Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Softening Brown Sugar

March 13, 2018

I store my brown sugar carefully in an airtight container to avoid it hardening, yet, somehow, I have a  large canister of hard and lumpy brown sugar on my hands. All is not lost, as brown sugar can be brought back to life by softening it in the microwave.

Simply place the hard sugar in a microwave safe (glass is ideal) bowl and drape it loosely with a wet paper towel. Cook on high for about 30 seconds, and check to see if it is softened. If it isn’t ready, stir it and repeat this operation in 20-second intervals, re-dampening the towel as necessary until it reaches the desired state. Avoid letting the wet towel touch the sugar to keep it from melting. The sugar is ready to use when it is soft, easy to pack into a cup, and free of clumps.

photo: @indigojonesnyc 



Composting 101

March 7, 2018

New York City is taking a stance on food waste and has begun to roll out what will eventually be a mandatory composting program.  For those of us new to the composting world, here are a few do’s and don’ts to help make the transition smoother.

Why compost?

When food waste is mixed into our regular garbage, it sits in the landfills and gives off greenhouse gasses. When composted, our organic waste can be used to add nutrients and improve soil quality for our street trees, parks, and urban farms.


What do I compost vs. recycle vs. toss in the garbage?

Compostable items are food scraps, such as vegetable and fruit peels, tea bags, coffee grounds and egg shells. Dry food items including bread, cereal, and pasta, are also compostable. Animal products, including meat, bones, and feces, as well as other greasy products are not. It is still important to separate glass, plastic and the like for recycling, and non- compostable food waste as true garbage.

How do I avoid getting fruit flies or vermin from my kitchen compost, and prevent my kitchen from smelling bad?

While there are plenty of compost bucket options at all price ranges out there, it’s not really necessary to purchase something. A large yogurt container with a tight-fitting lid, a big mason jar, or even a zip-lock bag works fine. If you don’t have easy access to a drop off point or your building is not providing a communal compost bin for its tenants, you can put the food waste in the freezer to eliminate odors as the waste starts to break down until you can get it to the compost site.

Doing the right thing for our planet is not always the easiest choice, but it certainly is the best choice. If your building is not yet part of the compost program, here is a list of drop off points around the city so that you can participate in the meantime.

photos: Glasshouse Images




The War on Common Decency

December 28, 2017

The “War on Christmas” was a newsworthy subject this year, with our President and many others striving to bring back the term “Merry Christmas”, instead of the more general “Happy Holidays.” In my opinion, if someone wants to wish me well, I don’t really care how they state it, as long as the sentiment is genuine. Merry Christmas, Eid Mubarak…it’s all good. Furthermore, there are many holidays during this time period; Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza and New Year’s Eve, to name a few and saying “Happy Holidays” is an easy way to wish someone good tidings for all of them.  Last time I looked, Christmas was considered a holiday, just as mustard and ketchup are considered condiments. But I digress.


I spent the last days leading up to Christmas frantically shopping. This was because I spent the last months leading up to Christmas frantically working, seven days a week, often until 1:00 am or later.

The stores in New York were surprisingly quiet. In only one store, out of at least 8, some of which I visited twice, did anyone ask to help me. In every store, when I left or checked out, I wished the sales associate a happy holiday. Not one initiated the greeting.  Were they so confused as to what was politically acceptable that they chose to skip the gesture completely? Or is it more? I left a comment on a Facebook thread about this, and initially received an outpouring of validation, shown by strangers hitting the “LIKE” button. Then, the inevitable Debbie Downers popped out, deriding me for shopping late when the poor, tired sales associates wanted to be home with their families. ( If I wasn’t shopping, would the store have closed?) One asked me if I had the compassion to tell them that I was thankful for their service when I know they must be tired and missing their families. Remember, this is a person folding sweaters in Zara, not a soldier fighting a war overseas, or a nurse ministering to my every need. But, if you must know, I thanked the few that interacted with me profusely, smiling all the while. Call me old-fashioned, but getting paid to work in a retail store means that while you are there, it is your job to help customers and represent the store at it’s best. (You can read my thoughts on that here.) And yes, I have done it, thank you very much, and while exhausting, I found it much easier than the work I currently do. But I digress yet again.

