Happy New Year

This morning I sit in the quiet of a very full house. Thankful and grateful for my husband, my family, and all those I hold close. The promise of a new decade feels fresh, and exciting. I’m drinking coffee, and soon I’ll walk our dogs, daily habits. 

Thank you for coming along on this life journey with me, here is a place I hope to be more. Writing and photographing and sharing feels good and helps me record this wonderful ride. Not always easy, and that’s okay. 

I’m not one for resolutions, I prefer routine, and adding in good to crowd out the not so good. Here’s to a wonderful day, a wonderful year, a wonderful world. 

Best wishes to all for 2020. 

Fitness Goals 2020

September 2019, 54 years old, Hermes bikini

Okay, so this morning I watched the ad, the 30-second holiday Peloton spot that’s caused a stir. Yeah, it’s a little idealized yet I’m okay with that. I get that it’s a white wealthy couple probably living in a white wealthy suburb and that the bike costs about $2,500+ and that that’s all kind of outrageous and unfair and yet that’s me in that ad thirty-one years ago. 

Thirty-one years ago, husband gifted me a stationary bike for Christmas, we had just had our first son and exercise was one of our daily habits. In fact, we met at a gym, I was a trainer before trainers were a thing and he was a client (I was nineteen and he was twenty-nine and that was outrageous) and that’s how our story started. 

So, for Christmas he gave me a bike, and I loved it. It meant I could ride without going anywhere while staying close to our son. I used that thing as much as I could and I’m convinced it made me a better parent, a better partner, a better person. 

Over the last three decades our fitness routines have ebbed and flowed, much like our respective body weights (personally peaked at 177, pregnant with twins), sometimes up, sometimes down, and that’s okay. What has stayed consistent is our commitment to move our bodies, and I always tell my daughters when they are struggling with anything at all to move their body, to go for a walk, to get a workout, whatever the struggle it always feels better when you can walk or work it out. 

black tank, blue denim, white sneakers make it easy to get those steps in

This Christmas, he gifted the Peloton, I’m thrilled. Two rides in and thinking of joining their 2020 Challenge. I’ll still walk, firm believer in 10,000 steps a day, and I’ll still hit the gym and the pool. It just makes me feel better, think better, do better. 

For 2020 I’ve got some fitness goals. Yes, they involve weight loss and yes, I know that can be touchy. Numbers are a unit of measurement so I’m going with it. 

If I could I’d gift everyone the desire to move, and if I really could I’d gift everyone a Peloton. Wishing everyone health, fitness, and happiness in the new decade.

Cooking Constantly

whisking egg whites and sugar for meringue with blanched asparagus tips on stand-by

I tried to hijack Christmas Eve this year and was steadfastly diverted. Called the club a few weeks ago and made a 6:30 pm dinner reservation for twelve and told the oldest daughter in Boston on the down low. She was all for it, we thought it would be fun to get out for a little and be fancy.

crab legs at the ready
what the boys want the boys get
check out Winston in the bottom left corner 🙂
not a fan of shots but whatever, it’s Christmas

Once the news started flowing through the ranks I was hit with heavy push-back. Our tradition has been a casual king crab leg kind of thing with lots of clarified hot butter, and the boys wanted in. In our world what the boys want the boys get, and funny, we usually do to. Thinking that when you give and give and give it comes back, maybe not in the way you anticipate but good things always seem to return when you put yourself out there and do things for others. 

And honestly, I kind of feel weird about being out and being served on a sacred holiday such as Christmas or Easter or even Mother’s Day, I always think the staff should be home with their loved ones, so in truth I was okay with keeping with our usual and staying in. 

It did mean I was busy from dawn to dawn, really only stopping for a workout and sleep, two things that are must-dos. I’m also now surrounded by adult off-spring, and they all pitched in to make magic happen. 

Christmas Eve cocktails and such, thank you Mary S for the pink bubbles
I like taking candids
EJ with two oldest grandsons, it can all be a blur…
sliced tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, garnished with roasted tomatoes and parsley
when cooking I find leather pants are easy to give a good wipe too and sleeveless keeps me out of the sauce yet might set me up for arm burns, and I’ve got a few of those
Baked-Alaska didn’t quite look like Martha’s Tree, it was more like a pancake, we torched it anyway
kind of like an interactive art happening, it was good fun
I like to use simple white votives and small spring of evergreen to embellish the tables

For the food I put together a simple cheese tray garnished with figs and local Amish honey. Shrimp cocktail and gifted salted cashews from the new son-in-law’s parents, all served in the living room with kids on the floor and piled all around, it was divine. We did buffet style for dinner, a platter of those legs, asparagus risotto with truffle oil, sliced beef tenderloin with horseradish cream sauce and garnished with small roasted tomatoes still on the vine. Desert was Baked Alaska; it really didn’t freeze fully and kind of fell on the plate, yet it was delicious all the same. 

