Entries Tagged as 'Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations'

Mini Shepherd’s Pie

November 20th, 2014 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Of all the things that taste better the next day — Grandma Jody’s chicken, pasta with Bolognese — I think maybe Shepherd’s Pie is right up there on my list. At least part of the reason for this is because some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in front of my best friend’s fridge, eating forkfuls of the pie’s spice-spiked meat straight from the dish. But most of the reason? Well, what’s there not to love about something smothered in a crust of mashed potatoes? (Boy I’m picking up a theme this week.) I’ve never actually made a real Shepherd’s Pie — the closest I’ve come are these miniature cheater’s version, cobbled together from everything left over on Thanksgiving. (Of course Shepherd’s Pie was invented to use up leftovers, like all the best recipes, so technically it’s in fact the opposite of cheating.) I heat up a little shallot in olive oil then add whatever I’ve got stored the tupperware bins (including those bacon bits hangin’ around the brussels sprouts). Once the filling is heated through, I spoon it into ramekins and spread reheated mashed potatoes on top. I don’t even bother baking the pies, but if you’re after a more crusty topping, skip the reheating of the potatoes and bake at 375° for about 20 minutes, sprinkled with some shredded cheese if you’re feeling decadent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the kids for Friday lunch.

Is there anything better than leftovers? Man, I could eat this screen right now. What leftover moves do you have in your Thanksgiving arsenals? Would love to know.

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Friday Round-up: Halloween Edition

October 24th, 2014 · 7 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Best Halloween Party Goody Bag: Candy-Stuffed Disposable Gloves. (Buzzfeed) 

Best Creepy Kids Movie: Coraline (I’d recommend 8 and up; And don’t forget the book and the graphic novel)

Best Trying-to-Be-Scary-But-Actually-Adorable Halloween Treat: Little Cupcake Monster from alllielewisclapp‘s instagram feed.

Best Vintage Halloween Picture Book: Halloween with Morris and Borris, by Bernard Wiseman (more…)

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Boo Cake

October 8th, 2014 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Do you guys remember when Martha Stewart published the spin-off, Kids? It launched just as I became a mother, and was the magazine I would pick up during breastfeeding, and think “Some day Phoebe and I will fashion water bottles into adorable little piggy banks!” and “Someday I will have a ‘Backwards Party’ for Abby and serve a ‘Spaghetti and Meatballs’ Cake with ice cream that had been shredded through a food mill.” I still have the clipping of Mashed Potato Ghosts, which had been shaped into cones with a piping bag, then studded with black sesame seeds for eyeballs. I still hold out hope that we will get to all of this.

Kids has since closed, but the woman behind it, Jodi Levine — whose editor’s note I would pour over every month — is as active and creative as ever. She runs the blog Supermakeit and has just published Candy Aisle Crafts, which, in our house, was essentially greeted with the same enthusiasm as a Jonathan Franzen novel might’ve in others. Last week, before I went to pick up the girls at school, I planted a copy of the book in our backseat and did a countdown from three to see how long it would take my ten-year-old to demand we make something from it. (I got to two.) There are so many amazingly clever ideas in here — Monster S’Mores, Cookie Castle Cakes, Marshmall0w-Monogrammed Hot Chocolate (!) — and none of them require materials beyond what you’d find in the supermarket. (Get it? Supermarket? Supermakeit?) Jodi was nice enough to share one of the projects with DALS readers, these Boo Cake Toppers that will definitely be gracing something on the Halloween spread this year. Thanks Jodi!

BOO Cake Topper
From Candy Aisle Crafts: Create Fun Projects with Supermarket Sweets, by Jodi Levine 

Forming candy sticks into letters takes a little practice. It’s a good idea to have a few extra candy sticks on hand in case one cracks. (more…)

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10 Commandments for the At-Home Birthday Party

September 29th, 2014 · 16 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

There’s a reason why at-home birthday parties are going the way of the white rhinoceros: They are stressful! And why bother when the local laser tag place does it all for almost the same price? Well, 1) because I find, no matter how chaotic it is, your kids (and you) will get a special kind of high from doing it under your own roof and 2) Take it from me, you’ll forget all about that chaos the first time your almost 11-year-old requests “Nothing organized, Mom. Let’s just watch a movie.” (Translation: “I am no longer a little kid” and/or ” You are old.”) Herewith, the DALS ten commandments for throwing a minimum-stress, maximum-fun (for the kids anyway) at-home birthday party.

1. Thou Shalt Not freak out officially until two weeks before the party. If you’re like me, I get very ambitious about birthday parties months and months before we have to actually throw one. Eventually I find myself in the danger zone – the three or four weeks before the birthday when you know you have to start mobilizing, but you just don’t know where to start – and then panic. Over the years, though, I’ve figured out that if I can get two things checked off the list (send out invitation, order party favors online) two weeks before the date, then I can go back to pretending it’s not happening for at least another week.

2. Thou Shalt Not invite parents starting from age 5 and up. Parents need to be entertained, too, and having them around just adds unwanted stress, and more people asking for more glasses of water as far as I’m concerned. Plus, as much as they enjoy watching your kid pin the tail on the donkey’s nose while small-talking with all the parents they just saw at the earlier birthday party, most parents (me included) would rather use the two-hour free-babysitting time block for hitting the gym, running errands, reading the paper for the first time in a month, or just general chilling out.

