Brunch and Pub Crawling on Vacation

Things happen later when you’re on vacation. Like brunch that my sister and her boyfriend meant to start 11:30am yesterday actually started at 1:30pm. No matter – I’m a lover of breakfast foods any time of the day. Pancakes, scrambled eggs, fruit salad and turkey sausage taste just as amazing after noon.

I threw together my mom’s various placemats and accoutrements – it’s fun setting the table with someone else’s stuff; like I got to go shopping and come up with all new color schemes. Ridiculous things such as this make me happy ;)


Anita, our octogenarian dog, wore her Christmas sweater – which seriously has the ugliest color scheme, like whoever knitted it just used all the leftover yarn and threw it together in a haphazard pattern. But they were being sold to support the humane society and was the last one left, so what can you do. Plus, she is a dog. She doesn’t care.


And the food was classic.


We got going late because the night before we inaugurated the first annual Griswold Family Christmas Vacation Pub Crawl, themed after the paradigmatic movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is possibly the funniest Christmas movie ever made.


There were two standout costumes that deserve publicity:

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Arbor Inspiration

This fall I went to the Central Park Conservatory Garden for the first time, and I was so struck by the beauty of the half-circle arbor covered in greenery.

I know it’s a slightly strange obsession, but I absolutely love arbors covered in greenery.  Flower arbors somehow don’t do it for me – too Laura Ashley, I think.  I confess that I had to even look up what arbors are called; for a while I was just calling them “those green covered things that I love,” but you know what, it’s not the name that matters as long as people get what you’re talking about.  Or so I tell myself.  Anyway, now I know thy name is arbor.

I love this arbor too, which is also in Central Park.

Arbors like these make me desperately want to host a small garden dinner party under the archway, with long wood tables covered only in white hydrangeas and potted plants, white dinnerware, rustic family-style food, and zillions of white pillar candles.  Dinner would begin at dusk, just when you start needing the candles, and there would undoubtedly be acoustic music of some kind imbuing the atmosphere without much trouble on anybody’s part.  The wine would be one of those gorgeous bottles you vow to remember the name of and always forget, and the conversation would flow beautifully amongst friends.

Large image my own of the Central Park Conservatory; images on right from Martha Stewart Weddings

Under the Arbor Menu (to be passed family style; no delineated courses)

Arugula Salad Recipe

I made this the other day just for a tasty lunch for myself, and I had to share:

Arugula Salad with Roasted Yam, Apple and Gouda

Serves four as a first course, or two as a main course

For the salad:

  • 1 yam
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • freshly ground pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • 1 Gala apple (or other apple of your choice)
  • 4 oz aged Gouda

For the Agave Vinaigrette Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons light agave nectar (I’m really into agave right now – it’s low on the glycemic index and much thinner than honey, so it mixes easily into anything)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Vege Sal
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Start by roasting the yam.  Heat your over to 375 degrees F.  Peel the yam, cutting off any brown spots, and chop into bite-sized pieces.  Spread on a baking sheet and cover with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg so there is a small amount on each piece of yam.  Toss it all together with your hands so every piece is covered in oil.  Roast 20-25 minutes – yams should be soft but not falling apart.  You can put them in the salad warm, or keep in the refrigerator until ready to use (up to 24 hours).

Toast the walnuts over medium-low heat in a dry saucepan for 3-4 minutes, until you can smell the walnut oils.

Place the arugula in a large bowl and add the walnuts and yam.  Chop the apple into bite-sized pieces and add to the arugula.  Slice the gouda into strips as thinly as possible (it is a crumbly cheese, so it will be hard to slice it very thin) and then cut the strips in half.  Add to the arugula.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together, adding the olive oil in a slow stream while whisking.  Pour the dressing over the arugula, toss, and serve.

