WRITTEN ON November 20th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Holiday, Turkey

For any true food lover, Thanksgiving is the king of all holidays. The be all end all. The big dance. In short, it’s a game on, all out foodie bacchanalia, and the crown jewel is the turkey.

I’m not delusional. I realize that for most people, turkey is not actually their favorite part of the holiday meal. But Thanksgiving without a turkey would be like the Superbowl without a football. You simply must have it, and if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it well.

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to my bird. I’ve tried it all – brining, upside-down roasting, deep frying. Nothing says Normal Rockwellian Freedom From Want like a big breasted bird roasting in the oven for hours, emitting a pheromone-like fragrance that will have your family salivating and lining up for seconds (and offering to do the dishes later). It was how my grandmother did it. It’s how my mom does it. And that’s good enough for me.

Of course, long roasting can present quite a conundrum. The prized breast meat comes out dry as a bone, and the succulent dark meat (my personal favorite) is barely cooked through. So I’ve amassed some tips and tricks over the years that I’m now going to pass along to you.

My first foray into turkey roasting was during my senior year of college. My sorority (eeeeek, ok there, I said it) hosted a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for our senior sisters and all of the local alums. It was a 30 pound bird in a 10 pound oven, and it took about 8 hours and 15 phone calls to my mother. It also brought out the first hints of my control freak nature, dormant until then, when all the older alumnae showed up and immediately tried to swoop in and steal my gravy-making thunder. Narrowly avoiding an all out fisticuffs, I merely turned to the three women hovering over my shoulder and said in my most Dot-like tone (i.e. the tone you never mess with), “I’ve got this, thanks.”

Growing up, most of our Thanksgivings were spent on the road to New Jersey to be with my dad’s side of the family. So I had little prior turkey roasting experience when I took the plunge at Bucknell. But there were a few years after college when we stayed at home in Baltimore for the holiday, and I have warm memories of Thanksgiving morning with my mom, learning about stuffing and where to find the turkey innards that must come out pre-oven (hint, the innards are inside the turkey. Huh.) Once hubster and I were married, we started spending Turkey Day in the city, with his mom and brother. These were my first years of prepping and pulling off the dinner solo, and I’m glad these initial trial runs were only for four people. It allowed me to get creative with the bird, first brining, then roasting upside down. For our first Turkey Day in Huntington last year, we deep fried, which was a novelty. Of course, it rained, so we ended up setting up the fryer in the filthy garage, and stood around drinking beers and watching it fry like the good white trash that we really are. It was a complete and utter mess to clean up for an end result that was not really superior to the regular bird. I have to say I’ve never had a turkey disaster, but I honestly think some of these methods are just a whole lotta hoopla.

My main beef with all these new fangled poultry methods is that I’m a gravy junkie. If I could mainline it, I would. Most years I settle for drinking it from a glass. Seriously. There’s nothing you can’t fix with a good gravy, and if you brine or fry, you are severely limiting your ability to make just that. The brine ends up making the drippings too salty, and if you deep fry, you have no drippings at all. Case closed.

As for upside down roasting, it has its merits. Theoretically, it does keep the breast meat moist, that is if you don’t end up dropping the entire scalding hot, half cooked turkey on the floor as you try to flip the bird right side up. Consider this: I’ve jumped out of an airplane, but I think this method is a little risky. Nothing is more confidence shattering than mopping up splattered turkey with your tears of shame.

Remember that the turkey is actually the easiest part of the meal (unless you are a fan of canned cranberry sauce). Once you’ve got it all prepped and ready to go, you just pop it in the oven and hang out for 4 hours. With my tips I think you’ll be armed and ready for battle turkey.  If all else fails, know that your family still loves you and keep a fully stocked bar…

1) Invest in a probe thermometer. Forget what your dear sweet granny told you about basting. It’s hogwash. The little amount of juice that actually makes it back up to the breast dribbles right off, if you’ve seared the meat properly, and the constant opening of the oven lowers the heat so that you’ll have to keep the bird in even longer.  Longer cooking time equals drier meat. Aaaand, we’ve come full circle. A probe thermometer allows you to keep tabs on Tom without ever having to open the oven door, meaning the heat source stays constant and the turkey roasts for a shorter amount of time.

2) Prepare the gobbler the night before. Take said turkey out of his packaging, remove giblets and make stock Wednesday night. Rinse the bird, pat him dry, and leave him in a roasting pan uncovered overnight in the fridge. This will help dry the skin out, which comes back to searing 101. Dry meat gives you a better sear, thereby locking in the juices.

3) Remove the turkey from the fridge and let it come up in temperature for about an hour on your counter. Tuck the wings underneath the breast. Preheat your oven now to 425.  Heating this early will ensure that it’s good and hot when you pop the bird in. In the meantime, prepare his massage oils. A stick of softened butter, and any combination of chopped herbs you like. I usually go with thyme, sage and parsley (so easy on the sage, it can get overpowering).  Combine butter and herbs, and a few cracks of black pepper. Once the turkey has warmed up a bit, pat it dry again with paper towels. Season the inside cavity with salt and pepper. Then, very carefully, slide your fingers under the breast skin, without breaking the skin (if you break it, the melted butter will just run out of the hole). Rub half of the soft butter all over the breast meat, massaging it into the bird as lovingly as you would…well, fill in your own fantasy here. Rub the rest of the butter over the legs and thighs. Wash your hands and season the outside of the lubed up bird with salt and pepper.

