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Mar 3, 2008

new site

remember! here i am these days:


see you there!

Jan 31, 2008


When I started this blog about three years ago (?!), my friend set it up for me at a site titled cucinanicolina.com. I sort of half-heartedly posted things now and again, knowing that I really should be writing more I give so many dinner parties geez! I will regret not keeping a record of things later on. Then, without warning or provocation, my little .com inexplicably died and so I thought, what the heck, I'll move to blogspot so I can lose that awful old layout (it was pretty awful) and post pictures and do all sorts of things.

And so I started writing a bit more regularly, and then even more regularly, and all was good.

Until ...

Well, there's really no 'until.' I just recently decided I wanted to move back to the old .com, and so I bit the bullet and bought a hosting program, installed wordpress, and fooled around with plug-ins and such (I only pulled out my hair a few times), and though it looks very similar to what's been going on over here, I've moved cucinanicolina back to its very own domain name.

So, darlings, please clickety-click! To entice you over that'away, I've put up a more comprehensive recipe index (that, I promise, will keep growing) as well as a monthly newsletter subscription; also, now you can print or email posts and recipes.

It's a new year and it's good to have a fresh start, non?

I'll see you over there ...

Jan 26, 2008

Banana + Peanut Butter

I forgot what nine miles is like: hard. The first half is all sweet and lovely, going along at a good clip and looking up at the birds, with a nice little downward slope at the end leading to the beach (the view, too, is worth the push). But what was so effortless going down is excrutiating coming back; that long, gradual uphill through Golden Gate Park is a killer.

Still, I did it, and I'm glad. It's been a bit of a road back this past half-year or so due to injury -- this summer, even, I had to lay off the running for over six weeks, which, to a runner, is nearly unfathomable. I have secret hopes of a marathon next October, but I also know I shouldn't get ahead of myself; to run nine miles today and feel mostly OK, is enough, and I am grateful.

If one of my new year's goals is to incorporate more core training into my daily routine, I should also try to be better about refueling when I finish a run. I'm ashamed to admit -- and Runner's World would surely chastise me -- but more often than not, I come back and unless I've run longer than usual, I rarely eat anything other than quickly drinking a glass of orange juice or water before moving on to the next thing. Today was particularly deplorable: there wasn't much in the house (we were out of my favorite post-run meal of a veggie burger slathered with cheese and avocado) so I tried to satiate myself with a bowl of rather stale organic corn flakes doused with soy milk.

But then, oh then, I dragged myself up the hill to the store, and bought bananas.

I dream about this snack (truly), and really it's the perfect post-run (or post-work, or post-walk or or or) sustenance. Protein in the peanut butter replaces the calories burned, and the potassium in the banana soothes the weary muscles. Plus, oh yeah, it tastes really good. I prefer my peanut butter to be very cold, straight from fridge to fruit to mouth.

This afternoon I brewed a strong cup of Typhoo to wash down that gooey-sticky deliciousness and stretched out my legs, knowing they will be super sore tomorrow. But I don't mind.

See? Perfection.

Also: I am migrating this little blog to http://cucinanicolina.com pretty soon, but there will be fair warning.

Jan 22, 2008

Happiness Is

[Requisite Pacific Ocean shot, January 2008.]

There's been some happiness talk going round lately, which in turn makes me happy, because I love thinking about good things. It's like when you cook something you've never made before, and it turns out to be some kind of wondrous (for me, the first time I made roast cauliflower) -- totally unexpectedly. You can ride that high for days. And sometimes when I take a moment to really think about the things for which I'm grateful, or happy about, it gives me a little zing of goodness -- a sort of good-feelings shot. And who wouldn't want that, hm?

Today I'm jetlagged to hell and back; my super-secret mission involved a quick trip to DC this weekend for the bridal shower/bachelorette party of one of my best friends -- I wanted to surprise her, and I did. (She cried. I almost did. Then we ate a lot of pretty mini cupcakes and played funny games). I got to see some of my much-missed pals and had fabulous late-night chats, cookies, and the L-Word viewings with my very favorite cartographer (I don't think we stopped talking from the minute she picked me up on Friday night until she dropped me off at the airport Monday afternoon; and yet, there's still more to say). There was a lot of snuggling my favorite doggies. There was a little bit of red wine.

I bring up the happiness thing today because I'm sleepy from a flight delay, and wishing almost more than anything I could be tucked up in bed, hiding out from the rain and obligations. I need a little shot of goodness, to be sure. So I'm going to give myself one, in hopes it helps me perk up a little bit.