Here is my point: There was no war on Christmas. The constant clashing of ideals and what it means to be a decent human have given us all battle fatigue this year. Common decency seems to have often gone by the wayside.  If someone wishes you well, smile and return the sentiment. If you aren’t sure what to say, use an over-arching greeting. If you are offended by the term Happy Holidays, instead of Merry Christmas, I would take a moment to examine your priorities. In a year that divided us as Americans so severely, we all need a smile and a pleasant greeting. Is that too much to expect?

photo: Glasshouse Images


Retail Suicide

December 23, 2017

It’s a known fact that fashion retail is in the crapper right now. Sales are off, markdowns rule and companies are more interested in analytics than creativity. As I strolled through the mainstream shops, seeking gifts for a fashionable almost 18-year-old, I was dumbfounded by how dumb retailers really are.

Store after store was filled with lackluster merchandise, less than enthusiastic employees, and signs announcing high percentages off, and “buy one get one” schemes. I literally saw the same items in every single store, with nobody bold enough to put their own spin on them.

After spending decades in the fashion world, as a designer and retail design executive, let me “woman-splain” to you how it works.

Teams of designers labor to create a collection that the merchants or buyers purchase for the stores. Financial plans are considered, as are prior successes. Fast forward to line review, when the designers show the buyers what they created, based on these requirements. In a perfect world, there was a collaboration of creativity and business acumen, meeting somewhere in the middle to create an assortment that would delight and inspire the customer. In the real world, especially when business is tough, analysis paralysis takes over and the product often gets so watered down that the message is lost. I am willing to bet that most of the product decisions this year were belabored, re-assessed and reworked many times to get to this place, at great emotional expense to the teams. Experienced and talented designers have in many cases been replaced by less experienced workers who shop and interpret what’s already out there. This had to have been the case at many stores where the exact same item appeared at all. Organizations like the Gap have done away with their high-level design talent, in favor of merchants partnering with Google analytics.
The result; same old same old products, and markdowns galore.
Don’t even get me started on the store environments. Other than a little music, there is nothing compelling about any of them. Don’t ask me about the morale of the staff, as only one person approached me in the eight stores I entered.

Come Monday morning, or in this particular case, Tuesday, the teams will gather to rehash the holiday sales. Some will blame the weather, some will blame where Christmas fell on the calendar this year, and some will blame marketing for picking the wrong the shade of red for the sale banners. The reality is that they all need to take a good hard look into the mirror and blame themselves. Shame on you for not creating an environment that draws people in and makes them feel festive and inspired. Shame on you for not stepping out and creating a product assortment that is compelling and proprietary to your brand. Shame on you for either not hiring real creative talent or even worse, for squelching it.

Gone are the days when collections were created with a brand in mind, and a desire to stand out in the sea of sameness. Gone are the days when we felt it in our gut that something was the next big thing. Gone are the days when shopping was an experience, not a chore. If the tactile and interactive experience isn’t pleasant, I might as well let my fingers do the walking and let Amazon bring it to my door, quickly and free of charge.

Retail is dead, and it is a result of suicide provoked by fashion executives who lack the vision to nurture and develop original and inventive thoughts.

photo: Glasshouse Images


Kitchen Tips Tuesday: Is It Time To Toss Those Leftovers

November 28, 2017


It is sad to even think about throwing away the delicious remains of your Thanksgiving meal, but if you still have leftovers lingering in your refrigerator, it’s time to bid them farewell. Yes, food safety trumps food waste every time.

Turkey lasts about 3-4 days well wrapped and refrigerated. Same for stuffing provided it has been removed from the turkey before it was stored. Gravy is good for only a day or two, but most cranberry sauces should last up to 2 weeks. Mashed potatoes and candied sweet potatoes should be good for about 3-5 days. Pumpkin pie lasts 3-4 days and apple should be refrigerated within 2 days if it has been cut.

Freezing certain items are an option but don’t freeze just for the sake of freezing. My freezer sometimes becomes a receptacle for things I don’t know what to do with and in the end, never get thawed and used. As unpopular an opinion as this is, if you don’t see yourself eating that cranberry sauce in the next several weeks, let it go.

Goodbye leftovers! We shall never speak of you again(until next time).

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Leftover Madness: Unrecipe of the Week: Turkey and Biscuits

November 26, 2017


Working our way through all these leftovers is daunting, to say the least. Reliving the Thanksgiving feast just isn’t that appealing to us and with only three unenthusiastic eaters to work on it, too much is sadly going to waste. Last night, in an effort to create dinner from what I had on hand, I threw these together, to positive reviews. They only took about 10 minutes to prep and made a slight dent in the bountiful array of foods filling up my refrigerator.

Not the best photo, but it’s all I could get before they got devoured.

