Sweet and white potato casserole

Sweet potatoes, diced, 2 large
White (prefer Yukon gold) potatoes, diced, 2 large
Sweet yellow (Vidalia) onions, diced, 1 medium
Pancetta, diced (you can reasonably substitute bacon in this case), 1/4 lb or as much as desired (you just have to ask yourself how you like bacon...)
Brown sugar, 1-2 tbsp
Olive oil, 2 tbsp
Butter, 2 tbsp
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Fry the diced pancetta in a pan.
2. Add the onions to the same pan and caramelize the onions in brown sugar and a little olive oil and butter.
2. Add additional butter and olive oil and allow to melt.
3. Grease baking dish with butter and place diced potatoes in dish.
4. Pour onion and pancetta mixture over the potatoes.
5. Bake at 375˚F for about an hour.

Serves: approximately 4 people

The story:
My grandmother Mary with
my father (left) and my uncle (right), c. 1952
During my many years living in the South (ages 16 through 26), I often visited or passed through Virginia Beach, where my grandmother Mary (my father's mother) lives and where my father grew up. I even lived with her during the summer of 2001 - the aforementioned Summer of Food - an adventure for us both, since we have similarly strong personalities! One challenge we ran into frequently surrounded food. I was as skeptical of her cooking as a (then-) picky Italian-American girl could be - at least one who wouldn't touch American cheese or bread with a ten-foot pole, who started ANY cooking by drizzling olive oil into something, and whose heart nearly stopped every time she heard "pasta" pronounced with a short A. For her part, my grandmama (as she was always referred to by my summer research supervisor, in her gentle Jamaican accent) was equally skeptical of restaurants, where she usually found either the food or the noise not to her liking. Consequently, I tended to select family-owned Asian restaurants, where I found the teenaged grandchildren of the owners to be highly sympathetic to my plight. But we did venture out to other places, and one success story was the Cobalt Grille (though admittedly, I haven't been back in more than a few years now). When we requested, upon arrival, that the music be turned down, they complied immediately and without eye-rolling. And they served a delicious side of sweet and white potatoes, onion, bacon, and (I suspected) a LOT of butter, which I reconstructed into this...I couldn't help myself on the olive oil.

I realized when I sat down to write this out that it has been awhile since I made it - so thanks to my amazingly gifted mom for remembering one of the few recipes that I passed on to her. Happy Easter and happy birthday!


Pork tenderloin with grapes

Pork tenderloin
Butter, softened, 2 tbsp
Flour, 3 tbsp
Coarsely ground pepper, 1 tsp
Salt, 1 tsp
Sugar, 1 tbsp
Garlic, crushed and finely chopped, 2 cloves
Fresh thyme, chopped, 1 tbsp (can substitute rosemary if preferred)
Fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped, 1 tbsp
Olive oil
Red grapes, 1 lb
White wine
Chicken broth
Butter, 2 tbsp

1. Rub tenderloins with butter and a mixture of flour, pepper, salt, garlic, sugar, thyme and parsley. 
2. Brown in pan with olive oil and place in oven-proof pan.
3. Put red grape clusters around meat. 
4. Deglaze pan with a splash of white wine and chicken broth and set aside. 
5. Roast about 30-45 minutes depending on size of tenderloin. You can use two tenderloins if small. 6. Remove tenderloins. Place on cutting board and tent to keep warm. 
7. Pour 1/4 cup of chicken broth into roasting pan, scraping bottom of pan to get up bits. 
8. Pour this into the browning pan. Heat to boiling and whisk in butter. 
9. Slice pork tenderloin. Arrange on plate with grapes and pour juices over. Sprinkle with additional parsley or garnish with sprigs of thyme or rosemary.

