Saturday, April 28, 2012

Braised Artichokes for Small Bites Sunday

Who first decided that artichokes would be a good thing to eat? Who looked at the prickly-thistled plant and determined, "Must have that for dinner!" I had this discussion with my cousin in New York (which segued into "How did beer happen" and "the whys and wonders of having dogs and cats instead of grandchildren") as well as a myriad of topics that cousins discuss when they haven't seen each other for years.

I would have liked to have been there - at the first artichoke feast. (I'd also like to be at the first production of Hamlet where nobody know that everyone dies at the end. Sorry if I spoiled the ending for you.)  The first artichoke feast must have happened early. By the time of the Romans, artichokes were cultivated and widely eaten. I suspect we have hunger pangs and the early foragers to thanks for the glories of this thistle.

This is so simple. Braised in water, wine and lemon, they become succulently soft and tender in 30 minutes. The stems (with the outer layer peeled) are edible. My kids watched me prep them and thought they were a lot of work to "get to the good stuff." But in just minutes while chatting with the family, the outer leaves of 2 were peeled, the tips were cut off and the artichoke was slashed in half to get rid of the choke. And I might add - the kids were very happy participants in the eating of the thistle.

If you're new to artichokes, Ciao Chow Linda has a primer on "How to Trim an Artichoke." Find it here.

The Ardent Epicure has a post on all-things-artichoke. Find it here.

Braised Artichokes (from Saveur and Edythe Grace Gresio Schmidt aka "Mom")- serves 4*
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 large artichokes (outer leaves peeled, trimmed and halved lengthwise, choke removed)
2 lemons, halved and juiced
salt to taste (just a little)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - sliced thin (use Earth Balance to keep it vegan)
Fresh ground pepper to serve

*If you're Italian or used to artichokes, you're likely nodding your head because you know this recipe. It's the easiest of artichoke recipes. You're thinking of your own recipe - stuffed artichokes, fried, broiled, grilled. But if artichokes ever intimidated you - start with this easy recipe. Success breeds later success.

Braised Artichoke Preparation:
In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic. Saute till almost browned. (1-2 minutes) Add wine, artichokes, lemon juice, lemon halves, salt and about 8-10 cups of water (really just enough to cover the artichokes). Bring to boil, then reduce heat to medium low and gently boil for 30 minutes. Transfer artichokes to platter and keep warm. Discard all but 2 cups of braising liquid. Return pan with liquid to medium high heat. Add butter. Cook until thickened (about 15 minutes). Mine did not thicken much! Season to taste with salt and pepper and spoon sauce over artichokes. Serve.

It's just a wonderful slurpy mess. I am sure there is a correlation between messy food and laughter at the table. I'm surprised nobody has done a study about that. You're eating a thistle covered in liquid. Messy, earthy, sensual - what's not to like? (And I could continue to sing the merits of cracking crab legs at the table - but I'll spare you.)

It has been written that Zeus came to earth (as he frequently did) and spied a young beauty (as he often did) and seduced her (as he always did). With her consent, he brought her back to Mount Olympus (unbeknownst to Hera). But the young girl was homesick and sneaked back to earth to visit her mom. Zeus was enraged and hurled her back to earth where she became planted and grew - as an artichoke! I suppose there are worse things.

We never knew when an artichoke would appear in the home. I suspect because my mother never "planned" them. They came home when they were looking good to her at the market. She would simply cut the pricklies off the top of the leaves and simmer them whole in water, wine. lemon and herbs. Then serve them cold with dipping sauces. For the tough leaves - we would scrape off the tender inner portion with our teeth. We'd work our way down to the choke. Each leaf unearthed a more tender one - and as a child - this was heaven. It was partly a game - to avoid pricklies and partly an education in deliciousness.

I know it's just a tad early for Small Bites Sunday but then I realized - I can do this - it's my blog! Have a grand week, all!

You might also like: Artichoke Gratin 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mexican Meatballs in Tomato-Chipotle Sauce from Diana Kennedy

It was an itch I had to scratch. Mexican Meatballs?????

Yes, Mexican meatballs and pretty succulent ones at that. Diana Kennedy is this week's focus from the group cooking their way through the 50 Best Female-Game Changers in Food (according to Gourmet). Diana Kennedy is #45 of Gourmet's list.

