Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Consider the Cranberry.....and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, perhaps even more so than Christmas. Don't get me wrong, I am a complete sucker for carols, tree decorating, 5-year olds doing a nativity re-enactment, you name it, but Thanksgiving has managed to stay pure and relatively uncorrupted by gross commercialism, to the point that retailers have kind of skipped Thanksgiving and now move right onto Christmas decorations immediately following Halloween.

There are no presents on Thanksgiving, no material gains, and you don't even get a lot of time off of work. But to me, the idea of sitting down for an awesome meal with your friends and family and making a point of giving thanks for it all, makes Thanksgiving the perfect holiday for the tummy and the soul. And while it may seem odd, even hypocritical, to some that we Americans need to set aside a whole day just to be thankful, I think it is a wonderful thing that every year there is a day set aside to remind us how lucky we are.

And yes, viscerally most of us are probably aware of our good fortune in our day-to-day lives, but it always takes some sort of reminder for us to consciously recognize it. Whether it is the annual battle against the crazies that descend on Penn Station each year trying to get back to Washington, only to be welcomed home at midnight by a hot midnight snack and 5 jealous pugs, or your pet wolf's appreciation for his daily croissant, these instances should be savored and appreciated. After all, isn't the fact that we are in a position to take so much for granted, something to be thankful for as well? I am never thankful for clean water, or hell, even my own skin, until I read about dysentery and cholera in The New York Times or I fall off my bike wearing nothing but spandex and have road rash for three weeks.

Every year I always resolve to call my grandparents more often, play the piano more, go to church, not be shy about telling people I care, not be bitter, volunteer more, etc. But of course, I promptly forget about this about two days back into my routine.

I have even found it difficult to truly appreciate things like exercise and a good book on a routine basis. So often, I fail to appreciate the exhilaration of speed on a ride, the solitude of a long run, or the smoothness of a good swim, because the path is too crowded or I am just doing this so I don't die during my next triathlon, or, oh gross, that bum is peeing over there. And too often, when I read, I have a hard time getting the "Editorial Jess" or worse, the "Publicist Jess" out of my head.

The one thing I have been able to slow down and savor on a daily basis though, is food. I am "enjoying my croissant" each day, as it were. I relish my french-pressed coffee each morning, savor every meal with Vronsky, covet every warm sip of home-made chicken soup. I have come to love "carpet picnics" with my girlfriends as much as I love a night out at a Michelin starred restaurant.

And when I sit down at the table tomorrow, what I will savor the most, besides being home with my family, is not the turkey or even the stuffing, but the humble cranberry.

Cranberries are ridiculously good for you, and have a tartness that I absolutely adore. I love that fuzzy feeling on my tongue that my morning glass of cranberry juice gives me each morning, and craisins are a must-have on any salad I make. Yet like many things we should appreciate but don't, the cranberry gets overlooked in the Thanksgiving spread by the more glamorous, showy dishes.

I am not talking about that weird canned stuff that comes out in a perfect cylinder (although that is a sight to behold in and of itself). But the tangy, ruby-red sauce that adds fresh bite to each morsel of potato, turkey, and stuffing, which, without cranberry sauce, is just brown on top of more brown.

Additionally, cranberry sauce is VITAL to any Thanksgiving left-over sandwich, which, quite frankly, is almost better than the meal itself. Or you can be like my father and just dip a cold piece of turkey right into the sauce, and then listen to my mother go ape-shit when she finds turkey bits in the sauce the following morning.

Here is my favorite recipe for classic cranberry sauce. Make it all year round!

You will need:

14-oz. of cranberries, either fresh or thawed frozen ones
1 1/2 cup of packed brown sugar
1/2 cup of orange juice
1/3 cup of Grand Marnier or Cointreau (mmm)
8 black peppercorns
6 allspice berries
5 cloves
1 2" stick of cinnamon, broken in half

Heat the cranberries, sugar, OJ, and Grand Marnier in a 2 qt. saucepan over medium heat. The cranberries will "burst" open once things get hot. Place the peppercorns, allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in a piece of cheesecloth and tie ends with kitchen twine. Add this "spice bundle" to the mixture. Cook, stirring often, until cranberries soften and the mixture thickens, which usually takes about 25-30 minutes.

