Sunday Brunch Day

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~ Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Fall TableThere is just something about Fall.  The crisp air, the colorful leaves, and the cooler temperatures seem to beckon you to come gather at the table.  The Fall table does not require formalities, she simply asks you to come as you are, and to come hungry.

When I was in law school and the Husband, then boyfriend, moved up here to Cincinnati, we started family dinners on Sunday nights.  It was a time to come together with family amidst all the craziness of the past week, relax together, and to reconnect.

With the Husband’s work schedule or studying often pulling him away on Sunday, we have gotten out of our little routine.  And I miss it.  This past Sunday though, schedules aligned and we brunched.

Now, I’m a breakfast person.  There is no mistaking that.  So I couldn’t wait to welcome everyone with a warm cup of coffee on a cool Sunday morning.  And let’s be honest, there’s no better way to watch football than with a warm and happy stomach.  So before the Steelers play, or if you side with the Ohio contingency of my family, the Bengals or Browns, it was time to come to the table.

pumpkinEveryone has their go-to for brunch.  Whether it’s a soufflé, your grandmother’s cinnamon rolls, or strata, there’s that one dish you pull out of your back pocket to please the morning crowd.  For years mine was a Rachel Ray casserole.  We made it the morning of my law school graduation so it only seemed fitting to make this past weekend to celebrate passing the Ohio Bar.  However, I decided to break out of the mold and break into my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

On the menu this past Sunday morning was the Farmer’s Casserole and Pumpkin Bread.  It only seems fitting.  They were delicious! So next time your family gathers, break out these little numbers and they will be sure to please.  This Pumpkin Bread would also be great as gifts.

Pumpkin Bread
From Better Homes and Gardens

Makes 2 loaves.  This can be made ahead of time, which is always key for brunch.  If making the night before, after the loaves are completely cool, wrap and store overnight.

Ingredients
– 3 cups sugar
– 1 cup vegetable oil
– 4 eggs
– 3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
– 2 tsp. baking soda
– 1 ½ tsp. salt
– 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
– 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
–  2/3 cup water
–  1 15oz. can pumpkin

Directions
– Grease the bottom and sides of two loaf pans; set aside.
– In a very large mixing bowl beat sugar and oil with an electric mixer on medium speed.  Add eggs and beat well; set aside.
– In a large bowl combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
– Alternately add flour mixture and water to sugar mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined.
– Beat in pumpkin.
– Spoon batter into prepared pans.
– Bake at 350 for 55-65 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the centers come out clean.
– Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes.
– Remove from pans and then cool completely on the wire racks.

Farmer’s Casserole
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

This makes 6 big servings but I would suggest doubling the recipe because people will go back for seconds.  This can also be made ahead of time.  Cha-ching.  If making ahead, go through second step.  Cover, and chill up to 24 hours.  Then bake uncovered at 350 for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Ingredients
– 3 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
– ¾ cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese, cheddar cheese, or a mixture
– 1 cup cooked, crumbled, turkey sausage (the recipe calls for diced cooked ham or bacon, but the turkey was great in it and a bit healthier)
– ¼ cup sliced green onions
– ¼ cup diced red pepper
– 4 beaten eggs
– 1 ½ cups milk
– 1/8 tsp. salt
– 1/8 tsp. black pepper

Directions
– Coat 2-quart square baking dish with non-stick cooking spray
– Arrange potatoes evenly in the bottom of the dish.
– Sprinkle potatoes with cheese, turkey, green onions, and red peppers.
– In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.
– Pour egg mixture over potato mixture.
– Bake, uncovered, at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.
– Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

What is your brunch go-to?

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Cloudy with a chance of meat sauce

“There is no such thing as Italian ‘haute cuisine’ there are no high or low roads in Italian cooking.  All roads lead to the home, to ‘la cucina de casa’ – the only one that deserves to be called Italian cooking.” ~ Marcella Hazan

Grandma Rosemarie as a baby

Grandma Rosemarie as a baby

Some of my very fondest memories of my Grandma Rosemarie center around cooking.  While growing up and spending summers at the lake with Grandma and Grandad, the most important question of the day was always, “What’s for dinner?”  And it was usually asked at the breakfast table.

It was not that we particularly cared what we were eating, but it was that by figuring out what she was planning on making, we knew when to come up from the lake to help.  We did not want to miss a minute of it.

The house, and our family, revolved around the kitchen and the large gathering table my grandparents had built to accommodate their 5 boys and all of their grandchildren.  While Grandma cut tomatoes and basil for bruschetta, a gaggle of cousins brushed ciabatta bread with olive oil, Grandad would put on music, and one of the aunts would be arranging fresh flowers from Grandma’s garden to place on the table.

