The Unicorn that Jumped the Shark

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A sign of the times, direct from the Jet Blue terminal in JFK.

Unless you are living in, say, Narnia, you have likely noticed the Unicorn theme going on in the food world. There are rainbow-colored everythings, from cupcakes and cookies to noodles and sushi. I know of one person who got on a waiting list for $60 rainbow bagels…that reportedly “tasted like dirt.” And now, to punctuate the moment, Starbucks comes out with the Unicorn Frappuccino, an unnaturally bright, pink-to-purple, sweet-to-tart-morphing frozen beverage.

I tracked down the Unicorn Frappuccino at its source at a Starbucks in JFK, amidst a long line of bleary-eyed redeye survivors and dawn patrol flyers. Although nobody was ordering one at that hour, I got a few customer reviews of the mango flavored frozen slurry including: “Disgusting, with gross sweet tarty sugar on top,” or, as Stephen Colbert put it,  “a sugary affront to God.” This, my friends, is where Unicorn Food has, like the Fonz, jumped the shark, effectively creating “the moment when a brand, design, franchise, or creative effort’s evolution declines, or when it changes notably in style into something unwelcome.”

The unicorn food craze started out as a creatively wholesome pursuit, with unicorn toast. This is essentially cream cheese tinted with natural dyes from beet juice, freeze dried strawberry powder, turmeric root, chlorophyll, spirulina powder and freeze dried blueberry powder. Those little pots of fantasia, whimsically swirled on toast and garnished with star-cut vegetables, was innocent enough. Then Pinterest took over and things took a decidedly unnatural turn.

The trend must say something about a need for escapism (I am the Unicorn of Your Confidence, after all), or about the number of people on Pinterest with too much time on their hands. 

Whatever nefarious marketing ploy may be at the heart of this trend, one must concede that, throughout picnic season at least, rainbow colored food is a legit thing. If you want to bring your A Game to the table, you need to have unicorn food technology in your skill set.

A far safer, healthier, cheaper and more educational starting point—than ponying up $5 for 420 calories and 59 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 6 Krispy Kreme donuts and 22 Weight Watcher Points) for a Uni Frapp—are unicorn noodles. The basic recipe involves little expense and no fancy ingredients or techniques. As a bonus they involve a little bit of science. This is not Mentos in Diet Coke explosion excitement science, but acid (lemon juice) meets anthocyanin (cabbage mojo) color-changing science.

All you need to be trendy is some red cabbage, some lemon juice, and some clear rice noodles. (If you crave another white carb, make rainbow rice as featured in this unicorn sushi.) Once you have made the noodles, the challenge is finding something appealing to put on them. Peanut sauce? Not so pretty. Marinara? No grazie. Considering the lemon juice already at work, I went with olive oil, capers, parsley, salt and grated parmesan cheese (thank you Patti G!). Really any blanched or grated vegetables would work. Indigo Kitchen goes full Yellow Brick Road Technicolor and plates the noodles with every fresh vegetable and fun sauce on the planet, like this and this. I feel healthier and kind of magical just looking at these creations.

So here is the basic recipe, tightened up from Indigo Kitchen. If nothing else, just bring it to a friend’s house as a conversation starter. I mean really…unicorn side at the pot luck—you win!

Unicorn Noodles


  • Water
  • Chunk Red cabbage
  • lemon or lime juice
  • toppings, mix-ins, fairy dust, etc…


Boil some water (enough to hold the amount of noodles you want) with the red cabbage. The amount of water used and the time you soak the noodles will affect the shade of blue your noodles will be. Less water/longer steep time= deeper color.

Turn off the heat and add the noodles. You can use basic white or clear noodles, but glass/clear noodles will get you the prettiest shade.

Let the noodles soak for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how deep you want the color to be. Remove the noodles and place them in a bowl.


After. Rice noodles on left. Spaghetti on right. No contest really

Here comes the magic, and the chemistry lesson. Take a lime or lemon and squeeze some of the juice wherever you want it to be pink. Watch the noodles change color in front of your eyes. Hint: Bring the kids in here. Be a hero.