Diana Kennedy is  often called a "Mexican Food Anthropologist." That terms just rings so true for her and for so many people who seek out more than recipes, more than ingredients but also want to see the techniques involved in the cooking - the history of the recipes. Kennedy is widely acclaimed for her searching out recipes from home cooks in the smallest villages of Mexico. She is also known for her slightly acid tongue.

A recollection from Rick Bayless from David Kamp's 2006 book, "United States of Arugula," about meeting Kennedy for the first time. 

"She did everything but just chew me up and spit me out. I'd never been so poorly treated by any person. She said, 'This is over, I think we're done,' and kicked me out of her car and left me on the road. I had to walk back to town."

Kennedy's remembrance?

"I had just bought some land but not yet built a house, and he sort of trailed me there, and the day he arrived, somebody had cut down two trees on the land that I'd just bought, and I was furious. And then, you know, being young, he was sort of damned opinionated, and he kept saying things like, 'Well, why didn't you translate the Spanish titles in the tortilla book?' I said, 'Well, for goodness' sake!' He was being very brash, and I was getting annoyed, so that was it: I gave him the bum's rush."

In his article on Diana Kennedy, William Booth likens Kennedy to a pickled pepper or better yet a chili habenero! Read his delightful article on her here.

Hailed as "the Julia Child of Mexican cooking," Kennedy moved to Mexico from the United Kingdom in 1957. She lived there with her husband who was a foreign correspondent for the NY Times until 1966. During that time, she started gathering information on Mexican cooking. Later, after her husband died (and with the encouragement of Craig Claiborne, NY Times restaurant and food critic), Kennedy began cooking lessons in Mexican cuisine and creating her book The Essential Cuisines of Mexico which is now a classic. Published in 1972, it opened a lot of eyes and discoveries that Mexican Cuisine is not all about the taco! She currently resides in Mexico where she has spent 45 years perfecting her knowledge of Mexican food, ingredients and techniques. Read more about this fascinating woman here. I only served you an amuse bouche!

In researching Diana Kennedy, I found many of her recipes on blogs. This Mexican meatball recipe is from The Wednesday Chef. It seems that when people search for authentic Mexican cuisine, they are directed to Kennedy's recipes.

This is the real deal - the sauce is all tomatoes with some smokey-spicy chipotles in adobo sauce. The meatballs are tender having braised in the sauce for almost an hour (you don't brown them first - I wanted to - I am so used to doing that). Hints of cumin and oregano jazz up the beef-pork mixture. And it's lightened with minced zucchini that absorbs all the flavors.

The recipe made 32 meatballs - which made for a very happy husband. I probably didn't need to make the brown rice as a filler for him! I changed nothing in the recipe (except for using my oregano and not Mexican oregano). Because I scrupulously followed the recipe, I am going to send you to Luisa's luscious blog The Wednesday Chef for the recipe. I am betting most of you know her blog and if you don't - you will like it. 

I have a few meatballs leftover in my fridge promised to my son (believe it or not, husband and I could not eat 32 meatballs - but we gave it the old college try!). But as I gaze on the photos, it is taking all my willpower to not grab a fork and just gobble them up! Meatballs for Cinco de Mayo, anyone?

I'm not giving up on my Italian meatballs but this was a fun turnabout.

Meanwhile, the lilacs have bloomed in the Twin Cities. It's a month early but I will take what I can get. They grace my home outside...

And inside. Happy Spring! And spring brings artichokes which will be Sunday's Small Bites.

Check out the other bloggers dipping into Mexican exquisite cuisine this week.If it's as good as the meatballs, you could have a delicious read.

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds
Martha - Simple Nourished Living

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Small Bites Sunday

This winter I resurrected "Small Bites Sunday." With my son living "in the Cities" and busy with graduate school and work, I made a promise to him that I would continue to make a "proper Sunday dinner" and there would always be enough for him. No reservations required.  With the men in my life training again for the MS 150, I like to have "small bites" available to the returning cyclists.

I love small bites! There is the time for the complete symphony, the never-ending book and there are times for the short story and for a Bach concerto. (Or a Fats Waller song.)

