food

Continent-Shaped Cookie Cutters

feed the world cookie cutters

I’ve done very little cooking or baking this year, but now that it’s fall (which means cooler weather and the holidays) I’m getting inspired to spend some more time in the kitchen. Especially if I had these Feed the World cookie cutters, which are shaped like all the continents. How cool would it be to make your own sugar cookies and ice all the places you’ve visited? Or draw stars on the destinations you’d like to see next?

Plus, part of the proceeds benefit hunger relief. I suppose that’s a good enough reason to pick them up and indulge!

Happy Friday!

(Photo of Feed the World Cookie Cutters via Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store; $20)

My Host Family in Xela

Catalina and me

Catalina and me

For the week I was in Xela, I lived with a Guatemalan family. My host mom was more like a host abuela—Catalina was an older woman who had several adult children and grandkids, most of whom lived nearby. She’d been hosting PLQE students for more than 15 years.

Her house was on Diagonal 2, a few blocks away from PLQE. Besides her and myself, two 20-something Guatemalan guys lived there: Eddie, who worked in a bank, and Gaspar, a med student.

Diagonal 2

Diagonal 2

I loved the layout of Catalina’s house and wished my NYC apartment resembled it more. Four bedrooms, a bathroom and kitchen flanked a small, central courtyard that was bright and airy during the day, when the sun streamed in. The focal point of the courtyard was the pila, the green, table-like structure on the right. It has a basin in the center for clean water, and two surfaces on either side for washing dishes and clothing.

My room was small and basic, but comfy enough.

my room in xela

I came home for every meal and felt super-lucky to have Catalina as a host mom. She was an amazing cook and never served the same dish twice. Breakfast was usually eggs (my fave!), beans and the amazingly delicious corn tortillas that Guatemalans eat with every meal. Lunches and dinner were often rice, chicken or pork with veggies and more tortillas. Catalina’s dishes were such a nice change from the oatmeal/eggs/avocado/bagel/soup diet I subsist on at home in NYC.

lunch

Plus, those meals were another opportunity to practice Spanish—though, admittedly, I couldn’t really follow the conversations unless someone spoke directly to me in slow, basic Spanish. And then repeated everything twice. Gaspar spoke English quite well and (even though I guess it was cheating, a little!) sometimes helped me out by explaining words and phrases in English.

Gaspar and me

Gaspar and me–it literally took Catalina 15 tries to take this photo with my iPhone рџ™‚

Before I came to Xela, I notified PLQE that I was allergic to cats and dogs and couldn’t live in a house with either. But it didn’t occur to me that families would have other kinds of animals.

On the first day I met Catalina, I nearly freaked out when I saw her pet—a plump chicken named Paloma. I am deathly afraid of birds. That afternoon, she started to walk into my room, but ran out when I gasped and jumped on my bed. After that, she stayed away from me (smart bird!) and only tried to come in one other time.

paloma

I never told Catalina I was afraid of Paloma because I a) didn’t want to be an inconvenience to her or PLQE and b) because I thought I should face my fear and just deal with it. That tactic kind of worked—I got used to living with a bird and, after a few days, stopped cringing when I heard her making bird noises outside my room. Eventually, I didn’t even have a problem eating chicken while Paloma sat in the next room. I suppose that’s part of what this trip was about anyway—learning and self-growth.

On my last day in Xela, Catalina gave me a notebook in which all her former students wrote her a note, along with their contact information. It was interesting to see where everyone was from (mostly different cities in the US and Canada) and how good their Spanish was (most seemed way better than me). With only one week of Spanish under my belt, I needed a dictionary to write my letter, but I thanked her for her hospitality, patience with my Spanish and, of course, for her delicious cooking. And I apologized for any errors!

Fried Egg Earrings

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love eggs and live off them. For years, I’ve been going through more than a dozen a week. (And no, surprisingly, I don’t have high cholesterol!)

I wasn’t always egg-obsessed. I grew to love them, partially by necessity. As a writer/editor, I don’t make a ton of money. And in order to afford the things that bring me the most happiness–ballet classes, travel, dinners out with loved ones–I have to make lots of really cheap breakfasts, lunches and dinners at home. Which means that my day-to-day diet consists of various combinations of spinach, avocados and lots and lots and lots of eggs: hard boiled, poached in soup, sunny side up over pasta, scrambled, made into veggie omelets, added to stir fries and curries.

So this weekend, I was amused and delighted when Mal and I stumbled into Torch Song Metals, a little jewelry shop in Mal’s new town of Nyack, NY, and discovered these adorable earrings. I love how it’s not immediately obvious that they’re fried eggs. At first glance, they look like a pair of simple studs.

fried egg earrings

The designer (whose name escapes me!) told me that she she first created a pair of chicken wing earrings and made these to accompany them–because she also loves eggs. I think they’d be a great pair to wear every day–and delight in knowing that you’re subtly wearing your favorite food!

(Photo via Torch Song Metal’s Etsy shop)

Writing and Eating

chopstick pencils

Last week,В NY MagВ ran a fun piece highlighting the best answers they received to a series of questions they asked various showrunners (i.e. TV industry people who oversee the creative visions of shows). Questions ranged from “Pick a character from your show; which reality show would (s)he be most suited for?” to “What was the biggest creative misstep you ever saw made by a show you love?” (My favorite answer to the latter was from Lena Dunham, creator of Girls: “Obviously, Felicity cutting her hair–I get it now, but it was rough at the time.”)

But the answers that made me laugh outloud were to the question: “The hardest thing to pull off on a TV show is…”В They all revolved around eating!

From Carter Bays, of How I Met Your Mother:

Writing and producing it without constantly eating.

