For the last five years, the brightest week of our year is the week we spend with our friends from Germany. They live outside Munich with their four kids; we live outside San Francisco with our four matching kids. They’ve come to visit us in Ohio and in California, and once we met them in Niagara Falls. We’ve been to Munich twice – once two years ago, and then again this June, for our friend Florian’s 50th birthday celebration.

The four of us have been friends since our single days in New York City, and with our annual visits, our kids are close like cousins now. Once a year isn’t much. But it’s enough. In five years we’ve gone from having eight little kids to having half teens. The memories are everything.

We hesitated to stay with them this trip – they were having close to 130 family and friends for the birthday party, and their kids were still finishing up their school year. But they insisted, and we tried to be as helpful as six people who don’t speak the language in a foreign country can be.

My friend Jojo is a superstar, so she had it all supremely under control. I helped prep and clean in the kitchen. But mostly we ate and ate Jojo’s fantastic food.

I wish I could bring it all back home – the sausages, vinegary potato salad, yogurt, cheeses, fresh-baked pretzels. But I did bring back this lemony potato salad – so fresh, loaded with chopped herbs – which is the perfect partner for any summer cookout. Jojo made it our first night in Munich to accompany simple grilled chicken, salad and roasted vegetables, and the potatoes were so good they became my main course.

It’s quick to put together with just a few ingredients – potatoes, lemon, herbs, olive oil, honey and salt. Make a big batch and eat it for days. It’s just as good or better left over, for lazy summer snacking. read on…

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grilled pineapple

Grilled pineapple

25 May 2017

At its best, pineapple is a euphorically transporting fruit, flooding one’s senses with sweet tropical juice and seductive fantasies of blindingly bright sand beaches and sparkling blue seas. But unless you live in Hawaii or other tropics, a more typical pineapple impression is tart and stringy, pale and dry. On the mainland, buying a whole pineapple can feel like a buying a lottery ticket – you might get lucky, but chances are it’s a loser.

Fortunately there’s an easy trick to transforming mediocre pineapple into great pineapple: just grill it. Grilling is almost like inducing ripening of the pineapple – the heat concentrates the fruit’s sugars and brings out its juiciness, coaxing even a bland specimen into something worth savoring.

And if you don’t like that prickly feeling you get in your mouth after eating pineapple? Grilling solves that problem too. Those protein-digesting enzymes in pineapple are what make it an excellent meat tenderizer (pineapple juice is often used in Korean BBQ marinades, for example), but they’re not so awesome when they’re breaking down the tissue in your mouth. The heat of grilling deactivates those enzymes so you can eat without fear.

This is the perfect time of year to grill pineapple – it’s prime pineapple season in Hawaii, so price and supply should be good, and it’s finally grilling weather out. read on…

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Instead of birthday cake, my boys love a giant chocolate chip cookie cake. 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

26 January 2017
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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 […]

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Holiday gift guide 2016

7 December 2016
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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 […]

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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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