photo courtesy of Lisa Consiglio Ryan and Whole Health Designs
Brussels Sprouts and Carrots
Lisa says: “I actually LOVE to eat these babies as a snack!”
Ingredients Serves 1
½ cup Brussels sprouts, washed and stems removed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, cut diagonally into ½-inch slices
Preheat oven to 400°F. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil in a large baking dish and season with salt and pepper.
Add garlic and carrots. Bake for 25 minutes, until sprouts and carrots are tender.
Immune Booster Juice
Lisa says: “Fight winter colds and flu with this one simple recipe, excerpted from Go Clean Sexy You“
2 celery stalks
1/4 inch fresh ginger root
Put ingredients in a juicer. Alternatively, process in a Vitamix then strain through a cloth.
Chilled Tomato + Carrot Soup
Adapted from Go Clean, Sexy You.
Lisa says: “This soup is a fun raw twist on a winter classic”
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1 tablespoon lime juice
½ teaspoon cumin
In a blender or food processor, puree all ingredients until smooth. Chill in fridge for 15 minutes.
There are a few things I simply do not do:
- I do not make New Year’s Resolutions. I am an angel all year, so there is no need.
- I do not watch mindless TV, I read books..some of which are fictional and possibly far-fetched (Outlander!) but none of which are actually mindless.
- I do not “diet”. I don’t believe in them, generally speaking. Also, I have little self control, less self discipline and even less of a desire to feel guilty when I slip or don’t measure up. Dieting just sounds like sawdust to me, and I’ve worked in a lumber mill and I just don’t want to go back to sawdust.
- I recently resolved to focus this year on folding and putting away the laundry as it comes from the wash (as opposed to days later when it pretty much needs to be cleaned again). This seems somewhat achievable, at least for this week.
- Yesterday I got on the scale and began to consider if a change of intake might be something to posit and if self discipline maybe should be an actual action, not just a potential resolution.
- And this morning I found myself watching the Today Show—while folding the clothes, unsurprisingly.
One of the commentators–I think it was Natalie Morales–was talking about a 3 day diet she is undertaking, which more or less involves only liquids. “I had to call my friend and tell her that I ate 3 bites of chicken,” she exclaimed. She felt guilty. Thus proving my point, but leading me to think about Lisa Consiglio Ryan.
I met Lisa in 2015 when I was interviewing her for a story in my newspaper column. My first impression of her was that in the desert that can be our chaotic suburban lives, she is a pool of beauty, serenity, positivity and creativity.
I admire her greatly. She is ambitious and smart. She wants to progress both personally and professionally. She is willing to do the work necessary to move forward and to achieve what she has in her sites. She understand that life is for the long haul, over the long term. And she does all of this gracefully.
Consiglio-Ryan worked for fifteen years as a teacher in Prince George’s County. For much of that time she was plagued with chronic and debilitating illnesses. Although doctors recommended major surgery, she sought alternative methods.
“Interestingly, because I wasn’t overweight, my friends thought I was a very healthy person. But I was a chronic dieter and I was very sick. As I progressed in alternative therapies, I realized that instead of letting food be my enemy, I could use it as a tool to achieve total health.”
Today, Lisa is a certified health coach, the owner of a very successful lifestyle coaching business aptly named Whole Health Designs, an avid fan of juicing and detoxing, although not of dieting, and a moderator, mentor and lifeline for thousands of people who contact her for help with seasonal or periodic detox programs. Her website is filled with recipes she creates herself for juices, smoothies and foods full of dense nutrition. She teaches cooking classes. And in 2015 she realized her longtime dream of writing a book. Go Clean, Sexy You is an easy-to-read, insightful and thoughtful collection of recipes, ideas and advice for leading a fuller, happier, cleaner and yes, sexier life at any age.
For all of these reasons, and one hundred more, Lisa is this week’s Woman of the Week. Here are her details, and some insight into why and how she pursued a healthier, fuller life.
Home City, State: I am originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but I have lived in Annapolis for the last 20 years.
Marital Status: I am married to Kevin—we have been married for 14 1/2 years.
Children: 2, Kate (12 ½ ) & Jack (11)
Education: BS in Developmental Psychology (1991), MAT (Master in the Art of Teaching)- 1992, University of Pittsburgh, Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach (2010)
Class of: 1991
Greatest Source of Pride: My two kids, Kate and Jack… I’m over the moon proud of them.
Greatest Source of Aggravation: being bored
Favorite Quote: “Treat yourself like you are sacred… because you are.”
Greatest Passion: being outdoors especially on the water (surfing, SUP, beach, sun and sand); travel
Defining Moment: When my 3 year old daughter caught me not eating… I was struggling with disordered eating and body image issues at the time. She said, “Mama, why aren’t you eating with us?” I called a therapist and got help immediately and this moment has lead me to my beautiful life and business, free from food issues and negative feelings about my body.
Advice to women younger than I: Let go. Life has your back and all is well.
What is beauty and how does it define me: Beauty used to be based on attention and comparison, but as I grow, beauty is being truly at ease, comfortable in one’s skin. True beauty is kindness and being willing to love hard… the gorgeous soul inside shines fully outside.
Fun for me is: laughing uncontrollably with my kids. They are so funny. Fun is also going inward, journaling, writing… learning all I can about different subjects (art, cooking, people, business)
Right Now I Am: at ease
How that came to be: After years and years of struggling, inviting chaos into my life (mainly by my thoughts… the mind sure can be powerful and fearful at the same time), I am choosing easy things… only doing things I love, hanging out with people who lift me up, saying NO to events, social gatherings that aren’t a HELL YES. It takes practice and I’m still learning but it gets easier each time. Feeling at ease is like a drug and I want more.
What that says about me: I am resilient and positive.
Best Healthy Lifestyle Tips for Women of Any Age?
Tip #1: Drink water. A lot, a lot, a lot of water. Half your body weight in ounces a day.
Tip#2: Use sunscreen. Always.
Tip#3: Eat anti-inflammatory foods as much as possible (greens, veggies, fruits, etc.. help you glow!) and avoid foods like sugar, caffeine that suck your energy and make you look older than you are. No one wants that!
“Love is my gift to the world. I fill myself with love, and I send that love out into the world. How others treat me is their path; how I react is mine.” Dr. Wayne Dyer
Lisa emailed me yesterday to tell me that she loves another quote, and though she was worried the language might be a little harsh, she remembered my Brooklyn roots…
“ My number one rule when striving to achieve more is…
Slow the fuck down.”
~ by Lena Headey (Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister)
Lisa has offered me several recipes, which can be found here. You can find more of course, in her book and on her website.Feel free to share...
If you follow this blog or the FFF Facebook page, you know that we have the most amazing dog EVER. We sometimes refer to him as The Dawg, but really his name is Max.
Let me say from the outset that I did NOT want a dog. We travel. I am naturally spontaneous. I had dogs die when I was young and I don’t want to go through that again. I have enough shit to do, lives to manage, rooms to clean, without a DOG!
A1 did NOT want a dog.
The kids were BEGGING for a dog.
Over time, they chipped away at my resilience until finding a puppy seemed a reasonable, doable thing. A1 tried to convince me, repeatedly, that having a dog was like having a child, that this would be a new family member that we would be stuck with FOR LIFE and that I really had enough on my plate.
HAH!!! He should have known better than to challenge me!
Suddenly, finding the perfect dog seemed like something we HAD to do. In the back of my mind, I knew A1 had some good points, but he was traveling a lot and wouldn’t be very involved, so his vote didn’t count for much and since I had dogs throughout my entire childhood and those dogs didn’t seem at all to get in the way, I thought he might maybe be saying no just to say no.