Once mushy and "sauce like," transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and refrigerate for an hour or more to let the flavors meld. Take out the spice bundle and throw it away, and stir the sauce before serving. Yummy!

If this is too complex for the chaos of your own Thanksgiving, you can make a very basic sauce by first bringing one cup of water, one cup sugar to a boil, adding cranberries, bringing back to a boil, and then down to a simmer for about 10 minutes or until they burst. From here, you can add a bit of cinnamon, all spice, raisins, etc. stir in, then remove and refrigerate as mentioned above.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The best peanut butter has the worst name

I have done it. I have discovered the best peanut butter on the market today. Ironically, it has a terrible name: Cream Nut.

That's right, Cream Nut All-Natural Chunky Peanut Butter , is the best peanut butter I have ever tasted. I am halfway through my second jar and have been eating it on everything from carrots and celery to granny smith apple slices, sandwiches, and straight out of the jar with a spoon.

I cannot decide if the weird name is just sheer hippie oblivion or a genius marketing strategy because I will admit, the reason I picked this up to begin with was because of the weird name.

There is both chunky and smooth, but I definitely vote for chunky here (it has a red cap versus white). I usually am a "smooth" fan, but the chunky kind has a lot more flavor and the texture is perfect. The chunks are not too big either,which I dislike about other "all-natural" brands.

It is sold in the Zingerman's Mail-Order catalog (of course) and in many food-stores around the country. I have found it here in NYC in my local grocery store as well as at Forager's Market in Brooklyn, so I am sure it is easily available.

I have a lot of friends out there who seriously believe that peanut butter increases their life force, as do several editors at Runner's World magazine. Besides bananas, I think peanut butter is a perfect "desert island" food, and endurance athletes swear by it. A half-sized PBJ or with some apple slices is a perfect pre-workout meal, as it is not too heavy or harsh on the stomach, but gives you a lot of protein, healthy fats, and a bit of carbs to fuel you up without giving you cramps or worse.

Also, Cream-Nut is literally 100% peanuts. No chemicals or preservatives and the peanuts are ground in small batches, with just a pinch of salt added for taste. When I compared the labels of my beloved Cream-Nut to Jiff, I was shocked at how many chemicals were added. Ew! I know that sometimes it has to be done, but when you can make such a fabulous-tasting product without it, is there really any choice about which one to purchase??

Sometimes all-natural peanut butters can "separate" at warmer temperatures, meaning you will have a bit of peanut oil rise to the top. Chunky kinds do this less than smooth, and if you dislike having to stir the jar a bit before spreading/eating it, just keep in the fridge.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Game Day Food: Part II of II

I learned a lot of things this weekend while in Ann Arbor, cheering on the struggling Wolverines while simultaneously celebrating their incredible tradition and the strength of my liver.

Lesson #1: Zingerman's is still the greatest single foodie mart/delicatessen in all the land. My friend Mike and I cruised their balsamic vinegar aisle and sampled "vintages" that were 10, 35, 60, even 100 years old. The taste difference is remarkable--from an extremely sharp vinegar edge in the younger versions, to ones that were almost like a syrup and were so sweet, it bordered on tasting like dark chocolate. Mike also introduced me to another delicious Zingerman's creation, the #85, the Detroit BBQ sandwich, complete with baked beans on the side. However, my heart still belongs to the #11 pastrami on rye with caramelized onions, brown mustard, and melted swiss. We ate our faces off and he even let me have his pickle, which gave me enough fuel and sustenance to make a smooth segue into my next "teachable moment."

Lesson #2: Just because you say you are turning into a pumpkin at midnight in an attempt to not be obscenely hung-over for game day, does not mean you can't do enough damage in 90 minutes to make you question your decision to go to a cheesy "undergrad" dance club the night before the game.

Lesson #3: Bacon cures everything. So does Irish coffee. My friend Pier hosted a sweet tailgate that included all these things and brought a bit of Princeton up to Michigan by making cheesy eggs. Unfortunately, he learned the heard way that you can't make cheesy eggs 24 at a time in a stock pot. The skillet is a required tool for successful scrambled egg making, and to try anything else will result in cheesy eggs with little black burned bits throughout that taste like pencils. Thankfully, there was plenty of other breakfast meat and doughnuts to go around, and we went off to the Big House with full bellies and high-spirits to battle the Buckeyes.