3. Thou Shall let the kids make the invitation. I’ve been accused of micromanaging just about everything that happens under my roof, but generating the birthday party invitation is not one of them. I will certainly make sure it includes all the vitals (date, place, drop off and pick-up time – especially pick-up time! etc.) but the design and manufacturing of the invitation is totally up to the kids. When the girls were younger, they’d hand-write all the information in rainbow colored markers — maybe a heart or two around the border — and that was enough. But as they’ve gotten older they’ve drawn cartoons (for Phoebe’s pizza-movie party, she drew a slice of pizza watching a movie) and enlisted picmonkey (the world’s most imbecile-proof photo editing website) to add words on top of a favorite photo. Whatever they do, the best part is that it’s a) personal and b) one less thing for the parents to worry about. I usually scan and email the invitation, but there’s nothing wrong with mailing it the old fashioned way. A Sort-of Bonus: You can save the invitations as keepsakes so that later on they will make you weep.

4. Thou Shalt Not serve juice. Yes, juice-boxes are so easy to distribute, but they are sugar time bombs that might just tip the party over the fine line from fun to nightmare. Not to mention, you’ve probably got the sugar food-group covered already. Serve water instead.

5. Thou Shall set the party the day before (or earlier) It gets everyone excited for the party and is one huge check mark on the to-do list. (Click here for more information on the psychological benefits of this practice.) (more…)

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Summer Round-up

July 2nd, 2014 · 168 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

We here in the DALS house are going to be traveling a bit over the next week or so, and I’m not entirely sure how much I’ll be able to chime in while I’m away. (I reserve the right to change my mind.) So here is a little round-up to hold you over til we return. Have a great Fourth and Happy Summer!

A guide to 1600 swimmin’ holes (dropping the ‘g’ is required, says my husband) across the US and Canada.

I made this Strawberry Shortcake last weekend for guests and it rocked. (If you added some blueberries in there, it would be the perfect red, white, and blue Fourth dessert.)

Is this why I’ve never liked the word “foodie?”

With this news, Grand Central Terminal, perhaps my most favorite building on earth, just became my favorite-ist to the hundredth power.

Everything tastes better when these string lights light up the patio table.

Before I travel to any major city, I pretty much always check the BA Weekender Guides at Bon Appetit — where to eat, stay, visit — and they’ve never failed me yet.

We are not soda people in general, but if we were, our fridge would be stocked with this all summer long.

Andy has had this on repeat all week, and as far as I can tell, he shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

Can’t you see these make-ahead Chocolate Caramel Picnic Puddings being the perfect way to end your Fourth celebration? (And if you have time, check out the entire site, masterminded by two supremely talented food-world vets.)

Or as long as we’re on the subject of make-ahead treats: Molly’s Strawberry-Yogurt Pops. (Scroll down a few posts.)

No such thing as too young when it comes to reading aloud to your kids.

Rose Sangria!

Thanks to everyone who participated in my Dinner: The Playbook challenge. Random House helped me put together a mini-slideshow of some of our favorite pics (scroll over to see who submitted each one) but you can also just find them on instagram by searching the hashtag #dinnerplaybook. Hope you all had fun. (And thanks Max W. and Maggie O. for all your hard work on this!)

Two Oldies but Goodies for the Grill: Pork with Peaches and Tony’s Steak.

No doubt you’ll be throwing some dogs on the barbie this holiday weekend. To celebrate this decidedly happy occasion, and to call attention to their “What’s in Your Hot Dog” campaign, Applegate has offered to give away “Weinervention Kits” (hot dogs, buns, relish, grill tools, and everything else) to two lucky DALS readers. (more…)

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What I Want for Mother’s Day

April 28th, 2014 · 11 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Uncategorized

Quick one today. Bon Appetit rounded up a couple Mother’s Day gift ideas from the moms on staff and I wanted to share my pick with you. (And also hope that maybe my children come upon this post??? Hint hint.) Since I always go to the farmer’s market with a crumpled Whole Foods bag or some canvas number with a radio station’s logo on it, I think it’s high time I became properly accessorized with this classic French Market Tote, don’t you? The one shown here is from White Nest, but at the moment it looks like they only have the junior totes in stock. (I guess a lot of people are on the same page.) Here’s another option from Olive & Branch that looks pretty good. What about you guys? What’s on the wish list? Besides Dinner: A Love Story? Hint hint.

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Beautiful Buvette

April 22nd, 2014 · 302 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Quick, Sides, Salads, Soup

On a rainy Monday night in midtown a few weeks ago, I found myself faced with classic New York dilemma. I was running late to meet Andy for his birthday dinner downtown and needed to make a decision: Should I try to catch a cab (always a risky proposition on a rainy night) or just get on the subway, which involved a transfer (always a time-eater)? At the same time, I was also asking myself Why didn’t we just stay home for his birthday? The girls could’ve been part of it and I certainly wouldn’t be standing on a corner soaking wet, nervous about being late. To add to my decidedly First World anxiety, we were going to Buvette, a jewel box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village, run by Jody Williams, who has become something of a cult hero to food insiders and bon vivants everywhere. In other words, it’s popular. Every minute I was late felt like an hour I’d have to queue up for an open table.

I took the subway to Christopher Street, sprinting a block in the rain, by then coming down sideways. When I finally bulldozed into the gastrotheque, feeling very much like a wet dog, I made my way back to Andy seated at a small table tucked into a corner. “Happy Birthday, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Happy Birthday,” I said, but less sorry than relieved that we still had a table.