And I can’t stand that.
I found Max through Petfinder and after some harried conversations with the rescue group (it was nearly impossible to find a cute, young dog that wasn’t taken immediately and I was intent on a particular breed and size), I convinced A1 to drive me to Pennsylvania on a cold, rainy Saturday morning in December. “Let’s just see,” I promised him…”No commitments. It probably won’t work out…You never know what we will find…”.
What we found was the most mangy looking, shaking and absolutely petrified little guy you could imagine. “Boy, you’ve really hit the jackpot, haven’t you? You are gonna be so happy”, A1 whispered to the dog, as it literally tried to slither away, it’s belly to the ground in complete submission and desperate fear.
I wasn’t so sure, to be completely honest. “I hope you don’t fucking have lice or fleas,” may possibly have been my first words, followed by “I just don’t know about this”. Max shivered and curled himself into a tight ball as I spread a towel over my entire self, wrapped him in a blanket and held him all the way back home. From that moment on, I was his savior and he was my steadfast, loyal friend and constant companion.
I found myself astounded to discover that I had an immediately deep and moving love for Max. In so many ways, he was like a human. I don’t mean this in a strange cat-lady way. I mean he truly exhibited needs, desires, emotions, quirks and curiosity of many humans I know. I honestly never expected that. The dogs of my childhood were companions. I played with them. I fed them. I rolled around with them. I shaved my initials in the side of Sampson and rode on top of Harley. But I certainly never looked at Sampson or Bruno or Big Red and thought to myself that they were speaking to me.
I always thought it so interesting, scientifically, or objectively, I mean, that this little animal could communicate myriad levels of emotion and connectivity just with the depth of its eyes, the shape of its mouth, the turn of its head, the droop of its tail.
He expressed need by looking right in your eyes, shame by refusing to look in your eyes, and love by fervent licking. He HAD to lick my hand to say hello or goodnight. And by “had to” I mean-he wouldn’t give up until he had done it, some way or other, somehow.
So. Gross. I DO NOT like licking in any form (well, I mean by children or dogs or llamas or snakes) but that dog just wouldn’t do until he had licked my hand.
Max was a thoroughbred Havanese. This dog is by nature very cuddly, friendly, loving, energetic and loyal. Because of his early life–he had been kept in a cage in the basement since birth, and was 1 1/2 years old when we found him– Max tended to be reticent in new situations.
His favorite place was by my side and he followed me literally everywhere–from the laundry to kayak rides. It wasn’t until about a year into our relationship that he finally let me go to the bathroom by myself. I used to think this was the most disconcerting thing and that he must really love me to stick it out some days, since dogs have such keen noses.
Three weeks ago, just before Christmas and at the very height of his increasing sense of security and safety, Max was hit by a car.
It was a dark colored minivan, speeding through our neighborhood at night. It happened as much of the neighborhood was turned out for an evening of caroling. I saw the car speeding down the road and knew there were little ones on each side of the dark street, passing back and forth. I waved my arms to yell at the driver, turned to make sure no kids were running across the road and heard that horrible sound. Maxi, a dog who lived only to be loved, died in my arms.
The car didn’t even stop.
This post could be a commentary on the nerve of people these days who think no body and no thing matters more than their own lives, their own destination, their own concerns, their own phone.
But it isn’t. This post is really just a reflection on how we handled this horrible situation and is intended to help other families figure out how to best handle the loss of a family member, in this case a rather furry one.
After Max’s death, I googled how to help the kids handle the situation. There wasn’t much to go on other than basic intuition.
Here is what my family did. I hope that our approach and ideas will be helpful for families who may not know how to navigate their child’s first grief or loss.
A1 and I rushed Max to the ER, A1 insisting that he could feel a pulse and me in a dumb haze. The nurse took Max to the back and put us in an exam room. Just moments later the veterinarian on staff came in and nicely but clearly told us Max was dead and asked if we would like to cremate him or to take him home in a coffin. I tell you this because it shocked me and repulsed me. I hadn’t even wrapped my head around the fact that he was dead because I was hoping against all hopes that he was merely unconscious. I could still feel the warmth of his body and the weight of him in my arms. We decided to wrap him in his favorite blanket and take him home.
Our logic was that the kids would want to see him one last time, and that it would be too hard on them to process otherwise. This turned out to be true. Although we didn’t let them see Max’s face, because we didn’t want them to see his eyes, but we did let them pet him his fur (the softness of which they still haven’t stopped talking about). He wasn’t hurt on the outside, and the children really did want to pet and console him, so this worked for us.
Each member of the family said a prayer and a good-bye, and I think this would have been much less real and final if they couldn’t see hi, touch him and speak to him. They probably would have thought I was through with nagging them to walk him or clean up his poop and just fobbed him off on someone else, so I think they needed a final touch.
The Bad News
We wanted to be very calm and we didn’t want to alarm them overmuch. We actually talked about this–the children were still caroling and had no idea what had happened at this point– and we agreed that dramatic parents can create even more anxiety and drama for the children, so we wiped our eyes and put aside our grief. We also wanted to be honest. We took them into the backyard where Maxi lay and told them what happened. #1 immediately grasped the situation before we even said it, and ran away into the house, hysterical. #2 really didn’t get it at first. He started crying, but it seemed forced and I sensed that it would hit him later.
We decided to bury Max in our backyard, our thought being that we could reassure the children that he was close to us. A1 took care of this while I brought the kids inside to try to process the situation.
This may not have been a good idea. #1 couldn’t stand to talk or think about Max, let alone to see his little grave. #2 wouldn’t be alone by himself since Max was dead AND under the ground IN his backyard, and he couldn’t stop thinking (and talking) about the physical affects of death and burial. I think this should be food for thought for any family that has to go through this situation. Each person in my family handled Max’s death so individually, but universally I think that we don’t find having him here to be pleasant.
Both children were very upset, so I let them stay home from school the next day.
I decided my strategy would be to let them fully grieve in whatever way they showed me they needed to, without my stamping it and within the bounds of reason.
#1 retreated into herself. When she came out, she was very angry, saying it wasn’t fair since Max was so young and since we had only had him for a year. She took her anger out on #2, which is understandable but no less frustrating and sad for me to see. This passed, but it took time, hugs, a lot of reminiscing and some discussion on how to handle our thoughts and emotions as we get older.
#2 wouldn’t stop talking about Max, about the person who did it, about him being in the backyard, etc. , which bothered her (and I) even more. I decided they needed some closure, some time with their friends, and a distraction, so I asked them to plan a memorial service.
They had me send a text to their close friends and Max’s admirers, asking them all to come over after school. Max was much loved by everyone, especially our neighborhood kids, who by then had heard about his death and were both upset and nervous about it. Contrary to being scared about a funeral, all but one were anxious to come. Universally, they wanted to tell my kids how sorry they were that it happened, and they wanted to say goodbye. Good friends already….
The kids came up with a program which I thought had some nice details other families may want to consider:
They searched for large pebbles or small rocks that each child could paint in memory of Max. They cleaned the rocks and laid them on a table. When the guests came, they weren’t worried about where Max was and they weren’t talking about gruesome details. They painted. Some children just painted colors, while others drew paw prints, a bone, “GoodBye” or just the word MAX.
After the painting, bossy pants #1 rounded the children up and read out loud a lovely book (The Heaven of Animals) gifted to us by a neighbor who recently lost their dog to old age.
Then each child took their rock and got into a line in front of Maxi’s grave. They said a short bit about what they loved most about Maxi, and placed their rock on a large stump.
After this they signed the book.