Lesson #4: I really hate Ohio State. And Tate Forcier, I like you a lot, but you really need to get your shit together.

Lesson #5: Bratwurst "sandwiches" are great tail-gate food. Your hands don't get messy, they are way better than hot dogs, and if it is a spicy wurst, you don't need any sort of condiment that could splatter all over your favorite maize sweatshirt.

Lesson #6: Mediterranean food is a surprisingly good way to get your "second wind" back. After the game, Mike and I took a 3 hour nap, waking up at 7pm groggy as hell and both trying our best to rally for the night ahead. I was completely greased-out and so we went to Jerusalem Garden and had some great hummus, falafell balls, rice pilaf, and some amazing lentil soup. The spice and potent flavors and relative "lightness" of the food really revitalized us, and I am resolving to integrate more tahini in my own cooking. We went on to party it up until 4am, complete with "beer monster" chugs, festive "Ole! Ole, ole, ole!" chants, boots of beer, and the hilarity of seeing my friend Paul in pigtails, who was in rare form upon being reunited with all his old wolverine teammates.

Lesson #7: I am old and can't hack it like I used to. But it was totally worth it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Game Day Food: part I of II

This weekend signaled the beginning of what I can only term Jessica's Wild Adventures in the Wide World of College Tailgates. To start, I went with Vronsky down to the lovely town of Chapel Hill to see the UNC Tarheels battle it out against Miami in football on Saturday and their basketball team take on Valparaiso on Sunday. They were victorious both times (hooray!) and I got to book-end both games with more soul-food and BBQ than I've ever eaten in my whole life over a two-day span.

I love baked beans and pulled pork, and while I don't share Vronsky's love for black-eyed peas, please don't come between me and applesauce or fresh biscuits. That said, the highlight of this little trip, gastronomically speaking, had to be our visit to the legendary Mama Dips for Sunday morning brunch.

After tailgating all day and celebrating all night, my body was craving grease with an abnormally high level of urgency. Mama Dips serves the entire gamut of what can be called soul-food, from chitlins to sweet tea and grits, plus traditional all-American breakfast fare, but what they are best known for is their friend chicken. When I am in the throws of a grease craving, I usually go for my standard cure-all: veggie omelet with a side of bacon, home fries and a ice-cold, full-fat coca-cola. While all that greasy loveliness was an offering on the menu, I decided to take a risk and try their "fried chicken breakfast," which included 2-eggs any style, grits, bacon, and two pieces of fried chicken smothered in gravy. Somewhere, a cardiologist is weeping.

I say, let him weep. The food was incredible, and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who actually doesn't like fried-chicken all that much. I usually find it to be too dry, but something about that gravy and "Mama's" secret batter put me over the edge. Plus, pair that Mama's some fluffy grits, warm, buttery eggs, and perfectly crispy bacon, and you can consider the day seized. I can see why the restaurant has earned accolades across the board, from Road Food to

My fried chicken brunch was the perfect mid-way meal for what was a long, exciting weekend of fight songs and cheers. It is a good thing I just bought some new winter "bike gloves," as I am going to have to hit the road long and hard to prep my arteries for next weekend, as I will be journeying to Ann Arbor, MI, one of my favorite places in all the world, to watch my struggling Michigan Wolverines try and upset the evil Ohio State Buckeyes. I believe in miracles!

And if the game starts to suck, I already have a back-up plan: a Zingerman's #11 and rounding off a bottle of scotch with my friend Mike. Plus, my friend Paul, a former Michigan football-er himself and the man who found me tickets (thank you!), always has the hook-up with the best tailgates in town, and so regardless of the outcome, I will be well fed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Leçons de choses: Lessons from Things

I wrote my first fan letter last week. And yes, it was to New Yorker writer and acclaimed author Adam Gopnik regarding his marvelous little book, Paris to the Moon. Make fun all you want, but I don't think this is more laughable than those of us who have written fan letters to The Backstreet Boys or New Kids on the Block, or the like. (And you know who you are!). PLUS, I got a response from Gopnik. I doubt Nick Lachey ever wrote back.

