Entries from October 2011

Reading List: John Jeremiah Sullivan

October 31st, 2011 · 13 Comments · Cameos, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

When Jenny launched Dinner: a Love Story eighteen months ago, I sent out a group email to all nine of my friends to let them know what was up, and to spread the word. She called me at work a couple of hours later, excited. “John Sullivan just registered on the site,” she said. Our first victim! John Sullivan, aka John Jeremiah Sullivan, is a writer, a funny person, a kind soul, and a former colleague of mine from the men’s magazine known as Gentlemen’s Quarterly. Have you heard of him? You will. Just last week, he published a collection of essays, Pulphead, that has been getting some halfway decent reviews. NPR called it “a collection that shows why Sullivan might be the best magazine writer around.” On Sunday, The New York Times Book Review called it “the best, and most important, collection of magazine writing since [David Foster] Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” Dwight Garner, reviewing it in the Times last week, said it “put me in mind of one of Flannery O’Connor’s indelible utterances.” Time had this to say: “He’s not exactly a national secret — he’s already won two National Magazine Awards, among other things, and he’s not yet 40. But he’s the closest thing we have right now to Tom Wolfe, and that includes Tom Wolfe.” Larry McMurtry, in Harper’s, called it “the most involving collection of essays to appear in many a year.” To which I will add: Please. The fact that you can buy this book on Amazon right now for less than I spent on swiss chard at the market this morning is one of the great bargains, and investments, to be found on this earth. It’s hard to put into words just how sublime stories like this, this and this are. (Seriously, take an hour and read some. Start with “Upon This Rock.” Afterwards, feel free to complain directly to me if you feel I have steered you wrong.) John, in addition to being a DALS charter member, was kind enough to offer up a few of his favorite kid books for us. Of his picks, I can only claim to have read The Giant Jam Sandwich, but I’m here to say: if John Jeremiah Sullivan says these books are good and true, I’m going to believe him. I now cede the floor. — Andy

Here are four beloved books of my childhood, possibly out of print, but worth the while of parents to hunt down, especially if their youngsters are between, say, three and six. Written by an author who has actually prepared multiple DALS recipes (greatly enjoyed by family in cases where he didn’t burn, mush them up, or accidentally serve them raw). P.S. DALS also turned me on to Don Pepino pizza sauce in a can. It’s all I use anymore.
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway

A small town (Itching Down) is infested by wasps, to the point that folks can’t deal. The townspeople have a meeting, where it’s decided that they will build an enormous, field-sized jam sandwich, to trap all the wasps. Watching them do this, page after page… I can still feel the child excitement. They turn a swimming pool into a mixing bowl. They turn the town’s biggest building into a giant brick oven. The pictures are bright but also detailed and subtle. If your kid loves books, it’s a minor crime not to read him/her this one.

Shaggy Fur Face by Virgil Franklin Partch

A dog has a good master–and mistress, a little girl–but they’re poor, and they can’t keep him. They sell him, for the cost of ”ditch-digging britches,” to (more…)

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Happy Halloween!

October 30th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Year of the Cyclops Pumpkin.

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What’s Your Secret Ingredient?

October 28th, 2011 · 107 Comments · Uncategorized

I love the idea of a recipe having a secret ingredient. When the girls were little, I would steal away to the corner of the kitchen to add a secret ingredient (sugar) to my magic hiccup potion (water). My friend Andras puts a shot of bourbon in his scrambled eggs. My old co-worker Myles adds a spoonful of peanut butter to his chili. (Maybe, using that trick, Andy would’ve taken home a blue ribbon in the chili off?) Andy’s dad used to make burgers on the grill (a recipe that has come to be known as “The Dadoo Special”) and we’re still trying to figure out what the heck he put in those patties. But I’m curious: What’s your secret ingredient? What have I not been adding to my spaghetti sauces, stews, soups, chilis, eggs, pies, omelets, cakes, quesadillas, mashed potatoes, beans, roast chickens, that I should have been adding all along?

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Pop Quiz

October 26th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Dinner, Vegetarian

I think we are way overdue for another edition of Wax-On, Wax-Off, don’t you? You know the concept, right: Once you learn how to cook something without using a recipe, you are more inclined to cook it. So taking everything you know about pasta (you can use this really helpful primer from Bon App to refresh yourself), take a look at the ingredients on the cutting board above, and maybe, if you’re a by-the-book, stick-to-the-recipe-kind of cook, try winging it tonight instead.

And of course, let me know what you come back with.

