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January 2013

Easy Super Bowl Sunday Snacks

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This probably won’t come as a news flash for anyone who regularly reads this blog, but I’m not much of a football fan. (In case you couldn’t tell, I spend my Sundays cooking food, not sitting on the couch munching chips and drinking beer in front of a television, ahem.)

However, my father used to have season tickets to the Jets, and I was raised to be a football fan (and player, though biology didn’t help with that—throughout high school I was skinny as a rail), so I’m not immune to the allure of Super Bowl Sunday. This weekend I’ll be watching the game, you can bet.

I’ll be cooking up a batch of my favorite gumbo, the oyster, chicken, and sausage version from my friend in New Orleans, David Olivier, and I suggest you make that too. Don’t be scared of the roux—you can do it!

If you don’t feel like making such a big dish, consider making some guacamole and fresh salsa. That’ll liven up any gathering you might have. What will you be making to enjoy the game?

Guacamole

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 4 shakes Tabasco
  • 1 sprinkle salt
  • 1/3 tomato, diced
  • 1 tablespoon diced onion
  • 1 tablespoon diced cilantro

        Peel and mash the avocado and combine with the other ingredients

 

Fresh Salsa

  • 1 tomato, medium size, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 lime, juiced, or to taste
  • 2 shakes Tabasco
  • sea salt, to taste

        Stir ingredients together, and enjoy


Nature Theatre of Oklahoma Brownies

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Life, love, and marriage all work in weird and mysterious ways. I’m old enough to know this, and young enough to find it captivating, so when Santa Maria told me she wanted to go see the Nature Theater of Oklahoma at the Public Theatre, I didn’t bat an eye. “This is why I married her,” I said to myself, “because she’s kooky,” thinking also, “What on earth would a nature theatre be doing visiting New York City?”

Well, the joke was on me—the Nature Theater of Oklahoma is a very local (i.e. downtown) ensemble company that gets its name from “last chapter of Kafka’s unfinished novel ‘Amerika’,” according to this Bomb Magazine interview with the founders. Its latest production, “Life and Times: Episodes 1-4,” is a ten-hour affair, which can be seen either in one marathon session, where food is served, or in various single-night episodes.

The show is described on the Public Theatre’s website as a “person's account of their own life from earliest memory through adolescence.” The Daily News goes into more detail: “Specifically, it’s the life of Kristin Worrall, a Nature Theater member. The show’s text - including countless utterances of “um,” “like,” “yeah” and “haha” - is drawn from phone chats between her and Pavol Liska, who founded the company with his wife, Kelly Copper.” If you want to read more about what that might mean, Hilton Als gives it a rave review on The New Yorker’s website.

Personally, I was less interested in the production than in making Santa Maria happy. If she wanted to go see the Nature Theatre of Oklahoma on Mars, I would have built her a rocket. So, I did what could to get her tickets, and through the generosity of the company, a pair were set aside for her. All she had to do, in exchange, was to make the brownies that are served during the marathon sessions. The recipe comes from Worrall herself, which means that even if you don’t get to the show, you can still experience a little bit of the drama and excitement nonetheless. Just make the brownies. Here’s Santa Maria’s full report, followed by the recipe, which Worrall has generously offered to share, both in single batch form and expanded to feed 900 folks.

Warning:  this post is full of extreme opinions, proceed with caution.

Unlike Stay at Stove Dad, I am a passionate baker and sweet tooth.  I am picky about books, men, and baked goods and I am extremely picky about husbands and brownies. I waited a long time to marry (in dog years I would have been nearly 300) and I never, ever buy brownies (because to do so results too often in heartbreak).  I never even bake brownies, for I have never found a recipe that is really good, let alone great.

But this is a great brownie recipe, and I only baked it as a small gesture of thanks for tickets to the show, for which I am grateful. It is straightforward, and, actually, very easy.

The aroma of these brownies is enough to drive your neighbors delirious.  Luckily, if you cut modest, 2” squares, you’ll have plenty to share.  I sent sending care packages to SASD’s work friends, two dear friends – one down the block, one visiting from Northampton, and to two neighbors.