Anyway, Gopnik's charming book is a loose collection of vignettes and meditation from his time in Paris, where he lived with his wife and young son for several years. There is an old Oscar Wilde saying that goes "when they die, all good Americans go to Paris," and indeed, for all its ills, Paris still embodies a sort of paradise in the American cultural psyche. Nobody gets fat, everybody has something profound to say, and the food is always amazing.

Many parts of Paris to the Moon are laugh out loud funny, from when Gopnik joins a Parisian gym (and the term "gym" is used very loosely here), to his month-long battle with French Christmas-tree lights that borders on existential (French lights are very different from American lights, you see). But the part of his book that I found most remarkable was a section entitled "Lessons from Things."

Luke, Gopnik's young son, is enrolled in a local pre-school. Part of the curriculum is something called leçons de choses, which gathers valuable wisdom from the process of turning stuff into things. Bricks (stuff) being turned into a house (a thing). Seeds, dirt, sunlight and water (more stuff), will all somehow create a flower or a plant (another thing). How does it happen? What is the lesson from it? It is a oddly lyric way of approaching the world, and Gopnik marvels at the "lessons" we all learn from these "things" when we take a similar approach has these pre-schoolers.

For example, it almost seems just short of divine when you think about how pots of paints and brushes (stuff), when put together in just the right sort of way, with the right kind of vision, becomes a priceless painting (a thing). Lumps of stone somehow become beautiful sculptures, letters and words, formerly gibberish, become books and poems. Musical notes, put together one way, its mere cacophony. Another way, it is symphony or a song. Indeed, there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the process of transforming stuff into things, but no where more does Gopnik find this more profound than when it comes to cooking.

Mere mortals probably don't have what it takes to put stuff like musical notes or paints into too amazing of a "thing." But most people can put together "stuff" like bread, mustard, turkey slices, and lettuce into a damn good turkey sandwich. You don't even need the trans-formative power of heat to make a good salad, just the proper selection of stuff, to make a marvelous thing to eat.

When Gopnik moves beyond the very elementary level of sandwich and salad making, however, the magic of "stuff into things" becomes even more incredible. The lumps of raw meat and bevy of mysterious bottles filled with spices on his counter somehow becomes an delicious roast chicken. Vegetables with dirt still on them eventually become soup. Seemingly disparate ingredients somehow become a tasty crepe. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from these things indeed, and I am a firm believer that cooking and understanding food at its most basic level makes one appreciate their meal on a whole new level. I would have enjoyed my evening at Savoy no matter what, but the fact that I have still not yet achieved a perfect crack-ly skin on my roast chicken, despite many valiant efforts, made me savor the marvelous texture of Savoy's salt-crust baked duck even more. What else could I learn from the marvelous things on my plate?

Perhaps nothing else, perhaps just the fact that cauliflower is an under appreciated vegetable in my kitchen, or that raisins go with a lot more than just oatmeal, or that I really need to expand my horizons when it comes to cured meats, as there are some awesome things out there besides salami and chorizo.

Conversely, attempting to cook news things on my own have made me a better "order-er" in a restaurant. I sincerely believe that cooking makes you want to explore new flavor combinations and take a bit more risk with your dinner, especially when the person in the kitchen is a trained professional. Learning to cook is not as difficult as one might think. Just remember Remy and Chef Gasteau's motto from the great Disney movie Ratatouille: Anyone can cook!

They can and they should. Just start small. Some pasta here, then try some chicken, and maybe an omelet. You'll be braising short ribs in no time. Not only is it more economical, frequently healthier, and a great de-stressor at the end of the long day (Mad at your boss? Get out the big knife and start dicing some onions, pretending it is their face. Or something.), but cooking opens up an entire world of new discoveries, those little leçons de choses that make life (and meals) that much more fun.

Feeling even more ambitious? Check out My Cooking Party. I did this two years ago with two other friends and we had an absolute blast. You basically play "sioux chef" in a real, mini- restaurant style kitchen to a head chef who has put together a 4 course meal. You all pitch in to make the dishes, and once it is done, you sit down and eat it. It is a great hands-on way to learn that is fun and can appeal to all skill levels. Plus, they throw in a few bottles of wine that match the food with the price of the class. Opa!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Team PIE vs. Team cake

What with all the heavy issues dominating the news today, I thought I should address what is obviously a serious cultural divide: pie versus cake.

