Congratulations, By the Way

May 24th, 2014 · Uncategorized

I know, right? What am I doing posting on a Saturday night – during a holiday weekend no less? Well, the truth is, last night I woke up in a hot sweat thinking that there might be someone out there who has not read Congratulations, By The Way, the book version of George Saunders’ now-famous convocation speech given last June at Syracuse University. And if that is indeed the case, I felt the need to remedy the situation immediately. I know we here at DALS tend to get hyperbolic when the subject is Saunders (author of the award-winning short-story collection Tenth of December and one of the original DALS guest-posters), but diehard readers know why. His writing is big-hearted and generous; his capacity for empathy, seemingly endless. What he regrets most in life, Saunders tells graduating seniors, are failures of kindness.

I believe that by handing Congratulations to a graduate or a friend, you are handing them not just a book, but a message, a philosophy, a worldview.

Here’s one of my favorite moments in the speech: [Read more →]

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Rut-Busting Pulled Pork Sandwiches

May 22nd, 2014 · Dinner, Pork and Beef

Let’s talk about ruts. Specifically the rut I’m in right now, which involves waking up committed to getting some good writing done, and then going to bed twelve hours later with almost nothing to show for it. (Unless you count a few facebook and instagram posts, a lot of soccer-related emails, and a screentime-overload-induced headache “something to show.”) Ruts, no matter what form they take, can be soul-crushing, but I have to believe a writer’s rut is a special kind of torture, because if I sit in front of a computer all day in a small, dark office, and get nothing done, I am haunted by all the other healthy-minded, Vitamin-D-absorbing ways I could have been spending my spring day. I could’ve planted some flowers in the backyard, or gone for a run, or taken my poor ignored dog, Iris to the park. In under 20 minutes, I could’ve been wandering the Garden Court at the Frick**, a quick shot down the West Side Highway. But instead, Iris and I sit there at the end of the day, two lumps, as uncultured and dull-witted as we were when we woke up that morning. (I will also add that all this non-productivity doesn’t exactly make me Mother of the Year. I notice my capacity for yelling is absolutely in converse correlation to the day’s wordcount. Sad, but true.)

I have been at this long enough to realize that I’ll come out of it (and as soon as I get something down on paper, I’ll write off the whole rut as “process”) but until then, I’ve discovered a neat trick that goes a little ways towards making myself feel better. Last week, after re-writing my next book’s introduction for the fourth time (Note to my editor: JT! Still isn’t quite working!), I was seriously craving progress that was measurable. So I browned a pork loin, adding some garlic and onions to the pot, then braised the sucker low and slow all afternoon in some barbecue sauce. (There you have it: my BBQ nod to Memorial Day.) That way, while I was upstairs in the office, deleting and writing, writing and deleting, and burning my eyeballs out all the while, at least I could say something was getting done somewhere else in the house.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

2 1/2 pounds pork loin roast (or shoulder if you want it fattier, meltier, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did), patted dry with paper towel
1 teaspoon-ish dried thyme
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup barbecue sauce (homemade would be lovely, but no pressure; see page 238, Dinner: A Love Story)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
bay leaf
2 dried guajillo chiles (if you don’t have, just add a few drops of hot sauce)

Heat oven to 325°F.

Rub pork all over with thyme, salt, and pepper. Place a large Dutch Oven or deep ovenproof pot on medium-high heat and add oil. Brown pork on all sides (about 5 minutes a side) and remove.

Turn heat to medium/medium-low and add onion and garlic. Cook until softened. Add barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, bay leaf, and chiles and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and add pork. The liquid should come about 1/3 of the way up the pork. If it doesn’t whisk in a little water.

Place the pot in your oven and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar. Keep it in there for 3 to 4 hours, flipping every 30-45 minutes.* When you’re ready to eat, remove pork from pot. Discard bay leaf and chiles. Shred pork with a fork and place back into the pot. Toss with sauce, which should now be thick and glazey. (See above photo.)

Serve shredded pork on potato rolls with slaw or pickles.