game playing after dinner, we never even cleared the cheese tray until later

At the table we played games and then moved into the living again for more games and the ubiquitous opening of all matching PJ’s and the reading of The Night Before Christmas by oldest son, simply magical. 

earlier in the week we had a casual kitchen dinner, pasta and salad. simple bowls of clementines for the centerpiece
I like to use Italian linen napkins, un-ironed. I filled the silver julep cups with sprigs of evergreens a few weeks ago, they don’t need much maintenance so that’s a good thing when you are busy
everyone lends a hand now
young women in the kitchen

Constant cooking and moving and doing is okay by me, I’m blessed by family and a husband that supports all my crazy activity, financially, emotionally, and physically, he truly is a modern day St Nick. 

Christmas Eve dinner table half-set, gold chargers from Wegman’s, $1.99 each
Christmas dinner table, here we used starched white linen napkins
many hands make light work
I always have Elizabeth and Mary design the place cards, here they used a red crayon and glued another sprig of evergreen to go with our theme

We’ve had a constant flow of humans in and out and at our table, and I truly couldn’t be happier. We’re all moving towards a new year and a new decade and I’ll continue to put out food and love from our kitchen. I guess if I had one message from all of this, I would encourage anyone to cook from the heart, and serve those they love. My heart is full, and my hands are raw, and that’s all good and okay. 

Christmas morning PJ’s
Christmas morning kitchen brunch
I started two pots of Beef Bourguignon early in the morning and it simmered all day long
buttered egg noodles underneath
forgot the chopped parsley
sweets for desert

With love and JOY, every day dress. 

It’s Go Time

white wine and glitter tablecloth
red wine lineup
we cooked these gorgeous shrimps in an amazing court bouillon and then plunged them into an ice bath
spinach salad with quinoa, feta, toasted almonds, pomegranate seeds and garnished with red onion

A week ago or two (who really knows what day it is?) dear friend and I hosted a small sit-down three course dinner for sixteen, eighteen including us. We did all the planning, shopping, cooking, baking, and brought in the top guns for serving. I’m really sorry I don’t have photos of the chocolate mousse cake with raspberry coulis and whipped cream, it was divine. The night was beautiful, and we celebrated beautiful women. 

we made the raviolis the day before and froze them on sheet trays lined with kitchen towels
working on the mushroom, white wine, and butter sauce
assembling and plating hand-made hand-cut mushroom ravioli
fourth daughter and friend helping with plating and serving, I always love having young people in the kitchen
viola

My friend and I always feel most comfortable behind the scenes at a party, you can usually always find us in the kitchen. This go round we thoroughly enjoyed the process of creating a special meal for neighborhood friends to celebrate the holiday season. It was a labor of good will and love, and we had an unbelievably good time working and learning together, those raviolis were not the easiest.

Now it’s full tilt go time. I’m currently in the kitchen again getting Christmas Eve dinner together for twelve, Christmas morning brunch, and doing a special Beef Bourguignon for tomorrow evening for ten. Wishing you all many festive warm meals with those you love.

Merry Christmas.

grateful

life goes fast, grateful

Fifth of six, studying abroad, and no way could leave this one alone. Peanut and I hopped the pond to celebrate. Must say I was a little melancholy this morning missing the rest of the crew, booked some hot yoga early am to take the edge off. We’ve been on and off the tube, doing all things London, grateful. 

Grateful for every single human in my orbit. Love my family to the end of all days. 

Dear Booie, for Thursday

you, me, and Lizzie = love in the kitchen

Dear Booie, 

You say you’ll cry at least three times; I get it. It’s a lot, cooking Thanksgiving dinner. You will use absolutely every single dish and flat surface in the kitchen and beyond, and when you serve it up you probably won’t even be hungry. While it’s tempting to drink while prepping, go easy on the Chardonnay or you’ll really have a mess on your hands, in more ways than one. 

just add bacon, everyone happy

My first Thanksgiving dinner I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I never paid attention to what was going on in the kitchen while growing up. The only job I had and did was to empty the dishwasher, I was absolutely expert at that. Once married I wanted to do adulting, and that meant inviting Grandma Collins and MaryAnne and Ethel to that first dinner, yikes. I kid you not the turkey wasn’t cooked through, so whatever you do you are sure to do better than that. 

It’s not only an all-day affair, it’s actually kind of an epic hot mess. And the funny thing is no one even really likes turkey, so you’re smart to have steaks. Uncle Jim’s turkey will be just fine. Steak and turkey, great leftovers for Friday, steak and eggs for breakfast (or pie, duh), turkey sandwiches for lunch. 

