Friday, April 30, 2010

happy weekend

Happy Friday! I hope it's picnic weather in your part of the world. What are you cooking this weekend? Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

i'm okay, you're okay

I read a very interesting post on Jezebel last week. It was called "The New Decornographers: Bloggers With Perfect, Beautiful, Craftsy Lives." The author of the post lambasted bloggers, mainly women, for documenting style-driven aspects of their lives, be it clothing, craft projects, or their interior design or culinary prowess. Why? Because these blogs make readers feel inadequate about their own lives. An excerpt: "They are all so lovely, with perfect vintage wardrobes. They can all make anything, and seem to have unlimited time to do so. Sometimes they go to music festivals, and look awesome. Some have penchants for putting flowers in Mason jars and photographing them lovingly. And together, this blogosphere makes you feel awful."

Huh. After reading this post, I clicked back later to see what other people had to say about it in the comments. Almost overwhelmingly, people agreed. They said that these blogs did make them feel awful. And it didn't seem to matter whether the topic was food, or crafts, or fashion. The commenters wrote that lifestyle bloggers are narcissistic, have too much time on their hands, and have too much disposable income. Some people said they were aspirational, in an unattainable Martha Stewart sort of way. And a handful of people flat-out disagreed, saying that these blogs build community and often provide useful information like recipes and how-to advice. But the main sentiment was extremely negative. The word "self-loathing" came up quite a bit.

I admit to feeling a little pang of jealousy admiring expensive clothes and furniture on Oh Joy! or when scrolling through the perfectly curated homes featured on Design*Sponge. Who wouldn't want to live like that, have those things? But it's something I can shrug off in my mind. (Although Grace Bonney's recent Twitter dispatches from Miami did make me a little green with envy.) 

Having nice stuff is nice, but it's never as perfect as it seems on the screen, be it a new dress, or someone's entire lifestyle. I know firsthand from working at photo shoots that there's always plenty of clutter in the margins that gets edited out. There's nothing wrong with looking at pretty things, or creating content that's aesthetically driven, but many people feel that these types of images create some sort of standard we all have to measure up to. Life shouldn't suck in comparison to the people on your blogroll. And if you think it does, maybe it's time to do something about it. As in, improving your world view or taking up one of those blogged-about pursuits that inspires all of this hatred.

Which brings me back to dinner parties. Last weekend, our friend E invited us over for lamb ragu at his house. He's made it before; it's a killer, simmer-all-day kind of sauce. Some people brought a salad, I brought dessert. We all chipped in on the wine and E mixed some late-night cocktails. (Mainly for himself, but whatever.) Salad was served in Styrofoam bowls, and everyone helped themselves to the ragu, ladling it over pasta. Spoons and forks came straight out of a drawer in the kitchen. We ate and drank until midnight. It was a fantastic time. At one point I laughed so hard I choked.

Does this make for an especially elegant blog post? No. But that's not the point, and it shouldn't be the point of entertaining at all. Dinner parties are about sharing good food with people you like. Fancy table settings, and signature cocktails, and passed appetizers are all lovely--and I often write about these things here--but they are so not important. 

The point is to actually do it. Your dinner party/knitted tea cozy/living room re-do might not be as impeccable as the next blogger's but won't you gain some satisfaction and happiness in doing something? We all have anxieties about performing, whether it's in the kitchen or public speaking, but it's not a competition. Sure, I try to aim for good lighting, splatter-free dishes, attractive plating for this site, but I also have plenty of mishaps. Nothing is flawless, even when I try really hard to make it that way. And that's okay. Really.

The reality is that dinner parties are memorable for the unexpected stuff: the way your host's dog greets you at the door, the moment your favorite song comes up unexpectedly on the iPod playlist, the off-color joke that makes you choke on your wine. This is the stuff people smile about on their way home. And hopefully your cooking, too.

There are a million blogs out there providing inspiration and ideas, but you don't have to measure up to them, or take personal offense. Do it your own way. Your own style will be far more interesting.

Monday, April 26, 2010

what's for dinner, maggie hoffman?

Today's Q&A is with Maggie Hoffman of the delightful food blog Pithy and Cleaver, which she co-writes with Shiv Harris. Like all of my favorite blogs, P&C is lavishly photographed and always seems to feature recipes I want to rush off and try immediately. Even if I am at my desk at work. It's a constantly reliable source for menu inspiration. In addition to the blog, Maggie also writes about craft beer, wine, and (mostly) vegetarian food for Serious Eats and is a book designer by day. Here, she shares her favorite chili recipe, love of fruity desserts, and why progressive dinners are her preferred way to entertain. Thanks, Maggie!