Despite all the hub-bub, Grandma was always patient.  Everyone had a job, and nothing was rushed.  While the pasta would cook, the smell of marinara sauce would float through the air and mingle with the laughs and conversations that filled the room.  This has always been the image I conjure up when I think of family.

Hazan-Essentials-of-ItalianI don’t remember seeing Grandma use many cookbooks.  However, Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is one that I distinctly remember on her shelf.  This comes as no surprise as a wonderful piece in the New York Times last Sunday after Hazan’s death summed it this way, “Mrs. Hazan embraced simplicity, precision and balance in her cooking.”  This is what I remember about Grandma’s cooking.

My brother gave me my own this past Christmas.  With law school, moving, the bar exam, and starting a job, it was still in a box with all my other cookbooks.  However, after reading the NYT piece and seeing the weather here in Cincinnati called for rain, what better way to warm up an otherwise dreary Sunday than in the kitchen.

In Hazan’s own words, “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is meant to be used as a kitchen handbook, the basic manual for cooks of every level.”  I have been dying to make a good bolognese sauce from scratch for years, so I decided to make Hazan’s ragu, a dish she was known for.  I couldn’t help by smile as I was making the ingredient list and saw it called for nutmeg, a hint of which you could always taste in Grandma’s sauce.

Rosemarie as a baby with her older sister

Rosemarie as a baby with her older sister

 

From the very first recipe, I could already tell this book was going to be a staple in my kitchen.  Hazan’s recommendations throughout the book and effortless prose make me feel like I was right back in my Grandma’s kitchen.  Nothing is rushed, everything has a purpose, and you are always welcome.  As I read through Hazan’s pointers before the bolognese recipe, I almost felt as if my Grandma was right there beside me making sure everything turned out just right.

  • Make sure the meat is not from too lean of a cut.
  • Be sure to add salt immediately when sauteing the meat because this will extract the juices.
  • Cook, uncovered, at the merest simmer for a long, long time; no less than 3 hours is necessary; more is better.

To me, this last one is key.  It says, calm down, have a glass of wine, converse with family and friends, and do it right.  This recipe is perfect for a lazy Sunday.  A perfect dish to make for a family dinner or like I did, for a night in on a rainy Sunday with the Husband.   It is comfortable, warm, and welcoming.  Just like I remember Grandma Rosemarie.

photo-17Bolognese Meat Sauce
Originally from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and  some ingredients adapted/multiplied by Leite’s Culinaria (a fabulously mouthwatering blog that you must read if you do not already)

Ingredients
– 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
– 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, plus 2 Tbs. for tossing the pasta
– 1 cup chopped onion
– 1 1/3 cup chopped celery
– 1 1/3 cup chopped carrots
– 1 1/2 pound ground chuck beef*
– Salt
– Black Pepper
– 2 cups whole milk
– 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
– 2 cups dry white wine (I used sauvignon blanc)
– 3 cups canned imported Italian tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
– pasta (I used cheese tortellini)

Directions
Put oil, butter, and onion into the pot over medium heat.
– Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, and then add the celery and carrot.  Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring to make sure the vegetables are coated.
– Add the meat, a large pinch of salt, and pepper.  Break up the meat with a wooden spoon and cook until the beef has lost its red color.
– Add the milk and simmer gently, stirring frequently, until it has bubbled away completely.  About 1 hour.
– Add nutmeg and stir.
– Add the wine and let it simmer until it is evaporated.  About 1.25 hours.
– Add the tomatoes and stir to makes sure all the ingredients are coated well.  When the tomatoes begin to bubble, turn the heat down so that the sauce cooks  at the laziest of simmers, with just an intermittent bubble breaking through to the surface. (Honestly, Hazan’s words just make me hungry).
– Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more, stirring from time to time.
– If the sauce begins to dry out and the fat separates from the meat, add 1/2 cup of water whenever necessary to keep it from sticking.
– At the end, make sure that no water is left and the fat must separate from the sauce.
– Season to taste.
– Toss with cooked drained pasta, adding the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter.

 

*Hazan recommends a variation of the sauce that uses pork, an important part of Bologna’s culture and cuisine.  She recommends 1 part ground pork for every 2 parts beef.  David from Leite’s Culinaria did 1/2 pound each of ground chuck, ground pork, and ground veal.  This is key.