The story:
Okay, there really isn't one behind the recipe itself. My mom recalls that she was initially skeptical about the suggestion to use grapes, still on their stems - but clearly we're on to something, because they are also delicious with roasted chicken. Suggested sides for this dish include sweet potato gnocchi, sweet and white potato medley, mashed potatoes, roasted asparagus, or crispy brussel sprouts with pancetta. The first time I tried this recipe (with the sweet potato gnocchi), I was staying at my friend's parents' house on Lake Oconee. I was in my fourth year of medical school (sometimes also known as "the most expensive vacation you'll ever take"), had just returned to the States from Guatemala, and essentially had nothing to do for almost three months. So I hung out out at their vacation house, went running with their dog most nights, read a lot of books and took over their (seldom-used) kitchen. Anyway, after the third or fourth time I offered to cook dinner, my friend's mom quietly confided that his stepdad was starting to miss eating out - and that I shouldn't take it as a reflection of my cooking!

Gnocchi di patate

Red, russet, and Yukon gold potatoes, 2 lb
Flour, 1¼ cups
Salt, ½ tsp
Nutmeg, a pinch
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated, ½ cup
Egg yolks, 4

1. Boil potatoes. Cool until warm and put through ricer into bowl.  
2. Mix with parmigiano, salt, nutmeg and egg yolks.  
3. Knead flour into dough.  
4. Divide into eight pieces. Roll into ropes. Cut into 1-inch pieces, and roll each over fork tines.  
5. Dry for at least twenty minutes.  
6. Bring a pot of salted water to boiling and add gnocchi.  
7. When gnocchi float to the top, cook for two minutes longer, about five minutes total.
8. Drain and toss with sauce of your choice. 

The story:
We most often eat gnocchi with a simple tomato sauce and sometimes homemade meatballs. My grandmother served them with sausage and beef, and our Italian friend Tonia served them with artichoke heart cream sauce. When I was seven, my parents led a group of college students touring Italy for three weeks.
World traveller, the early years
We started out in the Abruzzo region, staying with families in the tiny, beautiful towns of Torre di Passeri and Tocco da Casauria, and we returned there several times in my childhood. (We even named two of our dogs after Tocco.) 
On one trip, we met Tonia who had been assigned to interpret for my father. She later lived with my family while studying in New York (I was about 14 at the time). While Tonia was living with us, she made gnocchi, a production which resulted in flour from floor to ceiling and one end of the kitchen to the other (and which could still be found in small patches, here and there, months later). After leaving Copenhagen in 2003, I visited her in Milan for a few weeks and ate decadently - penne baked in a gorgonzola sauce, pizza quattro stagioni, lovely lunches on the shores of Lago di Como and Lago di Garda, fruit salads of strawberry and kiwi every night after dinner, and fresh cups of espresso brewed on the stove every few hours. 
A few years later - almost ten
The best of '80s children's fashion, c. 1989 
years after the flour explosion - I visited Milan again with a friend from Oxford. When Tonia asked what we wanted to eat, gnocchi immediately came to mind. This time, she brought home some freshly prepared ones from the market and served them with a light fresh tomato sauce and a pinch of her father's homemade paprika. We loved the paprika so much that she wrapped a few jars for us to take home. When we landed in London and opened the suitcase, a cloud of searing heat rose up to greet us (and the unfortunate traveller sleeping stretched out across some chairs nearby). One of the jars had cracked en route and, although the others were salvaged (and lovingly used over the next year), it was a very long, uncomfortable trip home that night!

Tocco (II) the dog, May 1999
Tocco the town


Sweet potato gnocchi with sage brown butter sauce

Sweet potato gnocchi
Sweet pota, 1
Egg yolk, 1
All-purpose flour, 1/2 to 3/4 cup (plus more for rolling out gnocchi)
Salt, 3/4 tsp
Nutmeg, grated, 1 pinch

Sage brown butter sauce
Fresh sage, a handful, torn or coarsely chopped
Olive oil
Pearl onions, peeled
Pecans, halved or coarsely chopped

