2nd Annual Dolly Awards: Summer Edition!

Heirloom tomatoes, fireflies, juicy peaches, baseball, blackberries bursting at the seams…this can only mean one thing: It’s time for the Second Annual Dolly Awards! Last year, we went strictly by the rule book, adhering to a rigorous awarding process that involved votes, taste tests, many many minutes of research at the local library, as well as a suited-and-tied representative from Coopers & Lybrand overseeing the balloting. This year, we are doing it a little bit differently. We are handing out awards to our favorite drinks, snacks, songs, books, TV series, sanity-savers, etc, so long as the nominee in question meets one qualification: We can’t seem to shut up about it to anyone who will listen. With no further ado, the Second Annual DALS Awards…or as kids these days like to call them….the Dollys!

Most Unncessary Essential: Q Tonic
You know something’s gone seriously wrong when you find yourself paying as much for a bottle of tonic as you do for a bottle of decent wine or two gallons of gasoline. It’s shameful, really. And yet: We keep buying this stuff. Problem is, once you know what real tonic tastes like, you also know that Schweppes and Canada Dry are not real tonic. All you taste is the sugar — or, more accurately, the glucose and fructose. Q Tonic is almost like club soda in its lightness, with just a hint of that weird, herbal, tonic-y taste. It is completely unnecessary and absolutely essential. Damn you, Q Tonic, for costing so much! — Andy

Best Thank-You Gift that’s Not Flowers: Good Steaks
When someone does something nice for you — like, for instance, hosts a party to celebrate a book you have just written —  you could send them a nice little arrangement of roses and peonies. But then, the peonies will wither and die and there will be nothing but the little dots of pollen on the counter to remember your generosity by. You could also send the do-gooders a few pounds of the best steak money can buy — say, a few porterhouses or ribeyes from NY’s Lobel’s — which will pretty much guarantee a thank-you email in all caps saying “OMG! SO MUCH COOLER THAN FLOWERS!” Not to mention the high likelihood that the receiver will feel obligated to share the bounty of happiness with…the giver. —Jenny

Best Album to Cook to: Heartless Bastards, “Arrow”
There are soundtracks to every phase of my life. Because I have (possibly pathological) obsessive tendencies, this means that I listen to one album – or even one song – for months at a time, while I work, when I run, in the car, in my head, and when I cook. It’s not normal. Anway, the soundtrack of this summer is “Arrow” by the Heartless Bastards.  The only thing worse than bad food writing is bad music writing, so I will refrain from going too deep on why I am in love with lead singer Erika Wennerstrom’s voice or why I think “Skin and Bone” is pretty much the perfect song or why music like this is like reading a really beautifully written book: it’s a much-needed reminder of how super-talented people can be, which in turn, gives me hope. Instead, I’ll just say: Put this on, outside, the next time you have people over for a cookout, and you will not be sorry. — Andy

Best Tiger Mother Accessory: Size One Soccer Ball
Our girls like to play soccer. They spend at least an hour a day outside, kicking a ball against the low wall that surrounds our patio. It must drive our neighbors crazy — thumpthump, thumpthump, thumpthump – often starting at 8:00 am. This is undoubtedly good for developing ball skills, but if you want to take things to another level, buy a size one ball, which is about the size of a large grapefruit. Every move with one of these bad boys is a little more difficult and requires just a little more concentration, which in turn makes them a little more confident with a regulation-size ball. Which makes them more likely to crush the competition, win the game, win the tournament, get named tournament MVP, get into Harvard, become a concert violinist, speak seven languages, start an NGO in Guatemala, become a CEO, and live happily ever after. Or else! — Andy

Best TV Series Since The Wire: Breaking Bad
I once wrote here about Jenny’s refusal to watch what I consider to be the greatest television show ever made, The Wire. Years later, I have a hard time finding room in my heart to forgive this. This summer, however, she took a crucial first step on the road to redemption by joining me as we – five years late, of course – finally tore through the first four seasons of Breaking Bad. This season’s premiere was just last Sunday, so it’s not too late if you’re not on board already. I know we’re all busy and we don’t exactly have the time to add a new show to our lives – let alone a show about a terminally ill high school chemistry teacher turned possibly sociopathic meth cook. I won’t lie: watching this is like getting punched in the face every night. I sleep less because of it. It’s not light fare, but neither was The Wire – or any seriously worthwhile art for that matter. It drives me crazy when people complain about movies/books/shows/etc. being “too dark.” Remember Crime and Punishment, my bros? —Andy