Things I Never Get Tired Of/Am Happy About/Grateful For (order is unimportant)

The drive along Highway One from Sebastopol to Inverness
My Dream of You, by Nuala O'Faolain
The Pacific Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean off of certain islands
Backpacking in the mountains
The smell of clean laundry (and, of course, the very fact of its cleanliness)
Opening a new cookbook, and being excited and inspired
The New York Times Sunday delivery
Yosemite Valley, and the back country
Runner's World magazine
New shoes
Giving presents; and, cooking birthday dinners
Reconnecting with old friends
(All my friends, really)
Thinking about my brother building wooden boats in Maine
Getting so involved in conversation you don't notice the time, nor do you care
Warm sweaters
Planning dinner parties
The sound of wind in the trees from high up in the mountains, or on a hill; that stillness
Swimming in a natural body of water
A good run
Unexpected emails
Coming home to California after a trip
Roasted cauliflower
Having dinner made for me
New Books
Old Books
Time off
Time off and money to travel
The memory of places
A new recipe that immediately becomes a favorite

OK ... that's mostly helped, though I still feel a bit dazed and confused. Now, what to make for dinner? I'll probably go the easy route, but a small part of me wants to give it more thought than just roasting a cauliflower and some potatoes; I feel like trying something new. I'll have to see how I feel at the end of the day ...

Jan 17, 2008

Springtime in January

[Along the Pacific, January 2008.]

A few times a year I have an almost physical longing for spring, heightened on days (like Sunday) when the weather behaves very unseasonably and foreshadows what's to come. I feel the warming wind coming off the sea, see the bright sun blazing down on the green hills, feel that anticipatory energy that heralds the growing season and time of light -- and I get impatient. Can you feel it? There's only a few more months until Daylight Savings Time (March 9, not that I'm counting -- much), and I know I'll be ready.

I am feeling that wishfulness today, during this time when night descends so early. It's cold. The light is still bright, true, but in a different way. The Bay Bridge looks chilly and uncomfortable, and the headlights of cars blur sharply as they pass over it. I want to eat soup (and I have: the roasted- vegetable barley, and a potato-leek-spinach I made last night) and sandwiches stuffed with melted cheese; I want to wear the warmest sweaters and tall boots and stay inside in front of a fire.

Some of these I can do (the sweaters thing, and the boots) and some I can't (my apartment woefully lacks a fireplace, sob), but what really helps ease winter's bite is to bake. This past weekend I made a lot of vegan treats -- chocolate cake, a galette, sugar cookies -- to be discussed at a later date, but then on Tuesday night, possibly to remedy all that healthful stuff, I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies with loads of butter that were absolutely delicious.

This is a recipe I found ages ago on allrecipes.com when I was searching for a good-looking recipe that was also quick. It seems I have a pattern of always feeling pressed for time, and thus I'm often drawn to recipes that are time-saving as well as good (the good thing is imperative). This one is a little different from more traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes, but it's simple, and, dare I say, produces some of the best cookies I've ever eaten.

I don't know if it's the brown sugar or the melted butter that make them so soft, but they are, and it's wonderful. Still, they're not too soft -- their inherent chewiness saves them from being just ordinary, and if you use a good organic butter that clean flavor will sing through and you'll be glad you spent the few extra pennies for it (note to Bay Areans: I always buy Clover, not least of all because I have passed by some of the dairy farms out in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and I played against one of the family's girls in high school basketball -- they're 'local' to me, and I hope I'm making the right choice; plus, their stuff tastes pretty darn decent).

I could eat these cookies by the plateful, which is saying something for a girl who prefers salty to sweet. I try to limit myself but, well, sometimes I'm powerless. What can you do?

This weekend there are super top-secret missions in the works, that are so super top-secret they can't be shared until next week. Until then -- make these cookies. And then let me know what you thought.

Chocolate chip cookies, adapted from allrecipes.com

1 cup butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the melted butter and brown sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and baking soda, gradually stir into the sugar mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheets.

3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Note: I use a whisk to mix together first the butter, sugar, and eggs, and it really helps make that batter nice and smooth. I also use it when I add the dry ingredients but after that, just a wooden spoon is needed. I think you can make the batter in about six minutes, tops.

Jan 13, 2008


The New York Times front page story today broke my heart a little bit -- this coming on the heels of "Atonement" last night -- which, though a tiny bit over-dramatic, was as affecting and beautiful as the book -- and while I hate to wish a year away, I honestly can't wait too much longer for next January.

So this afternoon, melancholy and feeling a little weighted down after thinking about these things, I did what I usually do when I need to take a literal breath of fresh air -- I went for a run (6 miles, slow and steady as she goes) in the sunshine (o, glorious sun, thank you for making an appearance after far too long). It felt almost like spring -- the hopeful sun, the green grass in Golden Gate Park with the cool coastal breeze reminding me it's still winter on the calendar; and then I came home and to refuel had a bowl of the roasted vegetable barley soup I'd made yesterday afternoon.

This soup, I swear, can cure all ills -- or at least distract you from them for a little awhile. I came across the recipe years ago on the epicurious website when I was looking for a soup that incorporated barley because for some reason I had a lot of it (a good harvest? Or just overbuying), but the real bonus is that it's chock full of delicious vegetables, and if you're at all ambitious, you can adapt the recipe to incorporate whatever fresh veggies you have on hand (that's my strategy anyway). As in, you could go to the farmers' market and see what's available and looks good, and then use that (you'll see what I mean when you read the recipe). I love the versatility of it.

[Mushrooms, for soup, January 2008.]