Purple cabbage has a pigment called anthocyanin, that changes color when it makes contact with something acidic or alkaline. When you cook a few pieces of purple cabbage for a short time in some water you’ll get a nice blue shade. Cook it for bit longer with a bit more purple cabbage for a nice purple shade. Add something acidic (lemon or lime juice) to the blue colored noodles and the pigment from the purple cabbage will react and take on a bright pink color.  It really happens. Try it! If you are not impressed, there’s always Starbucks.

Passing the Nina test. She is too nice to squawk.

Unicorn noodles: stars, mane and carrot horn for extra credit






Turmeric joins the party, lending yellow flair in unicorn land.

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Snow Day Lemon Mousse

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Light and fresh, like the snow we dream about!

This comes straight outta Steamboat, from Rocky Mountain Tania, who describes this lemon mousse as, “Amazing. Easy, light and such a counter balance to heavy winter food.”  Tania says she’s  embarrassed how much she makes this, but who in the world would be embarrassed by this thing of beauty?

The coolest thing about it is that it involves fresh snow. I just got back a trip west, where there is plenty of that, and I have high hopes that the return of cold temps to the east this week will bring some of the white stuff here as well. To all of you who are wishing for the opposite…C’mon man! Just give us one more month. Then we can all feel good about the meltdown.

Chilled Lemon Mousse

Adapted from Cook’s Magazine, with full photo, recipe and commentary credit to food and photo sensei Tania Coffey.

You will need:
A one quart soufflé dish (or any 1-1½ qt serving bowl)
A Kitchenaid with whipping attachment (or this recipe could be a real pain)
snow (or a good ice-maker) to put in a big bowl for chilling custard quickly


  • Juice from 3 lemons (1/2 cup)
  • Zest from one lemon (3 tsps)
  • 1 packet (1/4 oz) gelatin
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar divided*
  • 2 large egg yolks (3 small) plus 5 large egg whites at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp cornstarch
  • pinch cream of tarter
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream chilled
  • mint, raspberries or finely chopped pistachios for garnish


Leave eggs out for a couple of hours to bring to room temperature.
Zest one lemon
Add zest to the 1/2 cup of lemon juice and sprinkle pack of gelatin over juice.  Stir and set aside to soften.

Heat milk and 1/2 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves (5 min)
Meanwhile, whisk together the yolks, 2 Tablespoons sugar and the cornstarch in a medium-large bowl until pale yellow and thickened.
Whisking constantly slowly add the hot milk to the yolks (a rubber bottomed bowl is so great here so it doesn’t move while you are whisking and pouring).
Return the egg yolk-milk mixture to the pan and cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly until the foam dissipates to a thin layer and the mixture thickens to the consistency of heavy cream (185 on an instant read thermometer).  About 4 minutes. Do not over cook here or it will get lumpy or worse.

Pour the mixture into a medium-large bowl (I use the already dirty one) and add the lemon/gelatin mixture and stir.

Chilling’ in the snow. Sooooo cool!

Set the bowl in a larger bowl of snow (sorry, if you don’t have fresh snow ice water works well).  Stir occasionally to cool.

While the custard is chilling crank up the Kitchenaid with the whipping attachment.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tarter at medium speed until foamy (1 minute)
Increase speed to medium high.
*Add 2 Tablespoons of sugar (I usually skip this addition because I like the mousse super tangy not sweet) and beat until glossy and the whites hold soft peaks.
Don’t over beat.

Remove custard from snow/ice bath.
Gently whisk in one third of the egg whites.
Then fold in the remaining whites with a rubber spatula.

In the same mixer bowl (don’t bother cleaning it) beat the cream on medium high speed until soft peaks form when whisk is lifted (2-3 minutes).
Fold the cream into the custard/egg white mixture until no white streaks remain.

Pour into a 1 quart soufflé dish (or any 1 1/2 quart serving bowl).  Refrigerate.

For best texture chill for 1-2 hours

Garnish as desired. PS. This recipe makes you look like a pro—try it quickly!

Squaw Valley USA, a looooong way from meltdown.

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Morning Paper Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

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The oatmeal cookie lid: one of many ways to keep warm this winter.