Pictured above are all the makings of an easy 20-minute dinner: Pappardelle, mushrooms, red pepper flakes, goat cheese, shallots. (Olive oil, salt, and pepper not shown.)

The mushrooms are maitake (aka hen-of-the-woods) that I picked up at the farmer’s market, but you can sub in your favorite mushrooms if maitakes are a tall order. You can also replace the pappardelle with fettucini and the goat cheese with Parm or Pecorino. The point is: Have fun, improvise, and if you screw up  – who cares?

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Eyeball Cupcakes

October 25th, 2011 · 9 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

I really do believe that there are two kinds of people in this world: the bakers and the cooks (or “cookers” as Abby once called them.) Me — with my absolute inability to pay attention to amounts and rules and, you know, crucial details (last week I applied Athlete’s Foot cream on Phoebe’s rash instead of hydrocortisone — I fall squarely into the cooker category. I love nothing more than coming across an instruction like “mix until you reach desired consistency” in a recipe. In other words, there’s no wrong answer! This is why, in my hours of need (aka Halloween), I turn to my friend and ICE graduate, Sara of Sara Bakes Cakes, who, now that I think of it, is actually neither a baker nor a cook, but a true artist. I asked her to give me one easy, creepy treat that would see me through Halloween bake sales and fairs and parties along with one instruction: No fondant, which may scare me more than the bloodshot eyeball cupcakes themselves. They are made with bloody red velvet cake and a foolproof vanilla buttercream frosting, both of which I’m thinking will be nice to have on hand throughout the year. And as soon as I get the guts up to try making them, I’ll let you know how they are.

Sara’s Red Velvet Cupcakes (more…)

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Rosa’s Lentil Salad

October 24th, 2011 · 11 Comments · Dinner, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

In the mid-80s, after a long day of wrestling with algebra and 7th-grade-girl politics, my best friend Jeni and I would head to her house to decompress with a Ms. Pacman marathon. I remember the two of us walking into the sunny foyer of their tall Victorian, dumping our CB jackets and LeSportSacs in a big mound on the floor (so thoughtful), and then, like programmed robots who had no say in the matter, heading straight for the kitchen.

Remember when Bugs Bunny would smell something delicious and he would literally float in the air following the wafting aroma? That was what it was like walking into that house. More often than not, Jeni’s mother Rosa would be in her kitchen cooking up a roast, baking a pie, or concocting dinner from one of the stained cards or yellowed New York Times clippings that were jammed into a little wooden recipe box on the counter.

I felt so comfortable in their home that I would open the refrigerator and poke around for something to eat without even asking. Unlike in my house, where the idea of a jackpot after school snack was an Entenmann’s chocolate frosted doughnut dipped in a glass of whole milk, a jackpot at Jeni’s was a tupperware container filled with leftovers from dinner the night before. And on the best days, one of those leftovers was Rosa’s lentil salad. There was nothing terribly fancy about the recipe — it was made with lentils, scallions, peppers, and a tarragon-spiked vinaigrette — but something magical would happen overnight when all those flavors mingled. I would’ve bypassed the entire Entenmann’s section in Grand Union for a bowl of the stuff.

I probably ate the lentil salad eight hundred times in my childhood, but I don’t think one of those times was in a proper dinner table setting. The only way I can remember eating it is straight from the tupperware container, both Jeni and I sitting on the Marimekko-cushioned kitchen bench fighting each other for every last bite. And even though I’ve since made some version of the recipe in my own kitchen eight hundred times (most recently last week alongside a simple salmon), that still remains my favorite way to eat it. (more…)

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Winner

October 24th, 2011 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Many thanks to this month’s newsletter sponsor, Inmod, an online retailer of modern furniture, lighting and decor. The winner of the Inmod teak bowl (upper left) is DALS reader Merie. To be eligible to win newsletter giveaways, you must be a subscriber. Thanks to everyone who played!

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Yet Another Birthday…

October 21st, 2011 · 6 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

…where my grand plan to make Deb’s Best Birthday Cake, devolves into this instead.

But Abby will forgive me when she opens these and this. (We’ve already exhausted Season 1.)

I’m thinking of having a third child, if only so I can dress him or her in this for Halloween.

Why can’t it be October 25 right exactly now?

I always knew Reese was a smart one. (Please note her choice of reading material.)

A good reminder: Who’s David and who’s Goliath in the battle between book publishers and Amazon?

I’ve accepted the fact that I will never have handwriting like Marion Deuchars, but now I can at least have her book. (Be sure to play the “How to Draw a Simple Bird” video for your kids.)