Give yourself at least 30 minutes to cool the chocolate/butter mixture.  (I usually cavalierly disregard directions, but I was too worried about making the brownies “heavy and dry” to risk it). One note: You don’t need to use a double boiler for the melting of the chocolate if you have a VERY low ‘melt’ setting on your stovetop.

I adapted it a few ways: I didn’t have instant espresso powder (and had no desire to buy an entire container of it) so I used finely ground, organic “Love Buzz” coffee. I used regular (Maldon) sea salt.  And I used old-school Baker’s unsweetened chocolate squares along with Green and Black’s 70% organic dark chocolate.  All other ingredients are organic. 

Be careful to follow temperature and timing directions closely – your knife should come out mostly clean (from the center when testing doneness), but okay to have a tiny bit of adhesion of the batter.  I think the 1 T of coffee is a key ingredient.

Kristin Worrall’s Nature Theatre of Oklahoma Brownies

  • 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
  • 2.5 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (Callebaut is my favorite)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 T butter 
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 T instant espresso powder
  • 2 c sugar
  • 1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 t baking powder
  • 1 T coarse vanilla sea salt

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line a 13x9 baking pan with parchment paper.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler. Let this mixture cool before using; if you don't, the brownies will be heavy and dry.

In a small bowl combine the flour and baking powder.

Beat the eggs together in a large bowl until light and foamy. Add the salt, vanilla, and espresso powder. 

Continue beating while gradually adding sugar.

Stop beating and manually combine the chocolate mixture to the eggs with a few swift strokes using a large spoon or spatula.

Before the mixture is uniformly colored, fold in the flour/baking powder mixture until just barely dispersed.

Add to pan, and bake for 25 minutes, rotate pan and sprinkle top of brownies with coarse vanilla sea salt.  Bake for another 10-15 minutes or until done.

And in case you need to make a bigger batch, here's the ingredient list converted to make 900 brownies (which is how many Worrall made for the NTOK Marathons):

19 lbs. unsweetened chocolate
13 lbs. semi-sweet chocolate
24 lbs. butter
26 dozen large eggs
2 cups sea salt
2 cups vanilla
6 cups instant espresso powder
74 lbs. granulated sugar
27 lbs. all-purpose flour
2 cups baking powder
6 cups vanilla sea salt

Super Bowl Week: Brussels Sprouts Showdown

After I posted about my sister helping with the recent big family dinner by par-broiling her Brussels sprouts, I heard from my other sister about how she makes hers. She wrote to me in the spirit of a friendly suggestion, but this being brother-versus-brother Super Bowl Sunday week (for those not keeping score, the two teams in the Super Bowl this Sunday, San Francisco and Baltimore, are coached by brothers—Jim Harbaugh, of the  49ers, and his older brother, John, of the Ravens), I thought I’d spin it a different way: As a Brussels Sprouts Showdown.

I asked my other sister to elaborate on how she makes hers, and here’s what she said:

I have always loved Brussels sprouts, but never could cook them the way I would get them in good restaurants. Then our brother and his wife started showing up at holiday meals with their delicious Brussels sprouts with bacon. They kept telling me to cook them fast at a high temp. Given my issues with trying new things, trusting people to really know what they are talking about (etc….the usual neurotic stuff that kicks around in my head), I didn't heed her advice for a long time. Finally, and only recently, I took the leap and put in a batch at 425.  They were perfect. Nice and crispy on the outside and just cooked through inside and NOT MUSHY!!!! Needless to say, I was more than thrilled and much chagrinned that I hadn't tried it earlier. If you want my recipe, it is beyond simple:  Wash the Brussels sprouts and cut an X in the bottom of each. As the outer leaves fall off, just add them to the pan. They will crisp up really nice. I add olive oil to just coat them, salt and pepper and in they go. You have to keep an eye on them and stir them around every once in while. They cook very fast, about ten to fifteen minues, and are excellent.

