November 16, 2014

cream cheese (crack) cookies

I ate my first cream cheese cookie in the company of a two day old baby named Etta. A flock of us had descended on the new mom and her sweet new baby girl while they were in the hospital, recuperating and getting acquainted, and as it goes with welcoming parties, there were cookies. I brought whole wheat chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and my friend Katie brought these cream cheese cookies, baked on a whim after spotting them online. The whole wheat cookies were good, as they always are, but the cream cheese cookies were noteworthy with a familiar flavor and comforting gooey center wrapped by a crisp outer edge. It was, we agreed, a freaking awesome cookie. We named them crack cookies (as it turns out many of the commenters of Food52 did too) and set in to eat the rest of the parchment-protected layers of cookies while we listened intently to the story of Etta's arrival. 

It was a moment I think of often. The colors that accompany the memory are white and blue, white for the snow outside and the crisp sheets inside, and blue for the bean filled breast feeding pillow that was tucked between new mom and new baby. There were seven of us crammed in little room. Those were my people, my expat family, enjoying the arrival of a new member. And another three of us were pregnant. We were growing a community from scratch, right here in Zürich. A community with killer good cookies. 

The thing with expat communities is that they unravel, it's their nature. People arrive with no real idea of how long they'll stay, but they know it's not forever, and that one day they'll leave. Shortly after that hospital room snow-globe-moment the leaving started. First it was April and Bryan and little Etta, then it was Katie, then Jenna and Felix, then Lindsay and James, then Laura and Paul, and then Allie and Dan, and with all of them a little piece of my commitment to Zürich and life as an expat. I feel like a Jenga piece at the top of the tower after too many pieces have been pulled out beneath. It's wobbly up here as I lean towards loving Zürich and then quickly towards wanting to leave. 

It's hard being left behind. At least that's how it feels, that as our friends move on to a new adventure, a new life, that we are left in their wake. I'm still struggling to make my way in this city without them. Those of us that remain have made new friends and I'm grateful for that, but there's something special about "the originals," as I think of them. We all arrived at the same time so there was no need to try and integrate into an already existing group, we inaugurated the group. Our friendships were natural and they happened quickly because we were desperate to grab onto anyone who understood our new identity as an expat. The friendships I make now take more effort, mostly because Alice makes it hard to get out to meet new friends, but that said, there are friends who have easily slipped into my life and I made one of them these cookies last week. I wrapped them in parchment and took them to her and her new baby, tucked into a room just down the hall from where we welcomed Etta and ate cookies.

I guess this is all just to say that life goes on, the community changes, and it's hard, but the cookies are good and they stay put. Oh, and that I have no idea how much longer we'll be here and it's beginning to grate on me. 

These cookies are good. They taste, how can I say it, familiar? It swear I've had a cookie that tastes just like it, but I can't come up with it. Zach says they taste like cotton candy. One friend says they taste a bit like coconut, and another said they taste like a mix between Nilla Wafers and ginger snaps. What I can tell you is that they don't taste like cream cheese, not at all. The cream cheese manages to bring the best out of the flour, sugar and butter. And I believe it has everything to do with the delicious texture change from crisp edge to soft middle.

According to the pictures on Food 52 they are supposed to be a bit more lofty in the middle. I read through the comments and it seems like it's important to use Philadelphia Cream Cheese to ensure that they keep a hump in the middle, which I did, but perhaps the cream cheese is different in Switzerland. This is just to say that your cookie might not be as flat, but they will be good.

Cream Cheese Cookies 
from Food52

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350ºF/180ºC.  In an stand mixer cream the butter, cream cheese, and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Mix in the flour and salt until just incorporated.

Use a tablespoon to measure out the dough onto the parchment paper lined baking sheets, leaving room between cookies because they spread. Bake for about 12-14 minutes or until the edges are brown and crispy. Be sure not to over bake, otherwise the middles won't be chewy. Let the cookies cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet and then transfer them with a spatula to a wire cooling rack.