How fun is this menu planning? And I’m totally making the lemon-garlic-anchovy potatoes this weekend.

And now a few things from Andy:

One upside to the kids growing up: Abby is one year closer to appreciate this kind of writing.

Can’t stop listening to this, and the rest of the family can’t stop listening to me listen to it, either.

This could be my Halloween costume this year.

An amazing piece of old-school reporting.

Want to get the kids excited to go play some soccer/take a spelling test/go to a piano/just go out and kick some butt in general? Try this. How fun does that look?

Thank you, New York Times, for showing me that I am doing everything wrong in the kitchen.

Of all the things I love about All Things Must Pass, the album cover is right up there at the top. Here’s the obituary of the man who shot it, along with a bunch of other iconic covers.

If The New Yorker would only post their articles for free, I could link here to the  latest David Sedaris essay, Memory Laps. But they don’t, so I can’t. If you get the magazine, though, it’s a good one. We read aloud it to the kids, in our best public radio voices – for real — and they loved it.

Happy weekend!

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First Place Loser

October 19th, 2011 · 20 Comments · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Posts by Andy, Quick, Rituals, Uncategorized

There’s this thing Abby and I do, before every soccer game. She’s usually sitting on the wooden bench by our door, in her too-big uniform, and even though she’s in third grade, I’m enabling…I mean, tying her cleats. When I’m done, I give her a pat on the knee and look into her eyes.

“You ready?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says. The affect couldn’t be more flat. She has heard this before.

“You gonna be tough out there today?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Good,” I say, “because if you lose, don’t bother coming home.”

She rolls her eyes.

So when I was loading my stock pot full of chili into the back of our car at 8:30 last Saturday morning, on my way to deliver it unto the judges of our town’s first annual Chili-Off, Abby saw her opening.

“Hey, Dad,” she said.

“Yeah, Abby?”

“If you lose today, don’t bother coming home.”

You know where this is going, right?

We’d signed up for this Chili-Off — which would take place at the Pumpkin Fair, which raises money for our town’s elementary school — a few weeks ago, and Abby wasn’t the only one having fun at my expense. Jenny, too, had been gleefully applying the pressure, getting all up in my mug about it. (“Remember that venison chili Francine made for us like ten years ago?” she asked a few days beforehand, out of nowhere, which I took as challenge — brazen in its passiveness — to my manhood. “Mmmm, that was so good.” Damn, I thought. Should I be using venison?). The night before the contest, she’d been watching me like a hawk as I got my mis en place going, hovering, looking skeptical, asking me if I was nervous, if I knew anything about “the competition,” if I had a secret ingredient up my sleeve (meaning: you might need one), if I’d be able to show my face at the coffee shop if we lost. But I had waited until 9:00 on the night before the contest to start cooking, and I didn’t have the time or bandwith for new recipes or special ingredients. Go with what you know, as they say, and so I did. I’m not about to abandon the chili I love because there might be someone out there building a better, prettier one. It’s called loyalty, people.

Besides, I only know how to make one chili by heart. It’s quick and easy, about thirty minutes of hands-on time, and is a regular in the family rotation. Every Halloween, actually, we make a batch of it for friends and neighbors, who stop in before they go trick or treating, or while they’re out trick or treating, sort an open house kind of deal. It’s a dinner party in a pot. We stick a ladle in the Le Creuset, put some paper bowls and fixings on the counter — sour cream, cheese, cilantro, avocado, chips — and everybody stands around with a glass of red wine and serves themselves. It’s become something of a tradition, and nobody has ever complained about the food. To my face, at least.

The chili itself is a pretty straightforward base with lots of possible variations, but for the First Annual Chili-Off, I decided to go classic (beef), with a slight twist (chorizo). The chorizo adds some subtle heat and smokiness and, in general, just really good depth of flavor. I mean, it’s sausage, for chrissakes; it’s not going to make it worse. By 10 pm, the stock pot was in the refrigerator, marking its time until Judgment Day.

We showed up at the fair at 12:30, having completely missed the Chili-Off, not to mention the panel of seven judges who apparently tasted all fourteen entries with the seriousness of the dead. The day was beautiful, sunny and windy, the leaves just beginning to turn. High clouds were blowing through in long formations. A soccer kind of day. One of Phoebe’s friends ran right up to us as we walked in. “You guys came in second place!” she said. “Phoebe, your dad almost won!”

Almost. Hey, I tried, right?

