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“Mom, I had a nightmare.”

“What happened?”

“There were three little squirrels trying to claw their way under the covers.”

“That does sound scary. But don’t worry lady, we all have nightmares. I had one last night too.”

“What happened in yours?”

“Well, we’d just flown back from a family trip and were at home unpacking our bags…when I realized that we’d planned another family trip for that very same day. It was a huge rush to repack everything and get back to the airport. And on top of it all, I had to write a blog post.”

“Um….that was your nightmare?”

Yes, my dear, as you age, nightmares become less about monsters, more about things like perfectionism and overcommitment. But maybe that’s just me.

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Fortunately I don’t have nightmares about the blog too often. And when I do, it’s not about the work that I have to do, but about the standard that I try to maintain. As I look back at earlier blog posts, it’s wonderful to see an evolution. Which, in a sense, is what keeps me going.

I’m my own biggest critic, so when I see improvements – whether it’s within the writing, or the photography – I become excited to do more. To write more, to take more pictures, to develop a style that feels distinctly my own.

I read an article in The New York Times that said that blogs have a higher failure rate than restaurants. Causality seems clear. People get caught up in the metrics – their pageviews, unique visitors, press mentions, and number of social media followers. It can be frustrating when you’re not getting as much exposure as you think you should.

I know this from prior experience. I was spending hours each week throwing myself into this new hobby, which somewhere along the line became a legitimate job – taking pictures wherever I went; writing at odd hours of the night. And I wanted to know that people were reading it. If not, what was the point?

Recently I wrote about perspective. About shifting your view, even by an inch, and suddenly the world looks a whole lot different. Yes, I was talking about Starbucks and grits, but the rules still apply.

Year 2 was about taking this new perspective.

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One of the inconveniences of a New York City apartment is the noise.

Say, for instance, you live on the North side of the street, with your window facing an apartment complex that’s filled with 23-year olds, fresh out of college, living the dream.

Say there’s a courtyard separating both buildings, and that like all people in their early 20s, these young adults like to party.

Say these parties happen in the teensy gardens of their ground floor apartments, and that they happen from the hours of 11PM until 1AM, sometimes later.

It’s annoying, but that’s what headphones are for.

Come 9:30PM or 10PM each night, after reading a chapter or two of my latest book, I retrieve an eye mask from my nightstand, switch my phone to airplane mode, and turn on the soothing sounds of ocean waves.

Rodney, on the other hand, chooses to go naked. Ear naked, not naked naked.

It’s smooth sailing on most nights. But on the evenings when the weather’s warm, the stars are shining, and the 20 somethings are in the mood to knock back some craft beers with their 50 closest friends, we’re in deep.

We had one of those nights recently.

Rodney, at 10PM interrupted me as the ocean waves were kicking in.

“I need your help, it’s getting loud outside. It’s a 2-man job. You need to hold the window screen open while I throw the water. That way I’ll have time to duck back inside without them noticing where it came from.”

Raising my contoured floral eye mask, I asked the obvious. “What are you 90?”

His response seemed to indicate that he is, in fact, 90. “I’m thinking one of those big buckets – the ones that hold a lot of volume. You just lift and I’ll spray. I really need Chris right now.” Chris being our friend in the building who hates the noise as much as Rodney. “Chris would help me throw eggs at them.”

What I wanted to tell my husband is that a chicken somewhere in Upstate New York didn’t give birth to big, beautiful blue-shelled eggs with golden yolks, so that they could end up in a shattered mess, drying against a pair of J Brands.

The only job required of these eggs is to allow me to purchase them at the farmers’ market for whatever full price the farmer is charging, carry them home gingerly in a burlap sac, and make them into breakfast.

Although I didn’t tell him that, I did tell him to knock it off and go to sleep.

But here, I must confess to an even worse egg crime: until this year, I didn’t know how properly cook an egg.

And I’m guessing that many of you are in the same boat. We have a general sense for how to cook eggs, but there’s room for improvement. Even restaurant chefs don’t always get it right. Ask Thomas Keller, who has claimed for years that the real test of a chef isn’t his or her ability to put together an elaborate dish; rather, it’s how you treat something humble, like an egg.

So, to prevent any ongoing egg shame, and the destruction of these gorgeous farm stand eggs, I thought I’d share a few tricks that I’ve learned along the way. I will fully admit that if I were to draw an egg continuum, I’d place myself here:

Total Disaster –––––––X––– Total Master

But still above average with some hard-won wisdom to share, so here we go:

Soft boiled eggs:

Soft boiled eggs were a mystery to me until I learned about the perfect 6-minute egg. My previous technique was a common one that you’ll find online; start the eggs in cold water, bring them to a boil, turn off the heat, and let them sit in the water, covered for 10 minutes. At which point I’d dunk them into ice water, and attempt to peel their shells, which generally removed half of the white in ragged chunks.