How do you make your Brussels sprouts? And who will you be rooting for come Sunday, San Francisco or Baltimore? I know who I’ll be favoring (Go Kaepernick!), and just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I won’t be serving Brussels sprouts on game day—I’ll be making chicken, sausage, and oyster gumbo, in honor of the host city, New Orleans.


Brussels Sprouts! Brussels Sprouts! Brussels Sprouts!

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The family dinner last Sunday was real treat. The company was a pleasure and because Monday was a holiday, there was no real pressure to get back to work, get back to school. It’s a shame that the only time we’re so relaxed on the weekends is when there’s a long weekend, but such is modern life. I don’t think I’m the first parent to complain about the pace of things…

And as I mentioned earlier this week, the apple-and-sage pork roast was a big hit. I liked it because it was easy and delicious (to say nothing of cost effective), but the real star of the meal were the Brussels sprouts we had on the side.

They were so enticing for a couple of reasons, the first being that my sister did all the hard work in getting them ready. It was her amazing, completely unsolicited contribution to the meal, and I think it allowed me to watch the second half of the San Francisco-Atlanta game in peace. Or rather, it allowed my visiting friend (who is always cooking for his family) to watch it in peace (or read the paper, or whatever it was he was doing—that game was great, and I was distracted), because my plan all along was to have him cut up the Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables, but like any good marriage, they’re a lot of work—too much if you ask me, so I hardly ever make them. In this case, I knew my friend could do the peeling and cutting and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. But my sister stepped up, and took care of this herself. She even par boiled them, so all I had to do was gently brown them in the oven, while the pork roast cooked, naturally, and while San Francisco came back to defeat Atlanta. What a day!

Roast Brussels Sprouts, Football Sunday Way

Using as many Brussels sprouts as you need for your gathering, cut the base off, and remove hard outer leaves.

Bring a steamer pot to a boil, and parboil the sprouts for six minutes.

After they cool, cut them into quarters.

Mix the sprouts with a bit of oil, not too much, and plenty of salt and pepper.

Spread them on as many baking sheets as necessary (do not crowd--keep to one layer) and roast them in a hot oven (350 to 400, it doesn't really matter) for about twent minutes or so. Watch that they don't burn on the bottom. Stir and move around maybe once, with a spatula. Cook until they are done, and no longer. You don't want them mushy, but you do want them browned. 


Family Planning for an Easy Football-Sunday Pork Roast

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Family planning concerns more than just what happens before the kids come along. Once you have a family, you need to do more planning for it to function well and for everyone to grow, maintain their sanity, and be happy. I was up visiting my mother over the holiday weekend, and my grown siblings were all around. They were coming and going like crazy, and I needed to do some family-meal planning, or I was going to lose it.

Sunday Morning, I asked my mom, who had just hosted about nine people the night before, who might be around that day, and who might be coming for dinner. There were a few possibilities, including one sibling and her son. I had a friend and his son visiting. The numbers were creeping up there. I like a large party, and wanted to feed everyone. This was making my mother anxious, for I doubt she wanted to cook for another big group. She did that for decades when we were kids, and maybe now she’s feeling like she wants a break. I wanted to entertain everyone, so I pressed her on the menu. I knew I could do the cooking, as you all know from reading this blog, but I also knew that it needed to be something easy, affordable, and straightforward, or else I would really lose it.

My mother said to put “something in the oven” and “to make it easy.” What’s easy for me is universal—that is, I like doing what I’ve done before, and who isn’t like that? Don’t you hate it when your kids won’t try to learn something new? But think about it, when was the last time you tried to learn something new, screwed up at it, and then kept doing it? Really, tell me that, and I’ll have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn.

For example, I’ve known how to ski since I was a child, and once, on a pre-parent trip to Jackson Hole, I tried snowboarding. I fell frequently, and only sort-of got the hang of it. Not immediately satisfied, and facing the end of my vacation, I quit after two days went back to skiing.  That had been my plan all along, but I bet if I had gotten the hang of it faster, I would have kept on snowboarding. Know what I mean?