4) No stuffing.  The only thing that should be going into that cavity is a halved onion, some fresh herbs, celery, maybe a little garlic or some apple slices.  The trick it that you don’t want to cram it too full. Pack it very loosely and come out with your hands up. Then, tie the legs together tightly and call it a day.

5) Put the bird in the oven. Roast at 425 for about 45 minutes to sear the outside of the meat and skin.  Remove from the oven, close the oven door, cover the breast with tin foil and insert your fancy new probe thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh (think about where your thigh is the thickest and then look at the turkey. That’s right. The chub rub spot), making sure not to touch the bone.  Then, turn the oven heat down to 325. Put turkey back into oven and roast until the alarm beeps (set it to 165). If you like crispy skin, remove the foil when the temperature reads 140. Figure on about 15 minutes per pound total cooking time.

6) Remember that just because the bird is out of the oven does not mean it’s done (also remember that when you are working on a project, you are not done, you’re finished. Only meat, fish or fowl can be done. Satisfied, Mom?). You have to let it rest to protect all of those juices you’ve worked so hard to retain. Remove the bird to a large cutting board and let him rest for 45 minutes to an hour. Check here for some easy carving tips. No one needs piping hot turkey meat, but if you want to warm it up (Kriss) before you serve, pour a little hot turkey stock over the top of the meat, and remember that all normal people with good taste will douse it in gravy anyway.

7) Think you messed something up?  Make extra gravy and relax.  It’s only food (at least that’s what Uncle Mel said when he screwed up the turkey.  Funny, no one’s heard from him since…)

Full disclosure: this is a chicken

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WRITTEN ON November 13th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Breakfast, Eggs, Vegetables, Vegetarian

It’s been so long I hardly know where to begin.

My loyal readers (are there any left?) will remember that my last post, nearly three months ago, was on the eve of our family trip to Montauk.  We were taking my mother-in-law Carol out east for a vacation. As I stated in the post, she had been battling stage IV colon cancer for two years, and it was becoming clearer to us that there would not be much time left.  Little did we know how right we were.

Carol made it through the beach week, got to the family wedding, and passed away early the following week. Though we were able to get her to the beach a couple times in Montauk, and had some family dinners and one unforgettable sunset, most of us saw the writing on the wall by the end of the vacation.  So, as the first trickles of rain from Hurricane Irene started clouding up the windows of an otherwise perfect weather week, we rushed back to Huntington to get Carol to the hospital. She fought for a few more days, through the huge storm that like some bizarrely timed metaphor swept through the town and left us damaged and powerless, and passed away two days later.

I think my hesitance to post here since then was due not only to grief and a sense that things just weren’t normal, but also because there was something so poetic about the fact that my last post, dated August 20th, was written in such a happy tone, and in my excitement to spend a week in a beautiful place with our family. I didn’t want to sully that image with what came next.  I felt utterly uninspired.

And now here I am, three months later. Trying to help my husband through worlds of grief and still keep things as routine as possible. All the while, growing our first child in my belly, after so many years of wishing and hoping.  The word juxtaposition doesn’t quite do it justice, to be sure. I’ve realized, especially in the last month or so, that there really is no normal. While we cling to loved ones and memories and hopes for the future, life goes on around us, waiting for us to chose to come back into it’s chaotic, dizzying, energizing fold. It’s there for the taking, as soon as we’re ready.

Last night we had dinner with good friends at our favorite restaurant in Huntington. Walking into Joanina, especially on a cold fall evening, feels like sinking deep into the warm folds of your favorite chair, only with better food that someone else cooks for you. It’s a Cheers kind of place, where everyone knows your name and they’ll magically conjure a table out of nowhere to make room for one more guest.

At dinner, we got into a rather existential discussion about organized religion versus spirituality. The hubster grew up in a very observant Catholic family, at 8:30 Mass every Sunday without fail, marking all the rites of passage with great celebration. I am the child of a lapsed Catholic (for good reason) and a relaxed Episcopalian (translation – C&E WASP).  So, naturally, I myself was raised Presbyterian (until about the 6th grade when we stopped going to church all together, so now I’m just a heathen).

I have never begrudged my husband his faith. Indeed, I am proud of it. I know that he finds solace in attending Mass, the quiet and the rituals and the community. It will forever make him feel close to his mother, and it’s something I wouldn’t change about him. Ever.

I have always felt very spiritual in my own way. In my mind, Anne Shirley said it best when talking about where she’d most find God: “I’d go out into a great big field all alone or out into the deep deep woods, and look up into the sky…and then I’d just feel a prayer.” I’ve always felt that my God resides out of doors. I am overcome by a perfect beach day that smacks of briny air and glistening ocean, or on a lake in the mountains, the scent of pine tickling your nose and the only sounds coming from the fresh water lapping on the shore and the call of the loons. I have felt God on quiet snowy evening walks, listening to the flakes delicately fall to the ground as I come upon my house all lit up with candles in the windows, just waiting for me to come inside and get warm. I find Him in the face of my beloved husband and in the idea of this little baby boy whose February arrival is so eagerly anticipated.

