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Molly Wizenberg's Homemade Life


(A disclaimer: My camera is in rehab. I am without it for at least 2 weeks while the kind folks at Nikon repair the damage I inflicted on it when it fell out of my lap in Berlin onto the sidewalk, landing squarely on the lens and damaging the camera body, too. Sob. I was going to use my trusty old point-and-shoot in the interim, but I can't find the cable that connects it to the computer anymore. Double sob. So I'm using my iPhone camera. Yes. And it stinks. I know. Patience.)

My dearest readers, thank you all so much for your comments, your emails, your love sent from across the borough, the city, the country, the world. I know we don't know each other, traditionally, let's say, but all the love and comfort I felt and still feel reading through what you wrote to me sustains me as much as any hug from a good friend. Really truly.

I think I've said it before, but I'll say it again. After all, it bears repeating. This decision to start a blog four years ago? One of the best of my life. This internet thing? Such a lovely place. I love the little spot I've carved out for myself here. Sometimes I imagine it as a cozy little den where I've got a nice fire roaring, a few warm lights flickering, a pot of something or other bubbling quietly on the stove and all of you gathered around with a cup of tea or a glass of wine to sit and chat with me for hours.

Back in the summer of 2005, when I started the blog, I didn't expect this to happen, to have an audience of more than a few. I was a little wary of the internet, of social networking sites and group blogging events, to say nothing of internet dating. I liked my real-world, flesh-and-blood community and I liked to write. I figured all that would come of the site would be a writing practice and the chance to work through all those damn recipes clogging my desk drawers.

And then. The first comment came in. And then the next. And the third. There were emails and more comments and before I knew it, I was totally charmed. There was a whole other community, a virtual one, to fall into, to be a part of. And it wasn't nearly as scary as I thought. In fact, it was rather warm. After all, we sit around writing about recipes, swapping notes, cooking for each other, right? It's like one big Kaffeeklatsch. I love it.


My first and most loyal pen pal was sweet Molly at Orangette. We wrote each other great big emails about life and love and food and then we met and talked for hours and then we wrote some more. You know the term kindred spirit? I think that's a pretty good term for what she is to me. I know I'm not alone when I say that I always knew she'd write a book. Right? She's just got it. And what a book she finally did write, A Homemade Life, filled to bursting with stories of her father, her love affairs, meeting her husband, and more. It's juicy and beautifully written, it brought me to tears more than once, and even made me laugh out loud. It's just like Molly herself.

Best of all, I suppose, is that once you've devoured the book and have gone and told your dad how much you love him, and planned a trip to Paris, and daydreamed about finding your own true love, you can cook from the book. And cook from it I have. From a bitter-creamy salad of endive, avocado, radicchio and feta, to tender little tuna bouchons flavored with Gruyère and parsley, to slow-roasted tomatoes sprinkled with ground coriander (you, quite literally, cannot just eat one), the book is crammed with good food. I've kept it by my bedside and I've had it splayed open in the kitchen and sometimes I think I should just have two copies, one for each place.

This weekend I finally tried her banana bread (you know about Molly and the special place in her heart for banana bread) with crystallized ginger and chocolate. The recipe first appeared on her site years ago, but she tweaked and perfected it over the years and now it's something else entirely. A delicious, elegant loaf that is not too sweet, spicy in places, and oozing with melty little pockets of chocolate. It's quite a triumph. Much like her book. Much like herself.

So proud of you, girl.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
Makes 1 loaf or 1 8-inch round cake

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray or butter.

2. Melt the butter on the stove or in a microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and crystallized ginger and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top.

5. Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to an hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil.

6. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing. The loaf freezes well wrapped in plastic wrap and again in foil to protect from freezer burn.

On Love and Baked Beans


I think it's time for me to spill the beans. I've been mulling it over for a long time, how to tell you all the news, and as long as I couldn't figure out how to tell it, I thought it best just to keep it to myself. It's been a long time since I've had much of an appetite for cooking, is the thing. And writing about cooking when you're not in the mood to eat isn't a lot of fun, not for the writer and not for the readers, either.

The truth is, Ben and I parted ways a few months ago. It was a long, hard winter in more ways than one. But we did our very best, I think, tried as hard as we could.

Ben was a huge part of this website, a loyal eater and regular inspiration for the posts I wrote, so his absence in my life is making blogging harder than I expected. Part of it was the elephant-in-the-room effect. But cooking for one, as I think many of you know, can be tough, too. Newspaper recipes don't inspire me and I can't seem to work up an appetite for much beyond spaghetti with tomato sauce and the occasional salad.