So last Sunday morning I was trying to come up with an easy meal for what could be between five and nine people, depending on who might be staying for dinner. The best I could manage was pork chops, broccoli rabe, and pasta with pesto sauce (I forgot to mention that I made a batch of fresh pesto before heading out of town, and because I’m so food crazy—or is it just plain crazy?—I took the pesto with me, just in case I had a big group to feed; I also brought my own pasta).

Pork chops and those sides seemed easy. My sister was coming volunteered to bring the broccoli rabe, and I could buy the meat in town. Problem solved, until I got to the store, where my mouth fell open and I started to drool as I was taken in by the vast offerings in the display case. My mother’s town has an old-fashioned butcher’s market, and they had all sorts of cuts on display. As I looked at the range of meat, my eye fell on a glistening pork loin, and I remembered my go-to apple-and-sage pork-roast recipe. I could do what my mother wanted. I could put “something in the oven” and forget it.

So I bought, a nice, three-pound cut of pork loin. It was a decent price, and I roasted it atop some apples, garlic, and sage after poked it with bits of garlic and more sage. I put the roast in the oven at half time during the San Francisco/Atlanta NFC Championship game. I went back to watch the game, and the meat was ready before the 49ers triumphed. 

Everyone loved the meal, and I got the highest compliment from my friend, who told me how much he liked it, and then added, "and you prepared it very stealthily." That just took a bit of planning. 

Easy Sunday Pork Roast Recipe

  • 1 apple, washed, cored, and sliced
  • 1 bunch sage, washed
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, to taste
  • One 2-3 lb boneless pork roast
  • Salt, to taste
  • dry white wine, about a half cup or so

 

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees

Slice the garlic into thick pieces, and with a pointy knife, stab a bunch of holes in the top and sides of the pork roast. Put the garlic slices along with bits of sage into the holes

Salt the meat

Lay the apple slices on the bottom of a roasting pan (for a piece of meat this size, I use a small ceramic pan) in roughly the same area as the size of the pork roast

Lay a few sage leaves over and under the slices

Perch the pork roast on top of the apples. The apples should be under the meat. They can be stacked a few layers high. Just don't leave them in the pan uncovered by the meat.

Pour a bit of water in the pan so the bottom of it isn't dry.

Put the meat into the oven and roast for about 30-45 mintues. Make sure the pan doesn't dry out. You don't want anything to burn in the pan. Add more water as you go along, if necessary.

After about 30 to 45 minutes, turn the heat down to 350, and continue to roast until the meat is 150 degrees internal, about an hour to an hour-and-a-half total.

Sometime before the meat is finished, dress it with the white wine while it is roasting.

Let the meat sit for ten minutes before slicing and serving.

Gather the apples and sage in a bowl and serve on the side.


Beyond Bubbie Recap: Why We Need to Eat and Drink Together

I spent a lot of time this week getting ready for the presentation I did last night for the Beyond Bubbie performance, at the 92Y Tribeca. It was a great night of intense stories about grandmothers and food, and I was honored to have shared the stage with David Sax (Save the Deli),  Mo Rocca ("My Grandmother’s Ravioli"),Carla Hall ("The Chew"), Joan Nathan (a New York Times contributor and cookbook author), Jake Dell (of Katz’s Deli), Alan Richman (a GQ food correspondent), Judy Batalion, and Cantor Shira Ginsburg (of Bubby's Kitchen.)

My grandmother was someone who became a widow at a somewhat young age, in her late forties  (the age, as I put it last night, that women these days are just first starting to think about becoming mothers). She died when I was just out of high school, and I didn’t remember much about her, other than that she found it hard to cook for one person. I didn’t know what that meant when she told me that—I was just a kid back then, after all—but I came to realize, in talking to my brothers and sisters and mother about what they remembered about her, that she was lonely, and she could have used a good meal, some good company, and a good conversation, along with, perhaps, a good cry, and certainly a good laugh.

I wish I could have given that to her. The best I can do is do that for my wife, my girls, my family, and my friends. Cooking is about so much more than just the food. It’s about the meal, the company, and the good times and bad times. Food is not just the fuel of love, it’s the fuel of conversation, communication, and intimacy. Give yourself the luxury of sitting around the table for a while. You don’t have to make anything fancy. You just have to be there, and listen.