Don’t make the mistake I did.  I could not find ground pork at the grocery so I just went with ground beef (since I did not know the difference between ground beef and ground chuck).  Newbie mistake.  Next time I will either get chuck since it is fattier, more flavorful, and tastier.  Or, I’ll head down to the butcher.  Since you’re spending the time cooking it, make sure you get good meat.  It is the foundation.  And as the queen of Italian cooking says, “Flavor, in Italian dishes, builds up from the bottom…a foundation of flavor supports, lifts, points up the principal ingredients.”  Aka…get good meat.

The Truth About Tinsel, Trees, and Traditions

“Christmas was on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas, upon which the entire kid year revolved.” ~A Christmas Story

Does that picture make my teeth look like they're chattering?

Earmuffs Santa. I’ve a feeling you’re not going to like this.

I’m not going to lie to you, Christmas is not my favorite holiday.  (I can almost hear the sleigh bells halting and making a last-minute detour to skip my house). But before you start to question if my heart is two sizes too small, let me explain myself.

It used to be.  As a kid I lived for it.  I loved tearing through the gifts and (as any kid would) hated when Mom would make us sit at the top of the stairs for a picture on Christmas morning as the four of us kids jostled for the best position once she said go. But as I grew older, what I loved were the people, the traditions.

It was the craziness of 15 cousins, you’re Grammy cupping your face in her hands after a big hug as she told you how much she missed you.  It was Christmas Eve at Grandma’s house, the laughter and chatter of family and warm welcoming fire.  It was falling asleep on the car ride home while snow flakes fell softly against the window and Dad reading Twas the Night Before Christmas before tucking us into bed.  It was the sound of trains, the ugly ornament contest, the smell of cinnamon rolls and Grandad’s hug after you gave him his 20th “World’s Greatest Grandpa” mug.  It was those moments, those places, those people and those memories that made Christmas my favorite holiday.

We all have those traditions and at one point or another we watch them change.  Christmas is different now.  We moved, people passed away, and traditions changed. It’s been tough as someone who loves family traditions, but these past couple years, I’m beginning to see the beauty in it all.  This is the in between time, the exciting part.  We’re making our own traditions, borrowing the old and embracing the new and making them our own.

Real tree of course

So while this Christmas I sometimes miss what I knew as a child and people I held so dear as well as those I love who are far away this holiday, including my best friend (things are just not nearly as fun without him) I’m realizing it’s just part of the growth, the evolution, the change, and that there is so much beauty wrapped up in the in-between.

Yep, I have the sneaking suspicion me and Christmas…will make up some day soon.

Someday I’ll look back and remember this as my kids fall asleep in the backseat on the way home on a Christmas Eve that was filled with rich tradition that they’ll always remember.  Caesar doesn’t count, although he is loving this Atlanta Christmas in the 50 degree weather so I’m sure he’d welcome this tradition.

And because it’s Christmas Eve here’s a little something from a Christmas classic:

“Christmas Day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand in hand”

See.  My heart isn’t made of stone.  I’m off to go grab my favorite winter ale, put some Christmas music on and finish wrapping before Santa gets here.  Merry Christmas everyone!

Fall is the New Spring

“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.” ~William Cullen Brynat

 

From We Heart It

 

Spring is overrated.  At least in my book.  I’m not sure what it is but I’ve always felt more alive and more at home in the rich reds, welcoming oranges, comforting yellow and soothing browns than the bright pastels of spring.

Fall has always meant exciting new beginnings.  From working in the publishing world where you hoard all your  best books until Fall for release in  anticipation of the Christmas rush to now being back on a school schedule, Fall means things are happening.  It’s always been my favorite time of year.

This week is Fall Break and as I was driving through the rolling hills of Kentucky into Tennessee yesterday, my heart was utterly and simply happy.  The colors were stunning and there was just something in the air.  I love Nashville in the Fall.

I don’t know about you but my whole taste shifts in the fall.  It is the oddest thing.  My car is filled with music from Iron and Wine to Sarah Barielles (seriously great Fall music, get her new cd, it’s on repeat in my car).  I have the urge to make pies and pumpkin cookies (I have some great fall recipes coming later this week).  The beer selection in my fridge changes from refreshing golden wheat to hearty oktoberfests, ambers and spicy pumpkin beers and I like my coffee to have tastes of caramel, toffee or pumpkin. And who doesn’t like pulling out those fall sweaters and boots for the first time.  But more than going back to those fall traditions, tastes and activities, it’s also a time of renewal.

 

Also from We Heart It

 

This is an odd dichotomy I know but the way fall enters does this with such grace might be the secret to why I love it so much.  I have always been someone who despite loving to try new things, there are some things I will never give up.