Tonight, standing in line at the grocery store with my dutiful purchases of low-fat yogurt, fibrous cereal and pre-washed arugula, I suddenly got the urge, rather the hunger, for baked beans. When I was a little girl, my father made baked beans from a can on a regular basis and for me, it's one of my most reliable comfort foods. I couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to me sooner. I zipped out of the line to the bean aisle, grabbed a can and finished checking out.

And indeed, as I ate them heated up and spooned onto a plate with braised kale, it felt good to finally be hungry for something. Cloying, fudgy, vinegary baked beans: who knew that they'd be the things that would make me actually want to enter my kitchen again? The mind and the stomach work in mysterious ways.

And you know, despite all the rain that seems to be following me from New York to Los Angeles to Berlin and back, life keeps surprising me with unexpected moments of joy and peace. I'm holding onto those with one hand and a can of baked beans with the other. Bear with me as I find my way back to the stove.

Melissa Clark's Pasta with Turkish-Style Beef, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce


Oof. That ever happen to you? You spend a big part of your evening grocery shopping, prepping, and cooking, only to find yourself - twenty minutes later - staring at the half-eaten plate of pasta in front of you, wishing you'd just fixed a salad?

I hate it when that happens. Especially when it's with a recipe I've been hoarding forever - and something that sounds as good as pasta with turkish-style lamb, eggplant and yogurt sauce. Right? Sounds tasty, doesn't it? The thing is, the meal indeed was pretty good. I used Melissa Clark's recipe, subbing ground beef for lamb (it's what I had in the freezer). What you do is roast eggplant at very high heat - a nice little trick in and of itself, since you end up with meltingly soft on the inside, super-crisp on the outside, addictive little eggplant cubes - and then combine that with sauteed ground beef flavored with shallots, minced garlic and a generous amount of Aleppo pepper.

(Aleppo pepper! Aleppo pepper. I could say that all day long. It just rolls off the tongue so nicely, wouldn't you say? Aleppo pepper!)

You serve that mixture over boiled pasta (orecchiette would be best) and top it off with browned butter and garlicky yogurt. Manti, deconstructed, as Melissa says. So, yes, it's all very delicious and interesting and all that, but still, I just couldn't get my appetite up.

Am I secretly - even to myself - considering vegetarianism? Was it just too much food (Melissa says this serves 2 to 3 people, but eyeballing my leftovers, I think at least 4 could be happy)? Did I get overwhelmed by the amount of leftovers staring me down? It's a Thursday morning mystery, is what it is. In the meantime, does anyone want to come over for dinner tonight?

Pasta with Turkish-Style Beef, Eggplant and Yogurt Sauce
Serves 4

1 large eggplant, about 1 pound, in 1/2 -inch cubes
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon red pepper, preferably Turkish or Aleppo, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, more to taste
1/2 pound orecchiette or penne pasta
2 to 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, to taste (I barely used a tablespoon)
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil for pasta.

2. Toss eggplant with 4 tablespoons oil and a large pinch of salt (I also mistakenly added one minced garlic clove here). Spread on a baking sheet, making sure there is room between pieces, and roast until crisp and brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

3. In a large skillet, heat remaining tablespoon oil. Add 2 minced garlic cloves and the shallot and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add beef, 1/2 teaspoon salt, red pepper, and black pepper to taste. Sauté until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in mint and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir eggplant into beef. Taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt butter: the amount is to your taste. Let cook until it turns golden brown and smells nutty, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together yogurt, remaining garlic (well, I didn't have any remaining garlic, plus I don't like raw garlic, so I left the yogurt garlic-less) and a pinch of salt.

5. Drain pasta and spread on a serving platter. Top with beef-eggplant mixture, then with yogurt sauce. Pour melted butter over top. Sprinkle on additional red pepper and more mint. Serve immediately.

Ich bin ein(e) Berliner(in)


Despite my best-laid plans to spend my week in Berlin splayed out on its grassy splendors, basking in northern European sunshine, it rained pretty steadily at some point of every day that I was there, and was as chilly as any autumn I have experienced in recent memory. It took me a while to sort through my grayish photos (and the rather blurry ones, since I managed to drop my camera squarely on its lens on my second day there - ack) to find the few that I snapped during the few moments that the clouds parted and the sun came through. Still, I tried to not let the rain stop me. I discovered new markets, filled to bursting with fat white asparagus, sensuously blooming peonies, big turkey eggs, jewel-like berries, and breads baked with every grain possibly known to man.