Best Starter: Fried Pickles with Spicy Mayo
I know I said these were things we couldn’t shut up about, but do I really need to say more than…fried pickles with spicy mayo? Well, if you must know, we ordered them at the Ashby Inn in lovely Paris, Virginia last week and have not stopped plotting a way to recreate them in our own kitchen since. Stay tuned for the recipe…and, yes, we are open to suggestions. —Jenny

Best Recipe by an 8-year-old: “The Orizzy”
My dad used to call this the “Football Practice Special” because it’s what he drank as a kid, at home, after a long practice. (He had a part-time job in a soda fountain, and cares a great deal about his soft drinks.) But Abby, having no interest in football, has rechristened it the Orizzy. She makes them for me while I’m out running sometimes, and hands them to me when I walk through the door, forever earning my love and loyalty, as if that were ever a question. Here’s how it’s done: Take a tall glass full of ice, fill a third of the way with orange juice, and then top with seltzer or club soda. Add a dash of sugar. Stir. – Andy

Best Appetizer in a Flash: Creamy Salsa Dip
Ever since our friend Jim whipped this dip up for us in about two minutes using two ingredients, I haven’t walked by our local Mexican grocer without picking up a can of El Pato hot tomato sauce.  You literally dump the stuff into a cup of sour cream, stir a bit, serve with chips…and the next day you’re fielding emails from people asking “What is that stuff called again?” It’s called El Pato Hot Style Tomato Sauce and it’s also available on Amazon. —Jenny

Best Best: The Tomato Sandwich
Now, and forevermore. — Andy

Most Essential Backyard Accessory: The Weber Grill
Yeah, yeah: the gas grill is super easy and you can use it year-round and you can control the temperature with the dial and you spent a lot of money on it and it’s just as good as charcoal, but I’m sorry, there is nothing better than one of those ribeyes you just read about on a Weber grill. (PS: If you’re worried about the hassle of using it, read this. Even Jenny, notorious grill-o-phobe is on board.)  — Andy

La Luna
Did you see Brave? We did, the day it came out. The girl heroine (finally!), the crazy red hair, the Pixar brand: it was preordained. But, as often happens at Pixar movies, we ended up loving the short film that airs after the previews as much as we loved the main event. This time, it was La Luna, a beautiful little wordless story of a little boy, his father, and his father’s father, afloat in the middle of the ocean, who ascend a little ladder and find themselves on the moon where, it becomes clear, it is their job to tend to its phases — to move from a full moon to a crescent. It’s worth seeing Brave just for this short. Actually, it’s worth seeing Brave just to listen to the beautiful clinking sound the stars, like glowing Christmas ornaments, make as the old man, his son, and his grandson take their brooms and sweep them into formation. — Andy


Best Homemade Looking Storebought Item: Tortilla Land Uncooked Tortillas
What the storebought ball of pizza dough did for pizza, this did for the spicy shrimp tacos I ate last week at my neighbor’s house. I made my own tortillas from scratch the week before and when I had a bite of these — grilled for a minute or so per side — I could only ask myself one thing: why even bother? Their fresh-baked-ness elevated the lowly taco to masterpiece. — Jenny

Best Way to Kill an Hour: A Walk to the Mailbox
I wish I could tell you that every unstructured day of summer with the kids was spent chasing grasshoppers in the backyard, sipping tall glasses of homemade lemonade mixed with mint-infused simple syrup, and stealing a nap in the backyard hammock. But more often, it’s the eight-year-old screaming a new song she’s composed into my ear which involves counting to one hundred to the tune of the alphabet. This is the time of day I announce that we are writing letters to our friends in camp and taking a walk to the mailbox, which is conveniently about a 20-minute walk away. If that doesn’t sound convenient, consider the fact that it gives us a chance to get some exercise, have a little chat, kill an otherwise lumbering late-afternoon hour. —Jenny

