Previous month:
April 2013
Next month:
June 2013

Friday Link Love

Earlier this week, I had a totally glamorous day. A makeup artist came to my apartment, set up shop in the kitchen and made me look all dewy-cheeked and beachy-waved and well-rested before we sped across town to do a photo shoot for an article that will be appearing in the August issue of a German women's magazine called Emotion. Ooh, it was fun!

Since then I've been bogged down in a million other things: freelance work, decisions on the paperback cover for my book, finding a babysitter for Hugo, preparing for a super-secret, super-scary thing I'm doing tonight (it involves cooking and cameras, as in, video cameras, eep) and not getting enough sleep, but every now and then I stop and think about that blissful, self-indulgent afternoon and I feel all zen again.


These animal-cake videos are so totally charming. (Maybe for Hugo's 2nd birthday?)

How to make caramelized onions in bulk to use all week long.

Don't you love peering into other people's kitchens? (Via Abbey.)

For the love of potato pie.

Making the case for flour tortillas.

Buckwheat shortcakes with roasted rhubarb sound wonderful.

A nice little piece on Yotam Ottolenghi.

And finally, have you ever heard of Cooking with Dog? It's just so...weird and cute at the same time!

Have a great weekend, friends.

Marion Cunningham's Boston Brown Bread Muffins

Boston browd bread muffins, baked

Remember when muffins used to not be cake without frosting, but sort of semi-sweet, relatively wholesome breakfast treats? When I think about old-fashioned muffins, I conjure up elderly ladies in Maine, for some reason. They have slightly knobby fingers and some kind of wood paneling in their house and when their grandchildren come to visit, they pull out old aluminum tins and make a batch of muffins for them. Who knows where this fantasy comes from, but the overblown, greasebomb, missing-only-the-frosting cupcakes that now masquerade as muffins and populate every coffee shop between here and the West Coast of the United States really get me down.

So let's bring back the old-fashioned muffin, shall we? Only lightly sweetened, barely peeking over the edge of the muffin tin when fully baked, best spread with a little pat of fresh butter (that's how the old ladies in Maine do it, I'm sure)...and leave the cake bombs to someone else.

Boston brown bread muffin batter

If you're with me, and I hope you are, then start with this recipe, Marion Cunningham's brown bread muffins. It comes from her Breakfast Book, of course, and is perfect, of course. The muffins are made with a mix of flours - the rye gives the muffins some depth and the cornmeal the loveliest, faintest crunch. Molasses gives them the warmth of a New England winter and the buttermilk ensures a light and dainty crumb. The raisins soften and unpucker in the heat of the oven and when you come across one in a tender bite of muffin, it's a welcome pocket of chewy sweetness.

Boston brown bread muffins, cooling

When they're done and slightly cooled, I think these muffins taste best split open and swiped with something cool and creamy. Unsalted butter, as suggested above, or maybe the thinnest layer of cream cheese. Something to tame the slightly wild molasses flavor and to make these officially breakfast material.

Boston brown bread muffin

Wholesome, lightly sweet, normal-sized - they're just what the doctor ordered.

Marion Cunningham's Boston Brown Bread Muffins
From The Breakfast Book

Makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 egg
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup golden raisins

1. Heat oven to 400 F. Butter a standard muffin pan. Mix together the flours, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, molasses, sugar, oil, and buttermilk. Blend well. Stir the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix well.

2. Fill the prepared muffin tins 3/4 of the way and bake for 15 minutes, until your tester comes out clean. Serve hot with butter or cream cheese.

After The Whole30

After the Whole 30
Last Wednesday, my nutritional reset came to an end. I spent thirty days without eating grains of any kind, as well as eschewing dairy and soy and sugar and legumes (and alcohol and caffeine, which I rarely drink anyway) and, finally, it was over. Not five days earlier, I'd been crowing about the pizza topped with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes I was going to eat when the Whole30 was over. I couldn't wait to put milk in my tea again and eat yogurt for breakfast. But then the end came and went and that first bowl of yogurt? Actually made me feel a little lousy. And it turns out I didn't really want any milk in my tea after all - in fact, I didn't want any Earl Grey at all anymore. Toast? No, thank you. Pizza? Nah. Pasta, nuh-uh. All I wanted was to keep eating the way I had been for the past month.