This morning, I got up and walked to our local farmers market, my Sunday morning ritual. It’s very unlike my old haunt, New York City’s bustling Union Square Greenmarkets, but it suits me just fine. There is one small stall with 15 different kinds of local organic apples, one stall for the homemade pretzel guy, a fresh catch stall with gorgeous fish straight from Montauk’s baymen. An organic bakers stall, a free trade coffee place (perfect for chilly fall mornings), and a stall that sells just about the best strawberry jam I’ve ever tasted. And I always stop in at the last stall on the left, today filled with the dark leafy greens and squash and yams that are so abundant at this time of year. I loaded up my Cape Ann Farmers Market bag and made for home.

And as I trudged my way through the fallen leaves, weighed down by my loot, I realized that this is my church. The crunch, crunch of yellow and russet leaves underfoot, the halcyon blue sky overhead, the crisp fall air. The smiles of the other market goers, inspecting their kale and handing their rosy cheeked toddlers pink lady apples. The look of extreme concentration on the freckled face of the baker’s son as he diligently counted out my change. The sense of community I feel when I walk through these streets of old houses, some run down, some sparkling, all with their own unique history. The yelps of the kids across the street as they head out on their bikes, to destinations unknown, together and laughing. The bumps and nudges I’m feeling lately that let me know our own little guy is finding his way already, feeling out his surroundings and letting me know he’s ok with the gentle jab of an elbow, a toe. Coming up the walk to the home I’ve created with the person I love most on this great wide planet.

I know that things will be ok. I know that we will always remember Carol, and pass along her beloved traditions to our kids. We will keep her memory alive in these ways and so many others. I’ve realized over these last couple years that you cannot hide from life – it happens and it’s not always pretty and it’s certainly not always happy. But if you find that one thing, just one thing, that holds you steady, your port in any storm, you can and will be alright. I know that now. It feels good to be back.

Farmers Market Morning

Farmstand Eggs with Beet Greens and Toast (serves 2)

1 bunch fresh beet greens (green, leafy tops of beets), washed and sliced thin

4 farm fresh eggs

4 slices whole wheat toast, preferably fresh from the bakery

2 small cloves garlic, minced

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium sized saute pan, heat oil over medium heat till hot.  Add garlic and red pepper flakes, saute about 30 seconds till fragrant. Add beet greens, season with salt and pepper, stir and saute till wilted.  Divide beet greens between two small bowls, set aside.  Put bread in toaster. Heat a non-stick egg pan over medium high heat till hot, coat with a bit of oil, butter or non-stick spray. Crack the four eggs into hot pan. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook to your desired temperature (I like over easy, which is about 1-2 minutes on the first side and then flipped for about 30 seconds, for a very runny yolk and whites that are just set).  Slide eggs out of pan onto beet greens, two eggs op top of each pile of greens.  Serve immediately with toast.  Dip toast into beet green liquid and yunny yolks for the perfect bite.

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WRITTEN ON August 20th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Baking, Breakfast, Dessert, Fruit

I am headed to the east end of Long Island for one last summer trip.  I have spent a decade of summers in Westhampton Beach, the first town in the Hamptons (and so un-Hampton-y that they actually don’t even list it on the map in most Hamptons publications). This year, hubby and I decided we’d like to venture further east, all the way out to Montauk, or, as the locals know it, The End.

Not being a native Long Islander, I’ve only been to Montauk twice, for afternoon trips. I have had the great good fortune to have other places to call home in the summers, but it’s always fun to try something new. Word around town is that Montauk is a pretty special place. I can’t wait to find out why.

Now that we live on Long Island, we wanted to try somewhere out east that truly felt far away.  Westhampton is wonderful, but at just an hour from our house, it almost feels too close for a real vacation. The rest of the Hamptons were not on our radar.  We wanted a laid back atmosphere, not the scene that Southampton, Bridgehampton and East Hampton provide. In my humble opinion, a beach vacation has no business mixing with fashion, nightlife, and $10 iced lattes.

Montauk is a vastly different place than the rest of the Hamptons.  You can feel it the minute you cross over. All of a sudden the land goes from flat, sandy farmland to craggy, windswept cliffs and water on all sides, watched over by Montauk Light. The vibe is decidedly surfer meets bayman, a relaxed kind of place where you could easily head to dinner in shorts and flip flops, with sand still in your hair.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is my annual hunt for east end farm stands. The produce in that area cannot be beat, and this is peak season. The north and south forks are littered with small farms, so the entire drive is dotted with family run farm stands brimming with tomatoes, corn, peaches, melons and blueberries. It’s a locavore’s dream come true, and yet another reason why it’s good to be a Long Islander.

I am always inspired to bake at this time of year, mainly due to the gorgeous fruit that only gets better with a little heat from the oven and a dusting of sugar. Perhaps I’ll try out this blueberry bread again. I made it last week and between my mother-in-law, my husband and myself, it was devoured in a day and a half.

This vacation is a special one.  My mother-in-law has been valiantly battling stage IV colon cancer for two years, and we’ve decided she needs a break.  So we’re packing up and heading east for a week of sun, fun, and most importantly, family.  Arriving today will be a car full of five Syracuse Shanleys, three Shanleys from the city, and the hubster and I with the guest of honor. The week culminates in a much anticipated family wedding on Shelter Island, complete with cousins, aunts and uncles. Sounds like the perfect way to wrap up the summer.

Berry, berry good

Citrus Blueberry Bread
This recipe was adapted from a quick bread recipe in The Joy of Cooking
Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a 6 cup loaf pan
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Zest of 1 lemon
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
2/3 cup toasted pecan pieces
1/2 cup fresh blueberries
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium sized bowl. In a small bowl, combine milk, oj, and zest. In a large bowl on high speed, mix together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time. Alternating, add flour mixture and milk mixture, in 3 parts each. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in blueberries and pecans.  Pour batter into prepared pan, bake in oven about 50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out on a baking rack to finish cooling, about 1 hour.