This technique has never worked for me. I don’t care what all of the online sources
say about not letting your eggs bounce around in the boiling water. I’d rather have an egg that I can peel properly than one whose white has not been “traumatized” by boiling water. And yes, I’ve tried the peeling tricks- the spoon, the Tim Ferris technique, which I talked about in this post; I even once bought something called The Eggstractor, which I saw on an infomercial. I learned a valuable lesson that with the exception of Snuggies, one should never buy anything from an infomercial.

If you haven’t been doing this to date, and want to achieve the creamy consistency of that perfect ramen egg, try this method – it’s the only thing I’ve found to work.

The technique: Bring your eggs to room temp (about half an hour outside of the fridge before you cook them). Bring your water to a boil, drop the eggs in, and set your timer for 6 minutes. After 6 minutes, scoop them out with a strainer, run for a few seconds under cold water, and peel. Boom, perfect egg.

For some reason, (and I’m guessing here) but the agitation in the boiling water seems to crack the shell ever so slightly, which allows the shell to separate from the egg white, making it far easier to peel. And 6 minutes is the lucky number. I’ve never once had it fail.

Want a firmer egg? Check out how much time is needed for each of the following yolk centers…

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Fried eggs:

Over the years, I’ve become much more adept at flipping over easy eggs without breaking the yolks. But even when done correctly, the yolk is always cooked a little more than I’d like it to be. And sunny side up eggs have too much uncooked white on top for my taste.

Although this is by no means revolutionary, the perfect solution came to me years after I’d started to cook. I discovered it while eating some restaurant corned beef & hash with a perfect egg on top and I had to smack myself in the head for not thinking of it. Fried eggs, with a perfectly (slightly) cooked top, and a runny center.

The technique: Add some butter to a pan on medium heat. Crack two eggs into the pan, and at the point where you would normally flip the eggs, simply cover the pan with a lid so that the top of the eggs firm up ever so slightly.

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It’s that time of year when all rational behavior falls by the wayside. Ramps are here. Home cooks and chefs alike elbow each other out of the way in order to return from the market with a few bunches of these highly prized vegetables, triumphant.

They’re delicious.

Black truffle delicious? Pork belly delicious?

I don’t know if I’d go that far. But they’re pretty fantastic, owing in part to the fact that they’re only around for a brief window in the Spring. Then they’re gone, hidden from view until they can serve as next year’s bright indication that that Spring is back, and that Winter has been banished for 9 more glorious months.

Some of you may be scratching your heads at this point, either never having heard of a ramp, and/or reflecting on your extreme distaste for pork belly. Let’s focus on the first issue, which is the topic of this post. Pork belly will be saved for another occasion when I muster up the confidence to cook it at home.

If I’m to use my Instagram account as a laboratory of sorts, there seems to be a lot of confusion about ramps.

Are they overpublicized and overpriced?

Or are they unsung heroes, with iffy recognition at best? The kind of fame often reserved for cultish authors, who slip by unrecognized by the masses but are adored by a passionate few.

Here are a few of the comments that led to my confusion after I posted a few dishes that contained ramps.

First, there is a large and vocal group of ramp lovers….

  • “RAMPS, my fave!”
  • “Ramps!!!!” (inclusive of a bright green leaf emoji)

Second, there seems to be a strange sleeper cell of ramp haters….

  • “I’m suffering from ramps overload”
  • “#savetheramps”

Lastly, there are those, with whom many reading this post will identify, who have never laid eyes on a ramp:

  • “Wait, what’s a ramp?”
  • “Are those ramps?”
  • “How have I never heard of these?”

Because educating the ramp unaware population is far more critical than appeasing the (likely) minority of (ornery) ramp haters, here we go: a short tutorial on where to find ramps, and what you can do with them. I’ve tried to make this visual so that you can see for yourself how versatile this simple green root can be….

Sourcing:

For some reason, I have never seen ramps in a Whole Foods or for that matter, any store with four walls and a ceiling.

The only place I’ve found ramps is at the farmers’ market, where you can find them in bunches, looking like this:

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Season:

Although it depends on seasonal temps, ramp season (in the Northeast) runs from late April into early June.

Preparation:

Use them just as you would any fresh herb, or if you want a milder flavor, give them a quick sautee or grill.

Just go easy on them at first – their flavor packs a punch.

Here are some suggested uses:

1. Snip them raw like chives over anything that loves oniony things – omelettes, ricotta cheese on toast, or as my kids like to do, just eat the leaves plain.

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(That was, for the record, ramps scattered over homemade labneh; harass me about writing a post on labneh because it’s ridiculously easy and so delicious)

2. Sautee them and add them to baked foods, like fritatta…

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Stir them into a bubbling pot of mussels…

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herbgarden

Friends, I’m writing to you from a very special place. It was a journey to get here, taking nearly 20 years, and 4 separate apartments across 3 cities and 2 states. To be fair, it’s more of a group than a place. As distinctive and special as the other groups that I’ve wanted to join but haven’t had the guts…..“those who have run marathons”, or “those who have jumped out of planes”.