I walked the streets of old neighborhoods whose streets I know as well as the back of my hand, and went poking around curiously in new ones, marveling at how that city manages to be so familiar and so foreign to me at the same time. In half of the city, it sometimes feels like I never left. In the other half, there's a whole new world waiting to be discovered, a whole new population of people whose concept of their city is so different than mine.


There was a picnic, a day trip to Potsdam and its Dutch quarter, a walk among the graves of Prussian army generals, endless cups of tea and chats with legs curled up beneath me, and a few late nights, too; so late that I saw the sun come up again, birds a-tweeting, streets deserted, a rather strange sensation in my stomach that I believe must have been remembrance of what it's like to be in high school, exhilarated and late and hurrying home before mom wakes up in the semi-darkness to notice what time it is and that you're still not back.


I didn't get my beloved Pflaumenkuchen - I'll need to go back in a few months for that - but I did manage a Zwetschgenknödel - a steamed dumpling filled with sweet-tart plums, rolled in sweetened breadcrumbs and dabbed lightly with vanilla sauce. This is more Austrian than Berliner, but I can't walk past a fruit dumpling without buckling, no matter where I am. And learning the recipe for rote Grütze was easier than expected - now I just have to figure out how to make fresh Damson plum juice and we are in business.


On my last day in Berlin, the sun came out with full force, bathing the city with light, casting a golden sheen over every last wildflower, green leaf, aging bicycle, pulsing fountain, cobblestoned street. I ran my errands, saw my people, hurried from appointment to appointment, until I couldn't manage even one more word of another conversation. I left the apartment and threw myself down on the soft grass at the little square where I spent so many afternoons in my childhood, my adolescence and my young adulthood, watching the fountain do its magic until it was turned off and the sun peeled itself away from my body and the grass grew cold beneath me.


Berlin is a funny place. Not splendid like Paris, not filled with obvious magic. But beautiful in its own way, jolie-laide, as the French would say. Stunning in parts and rather homely in others, but filled to bursting with little details that you could miss if you weren't paying attention. Much has been written about the layers of history in Berlin, and it's true, tracking all that stuff is enough to fuel a hundred visits. But I like finding other strange little things, too, like these two gummy candies in the shape of bats, lying quietly and neatly on Winterfeldstraße, super heroes in disguise.


Or the fact that the city's meridians, its pathways, sidewalks, and parks aren't carefully tended to and mowed, but rather left to grow and blossom wildly, so that little flowers - white and purple and pink - crop up all over the place and grasses wave gently in the wind of the passing vehicles. Fat roses droop over the sidewalks, clover pushes through the cracks, the city's air is heavy with the perfume of linden trees, each gust of wind bringing another wave towards you, scenting even the grittiest corners with sylvan grace.


One week wasn't enough; it never is. I know, I am a broken record on this subject, on this, and many others pertaining to living far away from home, feeling neither of one place or another, or rather, feeling of so many places at once, a heart twice, thrice divided. But I'm glad I saw Berlin in summer again, saw the long fingers of the sun after dinner, heard the church bells at sunset, sat out several rainstorms and a rainbow in a cozy cafe, saw friends in short sleeves, ate dripping strawberries en plein air. Sometimes you just have to hold on to what you have and count your lucky stars, even when it hurts.

More photos here.

On The Road Again


My darlings, I am crazed. 5 weeks ago I was in Paris. Then I flew to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, and in a few hours I'm off to Berlin. The past few months have been nuts, really, and to say that my kitchen is getting dusty is probably understating it. You've been so patient with me when I've had less and less time to cook and to write, and I'm sorry I don't have much for you today either. Except for a promise to come back from Berlin laden with good things for you all.

It's the first time I'll have been there in the summer months in eight years, and while the weather prognosis is not all that sunny, it still means I'll get to eat Pflaumenkuchen and maybe even Rote Grütze (I'm not counting on that second one). Ride a bike, pick strawberries, stroll the fleamarkets without fear of frostbite, and see the sky stay light until at least 10 pm. I haven't had a single moment to even really look forward to this trip yet, but now that I'm telling you about it, I'm feeling some relaxation steal gently over my shoulders. So thank you, readers, for being my audience and for listening.

I'll see you soon.