Making The Best Of It

Are you still there? So sorry for my absence. I was down in Florida and recently got back. I wish I could say I went for a planned vacation or under happy circumstances, but neither of those are true. My grandmother passed away, and I made the trip down to attend her funeral. She was so special to me, and I wouldn't have missed the services for anything. I'll miss her always.

The very first time I went on a plane was to visit my grandparents in Florida. My older brother and I, 8- and 9-years-old at the time, flew down alone. My parents walked us right onto the plane, and my grandparents met us right at the door of the plane. It's strange to imagine how different traveling alone as a child must be today. My brother and I discovered Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First" on one of the radio channels and listened to it repeatedly for the entire flight. I'm betting the people around us probably tired of our laughing out loud. It's one of my best memories though.

That year, my grandparents did the grandparent thing and took us to Disney. On our next visit, they took us to Silver Springs. Over the years as we aged and they aged, the visits became more subdued. During my sophomore year of high school, I made the flight down to attend my grandfather's funeral. I thought for sure it wouldn't be long before I lost my grandmother too, but she managed to hang on for another 13 years. I think that was largely due to her new boyfriend or living companion, or as they say in the elderly communities in Florida -- her S.O. She had someone to spend those remaining years with, and I was so happy for that.

The two of them got on wonderfully, and my later visits were filled with jokes, laughter, and dinners at Red Lobster. For some reason, my grandmother loved it there and always chose to go there. I didn't mind -- those cheddar cheese biscuits rank pretty high up there in my book.

Around this time last year, when we heard that my grandmother was not doing so well, my mom and I went to visit her. That visit was without a doubt my least favorite. If you've ever experienced someone you know and love not recognizing you, then you know what I mean. We think she had the beginnings of Alzheimer's. I will never regret making the time for that visit, but I will always wish that I had been able to see her more as herself, not someone who was slipping away from me.

This year, we had just started discussing plans for another visit when we received the call -- you know the one, the one you never want to get -- and found out that we had lost her. I knew, because of how much I had been hearing about her deterioration over the past year, that she was definitely in a better place, but that kind of news is never happy.

I made arrangements with work, packed up my bags, and headed down with my mom to say our goodbyes. Now, there's something you should know about my mom and me: We can make the best out of any situation. We also knew that my grandmother would appreciate that we took the time out of our way-too-busy lives to not only be at her funeral but also spend some mother-daughter time together and escape for a little bit.

Around the funeral services, we managed to find a little beach time, dine at some nice restaurants, and visit with some family members who live in the area. While a pall hung over the trip, I was happy to have the time to spend with my mom and more than two days in a row off from work for the first time in almost a year now. It was very much needed.

The happier parts of the trip, in pictures...

We had dinner here with my aunt and uncle. Dinner was delicious, but the desserts, a chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and a decadent peanut butter pie, were even better.

There was no way I was walking by this place!

We tasted some lovely macarons and picked up some interesting chocolates too.

In the evening after the funeral, we stopped here and had drinks and apps on an outside balcony overlooking a small shopping area. We shared a crab cake set in an interesting chili sauce, macadamia-crusted goat cheese with mango salsa, and coconut shrimp.

Some interesting birds we saw on the beach

We had fun watching this pelican catch and eat his breakfast as we sat on the pier eating our breakfast.

If nothing else, the loss of someone we love reminds us how ephemeral life can be. It's important to take time to do the things that are important, and it's also important to do the things that may not seem so important but truly are... like experiencing a pod of wild dolphins feeding just offshore.

That black speck in the water is a dolphin fin.
We were lucky to catch sight of six or seven of them out there feeding on something!

And speaking of taking a little time out for what's important, believe it or not, Jeff and I have not had a nice, home-cooked meal together in weeks. Between my tutoring and being away, his softball games, and the Pearl Jam concert he went to last week, along with the usual work, taking care of the dog, etc., we haven't had much downtime at all. I'm planning a fun dinner for both of us tonight, which I'll share with you as soon as I can, and I'm looking forward to catching up with each other.