Jenny looked at me. She smiled. “Second place, wow,” she said, throwing an arm around my shoulder. “Not bad, not bad. But you know what George Steinbrenner said: Second place is really first place loser. I’m just saying.”

Ouch. I don’t the name of the guy who won first place, but I have two things to say to him: Congratulations, your chili rules. And: Stay away from my wife. – Andy

Second Place Chili
Serves 12 to 15 (more…)

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Introducing Fave Five

October 17th, 2011 · 16 Comments · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

When you are a parent and faced with the reality that your children are doing things like running for student government, logging into their own gmail accounts,and you know…growing up, there suddenly seems to be an emotional land mine buried in every nook of the house. Phoebe’s purple velvet first birthday dress — the one Andy bought for her at Saks in 2003 — hung in the closet for five years longer than she could squeeze a toe into it because I couldn’t bear to stash it in some basement box that probably won’t be opened until Phoebe herself is a mom. The thought of tossing Abby’s “portfolio” of artwork from preschool — even though I haven’t opened it once in three years to admire the work — fills me with dread. And the books! Don’t get me started on the books. If they weren’t threatening to take over the living space in our house, Moo Moo Brown Cow would still be on our TV room coffee table and I would still be telling anyone who would listen: This is the book we were reading when Phoebe said her first word!

No, I can’t ignore the books. The only thing I can do to make myself feel better about getting rid of them is give them to my brother, whose son is only 4, and who still has thirteen glorious Lemony Snicket books to look forward to reading. (Where is the justice in life?) “It’s like your birthday!” my brother says to my nephew every time we do the hand-off. Nathan will grab How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight, and I will go into lock-down mode. If Auntie Jenny allows herself to remember reading that one to Abby, Auntie Jenny just might lose it.

So “Fave Five,” a new series on DALS, is, in part, my selfish attempt to hold on to my daughters’ childhoods — sorry, I mean my daughters’ childhood books that have meant something to our family long after they are no longer in the reading rotation. The series will also give us a chance to write about whatever books happen to making the house happy but don’t seem to fit into one of Andy’s or Phoebe’s epic round-ups. (Expect a lot more of those, too.) The books we choose could be old favorites, they could be new favorites — hell, we might even throw in a game or toy or video or two. Put it this way: If I get that twisty, dark pit in my stomach when I think about handing it off to my nephew, you’ll probably be reading about it here.

And don’t worry, you won’t have to read my sob stories every time you check in. Just click the little button on the right column (right near the Categories list) and it will immediately take you to the latest picks. They will be changing regularly, so check back often.

“Fave Five” logo designed by Robin Helman. Thanks Robin!

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Question of the Day

October 13th, 2011 · 19 Comments · Baking and Sweets

If you present one of these baked caramel apples as an afterschool snack, don’t you think you are off the hook for just about everything else…all month long?

Baked Apples with Caramel

Heat oven to 425°F. Remove stems from your apples. (I used Empire here; you want an apple that can hold its shape under heat — Granny Smiths, Romes, Winesaps, Golden Delicious) Using a paring knife, cut about a half inch into the apple around where the stem was and remove the fruit. Using an apple corer, remove the core, without poking all the way through to the bottom. Using the same knife, cut a little belt, about 1/8 inch deep, all the way around the middle of the apple. Sprinkle the cores of your apples with cinnamon and brush the top with melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes. (Keep an eye on them as they bake — they may take less or more time depending on variety and size.) Drizzle with caramel sauce.

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A Hint of Hedonism

October 11th, 2011 · 68 Comments · Chicken and Turkey, Dinner, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing this blog as long as I have, and never told you about one of my greatest talents. (No, not my proclivity for cocktails.) Last night as I made dinner, it occurred to me that I have a remarkable ability to convince myself that whatever I’m making for my family is healthy — even on nights when I am forced to go upstairs to change my T-shirt that has been splattered with the canola oil I used to fry the deliciously crispy skillet potatoes you see above.

Because the potatoes are from my favorite organic vendor at the farmer’s market. And they are technically vegetables. And they are sitting next to a pile of kale. (Remember the Kale Effect? Which is related to Andy’s Broccoli Rule?) And plus, we were having a college friend over for dinner, and when a guest is at the table, the decision to fry the potatoes (instead of roast them) and the decision to use an extra pat or two of butter in the pan-sauce for the chicken (chicken = not red meat) is a no-brainer. Extra fat doesn’t officially register in the arteries when you are cooking for someone else. I can’t believe you didn’t know that.