Then #1 once again rounded them up, #2 handed out paper cups of sparkling fruit juice, and together they made a couple of toasts to Max. They passed around cookies and by then the other kids were ready to play. I let them run around for as long as they wanted thinking this is just what they needed to take their minds off of what had happened.
- I made a story photobook on Shutterfly that focused on our rescue of Maxi, all the new places we brought him to, how we made him so happy showing him how to play and how much we loved him. I made sure to include pictures that would spark happy memories for the kids and that would hopefully help them focus on the best of times and not the worst. Shutter fly frequently has great sales on books, the program is very intuitive and there are endless options, so making the book took about an hour and it was delivered a week later for about $22.
#2 looks at the book daily and took it in for show and tell. Luckily, he has an amazing teacher who has grasped just how sensitive and emotional he is, and who has really been helpful in hugging him through the sad times.
- I let each child purchase some flower bulbs, which I planted around the stump, they not being willing to dig anywhere near it, but still wanting wherever Max was to be beautiful and full of fairies to protect him.
- Each of the children’s fairies (more on this craze later) wrote them notes that included some funny fact about Max. For example, #1’s fairy wrote about taking a ride on Max’s tail. As Max tried to sniff her and began to run in circles, she clung to his tail in a crazy, wild and super fun rodeo ride. #2’s fairy (His name is Buck) talked about Maxi sniffing in his family’s house, blowing pollen everywhere and upsetting his mother who had to sweep it up. Understandably, the children were comforted by these notes. They are young enough to believe in fairies and to also hold onto something that makes them feel better, no matter how implausible.
- I found several books at the library that were intended to help children deal with the loss of a pet. Universally we found them to be sad, disturbing or downright awful.
The Tenth Good Thing about Barney, (by Judith Vorst, author of Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day) gifted to us by another neighbor who we love dearly, tells the story of a boy who loses his dog Barney. His friend tells him the dog has gone to heaven, but he insists there is no such place and this did not happen. Then the father tells him that Barney is helping the flowers to grow. Neither of my children took this well, both of them well aware of decomposition and biology and neither ready to even remotely think about their beloved pet literally pushing up daisies.
Love That Dog by Newbury Medalist Sharon Creech, is interesting in that it is poetry but horrible in that it is especially visual:
“because the blue car blue car
splattered with mud
thud thud thud
and kept on going so fast
so many miles to go
and couldn’t even stop
was just here
laying in the road
lying on his side
with his legs bent funny”….
you get the idea. A little too visceral. The librarian recommended it so we got it on audiobook and both children burst out in tears and couldn’t finish it. A really well written book though, if the circumstances were different.
Books we did like include:
Dudley, the Little Terrier That Could by Stephen Green-Armytage, a small book that tells the tale of a little Jack Russell Terrier through photographs that are hysterically funny and heart warming.
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant, which simply describes all the wonderful things a dog can do in heaven.
Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas, about a dog who is so old it becomes blind and deaf and so the family decides to let it sleep and then buries it, also in the backyard. My kids said they didn’t like this book because it was too sad but I saw both of them reading it two and three times, so I think that deep inside they could feel a sort of connection to the family and characters.
I Will Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm
Anyway, this holiday season hasn’t been super fun, but we are getting through it. My latest challenge is letting this kids work through their grief before we consider looking for a new puppy.
Puppy? WTF. At least Maxi came crate trained!!
RIP Maximus, you brought us MAXImum Love!
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Woman of the Week Paula McLoud’s
Shrimp and Lobster Curry
Perfect for a New Year’s Eve bash or any stylish, elegant weeknight occasion.
Makes about 6 servings
- 1/4 cup of butter
- 1/4 cup chopped onions
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 tart Apple, diced
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/3-cup flour
- 2 tsp. Curry powder
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 1/2 tsp. Dry mustard
- 3 cups chicken stalk
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream or milk (optional)
- 3/4 lb. cooked peeled shrimp
- 1/2 lb. cooked lobster meat
- Heat butter.
- Sauté onions, garlic, celery, Apple and bay leaf until cooked, but not brown.
- Sprinkle with flour, curry powder, salt and dry mustard. Gradually add stock. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Add cream, if desired.
- Simmer 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add seafood and cook just until it is heated through, but no more so you don’t overcook it.
- Serve with rice. When cooking rice, cook with chicken or vegetable stock instead of water (gives a better taste).
On this page we highlight interesting women of all ages, sizes, nationalities and abilities who are living life to the fullest and giving back in ways that highlight their best gifts and passions.
Today we meet Annapolitan Paula McLoud, who recently opened a new Sandro Ferrone store in the Westfield Annapolis Mall. Sandro Ferrone is a detail-conscious, affordable, ready-to-wear Italian fashion line with more than 200 stores in Europe, Asia and Canada. Ms. McLoud’s location is the first in the United States.
Entrepreneurs of any sort are a gutsy bunch. From the first moment I met her, I could tell that Ms. McLoud embodies true grit, beauty and wit, with a kind heart to match. I admire any woman with such gusto and appetite for life.
Home State: Washington’s Crossing, New Jersey
Education: American University, College of Public Affairs, Criminal Justice
Class of: 1975
Greatest Source of Pride: I am most proud that I am Morgan’s mother. I have two stepsons, Charlie and Ted as well. Being a mom is the best thing I have ever done.
Recipe that represents my favorite tastes: Shrimp and Lobster Curry, submitted by Morgan McLoud Pette, Paula’s daughter.
“If you are going to do something, do it right or don’t do it at all”.
Greatest Passion: Treating people with dignity and respect.
Defining Moment: Giving birth to my daughter. Prior to that, I was all about me. Morgan was a gift that changed me from being a self-centered individual to a giving individual.
Advice to Women Younger Than I: Wake up every morning and do at least one thing you love. Many young women I meet these days are very focused and dedicated. This is wonderful but I would also tell them to have fun along the way.
Fun for me is: I love styling women. I love to see the look on their face when they feel their best and feel empowered to project the best in themselves. If you feel good about yourself, you can have a positive day, and I like helping ladies do that.
Right Now I Am: The owner and manager of Sandro Ferrone, a clothing store featuring made-in-Italy, Fast-Fashion brands and affordable price points for every shape and size.
This Came About Because….I was working in sales selling paper to huge publishers and printing companies—when I was forced into retirement. It wasn’t expected and I wasn’t happy about it. My friends know how much I love fashion and love to style them. And my daughter told me to do something fun, so I opened a clothing store.
Of course, it’s not all that simple, but it wasn’t too hard either. I have dear friends in Italy who are third generation owners of retail clothing stores there. At one time they owned high-end, high-fashion outlets. After the financial crisis of the past few years, no one in Italy was buying expensive clothing, though. So they reopened their stores with a Fast Fashion concept under the label Sandro Ferrone, and haven’t been able to keep their products on the shelf since. Alessandro Ferrone laid the foundation for Sandro Ferrone after WWII and quickly turned his fashion trade into a formidable business. Today, Ferrone produces and globally exports over two million articles of clothing annually.
Fast Fashion is the idea that designers and manufacturers can see a singular piece on the Milan runway, and then quickly turn out a similar look at a more affordable price. Fast Fashion isn’t couture, because it relies on different grades of fabric and machine sewing, but it is well designed, timely and trendy clothing at a reasonable price. In my store, most of the clothes are designed and manufactured in Italy and range from $25 to $299. That is our most expensive item!
Our style can be described as European chic. That really is the best way I have to describe it. Sandra Ferrone has really broken the mold by providing truly wonderful styles and details for all sizes, shapes and ages. We aren’t pandering to a particular customer. Our goal is to make every woman look and feel like her best self.