November 08, 2014


In our house Birchermüesli is part breakfast and part sanity savior. That is to say, it's a sure thing. And sure things when it comes to feeding a toddler are worthy of a pedestal and entire shelf in the refrigerator. I know, it sounds like I'm at risk of feeding her peanut butter and jelly until she goes to college, but don't worry, I won't let it come to that. I offer her new food and lots of vegetables everyday, but it's just that on any given day I don't know what she'll eat and what she'll spit out. Peas can go either way, so can broccoli, and oatmeal, and even toast. There's no logic to it and it's maddening. I try to check my hope and frustration at the kitchen sink with the dirty dishes, but it's tough when you're feeding a child who recently developed a stubborn streak. And besides, feeding her is a big part of being her mom, and it has been from the beginning. Back in those itsy bitsy days it felt like it was all I did, but I did it well, we made a good team. Now, not so much. And what am I supposed to do? Stop trying? No, obviously not, and that's where the Birchermüesli comes in, because on any given day, whether she eats everything or spits everything out, I know that at least she'll have a good breakfast and that's a place to start. 

I've been meaning to tell you about Birchermüesli for awhile now. Really ever since we discovered it four years ago. At one point there was a grand plan in place sample all the muesli in town to find the best one, but that never transpired and I'm certainly not about to schlep a wiggly toddler all around town anytime soon. And besides we've settled on a favorite and it happens to be from the bakery a few blocks away from our apartment. It is so easy to pick it up on our walk to or from home that I rarely make it and I don't actually know if many Swiss do make it at home because it's so readily available out, perhaps a bit like the baguette in France - why bake it when you can buy it better? However, recently the price has been getting to me as has the fact that it has cream mixed in, which seems like a bit of a luxury for everyday consumption, especially since I have no idea how much, so I started making it at home. And it's good. We all agree. Or at least Zach and I agree, and Alice eats it. 
Before we get under way I think it's important to note the differences between Birchermüesli and it's close relative müsli; Birchermüesli is a mixture of oats, yogurt, and fruit soaked overnight to create a creamy and dense yogurt oatmeal of sorts and müsli is a dry mix of cereal grains, seeds, and dried fruits that is eaten with milk or sprinkled on yogurt. You can use a müsli mix to make Birchermüesli, although I don't. Birchermüesli can take on a lot of different variations, and there are more than a handful of different ways to prepare it, but I'm partial to the way the bakery down the street makes it so that is the route I've taken at home. 

So what it is about the neighborhood bakery's Birchermüesli that we like? Well it's thick and hefty and packed with fruit. It's also relatively simple, with a base of plain yogurt, rolled oats and grated apple. From there fruit is added, whole blueberries and raspberries, and sliced pear and banana. A sprinkle of seeds and nuts is added with a delicate hand and then a dash of milk, or in their case cream (maybe even whipped cream because it's so lofty and airy) it is all mixed and then left to mingle together while the oats absorb the liquid from the yogurt and fruit. It's a complete breakfast, healthy and fortifying, and delicious. 

There's a bit of history around Birchermüesli, which is that it was developed by a Swiss physician, Max Bircher-Benner around 1900, in an effort to get his patients to move away from the overly heavy meat and potatoes diet of the day and towards one based on raw fruit. During that time Switzerland was well known for it's sanatoriums and wellness retreats that offered fresh alpine air, sun, and healthy food. From what I can tell Benner-Bircher's original muesli was made with water instead of yogurt, but based on all the Birchermüesli we've sampled at hotels and cafes while living here, it seems as though yogurt is a more common base these days. 

Birchermüesli is adaptable to your preferences. You can adjust the amount of fruit or oats, or add nuts and seeds. (I don't add nuts because Alice isn't a fan, but hazelnuts and sunflower seeds are common additions.) The yogurt could also be replaced with milk or almond milk for a soupier variety. It's up to you, but I think the recipe that follows is a good place to start and then you can change it up. 


2 cups plain yogurt 
3/4 cup quick cooking oats
2 apples
1 pear
1 banana
3/4 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen, if frozen defrost)
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup. 

Dice the pear, slice the banana, and grate the apple with the skin on and put them in a big bowl. Mix in the yogurt, oats, raspberries, milk, and maple syrup and stir until combined. Pour the mixture into a container and place it in the fridge to sit overnight, or at least six hours. Enjoy within a few days. 

October 23, 2014

alpine escape

I'm sitting in an Italian style espresso bar, by myself (!!!!) enjoying a latte machiatto with a dense foam top dusted with an entire packet of sugar. It only looks like a dusting because half of the packet slipped down a little well in the middle of the foam and settled to the bottom of the glass. That will be a nice last sip, like melted coffee ice cream. 