Everything in my life is new right now. I am embracing it and loving every minute of learning and meeting new people, but this fall break I can’t tell you how excited I am to be back in Nashville, to catch up with the friends that are my heart and soul.  Fall is the time when you gather.  Whether it be for football, to pick out that perfect pumpkin, or Thanksgiving, we gather.  We gather and are thankful.  These people, just like fall traditions, inspire me and energize me.  This fall I have so much to be thankful for.

Not only that but there are so many new things happening this fall.  I am learning so much and thriving off of doing what I love every single day (and most of every night right now 😉  Just like the leaves, everything is changing and I am so excited about it.  This is my time to grow…why wait for Spring?

So here’s to corn mazes, pumpkin spice lattes, pies, pumpkin patches, cozy cups of coffee while reading the latest book from your favorite writer, football, dinners with friends, family and spiced apple cider.  Here’s to the colors changing, leaves crunching under each step of a morning run, and to that something in the air that heralds in the new season, filled with the people we love, traditions we cherish and the changes to come.  Happy Fall!

Watch Out Children…You Never Know What Might be Lurking in the Dark

Monsters are never as cute as they look in the pictures

What’s your favorite memory of summer?

Does it involve the lake?  A beach perhaps?  Does summer conjure up images of family, swimming, warm sunny days and lazy nights?

For me…one of the most vivid memories of summer for me revolves around…a monster.

This is not a hide under your bed monster or one that stays confined to the closet in your room.  No, this one roams in the dark and strikes unexpectedly, to the exact place you feel safest…family vacation.

No children, you are not safe.

I was asked to be a part of Ashley’s series, A Childhood Summer, where she asked people to recount their childhood memories of summer.  I decided it was time to break the silence 😉

Check out my guest post here.

What’s your favorite memory of summer?

Books to Get Sandy

“There is a temperate zone in the mind, between luxurious indolence and exacting work; and it is to this region, just between laziness and labor, that summer reading belongs.”  ~Henry Ward Beecher

Why is summer reading so popular?  There’s something almost romantic about it.  All those who never pick up a book during the cool breeze of fall, the chill of winter or the sunshine of spring, all indulge themselves in a love affair with reading during the lazy summer months.

I even fall into this attractive trapping.  I  always have a book I’m reading on my bedside table.  But there’s just something different.

Every May I can’t WAIT to make my summer reading list.  I scour trade magazines, all the summer reading lists in copious amounts of magazines and ask my most trusted friends what they’re reading.  Then, I come up with the master list.  The list of books that will have sand in their spines and tanning lotion smeared across their cover.

Dragging all these books with me is making me rethink a Kindle

Later this summer, I’ll pack my bags to head to Pittsburgh for a family reunion which I fear might look remarkably similar to an episode of Jersey Shore (I’m working on my fist pumps).  After a weekend there we head to Northern Michigan to my favorite place on earth for two weeks.  I can’t wait.  Sleeping in, seeing family, the lake, coffee in the morning while looking over the bay, running, cooking, writing, and of course, reading. My heart is about to explode with excitement.

So…here is my summer reading list in no particular order.

1. “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. Even though my day job isn’t publishing anymore, I am still a publishing junkie.  since February, magazines both trade and consumer alike have been touting this as the must read book of the summer.  I’m intrigued.

Love

2. “Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain. This spring my favorite chef/author/host/traveler and resident BA came out with a new book called “Medium Raw.”  I am addicted to his show No Reservations and pretty much envy his life so I was excited to read it.  Then, like I do with most books, I decided I should probably start at the beginning, with “Kitchen Confidential.”  I can’t wait to read this book.  I love Anthony.  I love his no BS attitude, his wit and his love of all things native in the places he visits, from the culture and the food to the people.
3. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” by Stieg Larsson. I have been waiting for this for a year!  Normally I will wait till the whole series is over to pick up a book so I don’t have to wait…patience is not my strong suit.  i.e. Harry Potter and seasons of 24.  I picked up “Dragon Tattoo” because I was curious about all the hype.  I had never liked crime novels or thrillers in the past so I thought I was safe.  Wrong.  When done with the 2nd book, I considered ordering this one from Amazon UK so I could read it before it was released here.

