nutella sandwiches

enough of the boring stuff, what about eating?! we all must be rewarded for enduring the blah blah blahs about money. and what better reward than that true food of the gods, nutella? i don't know how they got it to be that good; i have suspicions of semi-illegal ingredients hidden in the jar, but never mind. it's the closest you can get to crack at the grocery store. let's just be grateful.

back in my school days, the preferred nutella vehicle was just a big spoon, or maybe if you were really daring/lazy, your finger. now, we're all adults and while we still can't break our addiction we can at least indulge in more sophisticated methods. although, to be honest, the method below is hardly sophisticated- all the ingredients can be bought from your local grocery store and assembled in about 10 mins. dress it up with some home-made raspberry sauce and you've got the dreamiest, creamiest, most luscious sandwich ever. maybe i'm groveling a little to make up for the last posts, but you can't say i'm subtle.

nutella sandwiches

1 pound cake; Sara Lee frozen is good.

slice pound cake 1/4 inch thick. spread with nutella and cover with another piece of pound cake. using a grill pan and a heavy skillet, or a sandwich press, press together until warm on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside.

you can also use good french bread and a little sea salt. i've also seen nutella used as a filling in deep fried ravioli, using pre-made wonton wrappers (thanks giada!) i'm sure you can put nutella on broccoli and it would be amazing. more experimenting with nutella to come...

getting to yes

we're all business this week at caketime. i just posted about saving and now i'm going to tell you about the single most important influence on my professional life so far. i'm not a high-powered anything, but i have found that this book has enabled me to deal with almost any situation in a way that provides the best outcome for all parties involved. when i first started reading it, i read it over and over, probably reading it a total of six times before i put it down. i felt a little like franny in salinger's franny and zooey, practically assured that the re-reading would, by some magic, change my life. i can't tell if it's because i read it so much or because itis just that good, but almost immediately it changed the way i dealt with other people.

outwardly, this is a book about negotiation tactics. usually we think of negotiations as attempting to find a medium between two positions, apparently this is called "positional bargaining". for example when you ask for a raise and request a far higher number because you assume your employer will meet you somewhere in the middle. "getting to yes" not only disqualifies this tactic, but replaces it with something they call "principled negotiation." in a principled negotiation, you express your common and differing interests to find the best common ground. it doesn't really sound revolutionary, right? truly novel and brilliant ideas are usually a little boring. i think that's why i read the book six times- i was confused as how something so simple (treat your enemy like your friend, essentially) could have such a profound impact on day to day life.

i've now taken all the lessons from "getting to yes" to heart and it has helped me get out of so many pickles. i even use some of the tactics on grace, and she will often start laughing because i've also explained the book to her, so she knows exactly where i'm getting it from.

funnily, the follow-up book to "getting to yes" is called "difficult conversations." i think i need that one too!

Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In

saving #2: pay yourself first

one of the things that financial people always stress about saving is to make sure you're saving diversely. while we all implicitly understand "diversity", especially if you went to my high school, not many of us understand what it means in the context of money. next week we'll cover diversifying your savings, but in order to diversify, you're going to need something to work with. this bring us to another principle financial people talk about, although not enough for my taste- saving systematically.

now that we know *where* to put our short term cash funds (you're all supposed to shout "high yield savings account!"), we need to know *how* to put it there, or in other words, where to get the cash for the stash. i used to think that the way to save money was to not spend any money, i.e. i'd get paid and then pay all my bills and then try and use as little as possible for the rest of the period and then if i had any money left over right before i got my next paycheck i'd stick that in my savings account. not only was this a very stressful system, because i was constantly trying not to spend any money, but it was pathetically ineffectual- for some odd reason, i never seemed to have any money left over. this brings me back to my first point about managing your money, and something i promise to beat like a dead horse because it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU CAN DO FOR YOURSELF, which is keeping track of your expenses. once you have a sense of what you spend things on, then you can see how much you can afford to save.

notice the odd phrasing of the above sentence- "afford to save." this is where i work some psychic voodoo on you for you to realize that all our (or at least my) ideas about savings were all backwards. instead of putting saving money as the last thing on our list, the thing we do when we've already spent it all, we need to move it up to the top of the list. hence the "pay yourself first" tag. when you start to create a budget for yourself, your savings amount should go right at the top with your rent, phone bill, etc- all your fixed expenses. and you should know how much you can afford to save each month because you've tracked your expenses and created a budget. why pay your landlord, zabar's, fairway, fresh direct,etc before you pay yourself? sure, it sounds a little hokey, but in all honestly, increasing your savings rate will afford you a host of options in the future:

1. the ability to live on less that you earn. this is a very important trait especially in the now volatile job market. if you ever get laid off unexpectedly, you won't need to hold out for the same salary you made at your previous employer (although, of course, you should try to) because you now know how to live on less. conversely, if you ever get a raise you can bank the whole increase and continue to live on what you earned previously. i'm still living on the first yearly salary i ever earned- which was about 4 years ago.

2. a larger pot of cash sooner for your emergency fund, your house, your new business, your round-the-world vacation. saving systematically allows you to see your money growing at a steady clip and plan for your future goals better. (omg i sound EXACTLY like my father. how did this happen??!!!)

