Heirlooms and Earaches

I’ve been under the weather for a few weeks with a painful condition called glossopharyngeal neuralgia—not recommended, zero stars, would not get again—so haven’t been much good for any writing or drawing or, well, my cooking hasn’t been great, either. Fortunately it is summertime and that means Heirloom Tomatoes.

I could eat fresh heirloom tomatoes practically every day. It just so happens that we grow them in our backyard every year, and this year we planted early. The heatwave we’ve had has helped bring fruit much sooner than usual, and we may be tasting our first Brandy Boy by end of next week. Exciting!

The perfect summer sandwich is heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella slices, piled high on a crusty hunk of Italian bread, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with garlic and chopped basil.

Bread is easy, but so inexpensive and good from the farmer’s market that I stick to buying it. Basil we have growing in the yard also, so that’s covered. I might just have to try growing my own garlic one of these days, though I admit I’ve become very addicted to the already-peeled stuff I pick up locally.

So really, I just need to teach myself how to make mozzarella cheese. I was thinking of trying Parmesan before discovering it takes at least two years and requires a bacteria that only grows in Italy. No wonder it’s so pricey! I guess I’ll stop complaining about it now. The stuff is worth every penny. Tonight I’m shaving fresh parm over a plate of papardelle egg noodles, with a bit of butter and salt, nothing else. Absolutely divine, and the right amount of labor for someone with a stabbing, ice-pick pain in her ear.

Any good books out there on cheesemaking? Or should I leave it to the experts?

Color Palette Rehab

Made a terrific eggplant parm (sans tomato sauce) tonight, paired with arugula salad. Highly recommended. Recipe at bottom. But the bigger story is I spent the past few days working with a “found” palette—therefore a limited palette—and the results are in: TRY THIS.

Last week the sun was peeking in through the blinds, in one of those late-afternoon moments that I was lucky enough to capture with my phone, not really sure why I was doing it. Dappled light hit my open closet in such a way that my familiar jumble of everyday clothing suddenly took on an elevated appearance. A photo of my clothes? Not especially compelling, right?

I toyed with turning the photo into a graphic, and a few sketches went nowhere. But I couldn’t get those colors out of my head. Then it hit me, this was a found palette. I opened my iPad and used the eye dropper tool to grab 10-12 colors from the photo, and saved them as a new palette.

The results were extremely satisfying to my sensibilities, but now I wondered, is this a kid-friendly palette? I was reminded of the meeting I had with an art director at one of the top children’s publishers, where my portfolio was enthusiastically received and I was told I was “the next” somebody-or-other… IF I could “brighten up” my colors a bit.

So I dashed home and reworked everything in my portfolio, going against my natural attraction to subdued, desaturated tones. (My favorite coat as a child was a maroon and grey plaid number; I absolutely adored black and my favorite outfit was a black turtleneck and black leggings. It still is. I’m nothing if not consistent.)

The exercise left me miserable and demoralized, and ultimately frustrated to the point of inertia, I abandoned my dream of publishing a picture book, figuring I just wasn’t suited to the world of primary colors. Graphic design offered me far more opportunities to apply my desaturated palettes, and wear my black clothes.

Do kids really prefer primary colors? Must everything look like a bowl of Froot Loops or a Playskool dollhouse in order to sell? Well, let me just offer two words in response to this notion: Jon Klassen.

He’s doing pretty well.

I look at the success of, say, This Is Not My Hat (fantastic book, btw) and begin to wonder where I’d be now in my career if I’d ignored the “advice” that big shot art director gave me and stuck to my guns. Of course the industry has gone through enormous changes in the years since that meeting, but I wonder. I wonder.

So I’m taking myself to Color Palette Rehab and breaking the habit of using every color in the box, or sticking to what’s expected, of coloring the sky blue just because that’s the color it’s “supposed to be.” I can’t say enough good things about giving yourself some limitations. Maybe it’s the graphic designer in me, the problem solver who enjoys the constraints, but I recommend looking around your environs for a found palette that you’d love to apply to a work you feel is wanting in some way, or start fresh and see where it takes you.

Eggplant Parm with Garlic

1 large eggplant

6 T butter, melted

1 C bread crumbs or panko

1/4 C shredded Parmesan

1/4 t smoked paprika

4 cloves finely minced garlic or 1 t garlic powder

1 t each of finely minced fresh rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano or 1 t dried Italian seasoning

Wash, trim, peel eggplant. Slice into 1/2” disks. Place in a colander and “sweat” with kosher salt—sprinkle liberally over each disk. Allow to sit at least 30 min. until beads of water appear on the surface. Rinse the salt.