You could have knocked me over with a feather made of fairy dust.

First things first: the results. I lost three kilos (six and a half pounds) during the Whole30, which brings me back to my pre-pregnancy weight, which is what I'd been hoping for. (Despite the weight loss, a lot of my old clothes just don't fit the way they used to, but such is life. In exchange, I got Hugo, so I'm definitely winning.) My joint pain didn't go away, but I don't think it has much to do with my diet now. And my insomnia did indeed get better. It took a while and it's not entirely gone, but it got much better. So, on the whole, I'd have to say that the Whole30 was, for me, a success.

Now. My thoughts. I don't know how people live like this all the time. For thirty days, it was fine. It was fun! It was challenging, but an enjoyable challenge. However, it burned a big hole in my bank account. BIG, people. Meat is expensive! As are nuts and organic fruits and vegetables and, seriously, how do people do it if they eat like this all the time? This is not a rhetorical question, I'm really wondering. I'm not a penny pincher when it comes to food, either.

Second of all, while I actually really enjoyed being forced to come up with new ways to enjoy meat (I think I ate more meat in the last month than in the entire previous year before that), I couldn't imagine being indefinitely deprived of all the variety of delicious foods available on our lovely planet. The textures and flavors and sheer versatility of grains and legumes and dairy products are such a delight! Living without them forever would be so sad.

(Also, I am personally of the persuasian that we humans should be eating a lot less meat and a lot more plants to do our part as environmentalists, so while a month of the Whole30 didn't mess with my conscience, I can't imagine continuing it for that reason alone.)

Now, I had been way too reliant on my daily sugar high before I started the Whole30 and I'm really glad that I was able to last the month without craving it at all. It was a bad habit that started in pregnancy and sustained me during the months of breastfeeding but then become nothing but an indulgence I didn't need anymore. So, while I don't want to live a life without bread and beans and yogurt, I really would like to eat less sugar. And I'm amazed to say that of all the things I'm "allowed" to eat again, cake (or whatever) is nowhere on the list of things I crave.

Things it turns out I love? Sweet potato fries made with David's sage-and-rosemary rub. Almond milk. Oat-free granola. Cashew butter. Homemade beef broth.

If you're thinking about doing the Whole30, my only advice is to really commit to the whole month. Don't give up after a week. Remember those fuzzy headaches I got? They disappeared after 9 days. I got struck with the grumps around Day 18, but otherwise I felt an incredible clarity of mind that lasted until the end. I stopped having exhausted slumps in the afternoon and I felt full of energy, even on little sleep. And while just five days before the end, as I mentioned, I was exultant about the Whole30 ending, by the time it actually did end, it turned out that reset was the right word. I felt totally reprogrammed.

The challenge now is to find my way back out of the Whole30. So tonight, there shall be oyster sauce on my bok choy! And tomorrow, I plan to stew rhubarb with some sugar! This is the life.

Happy Memorial Day to you folks in the States. I can smell your barbecues and freshly cut grass all the way over here.

Spicy Cabbage with Bacon, Shrimp and Tomatoes

Spicy sautéed cabbage with shrimp, bacon and tomatoes

It's a holiday here again, one of a few this month that gives us a nice, stretched-out weekend and a Monday that is eerily quiet. Max left early this morning to get some work done back in Kassel. When the front door closed behind him, the baby started crying and then I almost cried at the sound of it. I don't know who I felt worse for, the baby or Max. Usually, Max leaves late Sunday night, long after Hugo's gone to bed. It's a lot tougher when the kid's around to realize he's being left.

We had the loveliest weekend, though, especially yesterday, when we spent the afternoon in my friend Kim's garden, grilling meat and eating salads under a few sun umbrellas, the kids playing in the sandbox. It was one of those perfect days that you wished didn't have to end. It wasn't just the weather that was perfect, it was the general mood, the feeling that we were just where we were supposed to be, soaking up the warmth and indolence in quite the right way. Whenever expat friends of mine get irritated about how the whole country goes quiet on Sundays, I have to think about perfect days like yesterday. They'd be so much harder to enjoy if you knew that you could also be running errands or working. A day of rest should be just that.