3. money for retirement. okay, i know, we're only 1/3 of the way through our lives, and here i am blabbing about retirement. we don't even have kids yet! it does seem really weird to be worrying about this now, but the truth is that the sooner we start saving the more money we will have. this is due to the best of all the miracles: compounding interest. see: here, here, and here. also, most importantly, at this point in our lives we can borrow money to subsidize our dreams; you can get a loan for a house, a car, a new business, your kid's college, but no one is going to lend you money to rent out that villa in tahiti and isn't that so much better than spending your 75th winter in that 5th floor walk-up?

all savings accounts will offer you the option of automatically transferring money at any given point in the month. for example, i have my ING account withdraw $X dollars from my bank account every 15th and end of the month. this way, when i start spending my most recent paycheck, i don't have to worry about saving anymore; it was already done. even if you only put $5 into a high yield savings account every time you get your paycheck, you'll get in the habit of savings. and you'll get excited about watching your money grow. this might be bordering on obsessive, but every time i have a lousy day i always get excited at the prospect of checking my account balances because they've usually increased while i wasn't noticing. i can't think of another circumstance where something grows most fruitfully when you ignore it, but an automatic savings account is a rare gift.

one last note: if you are in the situation where you have some considerable debt and are waiting to save after you've paid down your debt, please don't wait. i know that the interest you're paying on that credit card will always be higher than anything you'll earn in a high-yield savings account, but still please don't wait. think about this: you've paid down that credit card and are now debt free, but still lack any emergency savings. unexpectedly, your wisdom teeth need to be pulled and because dental insurance is always bad, end up stuck with significant bill. without a cash cushion, you have no option but to use your credit card, landing you right back where you started. i know it sounds bleak, but it has happened to actual people, pretty often, and it such an emotional struggle to recover from. don't let it happen to you. you can save *and* pay down your debt. it is possible!

p.s. i'm sure you get it by now- i'll post this super cute picture hoping you think it pertains to this post in some way so that you'll read it. thanks for reading!

mashed spiced sweet potatoes

here’s a little secret: grace cooks a lot too. in fact, she is a great cook and often tries out recipes i’m intimidated by: fried chicken, homemade pasta, pies. i’m good at more forgiving recipes and i have real knack for making lemonade out of lemons. i mean this both metaphorically and literally, but mostly metaphorically. inevitably, something goes horribly wrong in the kitchen and next thing you know there are plumes of smoke rising from the oven, or the top wasn’t screwed on tight enough and –oops!- there is more than enough salt in there, even for me. more often it's the “hey it's time for dinner and all we have is....tuna?” dilemma. when these things happen, i usually take over. the results are never as bad as i think they’ll be, but there are few and far between that are actually good. these sweet potatoes are great.
it started out innocuously enough. i wanted to make roasted sweet potatoes, as per my easy roasted vegetables recipe. what i didn’t count on, but i know now, is that the high sugar content in sweet (duh!) potatoes makes them much more unpredictable than regular potatoes, and thus they cannot be given the same treatment as their starchier cousins. not knowing that at the time, i coated them in olive oil, sprinkled them with salt, and roasted them. at the end of the allotted time, i opened up the oven and to my shock, saw this:

now as anyone who has had a disaster in the kitchen knows, the first instinct you have upon discovering a disaster is to throw the whole thing out and order chinese. i was on my way to doing that when i realized, upon picking up the sweet potato, that the interior was soft. hey, i thought, what if i just scrape out the inside and mash them a little? i did just that, adding some cream, spices and sugar. oh man, it was good. creamy, sweet, and warm, it would have been perfect with some pork chops. maybe next time...

here's another, better recipe than my own- amended to add the same spices
mashed spiced sweet potatoes , adapted from america's test kitchen

2 pounds sweet potatoes (3 medium) peeled, quartered lengthwise and sliced 1/4 inch thick
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch cumin, nutmeg and cloves
salt and pepper to taste

combine all ingredients in a large sauce pot. cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes fall apart when poked with a fork- about 40 minutes. remove pan from heat and mash potatoes with a masher until smooth. you won't have funny burnt alien potatoes, but you'll still have a delicious creamy dinner.

updates + design

as you may have noticed i've done some light housekeeping around here; adding a blogroll, a search feature and some other nifty doodads. please check them out!

in other design news, i've been looking at these websites recently as examples of what is now dubbed "web 3.0". the first is an adorable look at what happens when you enlist a large group of people for a common task and then post it to the internets.the second is a really engaging look what a post-click world would look like. and the third, which is particularly dear to me, charts the locations of sweet tea in virigina. whenever we drive down to virigina i eagerly await our stop at the first chick-fil-a we see because it means sweet tea. although adding toothache-inducing amounts of sugar to your iced tea doesn't seem like a good idea in these more reasonable parts of the country, i assure you that those southerners are in fact the more enlightened ones.

The Sheep Market

Don't Click It

Sweet Tea

what i am (links)


the road by cormac mccarthy
deeply disturbing post-apocalyptic coming of age story about a boy and his father. i've almost had to stop reading because the depictions of a burnt/destroyed landscape are so chillingly realistic, but the endurance of the main characters and the deep love they have for one another is worth the discomfort. i'm not done yet, but already the prose is so poetic and sparse that i'm sure it will warrant a second read.

the american heritage cookbook
i picked it up last week at a used bookstore and have hardly been able to tear myself away. a full history of why americans eat what they eat, from the jamestown days to today. it's out of print now, i'm sure partially due to the fact that none of the recipes included in the book seems palatable by today's standards (turtle soup anyone?), but it's a wonderfully entertaining culinary history lesson.

no one belongs here more than you by miranda july
there a lot of aspects of miranda july's work that i really like, but this book was not one of them. essentially the same story told over and over of a pathetic, but humane, person desperate for love. a little too needy for me, and besides, i think we're all a little more functional than her uncharitable descriptions.