From David Caspe, of Happy Endings:

Everything. And staying thin (the room is full of really great snacks).

From Graham Yost, of Justified:

Convincing your wife that it’s actually a job and not just some fun thing you get to do each day where they provide lunch and a snack room.

As someone who makes a living with words, I can definitely relate. It’s hard not to nosh all day while you’re working! Everything about writing makes me want to eat:В When I’ve completed a paragraph that’s given me trouble, I need to refrain from rewarding myself with a piece of chocolate.В When I’m stumped on a lede or transition, I have to stop myself from reaching for a snack. When I’m procrastinating from starting an assignment, it’s hard not to extend my food break just a few more minutes. And I’m not going to get into all the free snacks that are floating around at work.

If I had no self control, I really would eat my way through every day. But I’ve found that just as much as writing makes me want to eat, it eventually has the opposite effect. Every writer knows how draining the process is–and how hours can fly by when you’re bent over a desk. When I’ve completed an assignment or finished my work for the day, I want nothing more than to stretch and move. And by then, ballet class or a good run feels way more refreshing than yet another brownie.

Fellow writers, do you feel the same? Are you always stopping yourself from snacking as you work?

(Photo via Pinterest)

Off to Another Beach Weekend!

blue crabs

I’m taking a summer Friday today (woohoo!) and heading back to Maryland. It’s going to be a sibling weekend, since Peter’s older brother, Paul, will be there, too, which only doubles the fun/ridiculousness. So I’m looking forward to more beach, sun, blue crabs, summery drinks–and maybe another slice or two of Smith Island cake.

And here are my fave links from the week:

Where’s your happy place?

The cool journalist’s travel kit (of course there’s booze in there!)

200 dance moves in 200 seconds

Lykke Li’s awesome cover of “Silver Springs” (I’m not a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, but I’m so loving this)

…and always remember: “Stressed” is “desserts” spelt backwards (I definitely needed that perspective this week!)

What are you up to, this weekend?

Smith Island Cake

Red Velvet Smith Island Cake

I’d been wanting to have a slice of Smith Island cake since I first read about it in the NY Times about a year ago. Mal and Peter had recently moved to Maryland and I was seeking interesting things to do in the area. Not surprisingly, much of my research revolved around local food and drinks, and this cake intrigued me.

Smith Island cake is Maryland’s official state dessert. It’s constructed from six to 12 super-thin layers of cake and just as many layers of icing. The cake is “native” to tiny Smith Island, which measures just eight by 12 miles,В the only inhabited island in the Chesapeake. No one knows who created the confection–some say it was born from a torte recipe Welsh settlers brought to the island in the 1600s. But it’s beloved there and across Maryland’s eastern shore.

And after having a few slices this weekend, I can understand why.

We didn’t have time to go to Smith Island, so one of my sister’s co-workers recommended that we pick up the dessert from the Original Smith Island Cake Company, located in West Ocean City. We purchased two mini cakes: one red velvet, one original.

Smith Island Cakes

We had the red velvet cake as part of our breakfast on Sunday. (I mean, what else would you eat when you’re spending the day in a bikini?) I knew the cake would have many layers, but I was still amazed at just how thin they were. Mal and I ate our slices layer by layer; I thought the cake was really good, but wanted the frosting to have more of a cream cheese tang.

red velvet Smith Island cake

Later, after our day at the beach, we cut into the second cake, which was golden cake with chocolate frosting. That slice wowed me–the chocolate frosting was so rich andВ fudgy. Since myВ opportunitiesВ to have Smith Island cake are limited, we may get another one this weekend. We’re thinking of trying the strawberry shortcake…

original smith island cake

Dogfish Head Brewpub

Four years ago, I read a greatВ New YorkerВ piece about Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head. At the time, I was new to the world of craft beers and had only tried Dogfish Head brews on a couple occasions. But immediately after finishing the article, I wanted to head straight to theВ Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I was wowed at Calagione’s imagination for dreaming up different types of beers flavored with tea, juniper berries and all kinds of spices. And I was even more impressed at the lengths he went to create them: sourcing rare wood in Paraguay to build aging barrels, crafting a beer similar to what the Egyptians brewed back in 730 BCE and so on.

I never made it to the brewpub until Mal and Peter moved to Maryland. Dogfish Head is about 40 minutes away from their place and it’s become one of our go-to spots. Not surprisingly, they have lots of wonderfully quirky, experimental brews on tap. The food is good, too–Dogfish Head sources veggies and meat from nearby farms. Plus, beer is a key ingredient in many dishes.

The place is usually packed year-round, all times of day, even though it’s huge–two floors and an outdoor patio. But luckily, it wasn’t insane on Memorial Day afternoon. (I suppose everyone was still at the beach.) We scored a shady spot outside.

mal and peter

heather

Even though I was getting on a bus afterward, the beer menu still tempted me into ordering a drink. (How could I not?) I would have loved a flight, but opted for the Lil’ Tart, a light (only 3.4% ABV!), sparkling cherry wheat beer. Peter, who was not making a 5-hour trip back to NYC, ordered the Red & White (10% ABV), a Belgian-style witbier fermented with pinot noir juice.

dogfish head menu

And since we were coming from a very taxing day of lounging on the beach, we ordered food, as well.

dogfish head

В We shared a pizza (made with unfermented ale, of course) topped withВ prosciutto, goat cheese, arugula and balsamic reduction; a turkey burger and a BLTA (made with house cured bacon).

dogfish head food

It was the perfect way to top off the holiday weekend. I’m looking forward to returning–and getting a flight next time!

dogfish head flight