Yes, the open-faced sandwich is in fact a grilled cheese. My husband's reward for accomplishing the first lawn mowing of the season! Apparently April is grilled cheese month. But that's not why I made it. I made it because it has melted cheese. If you say "cheese," melt cheese or put pistachios into your dish, there is a chance that I will open up my umbrella and fly in through your kitchen window.

Besides, this recipe is adapted from Sophia Loren - she seems to have an understanding of Italian food. It uses asparagus and this is the time to use it. Sophia puts this on any bread, minces her ham and only uses the tip of the asparagus. I left the ham whole and used the entire asparagus stalk. Adapt, play but know this makes a welcoming snack or light lunch - have it for breakfast! Add an egg. Take away the ham and make it vegetarian. But do keep the asparagus and do melt the cheese.

Asparagus-Cheese Melt (for 1, easily doubled and tripled and quadrupled...)
1 slice favorite bread
2 asparagus spears
1 slice favorite ham (prosciutto, anyone?)
fontina cheese
Optional to finish: freshly-ground pepper, fresh Parmesan, arugula

Lightly toast your bread. Simmer the asparagus in salted water for 3-4 minutes. Cut into 2 inch slices. Place ham slice on bread. Lay asparagus stalks on top of the ham. With a vegetable peeler, peel of thin slices of fontina cheese. But on baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F until cheese is melted - about 5 minutes. Sprinkle pepper and Parmesan over if you wish. Serve.

Below is another recipe for April - featuring asparagus. You can serve it hot, warm or at room temperature. You roast the asparagus first - and try not to eat them before you use them. 

Roasted Asparagus with Prosciutto (serves 4) - adapted from Giada de Laurentiis
16 asparagus spears - thick bottom chopped off or peel thick part of stalk
small amount of olive oil
8 slices of thin prosciutto
Optional: freshly ground pepper and Parmesan to finish

Brush the asparagus with olive oil. Salt and pepper if you wish. (The prosciutto adds enough salt for me.) In a 350 degree F oven, roast the asparagus on a baking sheet for 5-6 minutes - until almost tender. Remove from oven. With scissors or a knife, cut your prosciutto slices in half length-wise. Wrap the prosciutto slice around the asparagus. Giada now serves this at room temperature. I pop it back into the oven to let the prosciutto crisp up a bit (3-4 minutes), drain it on paper towels and then serve it with ground pepper and some Parmesan.

I have a southern friend who tells me she has never met a vegetable that she couldn't make unhealthy with her down home Texas cooking. I think of that when I take the innocent asparagus and then cover it with ham. Of course Italians are famous for Eggplant Parmigiano and you know what we do to the health quotient of the eggplant in that dish! But remember - these are small bites! If you need an indulgence, small bites will deliver.

I am going to pause here for a moment and let you know that I have a most excellent husband.

As I read that Bon Appetit noted the ten best places to get the perfect baguette in America, I saw that one was in Minneapolis. And  my husband's wonderful reply was:

"When do you want to go?"

That's love.

So along with our small bites this weekend, we also were treated to a crusty loaf of bread from Rustica Bakery in Minneapolis (and if you're in town - go, bike, skate or fly, and get there in the morning and feast - it delivers - the right amount of chew but not tough. hearty but not filling and brings you to an understanding of why bread is the staff of life). And just because - I bought a mini-focaccia - because that fit the theme of "small bites." It was diminutive. It was cute. And I really wanted it.

I will be doing Small Bites Sunday for awhile. If you have a "small bite" you'd like to share, send it over with a photo and a link to your posting by Saturday at 5 p.m. Nothing fancy - no badges - just for fun.

Today is Earth Day and even in Minnesota which is often the frozen tundra and icebox of the nation, the earth kept her promise. In return, I have some promises to keep for her. Hope you had a lovely Sunday, a small bite here and there and had time to appreciate our planet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Linguine and Thyme-Scented Mushrooms - Nigella Lawson

Something happens when you don't watch much TV - you remain clueless about people and things that the world is well versed in. I had heard of Nigella Lawson. I had gathered she was some sort of seductive cook? That she was famous for wrapping her lips around spoons for photographs.

