Instead of birthday cake, my boys love a giant chocolate chip cookie cake instead. Their friends always love it too, but I’m never satisfied with the recipe. Like the oversized cookie that it is, its edges are golden and crispy all around, while the center is soft and gooey. In a regular cookie, you get all in one. But with squares cut from a mutant cookie cake, each piece is more edge or more center.

As with pizza, more middle is never a problem. But no one wants a slice that is all crust. Chocolate chip cookies aren’t brownies.

I never hung onto the recipe, because I always meant to find a better one. Every time the kids asked for the cookie cake, I went online for it again. But my friend Cathy asked for the recipe recently for her son Ryan’s upcoming birthday, and it had disappeared from my usual Google search.

Oh, the fickle internet. When digital armageddon comes, I’m going to be lost. I’ve outsourced my memory to the cloud, and if the electronic world does dark I’ll be huddling confused in my Paleolithic cave. At the very least, I’ll have a backup of my blog to count on.

So I’m finally adding a chocolate chip cookie cake recipe to my online brain archive here. The recipe I’d used before, similar to Toll House original, was never The One. But I did a bake-off and found the keeper. read on…

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un-granola

Un-granola

21 April 2017

Life dimmed for me and my kids when my friend Katie moved two years ago, she and her husband Rick trading their Silicon Valley home for a ranch in Oregon and taking with them three of our favorite little people – two of my kids’ soulmates and my angelic 18-month-old boyfriend. Between school and kids’ sporting events, we saw them almost daily, and they were rays of sunshine in our lives.

But in relationships there is proximity, and then there is closeness. Faraway friends are still some of my closest pals, because our periodic texts/emails and rare visits add up to more contact than I have with local friends with whom I keep up less simply because I could, anytime – but seldom do.

And if Katie and Rick had never moved, we never would have had the grand adventure in Oregon we just had together, one of the most hilarious weekends of my life and one we surely never would have ventured if we’d all remained regular school friends at a polite distance.

Invading Katie and Rick’s ranch with my husband and four kids would have been chaos enough. But our ranch-raised friend Abby, with four kids close to mine in age plus a bonus kindergartener, jumped at the chance to visit too. I tried to convince Katie of the sanity of four adults and nine kids staying in a local motel instead of crashing on every surface of her home, but she wasn’t having it.

So the 13 of us, two minivans stuffed with people, sleeping bags, pillows, towels and food, descended on the five of them in southern Oregon. It was like family camp for two crazy days and nights.

We plowed through a couple dozen hot dogs and boxes of mac and cheese. I made three big loaves of french toast. Three 8-year-old prep cooks cheerfully did the chopping when Katie made veggie chili. We boiled a dozen fresh eggs from Katie’s prolific chickens to make a big bowl of the richest, brightest, most golden egg salad ever. And we easily demolished 14 pounds of strawberries, a large watermelon, a dozen bananas and pounds of grapes.

Abby has gluten issues, so I brought up a 12-pack of my favorite yogurt with a jar of a homemade trail mix I like these days in place of granola. Everyone enjoyed it so much, both with yogurt and for easy snacking, I thought I’d share the recipe with them and you all at once. read on…

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driftwood

Metamorphosis

29 March 2017

A close college friend texted me the other night, telling me she’s hitting a midlife crisis and taking a sabbatical from work. In our social 20s we would have had the luxury of a heartfelt conversation about Life. But in our hectic 40s, we cut to the point. I texted back: “Dude, I feel you. Me too.”

Adult life seemed mysterious to me as a kid. At some point I would hit adolescence, which would magically transform me from scrawny girl into freshly-minted young adult. I’d have a real career, see the world, get married at some point, and eventually be a parent too, like all the nice, vaguely distracted moms and dads I knew. In the end, I’d age into a stooped, wrinkly, mellow old person like my grandparents.

I’m 45 now, and much of that has come to pass, through busy, blurry years. Ahead of me is a long (I hope), undefined road between midlife and old age. After years of rushing ahead, I feel for the first time like I want to stop.

The parents of kindergarteners at our elementary school look young to me now, hurrying anxiously, carrying toddlers. The parents I see at our high school, quiet in the background, seem almost a generation older. Something happens in those years, and it’s not just age.

The 40s is a transitional decade. You can still hang on to the idea of youth through your 30s. But by 50 there’s no denying you’re in mature adulthood.

We don’t coast from childhood into young adulthood without angst. Adolescence is a tumble from the comfort of childhood to the exciting unknown of independent adult life. Midlife is a tumble too, except the far side of it is a whole lot scarier. read on…

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everything muffin half

Everything muffins

1 March 2017

Eating well on a road trip is a whole lot easier than it was before iPhones. When my husband and I drove across the country from New York City to Silicon Valley in 2001, I mapped out our route every night using our fold-out paper maps and diligently cross-referenced them with my dog-eared copy of Roadfood, which was then the ultimate food guide for road warriors in America.

We ate well on that trip – pizza in Chicago, barbecue in Kansas City, fried chicken in Oklahoma City – but it took real planning. Now I can look up a good local restaurant on Yelp while we wait for the stoplight to turn green.