Of course, it helps if you make something like a pot of gumbo and a loaf of fresh cornbread, which is what I did the other night for a little dinner party. And I served a bottle of Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Bordon Reserva, from 2006. The bottle was sent to me by a publicist, and I’m happy to say that it was quite tasty. It had a rich feel and a balanced depth that belied its low, circa $15 price. But don’t take my word for it, take the Wine Guys word. Here’s their little video about the bottle

 


Guest Post: The Take Away

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I threw a small dinner party on Saturday night, and it threw me for a loop. It's not the drinking that gets me anymore (given that a couple of glasses of wine is my max), it's doing the dishes at 12:45 a.m. So I was tired this afternoon, and when I opened my email to find a guest post from my Boston-based friend in the kitchen Paul Kidwell (who has contributed to this blog before), I was very grateful. Then I read it, and I knew that I had to post it right away. I found it very moving.

This past Friday was the final day of our son's semester break and that evening we drove him to the airport where he boarded a plane to London, where he will begin the second phase of his studies at the London School of Economics. It was splendid having him home for three weeks and he and I shared and cooked some great meals together; including a Cioppino, lasagna, and baked ham at Christmas, and a lobster-fest on New Year's Eve. Interspersed were some of his favorites like Paella, beef stew, bolognese, scampi, risotto, and some tasty omelettes, croissants and pancakes at breakfast, plus savory soups for lunch.

Cooking with him has been a joy and he is definitely turning into a rising man with a pan. More proud I could not be. Of course, the time spent sharing those meals with he and his mother are time capsule moments that I continue to store in my memory as it serves as emotional sustenance when he is away. Which, unfortunately he will continue to be more of as the years pass.

Next month he will turn 21 and my wife and I recognize that we will see less of him; more and more. If we do our jobs as parents, each lesson we teach to our children prepares them for independence and takes them one step closer to leaving us. It's the natural order of things and from the day he was born, his mother and I began to instill in him knowledge that would lead to his self-sufficiency, self-motivation and self-awareness. And when we do this, it leaves us happy and proud; albeit more than a little bit heartbroken. I lose a sous chef, but give to the world a gifted young man who is thoughtful, smart, polite (courtesy is the only thing I expect from him, the rest is negotiable) and knows his way around the kitchen. We do our job well as parents if these are the types of kids we raise and the efforts of our labor are so splendidly displayed.

I thought about what to make for his final lunch - our last meal together until June - as I pondered the fact that from now on he will miss my cooking more than he eats it. It would have to be something nourishing, comforting and simple; not to mention distinctly American. My desire is to feed him, make it memorable and wanting more. If he comes home only to eat, I am comfortable with that. Whatever it takes.

So I decide on chili, which I make with a touch of cinnamon. It's the perfect meal for this slate grey January day and balm for my soul which feels a little less of him today. We have come to that odd point in our lives where he needs to be set free and I want him near me more than ever. 

Paul Kidwell's Chili Recipe

 

  • 1.5 lb. ground beef
  • 1/4 cup dry wine (can also substitute beer)
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 cup onions
  • 1 15-oz can red kidney beans, drained
  • 1 15-oz can black beans, drained
  • 1 14-oz can tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Shredded cheddar cheese

Heat oil in stock pot and when shimmering add beef; cooking for 5 minutes.

Dump everything else in, bring to a simmer and cover for 30-45 minutes

Serve in a bowl and cover with cheese.


Santa Maria’s Scrumptious Cherry Pie

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Much like the inner workings of a marriage, a good cherry pie is a bit mysterious to me, being both sweet and tart, if you know what I mean. I’ve never had much of a sweet toot (the only times I had candy growing up was once-in-a-blue-moon on summer vacations, when I got to buy a pack of Bubblicious, and on certain Sundays when my folks would reward good behavior in church with a pack of Lifesavers), so desserts aren’t really my thing. Santa Maria seems to have come out of childhood with a different set of expectations (her mom’s idea of dessert is a good pie; she keeps homemade ones in the freezer to this day), and she is in charge of the pie making in our house. Her cherry pie is a wonder to behold.