I am team pie 110%. So is Vronsky, and my friend Emily, who promLinkpted this post by informing me of the delicious pie that was brought into the office today. Pie is fabulous, and let me state that for the record, cobblers, tarts, and basically anything with some sort of fruit filling and a graham cracker/crumbly crust falls squarely in the PIE category. I am even a little bit jealous of those Yankee pitchers who get a "pie in the face" after pitching a perfect game.

I mean, what is Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie? Apple pie is an American tradition. We all know my fondness for blueberry pie, and I will pull over to the side of the road to check out cherry pies sold at road-side stands before I ever pull over to ask for directions. Nothing is better than a key lime pie on a hot day, and don't even get me started on lemon meringue pie. I am sure there are pies out there that I've never tried or even heard of. There is a whole world of pies out there waiting to be discovered!

And cake is, well, cake. I have always thought chocolate cake was over-rated and the uniform texture of cake just can't compete the warm pie crust segueing into the cool juicy pop of the fruit filling, followed by the chill of vanilla ice cream, if you take it a la mode. I understand the sentimentality of birthday cake, but make it a birthday pie for me any year. (Hint, hint..)

Autumn is definitely pie season (actually, every season is pie season), but the warm, savory flavors of pumpkin and apple pie definitely define the holidays for a lot of people, and my aunt makes amazing pumpkin pie from real pumpkin, not the canned goop. A loose recipe of hers is below, which I've tried to duplicate but never quite succeeded.

Go out and buy a pie pumpkin (at a grocery/food store, not from the lots on the street, which usually are raised differently than what you will buy in a market).

Wash your pumpkin with warm water, no soap, and then cut the pumpkin in half (serrated knives work best. If you are having trouble, one time we actually had to use a hand saw. Those rinds are tough!)

Scrape out the insides and save the seeds for roasting if you'd like. An ice cream scoop or melon baller works well for this and get everything nice and clean.

Next, cook the two pumpkin halves by steaming it on your stovetop for about 20-30 minutes. We have a large vegetable steamer so it fits comfortably, although you might need to quarter the pumpkin to make it fit. After 20-30 minutes, the pumpkin "meat" will be soft and you can scoop it out from the rind quite easily with a table spoon.

Pop your pumpkin "meat" into a blender/food processor and puree until smooth. Next, make your pie filling. To do so, you will need:

1 cup sugar
1.5 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. all spice
1.5 tsp. ground ginger
pinch of salt
4 eggs
your pumpkin puree (should be about 3 cups if you use a standard pie pumpkin, which is around 8 inches)
1.5 cans of evaporated milk

Mix it all together and pour lovingly into your pie crust, which for us, has always been pre-bought, oops, but Thanksgiving day is always crazy in our kitchen and no one can find the time to bake a separate crust.

Be warned, this filling may be a bit runny/soupy at first, but it will firm up once cooked.

Bake your pie at 425 degrees for 15 minutes and then turn it down to 350 degrees and bake for another 45-60 minutes, so that when you stick a knife in the center it lifts out clean.

Cool your pie while you're eating the main meal, and then dig in!

Team Pie for life! All you team cakers, you can make a case for yourself in the comments, if you dare.

And for the record, Bubby's in Tribeca has the best sour cherry pie outside of Michigan. (That is an actual picture of it to the right).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Korean BBQ: Kimchi and beyond

Last night Vronsky and I had a little date at Woo Lae Oak, a Korean BBQ joint, which used to be the trendy SoHo restaurant du jour a few years back, but has held its own as its trendiness abates by serving phenomenal authentic Korean food while still staying approachable to diners who might not be familiar with Korean cuisine.

Growing up, my family was actually quite fond of Korean cuisine, and we would frequent the Woo Lae Oak in DC as well as a few places in the Korean neighborhoods in DC and Virginia, which has a large Korean population. My mother always manned the grill in dinners past, and so it was a real thrill for me to finally be my own grill master last night.