What did I know? I have been amazed since I joined this group of dedicated bloggers working their way through Gourmet's Fifty Women Game-Changers in Food. I have been sequestered in my corner of the Italian cooking world and have paid little mind to new chefs, new faces and current "stars" in the cooking sphere.

Lawson was born to a wealthy and influential family (her father was a Chancellor in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet and her mother was an heiress, a socialite and renown beauty). The family moved a lot during Lawson's teen years and Lawson got into trouble at many of her schools.

"I was difficult, disruptive, good at school work but rude, I suspect and high-strung, she noted.

She did go on to graduate from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford with a degree in medieval and modern languages. There were many curves and detours to the career she has now. I won't list it all but you can find her biography here. Today, she is noted for her cookbooks How to Eat and How to be a Domestic Goddess (among her many) as well as her TV Series Nigella Bites. Compared to Delia Smith, Lawson's cookbooks were noted for being accessible, chatty and a bit cheeky - a definite change from the more matronly approach favored by the current British cooking icon!

I seem to be back with the mushrooms. This is the 3rd time in a row that I've chosen a mushroom recipe from the Gourmet Game-Changers! I am either in an earthy phase or a spore phase. At least I don't dream about them. Apparently, that is bad news.

I was interested in this dish because - more so than ever - my days call for ease and this had it. And it was noted that it could be dressed up for dinner with protein additions (shrimp, tofu, chicken) and except for the pasta - nothing else needed to be cooked! The mushrooms cook in the marinade. As another Gourmet Game Changer notes often, "How easy is that?"

I used it as a side dish because I have been known to eat my weight in pasta when it is the main deal. More so now that I am writing about the North Pole. I come down to dinner cold and in need of carbohydrates as if I spent hours on the ice (I wouldn't last five minutes - or maybe I would last if pasta was promised at the end of the day!)

Linguine with Lemon, Garlic and Thyme Mushrooms - serves 6 as a side dish in a nomrla home and 4 in mine
(I changed amounts, find the original recipe here.)
16 ounces chestnut mushrooms - thinly sliced (I used a mix)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Maldon salt (I used sea salt)
1 garlic clove minced (I used more)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
4 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves (I used more)
3/4 pound linguine
3/4 cup fresh, minced Italian parsley
2-3 tablespoons freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (I always use more)
freshly ground pepper - to taste

Combine first 6 ingredients. (I whisked the lemon juice into the olive oil first). I did this in the morning to allow the mushrooms to marinate and "cook." Lawson does this as she puts the water for the pasta on - do it as you choose. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. Drain saving 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Toss with the mushrooms mixture adding pasta water if it seems dry. Add the parsley and toss again. Add - or serve separately - the cheese and ground pepper. Serve.

You may of course skip the cheese and go vegan (but please not that I would never, ever skip a chance to play with Parmigiano-Reggiano. It is part of my DNA).

Please check out what the other bloggers are doing for Week 44 of Female Chef Gourmet Game Changers. And if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at  One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey. 

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Chicken, Kale and Chickpea Stew

The Chelyuskin is sinking in the Arctic icy waters. Horns are blaring. The ship is being evacuated onto the ice. The "Soviet Titanic" has less than two hours afloat. Will 110 people make it safely on to the ice in time? And once there - how they will survive the frigid air temperatures of -43 degrees C? And even if a rescue can happen - no ship can get through the ice floes in the water and there is no landing strip on the ice.

It's boring. How can I take a remarkable tale of survival on the ice - a tale that includes women and children and two babies and make it so boring? Eight months into the play and I am in danger of giving a major sleeping pill to future audiences. (Or having no future audiences because nobody will produce it... because it's - dull and tedious. And did I mention - boring?)

Dinner seems to be my only "real" moment of the day. But the "cold from hell" hangs on. Yesterday, I gave careful consideration to placing a gallon of ice cream in the middle of the dining room table and telling all to "dig in. That's your dinner."

"Devon's coming for dinner."

Uh oh. The boyfriend will be here. Maybe ice cream for dinner isn't a good idea. I relented. I caved in to society's expectation of "the good mother" and put a proper dinner on the table. This chicken-chickpea stew fulfilled my requirements - it's all about ease - I inadvertently picked a healthy dish and it satisfied all. Nary a drop left. And there was still room for ice cream.