How have you been?


Orange-Rhubarb Compote With Cardamom Custard

Rhubarb is a strange fruit. It has one of those love/hate followings. Honestly, I'd never given it much thought until I had to start slicing it for our raspberry-rhubarb muffins at the bakery. I quickly learned how to pare away the outermost layer of the stalk to make the rhubarb less tough and that the leaves are poisonous (don't eat them!).

But that was the extent of my rhubarb knowledge until we recently did an "Iron Chef" challenge -- just for fun, not the real thing -- at the bakery, and rhubarb was chosen as the secret ingredient. As I normally do, I checked out a bunch of recipes and looked up information about rhubarb so I would have something to go off of when determining what dish I would make.

I finally decided, with great advice from The Flavor Bible, that I wanted to use oranges and cardamom to complement the rhubarb. Rhubarb, which resembles celery in appearance, is rather bitter, so to make it more palatable, it's often paired with something sweet, like the sugar and orange juice in this recipe. And I thought the creamy custard on top, spiked with a smidgen of cardamom, would tie the whole dish together. Cardamom is also something I've never used before in my home cooking or baking, but I've certainly tasted it in dishes and desserts I've had elsewhere. I knew a little would go a long way.

I was quite happy with the outcome, considering I'd never made anything with rhubarb at home before. I wasn't the challenge winner -- I definitely had some stiff competition -- but that's okay because it was a great learning experience for me and a push to try to be more creative in the kitchen.

I think you'll want to give this recipe a try if you're already a confirmed rhubarb lover, if you've never had it before, and maybe even if you despise rhubarb. You never know -- it could change your mind. Oh, and make it soon because the best time for rhubarb is spring to early summer. And summer is coming!

Orange-Rhubarb Compote With Cardamom Custard
(Print this recipe)
Adapted from Market Vegetarian by Ross Dobson
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 4 shooters plus extra for sampling


5 ounces rhubarb, cut in small chunks
2 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar, divided
1 teaspoon Valencia orange zest (plus extra for garnish if desired)
1 ½ tablespoons freshly squeezed Valencia orange juice
1 cup whipping cream
½ vanilla bean
⅛ teaspoon cardamom
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon toasted slivered almonds (for garnish, if desired)


Combine rhubarb, 1 ½ tablespoons superfine sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 tablespoon of water in small saucepan, and set over high heat.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils. Then reduce heat and simmer for 4 to 5 minutes, until rhubarb is soft. Divide rhubarb among serving dishes, and set aside to cool.

Heat cream in small saucepan over low heat, and add the vanilla bean. When cream boils, remove the vanilla bean, and scrape the seeds into the cream. Stir in the cardamom, and remove cream from heat.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in medium bowl for 1 minute. Slowly whisk the cream into the egg mixture. Pour mixture into a clean saucepan, and set over medium-low heat. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often with rubber spatula, until mixture thickens.

Spoon the custard over the rhubarb, and chill desserts for 3 hours or overnight.

Garnish with orange zest and slivered almonds, if desired.

Have you ever made anything with rhubarb? Have you ever eaten anything with rhubarb in it?

Related Reading

Market Vegetarian
(I randomly came across this book while shopping at Crate & Barrel. It gives you so many ideas of what to make with fruits and veggies from the farmers' market. I highly recommend it -- especially with the markets starting up soon!)
Starting with Ingredients
The Flavor Bible


Better Taste. Better Nutrition. Better Eggs.

Last week I attended a fabulous dinner at Stella, which was hosted by Eggland's Best and Mary Kate of Kitchenbelle.

Eggland's Best and Mary Kate invited about 30 or so food bloggers from the Boston area to have breakfast for dinner and learn about Eggland's Best eggs. It didn't take much to convince me to go since I already love EB eggs, and I'm always up for going out to dinner.

