Napping in Charleston: Travel Series #2

Traveling twice in one month is extremely out of the ordinary for me. If I'm lucky I usually take a winter vacation to a warm destination once a year. Then I use the rest of my free time to visit my parent's and in-law's during the summer months at their beautiful homes in the northeast. However, this winter has been different. First I went to Florida for a week, and last week I traveled to Charleston South Carolina. Luckily for me, this is where my parent's chose to spend the month of March this year, in their own effort to escape "mud season" in upstate New York. They have traveled to Charleston before but this was the first time I was able to visit. Last year I was at home - deliriously tired - with a newborn, and in the years prior to that I was working. Charleston is a wonderful place to visit, so, despite the challenges of flying with toddler, I willingly faced a two hour flight to get there.

Luckily for us, from the moment we arrived at the airport, my parent's were hot to trot to show us all of their favorite places in the city. Obviously, I was focused on the eating and design activities of the city, while my daughter was interested in scouting out playgrounds and ice cream. Needless to say, we both got our way. I was able to enjoy many culinary treats throughout the week, and my daughter did more than her share of playing outdoors. In fact, we played so hard that we barely knew where the time had gone when it was time to go home.
There is so much to do and see that it clear we will have to visit again next year. In the mean time, here is my first round of my favorite spots in Charleston:

The Naptime Chef's picks of what to do in Charleston, SC (in no particular order):

1. Basil: My childhood friend Stuart lives in Charleston with his wife, Jenny, and their son, Cooper. As luck would have it Stuart was turning 30-something when I was there and I was able to join him, Jenny and their friends for dinner. I left my daughter with her doting grandparents and met them on upper King Street at Basil. I never thought I would be going out for Thai food in Charleston, but I'm glad I did. This place is amazing, I recommend the Beef Larb appetizer and the Chicken Pad Woon Sen for dinner.

2. Peninsula Grill: If you haven't already, order yourself a coconut cake from Peninsula Grill. This restaurant is a favorite of mine. I won't say whom, but, on occasion, members of my family have been known to order the coconut cake and have it shipped up to the northeast. It is the sweetest, most decadent thing I have ever tasted, and, despite our best efforts we are never able to finish it.

Cupcake: I still have never met anyone who doesn't appreciate a good cupcake. This cupcake store is ace when it comes to unique flavors. During our week there we sampled the Red Velvet, Mandarin Orange Chocolate, Rocky Road, German Chocolate Cake and many more. I am lucky the weather was good for exercising, with a cupcake-per-day habit it is necessary to squeeze in some extra laps around the track.

4. Brixx: A good pizza restaurant will always hit the spot when traveling with kids. When we ate at Brixx we were thrilled to run into Stuart, Jenny and Cooper when they were arriving for kid's night (kid's eat free on Wednesdays). My daughter adored the pizza with roasted chicken while my parent's devoured a Bronx bomber (once a New Yorker...).

5. South of Market: King Street is an interior decorator's paradise. If I were able to hire my own decorator I would request that she shop exclusively for my furniture at this store. While I was milling about the store, making a mental wish-list, I was thrilled to discover a very well-edited selection of cookbooks. I wouldn't have thought this the cookbook spot, but someone there knows what they are doing when selecting books to sell. I recommend that you stop in to browse the books and furniture when in town.

6. Peggy's Kitchen: Per my post last Thursday, my friend Peggy has an awesome kitchen and dining room. As you can tell, she has an insanely good eye for decorating, having designed the entire interior of her house by herself. In addition to decorating, she is an accomplished cook and has a cookbook selection that makes me weep with envy. I should note, however, that if you go to cook in Peggy's kitchen it is best if you are 5'8" or taller, she had it custom made for tall people like herself. Luckily, we had the privilege of eating in her lovely dining room one evening. It was prettier, and more delicious, than any restaurant in the whole city.

Monza: More pizza! It seems that Charleston is a little pizza-crazy. After a trip to the children's museum (see more below), we were famished. I was thrilled to discover this delicious pizzeria right down the street. We settled into the back patio for a bite. The pie was delicious, as were the salads and frothy cappucinos. It was the wonderful end to a great morning.

8. Paolo's: Some time ago Paolo moved from Italy to the Southeast US. With him, thankfully, he brought the Italian method for making gelato. Every year he orders all of this ingredients from Italy so that his gelato tastes truly authentic. I seriously have never tasted gelato this good outside of Italy. Walk, no, run, there as soon as your plane touches down.

9. Charleston Receipts: I've often heard about this wonderful cookbook so you can imagine my delight when Peggy loaned me her copy. I have already thumbed through it twice and can't wait to get started on the delicious recipes. Stay tuned for more recipes from this book, I am sure they will prove to be easy and delicious, perfect for Naptime Chef-ing.

10. Children's Museum of the Lowcountry: Given that we were traveling with a toddler meant that we couldn't spend all of our time eating and shopping. One morning we had the pleasure of spending some time at the CML. It was the perfect place to take an active toddler, there were more than enough fun and age-appropriate activities to keep her occupied. Her favorite activity was the fake shrimp boat, complete with scale for measuring fake shrimp! If you are traveling in Charleston with children I highly recommend a visit.

Stay tuned for a new recipe this Thursday!


Napping with Shallots

I am not a perfect cook, but at least my successful meals greatly outweigh the bad ones. As any parent knows, it is simply impossible to prepare perfect meals and baked goods every time you enter the kitchen. In my case I usually screw something up because I am deliriously tired, hence not concentrating on the task at hand, or am distracted by my daughter stuffing the entire contents of my tupperware drawer into the washing machine. Just this winter I really messed up my favorite cookie recipe, one that I had successfully made a thousand times before. During the dough preparation I was so tired from being awake for two hours the night before (she was teething) that I flat out forgot to put baking soda in the dough. Needless to say, the resulting cookies resembled hard lumpy frisbees, not unlike something I had made in pottery class during third grade. At times like these I remind myself that as parents we have to forgive ourselves these little mistakes. We can't be perfect all the time, and, after all, that is why the delivery menu was invented.