One of the greatest sources for food and drink recipes is the Wall St Journal. Who knew? Really, cocktails are their sweet spot, but they have a sophisticated spin on pretty much everything. Consequently, you don’t find a lot of cookies there, but when you do, you know they’re going to be good.

These cookies delivered, and turn out to be somewhat addictive, even for someone who is not a huge oatmeal raisin fan. It may have been the overdose of cinnamon, or the salt, or the plumped up raisins. It probably had little to do with the oats, but you never know. They even passed the suspicious kid test. 

I waited a long time to post these because the recipe, when strictly followed, asks you to leave the dough in the fridge for four days. Four DAYS. This is really handy for those tough Monday afternoons when you say to yourself, “Boy I feel like a warm oatmeal cookie…on Friday.” Needless to say, I have made many batches of these, and it took until today to achieve the recommended four day incubation.

Was it worth the wait? I did indeed notice the flavor was even better than the young, unseasoned cookies. BUT they are also really good with a one day rest, and even a zero day rest. I will leave the waiting up to you.

A few notes here: The mixer with the paddle attachment is real, as is the extra large egg. This dough is pretty crumbly, so pro mixing and the extra bit of egg both help. If you only have large eggs, just beat up another one and add a bit of it in. Then have yourself a hearty ¾ egg omelet or cook it up and add it to your salad. Or, if you are not pathologically averse food waste (as I am), just put it down the drain.

On cookie size: The original calls for a ¼ cup scoop. Those are massive cookies. I prefer to make mine golf ball sized and smoosh them as suggested, with a bit of parchment paper.

On refrigerating: It says to scoop them first. If you don’t happen to have that kind of real estate in your fridge, refrigerate the batter in a bowl and scoop just before baking.

Finally, on cooking time: 14 minutes was about right for my normal sized cookies, but start checking them at 12. Err on the side of underdone and they will firm up a bit as they cool.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

From Adapted by the Wall St. Journal from Sadelle’s, New York City.
Active Time: 10-15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, plus 4 days for chilling dough
Makes: 14 massive cookies. Or wayyyy more normal sized ones.


  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (yes this is a lot, and it is key!)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1½ sticks slightly softened butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups old-fashioned or rolled oats
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Soak raisins in hot water for 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down frequently. Take care not to overbeat.
  4. Add flour mixture to creamed butter and sugar and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in oats, followed by drained raisins, egg and vanilla.
  5. Use a ¼-cup measure to scoop dough onto a parchment-paper lined baking sheet. (See note above. Golf ball sized makes a regular-sized cookie.) Flatten each blob with base of measuring cup or your hand and a square of parchment paper. Cover baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 days (optional).
  6. To bake cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake until cookies are golden-brown on the outside but still soft in the middle, about 17 minutes (12-14 for smaller cookies). Remove from oven and let rest on baking sheet a few minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool.

A whole plate of yum, looking a little funky with a filter.


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Inner Beauty Oven Fried Chicken

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Yes I am self conscious about my thighs. But I love them just the same.

Confession: I’ve been wanting to share this recipe for a long time, but it wasn’t pretty enough. Just try to make fried chicken look appealing without a food stylist and studio lighting. If you succeed, let me know!

Let’s not let looks get in the way of substance because this, my friends, is a recipe you need to know…especially with Super Bowl, ski lodge lunch and après ski snack season upon us. (It will be equally useful for summer picnics, but we’re staying on message. And PS, see some Super Bowl recipe ideas way below.)

This recipe, by way of Food52, takes totally simple ingredients, and only asks that you adhere to an equally simple but all-important method:

 You brine it, you pat it, you coat it, you shake it hard and you bake it…in a hot oven on a hot roasting pan glistening with just enough melted butter. Oh, and you flip it. Because, you know, “chestnut golden brown” on only one side is just mean.

 My chicken took longer than 40 minutes for the first side to brown up, so use your good judgment on that. AND for max browning and crispiness be sure to use a metal roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet that gives each piece of chicken its space. I did some test pieces in a ceramic baking dish and they were not A-Team material.