When I arrived at Stella, our room wasn't quite ready for us, so I played that guessing game of trying to figure out who the other food bloggers were and started introducing myself to others and chitchatting in the bar area. Eventually, we were led through the restaurant to a large event room in the back. I had been to Stella before but had never realized this room existed. The space had that crisp, clean, bright appeal to it. I really liked it and loved the way EB had decorated with cartons of eggs and other paraphernalia.

While we enjoyed a delicious dinner replete with egg dishes, we learned a lot about Eggland's Best. I'm already a big fan. I always use Eggland's Best eggs when I'm making scrambled eggs, omelets, fried eggs, or any dishes where you can really taste the egg itself. When I'm baking, I'll use whatever eggs I have because the flavor isn't prominent, but I usually do have EB eggs. I tend to only buy EB eggs unless I'm at Whole Foods, which doesn't carry them. I'm hoping that will eventually change.
While I knew that I preferred the taste of EB eggs, I never really bothered to take the time to understand why. The slogan of the evening was pretty much "what goes in comes out," meaning that what the chickens eat is what ends up in the eggs. So if they're fed garbage, then we're getting garbage. If they're given high-quality feed, like EB chickens get, then we're getting a high-quality egg. EB also puts all of the eggs through rigorous tests to make sure customers are getting eggs with lower levels of cholesterol and saturated fat and higher levels of Vitamin E, Lutein, and Omega 3.

Now that I've filled you in on the EB egg details, I bet you're wondering what we had for dinner. The chef at Stella prepared a bunch of great dishes using EB eggs.

First, while we ordered our Bloody Marys and mimosas, servers offered us hard boiled egg wedges, which were incredibly delicious.

Menus were placed on all of our tables, and we discussed which options we were going to choose only to find out that the spread would be buffet style and we would get a chance to try everything.

First up were a fruit salad (which lucky for us did not have eggs) and Stella's chopped salad. This had lots of delicious salty bacon to complement the eggs.

Next were the entrees: linguini carbonara, steak and eggs, French toast, and a duck and mushroom omelet. While everything was very tasty and the steak was perfectly cooked (rare, the way it should be), my favorite thing was the omelet. It had duck confit, mushrooms, baby spinach, and goat cheese.

And you can't have breakfast for dinner without dessert, so the last thing we had was a chocolate torte with gelato and chocolate sauce. While I noticed that many other food bloggers mentioned they were so full at that point they only took a few bites, I had no trouble eating every last bite of my dessert. What can I say? I have quite a sweet tooth!

Speaking of the other bloggers, I was really happy to catch up with one of my favorites -- Alicia who writes The Clean Plate Club blog.

I also got to visit with Mary Kate (Kitchenbelle), Michelle (Fun and Fearless in Beantown), Shannon (Tri to Cook), and Sues and Chels (We Are Not Martha), as well as meet a whole bunch of other food bloggers like Kerstin of Cake, Batter, and Bowl.

Feel free to check out all of their recaps, which I guarantee have better pictures than mine.

Carrots 'n' Cake
Healthy and Sane
Healthy Food For Living
The Clean Plate Club
We Are Not Martha

Eggland's Best sent us home with bags of swag that included an EB umbrella (it was supposed to rain that evening), coupons, a bookmark, an FAQ booklet, a bag of hard-cooked eggs, a Pillsbury cookbook, an EB spatula, and a plush egg.

Someone in my house was very curious about that plush egg.

The hard-cooked eggs are really interesting and convenient but unfortunately aren't available in Massachusetts yet.

A huge thank you to Eggland's Best and Mary Kate for hosting this event and inviting me. Another big thank you to Stella for having us all and feeding us all. I really enjoyed the evening out with other bloggers, the great food Stella provided, and the invaluable information about chickens and eggs. Although, we still don't have the answer to which came first!

For more information, please be sure to check out Eggland's Best's Web site.

Do you buy a particular brand of egg, or do you just buy what's there or what's on sale?

(Logo images provided by Eggland's best. This dinner was complimentary. All opinions are my own.)


It's All About Finesse, Sharing, And Family

Today I met one of the chefs I am most inspired by: Thomas Keller.