*At one point, I left the house for an hour and a half, turned off the oven, came back, turned it on again. I’m telling you this not because I think you should do the same, but to make the point that when the heat is low and you have a nice block of time, it’s really hard to mess up.

**Weekday museum visits have been on the agenda for roughly four years, ever since I lost my 9-to-5 office job and made a vow that I would see more movies and more exhibits. The movie part of the pact is alive and well (Who wants to talk Godzilla???) but the other part…well, let’s just say there’s room for improvement.

Poor Iris.

In a dinner rut?? Behold your almost-published solution, available for pre-order.

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Just Do It

May 20th, 2014 · Uncategorized

Over the past few years, it’s safe to say that the topic of Jenny’s Fantasy Coffee Shop has come up in conversation with my friends and neighbors at least once a day every day. Even as I type this, I can feel a giant collective eye-roll from my small town on the Hudson River where I’ve lived for a decade. Oh no, is Jenny talking about her coffee shop again?

Yes, in fact I am. (Deal with it!!) I know my professional drive might seem to point in the direction of food and book-writing, but sometimes I’ll walk by an old building in town with a “For Rent” side in the window and the vision overtakes me: A Hudson-River-themed Coffee Shop Collective. My friend Todd, the lawyer, would handle all the legal issues; Brian, the architect, would design the space; my friend Liz, the art consultant, would find all the historic Hudson maps for the walls; My media friends would curate readings and book events there every Thursday night; Andy would fetishize over the coffee and the name; my daughters could work the registers after school and weekends; and I would oversee everything, all while writing my next few books from the corner table beneath the exposed brick wall. It would be like one big yuppified Richard Scarry story.

I blame Molly Wizenberg for all this dreaming. Molly, if you don’t already know, writes the blog Orangette — one of the original food blogs, and also one of the best — and wrote the book A Homemade Life about the death of her father, a bon vivant who passed along, among other things, his great enthusiasm for food. Molly’s new book, Delancey, out this month and already a New York Times bestseller, tells the story of how she and her husband, Brandon, a musician studying for his Ph.D. and enthusiast of the highest order, decided to open a pizza place in what was then their not-yet-up-and-coming neighborhood in Seattle. This plan was hatched by Brandon, and it came on the heels of several other hatched-and-abandoned plans, including but not limited to: building a boat, designing violins, opening a Bi-Rite-style ice cream store in Seattle. Recognizing a pattern and not really believing the pizza vision would ever come to pass, Molly went along with the plan, and before long they opened Delancey. It was successful enough that a few years later they opened a place next door, Essex, to handle the queue and the spillover. [Read more →]

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Grilled Steak Tacos: Just Plain Good

May 15th, 2014 · Dinner, Pork and Beef, Quick

I have been looking for the right angle to write about these steak tacos for a few weeks now, which I’ve decided is just plain unfair. Why deny you guys a solid recipe just in the name of story-telling?  As I’m sure you know by now, my goal with this blog and my next book, is not just to chronicle what to eat for dinner, but to put that dinner into context — to give you the how of dinner, i.e. how we here in the DALS house organize, cook, and (most of the time) consume a meal together at the end of a long, chaotic day. (This is reason why you will see “Last Night’s Dinner” posts every so often, showing the exact timing of how and when everything happened, and why I talk about deconstructing dinners ad nauseum.) I hope this comes through, and, more important, I hope it helps. But anyway, sometimes, the day is neither long nor chaotic. Sometimes, I have before me a simple, regular old weeknight, i.e. a simple, regular old angle: These steak tacos with pickled onions and a cilantro-yogurt sauce were delicious and the kids loved it. So there you have it. I will let this recipe tell its own story. The End.

Steak Tacos with Pickled Onions and Cilantro Sauce
By this point in our relationship you probably know this already, but I’m going to say it anyway: Too many ingredients? Too many steps? Just skip what looks dealbreaker-y to you. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of breaking out the blender for the cilantro sauce, just skip the sauce altogether and top with chopped fresh cilantro and sour cream. Kids don’t like pickled onions? (You don’t like pickled onions?) Lose ‘em. Don’t have time to marinate? Use whatever time you’ve got. Just get something on the table.