 This totally passed the man test, the boy test, the boy-man test, the leftover test, the hot from the oven and cold from the fridge test, and the straight outta Tupperware in the lodge test. Be beautiful inside and out: Make this chicken!

Serves 4, or 3 big eaters

Provenance: From Food52 and Judy Hesser, whose daughter Amanda included it in her book Cooking for Mr Latte .


  • 3 tablespoons sea salt (divided, plus more for serving)
  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (as good as you can get)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (plus more for serving)
  • Optional: grated Parmesan cheese and grated fresh lemon zest (I have not yet tried this variation but it looks awesome)


  1. In the morning, combine 2 tablespoons salt and about a cup of warm water in a large bowl or container. Stir to dissolve the salt. Trim the chicken of excess skin and fat. Add the chicken to the bowl. Cover with very cold water and add a tray of ice cubes. Swish around with your hand to disperse them. Chill in the refrigerator until dinner time.
  2. Preheat your oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the chicken from the fridge and pat dry completely with paper towels (you can lay them on a clean dish towel to get off a lot of the moisture). Put the butter in a roasting pan large enough to fit the chicken in one layer (if you crowd them, they will stew vs. crisp). Place the pan in the oven. In a 1-gallon freezer bag, pour in the flour, remaining 1 tablespoon salt and pepper (along with the parm and lemon zest if you are using.) Give it a good shake. Add the chicken pieces two at a time and shake them until thoroughly coated. As you lift them out of the bag, shake them off vigorously. This is vital. You do not want a gummy coating. Line them up on a plate, and repeat with the rest.
  3. Lay the chicken pieces in the roasting pan, skin side down, and oven-fry until a chestnut brown and crisp on the bottom, about 40 minutes (sometimes it takes as long as an hour). Don’t flip them until this happens. Use a thin spatula to scrape them up off the pan and turn them; cook the other side until the bottom is browned, which will take less time, around 20 minutes. Remove the pieces from the oven as they finish cooking, and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Just before serving, grind fresh pepper over top and sprinkle lightly with sea salt.


And speaking of the Super Bowl…If you need some ideas for how to prep for your couch or wherever you are headed, you might want to consider Crock Pot Chicken Taco Chili (so easy and feeds a crowd), Peoples Choice Corn Bread (not so easy but so worth it. You WILL be the halftime star). Game Day Wings, because, WINGS, Buffalo Chicken Meatballs because HOT SAUCE and potato bites because TATERZZZ! For some healthy snacking get your Hail Mary Coconut, your Nootch Popcorn and your Party Time Hummus on. Have a great weekend all!

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Cauliflower and Pear Soup

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My Dad’s favorite soup was vichyssoise, which is French for a cream, leek and mashed potatoes milkshake. While vichyssoise is delicious, I always feel a little guilty having a day’s worth of calories in a cup. It’s also traditionally served cold, which makes it a tough sell in winter. This soup, from Food52, reminds me of Vichyssoise in its creamy texture and in its potato/leek provenance. It is, however, downright healthy and served hot—key features for all food in January.

The addition of pears here is all upside, especially if you need a way to use up any Christmas pears. By the way, if you happen to have that problem, I’ll be right over! It also cooks in one pot. And that’s not all…it can easily be Veganized by replacing the butter with your fat of choice, and using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Swirl in some cream if you need a hug.

Cauliflower and Pear Soup
Serves 4 to 6


  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 large leek, white and light green parts, chopped
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, green leaves and trunk removed, florets chopped
  • 2 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large or 2 small pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 5 leaves fresh sage (or about 2 tsp chopped), plus more for garnish, if desired
  • 1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 5 to 6 cups chicken stock
  • kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 tsp sherry vinegar, or to taste (champagne vinegar also works well)
  • 2-3 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)

For Serving:


  1. Heat the oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leek and shallot, and cook until they are soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the cauliflower, potato, pear, sage, and thyme, stirring to thoroughly coat them with the oil and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently, another 8 to 10 minutes. (if your pot is pretty full it may take quite a bit longer. Be loose and go with your instincts here). You’re aiming for a little caramelization around the edges for depth of flavor.
  3. Add 5 cups chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, lower heat to just maintain the simmer, and cook until all of the ingredients are very tender, about 30 minutes.
  4. With an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the soup until it’s smooth. If using a blender, you may need to do this step in batches, then return to pot. You’re looking for a smooth, velvety texture, so take your time to blend thoroughly. Thin with more chicken stock, if needed, until you reach desired consistency.
  5. Season to taste with vinegar, maple syrup if desired (when would it not be?) and salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls, with garnish of choice

The experts say you should serve this with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. Who am I to argue? And in case you wondered, it’s darned good cold as well. Buck would approve!