I should be drinking iced tea - not that they have any here - because that is what I'm going to tell you about in this post, how iced tea helps reinvigorate me when I'm alone, but after panicking over a wallet that was lost and then found (with the cards, but none of the cash), caffeine was on call this afternoon. And, ooo eee, it tastes good. 

A L O N E. Not a state I find myself in very often. Yes, I have some time to myself when Alice is sleeping or Zach is home on the weekends, but that isn't really alone time, when she's just around the corner snoozing and threatening to wake up just as I'm in the middle of something really productive. Up until recently we didn't have a babysitter and it was me and Alice, mano y mano, everyday, all day. I love her to pieces and I miss her when she naps, but man it's tough some days to be on and ready to sing and dance and weather playgrounds in the cold. Now, thankfully, we have a wonderful babysitter who steps in on Thursday afternoons to entertain our babe and give me a break. Thank heaven for little girls, and thank heaven for babysitters. 

Now, let's' chat about iced tea. In one of those sacred alone moments discussed above, in August, when we were in Zermatt with my parents and Alice was napping, Zach and I hiked up from town to Pension Edelweiss, which is perched, awfully precariously, over town. (Somehow even though I was with Zach, the absence of Alice, made me feel very much alone) The hike is straight up. We huffed and puffed the entire way up and leaned a little too heavily on our hiking poles, but we made it and the little peach hut with red umbrellas was a welcome site. We grabbed a table right on the edge and ordered what can only be considered a reward for our efforts. Zach got a fried egg with ham on toast and a cappuccino, and I ordered an apricot tart and an iced tea. Homemade, the iced tea was amber in color and chilled, and amazingly refreshing. It wasn't cloyingly sweet, but it was definitely sweet, sweetened with what tasted like a bit of orange juice and sugar. I don't sweeten hot tea. The temperature captures the senses enough to negate the need for sugar. But the coldness of iced tea on the other hand can make the tea taste strong and bitter. If you're going to sweeten it, which I think you should, it's best to add the sugar while the water is boiling and the tea bags are seeping, that way it fully dissolves and you aren't left sipping sugar granules. 

I wish I could tell you about the apricot tart, which is supposedly what the Pension Edelweiss is known for, but it was attacked by bees within seconds of landing on our table and we had to set it on another table far, far away. 

After our hike in Zermatt the next time I found myself alone, this time truly alone, was a couple of weeks ago. Alice was with the babysitter and I set out to rediscover the Zürich I knew and loved before Alice was born, which really just meant heading to one of my favorite cafes for some quiet time with a book. The weather was amazing, as all Indian summer days are, and there was a free bench so I sat down with my face in the sun and took in the scene, which is when I spotted a woman drinking an iced tea and I knew I had to have one. Actually, I ended up having two. Once again, the tea was sweetened, perfectly, and I was refreshed, mostly mentally, but also physically. Eager to recreate this feeling at home I asked the waitress how they made their tea and she willing told me that they use the Bio Alpkräutertee (organic alpine herb tee) from Coop (one of the two main grocery stores here) and let it simmer with mint, orange and lemon and a bit of sugar. I found the tea, I bought the mint, lemon and orange, and I think I managed a damn good replication at home. 

* As I mentioned the tea I used is the Bio Alpkräutertee from Coop, which is great if you live in Switzerland, but if you don't try and look for an herbal tea. This one has mint, lemon balm, verbena, Lady's Mantle, chamomile, sage, thyme, and nettle.  

* This recipe is for one large mason jar, about 1 liter

- 4 tea bags
- one orange, cut in half, one half juiced and the other sliced
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- one lemon, sliced
- a few springs of mint 

Place the tea bags and sugar in a large mason jar (or pitcher of equivalent size) and pour in the boiling water and orange juice and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Add a slice of orange, a slice of lemon, and two sprigs of mint. Let the tea sit for about ten 8 minutes and then remove the tea bags. Let the tea come to room temperature and then place it in the fridge until chilled. Enjoy with a new batch of orange and lemon slices and mint. 

August 16, 2014

Alice is one : strawberry cream cake

Alice turned one on August 1st, her golden birthday. We celebrated the weekend before with cake and friends and many many rounds of Happy Birthday. 

A year! My baby! 

I can't say her first birthday blindsided me, because I'd been watching it's steady approach since Alice turned nine months. Nine months was a month of milestones for Alice - she started crawling, stopped breast feeding, lost her spiky hair, and most notably to me, had been on the outside as long as she had been on the inside. I was in awe of my little apple seed that was crawling around the aparment. I knew one year would be the next big release of awe and amazement, and I knew it would come quickly, and it did.