Last night was a little more buttery than I’m used to, but I will say that as a general rule, I am a firm believer that there needs to be at least a hint of hedonism on the dinner plate — whether it’s crumbled feta in the salad, sour cream on the baked potatoes, or bacon in the brussels sprouts. Because if every meal is boiled kale with quinoa and flax, I have to ask: Where is the joy in life? (more…)

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Reminder

October 10th, 2011 · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

Just a reminder that in order to be eligible for giveaways (not to mention the trademark DALS bumper sticker), you need to register for the DALS newsletter. We have a couple fun giveaways coming up this week, so do it sooner rather than later!

Photo courtesy of Raising Foodies.

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Reader Mail

October 7th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Domestic Affairs

Love this note from longtime loyal reader “ingrid:”

While I have still not improved to your cooking expertise (who am I kidding — I feel lucky if I can grab a rotisserie chicken from Whole Foods 2 blocks away?!?!?), I have come to see that parenting is a team sport. Truly, this is what your blog is about – no? I mean the food stuff is great and all – but really the essence of what you give to people like me (as I am constantly outmaneuvered by a 4-year-old whose frontal lobe is still 21 years away from being completely formed), is that warm yummy feeling that I am not alone.

Keep the mail coming — nothing makes me happier than knowing I’m helping. Have a good weekend!

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An Anniversary Story

October 6th, 2011 · 17 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

There are other benefits to keeping a dinner diary besides the fact that it offers daily meal inspiration as well as tangible, Pilot-Pen-V5 documented evidence of my obsessive-compulsive behavior. And that added benefit is this: It tells a story. It tells the story of how much my cooking has changed from the pre-Michael Pollan days of the 90s (asparagus is constantly showing up in the winter and butternut squash in the spring) and the pre-kid days (Andy and I would spend entire afternoons tracking down obscure ingredients so we could experiment with, say, a lamb kibbeh. Can you imagine having that kind of time?) But, I realized this week as we celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, the diary also tells a short story of New York. By now it’s probably clear how much we like to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries in our house in a big way, and to that end, we almost always try to snag a restaurant reservation somewhere special. And special can be defined in a few ways: It can be personally sentimental (like our first one, with the view you see above, was); it can be trendy (as our 8th in 2005 was) or it can just be classically, insanely awesome (as Le Bernardin at 9 months pregnant was). No matter where we went, though, the dining room always seems be charged with the energy that only a special night out in New York seems to offer. Here’s the list…

First Anniversary (1998) River Café, Brooklyn (shown above)

We had our rehearsal dinner here (and got married right down the street), so it was the obvious first choice for our first anniversary. After our wedding, TRC would subsequently become the go-to spot for our extended family for celebrating big occasions like engagements and important birthdays. But the tables for two that seat both people on the same side  (so no one gets cheated of the view of Downtown Manhattan) was always my favorite way to eat there. (more…)

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Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

October 6th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Best advice ever from a Stanford commencement speech given by Steve Jobs in 2005.

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Last Gasp

October 4th, 2011 · 6 Comments · Grilling, Quick, Seafood, Sides, Salads, Soup

We’re not the types who keep the Weber burning all year long — something just doesn’t feel right to me about grilling a leg of lamb while wearing a parka. Which means that this past Saturday night, when the sun was on its way down before the girls’ muddy cleats had been kicked off, may have just marked our final grilled fish dinner of the season. But it was a good one. (more…)

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Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started Cooking

October 3rd, 2011 · 48 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Dinner, Kitchenlightenment, Quick, Rituals

I wasn’t sure I heard her right.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“What’s up with the flat bags?”

I heard her right. The question came from the photographer’s assistant during the DALS Book photo shoot a few weeks ago. She was in her twenties, hailed from Williamsburg. I didn’t get a peek at her iPod, but I feel certain it would be loaded with songs by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the New Pornographers. In other words, bands I’d never heard before. She was referring to the bags of chilis and soups in my freezer — I always freeze dinners in flattened Ziplocs. When you do it that way, you save time (by thawing whatever is frozen under running water for 60 seconds) and you save space. (After your soup or stew is frozen, you can file the bag in your freezer like a book in a bookshelf.) How did she not know this?