Later, after we'd gotten home and bathed the sand and strawberry juice off the baby and put him to bed and were preparing to sit down and watch a spectacularly terrible movie on the couch, legs all tangled up together for a few more hours, I realized we had nothing for dinner. I managed to cobble together a few things from the fridge (sliced beets, boiled broccoli, a few sad tomatoes sautéed with a past-its-prime zucchini), but they were a little unsatisfying and I wished we'd had a head of green cabbage in the fridge - plain, old, green cabbage, because with that around, you never go hungry.

Spicy cabbage with shrimp and tomatoes

Whenever there's nothing in the fridge but green cabbage, I make Brandon's spicy cabbage, or a variation thereof, and we always finish dinner thinking about why don't we eat it more often. It's the best kind of empty-pantry meal. You need hardly anything to make it, it's plentiful and filling and delicious and spicy (I up the quantity of sambal oelek), and it comes together in hardly any time at all.

The most recent twist I made on the recipe involved a little diced Speck, some canned tomatoes and frozen shrimp, because I wanted something a little heftier and more substantial to make it a one-plate dinner. The extra ingredients gave the cabbage a slightly Mediterranean feel and the tomatoes smoothed and sweetened the hot bite of the sambal oelek. I even ate the (cold!) leftovers for breakfast the next day. Me! Miss-toast-and-honey! Wonders will never cease. (Also, I highly recommend it.)

Happy Monday, folks.

Spicy Cabbage with Bacon, Shrimp and Tomatoes
Serves 2-3

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cup diced lean bacon or Speck
1/3 - 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 can plum tomatoes in juice, shredded with your fingers
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (or more or less to taste)
1 1/2 cups small frozen shrimp, defrosted
1/2 lime

1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat, until glossy and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the diced bacon and cook for another few minutes.

2. Dump the sliced cabbage into the pan and mix well, using tongs, to distribute the onions and bacon through the cabbage. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, and the sambal oelek. Stir well to combine. Lower heat to medium, cover the pan and let cook 10 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan and add the shrimp. Stir to distribute. Cover the pan and let cook until the shrimp are just cooked through and pink. Squeeze 1/2 lime over the cabbage, stir well and serve immediately.

Friday Link Love


We've had a run of gorgeous days here - the lilac bushes are heavy with blossoms, the night air is gentle and warm. My father is in town all week and Hugo's been having the time of his life with Grandpa - every day they head to the zoo, the park or the playground. When they come home, Hugo has dirt caked under his fingernails and the happiest, sweetest smile on his little face. Last weekend, while my father babysat, Max and I were even able to get dressed up, fancy shoes (for me) and everything, and go out to dinner by ourselves. Heaven! Heaven was also getting to celebrate my first Mother's Day at an Arab brunch with my boys, Hugo digging everything from fried zucchini to roast chicken to lamb meatballs to smoky eggplant salad.

I'm in the final days of the Whole30 now and am sort of amazed at how I barely even notice what I'm "missing out" on anymore. It's all become sort of second-nature, though I definitely couldn't live like this long-term. I'll have more to say on the whole thing next week when it's over, but it's been a really great challenge. I dare say I've even enjoyed it (mostly). Also: sweet potato fries! So, so, so delicious, especially when made with this.


A delicious idea for using up leftover roast potatoes (third recipe down).

Zachary Maxwell is fighting for better public school lunch in New York City.

Plain and simple Madeira cake (check out the loveliness of the rest of the blog too, which celebrates English food).

A "foreign man" bought 60 jars of Christine Ferber jam in Alsace the other day, hee.

Baja fish tacos, plus photos of the beautiful region.

A brilliant solution to a grocery store's surplus food.

Jennifer discovered that cornbread made with Maseca instead of cornmeal is cake-like and tender.

Loved reading this thoughtful interview with Suzanne Goin.

And finally, squid stuffed with beans! Go, Nigel, go.

Have a lovely, lilac-scented weekend, everyone.

Balancing Work and Motherhood


It was brought to my attention that mentioning the hard week Hugo and I had was a little alarming to some of you. I should have given more detail, perhaps, or not made it sound just so terribly awful. I'm sorry if what I wrote was upsetting to some - it never occurred to me that there might be people out there who were worried by what I wrote. To relieve the pressure I sometimes feel from parenting Hugo alone so much of the time, it helps to write about it here and there, mention it, get it off my chest, then move on.