We have three major labels:
- Kate is a young, hippy chic look available in sizes 0-12.
- Sweet Lola is for curvy gals and is available in sizes 12-18.
- Sandra is very Euro–sleek and contemporary– and is available is sizes 0-12.
My goal is to make Sandro Ferrone in America extremely successful. We have exclusive rights to the brand on the East Coast and look forward to opening other locations in the coming years.
Favorite Quote About Me:
“My mom is truly unique, elegant and timeless. When she enters a room, she demands a presence because of her beauty and sense of style. She has such a rare quality of understanding women and their bodies and how to make them not only look beautiful, but feel beautiful and that’s why she succeeds in her business.
My mother is independent, fearless and never takes “no” for an answer. Her determination and drive is what has taught me to be the woman I am today. She looks at life with so much respect and lives each and every day as if it were her last. It is because of her that I too, have so much love and joy for life, and for that I am forever grateful”- Morgan McLoud Pette, daughter.
Paula’s Best Styling Tips for Women of Any Age:
Tip #1: Be simple, but be elegant. If you wear a statement dress then you should be simple with jewelry and vice versa.
Tip#2: It’s all about the fit. Be sure it represents your body in the best way.
Tip#3: Throw your shoulders back and walk into the room as if you own it!
Feel free to share...
Christmas Eve is tomorrow and I haven’t yet made up a firm menu. Partly because I rarely get to go home for the holiday, which makes me want to boycott it; partly because damn–I’m tired, I don’t feel like shopping!!; and partly because I know I can scoot over to Whole Foods Market first thing tomorrow morning where I will find freshly stocked shelves and no crowds.
I know our meal will include some nice halibut, probably some salmon–although out here they sell third rate sockeye for $17.99/lb, which KILLS me–, definitely some crab, also some mussels and clams, and probably a chowder as a starter. Yes, it will include a lot of seafood. Yes, we are Catholic. No, we are not Italian.
Not even close. My father, a Van Atta, is thoroughly Dutch. My mother, a Thorpe, is Native American and Welsh. Sadly, none of my motley ethnicities are renown for the gustatory color, flavor, festivity and pomp of the Italians. My godmother is Italian though, and I lived with her in Jersey for a few years, so in my mind I consider that a close enough association to make actually becoming I-talian a near possibility.
Italians, and Catholics all over the world, celebrate Christmas Eve by abstaining from red meat, poultry and dairy, in observation of the la Vigilia di Natale, the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. The vigil is commemorated via The Feast of the Seven (or 10 or 12 or 13) Fishes.
Some people call this abstaining a “fast”. After surviving a week of juicing and detox just after Thanksgiving, I can tell you, this is my kind-a fast!
Interestingly, this piscine meal is not nationally observed in Italy. It is popular there mostly in Southern cities, which makes sense, since they are close to the sea and since seafood is so tightly wound into their cultural and culinary heritage.
Also, not every Feast features seven fish courses specifically, although there is some religious reference in that number. Food historians conjecture that the seven courses represent biblical completion, as in the seven days of Creation, while others say it refers to the seven Roman Catholic sacraments or to the seven hills that surround Rome. I’ve been to Feasts with 13 dishes, representing the 12 apostles plus Jesus, and even 11 dishes, representing the apostles minus Judas.
My godmother didn’t make her dishes based on theology, but rather on what was fresh at the market and what sounded delicious to her at the time. She often repeated some version of the meal for New Year’s Eve, which has no religious connotations at all.
Arturo Ottaviano, Owner of Osteria 177 in Annapolis, recently invited me for an unforgettable luncheon of perfectly prepared scallops, sole meuniere deboned properly by Arturo himself–tableside, tuna carpaccio, grilled octopus, a heartbreakingly tender and flaky sea bass atop a bed of sautéed escarole and a savory risotto made perfect by the grilled shrimp and jumbo lump crab hidden in its rich, cheesy depths.
It’s rare to find seafood prepared as finely as Ottaviano’s, which is why Osteria 177 has a strong reputation for elegant Italian dishes in a refined, yet relaxed atmosphere. It’s also why available reservations for his Christmas Eve menu are long gone.
Many people are intimidated at the prospect of successfully preparing a Fishy Feast. It’s not rocket science though. The key to cooking any type of fish, says Arturo, who attended culinary school in Italy and staged at Tiberius in Washington, DC, is to not overcook it and to keep it simple.
“I use basic ingredients and only a handful of basic sauces to create magic out of these simple things. I buy the best ingredients that I can get my hands on and I try to stay organic whenever possible. My seafood is always fresh, never frozen. When you combine simple, classic sauces with high quality ingredients like extra virgin olive oil, garlic, basil, parsley, tomatoes, lemon, olives and other herbs, you can create something wonderful whether you are making shrimp or scallops or salmon or whatever you can find fresh at the market”.
Here are several Fish recipes you can consider using for your own Feast. Keep in mind that these recipes are very versatile: you can substitute just about any type of fish. You can also search seafood, crab, or whatever on this site to find other favorite recipes.
Rockfish al Cartoccio (Rockfish prepared En Papillote) by Arturo Ottaviano
- 5 oz. Fresh Rockfish fillet (skin off)
- 3 baby clams
- 1 shrimp
- 3 slices of blanched potato
- Table spoon of grape tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove
- Salt, pepper, fresh basil
- A spoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 8 inch sheet parchment paper or foil
- Display the parchment paper on a table top and brush all over with a little melted butter.
- Put the sliced potato on the center of it and the Rock fish fillet on top of the potatoes. Put clams and shrimp on top the Rockfish. Complete the topping with the grape tomatoes sliced in a half, the garlic (smashed), salt and pepper, the basil, the olive oil and a splash of white wine.
- Properly close the Parchment paper and bake in a 425 pre heated Oven for about 14 minutes.
- When ready, open the foil on the top and served with any side you wish to have—vegetables or even pasta.
- You can add anything you want in the cartoccio from roasted peppers to sautéed mushrooms and more.
Risotto con Zucchini, Cappesante e Polpa di Granchio
(Serving for 4)
- 24 oz Arborio or Carnaroli Italian rice
- 1 medium size Zucchini, sliced
- 8 large dry sea Scallops, sliced into fours
- Jumbo lump Crabmeat
- 1 chopped onion
- Half tea cup of white wine
- In one medium to large casserole pan, sautée the chopped onion and the zucchini with a spoon of olive oil and touch of butter until golden in color.
- Add rice and a couple of minutes later add the wine and evaporate it, add to this some fish broth or clam juice to cover the rice.
- Keep stirring the rice with a wooded spoon until it reduces. You may need to add some more broth.
- Repeat this until the risotto is close to doneness.Halfway through the cooking, add the sea scallops and a portion of the crab meat.
- Finally without over-cooking the rice, remove it from the heat and add a little Parmesan cheese, chopped Italian Parsley and half cup of extra virgin olive oil. Stir briskly to release the starch and serve it
- Always check and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.
Fish En Papillote with Roasted Carrots and Cipollini Onions.
By Executive Chef Keith Long, Factor’s Row, Annapolis
- 2 Lbs. Firm fish, such as Blue Catfish (Cut into 7 oz portions)
- 8 Cipollini Onions
- 1 Lb. Baby Heirloom Carrots
- 4 oz. butter
- 2 cups Dry White Wine
- 4 sheets Parchment paper, about
- 4 fresh Thyme sprigs
Wash carrots and onions. Lightly drizzle with olive oil. Place on baking sheet and roast at 400° until just soft, around 20 minutes, depending on size. Allow to cool.