raiders of the lost ark
perhaps this is my first time seeing it, but i think i vaguely remember some scenes, so maybe i watched it when i was a kid? regardless, i had never see the crazy ark-shoots-out-blue-electric-light-and-kills-everyone scene, which was so obviously created by someone on drugs. uhhhh, wtf?!

ballroom dancing
sounds boring right? well, it was so boring that while we were watching it, some of us fell asleep. the ones that didn't however were treated to this gem. seriously?! nirvana? these people must have been on drugs too.


liptauer from zingerman's
grace got me this recently and it couldn't be more perfectly timed. i had been desperately wanting something, anything from zingerman's for so long and this cheese was right at the top of my list. i think i ate at least 1/2 the jar in the first sitting.

my favorite cookie done up to the superlative at la maison du chocolat. one of my best friends from college/high school was in town for the weekend and being the chocoholic that she is dragged us (i'm sure we weren't willing!) to the upper east side for a taste of la maison's famed hot chocolate. while chocolate isn't really my thing, i was more than happy to gaze longingly at the macarons (these are the french style- with two flaky shells and some sort of ganache filling- not those coconut ones). i couldn't afford but one and i chose raspberry. it did not disappoint.


i just bought this fabric at ikea and need to learn how to make a roman shade. we have a sewing machine and everything, i just need to find some sort of pattern or how-to. the only permanent damage that having six cats left was a irreparably ripped roman shade.


a miranda july project i really dig is learning to love you more. i've been wanting to do "assignment #63: make an encouraging banner" for a long time now. i've already sent in "#9: draw a constellation of someone's freckles." i got a book which compiles some of the best ones and this one in particular of "assignment #37: write down a recent argument" had me rolling on the floor laughing!

you could buy me anything from this eyeball museum gift shop and i would be happy. who wouldn't?


so i'm admittedly a little crazy, but i think the fact that i've spent over 2 hours in past two days looking at and loving every picture on this blog of photos TAKEN BY CATS (well, only one cat) makes me actually insane. on the other hand, they are eerily beautiful and poignant, right?


amazingly, down the block from my apartment just happens to be one of the best casual places to eat in all of new york. and i'm not alone in this assessment either. in the past month, i've been to franny's three times and each time the menu was almost entirely different, due to their commitment to farm-fresh produce, but it was consistently very thoughtful and delicious.

while it is billed as an upscale pizza place, i don't often order pizza. it is good pizza, of course, but nyc has lots of great pizza to offer and i'd rather go to a place like grimaldi's or difara's if i want the real pizza experience. also, i'm not a huge pizza fan. what is really remarkable about franny's are the smaller appetizer dishes, which are unique and inspiring.

recent dishes i've ordered: (just paraphrasing here- the menu sounds much fancier)

salad of bitter greens with an anchovy vinaigrette
potato croquettes (the server explained that they looked like dunkin' donuts' munchkins!)
beets with peppers, walnuts and cheese (which i'm attempting to re-create at home)
coddled egg on crostino with bottarga (bottarga is dried fish roe shavings)
homemade pancetta on crostino with french butter
vanilla panna cotta with saba (like an italian flan)

yes, all of it was lovely, even the salad. i'm not a fan of bitter foods, so i was surprised when i liked this. the only downside to franny's is that it is a little expensive for my budget- around $30 per person for a meal.

last time i was there was on a six-person excursion (as the party liked to call it) and we had a hell of a time figuring out the bill. below was our attempt. one of the worst feelings is going out to dinner with friends and feeling like you paid more than you should have. this elaborate tally, however dorky, ensured that no one had to feel cheated.


cat in tub

here's the obligatory "cat in tub" picture. yes, it is mildly cruel to put your cat through the trauma of taking a bath. but i have severe allergies and this having-two-cats is not going well in that department. the only way i can mitigate the strain on my body is to bath the fluffy one often, getting rid of his dander before it attacks me.

hammy is a pretty good sport about it. while he doesn't love it by any means, he tolerates it fine and in fact will now sit quietly beside the tub while it is filling up (we only put him in about 2 inches of water). i did -on vet recommendations!- try to blow-dry him the other day and he most assuredly DID NOT LOVE IT. i think i'll stick to towel drying from now on.

piranha plant

last week i came down with the stomach flu and spent a couple of days indoors. this, coupled with getting home early due to jury duty, led me to become let's say well-versed with the new super mario galaxy game on wii.

hearing all the hype, i was ready for something special. while it is not completely mind-blowing (although i'm not a gamer, so i don't know what i was expecting), it is pretty entertaining. some of the most fun parts of the game are reliving the nostalgia of playing any mario game the first time- all the familiar sounds, enemies (remember goombas?) and tricks. becoming invincible rainbow mario will always be a good time.

i found a link to this piranha plant on one of the design blogs i read and was so happy to see it made out of my favorite fabric- boiled wool/felt! i would like one of these to put on my desk, but sadly, and unsurprisingly, they are sold out.