“What’s the stress?” he said, taking a sip of his Manhattan and leaning back. “You’re here. Look at this place.” He opened his arms wide, as if personally presenting Buvette to me.

He loved Buvette — which is why we picked it for his birthday. I looked around at the intimate, brick-exposed space, at the regulars reading books and drinking cocktails at the marble-topped bar, at the chandelier made from old cooking equipment hanging like a piece of modern art in the back room. For all the trendy chatter about this place, it felt neighborly and warm, as if it had been here forever. Within minutes, I was sipping my own Manhattan, overtaken by the warmth, the cold rainy streets fading away like a jet trail. (more…)

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Spring Holiday Round-Up

April 11th, 2014 · 6 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

In season: Peas, Ramps, Asparagus and…Peeps! No shortage of ways to use ‘em up on the Interweb: Peep S’mores, Peep Sunflower Cake, Peep-Wreaths, Peep-infused Vodka. (Yes, it exists, but some things are just too weird to link to.)

Easter Main Option 1: Andy’s super-easy Apricot-glazed Ham (and my super-easy day-after-ham split pea soup)

Easter Main Option 2: Slow-cooked Lamb with Lemon and Oregano

Francois Payard’s Chocolate-Walnut Flourless Cookies (Thanks Jodi!)

Kosher for Passover: Cult Foods

If there was a single dish that could capture my religious background, it would probably be Bacon Matzoh-Brei.

Next week’s vacation reading: Delancey and Creativity Inc

Next week’s vacation eating: Two Boroughs Larder (if I can get a table!)

Vegetarian Cookbooks for Carnivores (ok fine, not holiday, per se, but spring…vegetables…close enough)

My sister’s go-to brisket

My mom’s go-to brisket

My go-to strawberry shortcake

Got some long school-less days ahead of you next week? This should help occupy the kids.

Turn those leftover Easter Eggs into Dinner.

Whatever feast you are cooking next week, wouldn’t you look great wearing this around the kitchen?

Have a great holiday!

Peeps photo: eac5 on flickr

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Heart Cake

January 29th, 2014 · 15 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

It’s been well documented on this site that whatever limited talent I have for say, spinning a lone onion into dinner, that this talent has somehow never translated to the baking side of my brain. The most recent evidence to support this being that cornbread I baked for our friends John and Shiv over the holidays — the one that was going to be served alongside Andy’s chili, until I tasted it and realized that I had forgotten the cornmeal. The sad thing is, it doesn’t mean I don’t like baking. I actually love it. I’m just no good at it.

But anyway, there was this cake I used to make Phoebe when she was little. Her birthday is right around Valentine’s Day so her parties were always heart-themed. For this particular birthday — held at a local dance studio — I planned the entire thing from my office at Real Simple, where I was working full-time. I booked the space, organized the pizza delivery, ordered various pink and red heart-shaped off-gassing plastic junk from the Evil but Life-Saving Oriental Trading. We liked to have birthday parties at home (or maybe I should say, we liked having parties at home after they were over) but it had been a crazy month. I was transitioning into a new role at the magazine, Andy was starting a new job, and Abby seemed to be sick the entire winter. It seemed absurd to take on a home party when outsourcing it at the local gym was going to save precious sanity reserves.

But I wanted something to be homemade — See: Birthday Parties and Maternal Self-Worth: Case Study 1 and Case Study 2 – and all that was left for me to do was the cake. I had it in my head that I would do something really fabulous — maybe in the shape of a shark or something because that was one thing about four-year-0ld Nemo-loving Phoebe…she knew her Sand Tigers from her Black Tips. But of course, it was the day before and I didn’t have any idea how to make a shark cake or anything fun for that matter. Or, at least fun in a way that was doable, given my limited chops. If I had thought ahead and bought a heart mold, I could just do a heart cake, I thought. But I hadn’t thought ahead and so instead found myself at the office googling “heart cake.” What came up was a sketch that looked a lot like this:

It turns out, if you have a standard 9-inch square baking pan (I did!) and a standard 9-inch circle baking pan (I had that, too!), you can very easily make a cake in the shape of a heart. You just slice the round one in half, and affix each of those halves to two adjacent sides of the square cake. Easy! Even for beginners. After baking (I used Rosa’s Mud Cake, naturally, but you can use your own favorite recipe) and frosting everything, Phoebe decided she wanted to stud the rim with pink and red M&Ms…so who was I to stop her? And nine years later, even though I’ve had plenty of time to order that mold, I still consider my jerry-rigged method the only way to make a real heart cake.

P.S. Speaking of hearts and birthdays — today Dinner: A  Story turns 700 posts old!

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Where to Eat in NYC: A Family Guide

December 23rd, 2013 · 15 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Travel


It occurred to me a few weeks ago that every time we go on a trip — whether it’s Santa Fe, Austin, San Francisco, Paris — we tell you what we’ve done, where we’ve eaten, what our kids loved the most. And yet, in the four years we’ve been writing this blog, we’ve given you hints and peeks into Our New York, but have yet to deliver a family dining guide to the city that never fails to surprise, enrage, delight, and charm us on an hourly basis…especially during the holidays. So what follows is just that: Where to Eat in New York with the Kids. But because it’s NYC, we didn’t want to just write a few bullet points. We wanted to go big. So we enlisted the help of some of our favorite parents-about-town for their favorites spots, too. I’m glad it’s almost vacation — you’ll need a little time for this one. Happy Holidays everyone!