Winter’s back. Stay warm out there!

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Salted Peanut Butter Cookies: Gluten-Free and Mini-Mart Sourced

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Gluten-free, marmot approved.

Gluten-free, marmot approved

Here’s a hypothetical situation. It’s Christmas Eve, you gave away all your homemade cookies (if you happen to have made them in the first place), and you just found out Santa (or a guest) is gluten-free. There’s no way you’re going to the grocery store for special ingredients but you may be able to pull off a mini mart run. What if all that happened? What would you do?

You would make these cookies.  These are barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen who got them from the Ovenly cookbook. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Here’s hoping you don’t need these tonight, and you stay clear of mini marts, but in case of emergency, you’re covered. Have a good one all, enjoy your people, and see you on the other side!

Salted Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield 26 to 28 cookies with a 1 2/3 tablespoon or #40 scoop.

  • 1 3/4 cups (335 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups (450 grams) smooth peanut butter (see note at end)
  • 1 cup (or so) of your favorite chocolate chips (optional)
  • Coarse-grained sea salt, to finish

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the light brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Whisk in the vanilla extract, then the peanut butter until smooth and completely incorporated; you shouldn’t be able to see any ribbons of peanut butter. Stir in chocolate chips, if desired.

Scoop or spoon the dough into balls — from a heaping Tablespoon to monster 1/4 cup sized. Place on prepared pan. For the tallest final shape, place the tray in the freezer for 15 minutes before baking.

Sprinkle the dough balls lightly with coarse-grained sea salt just before baking. Bake smaller cookies for 14 to 15 minutes and larger for 18 to 20. When finished, cookies should be golden at edges. They’ll need to set on the sheet for a minute or two before they can be lifted intact to a cooling sheet. With any luck Santa hits your house late enough to let them cool completely so the crispy outside/soft inside thing can really happen. 

Do ahead: You can make the dough in advance and either refrigerate it for a couple days or scoop out the cookies, freeze them, then bake them right from the freezer.

About chilling the dough: You can scoop and bake the cookies right away, but they keep their shape better if you chill them in the freezer for 15 minutes first.

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Spicy Rosemary Maple Nuts

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Nuts. Straight up. This is my fantasy.

It’s here people. Crunch time. This is your week to bake or cook your way out of small gift madness.  Let’s review some options: We have, of course, the standby Crackle, and the more grown up Guinness and dark chocolate version. We have easy as pie (crust) cookies and jars of salted caramel cholliesauce or honey thyme walnuts. And speaking of nuts…we now also have an updated riff on sweet and savory roasted nuts.

Sadly, I have no kill switch when it comes to sweet and spicy roasted nuts. Until now the men in my house have allowed me to make them, give them and sample (hoard) them with no interference. This year, however, when I made these for Thanksgiving they disappeared before they were cool enough to hide. Either the locals’ tastes have evolved or this recipe is just that good.  It calls for fresh rosemary, maple syrup and cayenne—standard issue stuff amongst us nut fans. What takes them over the edge is the amount of rosemary (lots) added both before and after baking. Oh, and flaky sea salt. No secrets here.

They’re sweet but not too sweet, and have enough heat to get your attention but not in a scary way. Best of all, there are no egg whites or other fussy things involved. Yes, those are angels singing. You’ve got to get fresh rosemary—I’m not letting you off the hook there—but you can use a mix of whatever raw nuts strike your fancy. Pictured is the full walnut monty, but a mix with pecans, almonds and/or cashews is divine. Love the one you’re with, baby.

Make a lot so you don’t have to be stingy with your family. It’s so close to Christmas and all.