For those of you that have never had Korean BBQ, it is fairly straightforward: the meat and/or veggies are cooked right there at your table, which has its own little grill right in the center. It helps to be handy with chopsticks, as wooden ones are provided to tend to the meat, but you can ask for a fork or other utensil of your choosing.

The menu offers a lot of different protein options, but I recommend the bulgogi, (thinly sliced marinated rib eye) which is the traditional Korean preparation. They also have chicken, filet mignon, etc. but something about how the bulgogi is marinated just blows everything out of the water. Plus, because it is so thinly sliced, it cooks very quickly a will get these lovely charred edges, which are my favorite part. I am always tempted to try and lick the grill at the end, but not to fear, I always refrain. I like to wrap the cooked bulgogi in a large leaf of romaine lettuce, like a taco. The crispness of the lettuce compliments the smokey, savory flavor of the meats.

Vronsky was in 7th heaven and was thisclose to ordering another serving. He had always insisted he didn't like Korean BBQ, but I am convinced, based upon his most recent reaction, that the last time he tried Korean food, he ordered the wrong thing.

We also ordered some mixed vegetables (baby corn, shaved carrot, squash slices, snow peas, and some assorted mushrooms) to grill alongside the bulgogi and accompany the bevy of spicy sides that accompany any traditional Korean meal.

The center of this side-dish display is kimchi, which is, according to the latest issue of Saveur, my favorite food magazine in all the land, more important to Korea's culinary tradition than any other food to any other country's culinary identity. I don't doubt it--kimchi is freaking awesome, and apparently you can find kimchi on the table for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and any time in between, in Korean households.

Kimchi has an incredibly unique texture and flavor: it starts with the crunch and cool taste of the cabbage leaves, followed by the chunks of daikon, which is a type of Asian radish, followed by a chili paste that slowly starts to burn your tongue, and then cools down to reveal a hunt of garlic, ginger, and what I can only describe as sea salt. Some say it heats the belly and cools the throat, preparing the palate for the next part of the meal, similar to how wasabi and pickled ginger are supposed to cleans the palate between different sushi/sashmi rolls.

I myself can only handle a bit of kimchi at a time due to its heat, but Woo Lae Oak offers a bit of milder kimchi as well, which Vronsky and I both devoured. After stuffing ourselves with bulgogi, sauteed vegetables, and these amazing chilled duck rolls with plum sauce (fact: plum sauce makes everything better), we finished our wine by the bar with some green tea ice cream, which came in a bowl made entirely of ice. An amazing idea! It keeps the ice cream cold throughout the languid pace that usually follows the end of a meal when people are finishing off their wine/drinks. I can't believe I had never seen it before.

It is always exciting to turn someone on to a new cuisine, and Vronsky professed that Woo Lae Oak is his new favorite restaurant and that we need to come back as early as next week. I will work on my grill skillz so that next I go out for Korean with my family, my mom and I can duke it out for who sizzles out a better bulgogi.

Woo Lae Oak is in SoHo on Mercer, near Prince St. Or just mill around New York's Korea Town, which is loosely bordered by 5th and 6th Ave. and 30th to 36th Street.

Pictured above: bulgogi lettuce wraps at top left, kimchi below right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween happenings

I have never had that big of a sweet tooth. If you look in my freezer, I am still slowly making my way through my Easter candy, having just defrosted another limb of my giant chocolate bunny. And so, for me, Halloween has usually been primarily about the costumes versus the candy. I feel like over the years I have had some fairly successful costumes, from a bunch of grapes to a china doll, leprechaun, and Wonder Woman. My "best" costume ever though was when I went as Maleficent, the evil witch queen from Sleeping Beauty, when I was five years old. I won a local costume contest hosted by this toy store, Kiddie City, and my prize was my first-ever Barbie doll. I was awesome, and my mom, who made this amazing costume was pretty pumped too.