We took an overnight trip from Columbus, Ohio to Nashville this past Christmas to visit friends. We stopped in Kentucky midway for a quick lunch in Louisville, and after scanning a wealth of options (I need to go back!), we opted for an efficient and tasty visit to Wild Eggs, a Louisville brunch spot so popular that it is now quickly expanding into nearby cities and states.

We split a Southwestern-themed Benedict, with green chili corn cakes in place of English muffins, and a side of cheesy grits with sausage. The kitchen generously split the Benedict in two, giving us each full servings of potatoes and a golden muffin dotted with poppy seeds.

Poppy seeds made me think lemon, so when I broke the warm muffin open and took a bite I was surprised to find the deliciously moist muffin subversively savory instead. It was less like an everything bagel and more like a soft, savory scone. I’ve been wanting to make it since. read on…

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slow cooked italian beef

Slow-cooked Italian beef

26 January 2017

Coming from a family of seven siblings, with 21 kids between them, my Ohio sister-in-law Michelle can feed a crowd like a boss. For New Year’s Eve in Columbus, we had 40 family and friends over to watch Ohio State play Clemson in the (disastrous for us) Fiesta Bowl playoff game. After Christmas, all I could manage were a couple giant salads, a sheet cake and a pizza order, but Michelle showed up, casually hauling in a few dozen Italian rolls and a seriously supersized electric roaster filled with 16 pounds of shredded beef. The girl is unflappable.

Italian beef is a Chicago specialty, created by some clever Italians in the early 1900s as a way to make cheap cuts of beef tender and flavorful. A rump roast or some lean but tough cut is roasted in beef broth with Italian spices, shaved thin on an electric deli slicer and piled back into warm cooking juices. Delicate sheets of beef are loaded into a crusty roll that’s sturdy enough to hold up to the jus-laden meat.

Because the industrial slicing is key to making the tough beef tender, it’s hard to get the same result at home. For home cooks, it’s more reliable to make a shredded version of Italian beef. If you patiently cook the beef long enough, low and slow, it will become fall-apart tender on its own, no slicer required.

This is made-for-Superbowl food. Meat, check. Crowd, check. Low effort, check. You can also keep it warm in a slow cooker for hours, and people can help themselves while you watch the game (or not). Easy.

East coasters can start their beef the morning of Superbowl Sunday and be done by game time. West coast folks should cook their beef the day before, or overnight, since Superbowl is an afternoon activity here.

If you’ve been sucked into the Instant Pot craze, or have another pressure cooker, you can take the express route and be done in an hour or so. read on…

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holiday cookie factory

Holiday gift guide 2016

7 December 2016

For all the online fun kids have these days – musical.ly videos, Snapchat filters, YouTube channels, online gaming – it’s amusing to note that the hottest toy this year was the half-empty disposable water bottle. Water bottle flipping, a YouTube-inspired sensation, became such an obsessive craze it was covered in the New York Times. For parents, the soundtrack to the year was the repeated THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…gurgle…THUNK…occasionally interjected with a triumphant cheer when the flipped bottle finally stuck a Simone Biles-worthy landing.

Practical though it may be, the kids probably wouldn’t appreciate a case of Deer Park Spring Water bottles for Christmas (apparently they are the best for flipping). But I think it would be a funny stocking stuffer.

My kids have aged out of the intense toy years – hallelujah – but as always I’m here to share the ideas I have for this holiday season, mostly for school-aged kids and up. If you are looking for gift ideas for toddlers and preschool-aged kids, please check out my gift ideas from previous years, which have a ton of ideas for younger children. read on…

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Foolproof mashed potatoes

23 November 2016
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I finally figured out the best way for a distracted cook to manage homemade mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving. No peeler, no risk of overcooked spuds – just potatoes, butter and milk in the most fuss-free and relaxed method I’ve found. Here’s the trick: quickly score each potato around the center before boiling them whole. You […]

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Kale salad with honey-mustard peanut dressing

22 November 2016
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This shredded kale and cabbage salad, coated in a sweet honey-mustard dressing and generously showered with crushed peanuts, has a cult following at Hillstone restaurants across the country, from Houston’s to Bandera to various Grill outposts, such as Cherry Creek, Bal Harbour, Palm Beach and Rutherford. You see it on almost every table, as starter, […]

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Pumpkin bread with chocolate

16 November 2016
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I have a beef with pumpkin breads that aren’t pumpkiny. A drier bread makes for easy cutting and tidy presentation, but the pumpkin bread I want to eat is a little soft, with big sticky crumbs, and super rich with pumpkin flavor. In Ohio we live for pumpkin bread, from a little bakery called Beehive […]

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Comfort in pancakes (banana chocolate chip)

11 November 2016
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When I’m stressed, I don’t want a beer, I want a bakery. Or to bake something. Science backs me up on this: sugar reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our systems (don’t try to substitute fake sugar, it doesn’t have the same effect). Even before eating, the warm olfactory combination of flour, butter and sugar […]

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