And so here we are, one year and two weeks, and I'm constantly marveling at our baby, who now is mostly certainly more little girl than baby. It's hard to admit that, that she's not a baby anymore, but when she walked into the kitchen yesterday, where I was prepping dinner, with a blankie in one hand and a spoon in the other, it was clear to me that those sweet sleepy baby days, the ones with the tiny clenched fists, and puckered little lips, are behind us. I loved and cherished those early days and a nice big piece of me is sad that they are over. Thankfully she has grown into a delightful little girl, which softens the transition a bit.

To honor our summer baby I made strawberry cream cake. Alice loves strawberries so I knew those alone would make her happy, and I figured the layers of sponge cake and whipped cream frosting would make the rest of our guests happy. It took a little while to settle on what recipe to use. I'll admit that I felt a lot of pressure around the cake, I wanted to the perfect cake for our first birthday celebration as a family. I leafed through cookbooks and trolled the internet, before remembering that one of my blogging friends, Amy, had made a Cooks Illustrated Strawberry Cream Cake a couple of years ago. I saw her photos and skimmed the recipe, and I knew it was fitting of Alice's first birthday. 

And it was, it was perfect. Each component alone was delicious, but together they were awesome. The cake was light and moist and held it's own under the weight of whipped cream and strawberries. The whipped cream frosting, with added cream cheese for support, was airy and smooth and just the slightest bit sweet, which to me, not being a buttercream fan, are the traits of the perfect icing. And the macerated strawberry filling, amped up with the reduced strawberry juice, brought all of the layers together. It is a cake worth making a tradition out of.

Strawberry Cream Cake

My cake baking skills were not on par leading up to the celebration, which resulted in a bit of a mish-mash cake assembly. I had planned on making a three layer cake by slicing one 9" cake into three layers, but my first cake didn't rise well do to a bad batch of baking powder. I put that cake to the side, and baked a second cake. I cut the first cake down and then cut the second one in two layers. This is just to say that my cake might be a bit taller than yours if you cut one 9" cake into three layers. You can also opt to do what Amy did, which is to bake the cake in two separate pans for a two layer cake. It's really up to you. 

For the smash cake I used about 3/4 of a batch of cake batter and poured the rest into mini cupcake molds. 

If you don't have access to cake flour, which I don't, you can make your own. Simply measure out the flour, remove 2 tablespoons of flour and replace with 2 tablespoons of corn starch. Sift back and forth, between two bowls, at least 5 times. It's annoying, yes, but doable. See further instructions here

1 1/4 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs, 2 whole, 3 separated, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 pounds of fresh strawberries, washed, dried, and stemmed
4-6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons Kirsh (optional. use if your strawberries aren't in season/sweet. I didn't use it)
pinch of salt

8 oz cream cheese, slightly softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups heavy whipping cream

For the cake....
preheat the oven to 325ºF and place the rack in the lower-middle position. Butter and flour a 9" spring form pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit. 

Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and 1 cup + 1 tablespoon of the sugar in a medium bowl. Whisk in the 2 whole eggs and 3 egg yolks (reserving the whites), the melted butter, water, and vanilla. Continue whisking until the batter is smooth and thick

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat the 3 egg whites on medium-low speed for about two minutes. Increase the speed to medium-high and slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form, about two more minutes. Fold in one third of the egg whites into the batter. Fold in the remaining egg whites, until there are no white streaks left. Pour the batter in the pan and bake until a tooth pick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes and then release the spring side and let it cool completely (a must!), about 1 1/2 - 2 hours. 

For the strawberries....
While the cake is cooling make the strawberry filling. Halve 24 of the best looking strawberries (8 for each layer) and set aside along with a few whole ones incase that isn't enough. Quarter the remaining berries and mix them in a bowl with 4-6 tablespoons of sugar. Let this sit for one hour, stirring occasionally. 

Strain the juice from the macerated berries and heat over medium high heat in a small saucepan with the Kirsh (if using), until reduced to a syrup, about 3-5 minutes. Put the quartered berries in a food processor for five, one second pulses, or chop with a knife. Pour the syrup over the berries and mix in the salt. 