Last week I had a successful run of delicious meals and, instead, managed a food screw-up of the technical variety. I just made the below dish and was thrilled with the results. As with all of my dishes I took several pictures for you, including a great one of the bright green spring asparagus in the steamer basket. I was excited to post them here for everyone to see, confident that you would love them. Then I plugged the camera into the computer and, bam, I erased them all in one fell swoop. In this case I can't even blame my daughter for the mix-up, she was asleep. I think I was just tired after a long morning of chasing a toddler around a playground and hit the wrong button. To that end, I apologize for not having photographs of the food for you. (However, in lieu of food pictures I have posted some pictures of my friend Peggy's awesome kitchen.) But I do want to assure you, despite the lack of visual evidence, this dish is very good.

The whole reason I chose to make this dish in the first place is that my husband loves shallots. I don't know why but he is always requesting shallots in his food, even encouraging me to replace onions with shallots whenever possible. I don't mind these requests at all since I love them too. As you can imagine, when I was recently reviewing my "to try" file I was thrilled to find this recipe clipping. I was even more thrilled that from the start it proved to be perfect for Naptime Chef-ing. One of my most important Naptime Chef time-saver techniques is to pre-chop vegetables and prepare meat or poultry ahead of time whenever possible. In this case, during afternoon naptime I seasoned the chicken breasts and placed them, covered, in a pan in the fridge for the remainder of the afternoon. Then I peeled and quartered the shallots, zested and juiced the lemons, and trimmed the asparagus, all of which were placed in individual glass bowls in the fridge for that evening. When it came time to prepare the dish all I had to do was set up my bowls next to the stove and add everything, bit by bit, to the skillet. The asparagus was perhaps the easiest thing to do, merely requiring that I set it in a steamer basket for a few minutes while the chicken was bubbling away.

As we began to eat our meals my husband went straight for the shallots on his plate. In the chicken pan they had turned tender and translucent, absorbing all of the delicious chickeny juices, and when they were speared with a fork the layers literally came apart on their own. Upon the first bite the shallots burst in our mouths, yielding delicious pockets of a juicy mild onion flavor enhanced with a natural chicken stock. The chicken proved to be wonderfully moist and lemony, which paired nicely with the tender green asparagus that had been lightly sprinkled with the lemon-shallot sauce. This meal was satisfying on many levels, not the least of which was the delicious shallots that more than adequately satisfied my husband's craving. I have put the recipe in our permanent file, something that I draw from again and again. Of course, there will always be days when nothing goes right and I end up ordering delivery while I erase all of the pictures on my computer. But, until then, I'll be eating shallots.

Lemon Chicken with Shallots and Asparagus - adapted from Food & Wine 2005
3 T. Olive Oil

2 Bone-in chicken breasts

Salt & Pepper

4 shallots, peeled and quartered

1 cup of water

2 T. unsalted butter
1 bunch thin asparagus, ends trimmed

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1. In a large skillet heat olive oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper, place the pieces in the skillet and brown evenly, about 10 minutes.

2. Add shallots to the chicken and cook for additional 2 minutes.

3. Add water to chicken and shallots and cover with tightly fitting lid. Let the water simmer on low heat until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and place cleaned asparagus in a steamer basket over the water to cook. Remove asparagus once it is tender, but still green. About 3-4 minutes.

5. Transfer chicken to a plate, add lemon juice and zest to the water and shallots. Bring to a boil and reduce sauce for about 3 minutes. Finish sauce with unsalted butter, swirling it in the water to melt.

6. Pour the sauce over the chicken and asparagus to serve. Be sure to add several of the cooked shallots to each plate, they are delicious.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: This meal as all of the hallmarks as the perfect Naptime Chef dish, a lot can be done ahead of time and the dish is consistently delicious. Feel free to add whatever else you would like to the dish depending on your mood. You might like to try using haricot vert instead of asparagus, for example, or try adding more shallots if you so desire.
Naptime Stopwatch: The naptime pre-time took about 30 minutes. Then, the actual cooking time is about 25 minutes. Be sure to make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked, nobody likes raw chicken.
Naptime Reviews:
Obviously my husband adored this dish. My daughter loved the chicken, which I cut up into little bits for her. However, she still finds asparagus too strong for her young palate, so I substituted peas instead.


Napping with Sticky Bunnies

Despite outward appearances, when it comes to eating I am definitely a creature of habit. For as long as I can remember there have been key staples in my daily repertoire that I simply can't live without. Every day I have least one cup of hot tea with a splash of milk in the morning, a banana or apple at lunch, a square of chocolate in the afternoon and a glass of milk with dinner. These are all small but significant parts of my diet, little bits of each day that I look forward to because, even though they aren't particularly gourmet, the routine makes me feel good. It is worth noting, however, that perhaps the most significant eating habit of mine is my daily ritual of oatmeal in the morning.

My obsession with this hot cereal started at a very early age when my parents would prepare me a piping hot bowl of Maypo for breakfast. In fact, it is now town legend that when I was little I loved Maypo so much that I ate it, exclusively, for breakfast
and dinner for one entire year. (In my own defense I will point out that this was during my terrible twos phase, when apparently the most terrible thing about me was my eating habits.) Nowadays I have graduated from Maypo and prepare myself slow cooking oats, splashed with milk and a pinch of turbinado sugar. This has been my go-to breakfast since high school and I still look forward to it every morning. However, upon occasion, even I can be forced out of my daily oatmeal ritual. This usually happens when we are entertaining for brunch, or I am woken up obscenely early by the diaper-wearing resident of our household. It is these times, when the day is already off to a different than usual start, that I decide it is time to switch it up a little.

When I change gears with breakfast food I let my mood dictate what I decide to make. There are some weekends when I want a big lunch-like meal to start off the day so I whip up hearty egg sandwiches. These are always hit with both my husband and daughter, who finds much amusement in eating her sandwich layer by layer, from top to bottom. There are other weekends when I decide to make one of my baked egg dishes, our favorite of which is vegetable pie. Egg casseroles are always a great breakfast meal, the assembly is easy and they are excellent when entertaining for a crowd. Then there are weekends when I feel up to a big challenge and decide to tackle something completely out of the ordinary. This is what happened to me last Sunday when I decided that it was the perfect time for me to try making homemade sticky buns.