1. Name, occupation, and city

Maggie Hoffman. Book designer by day, beer/wine/food writer by night. I live in Manhattan in a teeny apartment with my husband, Matt.

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

These days, I tend to entertain a few times a week. (No way we can taste all that beer ourselves!) Recently, Robin and Jim from Caviar and Codfish came over, along with my editors from Serious Eats and another friend. We sat outside on our balcony, tasting beers for an upcoming article and eating crab and avocado salad, homemade chipotle black bean salsa, and a chorizo-and-chickpea dish inspired by the new Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers book.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

My favorite dinner parties are low-maintenance. I love progressive dinners sitting out by the grill, where each course gets grilled and eaten while the next one cooks. I'm addicted to grilled garlic scapes and can't wait till they're in season, and we have a fantastic butcher near us that makes kielbasa, and I love to grill eggplant and lamb kabobs, too.

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

Can't they all just get along? I am a huge fan of craft beer AND a huge fan of good wine. We got married at a vineyard, but the day before all our friends met up at a brewery.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

A little Etta James, a little Sam Cooke...

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

Chili is easy, cheap, and satisfying. My mom's recipe is fantastic. I love to make fruit cobblers, too. The key to entertaining is to make things which scale well--no individual portions, no fussing.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?

I'm a bit territorial in the kitchen. I love when friends bring appetizers and bread, though. And my husband tends to handle the grill, which makes for many relaxing summer nights.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

Pretty much made from scratch.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

Pumpkin pie. Peach and blackberry cobbler. Whatever baking experiment I've tried for the blog.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

Oh, I wish I could have my parents and my brother, sister-in-law, and little niece over to our place for dinner. My folks live in Oregon, my brother's family is in St. Louis, and I live in New York, so we don't get to just have dinner together very often.

[Photo credit: Nataliya Cole]

Friday, April 23, 2010


I'm in charge of dessert for dinner at a friend's house tonight, so I've got sweets on the brain. Here are a few dinner party-worthy desserts from around the web that have caught my eye. (And a flower photo, just because.) Happy weekend!

Poppy seed cake (and other portable desserts) [via Food & Wine]

Lime-yogurt cake with blackberry sauce
[via Smitten Kitchen]

kewell tart with raspberry preserves. It's like a cake crossed with a pie. [via Bon Appetit]
Brown sugar ice cream [via The Kitchen Sink Recipes]
Blood orange chocolate chunk muffins
(!) [via White on Rice Couple]
15 berry desserts (strawberry and hazelnut meringue cake, raspberry betty) [via Saveur]

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

keeping it simple

There aren't cocktails, and desserts, and deviled egg platters around our house all the time. We have to fit through those subway doors in the morning, you know. So when Dan and I are the only people at the dinner table (AKA our coffee table), we eat pretty simply. We make things like big Greek salads, mustard-coated roasted chicken thighs, pasta with pesto. Our weeknight dinners aren't that exciting, but they are definitely tasty.

Usually when friends come over for dinner, I pore over my cookbooks and food magazines, trying to put together a menu of things that are new, different, exciting. But when we set up a date with our friend Martha for a Saturday night dinner, I felt exhausted by all of the recipes around me. Everything seemed too complicated, too rich, altogether too much. I wanted something simple. Something not impressive in the least. Call it food fatigue, I guess.

I felt like making something relatively light, like fish, and remembered a recipe for slow-roasted halibut from the April issue of Bon Appetit. The photo looked promising: thick, white filets topped with a crust of golden brown herby breadcrumbs. The magazine suggested serving the fish with a shaved asparagus and fennel salad, which at the time, sounded a little overly fussy. And I can't say I love raw asparagus. We would have fish and boiled potatoes instead. A salad of butter lettuce, radishes, snap peas, avocado, and fried shallots to start. Rhubarb for dessert. Simple.

As the fish baked in the oven, and I shook the cooked potatoes and garlic around in a stockpot (more on that below), I started to worry a bit. Would this be too simple? If you were to ask Dan what his least-favorite foods are, he would probably tell you potatoes and big pieces of white fish. Which I had conveniently forgotten about. When I start to get irrationally panicky right before serving a meal, I always ask myself, "Would you be excited to eat this in a restaurant or at someone's house if they served it to you?" I almost always say yes. And I did this time too.