A few weeks ago when I was shopping at Williams-Sonoma, a regular occurrence in my life, I saw a sign advertising that Thomas Keller would be at the Copley location signing copies of his newest cookbook on May 8. I wrote it on the calendar as soon as I got home.

His newest cookbook, Ad Hoc at Home, became one of my favorite cookbooks from the moment I plopped down on the couch with it and turned the first page. Actually, to be completely honest, it probably became one of my favorite cookbooks as soon as I ran my fingers over the cover, which resembles a chalkboard with a drawing of a pig.

The entire book is incredibly approachable, and I love Keller's voice and tone throughout. Ad Hoc, unlike Keller's more upscale cookbooks, for lack of a better term, focuses on eating at home with family. And that's just one of the many reasons I like it. Keller's sense of humor is evident throughout the pages of the book, where you'll encounter such quotes as "I do love to spoon" and "shh... The lamb is resting."

 Here are a few of my favorite lines from the book:

"To be able to sit around the table, passing food, sharing stories of the day, with the sense that for an hour or so, the outside world can be set aside, is a gift to embrace."

"When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter your circumstances."

"The first time you make gnocchi, if it comes out right, it's probably because you got lucky." (My gnocchi still does not come out right after three tries, and this makes me feel a whole lot better.)

I've already made several recipes from Ad Hoc, including the fried chicken, the whole roasted chicken on a bed of root vegetables, the asparagus and tomato-bacon stew, the rack of lamb, the cupcakes, and a couple of salad dressings, and I can't wait to work my way through the rest of the recipes.

At about 9 o'clock this morning, the best boyfriend in the world (he's beyond supportive of my passion for all things food-related) and I left the house and headed to Copley to stand in line for the signing, which would begin at noon. When we arrived around 9:30, we saw only two others in line and ran off to get Starbucks. We returned with caffeine and took fourth place in the line, which grew down the hall and around the corner, parting only at the doorway of Louis Vuitton (wouldn't want to prevent people from buying super-expensive handbags -- I say while toting my favorite Coach bag), over the next couple of hours.

While waiting for Keller to arrive, I ended up venturing into Williams-Sonoma and purchasing two more of his books. I figured this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet him and have him sign his cookbooks. And since I am so enamoured with Ad Hoc, chances had to be good that I would come to love Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook just as much.

We also got to know our neighbors while we stood in line. It's always fun to be surrounded by those who love food and cooking as much as you do. The two and a half hours passed easily as the conversation kept flowing. We drifted from talking about The French Laundry (wanting to go or having already been) to discussing wineries to sharing our own restaurant and cooking experiences. I definitely think I made some new friends.

And it didn't hurt that Williams-Sonoma provided us with some freshly baked mini cupcakes as we patiently awaited the arrival of Keller.

Once the signing began, Williams-Sonoma employees escorted seven people at a time into the store to form a mini line and await a chance to meet Keller. When Jeff and I got up there, we chatted with Keller a bit while he signed my books. I talked to him about how much I love Ad Hoc and how happy I am that I started working at a bakery almost a year ago. (I probably babbled a bit -- I had had a lot of coffee.)

He was so friendly and clearly interested in what we had to say. I mentioned that we were going to try to come to one of his California restaurants next year, and he told me to let him know when we were there. I only hope that he would remember me among that large group of people he was in the midst of meeting. It's not very likely he will, but I feel all the more welcome at his restaurants because of that simple, sincere comment.

All in all, it was definitely worth getting there early. I learned when I went to meet Ruth Reichl that being near the end of the line is not as much fun because the person you're meeting will be tired by the time they get to meet you. I was happy I was among the first ones to meet Keller and that he is as pleasant and grounded as his writing makes him seem. I was awestruck, but I also felt completely at ease in his presence.

I'm all the more inspired to work my way through Ad Hoc now, and I'm excited to see what Bouchon and The French Laundry Cookbook have to offer. And I'm so very grateful I had this opportunity to meet him!

Have you met anyone who inspires you in the kitchen?