- Fold a 14X12 sheet of parchment paper in half.
- Cut a half-heart shape that is the height and width of the paper.
- Lay out each full heart. Place one portion of fish in the middle of one side of each heart. Divide carrots, onions, butter and thyme into four equal portions and place next to fish. Season with salt and pepper.
- Fold the top half of the heart over, like a taco, and starting at the top, leaving an inch or so nearest the top unfolded, fold the edge of the paper over, all the way down to the bottom tip, to create a pouch.
- Place the four pouches on a baking sheet and set oven to 450°. Pour ½ cup of wine into each pouch then finish folding the edge over to seal the pouch.
- Bake for about 12 – 14 minutes until fish is cooked through. Be careful opening each pouch they will be filled with steaming wine. Serve.
Pan Roasted Monkfish with Mashed Acorn Squash and Tarragon-Walnut Vinaigrette
Executive Chef Jeff Buber, Vidalia, Washington, DC
For the Fish
- 4 each, 6 oz. fish filets
- ½ cup dried cepes, pulverized very fine
- salt and pepper to taste
- olive oil to cook
For the Mashed Acorn Squash
- 3 each, acorn squash, roasted and pulp removed
- 8 ts butter
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 ts grated nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper to taste
For the vinaigrette
- ¼ cup fresh tarragon
- ¼ cup toasted walnuts
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 ts lime juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- Remove pulp from squash and place in medium saucepot. Add butter, cream and seasoning. Mash with paddle until well incorporated. Do not over mix.
- Dredge the fish in the cepe flour and season to taste. Roast the filets over medium high heat until desired doneness. Remove.
- Puree all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a food processor at high speed until well blended. Season to taste.
- Place one scoop of squash on each plate. Arrange fish on top of squash. Spoon vinaigrette around puree. Chef Buder garnishes this plate with fried squash. Fresh herbs or roasted winter vegetables would be good as well.
Catfish, Fried Southern Style
Executive Chef Josh Brown, Level, A Small Plates Lounge, Annapolis
- Catfish Fillets
- Enough buttermilk to cover
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs or cornmeal
- salt and pepper to taste
- pinch of cayenne, or to taste
- pinch paprika, or to taste
- 1 quart peanut oil or canola oil for frying
- Season fillets with salt and pepper
- Soak the fillets in buttermilk for several minutes. Remove from the buttermilk and let any excess drip off.
- In a separate bowl, mix the cayenne pepper and any other preferred spices with the panko and flour.
- Heat the oil to 350°: use a counter top fryer, Dutch oven or a cast iron pan filled about half-way with the oil. You can add a little bacon grease for added flavor.
- Dredge fish in the panko mixture then fry until golden on all sides.
Halibut, Swordfish or Salmon Piccata
By Whole Foods Market Annapolis Prepared Foods Team Leader Robert Vouse
- 4 Fish filets
- 2 TB Shallots, diced
- 1 TB Garlic, minced
- 1 Sprig Thyme, fresh
- ¼ ts Oregano, dried
- 2 TB Capers
- 1 can Artichoke quarters, drained
- ½ cup Tomatoes, diced
- 1 cup Chicken Stock
- ¼ cup White wine
- ¼ cup lemon juice, fresh
- 1 ts Lemon zest
- 1 TB Fresh parsley, minced
- 1 TB Butter
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- Season the filets with salt and pepper and sear both sides in a hot pan with olive oil.
- Remove the filets from the pan, turn the heat down to medium, and sauté the shallots, garlic, thyme, capers and artichokes until soft, about four minutes.
- Add the white wine, oregano, chicken stock and lemon zest (season the sauce with salt and pepper to desired taste) and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Return the filets to the sauce and simmer until cooked through.
- Plate the fish and stir the lemon juice, parsley and butter into the sauce.
Halibut a la Grecque
By Andre Bienvenu, Joe’s Stone Crab, Miami Beach, FL
In the absence of good-tasting tomatoes, I have used 8 ounces or so marinated roasted red and yellow tomatoes, which can be found at Whole Foods Market.
- 2 Pacific Halibut fillets, 6 to 8 oz each, skin removed
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- 1 large vine ripened tomato, seeded and chopped
- 10 imported black olives
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 TB fresh oregano
- 1 TB basil leaves, chiffonade
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and sliced
- 12 cilantro leaves, chopped
- 8 TB olive oil
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Season the fillets with salt and pepper. In a bowl combine the cheese, tomato, olives, garlic, oregano, basil, scallions and cilantro.
- Add 6 tablespoons of the olive oil.
- Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper; set aside (this mixture will serve as a topping for the fish)
- Preheat a grill or heat the remaining tablespoons of olive oil in a pan.
- Grill or sauté the fish for about 2 minutes on each side. Preheat the broiler.
- Place the cheese-herb mixture on top of the fish and broil for a few minutes until light golden brown.
Bacon-Wrapped Prawns or Sea Scallops in a Balsamic Reduction
by Foraging for Flavor
- Prawns or scallops- as many as you need
- Bacon- enough for 1/2 strip per piece of fish
- Wrap prawns or scallops with very good quality applewood-smoked or Black Forest bacon, using a toothpick to hold the bacon in place.
- Broil until bacon is caramelized and seafood is cooked through.
- Drizzle the serving platter or salt block with a balsamic reduction.
- Place seafood on the platter.
Bring 1 cup balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoon soy sauce to a simmer, reducing to about ½ cup or until sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. This should take about an hour. Soy sauce can be omitted. Reduction will keep and is wonderful with roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, on baked chicken or especially over slow roasted salmon.
- Use center cut filets, about 1 inch thick, or thick steaks of uniform size, one filet per person.
- Heat the grill to medium high heat.
- Salt and pepper the fish, marinate or use a dry rub. If you marinate in an oil base, beware of flare ups while grilling.
- Place filets skin side down on grill grate; grill until skin shrinks and separates from flesh and turns black, 2 to 3 minutes. Alternatively, place the steaks directly on the grill for 3-4 minutes.
- Flip fillets gently when meat is opaque throughout, yet translucent and red at the very center when checked with the point of a paring knife, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Transfer to a platter.
- Serve with any of the fondue sauces already posted on this site, the balsamic reduction or these other sauces.
Oysters with Mignonette Sauce
from Two for Tonight: Pure Romance from L’Auberge Chez Francois, Jacques Haeringer (Bartleby Press, 2001).
3-6 fresh oysters per person, any species is fine
For the Mignonette Sauce
- ½ c red wine vinegar
- 2 ts cracked black peppercorns
- 1 ts shallots, minced
- ½ ts sea salt, or to taste
- ½ ts finely minced chives
- Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a small mixing bowl, whisk thoroughly, taste and adjust seasonings.
- Wash the oysters, open and lift off the shallow shell. Be sure to wipe off the knife after opening each oyster. Leave the oysters attached to the bottom or deeper shell.
- Place the oysters on the half shell on a special oyster platter or on a bed of crushed ice to keep them level
- Serve the oyster with the sauce, rye bread and butter
Lump Crab and Shrimp Ceviche
From “Seafood Lover’s Chesapeake Bay”, a lovely book by Mary Lou Baker with more than 50 restaurant profiles and 75 recipes from the best restaurants along Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. You can find the book at Barnes Noble, Amazon, the Baltimore Museum of Art bookstore, The News Center in Easton and Arnold Pharmacy at the Four Corners Plaza in Arnold as well as other local outlets.