The salad was very good. The creamy avocado was balanced by the crunchy shallots and snap peas. Balsamic vinaigrette added a nice tang. Everyone cleaned their plates, and I traded them out for the main course. The potatoes looked a little paltry, rolling around beside the fish. But they were deceptively delicious, flecked with chives and garlic and slicked with butter. The fish was moist inside and crispy on top from the breadcrumbs. "This is really good," everyone said, almost a bit surprised. "Really good." Guess who cleaned his plate first? Yep. 

Sometimes simple is the way to go. 

Simple spring supper
Radish, avocado, snap pea, butter lettuce salad
Slow-roasted sea bass
Garlicky potatoes with chives
Roasted rhubarb and ricotta

Garlicky potatoes with chives

This is a really off-the-cuff recipe. You can make it bigger or smaller depending on how many people you're feeding. I like about five small red- or yellow-skinned potatoes per person. In a large pot with a lid, boil the potatoes and a few cloves of garlic (about 1 to 2 cloves per four people) with their skins on until they are tender. When the potatoes are done, drain the water. Put the potatoes and garlic back in the pot and put the lid back on. Shake the pot a few times, so the potatoes get a little bruised and the garlic mashes. If the garlic does not look fully mashed, you can do so with a fork. Add a handful of minced chives, a few generous pats of butter, and some flaky salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

Slow-roasted sea bass
Adapted from Bon Appetit. The original recipe calls for halibut, but any thick cut of firm white fish will work. 
(Serves 6 people)

Olive oil (or nonstick oil spray)
2 1/2 cups breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
(I used hot dog buns...shh!)
3 Tbsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 tsp. finely grated lemon peel
3 Tbsp. butter, melted

6 6-oz. sea bass fillets

Coat rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, and lemon peel in another medium bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle melted butter over. Using fork, toss to incorporate evenly. Place fish fillets on the baking sheet, spacing apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide breadcrumbs among fillets to cover top (about 1/3 cup each), pressing to adhere. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bake until opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Turn on broiler. Broil fish until breadcrumbs start to brown, about 1 minute. Serve hot.

Monday, April 19, 2010

rhubarb-cheese blintzes

So that roasted rhubarb recipe I was raving about? It yields a lot. Even when you greedily consume a ton of it, you still might find yourself with a container of leftovers. Which is a good thing! Especially the next morning, when the flavors have spent enough time together that they've become more heightened and delicious.

Here's what you should make: rhubarb blintzes. Thin crepes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and topped with roasted rhubarb and a little powdered sugar. These blintzes are so darn pretty you will feel immensely proud of making them, especially if you're making them for friends who have come over for brunch. (Or just for yourself, in your rattiest pajamas.)

Don't be afraid of flipping blintzes. They are more forgiving than you'd think, especially after the first go of it. The key is to keep your pan oiled, even if it's nonstick. And don't overload the pan with lots of batter. The Joy of Cooking recommends only two to three tablespoons of batter per blintz. Also be sure to keep a plate and dish or paper towel handy to keep them covered and warm.

While I've railed against making pancakes when you're having people over for brunch, blintzes are an exception to this rule because they can be made in advance and stored overnight in the refrigerator. Just layer them between sheets of wax paper on a plate covered in clear plastic wrap. Then, when people come over, you can reheat the blintzes in a pan, fill them with cheese, and top them with the rhubarb mixture. Serve. Bask in compliments.

Sweet cheese blintzes
(Makes 8 blintzes, serves 4 people)

Blintz batter:
1 cup flour
1 cups milk
3 large eggs
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 Tbsp. sugar
Pinch salt
Butter for cooking the blintzes

Cheese filling:
10 oz. farmer's cheese, ricotta, or drained small-curd cottage cheese
2 ounces cream cheese
1 egg
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
zest of 1/2 orange or lemon (optional)

Roasted rhubarb, about 1 cup or so

To make the blintz batter:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Or, mix them together by hand in a large bowl until smooth. Refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes or up to two days, which allows the flour to absorb the liquid and gives the gluten a chance to relax.

