests?

Like every grandmother before her, my grandmother had a trusty pantry pest weapon she swore worked on the winged and wingless alike. She was so evangelical in this truth you’d think she’d never seen a bug in the kitchen in her life: Just put bay leaves in every cabinet.

I’ve bought bay leaves. I’ve laid them out menacingly in every cupboard in my kitchen. I have done this several times in several kitchens. I don’t know if I just repeatedly befriend a particularly herb-adoring breed of pest, but my unwanted visitors always treat those little leaves as festive floral decoration for their favorite encampment. The bay leaves have never served an eviction notice.

And again the bugs lead to desperation, and the desperation leads to desperate Googling. Always be careful when you’re desperate Googling, or you might find yourself doing as I did a few years ago: Deluding Borax soap and scrubbing the life out of every surface, nook, and cranny in your home. The good news is it works. The better news is that if you happen to spill it on your coral, silk tufted sofa (because you make really practical furniture choices), you’ll discover it also cleans your sofa. And then you’ll find yourself spending twenty hours diluted-Borax-soaping your sofa. And friends, Borax is not easy on the hands.

But these bugs are never easy on the soul, either. Maybe I should take more yoga classes and really focus on some sort of inner kitchen peace. Or maybe my husband should pursue a second career with Orkin. Either/or.

Did your grandmother pass on any tricks for getting rid of these pests? Or have you encountered any fool-proof strategies you can share with the rest of us? At the moment, I’m thinking a grain-free diet is our only option. And with my love of pasta, that’s bound to be impossible.

Tell me, valiant kitchen warrior, what tricks do you have for keeping the littlest summer visitors at bay? Or do you, like the kitchen mavens in my life, just accept the occasional creature as an inevitable part of cooking?

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Hunter Thu, 11 Jul 2013 14:30:13 +0000 Design Mom

By Gabrielle. Dreamcatcher via Megan Morton.

You might be noticing a tragic lack of Raleigh-Elizabeth’s witty words these days, but her absence is the result of a pretty wonderful happening: a baby! His name is Hunter and he is, of course, adorable and loved. Congratulations, Duttweilers!

Personally, I really miss her Do I Really Need A… posts, especially this one as I’m currently packing up all of mine and feeling like I need a heavy purge! And who could forget the fiery discussion after this one?

Friends, if you have a minute to send Raleigh some tried and true new mom advice about getting through the first few months, I know she will appreciate it! What were your favorite products? Unforgettable milestones? Forgettable moments? And what do you wish someone had told you when you were in the throes of all-night feedings and spit-up on every cute shirt you owned?

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Get Grilling Thu, 06 Jun 2013 14:30:16 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

DM_Grilled Peaches

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Grilled peaches the Bobby Flay way.

Does it get any better than summer? Popsicles, sprinklers, the beach. Lightening bugs, warm weather, drive-in movies. And, best of all, the greatest thing about summer: y’all, it’s time to start grilling!

From the very start of Spring, the smell of someone getting the grill going is enough to make an entire neighborhood salivate. And for good reason! There’s little as delicious as something thrown on the grill and served up with a healthy dose of sunshine. That said, I’ll confess that I grew up in a home where we considered it grilling season year-round, regardless of climate. I blame my dad: I think nothing of a grown man standing outside in a Cleveland, Ohio snowstorm armed with a plate of dinner-to-be and his trusty black Weber.

But maybe that’s just because what happens between a grill and its food is pure magic. Have you noticed? Is there anything better than a burger fresh from the grill? (Especially made with the help of Lindsey’s Secrets to a Perfect Burger!*) Or grilled corn on the cob? Maybe you like to get all fancy and do dessert on the grill too… nothing says summer dessert like grilled peaches served with cinnamon, honey, and greek yogurt or ice cream.

No matter what you’re grilling or where you are on the grill mastery scale (I tend to bring up the rear as a novice griller — I’ve got all the basics down, but the mastery is my husband’s forte. Novice griller, expert eater. Hey, we all have to start somewhere!), summer is the best time to get the hang of the grill and all that goes with it.