Turkey and Biscuits:
This is the ultimate unrecipe, designed to use what you have, so feel free to be flexible with ingredients.
Saute one finely diced shallot in butter. If you don’t have a shallot, use an onion. Add diced carrot, and celery if you have it, and keep cooking until the shallot is transparent and the carrots are softened. Mix in chunks of cooked turkey, and sprinkle it with cornstarch or flour. Toss until everything is coated, and the flour is no longer visible. Slowly add turkey stock, or chicken broth, bring to a slow boil and stir until thickened. Go easy here. If it isn’t thick enough, mix some of your cornstarch or flour with some hot broth and stir it in. If it gets gloppy, add more broth. At this point, I added some frozen peas. You can add whatever vegetables and herbs you have. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to an ovenproof dish. Bonus points if you made this part in an ovenproof skillet and don’t have to wash another dish! Place biscuits on top of the mixture. Mine were already lightly baked, and very high, so I sliced them in half and brushed them with melted butter and little Maldon sea salt, ’cause I’m fancy.
Place in the oven at 350 degrees and bake until the biscuits are hot and browned about 5 minutes. If you don’t have leftover biscuits, you can use the ones from the tube and bake according to directions.
No biscuits, no problem. This filling could go into a traditional pie with a top crust, or atop those frozen puffed pastry shells instead. Baking times will vary according to your pastry preference.


The Aftermath

November 24, 2017

Our soup from a previous year

Today is the morning after the feast. The dishes are technically done, but the house is still in disarray. Everyone is feeling lazy, especially the cook, but things need to be taken care of. Most “mornings after”, my mother would take the carcass of the turkey, and start a pot of soup. After all of this heavy, carb-laden food, there is nothing more soothing than a simple soup, made from the oft-wasted remains of the day. She isn’t here this year so the job has fallen on me to add the celery, carrots, and onions to the pot, prepare the turkey bones, and make the soup. I prefer to strain it like stock, and then add back any vegetables or chunks of meat afterward. And while turkey can be low in fat, all of the seasoning and added fat ( I make a roasted garlic and dijon mustard herb butter to rub on mine ) does make the broth a bit greasy, so it best served the next day when it has had time to cool and the layer of fat has been skimmed off.

Turkey Soup:

Place the carcass of the turkey into a large stockpot. You will probably need to cut it to fit.

Add onion, carrots, celery, parsley, a turnip or a parsnip, and any leftover herbs. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for several hours. Strain the broth through a sieve or strainer, and chill. Once cold, the fat will rise to the top and solidify, allowing it to be easily removed.

You can use this as a rich stock, a base for other soups, or you can add back in diced turkey meat, carrots, rice, barley or noodles or anything else that suits your fancy. Your overworked belly will thank you for the soothing treat.

photo: Glasshouse Images

Thanksgiving Countdown: Tip #9

November 19, 2017

Clean the oven.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but start the cooking marathon with a clean oven. Once the oven gets cranked up and is on for many hours at a time if there are drips and grease spatters, they will start to burn and smoke up the whole house. Even if it looks pretty clean, give it a good wipe to remove crumbs and any other debris that might cause an issue. Trust us, a blaring smoke alarm causes undue chaos with a house full of guests.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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Thanksgiving Countdown: Tip #8

November 19, 2017

Is your home ready for the holiday?

I am sure there are little chores that you’ve been neglecting that you will appreciate having done before your guests arrive. For example, we have extremely high ceilings in our dining room and kitchen. Twenty-three feet to be exact, making lightbulb changing a really big deal. My husband refuses to climb up there for one little dim bulb. By November, it’s starting to get dark in here. Enter, the annual pre-Thanksgiving lightbulb change. In preparation for the holiday, he drags out the super long ladder, climbs up there, and does the deed. If I’m lucky, he dusts the tops of the cabinets while he is up there. Likewise for organizing the cabinets, tightening the latches and dealing with other little projects that get ignored for the rest of the year. Before the weekend is over, deal with them. You will be so happy that you did.

FYI, that ladder is sitting on a pile of wooden crates. But it’s much brighter in here now!


photo: Glasshouse Images




Thanksgiving Countdown Tip #7:

November 18, 2017

Go grocery shopping this weekend. Even sooner if possible.

There are many things that I won’t purchase until the last minute, such as fresh herbs, vegetables, and other highly perishable items. But for those things that will keep, go now! As we get closer to the holiday, the lines get crazy long, the shelves get emptied of all the Thanksgiving classics, like canned pumpkin, cinnamon, and cranberries, and the overall stress levels climb. For those of you in the ‘burbs, this might even reach the frenzy of a regular Saturday at a NYC Trader Joes. For us city folk, it’s off the charts.

Get it over with as soon as you can, and move on to the more compelling parts of preparing the feast.

photo: Glasshouse Images


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