Friday, December 4, 2015

5 Interesting Gifts For a Host

Gifts that any host will enjoy..
...other than wine!

Have you ever gone to a holiday party with a carefully selected premium bottle of wine and soon after giving it to the host discover that your gift was plopped dismissively in a back corner (behind a heaping pile of coats) with 25 other festively wrapped (but, cheaper) bottles? This happened to me a few years ago, and from that point on, I vowed that I would always try to bring personable, long-lasting gifts that the host will appreciate and remember long after the party has ended.

If you are stumped with what to bring to your next holiday party, consider the following:

Gift ideas that are suitable for any host:

Holiday Ornaments

Holiday Ornaments can be enjoyed immediately, throughout the holiday season and hopefully, for years to come.  And if you are still bent on bringing a bottle of wine, a holiday bulb pairs nicely, and can even charmingly hang from the bottle!

Holiday Bulbs -- so easy, so memorable. 

Air plants

Arriving at a party with a large bouquet of flowers always leaves a lasting impression.  

Recently, however, I changed it up a bit, and brought two delicate small glass jars of air plants (below) to a host of a party that I did not know that well at that time.  Air plants are incredibly whimsical plants that do not need soil, just some water every now and then.  It was a huge hit, sparked all kinds of conversation, was placed at the center of the table, and are still thriving at the home of the host.  Home Run!


Without repeating myself from previous posts, teas are all the rage!  They combine natural, earthy goodness with exceptional varities of flavor to form a perfect healthy gift. 

 Earlier this week, I was invited to the opening of a new tea shop, T2. This shop, popular in Australia, 
 just opened here in the United States, with one of its first shops here in Brooklyn. I found upbeat, colorful teapots and teaware, infusers and delectable tea leaves in every flavor combination imaginable at this Moroccan inspired shop. Anything from T2 would be suitable to bring to a party --  and will be appreciated for some time.  You can find them online at:

Herb Jar

If your host is a cook, consider bringing something for the kitchen. A few months ago, friends brought me a tasteful  box of Herbs of Provence that they had purchased on a recent trip to France. I think of them each time I use the herbs.  

But if you haven't been to France lately, consider an ingenious Herb Jar.  These self-watering kits in adorable jars are a stylish, yet easy, way to grow herbs. The jars utilize "wicking," a passive hydroponics technique, to bring water up to plant roots. The vintage mason jars are outfitted with a net pot, a soilless grow medium, plant nutrients, polypro wick, and organic seeds. To start growing, simply add water and set in a sunny window.
Herb gift set includes 4 herb planters: basil, parsley, oregano, and cilantro. You can find them here:
Personalized Baked Good

We have all done it -- made a promise to whip something up but inadvertently run out of time and end up  buying treats at the local bakery. But, this does not mean that the treat can't be personalized.  I enjoy baking pies (and make a killer pie crust), but rarely have time for it.  The three berry pie (below) is from Briermere's Farms in Riverhead NY and is absolutely delectable.  Whenever I bring this to a party, I personlize it.  I take it out of the cheap, flimsy tin and put it into a more suitably elegant french ceramic pan that can be used by the host for years.  
Looks like I spent hours making it!

Also, if you are able to bring homemade treats, it helps to put them onto a newly purchased dish that can be left with the host.  At the end of the party, no one has to fret over washing  the dish and returning it to you. 

For more gift ideas, check out Sur La Table

Enjoying the incredible tea selections at
T2 in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Italian Cheesecake

Easy and Delicious Ricotta Cheesecake --
and it's Gluten Free!
Ok, so this is not a cheesecake -- it is a mouthwatering rainbow cake that I bought from Betty Bakery in Brooklyn for our Labor Day weekend party.  I wanted everyone to see it! It's a sensible choice if you have lots of kids around; or better yet, a perfect gift for contemptuous, county clerks in Kentucky...sorry, had to throw that in.

Here is the cheesecake that we are going to make. I am eating this slice at my desk presently, as I write up the recipe! YUM!!!

So, if you are in the mood for extra rich, thick cream cheese cheesecake, the one with the graham cracker crust and perhaps some heavy whipped or sour cream on top, this recipe is not for you.  The recipe that follows is a traditional, Italian-style cake that is light, has just the right amount of sweetness and has the consistency that is more like flan than cream cheese. It is delicious, and better yet, simple to prepare. It is also perfect for dinner parties, is an impressive gift, and can be prepared a day in advance. You won't regret it!

Here is what you will need:

Spring form baking pan
3 lbs of whole milk ricotta cheese. Note: Be sure to look closely at the container's label, measurements can be obscure (above, a 15 oz container? Honestly!)
2 cups granulated sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon vanilla paste: 
In my opinion, unless you are cutting fresh vanilla beans and removing the seeds,  Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste should be used wherever vanilla extract is required.  It is simply the best! I use a generous amount for this cake.

You can find it at:

Here is how to prepare the cake

Start by preheating oven to 350 degrees. 

Lightly whisk the eggs and then add in the ricotta cheese and sugar.  

Add in the vanilla paste...

...and the lemon zest. 

