Terra Cotta Tiles: A Ginger Snap Follow up

I burnt um. I kneaded in that extra flour I talked about, placed them gingerly in the oven and then proceeded to watch them go from butter, sugar and eggs to charcoal briquettes. The good news is: I still have 1/3 of the dough left. Robin, who gave me the recipe, thinks that there are just certain people out there with the baker’s touch and she may be right, but I refuse to believe that I am not one of those people.

Ginger Snaps

These are the ginger snaps I made last night, though I think they look more like ginger shrapnel. I'm not sure what happened, but these don't share any resemblance with the tasty little crisps I had a few weeks ago and they're supposed to be from the same recipe. I have attached the recipe below maybe it will provide a clue for all the more experienced bakers out there. As for me, I'm going to experiment with the leftover dough, maybe add a little flour or freeze it a little. I'll let you know how it goes.

1 ½ cups of shortening (Crisco butter strips)

2 cups sugar

2 eggs

1 ½ cups molasses

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon cloves (powder)

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger (more if u desire)

Preheat oven to 375º F
Sit the shortening or butter stick out for room temperature before mixing. All refrigerated items should be room temperature b/4 stirring. Mix all ingredients together until dough becomes firm.

! Lightly grease cookie sheet. (Important not to over grease sheet) Shape dough into balls, you can determine the size cookie you want by the size balls you make. Place cookie dough on cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Lightly press them down. Sprinkle sugar over cookie dough before baking.

Bake cookies for 7- 12mins or until almost no indentation remains when touched in center. For softer cookies remove them from oven in about 9mins. Recipe makes anywhere between 2 to 3 ½ dozen depending on the size.

Fish Fears

Two months ago I made a pact with myself: if fish found its way to my dinner table, I would make sure it found its way to my fork, which leads me to my little seafood issue. Call it seaweed or nori, scrod or Chilean sea bass, shrimp – yes, shrimp, or scallops, I’m not down with it. Nope not down with it at all. So two months ago I decided that if I wanted to be a real food writer, this attitude just wouldn’t float. What kind of food expert swears off the entire bottom right hand corner of the menu? I realized it was high time for me to take this tiny boned, dorsal-fined skeleton out of my closet and make stock. So it’s been two months and while I have stayed true to my word, the results aren’t exactly what I was hoping for.

One of my very first contenders was a mussel in a marinara sauce. Now before everyone gets all… well, that’s her problem – who starts eating fish with mussels? Please let me remind you that I did live in Japan for two years. This is not my first journey down this road of let’s learn-to-love-fish. So anyway, I eyeballed that mussel for a really long time – blue black on the outside and orange in the middle – the sauce did very little to shield the natural beauty of the little bivalve (Bivalve, that’s the cute pet name people have for these things. To me it sounds more like the prefix to an invasive cardiothoracic procedure). The upside is that I got to use one of those mini forks to wrestle the little sucker from his shell before I popped it in my mouth. Let me just tell you that mushy and chewy do not go together like peanut butter and jelly. While the very soft center of my orange little friend kept me well aware that I was eating some portion of a digestive tract, the rubbery ring surrounding the mush, the muscle of the mussel, made it all but impossible to swallow whole. I was going to taste every bit of that thing whether I liked it or not. After the first show down I tried to go back and eat another, but my stomach refused. That was enough training for one day.

But that was two months ago: since then I have had grilled grouper, pan fried snapper, broiled haddock a sundry of shrimp, and some other sea dwellers that will forever remain in the inner most recesses of my brain’s trauma center. The question is, do I give up? H to the double hockey sticks no – this is no longer about finding something I enjoy. This is an all out war of wills – a palate re-education by force – an acquired taste, if you will. I’m starting to think that to get this done, I’ll have to up the stakes. Tiny bites here and there are all well and good, but tiny bites mean tiny progress. I am also thinking that there should be some huge culminating event, a coming out party of sorts. So I’m throwing it out to you guys. What and when should the big event be and how do I get there? If you think I’m just going to start popping crab stuffed cuttlefish like C vitamins; you can forget it. I’m looking for real solutions here. So what cha’ got?

Asian Noodle Salad

Even though the summer is winding down, I have one more hot weather recipe I want to share. My Asian noodle salad is great for those nights when you want something different, but not too different.

½ box of thin spaghetti
2 chicken breasts
Carrot slices
Cucumber slices
Crushed whole peanuts (optional)

Dressing Ingredients
1 tablespoon finely diced fresh ginger
1 large clove of garlic finely diced
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons peanut butter (preferably chunky)
1 pinch red pepper flakes (optional)

Cook pasta according to the instructions on package. Drain and submerge in ice water.