I began my baking quest by scouring the internet for recipes, immediately dismissing all of those that called for yeasty doughs that needed to rise overnight. I wanted to work with a recipe that was efficient and doable from start to finish, on a weekend morning with my toddler underfoot. After a lengthy internet search I read that Barefoot Contessa had recently showcased a sticky bun recipe on the the Food Network. I went straight to my cookbook cabinet and was thrilled to discover the recipe I had been searching for. From the looks of it, my friend Ina (who I don't actually know, but I just feel like she is my friend because we definitely speak the same language) had faced the challenge of making homemade sticky buns and had some great solutions. First, I read through her recipe and made some adaptations to suit our tastes, most notably substituting craisins for raisins and decreasing the amount of butter. Then I set to work.

The assembly of the buns required so little concentration that although my daughter was practicing her steel drumming on my all-clad pots right next to me, it didn't bother me one bit. Once the pastry dough was unfolded on my counter top all I had to do was brush on the butter, evenly scatter the ingredients and roll the whole thing back up, simple as that. Then, after a quick thirty minutes in the oven, I had piping hot fresh buns. Upon first bite it was clear that the buns were different than those made with a yeast dough, they were kind of like a cross between a palmier and a sticky bun. The buttery layers of pastry were wonderfully flaky and delicate, wrapped tightly around a sticky sweet center filled with craisins and chopped nuts. The butter and sugar sticky topping was decadently sweet, dripping all over our pajamas and gumming up our fingers. Naturally, given the amazingly sweet taste, my daughter loved them, calling them "bunnies" instead of buns. With the two votes of approval from the household I wrote down my version of the recipe and added it to my weekend recipe file. Though part of me missed my oatmeal, these buns could definitely become a habit.

Naptime's Sticky Bunnies with Craisins - adapted from Barefoot Contessa: Back to Basics
6 T. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/4 c. light brown sugar, loosely packed

1/2 c. pecan halves, coarsely chopped

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted

For the filling:
1 T. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/3 c. light brown sugar, loosely packed

2 t. cinnamon

1/2 c. craisins (dried cranberries)

Yields 6 buns, recipe can be doubled for more

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 6 cup muffin pan with Pam and set aside. In an electric mixer combine the 6 T. of butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Place 1 heaping teaspoon of this mixture into six muffin cups. Distribute pecans evenly among muffin cups, scattering them on top of the butter and sugar.

2. Thaw puff pastry and spread it out on a lightly floured surface. Make sure that the folds go left to right, so it is vertical, not horizontal. Brush the sheet with melted butter. Sprinkle the sheet with brown sugar, cinnamon and craisins.

3. Roll the pastry up start from left to right. Make sure it is very snug, like a jelly roll.

4. Trim the roll into six equal pieces and place each piece in a muffin cup.

5. Bake for 30 minutes, make sure the pastry is dark golden before removing it from the oven.

6. Cool for 7-9 minutes, then invert the buns out of the muffin cups. Make sure the pecans are sticking to the top.

7. Serve.

8. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: There is nothing not to like about this recipe, they are a sweet treat for your family and friends. They really are as easy as they look!

Naptime Stopwatch: The whole recipe takes about 5 minutes to prepare. It should be noted that it is important to let the puff pastry thaw to room temperature before unfolding it. Don't let it thaw for too long though, or else it gets tough to work with.

Naptime Reviews: The sticky "bunnies" were a huge hit with the entire age range in our household. However, unfortunately we have noted that they are not totally diet friendly, therefore they must be regulated to a once a month treat.


Napping with Oranges

The worst part for me about vacation is that the minute I get home all I want to do is go back. Since returning from Florida last week I have been overwhelmed with self-pity, daydreaming about palm trees, sea breezes and eighty-degree temperatures. Needless to say, all of these thoughts have gotten me nowhere. I am no closer to having a tropical beach replace the Hudson River, and I definitely can't wear shorts or tanks outside for another few months. Even my poor daughter is confused, wondering how we went from corduroys, to sundresses, and back to down jackets in the matter of a week. I think she is starting to worry that she'll have to wear her fleece hat with the velcro chin strap year-round. So, after wallowing away for several days, hoping for some hint of a tropical climate to come my way, I decided it was time to get resourceful. Since we couldn't go back to Florida, I would have to bring Florida to us.

One of my favorite parts about traveling to southern climates is the fresh produce, particularly the grapefruits, lemons and, of course, oranges. There is just something so uplifting about starting my day with a fresh orange at breakfast. I love the way the juice drips down my chin no matter how hard I try to avoid it, and bits of orange oil get under my nails causing my hands to smell sweet all morning long. It is no surprise to me that I love that the fragrance of oranges since studies have shown that, when used in aromatherapy, orange oil has many positive emotional benefits. It is believed to reduce stress, combat anxiety, and promote creativity and happiness. There is no doubt in my mind that these studies are one hundred percent accurate. So, in the interest of reminding myself of tropical climates and infusing my home with uplifting citrus scents, I pulled a recipe from one of my most favorite cookbooks, it was clearly the perfect time for it.

The sound of Olive Oil, Orange Juice and Pine Nut cake was intriguing from the start. I loved the idea of a delicate, not-too-sweet cake studded with crunchy pine nuts. On our Tuesday morning errands I picked up a nice bag of the freshest oranges I could find at our local store - though, not nearly as fresh as the ones in Florida - and during naptime I set about preparing the batter. The recipe instructions were clear and simple and the preparation turned out to be a total snap, in a short 15 minutes I had a delicious batter. Putting the cake pans in the oven definitely produced the desired effect, soon after the baking commenced scents of orange and fruity olive oil wafted through the apartment, greatly improving my mood.