Marinade
1 1/2-2 pounds flank or skirt steaks
1/3 cup olive oil
1-2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
squeeze of lime
salt and pepper

Pickled Onions
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced crosswise (optional if you want to avoid heat)

Cilantro Sauce

1/2 cup plain yogurt
2/3 cup cilantro (stems and all)
juice from 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste  

Everything Else
4-6 large whole wheat tortillas (or regular ones)
a few torn lettuce leaves (we like butter or Bibb)
queso fresco or avocado (optional)
lime wedges

Marinate steaks in olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper for about 30 minutes (and up to 4 hours) before you plan to grill.

While steaks marinate, do your quick-pickling and sauce making: Bring red wine vinegar, sugar, salt, water to a boil, add onions and jalapeños and reduce to a simmer. Cook 3 minutes then drain, add to a bowl and set on table. In a blender or a small food processor, whirl together all cilantro sauce ingredients. Pour into a bowl and place on table.

Heat your grill (or stovetop grill — as you can see we were still indoors a few weeks ago when we made ours) to medium high and cook about 4 minutes a side. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing on the bias and placing on the table. (For little kids, please cut steak into teeny tiny pieces.) While meat is resting, add tortillas to the hot grill, flipping frequently until they bubble a little, about 1 minute each. (I like a little char on there.)

Set tortillas and remaining toppings on the table and have everyone assemble his or her own tacos. Squeeze with a little lime and serve with rice.

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Family Travel: A Three-Point Plan

May 13th, 2014 · Travel, Uncategorized

We’re not so good at doing nothing. Take the other morning, for example. There we were, the first Sunday in weeks with not a birthday party, soccer tournament, or home-improvement project in sight. It was the kind of lazy day made for sleeping in and reorganizing the sock drawer. But as soon as the coffeepot had been cleaned, we were already getting antsy.

“Put your shoes on, we’re going out.”

Kids: “Where?”

“Just trust us.”

By now they know the routine. We are not make-it-up-as-we-go kind of people—at least not when there are kids in the mix. It’s not just Sundays at home, though. It’s also on vacation, where we are convinced that the key to successful family travel—like most things involving young children—is to have some structure. Some kind of plan. A three-point plan, to be exact. With summer vacation-planning in the works, we thought we’d share.

STEP ONE: A Culture Hit
We like to start early(ish), while the energy is high, with the kind of activity that a parent might call “culturally enriching” and a kid might call “the most boring thing ever invented by anyone, ever.” The small museum works well here because (1) unlike, say, the Tate in London—and we say this with all respect—you don’t feel as though you’ve been mugged when you’re done, and (2) small museums have awesome gift shops, and kids love a gift shop. (Note: We define “culture” broadly. The Civil War battlefield at Antietam: yes. Hunting for “authentic” Messi jerseys in the Ladies’ Market in Hong Kong: possibly yes. The kids’ section at Book Passage in San Francisco: absofrigginlutely.)

STEP TWO: Something Outdoorsy
One of our friends grew up in a crazily athletic family that vacationed in Maine and would have races every morning—the entire family swimming out to some distant rock and back. We’re not that intense, but we do believe in the value of fresh air, whether it’s a 20-minute walk from our hotel to the farmers’ market or a sweaty hike through the slot canyons at Tent Rocks in New Mexico. It lifts the general mood, we find, giving us a little of the exhilaration that comes from being outside and seeing something beautiful and being reminded that the world is a lot larger than we thought.

STEP THREE: The Reward
Whether it’s lunch at a divey Mission taco stand or an absurdly priced macaron at Dalloyau in Paris, we always aim to impart to our kids a cardinal rule of travel: The best way to feel you’re part of a place is to find something delicious, and to eat it. –Jenny & Andy

This is our “Providers” column for the May travel issue of Bon Appetit. Pick up the issue for travel and food inspiration from Chicago to Paris and everywhere in between. Or head over to their site for the entire Providers archive.