Here's where you'll find me

4. “Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. My aunt who practically devours books told me about this one and I trust her completely since she’s the one who got me hooked on David Sedaris.  I’ve heard this book is addicting.  Is this series final yet 😉
5. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. I know, I planned to read this back in January but I never got to it.  Now’s the time.  I’ve heard such great things!
6. Oxford American‘s Best of the South. I fell in love with their southern food issue. The writing is spectacular and so funny in just the right way.  I can’t wait to read the newest installment.
7. “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. Training started this past week (soft training, before the training program kicks in) for a half marathon and marathon this fall so I need some inspiration!  I’ve heard a lot about this book and it normally centers around barefoot running.  You won’t see me running a marathon barefoot but I’m really interested in this book.  And it was given to me by a dear friend and runner herself so that makes it even more fun!
8. “A. Lincoln: A Biography” by Ronald C. White Jr. Ok, so a little different from the others right but I am a closet history lover.  Recently I have been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln and am really excited to learn more.  I used one of his quotes in my personal statement for law school and really think I’ll like this book.

Speaking of law school, I may or may not have  a TON of summer reading I have to do for law school but these books will be my sweet relief.

And now my friends, this begs the question, what are you reading?

All the gorgeous pictures are from WeHeartIt.

Happy Best Friends Day

“Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” ~Edna Buchanan

I love holidays.  Well some of them.  Some of them just flat out make me awkward but if it’s a good holiday, like one of my favorites coming up here in July, I’m the first one to celebrate.

Today I woke up to find that there was a new holiday I had never heard of before  Best Friends Day.  I think I’m going to like this holiday.  The website makes a good point, we set aside a day for presidents, dads, moms, secretaries etc, so why not one for friends?

Holidays like today are good for me because sometimes I neglect to tell the people I care about most, how much they mean to me.  I just assume they know.  Well I’ve learned never to assume.  We know what that does…

 Today I want to celebrate and toast to my best friends, the ones who make me laugh, are there to have fun with and are there to talk to, challenge me, explore with and go through life with. An important theme that you’ll see is that they all aren’t afraid to keep me in line when I need it. Because let’s be honest, there are times I need to be set straight and there are no better people to do it than these 🙂  The feeling is mutual I’m sure.

I want them to know how much they mean to me and how grateful I am that they are in my life. I am a better person because of each and every one of them.  It’s been hard this summer not seeing these people everyday but I know that these people are behind me no matter what and I would do the same for them.  No matter where I end up, if these people need anything, I’m there.  Just as I am in the middle of some big changes, so are they and I absolutely cannot wait to see where life takes them and be there to encourage them every step of the way.  These are amazing people who are already doing great things! I can’t wait to see what’s in store in the coming years!

I’m stuck with these people for better or for worse, through thick and thin and you know what, I couldn’t think of anyone better.

This pretty much sums it up

First I’d like lift high a Dogfish 120 minute IPA to my partner in crime, boyfriend and best friend. You make me smile inside and out. I care for you more than you know and am so incredibly thankful that I took phycology as my last gen ed class senior year.  Best decision I’ve made!

And then, there’s my TPFL.  To you Christy, I’m going to raise a Powerade because that’s how this whole thing started 😉  I am so glad we met and not only do I have a great training partner and accountability partner but I have gained a great friend. 

He's the big chief in the back

While we’re on the subject of running, Matt, this PBR is for you.  Yes a 40.  Don’t act like you’re too good for it.  I so appreciate your friendship and advice through the years. And yes, I even appreciate all the sarcasm. It’s our language. 

To my dear dear friend Megan, a cool glass of Riesling.  We’re made out of different sides of the same cloth.  Your friendship means the world to me and although we don’t see each other every week or sometimes even every month, when we get together and talk for hours, I am reminded of what a great and constant friend I have in you, through the mountaintops and the valleys, know that I am here for you. 

Pretty Lady

For Erin, a white sangria.  Like Megan, we may not talk all the time but when we do, I am so thankful for your friendship and influence in my life. When I have a tough decision or need to talk things though, you are one of the first people I talk too.  I trust you’re wisdom and advice and know you’ll shoot straight with me and I am so thankful I have a friend like you. 

Just some of the fam

The above quote says that friends are the family you choose.  But you know what, I would choose my family every time.  At my cousin’s wedding, her now husband said, “My family are my friends and my friends are my family.”  I just love that.  So to my family, drumroll please…you get  an Iron City Beer.  I know, I know, but we’re from Pittsburgh so until they decide to make a better beer, that’s what you get 😉 Well, how about this.  You can either have that or the margaritas we make at the lake.  I love you all so much and I wouldn’t be who I am today without you.  Thank you for your support, unconditional love and friendship. 

Lastly, I’d like to toast you, the fabulous readers! I was so nervous about blogging and didn’t know if it was something I’d like but I am having so much fun talking with and learning from you all!  Thank you so much for your comments, emails, tweets and for making me think as well as making me laugh.  Here’s to you!

Who would you toast on Best Friends Day?