To make the blintzes:
Place a nonstick or seasoned crepe pan or saute pan over medium heat. Coat the pan with a little butter. Stir the batter and pout 2 1/2 to 3 Tbsp. into the pan, lifting the pan off the heat and tilting and rotating it so the batter forms an even layer. Cook until the top is dry and set and the underside is golden and starting to curl up. Remove to a plate or piece of wax paper. Continue cooking the rest of the blintzes, buttering the pan and stirring the batter before each one. Use as soon as they are cool enough to roll.

To make the filling and fill the blintzes:
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth. Or, mix them together by hand in a large bowl until smooth. Spoon the filling in the center of one uncooked blintz. Fold the sides around to form a rectangular package. In a large skillet, melt 2 Tbsp. butter. Add the blintz, seam side down and cook until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel to drain, and then to a plate. Top with rhubarb and powdered sugar.

(Or, to make the nontraditional, heathen, rolled version that you see in the photos, spoon the cheese filling onto one side of the blintz, then roll it into a crepe-like shape. Carefully brown the blintz in the buttered pan on both sides. Let drain on paper towel, place on a plate, then top with rhubarb.)

Friday, April 16, 2010


Spring recipes for bright and sunny days. (At least I hope it's bright and sunny where you are.)

The Arnie, a spiked Arnold Palmer concoction [via Eat Make Read]

Rieslings for spring [via Food & Wine]

Asparagus with citrus and oregano [via Saveur]

Spring lamb meatballs with mint, pine nuts, and tahini [via Pithy & Cleaver]

Many, many things to do with snap peas [via Bon Appetit]

An elegant lemon mousse cake [via Bella Eats]

And a rustic country rhubarb cake [via Wednesday Chef]

And for good measure, some cute baby lambs. Baa. [via Goldilocks Finds Manhattan]

PS: Speaking of spring, I've done a bit of cleaning to spruce things up around here. If you haven't already noticed, there are now separate pages for the recipe archive, links, What's for Dinner Q&As, and a few deets about me and this site. Please take a look around and let me know what you think. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

roasted rhubarb

Rhubarb is one of spring's greatest treats. It might not look like much more than a pink stalk of celery, but when cooked up properly (ie: with a lot of sugar), rhubarb's flavor is so bright and tart-sweet, it jolts your senses out of the winter doldrums.

Usually, I stew rhubarb with strawberries to make fruit crumbles or parfaits. But upon seeing Molly of Orangette's recipe for roasted rhubarb with wine and vanilla, I decided to keep the strawberries out of it this time around. I mean, wine and vanilla? Yes, please.

As it sounds, this is a very elegant way to treat a humble vegetable. You cut the stalks into chunky pieces, then let them bathe in a mixture of sugar, wine, and vanilla until, as Molly aptly writes, it "slumps juicily on the end of a fork." Molly's recipe calls for a crisp white wine. But when I went to my local wine shop, a blushing bottle of rosé caught my eye. Good rosé is as crisp as a dry white wine, but often has flavors of strawberries, cherries, and peaches. Which, in my mind, sounded like an even better match for the rhubarb.

And it was. Not to knock the great Orangette, but use rosé for this recipe. The wine brought out the fruitiness of the rhubarb and played really well with the vanilla. It's incredibly subtle--the wine completely burns off during cooking and creates this thick, vanilla-flecked, ruby sauce that I couldn't stop slurping up with a spoon. The longer you let the fruit sit and cool, the richer the sauce becomes.

We ate the rhubarb simply with some ricotta dressed up with a bit of sugar and lemon zest. It tasted as pure and bright as spring itself.

Roasted rhubarb
Via Orangette; inspired by Canal House Cooking, Volume 3
(Serves 4 to 6 people)

2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
½ cup sugar
½ cup rosé wine (or crisp white wine)
1 vanilla bean, split

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the rhubarb in a Dutch oven or other deep, oven-safe pot. Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean, and stir to mix. Bake (uncovered) for about 30 minutes, or until very tender, giving the pot a gentle stir about midway through to ensure that the rhubarb cooks evenly. Serve with ricotta, Greek yogurt, vanilla ice cream, cake, or by itself.

Monday, April 12, 2010

what's for dinner, nick fauchald?

Formerly an editor at Wine Spectator, Every Day With Rachael Ray, and Food & Wine, Nick Fauchald now heads up Tasting Table, a free daily email about recipes, chefs, restaurants, dining trends, cool websites, and other essential tidbits about the culinary world. Tasting Table's latest venture is the Chef's Recipe Edition, a biweekly email containing a recipe from a notable chef, cookbook author, or mixologist. Read on to find out about Nick's love of whole-animal cooking and large-batch cocktails and his favorite new source for unusual dinner party soundtracks. Thanks, Nick!