Speaking of travel: Check out Joanna’s awesome family vacation round-up over on Cup of Jo.

Photo above: Block Island, ca 2009

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Friday Round-Up

May 9th, 2014 · Uncategorized

What I’m into this week:

Are we facing the Death of the Mircowave?  (We don’t own one, do you?)

Who is to blame for the obesity epidemic? Fed Up, released in theaters today, goes for the jugular.

I am majorly coveting this happy patio umbrella.

Do you guys know about Mouth? They hunt down the best indie foods (think small-batch gins, artisanal coffees, chocolate, chocolate, chocolate) then group things together in gift boxes. Their selection looks divine.

Five ways to deal with dinner guests who won’t put down their phones. (Can someone please write the companion piece: How to deal with 12-year-olds who won’t put down their phones at a birthday party?)

My friend Tara — whose food photography you have no doubt drooled over many millions of times — is launching a magazine called Wild Apple, dedicated to gluten-free living. Please support her kickstarter campaign.

Local peeps: This new market looks promising! Anyone have intel on it for me?

10 Cakes for Mother’s Day (I’m all over the olive oil.)

A whole new way to think about chicken.

A little too much rang true to me here.

Is it June 6 yet? (Please do yourself a favor and read the book before you see the movie.)

Get ready for the World Cup! (And yes, I shazamed, then bought the song playing in the background.)

What to make for Mother’s Day Brunch: A Slideshow.

Lastly, my friend Marcie might be the most talented person I know. She turns vintage curtains into princess crowns for my daughters; she runs the school garden program at her kids’ elementary school; as a trained biologist, she can tell her plovers from her willers, her zooplankton from her daphnia; and legend has it that on a camping trip once, she caught and gutted a fish with her bare hands.  But all that? Child’s play compared to the projects and adventures she’s assembled for her new book This Book Was a Tree: Ideas, Adventures, and Inspiration for Rediscovering the Natrual WorldEver wonder how to make a pinhole camera out of household objects or a sundial out of a tree stump? Make felt out of a thrift shop sweater? This is your manual. Check it out! [Read more →]

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Last Night’s Dinner

May 8th, 2014 · Quick

7:30 AM During breakfast (yes, dinner starts at breakfast in my house), I transfer frozen chicken thighs from freezer to fridge and watch in awe as Phoebe prepares her own lunch for the first time. (Andy and I have sworn to each other that the enabling is over, but ask me about this again in a week.) Pride fades to annoyance as girls argue again over a pair of neon green socks.

8:00 Buses, trains, drop-offs, kisses. See you tonight!

~ Ten hours later ~

6:45 Late start to the girls’ home (Bless you, O God of Sports Scheduling) lacrosse game. Eagles vs. Garnets tie 10-10. (At least we think that was the score — at this age, even the ref loses track after a certain point.)

7:45 Do our best to divert daughters from the fund-raising bake sale and ice cream truck strategically positioned right at the field exit. Fail. Two brownies (baked by me, by the way, and then purchased by Andy for a dollar each) will apparently be tonight’s appetizer.

7:50 Pile into car. Immediately start fending off requests to go out for pizza. It’s late. I’m starving. Please! We are just tired enough to concede, until the backseat becomes a warzone, the girls can’t agree on which pizza place to patronize — old-school vs. “artisanal” — and within minutes, we are headed home in the direction of my thawing chicken.

8:10 Andy pan-fries that chicken, noting that, as usual, I’ve thawed about enough to feed two squirrels. He pops a few of those Trader Joe’s Pastry Pups into the oven for the girls. (OK, who are we kidding, we stole at least four when girls weren’t looking — those things are sick). I boil some fat asparagus (four minutes, then shock in ice water) picked up at Union Square’s Greenmarket earlier that afternoon, top with one avocado (sliced), a mustardy vinaigrette, and a pile of crispy shallots (aka rich man’s French’s fried onions; aka fairy dust, etc.) that, frankly, were better than any artisanal pizza. Both girls, miraculously, agree. (To make: Using your fingers, toss thin shallot slices with flour and salt, then fry in canola oil over medium-low heat until crispy — about 8-10 minutes — before removing with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel.)