Piranha Plant

flushing food court

one of the greatest things about new york city, and i’m sure any major city in the world, is that there are small microcosms within that conjure up an entirely different time and place. main street flushing is one of those places. within its 15 square blocks you almost exclusively surrounded by the sounds, and sights, of mainland, urban, china (well, minus the increased car chaos). this is very different from what it is like in a “chinatown”, primarily because flushing does not care about tourism and selling those ubiquitous red lanterns you see in every chinatown shop.

grace and i go to flushing pretty often and one of our stops is almost always a tiny stall in the flushing mall’s food court. for $4 you can get a roasted pork ramen with hand pulled noodles. and by “hand-pulled noodles” i don’t mean some quaint style of pre-prepared noodle. i mean “pull off a chunk of dough and stretch it multiple times until it is as thin as spaghetti right before your very eyes”.
dropped in a pool of hot broth, the noodles are ready in a couple minutes and served garnished with your choice of meat or vegetables. i prefer roast pork and cilantro.

the only downside to the whole experience is that i cannot speak any language other than english. it is embarrassing, to say the least and, my father will never cease to remind me, extremely short-sighted. even though one of my resolutions this year is to learn spanish, it will still get me nowhere in asking for hand-pulled noodles. usually i just point and motion, but on this particular trip there was no one in sight with my preferred meal and i ended up trying to explain what i wanted through many misunderstandings. so instead of hand-pulled noodles, i got hand-sliced noodles, which was equally fascinating. a great log of dough was brought out and a sharp knife was used to slice thin sections off the log and into the broth.

in addition to the ramen, we also got some pork buns, cream buns and bubble tea. all in all, a successful day for eating.

Flushing Mall

korean fried chicken

brunch rut is a common phenomenon in nyc; there is a rotating cast of restaurants you like and frequent for brunch. and then, one day, you hate them all. they are boring, have long waits, have nothing you want to eat and are completely and totally uninspired. it was on one of those days a couple weekends ago that i discovered what may be the most delicious food in the world.

because there were no appealing brunch places in park slope, we piled into the car, picked up some friends, and headed to that wonderland of ethnic food, queens. if you live in nyc and you ever experience brunch rut, the fastest remedy i can prescribe is a trip to queens- a place you can find a halo-halo, sag paneer, bahn mi, and cannoli all within 70 blocks.

on this particular trip we were headed to the flushing mall, for some hand-pulled noodles. we had also decided to make a brief stop in the korean part of queens to sample the craze of korean fried chicken, which, being the fried chicken lover i am, i was embarrassed not to have already tried. luckily we had brought our friend jen along, who not only is korean, but also frequented this part of flushing quite a bit growing up. this proved to be a very wise move on our part.

upon arrival to the korean fried chicken place, the first thing i noticed was the high-design concept; multi-colored plastic chairs, an adorably mistranslated mural, and bright, bright colors. the second thing i noticed was that it was empty. this combination, frequently found in sub-par thai places, made me immediately skeptical. looking at the menu i was surprised to discover only two varieties of chicken. in my mind, i had envisioned more permutations that KFC, probably because, as national crazes go, americans like variety. jen took the lead and ordered us a large basket of half regular, half spicy chicken. immediately after taking our order, we were served two dishes: one of shredded cabbage with a thousand island dressing, and another of pickled radishes. this reminded me of why i love korean food so much in first place (in fact, it is my *favorite* cuisine)- the free banchan- little savory dishes that come before your main meal. this was a particularly lucky break for us, because hope, the other friend on this excursion, is a vegetarian and couldn’t eat the fried chicken. but she does love a radish.

soon, the fried chicken arrived. i am not kidding you when i say that i literally took one bite and a goofy grin broke across my face. you can ask my friends. i was totally, immediately smitten. i’ll break it down for you:

1. the chicken pieces were smaller, so there was a higher skin/meat ratio
2.the skin was deep fried to a thin, crispy perfection while the meat was still moist and juicy
3. the spices in the skin were not the bland ones you come to expect from normal fried chicken, instead there was a slightly sweet soy-garlic flavor explosion somehow infused in the skin

everyone knows that the true appeal of fried chicken is the crunchy skin/moist meat combo. by essentially doubling that experience with smaller pieces, this chicken also introduced a whole new element to my previous fried chicken experiences- flavor. i think this is why i like buffalo wings so much- the addition of flavor- but these were much, much better. and as much as i liked the regular flavor, the spicy was even better. only for people with a serious love for spicy foods- jen being one of these people, grace couldn’t handle it- these are *really* spicy, although still retaining flavor and not just deadeningly spicy. we must have eaten the bucket in 5 mins. flat. from now on, this is my new favorite food- hands down.

after washing up (boy, was i a mess!), we attempted to find directions to a korean grocery that jen had mentioned on the way into queens. after finding it and buying much more food than anyone needs (it all looked so delicious! and there was no way i could find this stuff in brooklyn!) we headed over to the flushing mall.

Kyedong Korean Fried Chicken

Han Ah Reum Grocery

help internet!

hi internet,

this weekend i was at the morgan library (which, btw, is super cool) and heard a piece of music that was particularly revelatory for me. now, as you might know, i'm a self-proclaim music hater, but it is really just because it is often too overwhelming for me to sift through the wide variety of music available to find new things i like. that is why this experience was so exciting- i was at a museum, looking at some old manuscripts and picked up the headphone to listen to the music shown and wow- it was something i liked. actually, something i loved. the issue now is how to find it. i'd like to download it, because it doesn't make sense to pay for a CD (they all seem really expensive), but i can't seem to find it and i don't understand this whole bit torrent thing. i'd like to post a snippet for you to hear too, but i don't know how to do that and that's why i'm reaching out and maybe we can figure this out together?

the only info. i managed to jot down before i was yelled at by the guard for putting my paper on the glass was this:

john cage, three dances

i know you'll come through.


cranberry cream scones

breakfast is a tricky meal for me for me to love. by constitution, i'm not a fan of sweet breakfast foods, probably a result of growing up with filipino parents for whom the ideal breakfast consisted of rice, salted duck egg, tomato and a marinated meat called tapa. for most of my life i've oscillated between not eating breakfast at all and eating something i'm barely tolerating, like cereal or yogurt. scones, however, are the except to that rule. i've always enjoyed their mild sweetness and the fact that you are allowed, even encouraged!, to heap them with butter and jam and my most beloved clotted cream. since learning how to make them, i've brought them to countless brunches and served them to quite a few guests. i was recently thinking about this recipe and realized you could probably cut the dough and freeze it, making it easier to bake them off one at a time. that is, if you are unlike me and can't inhale 2 or 3 in a day.