For the whipped cream frosting
When the cake has cooled and you are ready to assemble it make the whipped cream frosting. Place the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk at medium-high until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping down the sides a couple times. Reduce the speed to low and add the heavy cream in a slow, steady stream. When it's just about all the way combined increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, another 1 to 2 minutes. 

To assemble the cake start by cutting the cake into three even layers. Start with one layer on your cake plate and array the halved strawberries around the edge. Pour half of the macerated berries into the center of the cake and spread towards the edges. Next, spread out a layer of whipped cream frosting over the macerated berries and towards the edges of the halved berries, but not fully to the edge of the cake (it will extend once you add the layers on top). Top with the second layer and repeat the process. Add the final and top layer and spread out a layer of frosting and trim with the berries and you're done!

I wanted Alice to have free reign of her cake, so I decided at the last minute to make a small "smash" cake just for her, which was really a ridiculous idea considering Alice had never had sugar before let alone cake, but it was her birthday, and so I did it anyway. She was much more into poking and dissecting than eating. I think she maybe had one or two bites and then continued with her smashing.

August 05, 2014

Chicken Marbella

This post is for my friend Jess, who lovingly told me last night to get my ass in gear, cut it with the excuses, because they simply aren't good enough, and to show up and write a blog post. So here I am. Easy as that, except not really because it's already taken me forty-five minutes of typing and deleting to write these two sentences. But the struggle of writing after not writing is worth if if it's true what she says, that I'm wasting my talent. (And she insists that this is a talent.) Tough love is necessary sometimes, ya know?

I'm going to keep it simple today with a recipe for Chicken Marbella, it's Jess's favorite after all. Jess isn't alone; it's a cult favorite from The Silver Palate Cookbook, published in 1982. Considering I was born in 1982 I wasn't a a groupie then, and I'm guessing maybe you weren't either, which means that maybe you've never heard of it or tried it. (Or on the other hand maybe you eat this weekly and this is b-o-r-i-n-g, you tell me.) I first tasted Chicken Marbella in May 2008 when my friend Helen threw a dinner party to mark the end of our first year of architecture school. I think anything out of a home oven would have lifted my spirits after a year of Pad Thai and pizza, but the Chicken Marbella that night, served with orzo and salad, tasted especially otherwordly. It was a reminder that good food can instantly transport you to a mindset where you forget the to-do's and delight in the wonder of good friends and a cozy home. 

I tend to think of Chicken Marbella as my back pocket magic trick: it's easy to pull together, it feeds a crowd, and it's incredibly flavorful and delicious. The moment I'm faced with feeding more than four people I go into a complete stupor about what to cook and how to coordinate the timing so everything is done at the same time. Complete. Stupor. Until I discovered this dish, which mostly comes together the night before when you dump the ingredients in a bowl and let them linger lovingly in the fridge overnight. An hour before you're ready to serve you put the chicken and it's accompaniments in a roasting pan, add some wine and brown sugar, and bake, and ta-da dinner is served.

The ingredients list might turn you off, especially if you don't consider yourself a prune person, which is probably a good chunk of the under eighty crowd, but I beg you to give them a chance. Alongside olives and capers, and roasted in a bath of oil and wine, the prunes stand alongside strawberry ice cream and dark chocolate in their deliciousness. They melt in your mouth and provide a subtle sweetness when eaten together with the chicken. I've seen my share of dinner guests start popping prunes long after they've finished their chicken. It's the pre-dessert course. 

As with any dish it's not about a single ingredient, but about the ingredients together, and that's where this dish knocks it out of the park. Olives and chicken, yes! Prunes and white wine, yes! Capers, prunes, olive oil and chicken, yes! Oregano, garlic, and olives, yes! Honesty every bite is so satisfying, whether it's a slightly savory olive bit or a sweet prune bite, but you'll have to try it to understand. 

* please note that I scaled back the recipe when I took these pictures because it was just the three of us. (A food photo shoot simply isn't in the cards when I have people over for dinner, which is why it's taken me so long to share this recipe here.) The recipe below will serve 10-12. When I do scale it back I use the same amount of liquid ingredients (vinegar/oil/wine) to ensure that the chicken is partially submerged in the pan.

* The recipe calls for chicken quarters, which is lovely, but I more often use chicken legs and thighs. 