One thing makes her cherry pie special, and that is the cherries. This sounds like a tautology, but I can explain. The cherries are tart, and not sweet, and they are packed in water. These tart cherries are only slightly less hard to find around New York, it seems, than an affordable apartment.  We once had a dinner party years ago, and asked some friends to bring some. They scoured the gourmet store Dean & Deluca, only to arrive with a pretty glass jar of something completely other than the vaunted tart cherry. We did without pie that night.

As hard as the tart cherries are to find, Santa Maria’s dad has a line on them. He picked up some from the Oregon Fruit Products Company at his local grocery store (and you can find them here, on the internet, too), and when we were down at their house for the holidays, Santa Maria made a cherry pie for him for his birthday. It’s his favorite.

Santa Maria’s Scrumptious Cherry Pie

  • 2 cans tart cherries packed in water (15 oz. cans)
  • juice of ½ lemon (fresh)
  • ½ cup juice from cherries
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • ¼ cup tapioca
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

 

For the 9” pie crust (for a top and bottom crust)

  • 2 c. flour (pastry flour, without germ makes it more tender)
  • 2/3 c. butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 Tablespoons ice water

 

Make pie crust this way:

Mix flour and salt.  Add butter. Use a pastry cutter (or two knives) to cut butter into the flour, until the butter is the size of peas.  Gradually add the water (1 T at a time) and mix gently with a fork until it gathers into a ball.  Divide into two balls. You can gently press dough together with a piece of wax or parchment paper.  Press down so that each ball forms a hockey puck like shape.  Chill for an hour; roll out dough and place in a (preferably) glass pie pan.  If you roll out the crust before the filling is ready, put them back in the fridge so that the butter lumps don’t melt.  The little yellow blotches you see in your crust are pockets of butter and what make it flaky and delicate.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. 

Drain cherries, reserve juice.  Add lemon juice, reserved cherry juice, sugar, tapioca, and cinnamon to the cherries.  Let sit 15 minutes (don’t skip this step or you’ll have little hard pebbles in your pie of the unsoftened tapioca).  Pour into the crust.  Place top crust on top and crimp the edges (this is fun! You can use your thumb and forefinger with a pinching motion, or use a fork).

Cut some air vents in the top crust to let out steam. 

Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar on top. 

Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and finish baking another 30 minutes.  Ovens are rather temperamental and you should check to see that the crust is getting golden – a good reason to use a glass pan (though it’s fine to use aluminum or ceramic if that’s what you have on hand).

Notes: She says, “Even though I have a sweet tooth, I like my fruit pies on the tart side.  If you don’t, you may want to use ¾-1 cup of sugar.  It is imperative that you serve this pie hot from the oven (oh, let it sit 10 or 15 minutes) with a dainty dollop of vanilla ice cream.” Also: “I prefer using organic ingredients and I encourage you to do so as well if you can afford it.” 

Additional Note: If you are scared of making a pie crust, Santa Maria says it will work fine with a commercially available pie crust. The filling is so good, that I would say it would be worth trying. Here's how it looks. Yum!

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How to Make 2013 Something Special

I think 2013 is going to be a year of changes and improvements in life around the Stay at Stove Dad household. Just look at what we’ve accomplished already: only a week has gone by in January, and we have finally fixed our oven. Yes, Virginia, there is a Jenn-Air service company that can stick to its word.

The saga of the broken oven is last year’s story. We now have a working one, and that is a wonderful thing. I’m even planning on having a dinner party later this week. I didn’t know how much I missed the oven until Saturday. I had gone out for a run, and Santa Maria had been busy while I was gone. She made gingerbread cookies, and when I came back into the apartment, the first thing I smelled was the sharp and sweet scent of the cookies baking. Here’s the recipe, photographed from an ancient cookbook belonging to Santa Maria’s mother.

Ginger_Cookies

I hope 2013 is a year of great improvements for you, too.  Making these cookies is an easy way to start. Enjoy!