Our Distguished Panel: Deb Perelman, blogger, cookbook author, Smitten KitchenSam Sifton, editor, columnist, former restaurant critic New York Times; Caroline Campion, cookbook author, Devil and EggJoanna Goddard, lifestyle blogger Cup of Jo; husband-and-wife team Devin Friedman, director editorial projects GQ & Danielle Pergament, frequent contributor to Travel section of New York Times; Yolanda Edwards, deputy editor Conde Nast Traveler;  Christine Muhlke, deputy editor, Bon AppetitCarla Lalli Music, food and features editor Bon AppetitJenny Rosenstrach, blogger, DALS; Andy Ward, intern, Dinner: A Love Story

Favorite Pizza

Arturos on West Houston Street in Manhattan. Old-school coal oven pizza, dense and chewy and saucy with a crust that bears a light sheen of olive oil. There are many delicious newfangled fetishistic pizza places (Co. is great). But the pizza here is insanely good and it’s extremely laid back and it still attracts the kinds of pasty, grumpy Village characters that can’t afford to live here any more. (The awesome bartender looks like Columbo). –Devin Friedman & Danielle Pergament

Patsy’s Pizzeria BUT it has to be the original one in East Harlem on First Avenue, not one of the other ones downtown. Hands-down the best slice in NYC. Maybe go in the daytime if you’re a tourist. — Caroline Campion

Otto We celebrated Abby’s eighth birthday here (Otto? Eight? Get it?) but the truth is, I can’t think of any scenario when it wouldn’t be a good choice for families. It’s loud enough (read: huge enough) to absorb even the most maniacal toddler, and the Batali-Bastianich menu is appealing to all ages. — Jenny R

Co. Pizza (shown above) My husband always argues that NYC pizza is overrated and tastes like cardboard. But! Jim Lahey’s pizza spot in Chelsea creates airy, chewy crusts that taste like olive oil and butter and all things good and true. Our favorite pie is the Popeye, which is basically a warm spinach salad on a pizza. The communal tables are friendly and boisterous, and they have high chairs for little dudes. — Joanna Goddard

What Joanna said. — Andy Ward

Favorite Burgers, Fries, Steaks

When Phoebe was five hours old and Jenny was deep in a Percocet haze, I left the hospital and walked over J.G. Melon for some dinner. I remember that weird mixture of total euphoria and total exhaustion, of not knowing what day it was or how long ago we’d arrived at the hospital, or even knowing if any of this was real. I was also starving. It was about 7pm, and I ordered a couple of Tanqueray and tonics and savored every bit of that burger, and the old-school, tin-ceilinged atmosphere of the place, one of the great underrated burger joints in the city. Is it the best burger in New York? Who knows. It’s arguable. Have I ever had a better burger in my life? No. – Andy

If we go looking for a Miracle on 34th Street moment and take in the Macy’s windows, we end up with a cozy dinner at Keen’s (it’s just a block away!) and sit in the pub area up front. — Yolanda Edwards

A cheeseburger with everything and fries at the Burger Joint inside the lobby of Le Parker Meridien Hotel on West 56th. (Part of the pleasure is actually finding it…look for the curtain). — Caroline Campion

Favorite Caffeine Hit

Smith Canteen, Yes, they have Counter Culture coffee and skilled esspressonators to brew it up (plus awesome muffins and sandwiches and salads by the geniuses who also own Seersucker down the street). But it’s more about it being a neighborhood place you want to hang out. Because for me, the coffee shop is as much a refuge as it is a place to take the most important drug of the day. –  Devin Friedman

When people ask me how long commute is, I tell them an hour and ten minutes. Which is a lie. In fact, it’s an hour. But I walk ten minutes in the wrong direction every morning just to get my medium house blend from Joe the Art of Coffee. The 45 productive and hope-filled minutes between taking that first sip (more…)

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Olive Oil: The New Wine?

December 16th, 2013 · 22 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

You will never get me to say on the record that I don’t love a nice bottle of wine wrapped up in foil and presented to me by dinner guests. I mean, come on, that’s just crazy. But I am going on the record to say something that has never been said before. (Except maybe by me, I think, six years ago in Real Simple…wish I could find that link.) Here goes: When it comes to host gifts Olive Oil should be the New Wine. I mean, think about it: When you get a bottle of wine as a host, generally, you drink it that night or at some point within the week and generally, you sort of forget who gave it to you. The gift of wine is a wonderful gesture — I’m not saying it’s not — it’s just that olive oil can sometimes be more wonderful. Because it usually catches you by surprise and because it can be stretched out for weeks, forcing you to remember the giver’s generosity every time you make a homemade vinaigrette or a eat a bowl of Sunday Minestrone, which demands a high-quality drizzle upon serving.

A few of my favorites to give and get: Grove (shown above, $32-$45); McEvoy Ranch (from $23); Frankie’s Spuntino ($18); Pasolivo (From $24) and Volpaia ($28). You could also just take a stroll through your favorite market and see what looks good. (Whole Foods has tons of options.) A few things to look for before you purchase: You want the words “extra virgin” on the label, but don’t worry about “cold pressed” which nowadays means next to nothing; Dark, opaque bottles generally signify quality. (The good ones know that light and heat can be damaging.) Look for a date stamp — you don’t want to buy oil that’s more than a year old. Also, it doesn’t hurt to buy something pretty. It is a gift after all.