While pasta is cooking, boil chicken in salty water until it is cooked through; about 8-10 minutes. I like to add a few slices of ginger to the pot to help flavor the chicken. When chicken cools shred by hand and set aside.

Once you have your chicken and pasta on the stove, begin your dressing. Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl together and taste. Remember cooking is all about tasting. Taste any unfamiliar ingredients before mixing the dressing so you can adjust the final product to be just the way you like it.

Assemble noodles by placing a handful of spaghetti at the bottom of a bowl and topping with some dressing. Then pile on carrots, cucumbers and any other veggies you would like. Top with chicken, additional dressing and garnish with peanuts.

(Serves 3)

-For additional flavor add lime juice and salt to shredded chicken.
-Avocado works great in this dish and is a nice substitute when making the vegetarian/vegan version of this recipe.

The Background Check

…just a little additional info to give you an idea where I’m coming from

Obsessed with travel and on the hunt for the next great flavor, I got into food at a very early age. While most kids loved PBS for Sesame Street, I was sitting too close to the television for The Frugal Gourmet. Around the age of twelve I got into the kitchen alone and began to torment my family with bullet proof meatloaves and soggy pastas. Had it not been for some basic fire safety learned at Holbrook Jr. Sr. High School , I would have certainly burned down my parents house with a nasty little bacon grease fire I started on a “sick day” home from school. Upon entering The George Washington University in 1998, I realized that these early mishaps were actually blessings. Of the twenty or so full scale fire evacuations that occurred over that four year period, I can proudly say I was never once to blame.

Four years at that D.C. university provided me with a degree in English and a well equipped kitchen to experiment with. By senior year I was broiling steaks and baking calzones. Damn, I miss those days when reading a book in the sun was considered homework and I could stay up late into the night experimenting in the kitchen. But all good things must come to an end to make room for better things; I had landed a teaching job in Japan which turned out to be a whole new kind of education.


“Yes, Mr. Japanese Junior High School Principal”

“You are getting thinner.”

“Thank you, I mean, really?”

“I have noticed you haven’t been eating your school lunch.”

He was right, those teachers that didn’t have classrooms of their own ate lunch together everyday which meant my new boss played witness to my lunch break antics. At the time, tofu scared me, fish still scares me to this day and every time I would ask someone to identify the bumpy purple vegetable on my plate they would say something like, “that is a Japanese pickle”. What? Thanks to my phobia of all that funky new food, I threw myself into learning how to read menus in Japanese, which is one of the very few Japanese language skills I still retain. Once I could identify things on my own, I really got into the food- udon noodles, curries, rice balls the Japanese could even take foreign foods like cream puffs to a new level. This was my first prolonged exposure to a country that treated food with respect, it wasn’t just fuel; it was another opportunity for excellence. After two years I left Japan convinced that tofu is the other white meat, quality kicks quantity’s butt, and pizza with asparagus, bacon and mayonnaise isn't necessarily a bad thing. I returned to the U.S. with plenty of new ideologies to foist onto my friends and family completely unprepared for the reverse culture shock that awaited. After four months I realized I was not ready to repatriate into the land of big cars and big shopping carts; I wanted to go somewhere new. Why not Italy?

Italy’s culinary tradition is so prolific that it’s actually become cliché, but here’s the thing; the food really is that good. I learned quickly that if I wanted to understand Italian food, I had to get out of the restaurants and into the kitchen. Fresh mozzarella for less than a dollar, tomatoes with flavor, wines, lemons and cheeses; it didn’t embarrass me to audibly moan over the flavor of a green bean. I could do all of this tasting on my own, but my real education began when I met Valeria. One day I answered an ad for an au pair job and the next I was sitting in her kitchen still unsure that I was ready to give up my life of freedom to live with a family and become the caretaker of two young children. She wooed me with food. Every night of my “trial” week it was something else. I had hamburgers of stunning quality, pasta al pesto, scamorza cheese, pasta al sugo, fresh ricotta drizzled with honey… she would load me up with leftovers of grilled eggplant parmesan for my roommates. What was freedom compared to this? Her broth did me in. Made with beef fillet, carrots, celery and onions, it was presented in a shallow bowl filled with bits of al dente pasta the size of pearls topped with melting parmigiano reggiano and olive oil; I was in awe. How could something so simple taste like this?