1. Bake the sweet potato in the oven until tender.
2. After the potato has cooled, peel and grate or use a ricer or mash with a fork in a bowl.
3. Add flour and salt and mix with fork
4. Make a well in the center of the potato mixture
5. Add egg and incorporate If you need more flour add it. If dough is too dry add another egg yolk.
6. To test, take a small portion of the dough with floured hands, form into a ball, and blanch in boiling salted water. When it floats, remove, taste, and adjust seasoning
7. Divide into eight pieces, roll into ropes, cut into pieces, roll over fork tines. Dry for at least twenty minutes. 
8. While gnocchi are drying, caramelize onions for sauce:
Melt butter, add pearl onions and sprinkle with sugar. Cook until onions are browned and caramelized.
9. Boil salted water and add gnocchi. When gnocchi float to the top, cook for two more minutes (total about five minutes. Drain gnocchi.
10. Add more butter to your saucepan. Heat until foamy and just beginning to brown. Stir in pecans and fresh safe.
11. Toss with gnocchi.

The story:
This is one of my favorite dishes, another one with great textures - pillow-like gnocchi, crunchy pecans, the crackle-pop of biting through the caramelized shell into a pearl onion... My mom thinks she adapted the recipe from Michael Chiarello but can't quite remember. We've been making it for many years now.

Some suggestions for this recipe - it can be doubled, and leftover gnocchi can be frozen easily. A combination of sweet and white potatoes can be used, but we prefer all sweet. The sauce also goes well with butternut squash ravioli. Finally, it makes a great side for the pork tenderloin with grapes.


Semolina cake with pignoli, almonds, honey and olive oil

3/4 cup white flour
¼ cup pine nut flour (grind nuts yourself)
¼ cup (marcona) almond flour (grind nuts yourself)
3 tsp. baking powder
1 cup fine semolina
6 tbsp cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup (orange blossom) honey
3 eggs, separated (reserve whites)
½ tsp almond extract
zest of 1 (blood) orange
½ cup milk
pinch of salt
½ cup pine nuts, divided in half
½ cup (marcona) almonds, coarsely chopped or crushed, divided in half

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
2. Grease bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 pan and set aside.
3. Mix the white flour, nut flours, semolina and baking powder together in a medium bowl.
4. Using a mixer, cream the butter with olive oil and honey until light and fluffy. With the mixer running, add egg yolks one by one. Continue mixing until a light yellow color. Add almond extract and orange zest.
5. Add the flour mixture ⅓ at a time alternating with the milk.
6. Add half the nuts (¼ cup pine nuts, ¼ cup almonds) to the batter. Save the other half for topping.
7. Clean the beaters well and beat the egg whites in a separate bowl with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold the egg whites in to the batter until just blended. Don't mix too much or you will "flatten" your egg whites.
8. Pour the batter in to an 8x8 square or round pan, level with a spatula, sprinkle with nuts and bake at 325 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until you have a nice golden-brown color.

Serves: approximately 8 and freezes very well

The story:
I've always been fond of the ingredients that come together here - pine nuts (especially, especially pine nuts), almonds, honey, olive oil and semolina flour. Several years ago, I was invited to dinner at a neighbor's house, and the hostess served a deliciously dense, crumbly round cake studded with nuts (pistachios and pine nuts, maybe almonds too) toward the center. I described it to my mother, who made an early version of this cake. Years passed and we both ordered variations on olive oil cakes at several restaurants. Only subtly sweet, they have a lightness that makes them the perfect choice when you know you're full but can't resist dessert (which, for me, often has less to do with needing sweets than the desire to prolong a lovely evening of good company and conversation).

The winter before last, when I was almost nine months pregnant, I found myself desperately in need of ways to pass my time (having already tried cleaning my house from top to bottom and walking five miles to and from my favorite bookstore on a daily basis). I decided to perfect this recipe - finally bringing my conception of the ideal olive oil-pine nut-semolina-based cake to fruition. I baked it just a couple days before my son was born, and it stores (and freezes) perfectly, so we ate our first slices to celebrate his birth after bringing him home from the hospital.