Spicy Rosemary Maple Nuts

From Kitchen Konfidence


  • 1 pound unsalted mixed nuts (cashews, walnuts and almonds are delish)
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. In a large bowl, toss mixed nuts with melted butter and maple syrup. Add 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, dark brown sugar, cayenne pepper and 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, mixing until the nuts are well coated . Spread nuts out onto a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until glazed and golden (about 18 – 20 minutes), stirring twice during the cooking process.*
  2. As soon as the nuts come out of the oven, season with an additional 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, and flaky sea salt to taste (I added an additional 3/4 teaspoon). Serve warm immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.


  • Set the timer and If your oven runs hot, be sure to check the nuts a bit early. Nuts can turn on you and go from golden to bitter if you ignore them.

Up next: What if you find out Santa is gluten free….and you only have access to a mini mart? Got ya covered.




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Slippery Slope Ginger Beer Margaritas

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       Just add ice…and cranberries. ‘Tis the season to winterize your drinks. I’m here to help.

Watch your step. Holiday season snuck right up on us again. Just as we stood up from prying the squirrel-nibbled pumpkins off the patio, the holidays were staring us straight in the face. From here on it’s a slippery slope of parties, visitors, events and hastily concocted reasons to gather right through January 2. Are you ready? Do you need a drink? This could help.

Let’s ease into this transition by taking a summer standby and winterizing it. Meet the ginger beer margarita. I stumbled across this while going down the Internet rabbit hole in pursuit of butternut squash tacos. Did I mention the slippery slope? After some exhaustive testing of ginger beers, following the comments on Minimalist Baker, I can definitely recommend the lighter ones like Fever Tree. It IS a margarita after all.

These are the easiest drinks in the world to make. You can get fancy and line the rim with lime juice and salt, or you can a just make the darned drinks. You can stir the ingredients together in a cocktail shaker with ice and strain, as directed, or you can just stir them up up in a pitcher, and pour over ice in each glass giving each drink another good stir. Just save yourself the anxiety and the outfit change and DO NOT shake them in a cocktail shaker. Remember the volcano experiment in 2nd grade? Yep.

A quick brush up on simple syrup: Combine equal parts sugar and water. Stir to dissolve sugar, heat to boiling, and let cool. Keep some stored in your fridge at all times, in case of emergency.

The best part about this drink, from a social perspective, is that you can easily bring the parts and assemble on site, AND the ginger beer makes a festive non-alcoholic drink as well (see top picture). For more ideas you can always revisit these fine drinks from last year.

The contenders. It wasn't really exhaustive, but it was a Wednesday

        The contenders. OK,  it wasn’t really exhaustive, but it was a Wednesday evening. Points for that.

Ginger Beer Margaritas

From Minimalist Baker, and adapted for high volume


Single serving version

  • 1.5 ounces (3 Tablespoons) 100% agave tequila
  • 1 ounce (2 Tbsp) fresh lime juice
  • 3 ounces (6 Tbsp) ginger beer (Fever Tree regular or light are awesome)
  • .5 ounce (1 Tbsp) simple syrup
  • Coarse salt for lining rim (also optional and fancy)

Team player version, for four

  • ¾ cup tequila
  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1 ½ cups ginger beer
  • 4 Tbsp simple syrup
  • coarse salt


  1. If you’re feeling fancy, Line a small serving glass with fresh lime juice and dip in coarse salt
  2. Add tequila, simple syrup, ginger beer and lime juice to a large glass (single serve) or cocktail shaker (let’s not drink alone) with lots of ice and stir vigorously. Don’t shake with a lid on!
  3. Pour liquid (reserving ice) into serving glass with a few ice cubes Garnish with a lime wedge and serve immediately. Repeat for more drinks, or double/triple the amounts for more people.

What to do with your leftover ginger beer, once you have settled in on “the one.” Here’s an idea. Pour it over these cranberry rosemary ice cubes that you made for Cran-rosemary prosecco punch, which is basically equal parts prosecco and white cranberry juice, a splash of bitters and these fancy ice cubes.  The fancy ice cubes also winterize the flavored seltzer you can’t help from buying on every trip to the store. Did I mention it’s a slippery slope?