Mix the ingredients together lightly. Be sure not to over mix, it should remain a bit lumpy. 

If you are looking for a new spring form baking pan, check out the German brand, Kaiser.  It is available at Sur La Table
This ingenious one (above) has a glass bottom, perfect to help gauge whether baking is complete!

Pour batter into the spring form pan and bake in the oven for one and a half hours, or until the top turns brown. After taking it out of the oven, it will fall a little bit. Release the spring 30 minutes after it starts cooling. The longer the cake cools, the better it will taste. It can be enjoyed at room temperature or cooled overnight. 

Top the cake with some powdered sugar and serve plain or with some fresh fruit.

Wasn't that easy??

Sur La Table is having a big sale! Check it out:

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reading Glasses!

Over 70% of adults need some form of vision correction.  As we get older, this number climbs. 

A fews weeks ago, I was sent a pair of AdLens reading glasses to review.  At first, I was excited to inspect these innovative glasses, where wearers can achieve perfect focus by simply self adjusting the dials on the side of each lens.  But then, I read some online reviews, and became concerned that I may not be able to spin a positive story.

Maybe not the most becoming glasses -- I
look a bit like a diamond jeweler!
But, AdLens glasses deliver on functionality.

Luckily, as soon as I put the spectacles on my face, my concern faded -- I don't agree with the online reviews. I think these glasses are ingenious.  And while I certainly wouldn't advocate purchasing these glasses as a substitute for taking a trip to the eye doctor, I do think that these lenses are perfect for casual use, or as a spare pair that can be left in an overnight case, in the car, next to the phone, or by the bed of a well dressed guest room. And for just $30, they can't be beat!

Arctic Char, what's more agreeable than that? Assuming you can see it!

This weekend we went to a trendy, yet rustically unassuming restaurant in the Clinton Hill section of Brooklyn, called The Finch.  It was absolutely superb. The open kitchen in this restaurant helped to rally an energy of excitement from the enthusiastic and industrious staff, seemingly passing it along to all the smartly dressed patrons, as they savored their perfectly seasoned Arctic Char, sumptuous Berkshire pork, and house churned butter. And in keeping with all things Brooklyn, the menu, created daily, was farm to table.

But, while the atmosphere was  more than suitable, and entirely comfortable, it was dimly lit, making it hard to read the delicately printed menus.  Luckily, I had a pair of the AdLens reading glasses handy. After making my selection, I passed the glasses around the table, as all of us in our party, well into our 40s, needed to magnify the menu a bit! Smashingly, they worked for each of our various prescriptive needs and we didn't resort to shining the obtrusive, bright light of our cell phones onto our menus. Oh, and the glasses paid for themselves, considering we could clearly read the lavish prices on the wine menu.

Last week, I ran into a friend who is an Ophthamologist. Somewhat reluctantly, I asked if he would mind offering his opinion of the AdLens products.  Surprisingly, he had never seen these inventive glasses, and was impressed with the craftiness and functionality.  He seemed to really like them and went on to say that they definitely serve a niche, especially for those who really cannot afford the hefty price that comes with most prescriptions. That was a nice stamp of approval!

If you keep glasses around the house, I suggest checking into AdLens products. They also make sunglass versions. You can get more information about AdLens here:

By the way, if you are cooking this fall, these gorgeous Staub pots are still on sale at Sur La Table:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reading Aloud

Russian artist Viola Pushkarova (1929-2010), humorously captures a scene that invariably happens to every parent (above).  That man easily could have been me a few years back when I would fall asleep reading to my daughter. Come to think of it, I still fall asleep reading to my daughter!

Back in 2014, I wrote about the importance of reading out loud to children, commencing at birth. No one disputes the importance of reading on early childhood brain development, and that reading enhances vocabulary and communication skills and leads to earlier comprehension of words and ultimately to higher test scores, etc.  It should be part of every parent's routine and is often a special bonding activity between parent and child. But, I am repeating myself here -- so, blah, blah...

But, did you know that reading out loud is also important for adults? Research is showing that the activity of reading out loud,  employing a great number of faculties,  helps to sharpen focus, exercises  more parts of the brain and even the body, and puts to good use the underused reading faculty of intonation.  Utlimately, reading out loud helps us to remember better.  Art Markman, PhD, wrote in Psychology Today about a study in which groups of people were asked to read a list, some out loud and others silently. Those that read the list out loud remembered it significantly better than those who read it silently. Adding auditory pathways while reading outloud to the visual pathways used in both silent and outloud reading  helped to link recollection. Interesting!

For older adults, especially those coupled, reading to each other is an effective mechanism to monitor each other's brain function (sanity).  It is a worthwhile tool to make sure the brain is still holding steady.  It also stimulates new conversation, and like children, is an effective bonding  activity. But, please, no bickering here!

My work of art, absorbed in one of her favorites - the Just Grace series

Why, you may ask, am I bringing all this up?  Aside from it being an interesting topic, I, like most adults, worry that I am not finding enough space to keep up with reading. Even my leisure design magazines are piling up unopened. As fall approaches, and routines get more firmly set, I hope to carve out and dedicate more time to the important activity of reading, sometimes out loud (to my daughter mostly).