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WRITTEN ON August 12th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Baking, Dessert, Fruit

I’ve just returned from a week in Rockport, Massachusetts, a little town on the edge of Cape Ann, about 45 minutes north of Boston. I’ve written about Rockport before, on several occasions. And for good reason.

I’ve spent every summer of my life in Rockport, in a house on a hill that was first purchased by my great-grandmother, Helena Meredith, as a fair weather escape from her home in Brookline. This original house was nothing more than a small cottage, unsuitable for winter, and had once been the blacksmith shop on a larger farm.

It’s since been rebuilt, but even now with four bedrooms and heat for the winter, it’s nothing fancy. Yet it houses the hallmarks of my youth, and for that, it is and always will be my favorite place on Earth.

Gone are the creaky old stairs, the dusty eves, the stinky gas range that had to be lit with a match –  all major novelties when I was a kid. What remains are the objects that alone seem inconsequential, but together fill a house and make it so much more than four walls and a roof. Ancient, weathered novels occupy shelves with yellowed 70’s Jackie Collins trash and the ever resourceful Berenstain Bears. Mismatched bone china tea cups sit next to Roxbury Latin and Harvard cocktail glasses, both now forced to inhabit the same space as a New York Yankees plastic abomination, courtesy of my husband (oh, the indignity). Fraying, faded bath towels piled up in the linen closet still have my mother and uncles names on them from their camp days in Maine and New Hampshire. Dresser drawers that stick in the heat squeak loudly in protest every time they are opened, revealing loose change from who-knows-when and a musty summer house smell that cannot be replicated.

My great-grandmother’s guest book sits on the sideboard, documenting old addresses, the dates and details of decades of summer visits. It is filled with handwriting I love so well, my grandmother’s specifically, but also the 6 year old chicken scratch that later became my own mother’s hand.  Still chicken scratch – indeed it is a family trait.

The flag presented to my mother at my grandfather’s funeral, thanks for service to his country during World War II, sits proudly on the mantle.  His old “jackass pants” (the madras style pants that were his Rockport uniform) and a few cable knit golf sweaters still hang in the upstairs closet.  I daresay they always will.

Across the dirt and pebble drive live my godparents, two of my most beloved family members.  Their house sits on the slope that was once the chicken coop – though you’d never know it now – and is just about the most peaceful place I’ve ever been. Littered with knotted old apple and pear trees, a bench swing dripping with wisteria and complete with a Japanese style garden and pond, you can close your eyes and the only thing you will hear is the wind whispering in the trees, welcoming you home.

The barn and the original farmhouse  are inhabited and have also been lovingly rehabbed, so the old Cleeves farm on Pigeon Hill is still brimming with life, these many years later.

From most vantage points on our hill you can see a scrap of water, the sparkling blue dotted with the white sails of the Sandy Bay Yacht Club sailing school. At night, you can hear the fog horn, its soft, low drone lulling you to sleep, calling you back from your brink and reminding you that you are safe here, at home.

Sweet Treat

Gregg’s Peach Kuchen

This is my godfather Gregg’s recipe.  He is a fabulous baker and I am always stealing ideas from him.  He taught me at the age of 9 not to be afraid of pastry, which has proved to be a valuable lesson in my life! He made this for one of several family dinners last week in Rockport. I have made a couple modifications, so here it is, “Dot” style.

2 cups flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

5 ripe peaches, peeled and halved

2 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400.

For pastry:

Sift together flour, baking powder, salt and 2 tbsp sugar. Cut in the butter until its crumbly and resembles wet sand. Press mixture firmly on bottom and up sides of a non-stick 11 inch tart pan.

For filling:

Arrange peach halves, cut side down, on pastry. Mix remaining sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle over top peaches, bake for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, beat together the egg yolks and the cream. After 15 minutes, remove kuchen from oven and pour cream mixture over tip.  Bake for 30 more minutes.

Cool to room temp or chill. Can be made a few hours ahead.

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WRITTEN ON April 29th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Uncategorized

Like many Americans, I spent the morning in awe of the British royals.  Everyone loves a wedding, and no one does pomp better than the Brits.

As it so happens, I’m working in the kitchen this morning on a bridesmaids luncheon I’m catering this afternoon. So it’s all wedding, all the time around here. As it also turns out, I’m feeling rather emotional today (nothing new).  In fact, I’ve been welling up all morning.  In a good way.

Kate (or Catherine, as they are now calling her) is the perfect princess.  She displayed such incredible poise and grace today.  I remember well the frenzy and pre-wedding jitters from my own big day, so I stand in awe of how beautifully she handled herself on such an incredibly large scale.  Suffice it to say, she gained many new admirers today.

Underneath all the ceremony, I think what struck me most was the simple kindness that seems to run between the couple.  William was dashing in red, but it was his deference to his new bride that had me riveted. There is such an obvious gentle concern for one another.  I guess what I loved most of all was the simple fact that despite their royal stature, they’re really just two kids in love.  Above all, it was a wedding, just like any other.