The Grill

Gas or electric? Smoker or baby weber bought for twenty dollars on impulse? So many choices! Surprising everyone, I have no opinion here. I have never met a grill I didn’t like. Buy within your budget. Find a grill that works for you. Make friends with it. Cook with it. Love it. That’s all that’s required.

We have a Big Green Egg, and my husband adores it to such an extreme I sometimes wonder if he prefers it to me. I am okay with this, because he makes so many amazing dinners with it that questioning his devotion would be looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Big Green Egg is a grill and a smoker, and for southerners who like to make barbecue regularly, that’s like Christmas in grill-form. It also doubles as a kiln, should I ever decide to get really into ceramics, and rumor has you can even bake a cake in it. Additional Perk: It’s so heavy, I never worry about it being stolen when we’re on vacation. In fact, when we round the bend back to our house when we’re coming back from vacation, one of the first things I see in our yard is the Egg. It’s like a big, green welcome home every time.

The Accessories

There are a billion and one lists that tell you all the things you need for your grill, but aside from a way to get it hot and something to cook on it, you really don’t need much at all. Still, there are some accessories that make grilling everything on your dinner table easier — and tastier. If you are a vegetables on the grill person, you should consider either a grilling basket or, my personal favorite, a mesh basket with a locking lid (perfect for shaking those veggies around and making sure they’re equally cooked). We also have a wire mesh roasting pan that’s great for chicken, kabobs, or anything else that’s easy to turn over. I love our stuffed jalapeno stand, and we also have two pizza stones we use in our regular oven that sometimes make their way to the grill. No matter which accessories get you grilling, it’s worth finding a good grill mit you like and a pair of sturdy tongs.

Your grill tongs shouldn’t be for the faint of heart, so when you’re looking for ones you like, be the person who puts on the grill mit and then tries to manhandle the tongs and walk around the store trying to pick things up while pretending you’re standing back from a rampaging fire on a hot summer day trying to reach into the grill and turnover something tricky — like asparagus — while dogs and small children nip at your ankles, begging for some of that smelly deliciousness. Can you tell we’ve had some tong fails? We have. It happens to everyone. Unless you find the right tongs, in which case, it never happens to you. So be the person with the awesome, perfect grill tongs. And report back and let us know which brand worked best for you!

The Food

The number one grilling lesson of every summer is this: Everything is better on the grill. But every cook should have a few recipes in her back pocket to make the most out of her summer grilling season. To get you started: Alabama-style chicken kabobs (Alabama barbecue is a white barbecue that’s tart, tangy, and very tasty. This chicken is moist and amazingly good, plus if you don’t tell anyone it’s barbecue, no one would ever guess), irresistible campfire potatoes that are the perfect side for any meal, pancetta-wrapped asparagus that are fantastic not only as a dinner side but as an appetizer or cocktail party favorite, curry and ginger-rubbed lamb chops with an apricot-lime sauce will be a first for anyone dining at your table and the spicy chops offset by the clean sauce will get rave reviews in the summer heat, and two of my favorites: grilled eggplant with caramelized onions and fennel and squash ribbons with prosciutto and mint dressing.

No matter what your food preference, it’s time to get it onto the grill and let the smell of deliciousness fill you with the happiness of summer. Tell me: Do you like to grill? Do you have any favorite things to make on the grill?


*Another tried-and-true burger hint: if your patties aren’t sticking together very well and you find them butterflying out as you attempt to form them, try adding a little egg yoke to the mixture. One yoke goes a long way for six to eight burgers, and greek yogurt isn’t a bad binding substitute, either! No matter what, make sure you manhandle the meat as little as possible. Every touch bruises the meat, and you really will taste the difference. But no matter how you make them, burgers on the grill are always delicious, aren’t they? 

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Food Studies Thu, 30 May 2013 13:00:21 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth


By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Images by Beth Galton and Charlotte Omnes.

Have you seen these photos of food cut perfectly in half?