Sesame-crusted seared tuna with coconut sticky rice

Sesame-crusted tuna
Tuna steaks, sashimi-grade (prefer yellowfin) and skinless, 2-3
Soy sauce, 1/4 cup
Mirin, 1/4 cup
Fish sauce, 1 tbsp
Rice wine vinegar, 1/8 cup
Garlic, crushed and finely chopped, 1 clove
Shallot, finely chopped, 1
Hot red pepper flakes (or better yet, a powder made from hot peppers dried in the sun in Italy and ground by hand), 1/4 tsp
Salt, 1/2 tsp
Freshly ground pepper, 1/2 tsp
Sesame seeds, black and wine, about 1/4 cup
Sesame oil, at least 2 tbsp

Sticky rice
Jasmine rice, 1 cup
Coconut milk, 1 can (12 oz)
Sugar, 1/8-1/4 cup (depending on your sweet tooth)
Mango, ripe, chopped, 1

1. Whisk soy sauce and next eight ingredients (through freshly ground pepper). Bring marinade to room temperature.
2. Marinate tuna steaks (cover completely) approximately 1 hour - ideally, the tuna will also have come to room temperature by the time it's done marinating.
3. Bring coconut milk and sugar to a boil.
4. Add jasmine rice, reduce heat to low and cover, watching closely as it tends to boil over.
5. Cook until rice is tender and milk has reduced to a creamy consistency, about 20-30 minutes.
6. Transfer to serving dish and stir in mango. (Alternatively, you can slice the mango and serve it alongside the rice.)
7. Thoroughly coat steaks with sesame seeds - this is most easily done in the shallow bowl filled with seeds.
8. Heat sesame oil on high until shimmering. (The sesame oil is key; do not substitute another type of oil!)
9. Quickly sear all sides of each tuna steak, about 1-3 minutes per side, depending on your preferences.
10. Serve tuna with rice and baby greens dressed with soy and rice wine vinegar or roasted asparagus.

Serves: 2-3 people, usually with leftovers of sticky rice for breakfast the next day

The story:
This recipe evolved slowly and had a lot of contributors along the way. After spending my childhood as an astonishingly picky eater, I gradually, reluctantly began trying new foods in college. The summer after my third year, I worked as a pediatric research assistant. Several of my colleagues wanted to go out for sushi at the end of our first week. I planned to be brave and try everything, but I had only started eating mild cooked white fish and salmon in the previous year or two,  so when it came down to it, I balked and decided sticking with the smoked salmon would be safest. However, as it turned out, I was not the only member of the group new to the concept of raw fish and the restaurant quickly ran out of smoked salmon. So I ventured on to the sesame-seared tuna. A few years later (by which time I had come to believe that fish was meant to be eaten raw), I settled into the first apartment that was completely mine - no roommates! - and started cooking seriously and entertaining regularly. I tried to cook fish two or three times a week and improvised this recipe as a reliably delicious way to eat tuna that was almost (but not quite) as good as toro sashimi.

During the same summer - I like to think of it as the Summer of Food - my then-boyfriend's stepfather Mitch introduced me to Thai food. (As I write that, I can hardly believe that I made it to the age of 19 without tasting Thai food - my son first tried it around ten months.) He invited me on a date at Tida Thai, and when I walked in (and quickly buttoned my jacket up to my neck), I was surprised to see his mother and stepfather there. They lingered just until we ordered (and his stepdad had surreptitiously paid the bill), then left us to enjoy whole fish in red curry...and sticky coconut rice with mango, which happens to be the perfect companion for tender, savory, nutty tuna.

There is another story I have to add here - although it doesn't directly relate to the recipe, it belongs to the mythology of the Summer of Food. Many people have asked how I came to be so adventurous with food in spite of my origins as a child who took Granny Smith apples (wouldn't touch the red ones) and breadsticks to school for lunch and ordered filet mignon (with no sauce, no vegetables on the plate and any side of rice or potatoes NOT touching, God forbid) for every restaurant meal, without fail. About a week or two before my first taste of Thai, I spent the Fourth of July with my friend and his stepdad, on their boat. We stopped for lunch at the Lynnhaven Fish House where his stepdad proceeded to order the entire appetizer menu - steamed clams, mussels marinara, fried calamari, shrimp cocktail, and raw oysters. After rattling off what I remember to be at least a dozen dishes, Mitch looked at me and asked with perfect sincerity (he was one of the most generous people I ever met) what else I would like to add. I could not bring myself to admit that I had never tasted the majority of the dishes and probably would have been reluctant to sit at the same table as some of them not so long ago, so I just smiled and said that everything sounded great. And then I ate everything put in front of me. And loved it all (with the exception of a dubious oyster, but I eventually gave them a second chance too).