Stricken with food induced dementia I bargained my life away too easily ultimately working with the family for less than three months, in the end choosing freedom over food. In those three months I had the good fortune to visit Valeria’s hometown in Puglia. There I had my first burrata and sausages, yogurts, crepes with nutella, salads with sweet lettuce, gelato… the quality there set the standards I live by today. I learned Valeria’s recipes by loitering in her kitchen. There wasn’t a day that I didn’t find her in front of the stove. Mind you she had a live-in cook and maid which indicates just what kind of Southern Italian woman she was. She taught me how to really clean a house, how to really boil pasta and an appreciation for quality ingredients that changed the way I eat.

Anyone who has lived in Italy knows that at some point you just have to leave. For me it took the theft of all of my valuables from the third story apartment I was sleeping in. I woke up and everything was gone; I had, had enough. I wanted to relocate to a city that was calmer, safer and easier, but fate led me to New York City instead. And that’s where I am today, Brooklyn. I’ve been here for almost three years working unexpectedly in the fashion industry. But my true passion lies in food writing and that’s what this blog is all about. Thanks to Semester at Sea and my years in Japan and Italy I have been fortunate enough to visit over twenty-five countries and I have no plans to stop. In Vietnam it was the thought of pineapple pancakes and thick Vietnamese coffee that got me up in the mornings while the prospect of hot jerk chicken kept me up on Jamaican nights. I love to travel and it is the food that I find along the way that keeps me going.

A Potato Salad with Personality

It was about 10 p.m. on a Wednesday and I was messing around with an Ikea desk lamp in an effort to make my homemade-tasty, but not so pretty potato salad look web presentable. It was one of those hot New York nights that make even the slightest movement frustrating, so after a nine-hour day at my job that pays the bills, I did have the heart to force my salad to be something it wasn’t. This salad has personality -- derived from its reliance on the best ingredients. When I brought this recipe home from Italy a few years ago, I quickly realized that it was no supermarket produce salad. Like most Italian cuisine, this dish has very few ingredients making bad quality really difficult to hide. So if your going do it, you better hit the farmers market or raid your neighbor’s overgrown garden. I like this salad because it allows a potato to taste like a potato and a green bean to taste like a green bean. Like I said, it’s all about keeping it real; it’s about personality.


1 pound red potatoes
¼ pound green beans
¾ pound tomatoes diced into bite-sized pieces
2 hard-boiled eggs, diced
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Boil potatoes whole in very salty water until fork tender which should take about 25-40 minutes depending on size. Drain potatoes and allow to cool until they can be handled easily, then cut into bite-sized pieces. While cooking potatoes, prepare green beans by removing ends, cutting in half and boiling in their own salty water for about three minutes. The beans should be just under cooked to compensate for residual cooking that occurs after they are drained. Place cooked beans in a large bowl adding tomatoes, eggs and potatoes. Dress generously with olive oil and mix gently. Add additional salt if needed. Serve salad with balsamic vinegar allowing diners to season to taste.

serves 4


I can’t believe it’s already August. It feels like I’ve only begun to gear up for summer and here we are winding down. Life in New York City has me in such a whirl that I forgot all about corn on the cob. Until two weeks ago this easy, great tasting, quintessential summer vegetable had been gracing tables across America, but remained absent at my own. A quick breeze through Union Square market reminded me that I better get with the program because a fresh vegetable bounty like this comes around only once a year. At the market I bought four ears from a farmer named Jake who literally sang his products praises. Back home I shucked the husks and submerged the tiny kernelled bi-colored cobs into salty, boiling water for about 5 minutes. There is a lot of contention out there about how long corn on the cob should be cooked. A good rule to follow is the younger the corn, the shorter the cooking time. Some need only be cooked long enough to heat through while others may require a good 10-15 minutes. Experiment a little and let a few pricks with a fork be your guide. Regardless of cooking time, I like to drain my ears early, place a lid on the pot and let the corn steam itself for a few minutes. I’m probably breaking some fundamental culinary rule, but I like the deep yellow color and tightly sealed look the corn gets after its steam bath. To finish, I get really generous with the butter and sprinkle on a tad more salt for good measure.
For those of you that haven’t caught up with the season, I urge you to go out, do yourself a favor and buy some fresh corn. It’s great low maintenance eating.

Note: While visiting my parents in a suburb of Boston, I happened to catch a glimpse of corn prices in the local supermarket four ears for $2.59, a whole 59 cents more than my NEW YORK CITY farmer’s market bunch. I have to give Jake the farmer a hand -- his corn was tender, a lot sweeter, and less expensive. Sometimes buying from the local guy is as nice to the wallet as it is to the palate. Fantastic!