The photo series is the brainchild of photographer Belth Galton and food stylist Charlotte Omnes. Galton specializes in food, and has done work for some of the biggest food companies out there — Swanson, Campbell’s, Stouffer, and Kraft, to name a few. Omnes worked for years in recipe development before she got into food styling. These cross-section studies are the best of what both have to offer, don’t you think?


Did you have any idea that milk swirling into coffee would be so beautiful?

(Although I have to admit: I had a hunch those donuts would look so tasty!)


To avoid digital retouching, the only change they made to the food to make them photographable was to add gelatin to the liquids.


I wish they had done this when we were little – we could have finally found the prize at the bottom of the cereal box!

Which photos are your favorite?

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Restaurant Critic Thu, 23 May 2013 13:00:52 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth


By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image via The Renshaw.

It’s a rare day that I get to taste the food I read about in restaurant reviews. From America’s most dazzling hot spots to small hole-in-the-walls where dinner for two costs my monthly diaper budget, I’m relegated to drooling over the words, not the plates.

And maybe that’s half the idea. Maybe restaurant critics write not just to sell us on the merit of a dish, chef, or fancy restaurant, but to let us have a taste of something they know we probably couldn’t enjoy without them.

That’s the truth Ruth Reichl discovered when she first started out as a restaurant critic for the New York Times. Newly returned to New York after a stint in California, she headed first to Le Cirque (among Manhattan’s fanciest fancy places) dressed not as herself, New York Times restaurant critic, but as the invented Molly Hollis, a Michiganer who wore pantyhose when it was hot out, got no special treatment, and was sat in the frozen tundra of the restaurant on a banquette she was forced to share with the menus and wine lists. When she started to peruse those wine lists (because her waiter had failed to give her one), it was unceremoniously demanded back because someone else – clearly, someone important – needed it. By contrast, when she appeared as herself, Ruth Reichl, Restaurant Critic, she was told — quite honestly — that the King of Spain would have to wait in the bar, but her table was ready.

I’ve been to Le Cirque. Once. My experience and Molly’s weren’t too terribly far apart, although Molly could afford far more of the menu than I could.

Ruth Reichl holds a special place in my heart. Not just for her Molly Hollis routine, or the many restaurants she gave voice to that were regularly overlooked by more highfalutin critics, but because she writes about food in her reviews like we talk about food to our friends. She writes about food that’s real, that sustains us, that makes us happy to be alive and be eating. She writes about real food that matters to real people. Also, in her memoir about “growing up at the table,” Tender at the Bone, she remembers the hands-down best recipe for homemade fried oysters you’ll ever try. The book’s also pretty great, too. You’ll love her forever for both.

Because I actually like our little life and was none-too-impressed with Le Cirque, I don’t hold out hope for getting to salivate over the plates of food described in the Times, Post, or the New Yorker‘s Tables for Two. I liked Ruth Reichl’s reality: she experienced one of those restaurants as the rest of us. All in all, it was nothing to write home about.

But out in here the real world, don’t we have plenty of restaurants we’d like to tell them about?

Like Daddy Mac’s, my favorite local restaurant. We live on the coast in North Carolina, directly across the Intracoastal Waterway from Topsail Island. Daddy Mac’s is a Topsail restaurant, right on the ocean, and it has a fantastic little patio overlooking the surf. It’s mostly a fish restaurant, and because I’m allergic I can’t tell you much about that, but they have a taco salad that’s what taco salads are meant to be, and their cajun fried oysters are fresh, local, and addictive. We only ever go at lunch, because we can’t really afford the price hike on the dinner menu, but it’s a perfect way to spend a Sunday after church. And chances are, if it’s between April and Halloween and you’re sitting outside, you’ll watch someone get married on the beach right in front of you. It’s like they know you’re going to want to stay so much longer than your meal – to watch the sea, smell the surf, maybe even wish your blessings upon the newlyweds – that they have a few Carolina wooden rocking chairs right there on the porch, facing the Atlantic, in case you can’t bring yourself to leave just yet.