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Of Empty Nests and Butternut Squash

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butt-pizzaSometimes—most times really—I’m not the quickest to pick up on the obvious. When I was wondering why it had been so hard to get inspired for fall a post I looked within, to all manner of character flaws, for an explanation. It took a friend in the grocery store, mocking the paltry contents of my grocery cart to make it obvious. I no longer have two of my biggest, loudest, stinkiest, most wonderful reasons to cook. If, like me, you are slow to notice signs here some dead giveaways.

You might be an empty nester if:

  • You no longer park near the cart collection stands at the grocery store.
  • You buy milk in half gallons, then quarts, and still wonder if it’s gone bad.
  • You put everything you can imagine needing into your cart and it still costs less than $50.
  • Your ice cream has freezer burn.
  • You actually pay attention to special diets, and try to accommodate them.

This last point is what today’s post is about. Well, that and butternut squash, my food champion of fall. (Let’s remember squash on toast, sugar and spice soup and Halloween Soup and on and on in the butternut/kabocha hall of fame.) The empty nest is suddenly available for visitors, which is awesome, and they bring with them special diets. At one point recently three guests joked that one was gluten free, one was sugar free and one was calorie free. Guest Number 4 was Vegan. This all worked because a: They all had a sense of humor and adventure, and b: I had time to care (see above).

In my quest as a Vegan sympathizer I’ve tried a lot of things recently. I’ve tried to make both cheese and pizza crust out of cauliflower. No and no. I’ve made Reuben sandwiches out of seitan, a thousand times NO. I’ve also found some reasonably good stuff like grain-free carrot bread, and mayonnaise made with chickpeas. And, with much inspiration from Minimalist Baker and other sites, I’ve made some unbelievable stuff, like butternut squash pizza, the key ingredients of which I share below.

It’s been a fun experiment, and I like being able to find things that can broaden my own food horizons and make people on special diets happy. That said, life is about finding the right balance. When I asked my husband if he was game to try black bean sweet potato burgers for dinner, he merely went to the freezer, removed a steak and thunked it on the counter. Know your audience, people, and enjoy whoever is in your nest.

Butternut Squash Sauce

From the Minimalist Baker, with amounts adjusted


Also makes a mean pizzadilla, on a corn tortilla procured by the Vegan for the gluten-free girl.


For every cup of cubed butternut squash you will need:

  • 2 tsp olive oil ( 1 tsp oil for roasting and another tsp for adding to the sauce)
  • 1 garlic clove, whole, skin removed
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • a pinch of salt and pepper.

Keep in mind 1 Tbsp is 3 tsp. Sooooo, math whiz that I am, for 3 cups squash you will need 1 Tbsp of oil for roasting, and another Tbsp oil to add to the sauce, and 1 Tbsp maple syrup. A baking sheet easily holds 4 cups, so amp up ingredients if you’ve got the squash.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven.

Add cubed butternut squash and peeled garlic cloves to a baking sheet and drizzle with half total olive oil and a pinch each salt and pepper. Toss to combine.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until all squash is fork tender.

Transfer squash and garlic to a blender or food processor with remaining olive oil and maple syrup. Purée until creamy and smooth, adding more olive oil or a touch of water if it’s too thick. The consistency should be creamy and spreadable (not pourable). Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Use sauce as you would pizza sauce, topping it with your desired cheese and toppings and baking the pizza at 425. Make a great Pizzadilla as well, as evidenced on the fine corn tortilla pictured above.


Old fall favorites and some new ones

Vegan Parmesan Cheese

Also from Minimalist Baker

This is surprisingly good. As with any imposters, better to think of it as its own thing. (I’m looking at you, black bean “brownies”). It’s sort of a weird craving now. Like I needed another.


  • 3/4 cup (90 g) raw cashews (try raw slivered almonds or brazil nuts too)
  • 3 Tbsp (9 g) nutritional yeast
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder


Add all ingredients to a food processor and mix/pulse until a fine meal is achieved. Store in the refrigerator to keep fresh. Lasts for several weeks.