Best Way to Kill an Afternoon: The Small Museum
You don’t need us to tell you that the Museum of Natural History or the Art Institute of Chicago or the Walker Art Institute or the Getty are going to be worth your time. Nor do you necessarily want to be reminded that they are worth your time. It’s an incredible privilege to live 20 miles north of the city that holds some of the world’s best museums, but to be honest, when I’m with the kids, I want a museum hit that’s a little less overwhelming, a little more doable. This is how we often find ourselves in the out-of-the-way small musuem like the Aldrich (above; yes those are dollar bills) the Pierpont Morgan, The Thomas Edison Museum, or, one hot, slow summer day last year, even at the Edward Hopper House in Nyack, NY. And when followed by a quick visit to the gift shop and an sea salt caramel ice cream, it’s the perfect afternoon trifecta. —Jenny

Best Summer Side: The Corn Salad
We had this four times in one week over the Fourth of July holiday, officially making it the Salad of Our Summer, 2012. Here’s a simple, ten minute version, upon which you can riff like a mofo: Boil six ears of corn in salted water for five minutes, remove from pot. Holding the cobs vertically, slice the corn kernels off the cob and put into a large bowl. Toss with some basil or mint, salt, pepper, scallions, fresh cherry tomatoes, and lime juice. If you want, you can also add some bacon, finely chopped, but that almost seems unfair. — Andy

Best Accidental Dessert: Lemon Curd Pie
I no longer ask questions when Andy wakes up and says things like “I’m going to make a lemon meringue pie today.” I just push a few cookbooks in his direction and hope for the best. This time, though, something went wrong. Very wrong. While I was enjoying my morning paper Andy was slinging epithets at the computer, specifically directing them at a normally reputable blond domestic doyenne who shall go nameless. The recipe he had selected had him clicking back and forth between pages and before he knew it he had completed steps 1-5 when he was only supposed to have completed step 1. At least I think that’s what was wrong. All I know was that he aborted mission and all that was left to show for it was a small pot of sunshine-yellow lemon curd in the refrigerator. You know Andy hates nothing more than a reminder of his own failures, so while he was out the next day, I made a graham cracker pie crust, spooned in the curd, and…winner. —Jenny

Recipe: Lemon Curd Pie

  • Whisk together 1 cup sugar, zest from one lemon, and 8 egg yolks.
  • Add to a medium pot and whisk in 2/3 cup lemon juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (cut up) and turn heat to medium-high. Cook whisking constantly until butter has melted and mixture is thick. Do not boil.
  • Continue to whisk and remove pan from heat. Pour liquid through a strainer into a glass bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup. Refrigerate.
  • While curd cools, prepare graham cracker crust.Preheat oven to 350°F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 packages honey graham crackers (total: 2 1/4 cups) until they resemble fine crumbs. Add 5 tablespoons sugar and 10 tablespoons melted butter (unsalted) and pulse to combine. Using your fingers, press the mixture into a 9-inch pie dish. Bake for 10 minutes. Cool. Spoon lemon curd into crust and chill.
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erinn johnson

Can not wait for the fried pickle recipe.

Brave a La Luna got high marks for our whole crew (not an easy thing).

And, we are well prepare for the arrival of the tomatoes for lots and lots of tomato sandwiches. I think we have them three times a week once the bounty starts.


Thank you for the Heartless Bastards, the corn salad and the plug for small museums. Although the last may be because I work in one and, seriously, we kick big museum ass.


Awesome post. There is nothing better in the world than a fresh tomato sandwich. Oh my – I don’t think I’ve had enough yet this summer and must. eat. more. LOVE small museums too and am blessed with many in our area as well (Boston).


All you had to say was heartless bastards and you’ve confirmed what I’ve long believed: our families should be friends.

Love this list.