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Holiday Gift Guide 2013

December 9th, 2013 · 83 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Children's Books, Gifts, Culture

Welcome to our annual guide for everything we want, covet, crave, and, yes need this holiday. (I don’t know about you, but in my world, coffee qualifies as an essential.)  As always, the round-up was compiled with cooks, kids, and parents in mind (again, coffee), as well as for those of you who have already bought Dinner: A Love Story for everyone on your list. For those of you who have not: here’s the guide for you. Happy Holidays!

Dansk Kobenstyle Casserole ($120) In the 70s, my mom had it in mustard yellow. Thirty-five years later, I bought it in green. Forty years later, I think you should own the classic in striking, festive red. Warning: Do not purchase this if you have something against kitchen workhorses that you will use every night (as we speak, some veggies are simmering in mine in for chicken pot pie) and that looks beautiful living permanently on your stovetop. –JR

Playmobil Dolls & Sets ($5-$30) We are pretty good about giving away toys to Good Will and friends with younger kids, but I’ll tell you one thing we never hand down — anything labeled “Playmobil.” Nope. All of those German-made cup-handed dolls and perfectly-snapped-together playsets go right into a box in our (otherwise unorganized) basement labeled “SPECIAL.” If your kids are into make-believe (or your husband derives an irrational happiness from putting together a Grand Mansion Dollhouse on Christmas morning), you cannot go wrong with these. The level of loose-part detail should be maddening (tiny leaves to snap into trees, decorative flowers to snap onto birthday cakes, teeny tiny bunny rabbits with the sweetest little faces) but instead inspires you to say things like “Wow, a lot of thought went into this little chimney sweep.” The possibilities are as varied as your childrens’ interests, and so are the prices. If you are in the market for the Big Ticket Item, there are plenty: Pirate Ships, CastlesFarms, and Zoos. (Btw, I’m weeping thinking of Abby’s beloved zoo sitting in a shoebox right now.) But honestly, it’s almost more fun to explore the wide world of mini environs and figures, some of which come with travel cases. A few favorites: A very DALSian Grand Kitchen ($25, pictured above); Doghouse ($11); Horse with Groomer and Stable ($11); Cop & Robber ($11, plus carrying case); Vet Clinic ($11, includes carrying case); Royal Dressing Room ($15); Outlaw Hideout ($18); Comfortable Living Room ($18). Man, I could go on forever. -JR

Blue Picardie Glasses ($26, set of six) I really have no business putting another set of drinking glasses in another gift guide, and yet…How fun is this blue twist on the bistro picardie glass? I first saw them at The Ordinary in Charleston, and have since been hinting in many not-so-subtle ways how cool they’d look with milk (or wine) and how psyched I’d be to unwrap a set of six someday soon. –JR

Jack Rudy Small Batch Tonic ($16 a bottle) Also in the category of “first experienced at The Ordinary:” This tonic, a concentrated quinine, mixed into a memorable Gin & Tonic during a memorable summer night. But trust me, the stuff is good all year long. -JR

Galaxy CR7s ($50). I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that our family seems set on making Phil Knight richer, but I am sure how I feel about this Hubble Telescope-y, Buck Rogers-y iteration of the Nike indoor soccer shoe: good. I can’t imagine where the people who designed these go from here (“I know, let’s put photographs of Canis Majoris on a pair of cleats!”) but I’m sure we’ll be buying. — Andy

KitchenSurfing Gift Card (Any amount, but I’d recommend a minimum of $100) Do you guys know about KitchenSurfing? I’m a little obsessed with it ever since our friends Liz and Charlie hosted a dinner party for twelve catered by an Indian chef they found on the site. If the word “cater” sounds a little stodgy and prosciutto-wrapped-melon-ish to you, trust me, this site is the opposite of that. It matches your dinner party needs (Cocktail party? Kid’s Birthday Party? Dinner for vegans or sushi lovers?) with a network of local chefs  (right now that means NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, the Hamptons, and…Berlin!) who bid on your job and send you menus with their thoughts. Everything is negotiable and customizable which makes for a far more reasonably cost evening than you might expect. (Especially factoring in the babysitter you won’t have to hire.) All I know is that if I were a new parent too exhausted to entertain, I’d be psyched to be cooked for and waited on in my own home for an evening. (Photo credit: Brooklyn Industrialist) -JR

PokPok Cookbook (by Andy Ricker and JJ Goode, $22) You might be familiar with the PokPok restaurant empire because you’ve been lucky enough to frequent one of Andy Ricker’s Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon Thai hotspots. Or you might just remember that I made his Pad Thai last year and it was off the chain. Either way, the experience is now available in cookbook form. Warning: This is not a book for people who shy away from mail-ordering or pavement-pounding in search of ingredients you don’t generally find at the A&P. But for major enthusiasts, that friend who has everything, or for someone who wants to learn about Thai cuisine (technique, ingredients, recipes, regional breakdowns) inside and out? This is the one. –JR