While they were cooling I couldn't help taking a small nibble, just to give them a try. When the first little crumb hit my tongue I was stunned. The cake was rather, well, dull. It didn't really have any discernable orange flavor, it just tasted like blah sponge-cake. Feeling deflated, I let the cakes finish cooling, wrapped them up and left them on the counter for later. After dinner, my husband and I decided to give them another try. We hoped that maybe the flavor had improved with a little rest, knowing that this sometimes happens with baked goods. Happily, in this case, we turned out to be correct. We were thrilled to discover that over the course of the afternoon the flavor had somehow bloomed and the cake was delicate and delicious. Each bite yielded subtle flavors of orange and olive oil all packed in a light sponge-like cake that was not overly sweet. Feeling emboldened by this unexpected success I brushed one of the cakes with a simple orange glaze, just to see what it would do to the flavor. It definitely added more sweetness to the cake, but, frankly, I could do without it. We both agreed that we were happy to eat the cake un-glazed with a simple scoop of ice cream, making note to next time serve it with a scoop of lemon sorbet. In the end, thankfully, I achieved all that I had set out to do. I stimulated my orange sensory memory, bringing flashes of Florida back in no time. And, though it doesn't mean palm trees have started to sprout in Riverside Park, I have a little bit of Florida in New York, for now.

Glazed Orange Juice and Olive Oil Cake with Pine Nuts - adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
4 eggs, separated
1 c. superfine sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4 c. good quality olive oil
1/4 c. firmly packed light brown sugar
1 t. of baking powder
3 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. orange zest*
1 c. freshly squeezed orange juice*
1/2 c. pine nuts

*I think it might work well to subsitute lemon for orange, meyer lemons would make the cake taste especially good.

For Glaze - if you want more sweetness:
1 c. confectioner sugar
3 T. fresh squeezed orange juice

Yields 2 nine-inch cakes

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Spray two 9 inch cake pans with cooking spray.
3. Whip egg whites until they form stiff peaks, set aside. Be mindful to put them in the refrigerator if it is hot weather, so they don't collapse.
4. In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment whip the egg yolks with the vanilla into they get bulky and turn foamy.
5. Whisk the superfine and brown sugar into the egg yolks until combined. Then add the olive oil slowly, mixing well after each addition. Don't get intimidated at this point, at first it is messy, but the batter eventually accepts the oil and it combines very well.
6. Add the flour, baking powder and orange zest to the mixture, alternating with the orange juice. Alternate adding ingredients until the batter is smooth.
7. Gently fold eggs whites into the batter until just combined. Do not overmix!!
8. Pour batter into cake pans and sprinkle each cake with 1/4 c. pine nuts.
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops turn golden and a cake skewer comes out clean.

Naptime Notes
Naptime Props: This batter has all the right elements to make it perfect for naptime preparation. There is no need to take anything out ahead of time, simply enter the kitchen and start mixing. I found using the electric mixer immensely helpful here, but if you only have a wisk and bowl it is still doable.
Naptime Stopwatch: The whole batter only took about 15 minutes to make, the longer part being whipping the egg whites. It doesn't take long to bake either. Be sure to watch it, the top can go from golden to burned very quickly.
Naptime Reviews: I picked the nuts off the top for my daughter and she loved the cake. My husband loved it so much that the cake went from being a whole to a half a cake in just two hours!


Napping in Venice: Travel Series #1

When I travel it is not a glamorous affair. There are no private jets, personal stewardesses or footmen to trot behind me with trunks of long swishy gowns. Instead, like the majority of us, I am forced to experience airport hell, silently cursing my way through terminals, each and every time I want to leave the northeast. At this point, though a luxurious private jet sounds wonderful, I would happily settle for a helpful flight attendant and on-time flight. Why do I feel like even this is asking too much? There is simply no doubt that public air travel with a toddler is nobody's idea of fun, especially mine. I can't stand the fact that they always test my daughter's shoes for "flammable substances" as if they are miniature Robeez bombs, and it drives me insane that we aren't allowed to stand up in the aisles when I need to get a cranky toddler to sleep. By the end of each flight, when I am waiting for inevitably "lost" luggage and car seats, I often question why exactly I decided to put myself through that experience in the first place. However, I get my answer when I finally leave the vicinity of the airport and catch my first glimpse of palm trees. It is then that I remember the initial purpose of my trip: vacation.

Last week I braved the burden of air travel, unhelpful stewardesses and all, and had the good fortune of spending seven days in Venice, Florida with my husband, daughter, and in-law's (who we were visiting). Venice may not be a devastatingly fabulous vacation locale like, say, St. Barth's or Ibiza, but it was perfect for us.
The change of scenery did wonders for my state of mind, and, it seems, my daughter's and husband's as well. After a week we all left feeling refreshed and revitalized, most likely because the sun had adequately raised our winter-depleted vitamin D levels. It was our first time visiting Venice and we fell in love with it for many reasons, not the least of which was that the thermometer looked like this for our entire stay:

It is a standard travel rule of mine that vacation is not a time for dieting and is, in fact, an excuse to eat with abandon. I believe that new destinations brings new tastes and cuisines, all of which are meant to be enjoyed. Even though visiting Florida is not exactly like visiting a new country, the food culture is entirely different than that in the northeast. We were thrilled to discover that the surrounding area of Venice is an active agricultural community, producing copious amounts of fresh produce all of which is harvested and moved immediately to nearby stores for sale. I can't even begin to tell you all of the fresh fruits and vegetables we ate, just the strawberries and oranges alone were worth changing my plane ticket for. We ate tomatoes by the dozen, serving them freshly roasted on crackers with slivers of hard cheese. My mother-in-law became a one-person guacamole machine, whipping up at least three batches of Ina Garten's Homemade Guacamole with all of the gorgeous fresh, local avocados.

We were all sad when our Venice adventure came to an end. There was still so much more enjoy. However, at least I can take comfort in knowing that we will be visiting again very soon. In the mean time, I have documented some of my favorite foodie activities for you, in case you find yourself in the area.

The Naptime Chef's picks of what to do in Venice, Fla
(in no particular order):

1) Indian River Orange Juice: "Oranges" go with "Florida" like "corn" goes with "Iowa." Seriously, there is no better place to find fresh oranges in the US than in this state. I am a sucker for oranges and was pleased to discover Indian River Orange Juice. It is fresh-squeezed juice (with pulp) made from valencia oranges and is definitely the best juice I have ever tasted. The next time you visit Florida run to Publix and buy yourself a bottle, a big cold glass is the best way to start the morning.