So today I'd hoped to be more productive than I was, though I did manage to make my 'office' look more like its name than a storage closet, and I baked and photographed a whole slew of things that I should have written about for an article but will, tomorrow or the next day (darn it). Now I am drinking red wine and listening to Mozart's C-Minor Mass, which has strangely made me think of Greece (but, then, what doesn't?) and the scant summer weeks I spent there in 2005.

In particular, it makes me think of a moped ride I took on the Halkidiki peninsula, because of the little shrines scattered here and there, in which candles were lit at dusk, and these burned all through the long, slow twilight; it must be, then, because of the religious connection. That August was my second time there, and my first with someone who actually spoke the language (we know, of course, that it's only gotten better from that point on), and especially wonderful because it was with my best friend. But there's something about this music that can transport you -- either to a deserted road in Greece where you have to pull over to let a herd of goats cross the road, or to a little town along the coast of Northern California as the fog steals softly in over the hills to cover the bay -- and comfort, even when you think about the hard things.

I haven't written much here about new year's resolutions -- I hesitate to name them as such, because they are more like things I wish and want to incorporate into my life -- but one of them is to go listen to live classical music more often, which then leads to making time to play the piano more (and by 'more' I mean 'more than once a year when I remember'). I'm not sure why, but the winter months makes me want to sit down on the bench again to re-find what I spent 10+ years studying. What usually happens is that I dream of playing -- sometimes even wake up in the mornings with my hands still moving over phantom keys -- which thus motivates me to pursue it again, but I lack longevity. Since I don't have a piano in my apartment, I will only plot and plan until I can indulge again up in Sebastopol, and I hope I really will do it.

In the meantime, I shall make vegetable soups and listen to as much Mozart as I can stand. I suggest you do, too.

[Vegetables simmering, January 2008.]

Roasted vegetable and barley soup, adapted from gourmet.com

Olive oil
4 large plum tomatoes (about 1 1/4 pounds), halved lengthwise
3 medium carrots, trimmed, peeled, quartered (about 8 ounces)
6 ounces fresh crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 large onion, cut into 1-inch wedges through root end
1 red bell pepper, quartered
1 medium zucchini, trimmed, halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
8 cups (or more) vegetableo r mushroom broth
1 1/2-ounce package dried porcini mushrooms,* broken into pieces
thyme or herbs de provence
1 bay leaf
1 cup pearl barley

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with olive oil Arrange tomatoes and next 6 ingredients on sheet. Drizzle with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until vegetables are tender and brown around edges, stirring occasionally, about 55 minutes. Peel garlic and reserve. Coarsely chop half of vegetables and reserve. Transfer garlic and remaining vegetables from sheet to large pot (reserve sheet).

2. Add 1/2 cup vegetable broth to baking sheet and scrape up browned bits; add to pot with vegetables.

3. Add 7 1/2 cups broth, dried porcini, thyme, and bay leaf to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer until vegetables and porcini are very tender, about 20 minutes. Pour vegetables and broth into large strainer set over bowl. Transfer vegetables in strainer to processor and puree until smooth; set aside.

4. Return broth and bay leaf to pot; add barley and bring to boil.

5. Reduce heat to medium; cover and simmer until barley is tender, about 40 minutes. Add reserved vegetable puree and chopped vegetables to pot; simmer until soup thickens and flavors blend, about 10 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool soup slightly. Chill soup uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled.

Notes: really, you could use almost any vegetable -- yellow squash? portabello mushrooms? though I'd forgo potatoes as with the barley, it would probably make the soup too heavy -- here, and to be honest, I often skip the dried mushrooms because of the price tag. I'd up the mushroom and garlic content to compensate -- it's still quite yummy.

Jan 10, 2008

Getting Back to It

[Chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream, October 2007.]

This week: rain, re-reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma," going to bed too late, listening to (old) Joni Mitchell, forgetting my keys, contemplating core strength training, coming up with lots of project ideas, starting on some articles due soon, more rain, a good 5-miler, a slow 3-miler, even more rain, planning trips, making quinoa soup and roasted cauliflower and chocolate pudding (not together), working.

Last weekend: finally buying a bridesmaid dress, missing yoga class because it was full (and I was early!), the first dinner party of the new year an unqualified success (not a scrap of food was left over, which makes me worry that I didn't make enough, but no one seemed to mind, or was left hungry) plus we were able to watch the debates (my friend M: the wine helps), beginning a website design, the "Wire," kicking off its last season (alas!).

In general: too much coffee, not enough fruit, probably enough water.

So I haven't been cooking too much lately, though I made quinoa soup last night (omitting the corn, because I forgot it) and I have hot weekend plans of cake-baking (see above) and going to see "Atonement" now that I've finished the book (can't wait). Some baked tofu and sweet potatoes will probably figure in the next few days, but the kitchen -- recently cleaned within an inch of its life after a wee mousie made an appearance (it seems to be gone now. I think. Knock wood.) -- hasn't seen me enough since I got back from my little holiday break. Must remedy this, as I miss it.

Because -- whoooosh! -- it's January 10, and the newly-minted year is bowling along at its usual quick pace, and I am loathe to be left behind.
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