* it makes for great leftovers so don't be shy about cooking the full amount and saving some for later

4 chickens, 2 1/2 lbs each, quartered
1 head garlic, peeled and finely pureed (I use a garlic press)
1/4 cup dry oregano
coarse sea salt and black pepper
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
6 bay leaves
1 cup brown sugar (I almost never use the full amount - I sprinkle a coating on each piece of chicken)
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup Italian parsley or fresh coriander, finely chopped

Place the chicken in a large bowl with the garlic, oregano, coarse salt and pepper to taste, vinegar, olive oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice, and bay leaves. Toss to combine and then cover and let it marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Arrange the chicken in a single layer on in a roasting pan and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Poor white wine around the chicken and then sprinkle a coating of brown sugar over the chicken pieces.

Bake for 1 hour, basting frequently with pan juices (essential!). You can place the chicken, prunes, olives and cappers on a serving plate, or you can do what I do and serve from the pan, which will allow people to help themselves to more pan juices (delicious on polenta).

May 26, 2014

on sunny days

( Lake Zürich )

On our walk back from the park late Saturday afternoon Zach asked me what, if anything, I had underestimated about life in Switzerland before we moved here. There are so many things you think about and imagine before you move somewhere, and most of them don't have any concrete answers. It's easy to imagine the rhythms of life somewhere else, but it's impossible to actually know what your life will be like. I can easily imagine a life in Rome eating pizza and sketching at the Pantheon, but I can't conjure up the in between moments, the quiet moments, or even the social moments with friends (or will we even have friends).

Anyway, it was an interesting question, and there are surely a lot of answers, but the one thing that came to me first, as we walked home with the sun on our back, was the weather. I swear I've found paradise when the sun is out. The city opens up to you in so many ways when it's sunny and warm; there's the lake, the parks, the playgrounds, and walking trails in the nearby woods, and did I mention the lake? In the summer especially nice weather makes Zürich feel like a beach community. We live three blocks from the lake and a ten minute walk from the nearest lakeside swimming spot complete with a high dive and baby pool. From there, with my toes in the lake, it feels like I can reach out and touch the Alps. Days like that I dig in, and exist happily here in our home away from home. The sunny days lifestyle is so good that I can imagine myself here for a long time, long enough for Alice to grow up and consider Zürich her home. 

( at the park near our apartment )

( Alice and Zach in Zug, Switzerland )

On not so sunny days you'll find me stirring and wondering how on earth we are going to get rid of the gigantic wardrobe in our bedroom - that we lovingly refer to as "the monster"- because we most certainly aren't bringing it back to the States. The thrifted midcentury furniture will come with us, because those are the items that will make anywhere we are feel like home. After I've revised my "take" and "leave" list I sit and think about how I call two places home and how it might be nice to call one place home and so I go online real estate hunting.

( Alice at the "Badi"- in the baby pool and on the beach )

In my mind I know I need to be present and content where I am, but the mind is a funny thing, always sending us into the future before we've spent long enough in the now. I think if it was sunny everyday I'd spend less time agonizing over our limbo-land status because I'd be too busy watching Alice in her pink polka dot bikini playing in the sand (that belly!!). 

I'm curious, do you feel firmly rooted where you are? Can you imagine yourself living in your current spot forever, or are you constantly thinking of what is next? I guess I'm just interested to know if the "what is next" is only an expat-ism or if everyone feels it. I think the difference for us might be that we feel it most of the time; we will eventually move back to the States, this isn't a forever home. But maybe you feel the same way.

May 23, 2014

amazing pizza at home

I was about to email this pizza dough recipe to my friend Emily. She has access to a wood burning pizza oven. I figured that if I could make amazing pizza in my simple kitchen oven that she'd be able to make AH-mazing pizza in a legit pizza oven. I could almost see the bubbles and the slightly charred edges of the pizzas she and her husband would be able to make and eat. But here's the thing, Emily lives in New Haven, Connecticut, and has access to some of the best pizza in the United States. A good pizza dough might not be as vital to her as it is, to say, me, who lives in a pizza dead zone. As I was typing up the recipe and email I realized that there are most definitely other pizza dead zones - arguably anywhere outside of Naples, Rome, New York, and New Haven - and that you might live in one of them. If you do, then this pizza dough is for you. 