1. Name, occupation, and city
Nick Fauchald, editor-in-chief of, New York

2. When was the last time you threw a dinner party, and who was invited?

Last weekend. They’re usually impromptu affairs; I’m not one for planning ahead and sending out invites and drawing up seating charts. If I find myself with a free Saturday or Sunday evening, I call a bunch of friends and whoever’s free shows up a couple of hours later.

3. What is the best menu you've ever made for company?

I wish I kept better track of what I cook, but I don’t. I like the spontaneity of dinner--starting with a pile of ingredients and ending up with something that is more or less tasty. The next day I can’t remember what I’ve served (see next question). But anytime I cook a whole animal--a pig or lamb or goat--the affair becomes more memorable (maybe because it feels somewhat sacrificial?).

4. What's your preference: wine, beer, cocktails?

Yes, please. I almost always make some large-batch cocktail (a pitcher of negronis, say) before guests arrive, so they have something to drink right away. Then I put out a few options for beer and wine with food. Then after dinner I have more time to screw around behind the bar.

5. What's your favorite dinner party soundtrack?

Recently a friend turned me onto Mississippi Records, a Portland, Oregon label that specializes in lost and obscure recordings--everything from old Delta blues to Dutch punk and Thai country. The music’s a good conversation starter and way more interesting than the latest Spoon album or whatever.

6. Some friends are coming over for a last-minute dinner. What do you make?

By nature most of my dinners are last minute, but if it’s truly spontaneous and I don’t have time to shop beforehand, I’ll make a pasta or risotto using whatever fresh produce I have leftover from the previous weekend.

7. Do you usually cook everything yourself, or do you have help?
I’m what some have dubbed an “alpha cook,” so I usually fly solo at the stove. Not that I don’t love company in the kitchen--especially when there are dishes to be washed.

8. Do you ever buy store-bought food, or is everything on your table made from scratch?

I’ll buy bread and dessert. Though lately I’ve been trying to bake more bread--the extra effort always pays off.

9. What do you like to serve for dessert?

See above. If I’m feeling unusually ambitious, I’ll make pavlovas or something that involves whipping lots of egg whites. I love meringue.

10. If you could invite anyone over for dinner (living or dead), who would it be?

My mom and dad (both living)--I still have a huge food debt to repay, and my mom taught me how to be a gracious host.
Michael Harlan Turkell]

Friday, April 9, 2010

springtime brunch

I'm so excited that it's spring I could jump out of my skin. I love being able to throw open the windows and watch the leaves on the big, beautiful trees in our neighborhood slowly come back again.

While my parents were in town, I wanted to make a special brunch that would fill us up for a day of power walking. Although the daffodils were in full glory and the magnolia trees were starting to unfurl their pointy, pink blooms, the entire weekend was cold and rainy, not very spring-like at all. But at least we could eat that way.

The centerpiece of my brunch was scrambled eggs cribbed from Bon Appetit. The original recipe called for fava beans, which weren't at my market (and I hate peeling them, anyway), so I substituted spring's other standout vegetable: asparagus. You also add some sour cream (or crème fraîche), leeks sauteed in butter, and a healthy dose of parmesan, creating something that tastes much more luxurious than a plate of eggs.

Another plus about this recipe is that the vegetables can be cooked in advance. I had originally planned this brunch for Sunday, but my parents arrived at our apartment sheepishly saying that they had woken up early and got bagels. So I packed up the vegetables in a container (a little annoyed, I'll admit) and saved them for the next day. Thankfully, everyone arrived hungry.