For the ceviche
- 1/4 lb jumbo lump crab
- 1/4 lump crabmeat
- 6 large shrimp
- 1/2 red pepper, diced small
- 1/2 yellow pepper, diced small
- 1 jalapeño pepper, diced small
- 1 small red onion, diced small
- 2 TB chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup oil
- 1/4 TB cumin
- 3 limes
- 1 orange
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 5 avocados
For the avocado cream
- 1 avocado, halved and scooped out
- 1 cup sour cream
- 4 ts lime juice
- cilantro leaves, for garnish
- tortilla chips, for serving
- Mix crabmeat in a large bowl. Steam shrimp and shock in an ice bath. Drain, dice and add to the crab.
- Add peppers, onions and cilantro to the mix. Stir well.
- Toss with oil and cumin.
- Heat limes and ginger for 90 seconds in the microwave . Cut in half and squeeze into mix after removing seeds (or squeeze through a strainer).
- Add salt and pepper, to taste.
- Cut avocados in half and remove seeds. Set aside.
- Prepare the avocado cream by mashing 1 avocado with the sour cream and lime juice. Mix well.
- To serve: Fill center of remaining avocado halves with the seafood mixture and garnish with cilantro leaves and avocado cream. Serve with tortilla chips.
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As I have said over and over and over: I love cookies. I love cookie platters. I love holidays, which are the perfect excuse to make a cookie platter.
A cookie platter should be a reflection of you: your personality, your time and expense and effort. Look, cookie recipes are a dime-a-dozen, so you want yours to reflect your heritage, your homeland, your family traditions or your favorite flavors. Time spent making your platter should be filled with nostalgia and warmth and familiar remembrances you only have time to think of when you are elbow deep in flour or licking the spoon.
Here are several recipes for our favorite platter cookies, plus links to others we love.
* If you don’t plan to frost these cookies, which have just the slightest crisp exterior and tender interior, then sprinkle with a little sea salt before baking.
- 2 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ts baking soda
- 1 ts cinnamon
- ¼ ts nutmeg
- ¼ ts salt
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 1 egg
- 2 ts vanilla or almond extract
- Mix dry ingredients together. Set aside.
- Cream sugar and butter in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.
- Add egg and vanilla; mix well.
- Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed.
- Refrigerate dough 2 hours or overnight until firm.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Roll out dough on lightly floured surface* to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into shapes with favorite cookie cutters.
- Place on parchment lined, light-colored baking sheets.
- Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until firm but not colored.
- Cool slightly then remove to wire racks to cool completely.
- Frost or not. So delicious!!
Chocolatey & Nutty Thumbprint Cookies
- ¾ cup pecans, plus 4 TB lightly roasted
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- ½ ts baking powder
- ½ ts baking soda
- ½ ts salt
- 2 ts Korintje cinnamon (see recipe, the amount is divided)
- ¼ ts nutmeg
- ½ ts ginger
- 3/4 cup super fine sugar
- 1 cups unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
- 1 large egg
- 2 ts vanilla extract
- 2 ts almond extract
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 4 TB butter
- Position racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F.
- Pulse nuts in a food processor until ground. Add dry ingredients plus 1 ts cinnamon and pulse to thoroughly mix.
- Cream butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, at least 2 minutes. Add egg, beat to combine. Add extracts, beat to combine.
- Reduce mixer speed to low, add dry ingredients, and beat until just combined
- Combine sugar, remaining 1 tsp. cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg in a small bowl.
- Form 2 inch balls of dough. Roll the balls in the sugar.
- Leave about 2 inches between each ball on the sheet. Bake cookies, rotating sheets halfway through, until puffed and set but still moist, 10-12 minutes.
- Immediately make an indentation in the center of each cookie with the small end of a melon baller or the bottom of a rounded 1-tsp. measuring spoon.
- If you want your thumbprint to be a simple nut, melt chocolate chips in the microwave, place a small dollop into the thumbprint, place a roasted pecan into the indentation, then let the cookies cool. Alternatively, you could use a Hershey kiss and garnish with a tiny sprinkle of sea salt and finely minced candied ginger.
- Transfer cookies on parchment to wire racks and let cool completely.
- If you want to fill the thumbprint, while the cookies are baking, finely chop the remaining 2 Tb pecans and set aside.
- Heat chocolate and remaining 4 TB butter in a small bowl over steaming water or in the microwave until melted.
- Transfer chocolate mixture to a small re-sealable plastic bag and snip a 1/4″ hole in one corner.
- Pipe chocolate into cookie thumbprints.
- Immediately sprinkle chocolate with reserved nuts. Let cookies stand until chocolate sets and the cookies cool.
from Bon Appetite Magazine, December 2003
- 2 cups cups pine nuts, divided
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/3 cup (packed) almond paste* crumbled
- Grated lemon peel from one organic lemon
- 1 ts vanilla extract
- 1 ts almond extract
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, sifted
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
- Pulse 3/4 cup pine nuts and next 4 ingredients in processor until crumbly mixture forms.
- Transfer mixture to large bowl; add egg whites. Using electric mixer, beat until mixture is smooth.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in small bowl to blend. Add to pine nut mixture; beat until smooth (dough will be soft and sticky).
- Place remaining 3/4 cup pine nuts in shallow bowl. Spoon a ball of dough, shaping it into a round cookie. Roll the top of the cookie in the pine nuts. Yes, the dough is sticky. Yes, you can lick your fingers when you are done.
- Transfer dough to prepared baking sheet, pine nut side up. Smooth edges of dough to form even round. Repeat with remaining dough, flouring fingertips as needed to prevent sticking and spacing cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets.
- Bake cookies 1 baking sheet at a time until golden, about 20 minutes. Cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, transfer to plate, and serve. (Cookies can be made 1 day ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.)
*Almond paste is available at specialty foods stores and in the baking-products section of most supermarkets.
I’ve mentioned my friend Frances Vavloukis before on this site and in my newspaper columns. She is just a force of nature. Not only is she a stunning (literally–meaning physically– and figuratively–meaning skilled) cook, but she is also an amazing baker. Essentially, she is the entire box of chocolates. I am a mere brownie next to her perfectly formed petit four. This recipe is from her father’s sister, Marianthe Costakis!
“Marianthe sponsored my father to come to the United States from Greece in 1955. When my mother died, my sister Katherine and I were 9 years old. Thea Marianthe was our go-to person on how to cook and to make authentic Greek pastries. Before she died, at the age of 92, she contributed this recipe to the Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos Society Woman’s Organization and I still use it today”.
- 1 lb. sweet butter
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 TB brandy (optional)
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 4-5 cups flour, sifted
- ½ cup walnuts
- 1 packaged powdered sugar
- Cream butter. Add sugar, beat until light and fluffy
- Add egg yolk and beat thoroughly. Add vanilla and walnuts (if using)
- Add flour, a little at a time, until dough is soft and pliable.
- Form into little crescents or balls.
- Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 1” apart
- Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until lightly browned
- Spread newspaper or brown paper on the counter top. Cover the paper with waxed paper. Spread a little powdered sugar over the surface.
- Remove cookies from oven and immediately move to the wax paper. Immediately sift powdered sugar over until each cookie is covered completely
- Let cookies cool completely.
- Serve in cupcake papers
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar, spooned in and leveled
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted, spooned in and leveled
- 1 ts vanilla or almond extract
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup very finely chopped walnuts, pistachios, pecans or pine nuts
- Position the shelves in the upper and lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 300.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, several minutes.
- Add ¾ cup sugar, just a little at a time, allowing each addition to by fully combined before adding more, then continue to mix for several minutes until very light in color.
- Turn the stand mixer to “stir” or use a wooden spoon to add the flour in three additions, mixing just until incorporated after each addition. Do not over mix.