Santa-Con in NYC

I walked down to Washington Square Park last week to get a book for school and saw one Santa…then another…then ten and twenty more, all filled with both adult beverages and the holiday spirit, and dressed in varying degrees of Santa gear. I eventually saw someone selling t-shirts that said “SantaCon 2009” and realized it was another great New York meetup for no reason at all except the awesomeness of a thousand people all dressed like Santa. It was like walking into an alternate universe of Santas and I loved every second of it! I had been so annoyed with myself for not getting this stupid book earlier, but instead I spent the whole walk blessing my lazy geniusness.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!


Christmas Eve Family Dinner Party

Well, things have been a little rough around here with the passing of my grandma, who was my mom’s only immediate family besides my sister and I.  I’ve been writing pages and pages about her very interesting life and want to condense it into something readable, but am finding it difficult – hopefully will manage it soon just to make myself feel like it’s finished and I can stop writing every detail before I forget.  And I tweaked my back last week on my way to California for the funeral, so I’m right now sitting up very straight with a hefty pillow behind me.  My mom is convinced that your back’s health is a metaphor (or simile?) for how supported you are in your life, so I guess according to her I’m not supported enough – though I feel like that’s a big world of excuses just begging you to come in, and really I just picked up my suitcase wrong when getting on the plane last week.  I have lots to do for Christmas that doesn’t involve lifting or twisting; there is no snow here anyway, so I don’t feel badly about not being able to snowboard for another week or so; I have a massage therapist who is incredibly good at inflicting a lot of pain on me; and with family and friends all descending on Jackson Hole for the holidays everything is really just fine. This is even my view while I write, looking south into the valley and over the Snake River:


Plus, I’m completely obsessed with Christmas in general and love love love this time of year!  Lights everywhere, merry people, and presents galore for all the good little girls and boys – and everyone I love was very good this year ;)

I’m trying to come up with my Christmas Eve menu.  We always have fried oysters for Christmas Eve; I don’t know why, yes it is a strange tradition, and I think it just originated because my mom likes fried oysters and who goes to the trouble of such a thing on non-holidays?!

oysterbiteCoconut & Lime

So it has to be centered on the oysters, and I really want to make brussel sprouts just because they’re in season and I’m completely obsessed with them right now, plus they’re also, like the oysters, a little different and fun.  But what else?  Oysters and brussel sprouts do not a meal make.

A nice simple potato would be quiet enough to meld with the strong oyster flavor and also go well with a nice aioli sauce for the oysters.  I like this plan: oysters, new potatoes, and brussel sprouts (please continue for the recipe) for the meal.  Something like poached pears for dessert, because my mom has to have her fruity desserts, and I think no appetizers because we’re all going to be crammed into the kitchen cooking and frying until everything is hot and ready to be devoured.  Patience is not a virtue in my family when there is hot food waiting to be eaten.

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The Pursuit of Perfect Pie Crust

Oh, pie crust. The goal is the flaky, lightly browned, crispy yet soft enough to cut with a fork perfect crust we all imagine but rarely encounter.

I’ve tried several different pie crust recipes and still haven’t found the perfect one. Just because my mom makes great crust (and she does) doesn’t mean her recipe will work for me (and, since I don’t have a food processor, it doesn’t). I don’t know why, but it’s just one of those things that you have to figure out for yourself, like eyeshadow colors and significant others. So I’ve decided to test out pie crusts until I find the recipe that works for me every time, and I’m going to share my attempts in the hope that maybe one of the options will work for one of you.

Yes, you read me right: I will be blending it by hand because I don’t have a food processor and honestly don’t really want one. I have a big kitchen by NYC standards, but it’s small by any other standard and I don’t have room for an appliance I’ll rarely use. I can see wanting one someday, if I get tired of hand-chopping and not being able to blend various things, but in the meantime I’ll happily use my pastry blender and get a nice arm workout.

Here is my problem: who will eat all the pies that are going to result from my experiments?  My friends are forever avoiding sweets and never want to take entire pies home with them for fear of gorging themselves (which, of course, is exactly why I try to give all the sweets I make away!).  I really need to make better friends with my neighbors so I can just force a constant stream of desserts on them.

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