Jane’s Granola ($14) Our breakfast rut has, by now, been well documented. There have been exceptions, but for the most part, our kids always seem to come back to the Trifecta of Starches: Bagel, toast, pancakes. It’s hard to watch. But in September, I was out in San Francisco for work and brought home a bag of this almondy-y, cinammon-y granola from Jane (above), which is one of our favorite breakfast spots on earth. I bought it as an anniversary present for Jenny, actually, but she never even got a taste. Phoebe gave it a shot — over Greek yogurt, with a drizzle of honey — and that was all she wrote. Not that we’re complaining. — Andy

The Giant Book of Strange But True Sports Stories (by Howard Liss, Illustrations by Joe Mathieu; Used paperback copies starting at 1 cent) Goofy, old-school illustrations paired with stories that stay with you for decades. (Remember the one about Johnny Heisman scoring a touchdown by hiding the football in his jersey? Or the one where the umpires got lost on the way to a Dodgers-Braves game, so the players made the calls themselves? Or the one where the outfielder’s belt got stuck on the fence when he jumped to catch a fly ball? And he just hung there waiting to be rescued?) Andy spent every Saturday and Sunday morning reading this book in bed waiting for his brother to wake up so he could watch TV. I remember my own brother obsessing over it, too. (Age 6 +)  –JR


Rittenhouse Rye Because dark spirits season is upon us, once again. (Only $24 a bottle – if you can find it, that is.) — Andy

Anomia ($13) I first read about this game on Catherine’s blog, and since I will essentially do anything Catherine tells me to do, I bought it before summer vacation, thinking we might need a post-s’more activity every now and then. This was just the ticket. It’s best played with kids who are at least 7 or 8, and is one of those games where even adults find themselves standing and screaming out answers with their hearts racing, reminding themselves every few minutes to Calm Down It’s Just a Game. Bonus: It takes up no room in a suitcase. -JR

Nike GPS Watch ($169) There’s nothing quite like seeing how slow you are running to make you run a little faster. I am generally not a Gadget Guy at all — I still read physical books and need Jenny to program numbers into my phone — but this thing has changed my running life. (If only it could change the fact that I am old.) — Andy

A Very un-Christmasy Moleskine Notebook ($10). My pal Kendra gave this to me last year (along with one that said “Epic Sh#t,” of course) and I love it so much, I’ve been unable to write in it. It just sits on my desk, untouched, and I wait for people who come into my office to notice it, and when they do, they all say the same thing: “Oh my god, where did you get that?” Here. — Andy

Paul Smith Socks for dudes. Fashion-wise, J Crew is generally as crazy as I get, but I own two pairs of these, and they make me happy every time I put them on. And no one has to know. — Andy

Digital Speed Sensing Baseball ($20) I like to think that my two girls are not the girly lip-gloss-and-eyelash-batting types. (Exhibit A: While watching The Sound of Music last week, during the part where Rolf sang to Liesl that she needed someone “older and wiser telling her what to do,” Phoebe turned to me and said, “She can do better.”) But still, when it comes to buying gifts for boys — specifically my nephews — my girls never have any good ideas for me. This year I seem to have hit a home run, though, with these speed-sensing baseballs, recommended by my friend Jennie, mother of a middle school baseball star. As soon as my nephews opened them, they were outside (it’s winter here in New York, remember) testing out their cannons.


Matt’s Wood Roasted Coffee. Every time we visit our friends Mike and Sara in Portland, Maine, I spend much of the five-hour drive home asking Jenny variations on the following two questions: (1) what are we doing with our lives, and (2) why aren’t we doing it in Portland, Maine? The water, the healthy-looking people, the tight-knit feel of the community, the lobster rolls, the bread at Fore Street Grill (worth a trip in its own right), the food in general, and finally, the coffee. Man, the coffee! Last time we were there, we stopped in at a place called the Speckled Ax, and picked up a couple of pounds of the good stuff to go. Whatever alchemy happens when you wood roast coffee beans, it’s genius. We don’t drink it every morning because then it wouldn’t be special. A bag of this in the ol’ stocking, and I’m happy. – Andy

The Wire Complete series DVD. I wish I could promise that this is the last thing I’m going to say about this show on this blog, but I will not rest until every last one of you has seen this show. (Jenny finally watched all five seasons this fall, after years of my hectoring, and her review, which I am writing down as she says it, is as follows: “It’s ruined all television for me. I’m retiring from TV now, because I can’t imagine anything better.”) — Andy

Holidays Rule If you’re sick of the Phil Spector, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra Christmas jams, this album — featuring a bunch of cool, more contemporary bands, from Fun. to Holly Golightly, from the Heartless Bastards to Calexico — is a pretty excellent change of pace. If nothing else, give this tune a listen and see for yourself. Well worth $1.29. Also goes well with Rittenhouse Rye and a fire in the fireplace. – Andy

Other inspiring gift guides: The Wednesday Chef, Bon Appetit, The New York Times Dining Section, Cup of Jo for Babies and Toddlers.


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Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie (And Then Some)

November 14th, 2013 · 27 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Sometimes I think the most necessary characteristic a cook should possess is restraint — in other words, the ability to stay out of the way of something delicious. (Think summer corn, a farm-fresh egg, homemade pasta.) In this case, that rule happens to apply to food blogging as well, and the something delicious happens to be the most beautiful book I’ve seen all winter: The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book from Emily Elsen and Melissa Elsen, sisters and proprietors of the celebrated Brooklyn pie shop. You might’ve heard about their award-winning signature Salted Caramel Apple Pie? (I was the dummy who suggested to my daughter last weekend “Let’s order one slice and share it.”)