Springtime brunch
Coffee and Earl Grey tea
Scrambled eggs with asparagus, leeks, and Parmesan
Banana bread
Strawberries with vanilla sugar

Scrambled eggs with leeks, asparagus, and parmesan
Adapted from Bon Appetit. The original recipe also calls for crispy breadcrumbs on top, which I skipped, but next time I'll leave them in.
(Serves about 6 to 8 people)

1/2 bunch asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

12 large eggs (preferably organic)

1/2 cup crème fraîche (I used sour cream
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter

2 cups chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only; from 2 large)

Parmesan cheese, for sprinkling on top (I like big, thick shavings)

Cook asparagus in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain. Pour the asparagus into a bowl of ice water. Whisk eggs, crème fraîche (or sour cream), and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt in large bowl to blend. Melt butter in heavy large skillet over low heat. Add leeks. Sauté until tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Mix in asparagus. Increase heat to medium-high. Add egg mixture. Stir with heatproof spatula until eggs are almost set but still creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with pepper. Transfer egg mixture to platter. Grate Parmesan over and serve.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

an indoor flower garden

Remember what I said about sticking to one color when you arrange flowers? Well, scratch that. (Kinda.)

Although choosing monochromatic flowers is a no-fuss way to make a centerpiece, another one of my favorite ways to use flowers is to do the opposite: choose one type of flower in many different colors. I like to place each stem in a clear glass container, then cluster the vases together to create a garden-like effect. Stick to one type of bloom that comes in a rainbow of hues. Roses, ranunculus, daisies, tulips, and calla lillies are a few good options. Fancy vessels aren't necessary. You could use jelly or Mason jars, tall drinking glasses, or other containers like this cool test tube contraption I got as a gift.

Separating the stems into smaller containers makes a bigger impact than a bunch of blooms in a single vase. The display is ideal for a mantle or you could run the vases down the center of your dinner table for a runner-like effect. Just stick to low containers and keep the stems short so people can see each other.

Monday, April 5, 2010

family meal

Sometimes friends and family come to visit Dan and me, which provides a good excuse to do touristy things we would never bother to do on our own. My parents came for a long weekend last week so we dragged them around town (in the rain) all in the name of fun. We strolled around St. Patrick's Cathedral, stared at Marina Abramović at the Museum of Modern Art, combed the booths at the Brooklyn Flea, walked around Brooklyn Bridge Park and stopped for hot chocolate at Jacques Torres. And it was fun. But it was vacation fun, not everyday fun.

I spent part of Sunday afternoon making lazy margaritas for my mom and watching college basketball with Dan and my dad. It was wonderful because it was such a normal thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. But sometimes I'd like to hang out with my parents and not think, "Wow, they will be gone in a day and a half."

The visit got me thinking about living so far away from family, which always happens when I spend time with my parents. Most of the time, it's really nice to have family nearby. It's nice to have people who will pick you up at the airport, lend you things, call you up when they're going for a walk in the park to see if you want to come along too. Going to museums is great, but I like doing day-to-day stuff with my parents. There's nothing better than pushing a giant shopping cart around a big, suburban Target with Mom. Probably because we rarely spend time together that way.

I could have made an elaborate, multi-course dinner to celebrate their first night in town, but I decided against it. Not only are my parents unfussy eaters, I didn't want dinner to be an event like all of the other points of interest on their trip. So I scaled back and made something more simple: shrimp scampi with linguine, Caesar salad, and Key lime pie. Just a few dishes I'd make for them on any old Sunday night if we lived in the same city and were able to have dinner together often.

In my fantasy life, they would turn up around dinner time, and we'd drink wine on my imaginary porch until the sun set. Then we'd all have supper around my imaginary dinner table, passing dishes and talking about what happened that week. We wouldn't linger too long after the meal was over because we knew we'd all be doing it again the next week. No long embraces, no tears. Just see you again soon.

And as we ate our shrimp and pasta, that's exactly what I pretended.

Dinner with my parents
Caesar salad
Shrimp scampi with linguine
Key lime pie
Shrimp scampi with linguine
From Ina Garten, via the Food Network
(Serves 4 people)

Vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. salt plus 1 1/2 tsp.
3/4 pound linguine
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
2 1/2 Tbsp. good olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic (4 cloves)
1 lb. large shrimp (about 16 shrimp), peeled and de-veined
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 lemon, zest grated
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 lemon, thinly sliced in half-rounds
1/8 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
Grated parmesan, optional

Drizzle some oil in a large pot of boiling salted water, add 1 tablespoon of salt and the linguine, and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or according to the directions on the package. Meanwhile, in another large (12-inch), heavy-bottomed pan, melt the butter and olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute. Be careful, the garlic burns easily! Add the shrimp, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Remove from the heat, add the parsley, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine. When the pasta is done, drain the cooked linguine and then put it back in the pot. Immediately add the shrimp and sauce, toss well, and serve with parmesan, if desired.


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