Most likely because she hadn’t spent six years of her life at Real Simple or four years editing the food pages of Cookie. I need to remember that not everyone is a former magazine editor walking around with a mental catalog of time-saving, money-saving, energy-saving, sanity-saving, life-saving, surefire, guilt-free, guaranteed fool-proof, plan-ahead, stress-free, problem-solving shortcuts, tips and tricks. (And yes, in case you are wondering, all those words consistently scored the highest with the focus groups.) I need to remember that not everyone out there feels comfortable with recipe-writing language that calls for a “handful of beans” or a “pinch of cayenne.” (Don’t literally pinch cayenne, especially if you are using those same pinchers to remove contact lenses an hour later.) I need to remember that calling for lemongrass in a recipe is a potential deal-breaker and that calling for a  ”large” can of whole tomatoes is going to elicit this comment from my book editor, Lee: “Ounces please! Lord, define large!” This is why she is so awesome. Not only because I can hear her southern drawl through the most miniscule of notes, but because she yells at me now so you won’t have to later.

Anyway, in honor of all of you out there who don’t know to store your folded garbage bags inside the garbage can (so you can conveniently grab a replacement as soon as you discard the full one –classic Real Simple tip ) or that adding skim milk to boiling liquid is going to result in curdling (classic Jenny screw-up), here are a list of things I wish someone told me fifteen years ago, when I was the one with the loaded iPod (Sony Walkman?) who did not understand the kind of happiness that a quick-thaw might someday bring me.

1. Don’t ever make recipes (or trust cookbooks) that have overly cutesy recipe titles like “Struttin’ Chicken.” These kinds of dishes rarely have the kind of staying power that a good simple Roast Chicken will. (Grilled Chicken for People Who Hate Grilled Chicken is the obvious exception.)

2. Buy  yourself a pair of kitchen scissors. You will use them to snip herbs. You will use them to chop canned whole peeled tomatoes that have been dumped and contained in a 4-cup Pyrex. You will use them to snip spinach right in the skillet as the spinach wilts. Spinach! As long as we’re on the subject: always make more of it than you think you need. This way you will not find yourself in the position of having one cupcake-sized mound of sesame spinach for your whole family of four to share.

3. Some Type-A behaviors worth stealing: Do everything you can in advance when you are having people over for dinner. No matter how easy and tossed-off the task  may be. No matter how many times your partner-in-crime says, Why don’t we just do that later? Filling a sippy cup takes 30 seconds! If you forgo this advice and do nothing in advance, at least make sure you start off the evening with an empty dishwasher. You will thank yourself a few hours and a few cocktails later when staring at the mountain of greasy plates in the sink. Lastly, if at all possible, go to sleep with a fresh trash bag in the kitchen garbage can. I find it somewhat soul-crushing to see last night’s dinner scraps piled up before I’ve had my morning coffee. And I sleep better when I know it’s empty. (See: Type A.)

4. Brushing dough with a quick egg-wash is the secret to getting that shiny, lacquered, I’m-worth-something-after-all glow to your pies, breads, and cherry galettes (pictured above). This comes in especially handy when trying to pass off storebought crust as homemade. Whisk one egg with a fork, then use a pastry brush to cover every inch of the exposed crust before baking.

5. Meat will never brown properly if you add it to the pan when it’s freezing cold and wet. (And browning properly is where you’re going to get most of your flavor.) It should be patted dry and room temperature. Unless you have just walked in the door, it’s 7:30, the kids are screaming and the instruction to “bring it to room temperature” is the instruction that will make you swear off family dinner forever.

6. Add acid. A drizzle of vinegar, a spoonful of tangy buttermilk, a simple squeeze of lemon or lime will always add brightness to an otherwise boring and flat dish. I’ll never forget an interview I read with Mario Batali that reconfirmed this: He said the easiest way to pretend you know what you’re doing in the kitchen is to talk about the “acidity” level of a dish.

7. Never use the phrase “pun intended” or “no pun intended.” Oh sorry! That’s from my “Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started Writing” list.

8. Learn the correct way to slice and dice an avocado. You will not only save time, energy, sanity [insert up to 4 more Real Simple focus group words here] by doing this, but you will find yourself giving tutorials to awed, in-the-dark observers every time you make guacamole in front of them.

9. Ice in the cocktails, people. Don’t be stingy. Nothing worse than a lukewarm Gin and Tonic.

10. You won’t get arrested if you leave out an ingredient or replace it with something that’s not called for. That doesn’t mean leave the shrimp out of the shrimp and grits, but if you don’t have scallions for the chopped salad, or if you don’t have red wine called for in the braised pork, take a look around and see what else might stand in for what’s missing. Every time you do this and it works, you’ll be a little more confident in the kitchen. And every time you do this and it doesn’t work, you have one more good story to tell.

Flattened freezer bag photo by Jennifer Causey for DALS.

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