I was of course watching it on NBC (any excuse to hang with Matt and Meredith), and the whole thing was shamelessly sponsored by McDonalds.  So the commercial that always makes me cry played incessantly all morning long.  You know the one – the little kids looking for hope in their Happy Meals. “Hope’s good!”

On this morning, hope certainly is good.  We live in precarious times. Storms ravaged much of the American south this week, and the images are shocking.  It seems that every time we turn on the news, we’re bombarded by images of destruction, war, failing economies, or Donald Moron Trump making absurd statements that people actually seem to believe…

So it speaks volumes that so many people worldwide took such pride in a young couple getting hitched. Of course it’s Britain’s day.  But this is a boy who we’ve all watched grow into a clearly very intelligent and gracious man (with fabulous taste in women), and today’s wedding provided a welcome distraction from our often dreary news. There will always be cynics and naysayers raining on the parade, but here on Dewey Street I choose hope.

Congrats to the Brits for giving us a reason to come together for a few hours and celebrate one of the purest joys in life – a good marriage. To Will and Kate I wish only what I myself have been so lucky to find.  A true partner, and hope for the future.

I do

Shrimp Salad Puffs (makes 24 puffs)

1 recipe for pate a choux shells

1 lb steamed shrimp, chopped into small pieces

½ cup mayonnaise

3 stalks celery, chopped fine

¼ sweet onion, minced

2 tsp Old Bay seasoning

Make puff shells according to instructions.  In the meantime, combine the other ingredients.  Split puff shells and fill with a spoonful of shrimp salad.

BLT Tomato Bites (makes 20 bites)

10 grape tomatoes, halved and hollowed out with a melon baller

4 oz cream cheese, softened

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 scallion, minced

5 strips cooked bacon

20 sprigs arugula

Chop 2 strips of bacon very fine and cut other 3 strips into small pieces. Combine with cream cheese, mayo, scallions, and black pepper.  Fill halved tomatoes with cream cheese mixture, top with piece of bacon and a small sprig of arugula. Enjoy!

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WRITTEN ON April 12th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Appetizer, Bacon, Fish and Shellfish, Holiday

Little Necks, Big Hearts

Looking out my window this morning at the about-to-burst magnolia tree in our yard, it dawned on me that it’s now been one full year since we bought our house on Dewey Street and moved to the ‘burbs from the big city.

The first few months were a frenzy of activity. Updates to the house (including a powder room under the stairs that I now refer to as the Harry Potter Head), combined with our normal grueling summer beach travel (life’s tough, isn’t it?) had us feeling a little less than settled.

But during that time I also had the great good fortune of finding myself included in a monthly book club (who are we kidding…wine club), meeting women who are now friends and neighbors. Through trial and error I discovered my favorite yoga studio in town, and my favorite yoga instructor. I planted my first flower garden (and learned the hard way what poison ivy looks like.) I nursed wounds that somehow refuse to heal.

Fall ushered in cooler weather and new family traditions.  I joined the Y and got a library card.  We threw a bitchin’ Halloween party. A Thanksgiving table laden with deep fried turkey and all the trimmings, around which shone the faces of our blended families. Our first Christmas season, our first tree, our first snow. Followed by our second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth snow. All of which brought us to spring, and the magnolia.

Through it all I have had a growing sense of what a warm and wonderful community this is. I was nervous about the fact that the hubster had grown up in this very town.  Would I live my life here feeling like the third wheel, never in on the jokes, the old stories, the fond memories of a Huntington gone-by?  Apparently not. I was not only immediately embraced by the people from hubby’s past, but I’ve also created my own routines, and am slowly carving my own niche.

This past weekend was the perfect example.  At our regular Saturday morning spin class at the YMCA (where we saw no less than three people we know, including one new friend who met Kevin through me, not the other way around), we learned of a 5k the Y was sponsoring on Sunday morning and thought, why not? We came home to bagels and yard work, getting down and dirty in the first warm sun of the season. While out in the front yard, we were heckled by two neighbors and friends who just happened to be driving by (we live on a corner) and stopped to critique our work. Later that afternoon, I stopped in my favorite fish shack, Jeff’s Seafood, to pick up some local little neck clams for a private dinner I was doing that night. The guys behind the counter there are patient, funny, and super helpful.  Much of the fish is local and they are champions of what comes out of the sea right here, on Long Island.

After work on Saturday night, I met hubs and his father, step-mom and a family friend at our Italian joint of choice, Joanina, where we chatted with the owner, sampled new wines they were pouring, and left with long stem roses (for the ladies), hugs, and promises to return soon.  We woke up Sunday and headed over to the YMCA, ready to run.  Jogging through our neighborhood, to the cheers of little kids on the side of the road yelling “Yay runners!” I felt suddenly overcome with emotion. It’s been a hard road, all things considered, over the last couple years.  We are waging a constant war against not only our own fertility issues, but against my mother-in-law’s colon cancer. There are times when it feels as if the world is going to open up and swallow us whole.  And yet…there are moments like those on Sunday morning, completely impromptu, crossing the finish line together surrounded by the community we are growing to love like a family member, that make everything else melt away.

Sitting at the counter of our local diner after the race, sharing a vanilla-chocolate milkshake (ahh, marriage and the art of compromise), felt like coming home to the embrace of an old friend.

As I write this, dear readers, the blooms on our 30 year old magnolia are just beginning to open.  An old tree, a new beginning. I know how it feels.