cream scones with dried cranberries adapted from america's test kitchen

makes 8 scones

2 cups flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes and chilled
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

place oven rack in middle position and heat to 450F. pulse flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a food processor to combine, about 6 pulses.
scatter cold butter over top and pulse until mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few slightly larger lumps, about 12 pulses.

add the cranberries and pulse 2-3 times to combine. transfer dough to a large bowl and stir in cream with a spatula until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds. don't overmix!

turn dough and any floury bits onto a floured counter and knead until it forms a rough, slightly sticky ball, about 5 to 10 seconds. turn dough into a 9 inch round cake pan and press down to fill pan. unmold dough (it should now be a flatish 9 inch round) and cut into 8 wedges. sprinkle with turbinado sugar and place onto an ungreased baking sheet (i just lined mine with parchment paper).

bake until tops are golden brown, 12 to 15 mins. Cool on wire rack for a least 10 mins. before serving.

location, location

during the dead of winter, i often find myself thinking about greener, warmer pastures. i was reminded recently that it was around this time last year that i was off to puerto rico, for what might have been the most relaxing week of my life (oh- minus the all the roosters- the smelly dead ones and the very alive and LOUD ones). sadly, i won’t be going anywhere this year, but the nice thing about living in a four-season climate is that least i can still look forward to the summer. and surprisingly, last summer i found a place in brooklyn that reminded me of puerto rico. i’m going to tell you about it now, because i want you to forget about it by the time the summer comes- it’s so great that i’m sure you’ll be there every weekend, and then it won’t be as abandoned and serene for me.

if you take the B61 bus to red hook, get off on van brunt street near dikeman. it's a nice walk from here. walk down van brunt until you get to a sign on a street post that instructs you to turn for “key lime pies”. i don’t remember what street it is on and anyway, it is more rustic if we pretend to not know. a couple more blocks down, you’ll turn down a gravel lined dirt road toward a seemingly abandoned warehouse. if you’re in the mood, stop at the tiny door on the far end of the warehouse to pick up one of the most delicious things you’ll ever put in your mouth- a swingle; basically a mini key lime pie on a stick, frozen and dipped in chocolate. it sounds good right? well, it tastes even better. if you’re not in the mood (and who are you?!) then head straight to the end of the row of warehouses. little did you know, but you’re on a pier, and a little bit to the right of the view you see above is the best view of the statue of liberty new york has to offer- and you’re all alone to see it, at a picnic table at the end of a pier eating your swingle. just make sure you’re not there when i arrive.

hot cocoa cakes

valentine's day is coming up, so i thought i'd share with you a trio of chocolate desserts in the next couple of days- pick your favorite to make and share with your valentine- or your friends, or yourself. it's not a valentine's day without chocolate- even if you eat it by yourself with a good book.

i first made these for a dinner party a couple of weeks ago, and was worried about them being a little dry. turns out i was right, but we quickly solved that by drizzling a little chocolate sauce in the still warm center. at the time, i used hershey's, but i recommend you go all out here and make your own. i'm including a recipe for my standard no-fail homemade chocolate sauce just to wow your valentine or to make yourself an even more indulgent treat.

hot cocoa cakes (adapted from real simple)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup sugar
10 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mini marshmallows
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

preheat oven to 375F. butter, flour and sugar eight 6 ounce ramekins (you can also use a 10 inch pan or pie plate). wipe the rims clean. place the 8 tablespoons of butter and the chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. let cool for 5 mins. meanwhile, beat eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt and sugar at the highest speed until the volume doubles and it becomes foamy, about 5 mins. stir in the flour into the chocolate and then gradually add to the egg mixture, beating on low until just incorporated. ladle into ramekins and bake until cakes puff and begin to crack- about 15 mins. remove from oven and sprinkle with mini marshmallows. return to oven for 2-4 mins. let cool slightly and serve with a sprinkling of cocoa on the top and a generous serving of homemade chocolate sauce.

no-fail hot chocolate sauce
(adapted from virginia hospitality)

this makes a TON of chocolate sauce, but you can keep some of it in the fridge and freeze the rest- it will keep forever.

2 2/3 cups heavy cream
1/1/3 cups water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 3/4 lb. semi-sweet chocolate, chopped fine
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut
pinch salt

in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine cream, water, corn syrup until hot, but don't let it boil. turn heat to medium low and whisk in chocolate until it melts and the sauce is smooth- about 5 mins. take pan off heat and whisk in butter and salt, until smooth and glossy. let cool slightly before serving.

doctrine of signatures

usually i just delete email forwards, but today grace's mom sent me an interesting one outlining how the medicinal use of different foods can be determined by their shape and similarity to parts of the human body. naturally, i was more than skeptical, but noticed at the bottom of the email a line about the "doctrine of signatures".

looking it up, i found that in the middle ages most people believed that the use of certain plants and herbs could be determined by the careful study of their growing location and physical characteristics, the idea obviously complemented by their faith- a divine god leaves a road-map for use within the thing itself. for example, plants bearing a dark red color must be used for treating blood diseases, plants with yellow flowers for jaundice, etc. this is mildly interesting, although i'm sure the email stretched the truth a little far, claiming things such as "a tomato has four chambers and is red. the heart is red and has four chambers. all of the research shows tomatoes are indeed pure heart and blood food.", which is most likely a case of some facts fitting the theory.