2) Captain Eddie's: When I visit a coastal town I like to eat seafood. Captain Eddie's is the epitome of a greasy, roll-up-your-sleeves seafood shack. The fish is fresh, the beer is cold and it is all served in plastic baskets lined with wax paper. It doesn't get more authentic than this. Even my daughter loved the crab cakes and fish 'n' chips.

3) The Island Gourmet, Venice Wine & Coffee Company: Though the restaurants in Venice are great we didn't want to eat out every night. So, when it came time to get appetizers, wine and a bottle opener we headed straight to The Island Gourmet and Venice Wine & Coffee Company. The stores are side-by-side on the street and are actually connected inside. This is a great place for wines, cheeses and hostess gifts. I found several sets of napkins, cheese knives and platters that I would like to add to my own kitchen someday. Also, the coffee bar is excellent when you need your morning boost, there is no Starbucks in this town.

4) Kilwin's: Dieter's beware, this chocolate and ice cream shop makes all of their own sugary treats and they are irresistible. I am lucky that I escaped with only a bag of malt balls (very fresh, btw) and cashew brittle. Had I had a chance to go back I would most definitely have enjoyed some of their homemade ice cream, peanut brittle and handmade chocolates. I could easily fill four Easter baskets the egg and bunny shaped treats they already had on display for the holiday next month, they look that amazing. Kilwin's is a chain around Florida, so be sure to make a stop when you see one.

5) Upper Crust Bakery & Cafe: Heaven is a fresh baked bun on a warm morning when you are strolling along with your toddler. This bakery is amazing, the only crime here is that they are only open for breakfast and lunch. Be sure to get there early, it is jam packed at meal times and the good stuff sells out early.

6) Cassariano: Lucky for us, my in-law's are excellent babysitters. One night my husband and I left the little angel with her doting grandparents and we headed straight to Cassariano for date night. Our meals at this main street italian eatery were outstanding. I enjoyed a delicious spinach salad followed by rigatoni with eggplant, and my husband had the most incredible stack of chicken and polenta with a gorgonzola sauce. We ate al fresco with a bottle of perfectly chilled white wine, capping off a wonderfully relaxed evening. Take note that it is advised that you make reservations, if you don't have any try to get in for lunch which is equally as good.

7) The Soda Fountain: I am not sure what it is about Venetian's but, man, they love their ice cream shops. There are four (!) ice cream shops on main street and, after sampling each one, I have decided that this one is my favorite. One evening I had a chocolate malt milkshake, which I'm pretty sure is the best I've ever had. Later in the week I enjoyed a homemade chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream which was equally as decadent and delicious. Kids and adults alike enjoy this spot, I saw many families sitting in the booths for dinner, simple fare like hot dogs and grilled cheeses, prior to their ice cream dessert.

8) Midwestern Meats: We are a family of carnivores so it is no surprise that a place called "Midwestern Meats" suits us perfectly. On our second night we stopped by on our way home from the beach and picked up a feast of pulled pork with homemade buns, ribs, scalloped potatoes and rhubarb pie. I know that pie sounds incongruous with meat, but it is the best rhubarb pie I have ever tasted. The owner of the store told me that he learned to make pie "at my grandmother's knee in North Carolina. We use shortenin' in our crust." Yes, it is that good. The whole meal is best when paired with a cold beer.

9) Venice Art Festival: We were so lucky that our vacation overlapped with the Venice Art Festival. It only takes place two days a year, but if you like art festivals this one is worth a visit. The vendors were wonderful with many beautiful forms of artwork including sculpture, oil paintings, pottery and jewelry. All handmade by talented artisans. I was pleased to pick up a new piece for our living room.

10) Aveeno Baby Sunscreen: Last, but not least, when on a beach vacation it is important to protect your skin from the sun. I usually use at least SPF 45 on myself and I was not going to risk anything less on my daughter. Upon the recommendation of a friend I picked up two bottles of Aveeno Baby Sunscreen prior to my trip. My friend was right, it is amazing. I slathered it on her every time we were at the beach, or anywhere outdoors, and she did not get one hint of a sunburn. I love it and will definitely use it again.

I sincerely hope that you enjoy your vacations this year. In the mean time, stay tuned for a new recipe this Thursday. Bon voyage!


Napping with a B.E.A.L.T.

If you visit my neighborhood, on any given day, I am easy to pick out of the crowd. I am the one wearing aviator sunglasses and pushing the stroller with a baguette sticking out of the diaper bag, which hangs on the back. Sometimes, much to the envy of other children cruising by in strollers, I let my daughter hold the baguette. She swings it wildy, like she is trying to clear the green monster, until we have scared a sufficient number of innocent people walking their dogs, then I give her a toy instead. I know some people say eating bread daily is a bad habit, but I disagree. A fresh slice of bread is a wonderful thing and can be enjoyed a myriad of ways. Plus, if you are pushing the stroller as much as I am these days, you are working off more than enough calories to justify a fresh loaf.

Last week, I was lured to our neighborhood bakery (which is amazing btw, and I will recommend to anyone who is curious) by the ambrosial smell of baking bread. This is a scent that I consider right up there with that of spring rain, newly mowed grass, or a freshly bathed infant. When I peered in the window loaves in all shapes and size were being set out on the wire racks, neatly sheafed in brown paper, waiting for customers to take their pick. Not wanting to waste a minute I wheeled right in for my daily dose and choose a loaf of ciabatta, which, for some reason, sounded particularly good that day. For lunch I simply toasted a slice and ate it with a layer of soft cheese topped with slices of tomato and a good crank of fresh pepper, making for a deliciously satisfying lunch on-the-go. Then, in the afternoon, I had a second slice, this time it was slathered with fresh nutella and sprinkled with sea salt. I'll admit that bread and nutella is one of my all time favorite treats, and, since I had walked over 30 blocks by 10am that morning, I felt I deserved it. Then, during naptime, I started think about what I could prepare for dinner.