One-Year-Down Long Island Little Neck Clams “Casino” (makes 12 clams)
12 little neck clams, scrubbed clean and shucked, on the half shell
½ cup panko bread crumbs
¼ cup soft bread crumbs (you can use a baguette for this, just chop it very fine)
4 strips bacon
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 springs fresh oregano, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp butter
Fresh cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Arrange clams on a baking sheet, place in fridge uncovered.  Chop bacon into small cubes.  In a small sauté pan, melt butter.  Cook bacon over medium heat in pan until crisp. In a medium sized bowl, combine both bread crumbs, herbs, lemon zest, garlic and a few cracks of pepper. Pour bacon, melted butter and bacon fat over, toss together to combine. Top each clam with a small mound of bread crumb mixture.  Bake in oven about 8-10 minutes.  Drizzle with lemon juice and serve hot.

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WRITTEN ON April 1st, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Bacon, Beans, Dinner, Italian, Side Dish, Tomatoes

Tonight I’m going to the Huntington Book Revue for a book signing.  Not just any signing. Tonight, I’m going to meet Bethenny.

Let me just say that I have been a Bethenny fan since the first episode of The Real Housewives of New York.  Under the glitz and glam, there was something so immediately real about her.  She was scrappy.  A bit rough around the edges. Smart as a whip with a biting, acerbic sense of humor I instantly fell in love with.  I could tell that underneath it all, she saw the absurdity in not only the other women, but in the show itself, and I got the sense that she was playing along because she knew what was good for her and she knew she could turn it into the pot of gold at the end of the Manolo-colored rainbow.

And did she ever. Now the star of her own show, she’s a business woman with a burgeoning empire and two New York Times best-sellers. No matter what your opinion of her brash, in your face way of telling it like it is, you gotta give a girl credit where credit is due.  She seized a mediocre opportunity, put the NY Housewives on the map, worked like hell and graduated with honors. It’s her turn now.

Let me be clear by saying that my love for Bethenny is purely superficial.  I’ve never read her books, nor do I plan to (I’m not big into self-help books.  If I’m reading a book it’s because I want to get away from it all, not delve deeper into my problems. My self-help consists of two things: broom and rug). I don’t buy her products, though I have on occasion indulged in a SkinnyGirl Margarita and they are actually quite good. But I will be standing in line jostling for a space to meet her tonight with all the other Frankel fiends because I just can’t wait to hear what she has to say. I taped her on Ellen. Wendy Williams.  The girl cracks me up, and I’m pretty damn proud of her. She’s got guts. She’s got chutzpah. But mostly, she’s human, and she’s not afraid to show it.

Lately I’ve also been listening a bit more closely regarding her tips on keeping control of your weight.  To be perfectly honest, over the last year and a half I’ve gained a good bit of it myself.  I’m an emotional eater, and have had plenty or reasons to dip back into the fridge over the last 18 months.

A few months ago I decided enough was enough.  I started making a concerted effort to manage my caloric intake.  I cut back on carbs. I hit the gym like it was going out of style. So far, so good. I’m 10 pounds down.  I have about 5 to go.

In the midst of it all, Bethenny Ever After came back into my life.  Between the premiere of her show and the launch of her book, “A Place of Yes,” Bethenny tidbits are everywhere I look.  Her tips on diet and nutrition always seem to jump out at me when I’m feeling most vulnerable. Her motto “taste everything, eat nothing” flashes into my head when I’m at a cocktail party trying to curb the inclination to trail the waitress with the cocktail franks like a rabid dog.  When I’m feeling uber-lazy, I remind myself to come from a place of yes-I-will-get-my-ass-on-the-treadmill.  She’s been an unlikely inspiration, and for that, I will be forever faithful.

Speaking of saying yes, check out these Tuscan White Beans over the weekend.  They’re hearty, healthy, and full of fiber (wink-wink). Try them with some toasted naan or whole wheat flat bread, a few chunks of parm and a peppery arugula salad. You won’t feel deprived in the least bit,  you’ll wake up Monday without the weekend food hangover, and your inner SkinnyGirl will be so happy you just might spend your lunch hour buying bikini’s online.

Skinny Beans

Skinny Beans

Tuscan White Beans (serves 4 as a side dish)
2 cups cooked white beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini or navy)
1 14 oz can low-sodium diced tomatoes
3 thin slices pancetta, roughly chopped
1 shallot, sliced thin
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tbsp white wine
1 handful fresh basil, chopped
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a medium sized cast iron pan or saute pan, heal olive oil over medium high heat. Add pancetta, cook about two minutes until fat is rendered. Add shallot, cook about 2 minutes until softened.  Add garlic, cook one minute more, season lightly with salt and pepper. Add wine, bring to a boil.  Reduce by half, then add tomatoes with juices. Bring to a boil, add beans, then turn down to a simmer.  Simmer on low for about 20 minutes until liquid is reduced and thick. Season with salt and pepper, add herbs and serve hot.

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WRITTEN ON March 17th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Cheese, Holiday, Potato, Side Dish

Much is made of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. But to me, there is nothing more truly Irish than the potato.

Don’t get me wrong, I love me some corned beef.  It’s flavorful and salty, and tender to the bone. The problem is, it’s not really Irish.  It’s English.  Or Jewish.  Or, frankly, American.

A little St. Paddy’s Day food history lesson, shall we? The abridged, tongue-in-cheek version.

Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in Ireland, the wily English were up to their usual tricks. Colonizing, kicking the native population off their lands and bringing in their own lords and customs to reign supreme.  In Ireland, dairy cows had been grazing verdant pastures for years, but the English had a taste for beef and used the abundant green pastureland almost exclusively for cattle. They created a burgeoning beef industry, setting up corning (salting) factories in Cork and the south coast of Ireland. The problem (besides the eventual lack of potatoes) was that the beef was too expensive for your average Irish peasant to afford, and most of it was exported to England anyway.

This left precious little farm-able land for the actual Irish people. They were resigned to farming small, rocky, undesirable plots for a couple hundred years, making the Irish peasants (originally more accustomed to grains) almost completely dependent on the potato, which was about the only thing they could grow in such conditions. All it took was the introduction of a potato blight and you have what we now know of as the Great Famine, resulting in a veritable diaspora of Irish people to the New World.

The tradition of corned beef and cabbage is inherently American. When the Irish immigrants arrived in this country looking for a better life, many ended up living in slums and tenements, barely scraping by and being treated like the second (or third) class citizens they were viewed to be. The upside was that here they could actually afford small amounts of beef for special occasions.

In neighborhoods like New York’s Lower East Side, immigrants from all walks of life struggled side by side.  And it turns out that the Jewish residents of the Lower East Side knew a thing or two about salted beef (ummmm, ever eaten at Katz’s Deli?  It’s been around since 1888 for good reason. Best pastrami and corned beef in the world.  Period.  Full stop), and they sold it inexpensively.  So it was here, in America, that the true Irish (not the gentrified English-Irish) started partaking in corned beef for celebrations, because for the first time, it was made relatively available to them, and because it was considered such an “Old World” luxury.  They paired it with cabbage, which was largely available year round, cheap and kept everyone from getting scurvy.

But when I think of the true Irish, the people like my 5 times great-grandmother Crotty, left behind because they were too old or too sick to make the trip, I think of potatoes.  So it’s in their honor, using my Irish-Catholic grandmother’s cast iron pan, that I make these scalloped potatoes to celebrate part of my heritage (after all, the other part of Irish cuisine I love so much is dairy: cream, cheddar, butter, mmmm).  Like I said, I love corned beef and cabbage and what it stands for here in this country – the spirit of a people in search of a better life and a dream – but I also wanted to take time to honor those brave Irish souls who stayed behind to fight for the Ireland we know today.

Such is the way of things in this vast melting pot (or salad bowl?) of a country.  Over the years the Irish would work to a place of prominence. No doubt my ancestors who came into Castle Clinton (New York immigration point pre-Ellis Island) from Ballingarry, Ireland in search of a better life would be blown away by the size and scope of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. The Irish immigrants who brought their lyrical, funny, hard-working selves here would be humbled by the pride that Irish-Americans feel today. It was on their backs that much of the American dream was built. They exemplified courage, fight, and candor while puling themselves up by their boot straps and proving to all the naysayers that they were in fact something very, very special.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to my fellow Irish-Americans.  And to the rest of you, may the road rise to meet you…and may the luck of the Irish be with you today and every day!

Famine no more

Irish Cheddar Scalloped Potatoes (serves 6-8 as a side dish)
3 lbs russet baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
3 shallots, chopped fine
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
2 cups grated Irish cheddar (or you could use a mix of cheddar, Gruyere and Parm, but not on St. Paddy’s Day)
2 tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
non-stick cooking spray
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350. In a heavy cast iron pan over medium heat, melt a small piece of butter and coat pan with cooking spray. Add shallots, sweat until soft and translucent. Add potatoes, cream, milk and half of cheese, stirring gently.  Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Cover with tin foil and bake about 30 minutes in oven.  Remove foil, top with remaining cheese and dot with the cubes of butter. Bake another 15-20 minutes until cheese is golden and bubbly and potatoes are soft.

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WRITTEN ON March 16th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN asian, Chicken, Dinner, grilling

The news streaming in from Japan is staggering, heartbreaking, and impossible to escape.  I cry every time I look at images.  I had a blurb about our trip to Barbados all ready to go. I can’ t bring myself to post it. It was a wonderful vacation but it seems so trivial in the face of this disaster.

I wish it didn’t take such a catastrophic event to bring the world together.  There are every day atrocities like hunger, disease and violence that we often easily overlook as we get caught up in our own little dramas. I am more guilty of this than most, I fear. But what is taking place in Japan is on such a massive scale that it forces us to sit up and pay attention.

The images and stories are haunting.  Even in the face of greatest terror, and unthinkable need, order and honor have kept looting at bay. People are working to help rebuild together, rather than pushing and shoving their way to the front of the line to get the supplies that only they need. Stories of men forming human chains to make sure that all the elderly and children were carried to high ground before the massive black wave engulfed entire towns make me wonder if we would be so unselfish. These were not firemen and policemen sworn to serve and protect. They were normal every day villagers making sure to take care of their own.

The spirit of the Japanese people is inspiring and could teach us Americans a little something about teamwork and putting the community first. We are such a “me first” society, I think we could all stand to learn from the strength and humanity that the Japanese people are showing.

I urge all my readers to make a donation to one of the many organizations funneling help into Japan. No amount is too small.

As a measure of solidarity, I’m posting a recipe for teriyaki chicken. I know, it is such a cliche, but frankly I don’t make a lot of Japanese style foods at home (and there’s a reason it’s served in every ubiquitous Japanese restaurant in America. It’s quite good).  Try it with this rice tonight while logging on to find out how you can help.

