For those of you who know my past history with food and cooking, you’ll know of my late-ish start at the ripe old age of 25. Before cooking, there was canned soup, preferably Chunky beef stew. And before that, I survived on falafel sandwiches from the deli, cheeseburgers, Harvey’s poutine because, yes, I’m Canadian, and that’s how we roll with fast food in high school.

But in my 20s, things magically changed. I picked up a chef’s knife for the first time and learned to wield my way through pounds of onions, mountains of garlic, and bushels of tomatoes.

My first few meals felt like a Herculean accomplishment. I’ll never forget the first Pad Thai that I made at my Dad’s house, mounded on a platter, decorated with cilantro and quartered limes. The creamy soup that I couldn’t wait to serve my first ever dinner guests. The mortification over missing the directions to take the soup off the heat before adding the dairy…rendering my velvet beast into a curdled nightmare, more reminiscent of Chinese egg drop soup than anything vaguely Italian-ish.

And I will never, ever forget that first risotto, my first real accomplishment in the kitchen. The smell of the white wine hitting the pan to deglaze the sweet onions. The homemade stock, ladled into the pan one loving spoonful at a time. Making risotto always transported me into my grandmother’s kitchen. Such a cliché admission these days, the reminiscing about kitchens that once were. The domain of family matriarchs whose immigrant kitchens spawned earnest food from the homeland.

But it’s truth, plain and simple. My Nana ran that oregano-infused kitchen with an iron fist. And she loved risotto. Her house smelled like risotto. And though she never got to see me cook, or learn of my passion for food, I always feel as though I’m channeling her spirit when I stand at the stove and stir. And stir. I sip wine and I stir.

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a dinner hosted by the feedfeed and Austerity Wines. Austerity had co-hosted an event in New York in the spring of ’17 and I’d remember getting pleasantly buzzed off of their velvety Cabarnet and a spicy Pinot Noir. This year I was game to try their wines again and was amped to start off the evening with sangria featuring their bright and tropical fruit-forward Chardonnay.

The dinner was effortlessly chic, cooked by chef Michael Chernow of Seamore’s restaurants in New York City. Winemaker Steven DeCosta spoke to us about Austerity’s production process and growing conditions for all of those lip-smacking grapes. Austerity’s Chardonnay comes from Monterey County’s Salinas Valley with its cool winds and warm midday sun, ideal growing conditions we learned. And as I teetered home after clinking glasses with some of my favorite NY cooks ), I started to brainstorm ideas for eating and pairing these jewels of the California wine country.

Starting with their Chardonnay- a bright and mineral flavor, perfectly paired with any spring meal. I confess that Chardonnay isn’t always my first choice when it comes to white wine – I find that an overly oaky taste is too much for my palate and tend to stick to grassier numbers – new world Sauvignon Blancs or a dry Pinot Gris. But I can enthusiastically get behind Austerity’s Chardonnay, smooth and buttery and with only a light oak flavor since much of the fermentation process happens in steel casks. It’s so enjoyable as a crisp drinking wine, that I almost considered not cooking with it and saving it for our Greenwood Lake sunset viewing sessions.

Almost.

Risotto was on my mind, as per usual. And just a splash of Chardonnay goes a long way to infuse the rice with a fruit-forward flavor, leaving the rest for me and my stirring/drinking habit.

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It’s been the summer of oven-free cooking.

I’ll admit that it hasn’t been completely oven-free. There was that day in early summer when I decided to make shallot confit. Nearly set my kitchen ablaze when the olive oil heated, expanded, and flowed onto the oven floor. Which isn’t such a problem unless you panic and reach for a wad of paper towels to mop up the mess. An act that my husband described as “not my best moment”. (Hint, hot oil + paper + blistering coils = the kind of gentle flames that require the front yard testing of a 10-year-old fire extinguisher.)

There might have been a roasted chicken or two, I remember a baked blueberry oatmeal, a sheet pan of salty olive oil granola. But otherwise it’s been magically quiet on the oven frontier. I’m a griller these days, a smoker to be exact. And let’s not confuse that last sentence…a smoker of edible things, not the inhalable variety.

Smoking builds on my favorite style of summer cooking – easy, minimal ingredients, and very little prep time. It lets me enjoy everything that our short but sweet summer season has to offer. Paddleboarding on the lake, beach trips with the kids, hiking with my pup Happy in the woods. Which is most fun when she’s not chasing bears and my itty bitty pepper spray keychain poses no threat of actual use.

It’s the kind of food that I love to pair with equally easy sides – vegetables fresh from my CSA, simply prepared, lightly cooked.

In my last post I mentioned that I’d be taking on fewer but more meaningful projects so I’m happy this week to showcase Taylor Farms, a California-based grower of produce whose focus is on sustainability and food safety. They offer a range of easy breezy products from pre-made salad kits to fresh organic bagged greens and vegetables.

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So now for that awkward re-introduction…The kind where you’ve been gone a while and tiptoe back, ready to re-embrace old traditions, a blank Word doc, images shot and edited, a storyline, some fumbling with basic code, thoughts of the next post already on my mind. I missed it.

It’s been a hectic year. 18 months in fact between the moment when I decided, after watching a set of green business owners stumble their way through an episode of Shark Tank that, hey, now’s my time to do this.

To build a business. To fulfill a dream that had been burning inside of me like a well-concealed flame.