It's a one-dish meal from Tuscany. I found it in Joe Famularo's wonderful A Cooks Tour of Italy. I have been using Famularo's recipes for years. His stories surrounding his food finds make everything personable and accessible. I've done a lot of armchair traveling with him. Sometimes I open up one of his books when I get itchy feet and want a quick vacation in Italy.

My version is just a wee bit easier that Mr. Famularo's - because I'm sick and really just want ice cream! Instead of 1/2 tsp cumin, dried oregano, dried thyme and crushed red pepper - I added some Italian seasoning and called it a day. I also left out the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar because I didn't see it on the ingredient list. Ever miss an ingredient?

Feel free to add these ingredients in when you combine all - or just use my simplified version. Either way - it's a winner. Especially if you start thinking vanilla ice cream with salty dark chocolate topping is a good idea for dinner.

Chickpea, Kale and Chicken Stew - serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion - diced
1 green bell pepper - diced
2 cloves garlic - minced
1/2 bunch of kale
1 pound chicken breasts - cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans chickpeas, drained (you can oh so authentic and use dried beans and soak and cook -I used 1 can chickpeas and 1 can of garbanzo beans - I do use low-salt organic)
2 cups chicken broth (I used 3)
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a heavy sauce pan, heat the olive oil and saute onion and pepper until softened (about 8 minutes). Add garlic, saute briefly.

Stir in kale and chicken. Add broth, beans, tomatoes and seasonings. Partially cover and simmer for 30 minutes - stirring occasionally.


Leave out the chicken, use vegetable broth and make it a vegetarian - even vegan meal. Don't be fooled by the down-home, "hot dish" nature of this meal. The colors and varying textures really do this dish proud. Want a touch of elegance? Think of it as a bruschetta topping and spoon it over some crostini with melted cheese.

Newly fortified, I return to the manuscript. I delete all the boring parts. Which is 80% of the play. And go to bed. This morning, I am exploring a new idea. But first breakfast.

Anyone want to join me for a bowl of ice cream?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Mushroom Bruschetta from April Bloomfield

I don't have a sweet tooth.

Really. Oh yes, I like my piece of salty dark chocolate toffee. Who doesn't? But I can forego dessert.

I'm all about the fruits and vegetables.


What? You don't believe me?

And yes, I did eat all of the above in NYC with Kirsten's help. 

But I truly do love my small vegetables. Especially if they are small bites. I can make a meal out of bruschetta toppings.

We had two traditions here when the kids were younger. One was "small bites Sunday" which I would do in the winter. There was something about a lazy winter day - when the house was cleaned, the homework done and the weather forbidding that called for a late afternoon nosh. Starting with a substantial slab of bread, cut and waiting on the kitchen table. It would soon be surrounded by warmed mushrooms, roasted tomatoes, cheeses, olive spreads and artichoke hearts.

These little bites would magically appear on the dining room table and everyone could come and go at will - stopping to fill their plates as they wished. There were no guides such as "eat your vegetables." Just a mini feast of small plates.

On Fridays in the summer, I would set up a no-cook spread similar to antipasto platters - of meats, cheeses, vegetables, breads and condiments and let everyone dive in and eat inside or out - whatever struck their fancy.

There was a sense of being out of the routine, being whisked away to a resort when these small bites appeared at the table. It was not "business as usual" and these meals were a welcome break from our normal routine.

It is no wonder that when I first eyed April Bloomfield's recipe for a Mushroom Bruschetta, I knew it would come to my table. April Bloomfield is Chef #43 on Gourmet's List of Women Game Changers in Food. 

She is best known for receiving a surprising Michelin star  in 2005 for her West Village, NYC restaurant The Spotted Pig. Later in 2007, Food and Wine named her one of the best new chefs to watch. Born in Birmingham, UK, April Bloomfield had no intention of becoming a chef.  A missed deadline to apply for the police academy sent her instead to cooking school. Her mix of satisfying Italian and British ingredients has enchanted New Yorkers who wait outside in long lines for a chance to dine at The Spotted Pig. Find more about Ms. Bloomfield here. On to the recipe - it's a good one: earthy with a smattering of decadence - you will want to bring this to your table.