When I opened the fridge I contemplated a few different angles for the remaining ciabtta. I could easily make garlic bread with a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, but since I like to reserve that for emergencies I investigated more options. I flipped through my Giada cookbooks and she had several good ideas for appetizers and desserts with ciabatta, but not for a main course. Finally, I realized this was a great opportunity to make a riff on one of my most favorite sandwiches, the BLT. I have never met one person, vegetarians aside, who does not like a good BLT. I think it is essentially the ideal sandwich with the perfect balance of savory and sweet packed tightly between two halves of bread. The only problem for me is that I am not yet a convert to mayonaisse (though after reading this, there is hope for me), and I wanted to add more protein to the sandwich to make it a satisfying dinner.

After assessing the ingredients available in the kitchen I came up with the idea to make a B.E.A.L.T., that is, a bacon, egg, avocado, lettuce and tomato. I would substitute the mayonnaise for avocado and add an egg. Sandwiched between two slices of ciabatta this would be an ideal dinner sandwich, hearty, satisfying and packed with protein. Since it isn't a good idea to prepare things like fried eggs ahead of time, I assembled the ingredients and when dinner time came I set to work, quickly, while my husband bathed our daughter. Needless to say the assembly was simple with the only lengthy engagement being the egg-frying part. I toasted up slices of ciabatta, mashed the avocado gently with a fork, sliced the tomato and cooked the bacon (in the microwave) and then, after some stacking of ingredients, a sandwich was made. My husband was slightly skeptical of having this for dinner but was instantly sold upon first bite. The avocado turned out to be the perfect substitute for mayo, providing the right amount of moisture and taste against the toasted bread. The juicy tomato, sweet bacon and fresh egg were delicious flavors, all tempered nicely with a few leaves of peppery arugula. When we scraped our plates clean of the last few crumbs we both remarked that it was a great dinner sandwich, and might even be good for a weekend brunch. After dinner I washed the plates and tossed crumpled up paper sheaf in the trash. As I wiped the crumbs off the cutting board I started to daydream, already wondering what I would do with the fresh sourdough baguette I planned to get my hands on the next morning.

Naptime's B.E.A.L.T. - inspired by fresh bread
1 loaf fresh ciabatta
2 fresh eggs (plan for 1 per sandwich)
1 ripe Haas avocado
2 ripe tomatoes
6 strips of uncured bacon (plan for 3 strips per sandwich)
1 bunch washed arugula

Salt & Pepper
Yields 2 sandwiches - just double ingredients for more.

First, toast four slices of ciabatta and set aside. Then, open the avocado and remove the pit. Gently
cut into four slices. With a fork, gently mash two slices onto two of the slices of bread. On both slices of bread cover the avocado with a few leaves of fresh arugula. Cut four fresh slices of tomato and lay two slices on top of each piece of bread with the arugula. On the two remaining slices of bread lay three strips of bacon per bread slice. Top the bacon with a freshly fried egg. Sprinkle the egg with salt and pepper. Press halves together so that the egg is sandwiched between the tomato and bacon. Enjoy!

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: This is barely even a recipe but, trust me, it is so good. Making a sandwich is virtually effortless, but you want to make sure it is done correctly so things don't go horribly wrong. Feel free to make substitutions with this sandwich if you like, you could try prosciutto instead of bacon, or even add a slice of cheese.
Naptime Stopwatch: From start to finish the sandwich preparation took about 15 minutes. You can do most of things quickly and multi-task. Just make sure that you watch the egg carefully, you don't want it to fry for too long and get tough.
Naptime Reviews: I have not yet met a toddler who could fit her mouth around a sandwich. But, the components of this sandwich make for a wonderful dinner. I simply put slices of avocado, tomato, egg and bacon on her tray and she loved her meal.


Napping and Roasting: Sunday Dinner Series #2

I count preparing a good roast chicken as one of the top ten life skills every person should have. This requirement is right up there with knowing how to drive a stick shift car (I learned when I was 16) and being able to correctly hang in a picture in your own home. You had better believe that in fourteen years my daughter will know how to do all of the above. Perhaps it is optimistic of me, but I feel that with these skills in hand she will always be able to get through life with a good meal, a well appointed home, and the ability to drive almost any kind of vehicle on the road.

You see, preparing a roast chicken is a critical component to any chef's repertoire. It is a hearty and nutritious meal that is a mainstay for serving both family and friends. I successfully prepared my first roast chicken when I was 22 and living on my own in New York. I'll never forget carefully selecting my first roaster, weighing in at roughly three pounds, from the nearby specialty food shop. When I brought it home I placed it in my tiny sink and proceeded to painstakingly follow the The Joy of Cooking recipe for basic roast chicken. It must have taken me almost an hour to prepare this simple dish. I carefully seasoned, stuffed and trussed the bird exactly as directed. When it was finally ready I put it in the oven and checked it, religiously, until the juices ran clear and the timer indicated the 25 minutes per pound ratio was complete. The dish was a success by all standards, it was juicy, tender and perfectly chickeny tasting. Unfortunately, I ended up tossing most of the poor thing. The meal was a dry run for an upcoming dinner date and I had mearly been testing the recipe to make sure it was good enough to serve to another human being.

Of course, it is almost ten years later now and things are different. These days I prepare a roast chicken monthly and barely consult recipes for instructions. Now that I have the basics down I have learned that roasting a chicken is, in fact, pretty hard to screw up. I tossed my trussing twine several apartment moves ago, never to truss again, and have experimented with nearly every kind of stuffing and seasoning that has ever been suggested. I have also learned that a roast chicken is an excellent strategy for Sunday dinner. Typically, I season and prepare the bird on Sunday during naptime and put it in the oven so that it will be complete by 6pm. After letting the meat rest I prepare my daughter one of her favorite meals, shredding some of the tender breast meat into small bits and stirring it into soft rice. Then my husband and I carve up the body, each taking our favorite parts, and put the remaining meat in the fridge for dinner on Monday and Tuesday. And, last by not least, I place the carcass in a pot to make fresh chicken stock.