So that you may never find yourself without the perfect pie to bake, the Elsen sisters’ book is organized seasonally — think Strawberry Balsamic or Pistachio Coconut Cream for spring, a Stone Fruit Streusel pie for summer. But naturally the most interesting recipes to me right now are those beauties in the fall and winter category: Salted Caramel Apple, Bourbon Pear Crumble, Brown Butter Pumpkin, Malted Chocolate Pecan, Salty Honey, and a Maple Buttermilk Custard (recipe below) that looks like it would take top honors on any Thanksgiving dessert spread. And I don’t know about you, but that’s what I’m gunning for this year.

I promised to stay out of the way of these beautiful pies and pictures! (So much for that.) Here you go: A little photographic tease… (more…)

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Our Thanksgiving Secretary

November 12th, 2013 · 37 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, we got an email from a local farm saying they were now taking Thanksgiving orders for heritage turkeys. “That is awesome. Let’s do it!” Andy said. For about a millisecond, I was on board, until I remembered that when it comes to the turkey, it’s not my call to make. Andy and I have free rein to go all rogue (within reason) on the sides — adding anchovies to roasted cauliflower or oranges and mint to the cranberry sauce — but my Mom owns the turkey and gravy. If it’s going to be anything other than a 14 1/2 pound Bell & Evans bird, it’s Mom who has to sign off on it. And let’s be honest, if you own the turkey, you own the holiday. My sister hosts, my brother brings snacks and pies, my father is on wine patrol, but my mom is President and CEO.

And also Secretary. I like to think that the reason why Thanksgiving teeters on the happy side of the chaos spectrum in our house is because of my mother’s Post Feast Analysis System. Every year, on the morning after Thanksgiving, she grabs her legal pads (she’s an attorney and I don’t think she ever leaves home without them) and starts taking detailed notes on the holiday: Date, menu, number and names of attendees, temperature, who cooked what, who bought what and where, what she needs more of next year, what she needs less of, what worked, what didn’t. Naturally, I’m not nearly as fascinated by the menu as I am by the details that surround the menu. What makes her system awesome is not just that it reminds us that we ate sweet potato casserole in 2011 and 2012 — it’s the little detail that my then 9-year-old niece requested fewer pecans in the casserole next time around. It’s not just that we auditioned a new cranberry sauce last year — it’s that my then 11-year-old niece was the one in charge of spearheading it with me. (Mom was also sure to note she’s not willing to give up on her old-school sauce just yet.) Of course, I look to the notes to see how I can improve my performance next time. Last year I did a couple things right (I provided “superb” homemade stock for the gravy — which was like getting a gold star) and also a few things wrong (in the mashed potatoes department: a simple “too much”). But at least I didn’t mess up the turkey.

Here’s a sneak peak of my mom’s post-game report. Is there any question who I inherited the recording gene from?

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The Only Thanksgiving Guide You Need

November 5th, 2013 · 814 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving

Last year, we devoted a lot of blog space to Thanksgiving, by Sam Sifton. And since we’re editors and writers, supposedly on the pulse of what the lastest, greatest, trendiest everything is, we should probably be featuring this year’s of-the-moment holiday cookbook. But here’s the thing: “trendy” and “of-the-moment” are not words that should EVER EVER EVER be in the same sentence as “Thanksgiving,” and we stand by our claim that Sam Sifton’s timeless, authoritative, delicious guide to our country’s greatest holiday is The Only Thanksgiving Recipe Collection You Will Ever Need. (Outside of your grandmother’s recipe box, of course — we don’t want to get anyone in trouble here). As such, we launch our “Countdown to Thanksgiving Series” with a bountiful giveaway: In the next 48 hours, five readers are eligible to win a free copy of Sifton’s Thanksgiving, and five more are eligible to have a free copy sent to whoever is cooking/hosting the feast… as a little pre-holiday pump-up and thank-you-in-advance. That’s TEN COPIES WE ARE GIVING AWAY. All you have to do is leave a comment below (we wouldn’t complain if this comment included a Thanksgiving tip) and tell me which one you are: #Host or #Guest.

Update: All winners have been notified. Congrats Josh, Betsy, Candice, Eva, Molly, Susan, Colleen F, L, Divya, Memegirl and to everyone else thanks for playing!

Related: Sam Sifton’s 1o Laws of Thanksgiving.

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Graveyard Cake

October 30th, 2013 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Along with the block I live on, my memory has been getting a little cobwebby lately. Can it possibly be that I’ve written this blog for three and a half years, aka four Halloweens, and not told you about my all-time favorite tricky treat? Every year I try and fail to come up with something as simple and clever as this graveyard cake, which I first learned about from the lovably loony Clare Crespo way back when I was a magazine editor. Clare used cupcakes, but you can pull it together with any basic storebought or homemade sheet cake (Rosa’s does the trick), a dozen and a half crushed chocolate wafers (or Oreo tops and bottoms), and chocolate sprinkles. (As you can see, this project favors the artless.) Then, for the limbs, if you live in a house like mine, all it takes is one scrounge around the bottom of the toy box to uncover a treasure trove of dismembered Barbies. Happy Halloween!

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Happy New Year

September 4th, 2013 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Under the category of “Better Late than Never,” I thought I’d share our family’s Rosh Hashana menu for the evening. Quickly. So you can go get your shopping done, like, now.