But after I heard from many of you privately, I felt like I needed to explain a few things.

First of all, I realized that I rarely write about Hugo when things are good. And they are so often so very good. We have been blessed with an impossibly lovely child who has made the majority of his first year quite easy on his mother. When you consider that I am his sole caretaker five days a week, all day long, that's quite a feat. Not a day goes by when I don't feel lucky to have so much of Hugo to myself, to get to really see every tiny stage of development he goes through. Particularly because I know how acutely Max misses being around us every day, I feel a responsibility to witness everything Hugo does for both of us, to be present as much as I possibly can. It's a privilege that I've had as much time home with him as I have.

But of course things get tough sometimes. Of course they do! A few months ago, Hugo - in a very short window of time - simply stopped taking naps in his crib. He'll sleep in the stroller or car seat for 30 minutes, 40 if I'm lucky, but if I put him in his crib at naptime, he screams and screams (and pulls himself to standing and screams and screams). In addition, the poor thing has been cutting four teeth in at the same time. FOUR! He's been in pain for months.

Teething, over-tiredness, what we think is sadness at seeing Max so infrequently manifesting itself as massive clinginess with me - and all of this on my shoulders without a break, 12 hours every day. It's hard, no matter what kind of angel I birthed. But still, you need to know that most days Hugo is a peach. A beaming, chattering, toothy peach who strokes your face lovingly if you get close to him, who full-body-bops to music like an old pro, whether it's Haydn or blues, who charms the pants off every single woman (and many men!) who we pass on our daily outings, who purses up his lips and blows each time he sees a mobile or a hanging lamp or a tree branch silhouetted against the sky, who pages through books in silent concentration, who goes to bed without protest and sleeps so well that I'm too superstitious to say any more than that, and who always lowers his head on my shoulder just before bedtime so I can hear him breathing in my ear just as he did as a newborn and a four-month old and an eight-month old, giving me the opportunity to once again tell myself: don't ever forget this sound, this feeling; don't ever, ever forget it.


For many months, I didn't want to do anything but be Hugo's mother. I relished staying home and caring for him all day. I didn't care about work or cooking or anything but being there for him. It was a delicious immersion into another world - I felt deeply fulfilled and totally happy. But over the past few months, I've started feeling the urge to work again. Not just because we are most definitely a two-income household, but because I have that old creative itch again. It's wonderful! I'm so happy it's back! It's also...impossible without outside help.

How can I get any meaningful work done when 12 hours a day I can't do anything but take care of Hugo? We have organized a daycare spot for him, but it's not until next January. (In Germany, it's hard to find daycare for children under the age of 12 to 18 months.) And because Hugo only naps on the go, I can only work after he's gone to bed in the evening, at which point I'm tired myself, exhausted, really, and hungry and want nothing more than to crawl into bed and fall asleep while reading. (Related: If you sent me an email sometime between June 12, 2012 and now and are wondering why I haven't responded yet? This would be why. I am very sorry and also a little embarrassed.)

So, help.

Three things that helped me see the light on what a (or this) self-employed writer and mother needs to do in order to be able to work and continue to parent well were:

1. This gorgeous post, Help Is (Not) A Four-Letter Word by Rebecca Woolf.
2. A chapter called No Mystery About Sperm in Tiny Beautiful Things.
3. Talking to my village of girlfriends who are mothers and who all have slightly different situations in terms of childcare, but who all have childcare.
(4. And this post is good too.)

Lightbulb! All of a sudden, things seem possible again. Instead of trying to squeeze in a few emails and writing sessions before bed and feeling frustrated that I can't get work done while Hugo naps in his stroller and I'm stuck on the park bench, I have the prospect of real time for myself again. I can finally go ahead with that site redesign that is sucking up so much of my mental space. Take control of my blog advertising once and for all, so that this beloved blog of mine can start to be a source of meaningful income again. I can get started on that second book that my agent has so gently been prodding me about. And maybe even possibly ooh I don't know have a little time over for long-shot dreams like my novel. In the meantime, Hugo gets to be entertained and loved by a whole new energetic young person and I get to mother him feeling refreshed and ready for everything he wants to do. Maybe a little distance will even mean that naptime goes from being a big battlefield of anxiety for me to just a thing that my little peach does in his own quirky way, no big deal.