And why? Minimal training is required. Cost is low, value is high. You can do it in your spare time, and if you kill them, others are for sale.

I’m not talking about adopting a family of hamsters. I’m talking about growing your own herbs.

After the early and tragic deaths of one too many sickly Whole Foods basil plants, I finally got my act together and bought a new breed of houseplant. A set of hardier herbs in actual pots that I tend to with regularity. Whole Foods, as much as I love you, those twiggy little basil plants that offer the promise of pesto by the batch, they’ve let me down. They wither the minute I get them home; all the sunlight in the world, a garden to graze and an emerald green thumb wouldn’t keep them alive.

It’s only been a week, but I’m proud to report back that early signs suggest that my real, authentic, farmers’ market herbs are in fact growing. All three! The apple mint, the rosemary, and the forest parsley, which looks like your garden variety curly parsley but with a more intense parsley taste.

I’ve seen graphic images floating around the Internet that compare a brain on cocaine to a brain on sugar. Apparently our body chemistry responds the same way, which isn’t surprising, we all know that sugar is addictive. I may suggest a third category of addiction: brain on herbs. Fresh herbs, not marijuana. That would be the inverse chart. Pure conjecture, but reflecting on my college days, the pot smokers weren’t leaping from the couch, breaking out a Mandoline and thinly slicing radishes. Nor were they following it up immediately by muddling herbs and lime for a sparkling Spring cocktail. That, my friends, is herb addiction.

Herb addiction touches everyone in a family. I’ve had to caution the kids against overwatering because their red toy watering bucket has made the trek across our hardwood floors a few too many times. Not to mention the residual spillage on our couch, which to be honest, knew better days before we owned a dog. But still. It has a few good years left, preferably without mildew and water marks.

Take a trip down memory lane with me. It’s only been a week, but putting down the chef knife was hard with freshly-grown herbs at my fingertips.

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Six minute egg with tomato & watermelon radish salad with mint and parsley

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Last year I had what amounted to a pre-mid life crisis. It was late March and I was struggling with indecision – my career felt like it had stagnated and I lacked a creative outlet. My insomnia was incurable as I pondered the existential question: what do I want to be when I grow up?

I told my husband that I needed a break. A real escape.  I’d travel somewhere far, far away. Maybe even Europe. Just a weekend escape, but preferably a place where I didn’t know the language and could focus on the basics: eat, sleep, wander, think.

Fortunately I’m married to the kind of person who can sense an impending meltdown. “Do what you have to do” is all he said.

I opened my laptop and started to search for last-minute travel deals.

No dice.

It’s been a few years since I’ve traveled overseas, but has airfare really doubled? Yes, sports cars are expensive, but a $2,000 decompression trip to Europe was well out of my mid-life crisis price range.

With my European fantasy on hold, I settled for a juice cleanse and a solo trip to the lake. My dog, of course, would join.

I loaded the trunk of our car with my meals for the weekend – beet, carrot & ginger; swiss chard, pear, and lemon; almond milk; coconut milk; turmeric tonic….The world was starting to brighten.

The value of rest can’t be overstated. Parents have a tough job, and scheduling time away isn’t always easy. But it needs to be done. 

My weekend away did more for me than I though possible. I unwound, I read, I slept. I planned to start the blog, and quit my job by summer if things didn’t improve.

With a few coats of paint and some freshly-cut flowers, I’d restored my temple to its former self, and was ready to resume life with a renewed sense of purpose.

Now a year later, I look back to that weekend and realize how much I’ve grown. I’m happier now that I’ve made the tough but important decision to fulfill myself creatively, and not settle for career mediocrity.

The concept of Spring cleaning longer feels cliché. It has meaning beyond vacuuming under the beds, and rotating the mattresses. It’s a time of year to mentally, physically, and spiritually take stock.

And food can play an important role in that process.

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Spinach salad with raspberries, persimmon, and almonds

Next week Rodney and I are starting our 3-day juice cleanse. We’ll follow it up with a healthy dose of cleansing foods to keep us moving towards the summer months. Raw vegetables, healthy fats, good proteins (sustainably farmed or caught). It’s less about losing weight, more about being mindful of the foods that we eat, and how we feel.

Watermelon Radish Salad
Sliced watermelon radishes with lemon, sour cream and herbs

And I’m making good on my promise to keep my personal spark alive. A few weeks ago I started an evening watercolor class. And I’m thrilled to have received a yearlong membership to Skillshare for my birthday.  It’s not always easy to carve out the time, but it’s important to find some escape in the everyday, to continue to learn, and grow.

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Spring panzanella with asparagus and green beans

So best of luck with your spring cleaning efforts, whether it’s mental, physical, spiritual, or all of the above. Make every day count.

 

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