Many years later, I finally visited Thailand for the first time. Thank you, Mitch.

Real Thai home cooking, June 2010

Roasted beet, radicchio and farro salad

Semi-pearled farro, 1 1/2 cups
Beets (red, golden and/or striped), peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar, 4 tbsp
Shallot, finely chopped (1)
Radicchio, quartered and thinly sliced, 1 head
Sunflower (shelled) and/or pumpkin seeds, 1/4 cup
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cook farro in a pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, toss beets with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread out on a cookie sheet lined with tin foil.
3. Roast at 350˚F until tender, about 7-10 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
4. Drain farro and stir with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp vinegar and shallot. Set aside to cool.
5. Toss beets, farro, radicchio and seeds.
6. Whisk 3 tbsp olive oil, 4 tbsp vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss with salad and serve.

The story: 
Not much of a story - this is a quick and easy adaptation of a recipe from Bon Appétit, June 2010 - shortly after the peak of the therapeutic cooking phase! It make a healthy lunch or a light accompaniment for grilled or roasted chicken. The combination of textures (chewy farro, crunchy pumpkin seeds, crisp radicchio, tender beets) is fabulous, and several of my favorite things (roasted beets, pumpkin seeds, vinegar) and combinations (shallot vinaigrettes, warm pasta with cold greens) appear in this recipe.


Easter bread

Butter, melted, 1 stick
Canola oil, 1/4 cup
Milk, slightly warm, 1/2 cup
Yeast, 3 packages, dissolved in 1/3 cup warm water with 1 tbsp sugar
Sugar, 2 cups
Anise, 2 tbsp
Eggs (8)
Flour, 10 cups
Egg, hardboiled (optional)

Icing (optional)
Powdered sugar
Nonpareil candy sprinkles, multicolored

1. Mix butter, oil, warm milk and dissolved yeast in in mixing bowl.
2. Beat in sugar and anise.  
3. Beat in one egg at a time.  
4. Add flour until you have a nice smooth dough. 
5. Knead until somewhat shiny.
6. Let rise several hours, shape and let rise a couple of hours more. If you are shaping into the traditional doll shape, you may want a hardboiled egg (with shell on) to use in place of the doll's face. 
7. Bake at 350˚F for 20 minutes.
8. Allow to cool. 
My mom and the mixing bowl, 
March 2012
9. While cooling, mix anise (to taste), powdered sugar and milk to make icing. 
10. Ice and decorate with sprinkles if desired. 

Note: YOU CAN CUT THIS RECIPE IN HALF. It will raise faster. 

The story: Every year, my grandmother Ida baked this bread into doll- and football-shaped loaves for the many members of our family - more than 30 loaves in all, preparing in huge batches in a giant, custom-made stainless steel mixing bowl. She baked every day during Holy Week; everyone stopped over after church to have some with their coffee. Adults got ring-shaped loaves, with one giant ring just for Easter morning. 

I loved the aroma of anise and having freshly baked bread all to myself - no sharing! My grandmother passed away in 1999, when I was 17 years old (and as previously mentioned, barely capable of boiling water). Not quite ten years later, my first attempt at making it myself was a total disaster. I was spending the Easter holiday with a friend's parents on Lake Oconee in Georgia, so I opted to blame the humidity. Last year, when my then-two-month old son got his first loaf (doll-shaped and happily consumed by his mother), I marveled at how much they resembled each other!