The shopping starts a week or so ahead if you plan, it’s also something you can do on the fly if your kind of like the rush of tequila, tequila can make you do things quick without thinking too much. You need all kinds of things and if you’re serious you need to make stock. Stock for the gravy, gravy is the bananas.  

see that Bain de Marie? Those are the mashed potatoes staying hot

Seriously, start by cutting up the four loaves of white bread into small squares excluding the crust the night or two before. Get up early, like the crack of dawn and bake off the pies. Peel all those potatoes and cook and mash and keep warm over a Bain de Marie after you’ve sautéed the celery and the butter and the onions for the stuffing. Oh, and the sweet potatoes should be baked on Wednesday and sit overnight. Green beans need an ice bath. Cranberry sauce you need fresh and cooked, do that all ahead of time, like Tuesday. Ask your kids to make the place cards and set the table and pray. Have store bought frozen gravy secretly stored in the freezer and fake packs of dried gravy mix secretly stored in the pantry, the kind you just mix with water in case the gravy goes bust, you can fake it with a little bit of the pan drippings and butter and wine and maybe some whole milk. 

started the dressing the night or two before, in the dark, of course you can see a side-kick of Chardonnay

Back to the table, I’ll be in London, and you’re serving yourself and eight other guests, including your oldest brother and your dad, oh boy. I’ve been prowling the net to get you set up, and here are a few of my picks, being delivered now through Wednesday:

I ordered you two sets of two of these chairs with white cushions so you can get everyone around the table. Amazon has absolutely everything, they even offer like 40 of them, that would be so much fun. Crazy how they can get to you overnight.
best food processor ever, and I’ve used many. this should be at your door, hopefully you’ve unboxed it 🙂
after culinary school I became a sucker for white dinnerware, 12 of these Pillivuyt Coupe Porcelain Dinner and salad plates are coming your way

Ugh, and now I’m getting tired, so here are three recipes to get you started, even though I know you already make best mashed potatoes ever:

butternut squash soup

Butternut Squash Soup

2 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons canola oil

2 butternut squashes, about 3 lb. total weight, halved lengthwise and seeded

2 yellow onions, quartered

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, quartered, and cored

5 cups chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ cup half-and-half

1/3 cup coarsely chopped pistachios 

4 teaspoons minced fresh sage

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl, stir together the honey and the oil. Line a shallow baking dish with aluminum foil and arrange the squashes, onions, and apple in it. Brush the cut sides of the squash halves and the entire surface of the onions and apple with the honey mixture. Bake, turning all the pieces once or twice, until tender and well browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven, let cool, and then scoop the squash flesh out of the peel and chop coarsely. Chop the onions and apple. 

In a medium soup pot over medium heat, combine the squash, onion, apple, stock, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Partially cover and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. 

In a blender or food processor, puree the soup in batches until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and place over medium heat. Stir in the half-and-half and bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. 

Divide the soup among warmed shallow serving bowls. Evenly sprinkle each portion with the pistachios and sage and serve immediately. 

Classic Mashed Potatoes

5 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large uniform chunks

Salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (you know I simply feel this and add more)

1 2/3 cups whole milk, heated to simmer

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and add water to cover. Salt the water, bring to a boil over medium heat, cover partially, and cook, stirring once or twice, until the potatoes are very tender, about 40 minutes. Drain. 

Return the potatoes to the pan and place the pan over low heat. With a potato masher, mash the potatoes thoroughly. With a wooden spoon, fold the butter into the potatoes 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. Gradually stir in the hot milk. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Still using the wooden spoon, stir the potatoes until they are light and fluffy. 

Remove the pan from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve hot. (I always make them ahead, like first thing in the morning, and hold them over a Bain de maire).

Bread Dressing with Celery

¾ cup unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

4 cups finely chopped yellow onion

2 cups finely chopped celery, including some leafy tops

5 teaspoons poultry seasoning (I use Old Bay Seasoning)

2 teaspoons dried thyme

3 lb. firm white sandwich bread slices, stale or slightly toasted (I use white Pepperidge Farm and cut the crusts off and lay the cubes on a zillion cookie sheets all over the kitchen and butler’s pantry on like Tuesday evening)

5 eggs

6 cups chicken stock (must be scratch!) 

½ cup minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large frying pan over medium heat, melt the ¾ cup butter. Add the onion, celery, poultry seasoning, and thyme. Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. (This is what makes the house smell like Thanksgiving!).

Using a serrated knife, trim the crusts from the stale bread and cut into slices into ½-inch cubes. In a very large bowl, combine the bread and the onion mixture. 

In another bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Whisk in the stock. Stir the stock mixture into the bread mixture. Add the parsley, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 ½ teaspoons pepper. Stir well, breaking down the bread cubes to form a soft mass. 