This recipe is from the well known pizza spot in Brooklyn called Roberta's and was featured in the New York Times a couple months ago. Roberta's pizzas are made in a wood-fired oven, but they adapted the dough recipe so it would produce good results at home in a normal oven. We don't have a pizza stone or a peel (the sheet of wood that helps you transfer the pizza to the oven) and we still ended up with great pizza. The dough rises effortlessly to a soft a chewy state. If you shape an outer ring of crust that's slightly more doughy than the middle, you will be pleased by the puffy ring of deliciousness bordering the cheesy middle. Even though it's weighted down by sauce a an ample amount of cheese, the pizza is light. The crust is full of air bubbles, which separates this pizza from the dense store bought variety. 

The dough is easy. You need only a few ingredients and you can kneed the dough by hand in a few minutes. (Following the initial kneading you need to let it rise for 3-4hrs.) The only slightly tricky part is that the ingredients need to be weighed. This success of this recipe is not left to the variety of ways you and I might measure a cup of flour, no, it's 153 grams of all purpose flour and 153 grams of type 00 flour. You will need a scale. It's a good investment these days as many recipes are being converted to weight measurements. And even if you only buy it so you can make this pizza it will be a good investment. 

I think I forgot to mention that I LOVE pizza. It's my favorite food. Given a choice of a last meal, I'd pick pizza. I grew up on what most would consider good New York pizza, except it came out of Connecticut, out of a tiny pizza restaurant called The Pizza Post. It's tucked in a little shopping center, behind the gas station and next to a nail salon and an ice cream shop. That's my way of saying it's nothing fancy and it's a bit of a hidden gem. They make pizzas with bubbly crusts and thin chewy middles. It's pizza perfection. From The Pizza Post I went on to spend nine years eating pizza in New Haven.  I was a student almost that whole time so I ate a lot of pizza. I don't know if it's widely known or not, but New Haven is home to some incredible pizza. There's Pepe's and Sally's in the Italian neighborhood Wooster Square and Modern Apizza on State Street. Most New Havenites have allegiances to one or the other. Zach and I are Pepe's people. The thin crust pizzas are served on large baking sheets, cut into rectangular pieces. The middle is light and floppy, but not at all soggy, while the outer crust is slightly crispy on the edges, but soft and doughy in the middle. It's worth the wait in the line that stretches around the block every evening. (We quickly learned that if you order a pizza to-go in person, it will be ready in fifteen minutes.)

Since I don't have permission from Roberta's or the NYTimes and because I'd rather not step on any toes I'm not going to write out the recipe here, but instead link to it and send you on your way. The video that accompanies the article and recipe is incredibly helpful in making and shaping the dough. I think you'll get more out of it and likely make a better pizza by following their example instead of mine.

Roberta's Pizza Dough
(If you live in Zürich, I found 00 flour at Jelmoli)

and once you've got the dough here are some pizzas to try....
Pizza Margherita 
Cheeses Pie
The Green and White

Oh, and I'm also curious if any of you have the Roberta's cookbook and what you think? It's sitting in my Amazon shopping cart and I'm wondering if it would be great to have around or just more cookbook clutter.

And please share your favorite pizza dough recipe, I'm always curious to try a new one.

May 13, 2014

a family favorite

Friends, you'll be glad to know that Alice is an enthusiastic eater. I'd venture to guess that sitting down at the table is one of her top five favorite things; along with using the printer as a drum set, opening and closing the dishwasher soap tray, shimmying and shaking to So Glad I'm Here, and thumbing through Pat the Bunny. So far she's liked everything we've given her. Okay, that's not quite true, she doesn't like plain yogurt, but I don't know many people who do, so we'll just sideline that one for now. She is not a dainty eater. She uses her fingers to rake food into her fist where it makes a quick trip to her already open mouth and, along with most of her hand, disappears. We gave up on the spoon a while ago. You would too if it became a constant tug of war. She prefers to feed herself, and although I spend way too much time cleaning the floor - anyone have a dog we can borrow at mealtime? - it suits us just fine. I could go on and on about feeding Alice, how I like that she chooses what she wants, that she paces herself, how it's good for her dexterity and hand eye coordination, that I love the face she makes when she tries something new, but let's leave that for another post and chat about spinach gnocchi instead. 