- Divide the dough into 1 or so inch inch balls. Roll each ball into 2 inch logs, tapering the ends then forming a crescent and place about 1 inch apart on the cookie sheet.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, because the time always seems to vary for me, depending on weather, ingredients, etc. About halfway through baking time, rotate the pans top to bottom and front to back to ensure even baking. The Kurabia are done with the bottoms of the cookies barely show signs of browning.
- Remove cookies from the oven and let rest on the sheets for 1-2 minutes.
- Carefully transfer the cookies to a wire rack, but don’t touch. They are very fragile when hot. Cool completely then air dry for about an hour.
- Roll the cookies in the remaining 3/4 cup powdered sugar, coating heavily. Let the sugar settle before storing. These freeze nicely.
from Sunset Magazine
- 3 cups finely chopped walnuts
- 6 cups flour (see Tips for Success, above)
- About 1 3/4 lbs. powdered sugar, divided
- 2 tbsp. vanilla extract (yes, that’s 2 tbsp. and not 2 tsp.)
- 3 cups (6 sticks) butter, softened
- Preheat oven to 300°. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Beat butter, vanilla, and 1 cup powdered sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed until creamy, well-blended, and fluffy.
- Add flour 2 cups at a time, beating on low speed, then on medium speed after each addition until well-blended, stopping occasionally to scrape inside of bowl. Add nuts and beat on low speed until blended. Stir by hand a few times to be sure dough is evenly blended.
- Roll even 1-in. balls of dough in your hands and space 1 in. apart on lined baking sheets.
- Bake until dough is pale golden on top and golden on the underside, 25 to 35 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes.
- Gently toss warm cookies a few at a time in a bowl of powdered sugar (the sugar will melt and form a coating), then set on wire racks to cool completely. Repeat to make more cookies.
- Gently toss cookies in powdered sugar again to coat generously. Store airtight up to 1 week, or freeze.
Burano’s Sugar Cookies
These very special Italian cookies remind me of Venice in particular and Italy in general, where they are quite famous and popular. This recipe is by Marcel Hazan from her wonderful book Marcella Cucina (1997, p.433)
- ½ lb. butter (2 sticks), room temperature
- 1 ¼ cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Grated peel of 1 lemon
- ½ ts vanilla
- 5 egg yolks
- 4 ½ cups flour
- 2 TB milk
- Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and run the blade until they come together. You will have to scrape down the bowl a couple of times.
- Transfer to a tightly sealed container and chill for 2 hours
- Preheat the oven to 400
- Smear the bottom of a pan with butter, sprinkle with flour, being sure to tap off any excess flour
- Sprinkle flour on a work surface. Take a piece of cookie dough about the size of a jumbo egg and roll it on the counter into a cylinder about 8 inches long and 1 inch thick. Curl it into a circle, overlapping the two ends. Place it on the baking pan. Do this for all the dough, spacing about 2 inches apart on the pan.
- Bake in the upper middle level of the oven for 10-15 minutes until they become a very light gold. They will keep in a tightly closed biscuit tin for 2-3 months.
In college I had a dear friend, Hanaan, who held a Moroccan passport and strong ties to Saudi Arabia. She said her parents had died…she was all alone. She was not what I expected a Moroccan ward of the state to be, in that she was incredibly sexy, smoked like a fiend, danced like she learned from Salome herself and cursed like a proper sailor. Eventually, she found a boyfriend– nasty creature, I must say, and nearly instantly her partying days were over. After graduation I visited her one day, where she seemed nearly shackled to her apartment. I never heard from her again. I make these cookies when I want to remember my friend, who took this small town girl and turned me into a proper collegiate party animal.
- 3 1/2 cups plus 1/2 cup flour
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 tablespoon anise seeds
- 1/4 cup golden unhulled sesame seeds, toasted
- 1/4 cup golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried apricots, or any combination of the above, soaked in warm water until plump and then drained
- 1/2 cup almonds, walnuts or pistachios, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup melted butter
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup orange flower water
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon milk)
- Mix together 3 1/2 cups of flour with the sugar, salt, baking powder, sesame and anise seeds. Stir in the raisins and almonds.
- Add the eggs, oil, butter, orange flower water and vanilla and mix well to form a soft, slightly sticky dough. Add up to an additional 1/2 cup flour only if you need it to make the dough manageable.
- Divide the dough into large balls about the size of baseballs. On a lightly floured surface, roll the balls of dough back and forth to form smooth logs about the diameter of a banana. Place the logs about two inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
- Brush the logs with the egg wash, and pierce the logs with a fork in several places to let steam escape. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the logs barely begin to take on a pale golden color.
- Carefully transfer the logs to a rack to cool. Cover with a towel, and leave until the next day or at least 10 to 12 hours.
- Preheat your oven to 400F. Cut the logs into 1/4 inch slices (a long serrated knife works best). Place the slices on an ungreased baking sheets, and bake in batches for 15 to 20 minutes, until medium golden brown. Remove the cookies to a rack to cool.
- Store fekkas in an airtight plastic container for up to a month. They will keep well in the freezer for several months.
Other cookie recipes from blogs we love:
I do love The Cookie Platter. The platter is a perfect hostess gift. It is a personal reflection of the baker. It is sweetness, comfort and joy in however many ways you can imagine it, all in one place. The Cookie Platter is paradise for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Gospel Truth: there is no star for the Cookie Platter like a sugar cookie. It is versatile–it can be crunchy or chewy, crispy or tender. Frosted or not. Professionally executed or amateurish. In sum, sugar cookies are the best.
There are innumerable recipes for sugar cookies. The pivotal differences are doughs that need to be chilled-or not, cookies that use baking soda-or not, and whether the recipe uses powdered sugar, super fine sugar or regular sugar. All of these make a big difference in how your cookie will turn out, most notably in overall flavor, tenderness and ease of rolling and cutting.
The King Arthur Flour and Cooks Illustrated test kitchen bakers have dozens of sugar cookie recipes, lessons and tutorials for all sorts of cookies. I especially like KAA, mostly because you don’t have to pay for a subscription and also because their reputation for consistent perfection is stellar.
Sugar Cookie Tips
- If you use unsalted butter, increase the amount of salt in the recipe to 1 teaspoon.
- Flavor cookies more intensely with 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 teaspoon almond extract, or a combination. You can also add 1/2 ts cinnamon and 1/4 ts nutmeg, or 1 ts pumpkin pie spice.
- Roll the dough slightly thicker (3/16-1/4″) for a chewier, tender cookie. Roll about 1/8 inch for a crispier cookie.
- Spread when cooking is caused by moisture in the ingredients, i.e. butter and sugar. Don’t substitute butter for shortening or vice versa, or switch in and out other types of sugars unless you are prepared to accept a different result from the original recipe.
- Cookies can be colored before baking: Mix 1 egg white, beaten, with 1 tablespoon water. Lightly paint the cookies with the egg white/water, sprinkle with colored sugar, and bake.
My favorite Go-To Sugar Cookie recipe is from Domino Sugar. It is ridiculously easy to mix, roll and cut, and it is so tender, so delicious, it can be breakfast on the run with coffee or tea, a fun afternoon treat for the kiddos, or a lovely gift when packaged in some sort of cute way.
Domino’s Classic Sugar Cookie
4 cups – sifted all-purpose flour (sift flour before measuring)
2 tsp – baking powder
1 tsp – salt
1 1/2 – sticks (12 tbsp) butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups – Domino® Granulated Sugar
2 – eggs
1 1/2 tsp – vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside.