8:40 Dinner.

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A Vegetarian at the Table

May 5th, 2014 · Vegetarian

Dear Jenny,
.
Last winter, my 10-year-old, who is a voracious and wonderfully appreciative eater, started making noises about becoming a vegetarian. We engaged the conversation, of course, which then piqued the interest of my 8-year-old. They both decided that, because of their feelings about animals, they wanted to become vegetarians.  My husband and I totally supported this, but told her that we wouldn’t have the family go full vegetarian because a) our 4-year-old loves meat and b) we like meat.  But we agreed that all meals would have a vegetarian base and possibly some meat on the side, which they could choose to eat or not.  They both felt comfortable with this.
So, here’s my question. I have really tried to expand my beans and lentils repertoire but I feel like I’m running out of new and exciting ideas for vegetarian meals.  I feel slightly overwhelmed by tofu and frankly grossed out by tempeh. So, any good dishes that we could all eat would be a life saver.
Love,
Kate
.
Dear Kate, [Read more →]

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He’s Sweet, She’s Savory

April 30th, 2014 · Baking and Sweets, Entertaining, Seafood

There are many reasons why I love going to Naria’s and Peter’s house for dinner. For starters, they live in my town, and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that one of the great pleasures in life is having neighbors cook for you. This is especially true when those neighbors really know how to bring it in the dinner party department. Unlike in our house where having more than two or three guests feels like we’re running a restaurant, Naria and Peter seem to revel in the large, well-considered guest list. There are usually at least eight of us, the official invitation comes a few weeks ahead of time, there is a properly set dining room table, and I always wake up with a sore throat the next morning, because it’s non-stop talking from the moment we sit down to cocktails until we leave. (Again, SEE: well-considered guest list). [Read more →]

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What I Want for Mother’s Day

April 28th, 2014 · 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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Ode to an Italian Market

April 24th, 2014 · Dinner, Pasta, Quick

Oh market of ancestral pleasures,
A carnival of old-school treasures,
Your homemade fare, it lifts, amazes,
I think it’s time I sing your praises.

Behold those days my tired body’s
so grateful for your manicottis.
The workday hard, the lunchroom cruel,
No prob when we have your fa-jool* 

On nights I’m out and can’t cook dinner,
I always have a pinch-hit winner,
I’m late, not dressed, oh holy moly!
The sitter boils ravioli.

“From scratch” can be so overrated.
When those meatballs can be plated
From the freezer, quick and thrifty,
Just flip the oven to three-fifty.

So here’s to every gift Italian,
To ziti baked and veal medallion,
Sending thanks that’s good and loud,
Grandma Catrino would be proud.

Seven bucks for fifty fresh, authentic, restaurant-quality, cheese-filled ravioli. What rhymes with “bargain of the century?”

*Note actual spelling of Fa-jool on third shelf from bottom right in top picture. Photo taken via my instagram (dinneralovestory) at Mercurio’s Italian Market on Mamaroneck Avenue, Mamaroneck, NY.

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Beautiful Buvette

April 22nd, 2014 · 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. [Read more →]

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Relentless

April 19th, 2014 · Dinner, Grilling, Posts by Andy, Quick, Seafood

Jenny begged me to write this post. She begged me to write it because we have spent most of the last week on spring break and she has spent much of that time feeling guilty about not having posted. She keeps circling the laptop, turning to me and saying, “Should I post? Just something quick? Is it bad that we haven’t done anything all week?” (This is what it’s like being a food blogger. And, I want to clarify: She is not being lazy. She is writing another book, working on a site redesign, we just handed in a Bon App column, and she is mapping out a whole bunch of new posts, which she’ll be rolling out in the next couple of weeks, for real. The point is: She likes you guys. She really likes you guys!*) So: I’m going to keep this short because my feelings of guilt re posting are not quite as debilitating, and because this vacation ends tomorrow, and because a bike ride with the kids — followed by an Easter egg salad sandwich with sweet relish — awaits.