This is how our family would spend our summer afternoons reading in upstate New York...ah, maybe an extreme revisionist version of my childhood!
I read some interesting books this summer including the first installment of the popular series, My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard -- but this was not quite to my taste. Below are some books that I do recommend:

My vision of Bathsheba, in Far from the Madding Crowd
  1. Far the The Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy. It's just brilliant writing.  I enjoyed getting reaquainted with this classic writer.  It is fascinating to alternate traditional literature with the contemporary, to enter the mind of a writer who lived 100+ years ago, and to gain appreciation for what has changed, and realized how much hasn't.  By the way,  I read Far from the Madding Crown with the express interest of having it completed before the new screen adaptation arrived in theaters. I am a sucker for beautiful period films. 
  2. & Sons, by David Gilbert.  While this book did not receive the praise that it deserves, I think it is smart and funny and hits a note for those of us who live in New York. It delivers rich textures, although it can be a bit crass at times, as it examines two generations of monied New York men. It's worth a look. 
  3. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan.  Just read it! It won the Pulitzer, has some incredibly innovative chapters, and is intense yet humorous. 
  4. My Brilliant Friend
  5.  The Story of a New Name
  6. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay
  7. The Story of the Lost Child (just out this month) all by Elena Ferrante. In this brilliant series (at times wrought with emotional turmoil) the very austere relationship of two women twists through their mid-century lives in Italy.  Absolutely engrossing and at times, graphic; this trilogy is fresh and entertaining.  
  8. All the Light we Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  While it took me a few chapters to become enraptured, once in, I couldn't put the book down.  Set in World War II, this book follows a brilliant soldier and a blind French woman as they encounter unfathomable war-time circumstances.  It triumphantly builds into a suspenseful encounter.
  9. The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. Just read it. 

All of these books can be bought here:

And don't forget to read some of those passages out loud!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Back to School 30 Minute Meal

Thai Chicken Curry with Haricot Verts and Sweet Peppers just 30 Minutes!

With the school year beginning, gone are days with enough leisure to properly lay the table, to artfully arrange the appetizers, to bring the cheeses to room temperature without haste, and to stretch the bedtimes.  Now, it's all about the 30 minute meal, the one that can be quickly prepared while simultaneously helping with homework, cleaning out lunch boxes and ensuring piano is practiced. This is the meal that must be cleaned up before everyone is to bath and bed, that is, before 8:00.  Autumn -- welcome back!

If you are looking for a fresh idea that everyone in the family will enjoy and can also be done quickly,  consider this easy, but delectable fave -- Thai Chicken Curry. Oh, by the way, this dish only uses one pan, for quick clean up!

Here is how to do it:

What you will need:

First, you will need a quality curry paste.  I prefer Kanokwan (to the left).  In my house, one package lasts months. It is very spicy and therefore, not much is needed. If you cannot find it in you local grocer, you can get it online:

1-3 teaspoons of Curry Paste (above)
1.5 cups Basmati Rice
2 Red Peppers
5 shiitake mushrooms
6-8 chicken cutlets
1/2 lb green beens
2 cans of Coconut milk
1/8 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
3 limes 

Since the rice and the preparation of this dish take about the same time, go ahead and cook the rice (bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add 1 1/2 cups of rice with some olive oil and salt, and simmer for 20 minutes)

In a large saucepan, sauté the cutlets in some vegetable oil. Olive oil can be used as well, but it tends to have a low smoke point, causing food to brown or burn more quickly. Therefore, vegetable oil is more ideal.

If the cutlets aren't too thick, time them for 3 minutes on each side.  For thicker cuts, do at least 4 minutes on each side.

While the cutlets are cooking, slice the pepper into thin strips and do the same for the mushrooms. Take the ends off the green beans.

Once the cutlets are done, take them out of the pan and set them aside.  Leave all the juices in the pan. 

 Into the same pan that was used for the cutlets, add the peppers and green beans, and some salt/pepper. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add in the mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes.  Add in 1 teaspoon of curry paste.  If you prefer more kick, and if the dish is not being shared with children, add in more!  More curry paste can also be added into the pan after the children's portion has been plated.

 Stir in soy sauce and brown sugar.

Sauté for 3 more minutes. 

Cube chicken and add to sauté pan.  Squeeze 2 limes over the curry and serve with rice.
Garnish with some fresh basil. 

Everyone is going to love it!

If you have been following this site, you know that I am devoted to my All Clad cookware.  I saw that many of my faves are on sale at Sur La Table. If you need new pots, check them out here:

I also treasure my Staub cast iron pots, and while cyber-oogling the Sur La Table site,  I found these gorgeous creatures on sale in a beautiful deep, autumnal green (perfect for cleaning). Gorgeous! I think you'll be seeing them soon in some of my cooking posts.

Check them out here:

Also, if you would like another family favorite, 30 minute meal, check out a post that I did this summer -- it's delicious:

Shopping the Farmer's Markets in East Hampton.
The summer season is about to close!