Mix crumbs, spices, garlic and cheese.

Dip each disk in the melted butter and then in the crumb mixture, turning and pressing to coat.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Flip and bake an additional 7-10 minutes, until crispy.

Arugula Salad

One bunch arugula, 1/4 C olive oil, juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon, salt and pepper to taste, shaved Parmesan to garnish. Toss.

Waffles, part deux

I’m going to make my dad’s incredible waffles tonight, but there was no buttermilk available at Aldi. No prob! Buttermilk is overpriced and usually goes bad before you use all of it unless you’re making pancakes for the entire football team, so this quickie solution is great to know about:

Add a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to a cup of regular milk. Leave it to sit for 5-10 minutes. It will clump up or curdle a bit, but that’s fine. Now add it to your recipe and whisk. No-waste buttermilk!

I’m topping tonight’s waffles with maple syrup and butter, because I’m in a homestyle mood, but any slightly tart preserve will also pair beautifully with this sweet and tangy batter. The cardamom goes with so many fruits. If you find pear preserves, try them with this recipe, or any cardamom-forward recipe. It’s like apples and cinnamon, but just a bit more interesting.

Better yet, serve these waffles with an assortment of toppings and fillings. Lingonberry if you’re brave, blueberry or blackberry for the less adventurous, and of course the three creams; whipped, ice, and sour. A dollop of any of these makes this recipe just perfect.


Today is the 17th of May, otherwise known as Norwegian Independence Day or Constitution Day. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the perfect day to have waffles for dinner.

And not just any waffles, but my dad’s incomparable recipe for Sour Cream Cardamom Waffles. I promise you’ve never eaten anything this light and fluffy before. They’re so good, they taste great plain, cold, days later.

As my dad would tell me, “do not skip any directions or you’ll screw it up.”

These Norwegian waffles are soft and sweet and freeze well. Make them!

Norwegian Sour Cream Waffles ala My Dad

1/4 c butter

1 c flour

2-4 T sugar

1t baking soda

1 t ground cardamom

1/2 t salt

2eggs, separated

1 c sour cream

1 c buttermilk

Melt butter, set aside.
Sift dry ingredients together and set aside.
Beat egg yolks until thick and lemony.
Gradually add melted butter.
Add sour cream and buttermilk and beat well.
Gradually add liquid to dry. Mix only until smooth.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold into batter. Do not overmix.
Follow directions for your particular waffle iron, going for a fairly light bake. These are not crispy waffles!
Serve with lingonberries if you are a weirdo who likes extremely tart fruit. Serve with butter and whipped cream or ice cream if you are a normal person.

You’ve been Chopped.

I’m a huge fan of Chopped, discovered it while I was stuck in the hospital last year and have been watching it every night via streaming, working my way from the very first episode to, currently, 2018. So I’ve still got three years of episodes to go, which in Chopped years is closer to seven.

I’ve never come across anything like this, but after binge-watching continuously for the past year I feel qualified to present my list of Things To Never, Ever Do on Chopped.

Some of these items are the typical dealbreakers that send contestants home; others are just my personal irritants, like the mispronounced ingredients and bad fashion choices.

  1. Do not make polenta, ever. You will lose.
  2. Do not add any basket ingredient as a “garnish.” You fool nobody but yourself.
  3. Do not attempt a mole. In thirty minutes? Not happening, especially if Aaron Sanchez is judging.
  4. Do not serve undercooked pasta or pasta without salt, you absolute clown.
  5. NO TRUFFLE OIL. Stop it.
  6. It’s vinaigrette. Not vinegar-ette. It’s not small vinegar.
  7. It’s mascarpone, not MARSKA-pone.
  8. Raw red onions? Really? Have you watched the show, ever?
  9. Stop saying “I gotta bring my A game.”
  10. Stop saying “bragging rights.”
  11. Stop saying “I know my flavors are there.”
  12. Please stop saying “I’m leaving with my head held high.” YOU LOST.

There are numerous others, but these are the freshest wounds from tonight’s viewing. I may start writing these down so I can publish more cranky lists.

Oh! And please stop with the dumb hats. Who cooks in a hat? It’s a thousand degrees in that kitchen. How does a hat even stay on? I’m waiting for the episode when a stupid hat goes flying and catches fire, or falls into hot fat. Alex will not be pleased if this happens. Take that thing off! You don’t look cool!