nowadays, we pay very little attention to these sorts of resemblances, mostly thinking them old wives tales. barring the question of their veracity, an interesting point is raised by foucault in the wikipedia article noting that believing in a doctrine of signatures allowed people to organize the symbols in the world around them and extract useful knowledge. actually, we still do this everyday, although with a much more complex set of symbols, and much of modern design is built around the idea that the purpose of the object should be embedded into the form. implicitly the doctrine of signatures has resonated through our cultural conciousness, and we're imitating the same methods in order to be understood.

full text of email

doctrine of signatures

my beating heart

it's a little "tell-tale heart" but i'm totally enamored (ha!) of this sweet new stuffed toy. it is a stuffed heart shape with an internal heartbeat that is unique every time you use it. i didn't know this, but according to the website, human heartbeats can synchronize with each other, although googling this doesn't turn up much. although, i do recall reading some studies about how the sound of a heartbeat is supposed to be soothing and relaxing to most people. seems like a great gift for new parents or small children for valentine's day.

My Beating Heart


in other, better, news, i've been obsessed with this woman's cupcakes for a while now. there is something about fondant that is so super cute- maybe because you can get really clean lines and hyper saturated colors. i don't know how good it would taste though, but i guess that's another post right?


it sounds so pathetic to say, but i feel like 2008 has been a year of leaving.
first, our beloved roommate emily, who moved to guatemala for work, left in late january. and now, 4 of our five precious kittens will be moving to their new homes this week. five sad departures and it is only february 8th! please make sure you stick with me this year; i don't think i can bear another goodbye.

the picture above is of hammell- the one kitten we are keeping. i try to console myself by staring at him endlessly, reminding myself i'll be able to watch *this* cat grow and we'll develop our own special bond over the years. to think that this won't be the case with the other 4 kittens is so deeply heartbreaking, but i know that they'll be loved by their new owners, all of whom have expressed their extreme excitement at receiving them, which makes me feel a teensy bit better. and ultimately, i was so fortunate to even have this incredible experience. i'm sure that sometime in the future when i'm having a terrible day and remember the way they all greeted me at the door after work, running on their little stubby legs, or how all five of them would pop their heads up from the bed blanket- a field of kittens!- when they noticed i had stirred in the morning, as if to say hi- i'm sure that on that day all those memories will make me smile so much my heart bursts, and i've forgotten this feeling of it breaking.


lest you think that i only make sides and desserts, here is an example of my wide-ranging repertoire- fish. granted, i've made fish maybe five times in my whole life, but none of them were a total disaster, and that makes me feel like i’m qualified to share with you here. the great thing about fish is that it cooks fast, looks good, and can be gussied up pretty easily- a requirement for most of my food. this particular recipe is stolen from my mom, who, if you are unlucky enough not to know this already, is an incredible cook and a truly superlative baker. and i’m not just saying this because she’s my mom- which i think is the highest complement i can give her.

while swordfish is expensive, it is also very dense, meaning you don’t have to eat much to be full. a $20 purchase of two swordfish steaks fed grace and i for dinner and lunch the next day. this recipe couldn’t be easier- even the most pedestrian of us always has butter in the fridge, and a jar of quality anchovies packed in olive oil is a good investment at 7$-you’ll be surprised at how much you use them- cooked down, they don’t taste fishy at all. parsley is one of those things cooks put in everything- it brings a fresh, verdant flavor, but honestly, is never *totally* necessary. the swordfish is simply cooked and the all flavors in the compound butter melt together to create a nutty, green, complement to the fish.

swordfish with parsley-anchovy butter

make the swordfish:
two swordfish steaks
salt and pepper

pat dry the steaks and season. heat up about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet until shimmering. pan fry the swordfish until firm to the touch- about 15 mins, depending on the thickness.

make the butter:
4 tablespoons salted butter, softened
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 garlic clove, either pressed through a press or chopped into a paste
1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

beat butter with fork until light and fluffy, stir in remaining ingredients until thoroughly combined. serve on hot fish, allowing butter to melt.

dining together

design sponge had a great round-up of communal dining tables for the home, which got me about the new trend of communal dining at restaurants. i have been to at least 4 upscale places in manhattan (and le pain quotidian, which doesn't count because it's a bakery and it's everywhere) that offer communal dining: buddakan, mercer kitchen, the tasting room and hudson cafeteria. my first exposure to this trend was at mercer kitchen, where i felt lucky that my graduation dinner wasn’t seated at the communal table-i don't know how much my parents would have liked sharing our private function with another group. at the tasting room our group was around 15 people, big enough to justify the communal table. since the table was so big, and the rest of the restaurant was so small, it felt more like we were eating in some amazing cook’s kitchen. for both mercer kitchen and the tasting room, it seems the introduction of the communal table just has to do with space- it makes more sense to have a very large table in the restaurant so that you can accommodate big groups as needed, and book it in smaller fractions, with the added "hip" component, for groups of 2 or 4. however, at buddakan and hudson cafeteria, it is much more about the scene; buddakan is a cavernous space where the communal table is at the bottom of a grand staircase- if you're seated at it, you are sure to be noticed, and sure enough, the time i went it was populated by sex-in-the-city types. for hudson cafeteria, they’re going for ambiance. again, they have more than enough space, but the long, long tables and the high backed throne chairs give you an alice in wonderland feeling- as if you’re at the table with the angry queen of hearts. it's equal parts whimsy and terror, which is rare for a restaurant setting, and probably not what they were hoping for, because ultimately it is not very appetizing since the space distracted from the food, which happens to be very good.