Growing up in a small town in upstate New York with a big Italian community, I never wondered about the origins of this recipe or the tradition of the doll shape. As a graduate student studying anthropology, I attended a lecture on food and culture, where the speaker discussed a village on the coast of Spain and described the same Easter tradition. This year, remembering that talk, I finally turned to Google to explore it further and discovered that many Greek, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese families share similar recipes. Although there are many names and variations (including a wide variety of braids and baskets studded with hardboiled eggs), the one closest to our family tradition is pupa con l'uova, very simply, a doll with egg.
My sister (looking startlingly like her nephew) and my grandmother, c. 1985


Artichoke dip two ways

Civita's version (with cannellini beans and prosciutto)
Artichoke hearts, drained, 1 can
Olive oil, 1 tbsp
Green onions, chopped (2)
Garlic clove, chopped (1)
Prosciutto, thinly sliced, finely chopped, 1 slice
Balsamic vinegar
Cannellini beans, 1 can
Pesto, 1 tbsp
Hot red pepper flakes, 1 pinch
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Amy's version (with fresh mozzarella)
Marinated artichoke hearts, drained but not rinsed, 12 oz  - these absolutely MUST be marinated or your dip will be quite bland
Garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped (2-3)
Olive oil
Double or heavy cream, 1/2 cup
Mozzarella di bufala, or other fresh (water-packed) mozzarella, drained and squeezed, then diced, 6 oz
Hot red pepper flakes, 1 tsp
Balsamic vinegar, 1/4 cup
Sugar, 1/4 cup
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Crusty bread

Serves: 4-6, depending on the circumstances

Civita's version
1. Sauté garlic, onion, and prosciutto lightly in olive oil.
2. Add pesto, beans, and artichoke hearts. Sauté 2-3 min.
3. Purée in food processor until quite smooth.
4. Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste. Blend.
5. Pour into ovenproof dish.
6. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and heat.
7. Serve over crostini.

Amy's version
1. Reduce balsamic vinegar and sugar to a nice syrup and set aside. (I am well-known to screw this step up and burn it, so I will not try to guide you further.)
2. Sauté the crushed garlic in olive oil until soft and fragrant.
3. Add the artichoke hearts and sauté for 5 minutes.
4. Remove from heat and purée in a food processor. 
5. Return to pan, adding cream and stirring through.
6. Add salt, pepper and hot red pepper flakes.
7. Gradually stir in mozzarella, allowing to melt through (it will get stringy - keep stirring and add more cream if necessary to get it melted through - though still stringy).
8. Layer with balsamic reduction in a serving dish, if serving as a dip. Otherwise, spread on top of crostini and drizzle with balsamic reduction.

The story: Clearly this is not another spinach and artichoke dip. For one thing, there's no spinach. Nor crab for that matter. And don't even think about using cream cheese.

I first had something that vaguely resembled this dip on crostini at the restaurant OXO in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was a bit of a favorite at university, before a friend whose roommate was a chef heard through the grapevine (and perhaps inaccurately) that the ingredients were not as fresh as you'd expect from an expensive French restaurant in a foodie town. But before learning that, I always enjoyed my meals there and memorably celebrated the start of my fourth year at OXO with my mom, feeling deliciously grown-up, though still too young to legally order wine. 

In any case, I went home to visit my parents not long after this particular dinner and described the dish to my mom, who set about trying to recreate it. (She has always had an amazing knack for identifying flavors in dishes she's ordered, which extended to concocting a flawless recipe from my inexpert description.) The spectacular result was the first recipe, which slowly evolved into the second recipe. 