Recently I prepared a roast chicken with the following recipe, adapted slightly to suit my tastes. I loved the idea of adding a splash of citrus to the chicken, it seemed a like a great way to sweeten the meat and make it extra juicy. The recipe did not disappoint, in fact, I've made it three times this winter. With this preparation the meat becomes very moist and tender, so much so that I barely need a knife to cut it. We love the sweet citrus flavor and usually reserve some of the pan sauce to drizzle over the chicken when it is all carved up. Like all good Sunday dinners this is worth the effort, yielding more than enough food for three nights of meals. I have served it to dinner guests, as well. When I served it to our friend Mimi, who eats just about everything, she immediately picked out the sweet fruity taste declaring "there is orange in this, isn't there. I love it." I was impressed. That was endorsement enough for me, I will definitely be serving it again. And, by the way, if you have never actually roasted a chicken I highly recommend you give it a try, you will be surprised at how easy it is. Then, once you have perfected it, get started on learning that stick shift.

Naptime Herb Citrus Roasted Chicken - adapted slightly from Giada de Laurentiis

1/2 c. olive oil

3 shallots, minced

3 T. orange zest

3 T. lemon zest

1 lemon, quartered

2 T. fresh thyme leaves

2 T. fresh rosemary

2 t. Kosher salt

2 t. black pepper

2 c. chicken stock

2 T. fresh orange juice

2 T. fresh lemon juice

1/3 c. dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Combine first eight ingredients in a glass bowl and set aside.

3. Remove gizzards from chicken, rinse the chicken under the faucet and pat dry.

4. Rub zest mixture over the skin, under the skin and in the cavity of the chicken.

5. Stuff quartered lemon inside cavity of chicken.

6. Place seasoned chicken in a high 9x13 baking pan. Pour chicken stock, orange juice and lemon juice, and cranberries around the chicken.

7. Place the pan in the oven and roast for about 25 minutes per pound. Check on the chicken from time to time and take it out once the juices run clear with the thigh is pricked.

8. Remove chicken from the oven and tent for 10 minutes to let the meat rest and absorb the liquid.

9. Carve and serve.

Naptime Notes:

Naptime Recipe Props: This recipe is a no-fail way to roast chicken. The juices make the chicken incredibly moist and sweet. You can play with the herbs as you see fit, almost anything can be added or subtracted to your liking.

Naptime Stopwatch: Preparing a roast chicken takes slightly longer than a typical weekday dish, but it is worth the time. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare the ingredients and the bird for roasting. Then estimate about 20-25 minutes per pound in the oven, usually about one and a half hours for a four pound bird. You could even roast it in the morning if you want to, then serve it cold for dinner.

Naptime Reviews: This recipe has been a winner all around. The citrus flavors give the chicken an unexpected twist, which may be too sweet for some, but was a big hit with my crowd.


Napping with A Homemade Life

I love reading about food almost as much as I love eating it. Give me a good Colwin, Trillin or Hesser essay, a cup of tea with a scone, and I am content to be left alone for hours. Before my daughter was born I was the woman who always had a book or food magazine tucked in her purse "just in case" the bus ride was slow or I had an extra time in the doctor's waiting room. When I finished one publication I would pick up another, ticking titles off my list and making weekly visits to the food section at the bookstore for a fresh stash. Those days are over now as, like most parents I know, my reading habits have changed drastically since the birth of my daughter. These days my purse mostly contains spare diapers and snacks, and in my spare time I read, aloud, stories about giant cartoon hippos going berserk at a party. But, I can't complain, I still make time in the evenings to catch up on Bon Appetit or enjoy a good novel. This week was particularly exciting for me because I was able to enjoy a new volume of food writing called A Homemade Life, written by Molly Wizenberg, the creator of Orangette.

I started the book on Saturday evening and had finished it, completely, by Monday morning. I have read a lot of food writing in my time, and, trust me, this book is measures up with the best of them. In many ways it reminds me of two of my earlier favorites, Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser, and Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin. I found Molly's voice to be fresh, tender and engaging. It was a pleasure to read her stories with their perfect balance of humor and compassion. Many of her essays reminded me of significant times in my life and how, like her, I can name the foods that mark them. There were parts that made me laugh out loud (getting lectured about sleepovers by her french housemother!), pages that made me cry, and moments when I wanted to hop a plane to Paris to spend an afternoon in a cafe. In many ways, as I read, I felt like I was right there with Molly on her journey through life, with food.

In addition to her essays, by the time each chapter drew to a close I found myself impatiently waiting for the recipe that followed. During the course of my reading I was more than a little overzealous with the sticky notes, I tabbed so many recipes that now my book looks like it's wearing a tutu! When I finished the last chapter I quickly decided the first recipe I wanted to make was the Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Ginger. It was an easy choice since banana bread has always been one of my favorite foods, it is child-friendly, and I have a constant stockpile of brown bananas in my freezer. So, during naptime, I set to work, and after a very brief ten minutes of assembling the batter I popped the pan in the oven. For almost an hour the delicious aroma of baking banana bread filled the apartment and, when it was finished baking, it was an effort to let it cool off before digging in. When I finally did, I was elated because this, my friends, is comfort food at its finest. It is moist, chewy and packed with flavors ranging from the fragrant bananas, to sweet chocolate to spicy ginger, all of which are deliciously balanced. Even my daughter loved it, devouring two slices as a mid-afternoon snack.

As a final shout-out to Molly I took a picture of the bread in Orangette-esque style. That is, one slice of bread against a plain background. It looks simple, delicious and just a little dreamy. In a way it is the perfect descriptive picture, there is nothing to distract you from the way the chocolate chips stud the bread while the ginger winks at you with its golden shiny sugar crystals. After I took this picture I picked up the plate and dug right in, sipping my Constant Comment and watching the snow from our most recent storm settle on the windowsill. It all felt very homemade, and just right.

Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips and Ginger, adapted from A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg
6 T. unsalted butter
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 c. finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. mashed banana (about 3 large ripe bananas)
1/4 stirred up full-fat whole milk yogurt (or full-fat sour cream if you discover your yogurt has gone rancid, like I did!)
1 t. vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
2. In a small bowl, microwave butter until just melted. Let cool slightly.
3. In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add chocolate and ginger and combine.
4. In a medium bowl lightly beat eggs with a fork. Add mashed bananas, yogurt, melted butter and vanilla and stir to mix well.
5. Pour banana mixture into dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, until just combined.
6. Pour batter into loaf pan and bake 50-60minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Note that the loaf turns a deep brown and you can cover the top if it seems to be browning too quickly.
7. Cool loaf on a wire rack for 5 or more minutes after baking. Then, turn loaf out onto rack to cool completely.