You had me at Q-tonic (a must-have for me) and now I am listening to Heartless Bastards dreaming of the gin and tonic I will have this evening while I wait for my lemon curd to cool and watch my children play soccer in the yard. Cheers!


We just got back from Marshall, VA which is near to Paris. Brunch at the Ashby Inn is an experience!!! We do make fried pickles, we use our fried green tomato crust for them. It is a panko crumb. Our favorite is the recipe from Dinosaur Bar-B-Que: An American Roadhouse. We love it with the Buttermilk Southwestern dipping sauce goes great with tomatoes or pickles!


You had me at “soundtrack for every phase” of your life. I do, too — and it’s COMPLETELY normal. Love these picks.


I’ve been devouring (literally, in some cases) everything on this site after finding it in a happy accident recently, and now I know I’m in good, Breaking Bad-loving company! The “Nina’s weekly meal plan” you posted a while back was awesome, I think the pork tenderloin was left off of the printable shopping list though?


Did you mean the Art Institute of Chicago? I’d like to forward this to some friends, but can’t until that’s corrected;)
We were late to Brave, and grateful La Luna saved us from missing its opening, but now searching for it online or on iTunes.
And I think of DALS every time I make a Dark & Stormy and give thanks for you both.


All fixed Deirdre. Thanks! And yes, Rosy, a little bit of olive would work. But if you are using the bacon, probably not.


If you are ever back in Virginia/DC area…you must try the fried pickles at Mad Fox Brewery. AMAZING! Best I’ve ever had. EVER.


Marysia, I’m already afraid, with the kids’ books and etc., that we get too far off message, but if you liked that Heartless Bastards song, check out a song — from a previous album — called “Hold Your Head High”. That’s a good one.
Erin, we’re in VA all the time. Where is Mad Fox?


Question: is the corn salad hot or cold? I’m going to make it tonight regardless!

Apple galette cooling on the counter as we speak. My galettes always leak all over the cookie sheet though. I feel like I’m losing a lot of precious juice.

Does anyone know where the tonic can be found in Canada? ( suburban Vancouver)


Linnea – The link for ordering the tortillas is now more clearly embedded in the post. Sorry for confusion!


I want the tonic, am craving tomatoes, have the summer salad on the menu for tomorrow and MUST DOWNLOAD HEARTLESS BASTARDS NOW!!!
Thank you.


The Ashby Inn! Oh how we love Star and Neil and their awesome inn. We wanted to have our wedding there but a tented wedding in December was more challenge than we were up for. We settled for going back on our first anniversary for an amazing weekend. It’s just 45 mins from DC so it’s a perfect getaway for us. So glad to see folks from outside the area enjoying (and blogging!) about them – they deserve it.


I married a devotee of “the duck” (el pato) and i’ve found it at–wait for it…–Walmart (in Florida and Arizona). I don’t go to Wally World often enough in NY to have remembered to look for it. But still: might be worth checking near the Old El Paso stockpile.


As I was unloading two 4-packs of my favorite Q Tonic, I read your story. It is true, once you have Q Tonic, you can never go back to Schweppes!
For the corn salad, at this time of year, it isn’t necessary to cook the corn; it is so sweet. You can just cut it off the cob.


Thanks, Andy for the song recommendation! Listening to “Skin and bone” right now and love it! 🙂


Just tried Q Tonic in my vodka tonic tonight-it was awesome! And I got it on sale! I guess it was meant to be 🙂

Jan @ Family Bites

I love these posts! I’ve just started watching Breaking Bad but am only halfway through the first season…I’m glad to hear it’s still good four seasons later. Oh, and those pickles would be on my must-make list, too.


Just ate your tomato sandwich for lunch. Thank you. So simple. So awesome. So made my afternoon great!


I’m requesting the Q Tonic for my first vodka tonic post birth, love the steaks as thank you gifts, and the fried pickles? Way to make a 9 month pregnant woman want to lick her ipad screen. Too good!


I love the Dollys! The Orizzy is basically what the Germans would call an orange juice schorle. Schorle just means you’ve put fizzy water / soda in it. They are made for it over here. If you can get your hands on some rhubarb juice and make one with that it will change your life.