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!

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