- In a large bowl, (I use a stand mixer) beat the softened butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Stir in dry ingredients, a third at a time, until all is incorporated for a smooth, stiff dough.
- Divide the dough into two equal portion and form into discs. There is no need to chill this dough, but you can certainly make this dough several days ahead of time and chill it until you need it.
- There are two ways to roll out the dough. Either way, you want to end up with about 1/4 inch thick dough. #1: use a little flour to dust the surface of the table and the rolling pin, roll to a uniform thickness. #2: lay one disc on a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper. Cover the disc with another sheet of paper. Roll out the dough between the two sheets.
- Cut out shapes. Trim away, roll and res-use excess dough.
- Gently lift cut out cookies from waxed paper and place on light colored cookie sheets covered with parchment paper.
- Bake at 350°F for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are firm and light. I do not like an overcooked sugar cookie, so don’t wait until these are golden brown, which is just a minute or two too far.
- Remove from cookie sheet and allow to cool completely before decorating.
Hands Down one of my favorite cookbooks is The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. There is an entire chapter on sugar cookie variations, and another on Decorated Cookies. This is a book I will bequeath to my children and their children.
1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia, or flavor of your choice (see “tips,” below)
2 3/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
- To make the cookies: Combine the sugar, butter, egg yolk, salt, and flavor, beating until smooth. Add the flour, mixing until smooth. The mixture will seem dry at first, but will suddenly come together. If it doesn’t, dribble in a tablespoon of water.
- Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a flattened disk, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight. When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and let it soften for about 20 to 30 minutes, until it feels soft enough to roll. It should still feel cold, but shouldn’t feel rock-hard.
- Sprinkle your rolling surface with flour, and flour your rolling pin. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it 1/8″ to 3/16″ thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. Re-roll and cut the dough scraps. Place the cookies on ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheets. They can be close together; they’ll barely spread.
- Bake the cookies in a preheated 350°F oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until they’re set and barely browned around the edges.
- Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool right on the pan. If you’ve used parchment, you can lift cookies and parchment off the pan, so you can continue to use the pan as the cookies cool.
- Repeat with the remaining piece of dough, rolling, cutting, and baking cookies. When cookies are completely cool, ice and decorate.Yield: about 5 dozen 2″ cookies.
Soft Sugar Cutouts
These cookies by Chef Jen Shelbo are cakey and tender. They have a little height and a golden color. This recipe is from the book One Sweet Cookie: Celebrated Chefs Share Favorite Recipes by Tracey Zabar.
- 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 ts baking soda
- 1 ts baking powder
- 3 large eggs, well beaten
- 1 cup sour cream
- 8 ounces unsalted butter
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 ts salt
- 1 ts vanilla extract
- 1 ts almond extract
- Combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder. Set aside
- Mix together the eggs and sour cream. Set aside
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar, salt, and extracts.
- On low speed, add in the flour mixture, about 1 cup at a time, adding the sour cream mixture intermittently.
- Repeat alternating flour and sour cream until all the ingredients are fully incorporated.
- Divide into discs. Wrap in plastic and chill about 3 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 425.
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll the dough out to very thin, about 1/4 inch thick.
- Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges begin to turn a very light brown. Cool completely before frosting.
If you are looking for a trip that won’t take too long, will take your mind off how much you’ve spent on holiday gifts, exposes you to fresh air and beautiful plants, and enraptures your little ones, then a jaunt to DC for the seasonal train display at the National Botanical Gardens is the perfect idea for you!
What is it?
The United States Botanical Gardens are an absolute national treasure. With the exception of special events (such as the once-in-a-lifetime-bloom of the stinkiest flower ever), a visit to the Botanical Gardens is usually quiet, uncrowded and relaxed. I love to go there after a run or bike ride around the mall just to breathe in the warm, humid, clean plant air.
Every season brings something new to both the outdoor gardens (which surround the Conservatory on all sides and include small hidden coves, large fountains, a quaint stream, pergolas and walkways and even Berthhold Park, a little jewel of green just a block off the National Mall) and to the collections inside.
The museum is well organized, small and tidy, so its is easy to maneuver and discover. Collections are divided into distinct gardens; each room is well worth slowing down in so you can explore each specimen not only for its own beauty but also to learn about plant contributions to medicine, cookery and the environment.
Where Is It?
Located at the end of the National Mall opposite the Washington Monument, just across the lawn from the Capital.
100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20001
(202) 226-8333, USBG Website
What To Do
Although every season holds something special in store, Winter brings beautiful decorative holiday lights, an enormous fir Christmas tree (one of the biggest in DC, in fact), the annual train display and live music on Tuesdays at 6 PM.
Every year, artists create houses–to just say houses is an amazing understatement–from natural objects like willow, gourds, acorns, etc. The theme of the display varies from year to year. In 2012 (I think–we’ve been so many times it all starts to get hazy) artists recreated Presidential homes. 2013 featured scenes from a World Fair, like the Eiffel Tower, a roller coaster and the Space Needle. Last year the theme was pirates, mermaids and other sea creatures. This year the theme is Pollination Station.
One bite of every THREE you take requires a pollinator. Sadly (and SCARY) pollinators are rapidly disappearing, so this display is a gentle and creative reminder about how small things like bees, hummingbirds, moths, bats and more can make a big difference, and of how we should be mindful of nature around us.
What You Need to Know:
- Entry is located on the East side of the building, just past the main entry doors. On the weekends, a line begins to form around 9:30. It usually moves at a steady rate.
- Public Transportation is super convenient. The easiest way by Metrorail is by taking either the Orange, Blue, or Silver line to the Federal Center SW station. Exit the station, walk north (left) along Third Street SW for two blocks, cross Independence Avenue and continue one more block to Maryland Avenue. Look toward the Capitol and you will see the glass dome of the Conservatory. The Conservatory entrance is on Maryland Avenue.Metrobuses #32, 34 and 36 stop behind the Conservatory at Independence Avenue and First Street SW.The National Mall route of the DC Circulator bus stops on 3rd St SW by the Capitol Reflecting Pool, in front of the Conservatory.
- Parking: 2 hour street parking is available near the building. Garages are open closer to C and D Streets and 695/395 freeway exits. If you arrive during the week, parking can be sketchy. On weekends, there is a ton of space before 11 AM and on winter days.
- Hours: 10am-6pm
- Cost: This event is totally free.
- Note that the wind blows off the Tidal Basin and straight up the mall, making that wait damn cold. Bundle up and bring a shoulder bag for storing jackets, etc.
- Bathrooms are located on the Independence Avenue side at the far end of the conservatory.
- There is no cafe, HOWEVER, I highly recommend a visit to Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. Tons of really good food, raining from burgers and chicken tenders (YECK) to chili, blue corn tortillas, NDN tacos, salmon and much, much more.
- The train display is popular and can be crowded. Nevertheless, take your time to discover each and every detail. The 2015 display includes huge bees, beautiful butterflies, intricate fairy homes hidden in tiny boxes, a waterfall and of course, several trains.
- Exit the train display, down the short steps and into the Conservatory to explore primordial forests, rare plants of Hawaii, cactuses, orchids and in the main atrium a forest of tropical palm.
- Take the stairs or elevator up to the catwalk so you can get a beautiful glimpse of the plant life below as you stroll past the large waving leaves of gigantic trees.
- Be sure to stop at the welcome desk to get an exploration backpack for the kids and to ask where the cacao tree and vanilla plant and if the strangler fig host is real.
- End at the Christmas tree. You can get a Pollination Station plant hunt brochure at the front desk or in line. Hunt for different plants inside the conservatory, learn more about how they pollinate, and get a stamp.