my default brunch place, boerum hill food company, also has a communal table, which i've only sat at once, when my brother was in town and our party was big enough to fill the table with no need for strangers. because that's what they are, like it or not, strangers- even though you’re supposedly going to bond after breaking bread with them. i guess i’m just not nice enough to want to share my meal with someone i don’t know. although it is almost inevitable that the seats at the communal table will be available before seats at a regular table, i've always declined, preferring to wait longer.

it must be obvious by now that i’m not a fan of the communal table- while sitting with strangers might prove interesting, ultimately the whole experience distracts me from the real reason i went to the restaurant in the first place: the food.

bread making for novices

that old that saying "give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime" is very applicable here. bread is something we all eat, usually daily, but seldom know how to make, or make well. i had never ventured into bread making, save for the occasional banana bread, until i read this NYT article last year. after the article, it seemed like every blog i read was raving about this bread, and STILL it took it me over a year to make it. i'm feeling so guilty about all that time i wasted.

for those of you who want to impress- this is the recipe for you. it bakes up a deep brown, with a bakery-worthy crust and holes galore in the crumb. for those of you who are lazy, and who want the luxury of eating warm, fresh bread, without going to the store on a rainy sunday- this is the recipe for you. i feel guilty for not giving the recipe to you sooner, so that you could have the bread baking and the smell wafting from the kitchen while you watched that game-winning play last night- a perfect evening. and lastly, for those of you, like me, deeply intimidated by the whole "art" of bread-making, this is the recipe for you. it is perfectly foolproof and shockingly easy. so easy in fact i'm a little sorry i'm sharing it with you now; i've burst the bubble and when you come over next time and i serve it to you, you'll have made it too and know what a cinch it is. at least i hope so.

No-Knead Bread from the NYT, adapted

3 cups all purpose or bread flour (you can find some great varieties here)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt (i used rosemary salt)
cornmeal as needed

combine yeast, salt, flour and 1 and 1/2 cups water until just blended. this takes about 5 stirs with a wooden spoon. don't worry if it looks wet, or still flour-y. i've made this bread twice now and the second time i added fresh chopped rosemary too. i imagine you can add all sorts of things; i'm going to try some salty olives next time.

once combined, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest about 18 hours, although i've done it up to 20.

lightly flour work surface and turn bowl upside down. dough should be very sticky. wet your hands and turn the over on itself once or twice, so there is a smooth part and a seam. place the dough ball seam side down on a kitchen towel dusted with cornmeal, dust top of dough with cornmeal, place another kitchen towel on it and let it rest for another 2 to 2 1/2 hours. while dough is resting, heat your oven to 475F and place a heavy covered pot in it. i use my 4.5 quart le creuset and it works perfectly. when the dough is rested and the pot is screaming hot, just dump the dough into the pot. that's it.
cover and bake for 30 mins. uncover and bake for another 15. this is SO worth it.

blue sky

in the middle of winter, and especially on rainy days, it is nice to see a picture of the blue summer sky and little red berries.


today is game day, which means i eat a lot of wings and look through old catalogues. one catalogue that i'm always happy to look at over and over is zingerman's. grace makes fun of me because after i've looked at the catalogue four or five times and read every last word in the description i play this game where i pick one thing i want on each page just to make the experience last longer.

believe me when i tell you that i've read these until they are tattered and stained. everything sounds so delicious and the pictures are hand-drawn. i've been wanting the charles chocolates pâté de fruit for the longest time- if they taste even a fourth as good as the description, i'll be happy.

if you have a foodie in your life, anything from this catalogue would be a great valentine's gift. i especially recommend the dulche de leche, which always elicits the "where did you get that?" endorsement whenever i serve it.


Ann Arbor, MI

saving #1: money in the matress

yes, yes, we all hear it- the mantra of our parents to "save, save, save". like much of the advice we get as children and teenagers, it is vague and virtually useless. no one tells you how, or how much, or where. if you try to do a google search, you'll turn up a million different companies that want your money to do who-knows-what with. well, that's all changing now. in the next couple of weeks, i'll lay out the various strategies you can employ in saving money, how to determine how much (and where) to save, and most important, EXACTLY how to do it. it's going to be a long haul, so be warned.

high yield savings accounts

right now, you've probably got a checking account at a regular bank that is linked to a regular saving account. mostly likely, your savings account is earning around 2% interest and that checking account is earning less than 1%. (you can check these numbers by calling your bank) currently, the inflation rate is around 3% on average (actually, right at this moment it is higher, but i'll explain this another time), and with the markets tanking, this is likely to rise soon.

what does this mean for you?
well, #1 is that volatile goods like food and gas are going to get more expensive. and #2, if you're currently earning less than the rate of inflation in your bank accounts, you're actually *losing* money; that is, over time your money will buy you less goods. people are encouraged to put their money in the bank instead of under their mattress because in return for giving the bank your money to invest, the bank pays you interest on your balance; basically you earn money just by having money- like the old saying goes "the rich just get richer". but if what you are earning in interest is lower than what you are having to pay in rising inflation, you are still theoretically putting your money under the mattress- i mean, it is safer in the bank because it is insured against loss and you can use online bill-pay and you don't have to sleep on a huge lump and you're making an teeeeensy bit of money, but it's basically the same.