Or Awash Ethiopian on Manhattan’s Morningside Heights (up by Columbia) where you’ll taste the origins of Southern soul food in the spicy chicken, tomatoes, and collard greens as you wrap your fingers around them with a piece of injira, the sourdough-like flatbread you use as your only utensil. I am enamored of Ethiopian cuisine on the whole, but Awash is my favorite. It tastes like comfort food, an exciting adventure, and an international journey all in one. Also, you can leave with your wallet still in tact. A good meal can come in under fifteen dollars.

And there are the old standbys. My favorite Ohio restaurant: Hunan Coventry, which is nothing short of a Cleveland institution and may be the only reason my brother Alex ever ate growing up. Or my go-to takeout place here in Baltimore: Asian Kitchen. It will never be featured in the Baltimore Sun, and it shares its stripmall home with a Quiznos and a Dunkin Donuts. Still, they make the best, most unadulterated pad thai I have ever had.

When you walk into these restaurants, the places where we really eat, you’ll never see the King of Spain. Or a restaurant critic. You’ll never be any less important than any other patron, and you can count on the waiter letting you keep your menu as long as you need it. You will see dads with kids after school, graduate students half-focusing on their meal while studying, young people on dates, and families just enjoying a special meal they didn’t have to make. These are real people with real jobs eating real food at real, really good restaurants. These are the unsung heroes of the restaurant world.

Food may be there for the wealthy and well-to-do who can frequent the Le Cirques of the world, sure, but it’s also there for the rest of us. It’s one of the few things in this world that can turn a regular day into the sublime.

And for most of us, that means an amazing grilled cheese from our local diner or a pagoda box picnic from our favorite chinese place. Nobody needs to tell Le Cirque, but it’s these every day foods and every day restaurants that make us feel as rich and fabulous as we know we actually are. No reservations required.

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Breakfast Thu, 16 May 2013 14:30:53 +0000 Raleigh-Elizabeth

Japanese Breakfast

By Raleigh-Elizabeth. Image by K. Blueice

“Never eat anything for breakfast you wouldn’t eat for dinner.” 

This great advice was served to Jeffrey Ozawa, or Gorumando, along with a traditional Japanese breakfast one morning in the Japanese countryside. One by one, a little old woman in a little pink kimono dished up the traditional Japanese dishes of rice, pickles, green tea, miso soup, and broiled fish. A perfect, traditional morning routine.

Breakfasts in other cultures have long intrigued me (partly because I’m so resistant to our own Lucky Charms and pancakes variety) but the Japanese breakfast holds a peculiar fascination: it’s like they skipped breakfast and went straight on to lunch.

Not too long ago, a friend took her little girls to Japan. Even when they weren’t enjoying all the beautiful pastries Japan offers today, the traditional miso soup and rice breakfasts went over pretty well with her daughters. The sometimes-raw fish… not so much, but the bento-box like offerings of a traditional Japanese breakfast are just as delicious in the morning as they are at lunch or, according to the little old lady in the little pink kimono, dinner.

When it comes to traditional offerings, this is a far cry from the Italian cornetto dipped in espresso or the French croissant and cafe au lait. These dainty little forays into the devilishly good dessert-like breakfasts stand in stark contrast to the health-conscious, arguably good-for-you version native to Japan.

German breakfast is another anomaly. For a savory-fanatic like me, it’s the stuff of legend. Cheeses, jams, smoked fish, cured meats, fruits, every seeded bread you can imagine… breakfast just doesn’t get much better than that. Neither does lunch or dinner, for that matter. (If you tell me a man cannot live on bread and cheese alone, I might concur. But add in some cured salami, and I could live happily for a lifetime.)

But for all that’s different, the German breakfast and the Japanese breakfast have one thing in common: they are both a taste of the rest of the day. And if you’re anything like me, a taste of what’s to come is the best way to get happy about a new day. Especially if it’s served with salami.

After all, salami really is just as delicious at dinner.

Tell me: What’s your favorite breakfast? Are you an oatmeal nut, or can you be appeased by a piece of leftover pizza from last night? Would you enjoy the traditional Japanese breakfast or German breakfast more?

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