I can't remember how the mozzarella was first incorporated, but I think I started using fresh mozzarella when I arrived in Oxford as a graduate student and found it was easily available in the Covered Market - more easily, in fact, than the fake, part-skim, pre-shredded variety found so readily in American grocery stores. (In all fairness, it could also have been when I started shopping at the Dekalb Farmers Market in Decatur, Georgia, before I moved to England.) It became a staple of meetings of my college's Romance Novel Reading Society (oh, yes) and is a consistent hit at any sort of gathering.  
Sunrise over Charlottesville, February 1999

Calore misto

Pepperoncini peppers, 1/2 cup 
Cherry peppers, 1/2 cup
Black olives, 1/4 cup
Green olives, 1/4 cup
Red peppers, roasted, 1/2 cup
Artichoke hearts, 1/2 cup
Capers, 5 tbsp
Garlic, chopped, 1/2 tsp
Shallots, chopped, 5 tbsp
Anchovy, chopped very finely (1)
Olive oil, 2 cups
Tabasco sauce to taste

1. Chop first ten ingredients in food processor or by hand.
2. Add olive oil and mix.
3. Adjust seasoning with Tabasco. 

The story: This ingredient-heavy, yet relatively simple recipe came from a hotel in Seattle where my family and I stayed during a business trip when I was about 13 years old. The trip is most memorable to me for the fact that I spent a day with a friend from summer camp at the Lakeside School, where she was a student, and vowed that my children would never go to a (stuck-up, largely affluent and well-regarded) public school like I went to. (I'm sure you appreciate the irony. Now, back to the food.)

My dad, Thomas, getting ready for the annual spring party
(Mardi Gras-themed that year), May 1999
Anyway, my father ordered this dip at the hotel restaurant, which I'm confident I didn't touch at the time. (I was an exquisitely picky child - more on that to come - who grew into an adult who draws the line only at live oysters.) It quickly found its way onto the menu at my parents' (otherwise catered) annual spring fêtes, and I'm hoping it will make a reappearance this summer when my parents host my father's friend Rod MacDonald for a concert at our house.

Rules to eat by, part 1

1. Anything made from scratch and consumed in moderation can't be bad for you.

2. Real food doesn't have labels.

3. Salad dressing should ALWAYS be made from scratch.

4. Don't trust anyone who claims they don't like cheesy grits.

7. There is no such thing as too much balsamic vinegar.

8. Great wine can be had for less than $20, but a good bottle of Amarone is worth it.

9. Never eat hamburger (or any ground beef) that you don't know to have been grass-fed and ground by the butcher (or the restaurant's butcher).

10. Whole-wheat pasta is unnatural.

11. God intended for us to eat fish. In sashimi form.

12. Vodka is seldom a good idea.

13. Good cheese, olives, marcona almonds, and wine is a complete and balanced meal.

14. Easter bread should only be eaten at Easter, anise cookies at Christmas and so on; otherwise, they lose their special joy.

15. Salt-roasting is the only way to cook turkey.

16. Soft-shell crab is God's way of rewarding us for the effort of eating crab legs the rest of the year.

17. The edges of brownies are the best part.

18. When in Colorado, you ALWAYS want it smothered in green chili. It doesn't matter what "it" is.

19. There are a lot of ways to make good coffee and espresso, but none of them involve a drip coffee maker or, even worse, a single-cup coffee maker.

20. You don't need an excuse to have a glass of Champagne.

21. The only acceptable "alternative" sweeteners are honey and maple syrup. Everything else is disgusting. If you shouldn't be adding sugar, don't add anything at all. 


Party menu no. 1

1 | Bar Snacks
Dates stuffed with fresh manchego and wrapped in crispy pancetta 
Selection of Greek and Spanish olives
Marcona almonds and taro chips

2 | Grilled Cheese, Three Ways
Triple-crème brie, sliced Bosc pear, and caramelized pecans
Halloumi and quince jam
Fontina, prosciutto, roasted red peppers and apricot mostarda

3 | Eat Your Veggies
Stack of grilled eggplant, roasted red pepper, heirloom tomato, mozzarella fior di latte and fresh basil 
Baby artichokes braised with lemon, white wine, capers and thyme

4 | The Main Course (Mac & Cheese)
Seared scallops and cavatappi with Maine lobster and four cheeses (mozzarella, fontina, asiago, and pecorino romano)

5 | Ice Cream Sandwiches
Toffee chip cookies with dulce de leche ice cream 
Chocolate chip cookies with toasted almond gelato