Mushroom Bruschetta Ingredients (Serves 4)
5 tablespoons olive oil - divided (extra if needed)
1 pound mushrooms, cleaned chanterelle or trumpet (I used a gourmet blend)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons fresh, minced Italian parsley
1/4 cup creme fraiche (I used less)
w tablespoons fresh,. chopped chives
4-2/3 inch rye bread, toasted (I use whole grain ciabatta)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups arugula
salt to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add the mushrooms and lightly salt. Saute, stirring until mushrooms are browned (7-10 minutes). If needed, deglaze the pan with a few drops of water. Stir in garlic, butter and parsley (about 1 minute). Just lightly brown the garlic and remove from heat. Add creme fraiche and chives. Blend till combined.

Meanwhile, heat a medium skillet with a little olive oil and add bread and toast (I did it in the oven). Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil with the lemon. Toss with arugula. Spoon mushrooms over the toasts and serve with the arugula on the side.

This dish provides a most satisfying line between the "work-a-day world" and "I'm home now, let's put away the day and be calm and comforted." And it's easy. Remember - I am all about cooking with ease.

Please check out what the other bloggers are doing for Week 43 of Female Chef Gourmet Game Changers. And if you want to join in the fun, e-mail Mary at  One Perfect Bite. Mary started this delectable journey. 

Susan - The Spice GardenHeather - girlichef,
Miranda - Mangoes and ChutneyJeanette - Healthy Living
Kathleen - Gonna Want Seconds

Monday, April 9, 2012

Food and Friends Old and New

Pizza Rustica. It's a tradition. That or calzones on the night before Easter. Traditions are tricky. There are times they need to be upheld. Memory surrounds them. And there is a time to create new ones because life changes and evolves. This Easter required tradition. After ten days of visiting my past, I wanted to bring it into my present. And there's no better way of melding your past with the present than with food.

I had a whirlwind tour of New York City with my daughter. We stayed at Lily's home. Lily greeted us every morning and eve and shared her couch with us.

And my human cousins both on Long Island and in "The City," opened their homes to us and gave us hours of stories and laughter. It had been over four years since I visited them. Too long.

We went to see Avenue Q which shared a space with Rent - a play I had taken my children to years ago. Past and present were already merging. Jonathan Larson's words were still scribbled everywhere - having touched so many people.

The next day amid hurricane winds, Kirsten and I headed to the World Trade Center Memorial.

I was surprised by the instant tears brought by the Waterfalls and Reflecting Pools. Over ten years later, the emotion is still raw. The site is both one of mourning and healing. Of reflection and remembrance. It's so personal, I won't dwell but if you wish, read more about the memorial here.

The Survivor Tree brought sweetness. Rescued out of rubble, it echoes hope.

In 2007 I wrote a play about an early childhood friendship called By Candlelight. So much of what happens to you of import can happen before the age of ten. I've written about the impact she had on my life here. I left a note on my friend's legacy site thanking her for befriending me years ago. I told her about the play and the influence she had on a new generation. Two years later, her brother saw my note and contacted me. And three years later on my trip to New York we would meet again.

I received a text from him:
"Meet me at 8th Avenue and 19th Street. Prepare to be awed."

Now "awe" is a word I take very seriously. "Awesome" is a catch-phrase I never use because you know - it never is... awesome. It's grand, fantastic, lovely - but seldom awesome.

"Mom, did you send him a picture of you?" Kirsten asked.


"When was the last time you saw him?"

That would be forty years ago. When we were teens. We are now in our 50's.

"How will you recognize each other?"

"I don't know."

But when he crossed the street, our eyes met and we knew. There was my friend's brother - they were each other's best friend. And for me, a new friend. But from the past.

He took us into a building that he was in the midst of both restoring and developing. It is the Walker Building in Chelsea at 212 W. 18th Street.  Designed by Ralph Walker (called the "Architect of the Century" in the 20th century), Kirsten and I were brought to the "penthouse floors" still under construction - which offered 360 degree panoramic views of New York City (looking "uptown" - above).

Yes, I was awed. From a day of remembrances of the past through a peek at the future, bridges were being built.

With the Freedom Tower already majestic in the distance, the views took me back and moved me forward. And it was appropriate and perfect that the architect of that afternoon was my friend's brother.