Last Saturday evening, we fired up the Weber for the first time this year — always a cause for celebration in our house. We’d been kind of going off lately, food-wise, and wanted to keep things healthy. We decided on fish (Phoebe requested salmon, as per usual), a grilled vegetable (the asparagus at the farmer’s market was lookin’ good), and the kind of grainy, superfood salad that the kids would not touch if you paid them in unicorn sightings (we did quinoa with feta, tomatoes, and scallions). Jenny is standing over my shoulder right now, as I type this, and she approves, so consider this POSTED. – Andy

* Dear very nice commenters who write in to say you miss it when Jenny doesn’t post as much: I love you, but you’re KILLING ME! [Read more →]

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Hurry Up and Fail Already: Lessons in Creativity

April 15th, 2014 · Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

Jenny and I have written a lot about books on this blog — and more specifically, about the role books have played in our kids’ lives, the highlight reel they will summon when they’re old like us and thinking back on the things, beyond family, that added meaning to their lives. What we’ve never really talked (much) about is another part of the kid experience that would also factor into that discussion pretty prominently: Pixar movies. I can’t tell you how many times Phoebe has watched The Incredibles and Finding Nemo, and Abby has watched Toy Story 3 and Monsters Inc. — and, by extension, how many times Jenny and I have sat on the couch or in the backseat of the car, watching right along with them.

So many of our dinner conversations, over the past ten years, have centered around the question: What is your favorite Pixar movie, and why? I love these conversations because, while we’re talking about the movies themselves, we also end up talking about stuff that gets us fired up in a more cosmic way: Originality, artistic ambition, the difference between mediocre product and stuff that lasts, the fact that nobody speaks for the first 30 minutes of Wall-E, the importance of a strong central idea in any creative project, etc. The question of how people make great things — or, how art happens — is an endlessly chewy one, and it’s one that I had the good fortune to explore recently, while working on Creativity, Inc., by Pixar Co-Founder and President Ed Catmull, and Amy Wallace. In the book, Catmull mines his legendary staff for lessons about creativity — the inherent difficulty of it, the need for perseverance, the upside of fear and failure. I thought it would be fun to share a few excerpts we found inspiring, helpful reminders that anything worthwhile is hard. – Andy

Lesson 1: Fail As Fast As You Can
From: Andrew Stanton, Director, A Bug’s LifeFinding Nemo, and Wall-E

Andrew likes to say that we would all be a lot happier and more productive if we just hurried up and failed already. For him, moving quickly is a plus because it prevents him from getting stuck worrying about whether his chosen course of action is the wrong one. Instead, he favors being decisive, then forgiving yourself if your initial decision proves misguided. He likens the director’s job to that of a ship captain, out in the middle of the ocean, with a crew that’s depending on him to make land. The director’s job is to say, “Land is that way.” Maybe land actually is that way and maybe it isn’t, but if you don’t have somebody choosing a course—pointing their finger toward that spot there, on the horizon— then the ship goes nowhere. It’s not a tragedy if the leader changes her mind later and says, “Okay, it’s actually not that way, it’s this way. I was wrong. As long as you commit to a destination and drive toward it with all your might, people will accept when you correct course. People want decisiveness, but they also want honesty about when you’ve effed up. It’s a huge lesson: Include people in your problems, not just your solutions.” Other people are your allies, in other words, but that alliance takes sustained effort to build. And you should be prepared for that, not irritated by it. As Andrew says, continuing his nautical metaphor, “If you’re sailing across the ocean and your goal is to avoid weather and waves, then why the hell are you sailing? You have to embrace that sailing means that you can’t control the elements and that there will be good days and bad days and that, whatever comes, you will deal with it because your goal is to eventually get to the other side. You will not be able to control exactly how you get across. That’s the game you’ve decided to be in. If your goal is to make it easier and simpler, then don’t get in the boat.”