Naptime Notes:
*Naptime Recipe Props: This bread is excellent and if you wrap it carefully it will last for a few days at least - if it takes that long for you to finish it! To give it a test I also froze half the loaf and two days later, when I thawed it, it still tasted as fresh as the day I made it.
*Naptime Stopwatch: The batter takes about 15 minutes to prepare. I prepared the batter the second the baby fell asleep and then caught up on emails while it was baking. You don't even need to use the mixer.
*Naptime Reviews: This was a huge hit amongst friends and family alike. I made a second loaf and gave it to my friend Kristina and her family ate it in 24 hours, which is almost as long as it took us.


Napping on Park Avenue

In my former life (i.e. before motherhood) I worked as a fundraiser for non-profits. I felt very good about my career, raising money for worthy educational and medical institutions led directly to improvements in the lives of others. Perhaps it is the Virgo in me, but I liked knowing that I was doing positive and productive things with my time. Now, of course, times have changed, but I still really enjoy going to "work" everyday. Instead of managing projects and persuading people to donate money, I persuade a toddler to eat vegetables and manage her incredibly busy playgroup schedule. Though I loved my career, in many ways I find parenting is infinitely more rewarding since our little girl is essentially my legacy in the world. However, I was lucky enough that right before I finished my career in fundraising, I was able to leave a small legacy there, too.

In 2006 my boss, Barbara, handed me a little project which was, at the time, known as our organization's "little junior-league style cookbook." The women on the Board I was working with wanted to publish a modest cookbook of family recipes to sell, and then donate all profits to the hospital. This project was a little off the beaten path for me, but since Barbara knew I loved to cook she thought I could have fun noodling around with it in my spare time. Little did I know what I was getting into. Fast forward six months to a spring afternoon when I found myself sitting in the offices at Rizzoli with two editors, three Board members and Florence Fabricant, discussing the publication of our cookbook. I must have pinched myself at least half a dozen times to make sure it was really happening and not just some wonderful dream.

My role with the book was that of project manager, it sounds fun, but trust me, managing the production of a cookbook is no easy task. Especially when it is a community cookbook written by almost a hundred, very capable, and opinionated, cooks and entertainers. The project quickly became the center of my work universe, requiring many late nights and weekends in the office. In fact, it is because of this project that Barbara gave me my first ever Blackberry. Of course, there were many upsides to the whole thing, not the least of which was trying out all of the recipes. Obviously, it is impossible not to get hungry when reading recipes, especially when you are pregnant. By the time the book was published I had easily made over half of the recipes in the book. Had my obstetrician known this I am sure she would have suggested I quit making my weekly batch of Karen May's Lemon Squares - it is probable that my pregnancy weight gain wasn't entirely baby related.

Despite a few extra pounds the time spent was well worth it because this was published in October 2007, a month before my daughter was born. My last week at work we had a small segment on the Today Show and I baked four(!) of Kelly Johnston's Pumpkin Cheesecakes for the studio. The producer reviewed all of them and then picked the most elegant one to be presented on TV (though, they all looked the same to me), and when Maria Menounos bit into it on air she exclaimed, "Oh my god, this is so good!" To this day that is the highlight of my baking career. I encourage you to treat yourself to your very own copy of the book here or here, and know that you are helping the lives of hundreds of patients. Then, once you have placed your order, try this recipe out.

Since first bite I have been a huge fan of Florence Fabricant's Seasoned Party Rice, a recipe she kindly donated to the book from her personal file. I was drawn to it because I find that there is a dearth of good rice recipes these days, and, given my aversion to potatoes, I need them. I serve this recipe all the time for dinners at home and when we are entertaining. The flavors pair nicely with almost any chicken or fish entree, and it is versatile enough for both winter and summer. Also, like all of my favorite recipes, this is a snap to make. I usually pre-chop the onion and ginger and just whip it up right before people arrive. Or, I make it during naptime and heat it up when we are ready for dinner. I use jasmine rice like Florence recommends, but I think any other long grain rice would do nicely. And, take note that this recipe doubles well if you are cooking for a crowd. I am proud to say that the book is in it's fourth printing, I believe. When you get your copy be sure to turn to page 108 to see my recipe for Mother's Macaroni and Cheese, another excellent dish to prepare during naptime. Then, watch your local bookstore, there is a sequel coming for Holiday 2009.

Seasoned Party Rice by Florence Fabricant - adapted from Park Avenue Potluck, page 192.
2 T. extra virgin olive-oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 t. finely minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 t. dry mustard
1 1/2 c. long-grain rice, preferably jasmine
2 1/2 c. chicken or vegetable stock (I use chicken flavored bouillon cubes)

Salt & Pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onion and saute over medium-low heat until the onion is translucent. Stir in the dry mustard. Then add rice and stir again. Add the stock, bring to a summer, season with salt and pepper, and then cover and cook over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed. About 15 minutes. Remove from heat and keep covered for about 10 minutes. Add more salt or pepper to taste, then gently toss rice with a fork and serve.

Naptime Notes:
Naptime Recipe Props: This recipe really is a cinch. If you can handle chopping the onion and ginger you are almost done. Take care to not boil the rice and stock, it should simmer quietly to make sure the liquid gets fully absorbed, this makes the flavors marry and the rice tender to the bite.
Naptime Stopwatch:
The chopping takes all of about 3 minutes. Then you simply measure, assemble the ingredients and add them to the pot according to the directions. I spent about 5 minutes assembling everything and 5 minutes letting the onion get translucent with some gentle stirring and heat. Then, I added the mustard and rice, put the stock in the pot, turned the knob to simmer and left it on the stove while I did other things.

Naptime Reviews:
I was unsure what the toddler would think about ginger but she l-o-v-e-d it. She didn't find the flavors too strong at all. In fact, I hid pieces of chicken inside little balls of the rice and she quite enjoyed the meal! Also, this is always a hit when we entertain. You can't go wrong!