Bake the dressing alongside a turkey in a 325-degree F oven: generously grease a 4-qt baking dish. Spoon the dressing into the prepared dish and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until the dressing is steaming hot, lightly browned on top, and well browned on the sides and bottom until moist, 30-35 minutes longer. Serve hot. 

(I used to stuff the bird with dressing, now I prefer baking it separately or making two batches and two turkeys and stuffing one bird).

To bake the dressing in a turkey, loosely stuff the turkey’s cavities with dressing and truss the larger opening. Increase the roasting time of the turkey by 35-45 minutes. Any dressing that doesn’t fit gets baked as above. 

Most of all, have fun with it, you’ll be surrounded by love, gratitude, and warm appreciation, and you’ll have steaks.

Love you always and forever,

mom

trust the process

great black turtleneck is always a good look

Last week I put up five trees, moved in all my geraniums at the country house while moving out all the furniture to Boston MA, and hosted a small working lunch for nine women. Sure, I had anxiety, we’re coming up on holiday season where expectations run high.

overwintering the geraniums, moved all the furniture to Boston in two big pods
papasan is from youngest daughter’s bedroom, kinda need somewhere to sit

Oldest daughter, the one living in Boston and on the receiving end of all of the furniture, says the goal this year is for me not to end up sick and in the fetal position on Christmas eve or any other day leading up to January 1st, as has been my move. I’ve been pacing myself, doing things early. 

One of my dear friends tells me the Christmas season is a man’s holiday, women invariably do a lot of the hustle. I’m telling myself to trust the process, it will go, it always does. 

two in the dining room, one in the living room, forgot to take that photo and its the best one 🙂
one in the family room
one in the upstairs sitting room, it looks great from the street at night

The thing is I love doing this kind of stuff, decorating, cooking, making things nice for those around me, all the while creating good memories and bringing people together. 

So, one thing at a time: trees are up, no skirts and no ornaments. These five trees here are brilliant, we used to do the fresh thing where husband and the kids would go out and get the biggest fresh thing they could find and then I would spend DAYS and NIGHTS wrestling with the lights, solo, of course. No more, last year on advice from my sister, she who designs events for hundreds of thousands in San Francisco, ordered in from Balsam Hill: I bought three of their revolutionary flip trees, and the two slender ones in the dining room go up in minutes, all lit! It’s genius. 

greens are dressed, plated, ready
with the warm French cheese in pastry
it was delicious, maybe a little heavy on the dressing, I panicked at the last minute, and I probably could have kept the plate rim a little cleaner
it was a working lunch meeting, I set the table and herbal iced tea waiting for everyone
I used three small juice glasses filled with parsley and rosemary from the country house down the middle of the table for the centerpieces
the English chocolate crisps with dried cranberries were delicious
I sent small packages of two home with each guest, no one really likes to eat desert at a lunch
the thing that I was most proud of was that my kitchen counter was clean and not like a hurricane happening

And the lunch? Everything from one of my favorites, Ina. I simply sat down with her Make It Ahead book and planned out the whole thing, beginning to end. We had Herbal Iced Tea, Salted Caramel Nuts, French Green Bean Salad with Warm Goat Cheese, and Chocolate English Crisps. I truly felt like a Barefoot Contessa

here’s the pile of cut greens waiting to be put in nine urns for outside decorations, gotta trust the process

The carrot bread recipe comes from one of my other inspirations, Martha of course. She’s an entirely different story, last night I was reading her blog, The Official Martha Blog, about her most recent dinner party in her brown room, she brought in chef’s, (plural!), and they had individual tangines. Her gardening escapades involve an entire staff, and they dig up and propagate and store Dahlia tubers and things, wow, #gardendreams. We can all aspire to entertain with ease; I think the key is to slow down and trust the process. Bite off what we can chew, do things slow and with intention, and for me, do things early. At fifty-four I’m finally learning that flying by the seat of my pants is not a good look, wink wink.

trying desperately to do the work early and not always fly by the seat of my pants

Basic Sheet Pans

dinner done quick

Nothing fancy here, and nothing makes me happier than dinner with my family. With good ingredients and a few sheet pans I can put out a weeknight meal that soothes the soul. This was one of those impromptu weeknights when both sons stopped over post-squash for a sit-down with us, the newly empty nesters. It was simple, and divine. Showing you the real life, messy kitchen counters and all.

No recipes, hot oven. Chicken thighs with butter, thyme, lemon juice. Roasted Brussels Sprouts with sea salt and olive oil. Baked sweet potatoes slathered with more good butter. Arugula tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and shaved parmesan. I have these sheet pans in multiple sizes and use them all the time. Here you see the quarter-size version, perfect for a party of four.