Lesson 2: Embrace Fear
From: Brad Bird, Director, The Incredibles and Ratatouille

There are moments, in any creative endeavor, where there is so much work to do and so little time to do it that you can’t help but feel fear. Brad knows that if he lingers too long in that frightened place, he will freak out. [Read more →]

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Spring Holiday Round-Up

April 11th, 2014 · 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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Orecchiette with Sweet Sausage Bolognese

April 10th, 2014 · Pork and Beef

I’m a little obsessed with this dinner — even though I haven’t really eaten a legitimate bowl of it yet.

It started at the farmer’s market on Saturday — right now is slim pickins there in terms of greens and produce (see: Winter, Brutal) but I was still able to pick up a few old friends that I had been missing these past few months: Some good eggs (as you know) a mini blueberry and a mini lemon pie for Andy’s birthday (as of this tenth day of April, breakfast pie has officially eclipsed the birthday biscuit), and some sweet Italian pork sausages from Kings Roaming Angus Farm. Having a coil of these sausages in the freezer is Money in the Bank, as far as dinner is concerned. I usually don’t do anything with them except broil or grill as is, then serve with a shredded kale salad and a can of baked beans — a rich man’s franks and beans. But when I got home, I happened to place the shrink-wrapped pork next to a can of tomatoes, and just like that they spoke to me. “Sausage bolognese,” they said. “We dare you not to make it.” [Read more →]

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Eggs: A Love Story

April 7th, 2014 · Dinner, Entertaining, Sides, Salads, Soup, Vegetarian

There are four cartons of eggs in my refrigerator right now, which might sound strange considering my childrens’ well-chronicled antipathy towards all things orb-shaped and yolk-filled, but as far as I’m concerned, it might not be nearly enough. The first carton, our standard Trader Joe’s Large Brown Organic, is almost depleted so that hardly counts. The second is one I picked up at our farmer’s market this past Saturday (Hallelujah! It’s open!), and the last two dozen I bought at Stone Barns where we went for lunch a few hours later, because I couldn’t help it. Eating an egg from Stone Barns after a winter of Trader Joe’s eggs is like picking up Anna Karenina after a year of flipping through Archie comics. I needed to stock up. [Read more →]

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How to Shop Responsibly

April 4th, 2014 · Children's Books, Gifts, Culture, Kitchenlightenment

As we are all well too aware of, having kids these days seems to be synonymous with having stuff. Especially when we are new, impressionable parents, easily bamboozled by marketing messages telling us we need everything — from wipe warmers to the developmental toy du jour — or our kids will be destined for failure. But let’s forget about our kids for a minute. How is our culture of overconsumption playing out on the global field? How can we make sure we are purchasing from the right companies and staying on the right side of things? (Besides forgoing the iPotty all together, of course. iPotties!) Here to help us along is guest-poster Christine Bader, author of the much-touted  The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil and an expert in corporate responsibility. Welcome!

I work in corporate responsibility, which means working with companies on sustainable practices that are good for people and the environment. But I often have trouble practicing what I preach, and I know others who do this work do too. We push companies to offer sustainable products, but balk if there’s a price premium when doing our own shopping. We advocate for consumers to learn and demand more, but succumb to what’s easiest to get with one-click. Take my recent experience purchasing a rug for my 18-month-old twins. Child labor is a problem in the carpet industry, so I started on the Goodweave website for brands certified child-labor-free. Once I pinpointed those brands, I looked for online retailers that sold them, then within that search, looked for options made from with natural fibers like cotton and wool. It wasn’t  easy — and I do this for a living.

So how do we cut through all the information and shop responsibly? Is local better than organic? Is “fair trade” truly fair? Does a company getting a “sustainable” or “ethical trading initiative” seal mean it’s all good?  There are no easy answers — apart from consuming less, which we all could probably do — but that shouldn’t stop us from asking the questions. Once in awhile I take stock of all the stuff I’m surrounded by at that moment, ask myself what I know about each item, where it puts me on the responsible-to-over-consumption spectrum, and give myself a grade. Here’s my latest report card: [Read more →]

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