But that’s not all! Some bonus fall accessories:

Tahini Miso Sauce

If you don’t have miso in your fridge, do yourself a favor and get some. Merely figuring out how to use it up you will take you on a flavor adventure. Toss this sauce with pretty much anything roasted, but especially cauliflower, brussels sprouts, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, etc, etc.


  • 2 Tbsp. tahini
  • 1 Tbsp. white miso
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • optional: grated fresh ginger, pinch of red pepper flakes, splash of Tamari. Do experiment here!

Whisk or stir all ingredients, adding enough water, a spoonful at a time, to make a smooth sauce.

Fried Sage Leaves

Put them on anything for fall goodness


  • Olive oil
  • Fresh sage leaves, twice as much as you think you want
  • Coarse salt


Heat oil in a pan. Fry sage leaves 6 or so at a time until crisp. Remove to a paper towel with slotted spoon and sprinkle with salt. Repeat until you have enough to actually share with others.


Fried sage next to the very best Vitamin C!



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California Dreamin’: Pickled Grapes and other Weird Things

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Pickled grapes, accessorized for fall.

Pickled grapes, accessorized for fall.

Well hello fall! I’m not sure how we got from frosé season to apple season so fast, but here we are. Have we all fit an unreasonable amount of fresh corn and tomatoes into our diets these past few weeks? And rescued every last watermelon from the cardboard bins? If so, good job. If not, there’s still time…but barely!

I’m just back from a long trip to Cali, and it of course involved lots of weird food. Why even go to California if you’re not going to dive all in? My weird food fest got rolling at Jack London Square in Oakland, first at a vegetarian restaurant with a mushroom pecan pate that still haunts me in the best way, and then at an event called Eat Real. Very groovy indeed. Super tart, super strong Red Branch hard cherry cider kicked it off. Fabulous street eats ensued, including sesame peanut zucchini salad with furikake…Damn! So good and so fun to say. The miso sesame muffin from Berkeley’s own Sam’s Patisserie wrapped it all up with an oddly addictive bow.

A beer drinker's decision tree. Takes the pressure off.

A beer drinker’s decision tree at Eat Real.

From there I went south, for pink pepperberry gin and tonics in Santa Monica, Tuna poke and tamales in Pasadena, and then—because you’ve got to be on your A game of weirdness in Topanga—rosemary-brined grapes and basil pickled cantaloupe.

Today, I’m bringing you the grapes, because they are stupid easy and crazy good. Plus, they are red and green and would be a perfect offering for any holiday feast. Make them now, try them in a week or so, and if you like them you’ll have plenty of time to go into production. So, let’s not be sad as we let summer and linen and the quest for perfect toenail color drift away. There are apples to be eaten, pies to be baked and ciders of all potencies to be quaffed.

This comes straight from the Wall St. Journal food section, which is awesome. Read the article for other pickled fruit recipes, including cantaloupe. And if there’s a deal on grapes just make a ton. As the article instructs, their flavors improve after about a week, and they’ll keep in the fridge for months… unless I come over.

Pickled Grapes

Adapted from “The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern” by Ted and Matt Lee

Active time: 15 minutes Total time: 45 minutes Makes: 1 pint

  • 2 cups seedless red and/or green grapes (about 10 ounces)
  • ¾ cup distilled white or white wine vinegar
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 small cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Leaves from 1 (2-inch) sprig rosemary
  • ⅛ teaspoon dried red chili flakes
  1. Pack grapes into a glass jar or airtight plastic container. Pour vinegar and water into a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add salt, sugar, garlic, rosemary and chili flakes. Bring to a simmer and cook 1 minute.
  2. Remove pan from heat and pour brine over grapes to fill container. Strain remaining brine into a measuring cup (you should have a little less than ½ cup left over) and reserve for making butter lettuce salad with pickled grapes, toasted pecans and soft goat cheese (recipe below). Transfer any garlic, rosemary and chili flakes remaining in strainer to container with grapes.
  3. Cover container tightly, shake to distribute seasonings, uncover and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover again, and transfer container to refrigerator to chill further, about 15 minutes more.
Among the least weird things in Topanga

Among the least weird things in Topanga


Straight up awesomeness in the East Bay



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