Teriyaki Love

Teriyaki Chicken (serves 2)
For the sauce:
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp sesame seeds

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (this works well with steak, shrimp and pork too)

Combine all sauce ingredients.  Place chicken breasts in a glass bowl and pour sauce over top. Cover and chill at least 1 hour, or up to 6 hours.  Heat grill to medium high.  Grill chicken until cooked through, about 6 minutes per side, turning occasionally. Let rest about 10 minutes, then slice thin and serve over rice.

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WRITTEN ON February 28th, 2011 BY Meredith AND STORED IN Beef, Dinner, No really, what IS for lunch?

Actors of a certain age often moan about how ageist Hollywood is. The lack of respect for older actors, for the craft itself, and how the opportunities dwindle post-40. I’ve always been a bit wary of that argument. Look, Meryl never seems to have a problem landing a role.  Tom Hanks can pretty much write his own ticket. Dame Judi Dench and Helen Mirren are always putting in appearances at these things. Everyone on Earth knows the sweet sound of Morgan Freeman’s voice. Perhaps it’s less about ageism than it is about being the best at what you do. The pretty young things get weeded out as the looks fade and people realize that the talent just isn’t there.  Survival of the fittest. Let’s face it: Josh Duhmel looks great now but couldn’t act his way out of a wet paper bag.  That goes for you too, Jessica Alba.

Watching the train wreck that was the Oscars last night, however, it finally sunk in.  We’d heard for weeks that the producers had decided to go a younger, hipper route. Most of us (if we had two brain cells) were hugely skeptical of James Franco and Anne Hathaway. I mean, come on. Here’s a dude who is arguably the most aloof guy in Hollywood, paired up with the most chirpy, over-exposed actress in the business (what was with the whooping, incidentally?  Did she realize she was not at a high school pep rally? That the regal Cate Blanchett could care less if Anne-the-Chirpster-Hathaway whooped for her when she was walking on stage to present an award?)  It seemed a bizarre and out-of-left-field choice. There was no frame of reference, no past history to draw upon, no inkling that either of these young bucks could carry a show that is essentially the Super Bowl of Hollywood. And guess what?  They couldn’t.

If nothing else, their lack of chemistry, and, indeed, lackluster performance, had us all pining away for the old geezers who can host an awards show while walking, talking, chewing gum, and checking their Blackberrys. There’s something to be said for the old guard.  They are still relevant and still have so much to teach all the young, cocksure whippersnappers out there in LaLa Land. In fact, I kind of loved that the Academy’s attempt to make the Oscars young and hip went over like a fart in church. It’s the Oscars, people. There should be a sense of occasion. It should be more austere than the other awards shows. Let the Golden Globes be raucous and bawdy. This is the Academy Awards, for crying out loud. No F-bombs in the speeches please, no politics at the table, and no hosts under the age of 45.  For once, let’s not cater to the Twitter-ati, the 15 year old narcissists who already rule so much of pop culture. Let’s teach them that there is something to be said for attention spans, intelligent humor and respect for our elders.

If the Academy is looking to bridge the gap, why not give Sandra Bullock a try?  Everything she touches turns to gold, and one of the best, most comfortable parts of the night was when she presented the Best Actor award. She was relaxed, witty, irreverent, and current, all the while exuding her usual warmth, sincerity and class.  She made it look easy, and she seemed to have fun while doing it.

Billy Crystal walked onstage halfway through and got such a huge round of applause I thought Anne Hathaway would start crying right then and there. She knew it was over.  Here was the master, returned to show her how it was done. Grasshopper had failed, miserably.

In the spirit of respecting the classics, I’m posting this recipe for steak sandwiches with sauteed onions and horseradish sauce.  No fancy cheese, no garlic ciabatta bread, no tabasco onions, no chipotle-chocolate mayonnaise. Just your simple, understated, old school steak sandwich, in honor of Bob and Billy and Steve and Alec. Bring back the dinosaurs, please.  You can have your ingenue and your bizarrely expressionless hearth throb.  I’ll take experience over a pretty face any day of the week.

Sound bite

Classic Steak Sandwiches (makes 4 small sandwiches)
1 3/4 lb flank steak
2 tbsp Worchestershire sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
Fresh cracked black pepper
1 large Spanish onion, halved and sliced thin
1 tbsp butter
1 soft baguette, split in half lengthwise and cut into 4 equal portions
2 handfuls fresh arugula
1/4 cup sour cream
3 tbsp horseradish
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine Worchestershire sauce, soy sauce, olive oil and pepper. Pour into a large Ziplock bag, add steak, swish around so that the marinade covers steak. Chill for about 45 minutes. In the meantime, melt butter over medium heat in a large saute pan.  Add onions, season with salt and pepper. Saute over medium heat until caramelized and very soft, about 20 minutes. If you start to see some burn in the pan, just add a few teaspoons of water swirl around pan. Remove onions from heat. In a small bowl, mix sour cream, horseradish, lemon zest and just a pinch salt and pepper. Set aside. Heat grill to medium high heat. Remove steak from marinade, grill about 8 minutes on the first side.  Flip and grill about 5 minutes more on second side for medium rare. Rest on cutting board for 10-15 minutes, then slice as thinly as possible. Layer steak, onions and arugula on each baguette piece, top with horseradish sauce and some of the juice drippings from the steak.  Enjoy with a glass of Cabernet!

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