Halloween is upon us! I admit that I’m guilty of waiting until the last minute for my costume plans, then driving around to all the stores in the neighborhood to pick over the slightly ripped, half stolen, prepackaged costumes – and then deciding to DIY it. We had aour work party this week where I dressed as “Creep”opatra, and pretty much left at least half of the “dressing up” part of it to the powers of makeup: to extra-heavy winged eyeliner, glitter, and of course, fake blood. The rest of my costume consisted of craft store finds like gold rope & hot glued ribbon. Nailed it. My fellow publishing friends & I dressed up as doomed historical figures, and then lip-synched & faux-fought to Bad Blood in the talent show. We’re pretty awesome.As a kid, I never really trick-or-treated. But before you feel all sorry for me, let me tell you that the church my family went to put on this incredibly fun (not being ironic) “harvest” fair (and they still do every year) with activity booths like “Whack-a-Walnut” and mini-golf. Then you exchange tickets you win playing games for literally BAGS of candy. And also free all-you-can-eat hot dogs and kettle corn. To celebrate this candy-overloaded time of year, I figured out a way to stuff handfuls of trick-0r-treat loot into one, manageable and thankfully, shareable icebox cake that can be saved in the freezer for up to a month. If you’re great at preserving things in the freezer (involves air-tight plastic wrap ninja skills I don’t really have), you may even bring this out alongside the pumpkin pie at your Thanksgiving feast! This icebox cake is inspired by something I had at my 8th grade graduation banquet from one of the creative moms in charge of feeding a group of pumped-up, overdressed teens dessert on graduation night. She made a cake like this using a giant Costco-sized sheet cake pan, but when she served it everyone was so impressed because it was delicious, but also fancy-looking. My version also only takes five easy ingredients (that are probably already in your fridge & cabinets) and a freezer to complete. Whip this up and share it with friends to spread those candy calories across multiple appetites, instead of mindlessly popping one small candy in your mouth after another while watching TV, which I sometimes do if I’m not careful.
Last year, Jon and I honeymooned in Ireland (Cork, Galway, & Dublin), England (Bath, Oxford, & London), and Paris. On the last leg of our trip, what we were really craving was not fancy cheese or bread, even croissants. We wanted fresh veggies and fruit.
I was so relieved to see fruit as a side dish on a Parisian menu, but was sadly disappointed when what I ordered turned out to be fruit cocktail instead (complete with those ambiguous grape/cherries that come in the cans in the U.S.!). This isn’t the case in most French restaurants, I’m sure.
But as a tourist, away from home for so long and craving something uncomplicated and fresh with lots of fiber and vitamins to heal my poor digestive system from the pigging-out it had endured for days, it was a little anti-climatic to receive my fruit in soggy, unidentifiable chunks in a fancy glass bowl. (And, I probably picked the wrong restaurant to begin with).
Growing up in California definitely has its blessings. Californians are so close to fresh produce from the abundance of farms around us, including ripe avocados, leafy greens, crisp apples, juicy tomatos. My trip abroad proved to me that delicious produce isn’t a given in every country or city.
One of the many joys in my current life living in the Bay Area is the access to big, amazing farmers markets. My favorite part is waking up, slapping on yoga pants, grabbing bags and loose change, thinking up a preliminary list, then getting to the farmer’s market and being over-wowed by fresh in-season eggplant or poblano peppers or English peas or what-have-you, and changing all my cooking plans around that star ingredient. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big advocate of going in with a plan, and coming back with a bushel of surprising goodies to try out. It’s how I stay inspired.
On the side, I volunteer with an organization called Kitchen Table Advisors that shares my love of farmer’s markets. They help small sustainable farms with their business planning & financial advice so that they can also thrive in the competitive economic landscape.
I help on the social media side, and our big project was to grow the buzz around Kitchen Table Advisors’ first fundraiser event. I couldn’t help but catch the contagious excitement. Jon and I went to the dinner and were so impressed by the delicious food made by famous Bay Area chefs, who teamed up with local farms to make fancy meals with sustainable produce.
We stuffed ourselves to bursting (literally, I had to unzip my dress a little bit to sit down comfortably in the car on the way home. Maybe that’s TMI. Oh well.) on white bean soup, curried chicken and basmati rice, squash and date sandwiches, strawberry panna cotta, cheese platters, etc.
And then I was asked to help recreate one of the dishes for the Kitchen Table Advisors’ blog, so I made this one. My favorite dish of the night were these small, tartlet potato crostatas with caramelized onion, kale, & tomato filling, and a dollop of handmade ricotta. Jon and I grabbed a seat nearby the serving station doling out this confection, and ate more of them than we could count. So I thought I would spin off the success of the dish and turn it into a full meal-sized tart.
This onion tart is bursting with flavor from the fresh, early fall ingredients it showcases: onions, tomatoes, & kale, and I added some mushrooms. A little bit of salt, red wine, & fresh thyme are all you need to highlight the flavors of the veggies. This meal uncomplicated, but very tasty, and a great Meatless Monday meal option and also #notsaddesklunch nominee.
For our anniversary this year, Jon and I visited New York City. We had both never been, so we made a lengthy to-do list with touristy spots we’d seen in movies, but also the local recommendations our coworkers who had lived there gave us.
As a result of much time researching beforehand, and talking to former Big Apple dwellers, I felt that our trip was a good mix of the well-traveled tourist path, plus some extra spots off the normal route. Which is just what you want in a first trip to the city.