The next day, I gave Kirsten a day off from her mother. I wandered my old haunts in the West Village.  There was The White Horse -  it is a notable place with a beautiful bar. People visit because Dylan Thomas got drunk there and you have a fair chance of seeing Mick Jagger or some other celebrity. 

"Once upon a time there was a tavern...." (Those were the days my friend...)

And visited my old 5-floor walk-up tenement building where I lived. It was the sort of place that my grandmother worked 3 jobs to get out of and move to a proper home in Queens. It was the place her granddaughter would embrace. Past and present.

And at Grano Trattoria at Greenwich and 11th Street, I met a new friend. A friend that I have known on the computer for a few years but have never met.

The restaurant was fairly empty. We talked easily, sometimes personally and I found myself whispering because I didn't want my voice to reverberate! 2-1/2 years after reading her food blog posts and incessantly cooking from her blog, I finally broke bread with Chow Ciao Linda.

As warm, as insightful, and as knowledgeable as she seems in her blog posts, she is more so in person. Readers of her blog know her passion for cooking, culture, history, art and so much more - just go to her blog - it speaks for itself. Find it here.

And if I can figure out how she managed the walk through Greenwich Village and then to Eataly without her hair getting wind-blown as mine was, I'll share it! It was welcoming to meet with someone who is firmly in my present. It came so easily - to meet over lunch and discuss the here and now.

This is the second blogger I have met (I went to L.A. courtesy of Bertolli foods with Pat from Mille Fiori Favoriti. Our time together was also personable and easy. And yes, do click on her blog title - it is a blog you would love. Would I lie to you?) It is heartening to discover that what bloggers share with each other spills over easily into face-to-face meetings. It's probably similar to meeting a pen-pal - a distant friend.

And then a day later, I was at Lincoln Center with my mentor - who remains one of the most charming, smartest men ever to grace this planet.

I walked into Aaron Frankel's Shakespeare workshop at HB Studios in my early 20's. And stayed for five years. A writer, producer, director, professor at Columbia University, he infused my work with excitement, a bit of danger and lightening flashes. He changed my professional world and much of which works in my playwriting career is because of the insights about theatre I gained in his classes. I still send him plays when things are teetering - when they have bones but no feet. When they talk but don't walk. I wish all of you an Aaron Frankel in your life and have tried to pay it forward by mentoring my students if they wish it.

And then there were the meals with friends which I will cover later. What is it about the friends from your early salad days that remain your closest friends? I have the most delightful Minnesota friends but there is something about a friendship forged when you are vulnerable and still growing up that remains vital - even without years of seeing each other. My friends and I are are not leading the life we planned in our acting days but have taken some mighty interesting detours and we have each found fulfillment in unique ways.

So, what does this have to do with Pizza Rustica? Everything and nothing. I came home sick - with my first cold in 3 years. I was the person nobody wanted to see on their plane! As I sneezed my way through 3 hours on the flight (I looked at poor Kirsten between sneezes and said, "Sorry. You're doomed. You're going to get this."), I spent the week looking for comfort. Five days of chicken soup was enough. Easter was coming and I wanted something traditional. But my past Pizza Rustica included 3 pounds of mozzarella cheese, 6 eggs and 2 pounds of ricotta cheese. Maybe that was overdoing tradition.

And so I settled on adapting Giada's recipe because it included red peppers and spinach. I fooled myself into thinking it was healthy. It's a fairly easy recipe - just a lot of layering. It's cheeses (usually ricotta and mozzarella) and meats (sausages or salami and prosciutto) and eggs. This version had the vegetables. It's like Neopolitan Wheat Pie - every family seems to have their own recipe. And every recipe is delicious.

On the day after Easter, Italians can typically be found on a family picnic. This is the perfect picnic food - better at room temperature than hot. And often better the day after.

And the post is long enough. Find the recipe here. Spring is just beginning. If you're lucky, there will be a lot of picnics in your future.

Forsynthia's are in bloom all over New York City. My cousin's garden on Long Island is filled with the welcoming blooms. And so when I saw them for sale back home, I bought some as a last gesture to my past and present self. Bringing together New York and Minnesota and my past and present self.