From the moment when I realized over 15 years ago that you could buy a domain name and set up shop on the Internet, I’d been consumed with the idea. My GoDaddy account was a graveyard for ideas come and gone. BoxTheParty.com, HubandSpokeBranding.com; BuildingBrandMe; the ever-essential JessicaFiorillo.com.

“What about starting a fruit molasses business?” I’d asked Rodney while we brushed our teeth and jostled for space at our one-person sink. Forrest Gump-like, I forged on. “You know, gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free. Cherry molasses, berry molasses, how about blueberry molasses?”

And so, several weeks into my remission from cancer, with a bowl of salted almonds and a bedtime glass of red at my side, I settled into a nightly routine of Shark Tank and daydreams. My mind raced, thoughts formed, notes were scribbled into a neon yellow notebook whose sales label I’d removed unsuccessfully, leaving a 2-inch square of goo. Copies of entrepreneurship books started showing up at our doorstep: “The Lean Startup”, “Zero to One”, “ReWork”, every book by Steve Blank.

It felt mission-driven, even if it was one woman’s mission to fulfill her life’s true calling rather than the altruistic kind that saves the lives of tiny babies in faraway countries. My eventual plan was to develop an e-commerce marketplace that would give a voice and commerce opportunities to emerging kitchenware designers (think ceramicists, metalworkers, textile makers).

I got an office, hired some freelance staff, and after much deliberation, landed on the name Propped, a nod to the term “food props” that cooks (and especially cooks who photograph their food) use to refer to the artillery that lines their kitchen shelves. I bought yet another domain, Propped.com, and we were off to the races.

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“Oh hey!”

I looked up from my cart and saw, horrifyingly, that it was one of the baristas from my favorite grocery store in the city, Foragers Market. By my reaction, one might have implied that I was caught strolling out of our neighborhood porn shop with a black plastic bag in my hand. My jaw dropped, face flushed.

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It’s not that she isn’t lovely. She is. We chat in the mornings, we comment on each other’s hair. “It looks lighter! I like it!”

In any other situation, I would have been delighted to see her. But not here. Not at the mass market grocery store that’s right beside Foragers Market.

At home, I disparage this retailer and take every opportunity to avoid it. I hate the fluorescent lighting, the clinical smell, the cheese fridge…so close to the household products aisle that your $10 wedge of Gruyere tastes faintly of Clorox.

Never mind the bloated out-of-season vegetables, straight from GMO farmland. “They don’t care about the food Rodney! Please don’t shop there!”

And here I was. Busted. With a big old pile of industrial corn.

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This was very off-brand. Gene Simmons in a three-piece-suit off-brand.

I love Foragers Market. But when it comes to large volume foods with expensive ingredients, I’ve been known to wimp out. Under the veil of daybreak, I’ll slink next door and toss vats of ricotta and conventional veggies into my cart.

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It’s a momentary breakdown that happens every few months. I might as well confess my sins before another person spies me in Aisle 3, hunting for tomato paste.

My strong preference is to pay up for quality ingredients, but sometimes, particularly when I’m testing a new recipe for the kids, I can’t bear the rejection of a pricey meal. Small-batch ricotta made by hand on an organic dairy farm upstate; the season’s most tender baby zucchini, now in the early stages of harvest. “It’ll all be cooked within an inch of its death!” the voice rings in my head.

I squeaked out my justification: “I didn’t want to make a $30 lasagna for the kids. In case they don’t like it. Please….don’t tell anyone that you saw me here.”

My friendly barista told me that my secret was safe with her. “I do it too” she said as she nodded at her container of broccoli salad.

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If I had a food philosophy, it could be summarized by the following: fast, fresh, local, anti-convenience.

I tacked the last part because fast, fresh and local food is available from many of our neighborhood restaurants; you can have it hand-delivered within minutes. But the anti-convenience gene makes me want to make it from scratch.

I make just about everything from scratch. Why bother with Organic Avenue’s ginger beet juice when I can make it at home with way more effort and virtually the same cost?

This might perplex people, but those who like to make things by hand will sympathize. I’m talking to you pasta-makers, bread-bakers, and ice cream-churners. We take the labor-intensive route, but in the end, I always think that food tastes better when it’s made at home.

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When we moved to our apartment in Chelsea, eating out wasn’t a choice. Our kitchen renovation took months, leaving us to either starve or find sustenance in the neighborhood. Which, when you’re living in New York City, isn’t the worst problem to have.

Momoya, a Japanese restaurant on 7th Avenue, quickly became a favorite. To the point where I had to institute house rules about switching who got to choose location.

To this day, left to his own devices, Rodney will order every delivery meal from Rocking Horse (chicken burrito, hold the watercress), and make every date night reservation at Momoya.

There, we get the same thing: tuna tarte, spicy tuna rolls, tuna, tuna, tuna, maybe a little bit of salmon to keep the peace.

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The odd thing about our love affair with tuna is that we rarely eat it at home.

Foragers Market is just a few blocks from home making it our go-to destination for groceries. The downside is that although Foragers carries the best roast chickens in the city, its smaller footprint (compared to Whole Foods just a few blocks over) means that they don’t carry certain items, including fresh seafood.

But, here’s the great news. I recently came across a new service called Our Harvest which delivers greenmarket produce (the kind of stuff that you’d normally find exclusively at farmers’ markets), fresh meats, fish and artisan – right to your door.

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