These little green globes are our current favorite thing to eat. Zach even went so far to say that he likes gnocchi night better than homemade-tortilla taco night. I might be with him on that. And Alice is definitely on board; the little goober ate all eight of her gnocchi before I even had a chance to snap a few photos and serve myself. In trying to come up with words besides "awesome" to describe them, all I keep thinking is "gentle". And that they are, soft and delicate, with a melt in your mouth quality. We can thank the ricotta for that. Ricotta pillows laced with spinach and parmesan. If it's the ricotta that lends the airy texture then it's the parmesan that brings the depth and richness. The gnocchi are so flavorful that they could be eaten alone, but I toss them in a simple sage butter sauce, because I like the earthy flavor it brings. I think Alice would tell you she likes the earthiness too considering she ate a nice big handful of dirt yesterday.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi - Marcella Hazan
note : I have made these gnocchi four times. This last time was the best, and funny enough I used frozen spinach. I tend to shy away from frozen ingredient substitutions as I prefer the fresh stuff, but frozen is what I had on hand and they turned out beautifully. I think it might be because you can get exact weights on the frozen, and with the fresh it's a bit of a guessing game - do you weigh pre or post stem? Know that they are good with fresh spinach, but me mindful of the amounts/ratio.

another note: The recipe calls for prosciutto, but I never have that on hand so I've skipped it all four times. Feel free to include it, I bet it's good.

450 g / 1 lb fresh spinach
285 g / 10 oz frozen spinach, thawed
25 g / 1 oz butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped prosciutto
150 g / 5.5 oz ricotta
75 g / 2.5 oz flour
2 egg yolks
115 g / 4 oz freshly grated parmesan cheese

If using fresh spinach, trim away all stems and clean it in a few changes of water. Put the barely damp spinach in a pan with 2 teaspoons of salt, cover the pan, and turn the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain it and squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop it coarsely and set aside.

If using thawed frozen spinach, cook in a covered pan for 5 minutes. Drain it and squeeze out as much water as you can. Chop it coarsely.

Melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent. Add the chopped prosciutto if using and stir to coat. Stir in the spinach with a bit of salt and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Turn the spinach-onion mixture out into a large bowl. Allow it to cool and in the meantime measure your other ingredients. Once it has cooled to room temperature stir in the egg yolks, followed by the ricotta, flour, and parmesan. Taste and correct for salt.

Next, form small balls out of the mixture. It will be sticky, but you should still be able to roll it - stickily - in your hands, if not, add a touch more flour. Hazan recommends 1/2 inch across, but says you can stretch to 3/4 inch if that is easier, and I think our gnocchi were closer to 3/4 than 1/2. Do what works for you.

Drop the gnocchi, about 10 at a time, into salted, boiling water. When the water returns to boil cook for 3-4 more minutes. With the first batch taste one after 3 minutes to know if they are done or of you should extend to 4 minutes. I found that 4 minutes was perfect with this last round. When the last batch of gnocchi goes in the pot, start your sauce.

Sage Butter Sauce
75 g / 2.5 oz butter
6-8 whole sage leaves
parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Melt the butter in s small skillet over medium heat. When the foam subsides, and the color of the butter becomes golden, but not brown, add the sage leaves. Cook for a few seconds, turning the leaves over once, and then pour over your pasta.

April 29, 2014


There should be an underwater tour of Venice. What is happening under there? I'm told that all those buildings, the entire city, is built on wooden piles. I need more time to process that. Maybe an entire lifetime to process it. (Structures was never my strong point in architecture school.)

We took every opportunity - save the ninety euro gondola ride - to see Venice from the water. There were vaporetto rides zig zagging across the Grand Canal and a couple water taxi rides to and from the airport as well as the walk along Giudecca with all of Venice in view. That's where I took the above photo; standing outside Andrea Palladio's Il Redentore looking back at Venice. I'd venture to say that it's a city to be looked at, not lived in, at least now in it's tourist trap state. 

Alice in the sculpture garden at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. 

It was Easter Sunday, hence the bow. Venice is not known for its green spaces so it was nice to have a moment where we could let Alice out of the carrier to explore on her own a bit. Shortly after I took this photo she tumbled and the happy calm was broken. It's part of why I like this photo though, the quiet before the tears. 

Travel for us used to be so much about finding good authentic food. Now it's about finding a restaurant near the hotel that will do take out. Thankfully we found one and ordered the same pasta dish every night: fusilli with cream, peas and proscuitto. It was good, not great, but with a little babe sleeping in the luggage nook it was about what worked, and not about the hidden gem of a restaurant on our Venice to-see list. She's worth it.

I could have taken an entire roll of this corner of San Marco. The colors! The patterns! The detail!

I'd also appreciate any tips you have for traveling with a baby/kids. What's the best type of vacation - resort, city, countryside?