One thing I loved about New York was its green parks. We spent a whole day, by accident, in Central Park. We walked basically the length of it, through paved and gravel roads, by ponds, museums, skyscrapers. It was lovely. Especially given the amount of carbs we ate.
Why is it that all the “must-try” foods in American cities are always the carb-fried-donut-potato-sugar-glazed confections? You know the ones I mean. Cronuts. Ramen burgers. Pretzel croissants. Milkshakes. The First Pizza to Be Introduced to America.
Well, I’m here to say that yes. It was all true. It was all yummy. And to combat my rapidly growing waistline, we walked to every destination that was less than one mile away. Most days, I made it to 22,000 steps per day. And still ended up gaining three pounds. Ouch. But it was worth it!
Before we went to New York, we were told that the Shake Shack is the East Coast version of In-N-Out. This is completely untrue. To be fair, though, every comparison I’ve ever heard of some other burger to In-N-Out has never panned out. In-N-Out is basically it’s own thing. It’s in it’s own classification. But despite our bad information, we loved the shakes (of course!) and the burgers at Shake Shack. They have a rotating shake flavor each week. When we were there, it was Strawberry Almond. So good. They also have frozen custard cups called Concretes with mix-ins like sauces and baked goodie bits.
I know I talk a lot about the weather, but it’s because IT’S SO WEIRD. We go between cold, rainy, foggy fall and hot! & sweaty by 9 in the morning in two seconds flat. I found myself making a frozen custard, fall-style, because it’s NEVER too cold (or hot, in this case….) for ice cream.
Shake Shack makes it’s shakes with frozen custard, which is thicker and richer than regular ice cream, due to the addition of eggs. Ok, I know what you are thinking. “EGGS IN ICE CREAM?!” But just know that they are tempered (not raw), and that they are the key ingredient in making a delicious, rich, dense, flavorful custard that Shake Shack is known for.
Frozen custard is sweet and thick, so it’s like an ultra comfort-food version of ice cream. Even though ice cream is already a comfort food. And I’m happy to keep eating pumpkin flavored desserts in 90 degree weather.
This frozen custard is amazing because it perfectly blends two seemingly opposite ideas of fall & summer. It reminds me of iced Pumpkin Spiced Lattes. On one hand, it’s sort of sacrilegious to get an iced fall drink. But in those first weeks of fall and also in the bursts of heat at random times, you still want to be in the mood for fall and enjoy your latte, no matter what temperature it is outside.
Mini guide to NYC:
- Stay in Brooklyn! There’s so much life and vibrancy in this little city. So many pretty parks to explore. So many pretty brownstones. We stayed at an AirBnB in one of the pretty brownstones. However, I would hold back on recommending the exact location because it was hot when we went and the room was air-condition-less. Nevertheless, we loved the neighborhood
- Central Park- make a day of it. There’s so much to see
- MoMA – we were happily surprised to see VAN GOGH’S STARRY NIGHT IN PERSON. How amazing does it get?? Jon also appreciated the video game exhibit
- The Highline – an amazingly beautiful, super long park built on an abandoned railroad track, 3 stories above the street. When we were there, they had a community Lego-building piece of art that we participated in by fashioning a helicopter and landing pad out of Legos
- Walk the Brooklyn Bridge – it’s crowded but it’s fun!
- See a Broadway play – I recommend a drama over a musical. This is BROADWAY and you will see the very best of the best. We saw Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and it blew our minds.
- SoHo – fun shopping, libraries, etc.
- Williamsburg – is very much like Valencia St. in the Mission district of San Francisco. Lots of hipsters, barber shops, and great thrift stores.
- The Strand– amazing bookstore with a great selection and iconic tote bags
- The Empire State Building – we went up at night and skipped the audio tour. Also, in the summer, they have a saxophone player in the evenings, which was so fun. Definitely had my Sleepless in Seattle moment.
- Chuko – Best ramen ever. And I live in the Bay Area, so that’s saying something.
- Dough – really good fluffy soft donuts drowned in yummy glaze. They have fun flavors like lemon poppyseed, nutella salted caramel (which I got, of course), passionfruit (which Jon got), & hibiscus
- 5 Leaves– we were really full when we got here, but I had an amazing avocado toast and pretty latte. Great for brunch
- Mast Brothers – bring chocolate home for your family. And eat it while you are there.
- The Plaza – We went here for afternoon tea because I love the Princess Diaries (books & movies), and Eloise, and amazing.
- Cronut at Dominique Ansel – Honest Opinion: it was meh. I would get something else instead.
- Juliana’s Pizza – Better than Grimaldi’s next door and the other touristy pizza place on Manhattan- Lombardi’s
- Chelsea Market– I love this food hall/court. They have cute gift shops, good coffee, a mini flea-market area, and a seafood market. Everyone in there was digging into fresh lobster with their families. Which is probably what heaven is like.
- Shake Shack – Obviously! I tried the mushroom burger, which was yummy, but BE CAREFUL, it’s really hot and sort of squirts at you if you eat too fast.
- ABC Kitchen– fancy schmancy, but yummy and healthy and WELCOME after eating lots of junk food. Also, pretty much everyone in there is famous or gorgeous or both.
- The Butcher’s Daughter – another great place to escape from the unhealthiness. All vegetarian, and fresh. I got the pesto zuchinni noodles & Jon liked his barbecue bean burger
- Liquiteria – good place to stop before getting on the High Line park. They have great tasting green smoothies.