As usual, it’s a group effort — I am on Salad and Side patrol. Here’s how it breaks down:

My parents: A few bottles Pinot, Challah, and Dessert which has yet to be determined, but I am pulling for Helene’s Orange-Almond Cake (which, by the way, is gluten-free)
My brother: Assorted goodies for a Cheese Plate & Chocolate Chip Cookies for the Kids
My sister: Brisket, the main event.
Me: These Fork-Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes*; a simple barley salad (like the one on page 245 of my book, maybe with feta); and the Kale and Apple salad you are looking at above. I’ve eaten this salad exactly twice: Once at my kids’ camp, which is where the recipe comes from, and once with my cousin Sicily, who liked it so much she asked me to send along the how-to soon after she left. Always a good sign.

Now, to figure out who takes care of the dog.

Kale & Apple Salad

1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
squeeze of lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey

2 bunches raw kale (preferably Tuscan/lacinato), shredded
1/2 cup celery, sliced thin
2 tart apples, cored and chopped small
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1 shallot, chopped

In a measuring cup or small jar, whisk together (or shake together) all dressing ingredients. Add remaining ingredients to a large salad bowl and toss with dressing.

PS: When I titled this “Happy New Year,” did you think I was talking about the start of the school year, which always feels more like the new year than the real new year? More posts on back-to-school very soon.)

*Update on these potatoes: What a pain to make! I pissed and moaned the whole time — smoking hot oil, fussy fork-tined ridging, etc — but they were a hit. The recipe is not for the faint-of-heart, though, be warned!

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21 Rules of Entertaining

May 16th, 2013 · 369 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Entertaining, Organizing, Strategizing, Planning, Rules

One of the more fun parts of my “job” is that I have an excuse to reach out to people I’ve been secretly stalking for decades.  Take last month, for instance, when I met Susan Spungen for breakfast at a Union Square coffee shop. Spungen spearheaded the food section at Martha Stewart Living twenty years ago. We have her to thank for leading the team that put together the Hors D’oeuvres Handbook, which is not only my finger food bible, but the bible of caterers across America. When I heard she was coming out with a book on Entertaining – What’s a Hostess to Do? – I set up a date, and over poached eggs and shaved asparagus, downloaded her hard-won wisdom.

21 Rules for Entertaining
Culled from What’s a Hostess to Do, by Susan Spungen (and so many thousands more where these came from)

1. Less can be more. Focus on a few beautiful well-conceived, well-prepared dishes.

2. Unless it’s the holiday, in which case the key word is “bounty.” (See above.)

3. The language you use for your invitation should focus on who you do want at the party (“Join us for a grown-up dinner”) not who you don’t want (“No kids please.”)

4. For the kids — When in doubt: “Bambini Pasta,” i.e. noodles, spaghetti, penne, whatever you got — with butter and Parm.

5. Some handy math: On average, assume your guests will have 2 drinks per hour (10 guests x 2 drinks x 2 hours = 40 drinks). There are approximately 5 wine glasses per bottle. A 1-liter bottle of liquor contains enough for 32 mixed drinks. One liter of mixer will make 8 drinks.

6. The Paloma is The New Margarita.

7. [OK, disclaimer: Susan didn't exactly say that, but I did, and will continue to all summer. To make: 1/2 cup grapefruit soda (such as Mexican Jarritos or Jamaican Ting), the juice of half a lime, and 2 ounces tequila. Serve over ice with lime wedge.]

8. Centerpieces: DO use short candles, DON’T use tall or overly fragrant flowers or plants; DO decorate with short flowers or potted plants, DON’T crowd the table.

9. Scented candles? Yes, for sure, in the bathroom. On the table? Never.

10. All will be fine if Nutella is on the menu. Nutella Dessert Sandwiches: Toast thinly sliced brioche bread, spread with Nutella and dust with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

11. Three Four-Syllable Laws of Sanity Preservation when entertaining: Make it Ahead, Cook What You Know, Think Mise en Place.

12. A multitude of sins can be easily overlooked when people are basking in a warm glow: Lighting should be soft.

13. Bathroom checklist: Close the shower curtain, empty the trash. If there is no lock, make an “occupied” sign to hang on the knob. Better yet, have the kids do it.

14. Invest in a collapsible metal coatrack and never dive through a mountain of identical black wool overcoats heaped on a bed ever again.

15. Winning Cheese and Fruit Pairs for a Starter Spread: Apples + Cheddar, Quince Paste + Manchego, Figs + Gorgonzola

16. Good salumi needs little accompaniment. But no one will object if it’s next to some good bread, olives, and crisp fennel slices.

17. To make after-party cleanup less soul-crushing, always start the evening with an empty dishwasher, dish rack, trash can, and sink.

19. Yes, you can bring wine = The answer when your friends ask What Can I Bring?

20. A good party is much more than the sum of its parts. The gathering takes on a life of its own, and it almost always works out, even when it doesn’t.

21. The no-fail menu for entertaining kids and adults: Ribs, Slaw (lose the brussels in the summer), and make-ahead Ice Cream Sandwiches.

To make: For each sandwich, place a scoop of ice cream on a chocolate chip cookie (try Tate’s brand or another thin crisp cookie). Top with another cookie and press down gently. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and set in the freezer. Wrap individually after they’ve hardened, and freeze until ready to serve. (more…)

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