so, what to do?
in subsequent posts we'll figure out how to craft your financial goals and your saving and investment strategies to match those goals. creating and keeping a budget is a important first step in the process. but right now, a good idea would be to open up a high-yield saving account, which is a regular FDIC insured savings account with a higher interest rate than average. with the Fed cutting interest rates left and right, opening one up now means you might still be able to take advantage of higher interest rates before they drop. you can transfer the money out of the account to a brokerage account or a CD, or even back to your checking account if you want, but having a chunk of money earning more than inflation is a good way to hedge your bets against the rising prices to come.

how to do this:
first of all, determine how much money you can put into this account. you can determine this by figuring out what you're comfortable with having in your regular checking account to cover all your budgeted expenses. i'm fine with just having $1,000- all the rest of my money is other accounts. other people might be comfortable with a different number; grace needs at least double mine to feel secure. this doesn't mean she spends more than me, just that she more comfortable with that number. money is inextricably tied to our psychology, like it or not. next, determine your liquidity needs. do you often have emergencies where you need to dip into your savings (and i don't mean that really expensive and delicious triple cream french cheese you saw at whole foods, andrea!)? if so, you might want to consider opening up this account with your current bank- most major banks offer these accounts as an add-on option to your regular accounts. always always always check about addition fees and minimum balances however! if you are the kind of person who, if they know they can walk to the nearest atm and hit the 'savings' button, will buy that really expensive (and truly delicious!) triple cream french cheese, then you should probably opt for an online-only account. this gives you a layer of protection from yourself, as you have to wait 2-3 days for the money in the account to be transfered to your regular bank, but it also means you have less liquidity. (confused about that word? don't worry, i'll explain it another time)

now you know where you want to open up the account (either your bank or online) and how much you want to put into it. by the way, this doesn't mean you have to close your savings account- you can still leave some money in there if it makes you more comfortable. here is the really hard part- go and open the account. if you take a look at this chart, you'll see all the different rates for various banks. note that these rates are for TODAY only, they often change (but not by a ton) everyday. to give you some perspective, when i opened my ING Orange account at the height of the market, the rate was 5% and there were even some banks offering 5.5% returns. you won't find that now, but growing your money at the 4% they are offering you now is still far better than what it will probably be in a couple months, and is obviously much better than the 2 or so % you make at your regular bank- so start today!

by the way, it is very easy, and safe to open one of these accounts, just make sure it is FDIC insured and don't put more than $100,000 (yea,right!) into one account. it takes maybe all of ten minutes and you can set up automatic transfers every month, which we'll get to next time.

if you have any questions, feel free to email me.

ps. i had to post this cute picture of wally so that you would be implored to read this post. if you got this far down, congrats!

doughnut plants

when i was in high school, my mom started a habit of going to the gym in the morning. after her workout, she'd pass by the local bakery and bring home doughnuts for me, my father and brother. i don't know if it was a way to fatten us up so that her resulting weight loss would be even more pronounced, or if it was just a misguided attempt to please her breakfast-hungry family, but either way, i grew up eating ,and loving, doughnuts.

naturally, when i moved to NY i was excited by the ubiquitous dunkin donuts, but soon found their doughnuts stale and too sugary. since, i've moved on to greener pastures.

a round-up of my very favorite doughnuts:

1. doughnut plant
old time doughnuts re-created loving by hand by mark, who uses his grandfather's recipe from the early 1900's. he used to deliver them by bicycle all over the city, but has since opened up a tiny storefront in the lower east side. the history is cute, but the doughnuts are unreal; meyer lemon, valrona chocolate, pomegranate, peanut butter and jelly. there is a place near my work that stocks them and whenever i have a bad day, i pick one up on the way home and inhale it before i get to the end of the block. sometimes, if the day is really bad, before i even get to the front door. this is probably the main reason i'm not getting any skinnier.
(i just checked the website and they just opened a new location in seoul, korea. seemingly random, i feel this is my personal calling to move to korea, having just discovered the revolutionizing joys of korean fried chicken this past weekend.)
Doughnut Plant

379 Grand Street
NY, NY 10002

2. craft
its a little clichéd in the foodie world to mention craft, tom colicchio's flagship restaurant, especially since he is now known as "the bald guy on top chef", but i actually really love the food. i love the entire restaurant; the soothing rothko decor, the heavy copper pots and the sweetly delivered breakfast treats wrapped up to go at the end of the meal (last time it was a chocolate chip scone). and for dessert they have doughnuts: airy, light, warm, sugar-cinnamony (is that a word?) little balls served with various jams and dips. what's there not to love?
43 East 19th Street
New York, NY 10003
Other locations in LA, Atlanta and Dallas

3. peter pan
i found this place by accident when grace was picking me up in the car from greenpoint. we were driving by and i saw a sign for doughnuts. i yelled at her to stop and i hopped out, shortly returning with a creme-filled one that cost me less than a dollar. (thanks grace for all your patience with me!) little did i know this was a well-known and celebrated place. i found out shortly after i ate the doughnut, because things this good are never secrets.
Peter Pan Bakery
727 Manhattan Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11211

4. krispy kreme
it would be wrong to omit this from my list just because it is controversial; some people hate it because it is too sweet, mushy, etc etc. but if you've ever had a hot one right off the conveyor belt, you know this is pretty close to doughnut nirvana.
Krispy Kreme
Various Locations

5. jelly filled doughnut in vieques, pr
i was in puerto rico last year and right by the main ferry on the tiny island of vieques was a hole-in-the-wall bakery that had all sorts of delicious looking goods, as well as jelly doughnuts. i don't know if it was because i was in a tropical paradise, or the salty air, but this doughnut was divine. i have a very embarrassing picture of me eating it looking CRAZY. i guess that's what i look like when i eat...?
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