Uh, yes to all of that, please. As my mother likes to say sometimes, I can be a little slow, but I get there eventually.

So that's where we are these days, dear readers. Figuring out next steps, acknowledging that help is not a bad word, but a necessary part of this woman's daily life as a breadwinner and a loving mommy, and thinking that even though he does sometimes drive me to distraction (show me a kid who doesn't?), I feel like I won the lottery when it comes to Hugo, the bright shining light of my life.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth

Meatballs! Oh, meatballs. Is there a more wonderful food? More pleasing to shriek out loud whilst walking your child, more lovely to mix and roll, more delicious to eat? I usually make meatballs in sauce, like the good Italian I am, and forget how many other ways there are to eat meatballs. But when Katie reminded me the other day, I practically tripped over myself getting to the store to buy ground pork.

I mean, ground pork flavored with mint and chiles and garlic and scallions, rolled into little balls and then suspended in broth? Hello? Was there ever any chance that I would hear about this recipe and not make it? No, I tell you. NO. (They're like skinless wontons in soup! In fact, next time I might actually wrap them in wonton skins.)

The recipe comes from Nigel Slater's Tender, his book on growing and cooking with vegetables, and it makes me giggle to no end that the original title for this recipe is Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale.


Why, if you are given the opportunity to use the word meatball, would you ever shy away from using it? Doesn't Nigel know MEATBALL! is how you sell a recipe? Chicken Broth with Pork and Kale, I mean, I wouldn't even bother reading the recipe after seeing that title. I'd just flip on by. Tell me you wouldn't. GO AHEAD. (Yeesh! I'm worked up or something!)

Anyway, I am herewith rebranding the recipe as Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth, because meatballs deserve all the love and attention they command, every last drop of it. Loud and proud, meatballs, loud and proud.

Now, onto the recipe. It is so easy a child could do it. You simply flavor ground pork with chiles and herbs and garlic and scallions, then roll it into little balls. Emphasis on little! You want these to be one-bite meatballs, maximum two-bite. Then you lower them into simmering broth for a few minutes. The original recipe has you fry them first, but we all know how I feel about that. The meatballs taste just as delicious and you get to skip a whole, messy, pan-dirtying step. Boom!

Of course it'd be best if you made this with your own, lovingly prepared chicken broth. Of course! Of course. However, I am here to tell you that I made these with Better Than Bouillon vegetable stock (I should be getting stock options in the company at this point, shouldn't I?) (and yes, I know that it is most definitely not Whole30-approved, but life is full of tragic decisions and this was never going to be one of them) and it was sublime. Seriously! Totally delectable.

Finally, the original recipe tells you to blanch kale leaves and then float them in the broth (which is what Katie did, if you'd like photographic support). But kale has cleared out of stores here (and thank goodness is all I can say to that), so instead I used a very firm, very fresh zucchini sliced paper-thin and just threw the slices in at the very end of the cooking time. Why the zucchini? Because it's all I had in terms of green vegetables. Honest! No other reason. I imagine that a few spinach leaves would be nice here, too.

Meatballs! The best.

Nigel Slater's Pork Meatballs in Broth
Serves 3 or 4

500 grams (1 pound) ground pork
2 small hot chiles
4 scallions
2 cloves garlic
6 sprigs mint
6 springs cilantro or parsley
1.5 liters (6 cups) vegetable or chicken broth
1 fresh, firm zucchini, sliced paper-thin

1. Put the pork in a mixing bowl. Finely chop the chiles and add them with their seeds to the pork. Slice the scallions, discarding the roots and the very darkest tips of the leaves. Peel and mince the garlic, and add with the scallions to the pork. Pull the parsley or cilantro and mint leaves from their stems and chop coarsely, then add them to the pork with the salt. Mix everything thoroughly with your hands and form into about sixteen balls, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.

2. Bring the stock to a boil in and season with salt and pepper. Lower in the pork balls and then decrease the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, until they are cooked through. Add the zucchini slices to the soup and serve one or two minutes later.