This year, a group of girlfriends and I took a trip up to Boston to attend a charity event for GOTO, which sends underprivileged kids to art camp, sports camp, etc. Our costumes were actually food-oriented, if not necessarily gastronomical. Everyone dressed up as "food mascots." We had a Wendy, a Capt'n Crunch, Popeye, Snap, Crackle, and Pop, a "dairy queen" (she wore a cow costume with a tiara, hilarious), the Swiss Miss, and many more. I was Mrs. Field of Mrs. Field's Cookies. Fitting, as I used to eat one of her white chocolate macadamia nut cookies every afternoon before swim practice my junior year of high school. They always sold them at the gas station where I filled up en route to the pool. The next year, the pool location changed, and that was the end of that.

One of my friends, Dawn, who lives in Boston, is quite the chef and foodie herself, and took us to this fabulous whole-sale market, Russo's, on the outskirts of the city. I was in seventh heaven, and it was all I could do not to stock up on all sorts of delicious produce. I restrained myself at first and only picked up some drunken goat cheese and dried fruit. Stuff I could transport back easily on the bus. But I gave in when I saw the baby bok choy, which was perfect. I managed to get it back to NYC unspoiled and plan on sautéing it tomorrow with a bit of garlic. On this trip, it was only natural that we got to talking about childhood Halloween traditions and memories. My friend Stirling told us that her parent's used to take some of her candy as an "offering" for the "Candy Witch," who would then distribute it fairly to all the poor kids in the world who didn't get candy of their own.

A very philanthropic fairy tale creation. Too bad it was actually just a way of making sure that her candy intake was regulated, not too mention the fact that they got a few treats to eat themselves. My father, who has a huge sweet tooth, did not believe in such ceremony. He would simply poke through our buckets when we got home and pick out what he liked, justifying his findings as "tax."

My siblings and I would then go through the motions of swapping candy, but really we would just fight over who got the Twix bars and any precious dark chocolate Milky-Ways. None of us, oddly enough, are peanut butter fans, so we were always foisting the Reeses cups upon each other in the hopes for something better.

My poor little brother, who was the most adorable toddler, was always being dressed up in equally cute costumes, and the year we dressed him as a tiny little cowboy was by far and away the winner. He was getting way more candy than the rest of us based upon the fact that he was just too damn cute. His bucket was so heavy with candy he could hardly carry it, but he simply refused to let either of my sisters, or my father, help him carry it, as he was convinced they would take some of his candy. He was quite the tiny cynic. He was also right.

And so, there was the entire gaggle of them trapaising through the neighborhood along with all the other local kids. By this point, I was old enough to trick-or-treat with my little group of friends, and when I bumped into my siblings, it was the saddest thing you ever saw: tiny Davey, cowboy hat slipping down his head, his little legs pumping as hard as they can and his arms straining to hold up his bucket, lagging a good ten feet behind the rest of them, fiercely determined not to loose control of his precious wares.

Myself, I have never been too possessive of my candy (see note on lack of sweet tooth), but am fiercely possessive of any of sort of fruit-based dessert, notably baked apples. Candied apples, the standard Halloween fare, are nice too, but something about chipping open the candied coating with your teeth to start has always unnerved me a bit. Eager to re-create baked apples so I can then hoard them all to myself, I discovered a fabulous recipe in Saveur magazine, which is written out below.

Baked Apples with Caramel Sauce

1/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temp.
2 tbsp. ground cinnamon (I adore cinnamon, and even put it in my coffee to give it some holiday "spice")
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
6 firm Fuji apples, stemmed and cored (I find Fuji apple, which are my favorite any way, hold their shape the best)
Vanilla ice cream for serving

For the caramel sauce:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup raisins
2 tbsp. of dark rum (mm)

Heat your oven to 325 degrees. Combine sugar, syrup, butter, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and set aside. Cut a quarter inch off the bottom of the apples so that they sit flat and transfer the apples to a large baking pan. Fill the hollow cores with that sugar-syrup mixture you have set aside. Cover apples with tinfoil and bake until tender, which usually takes about 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, make your caramel sauce by heating the sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a 2 qt. saucepan over medium-high heat. Reduce/cook (don't stir) until the liquid is amber colored, which takes about 20 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and let it cool slightly. Add the cream, which will cause the caramel to bubble up slightly. Stir in your raisins and rum and set aside.

Plate your apples and drizzle sauce over them to taste, and add a scoop of ice cream if you are so inclined. A perfect dessert to combat any post-Halloween hangovers, emotional or otherwise.