Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

I recall hearing an interview with billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said that if he could choose his last meal on earth, it would be a Skippy Super Chunk Peanut Butter sandwich with nearly burnt bacon and overripe bananas.

Mr. Bloomberg and I share so much in common!  Well, except for the fact that he's really powerful and rich so I get kind of excited when my favorite brand of Greek yogurt (Fage) is on sale at the supermarket.

I have a distinct memory of eating my first peanut butter and banana sandwich.  I was reading a children's detective novel and the protagonists were going on an Adventure tracking down the Bad Guys at a zoo. The kids needed to be fortified for dueling with the enemy, so they packed peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which could apparently protect you against all harm.  I asked my mother to make me one for lunch, and she seemed pleasantly surprised.  "That was one of my favorite sandwiches, growing up," she remarked. As with all my sandwiches, she made the sandwich on soft, Grossinger's rye bread.  Miraculously, the banana was of the perfect consistency, and I was hooked.  I never liked the rye bread she used with pbjs, but it was more palatable with the banana and peanut butter.

My mom joined me in a pbb and we ate the sandwiches playing gin rummy, one of our favorite pastimes.  We never fought playing cards. I sat under a tent I had made with chairs and sheets, part of the 'set' I had designed to enact scenes from another of my favorite novels.

At the time, I had no idea that peanut butter was considered to be the food of the poor, versus roast beef.

Although from age eleven or so onward, my mother would raise me as a 'single mom,' and we weren't rich, I don't ever recall being told I couldn't have a particular food item because it was too expensive. Probably because my mother grew up very poor and didn't like to deny me food for economic reasons (telling me that I couldn't have something because it was junk, on the other hand, she was more than happy to to do).

However, it might also have been linked to the fact that so many of the foods I loved at the time--sugar, peanut butter, and French fries--were pretty cheap. I recall eating prime rib, when it was ordered for me, and my mother disdained parents who ordered their kids 'chopped sirloin' from the children's menu, but as long as something was strongly flavored and full of fatty, sweet deliciousness, I wasn't too picky.

These muffins are incredibly cheap, and 'accidentally' vegan. (Because of their cheapness they are alas, totally not hipster).  No eggs or butter. Just bananas, peanut butter, and some other staple pantry ingredients. However, they have a rich and decadent quality that transcends their price.

Of course, if you are a billionaire, you can eat them on a silver serving tray on a night when the hired help has a day off. And if you are note a vegan you can eat them with bacon on the side.  Or a bacon, peanut butter, and banana sandwich, if so inclined.

I should include a little obligatory note about how I had these black bananas just BEGGING to be made into banana bread or muffins, but I didn't.  I couldn't even find black bananas at the grocery store, so I bought some 'regular' ones and used this handy trick--to 'force' bananas into a quick bread-worthy consistency, bake them in the oven at 350 for 15 minutes until they turn black.  You can do so while assembling your ingredients for the muffins.

Vegan Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

--makes 12 muffins--


4 black bananas
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup boiling water

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional--the peanut butter I used in this bread had salt, so I omitted it)
1 teaspoon cinnamon


1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line or grease muffin tins.
2. Mash bananas with the oil, peanut butter, and boiling water
3. Sift sugars, flour, baking soda and baking powder, and spices.  Gradually spoon into banana mixture.
4. Pour batter into muffin tins. Bake for approximately 30-35 minutes until a toothpick can be extracted clean)
5. Cool for five minutes. Remove from muffin tin and glaze, if desired.

Peanut butter glaze


2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
2-4 tablespoons water


Add 1 tablespoon of water to the sugar, followed by the peanut butter.  Slowly add more water until the glaze reaches the desired consistency.  Pour over the cooling muffins.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Touching my food: Jam Thumbprint Cookies

There is a reason for the slightly rustic appearance of these cookies--I was experimenting with the critical jam-to-cookie ratio in my thumbprints. Actually, this whole recipe was a bit of an experiment.  I noticed a intriguingly easy recipe with only four ingredients for jam thumbprints and was inspired. I had all of the ingredients in my pantry, including some particularly lovely homemade ginger plum jam I'd been given at Christmas.  I was suspicious that the recipe called for only four tablespoons of butter, but I dug in...

Needless to say, the dough never came together.  However, with a great deal of tinkering, I was able to produce the final result, which I was happy with--and after all, unlike, say, chocolate chip cookies or brownies, there is no paradigmatic recipe for jam thumbprints, from which all variations are merely rifts on a theme.

The irregular spots of plum jam on the photo you see above would drive my friend crazy.  A devoted canner and preserver as well as a baker and cook, she's the type of person whose meatballs and cookies are always the same size.

Next time I'll do better with my jammin'--funnily enough, I often frustrate people with my inconsistently obsessive temperament, and I have for years.  I'm sloppy about dusting, but heaven forbid if you're late to the theater with me.  I know that the ideal woman should be infinitely patient about the foibles of others, yet also be so devoted to cleaning she can't go to bed without vacuuming something.

Even with food, my OCD is unpredictable.  As a kid, I loved provolone cheese, liverwurst, and pimento-stuffed olives.  But I ate my food in a particular order, one item at a time.  You'd never catch me putting french fries on my burger with my Happy Meal.  And pasta?  Once I sent back a bowl of buttered pasta, got some with sauce, sent that back, and then picked at the buttered stuff, which I now pronounced hard and gross.

Truth be told, I don't ever remember being hungry as a kid, and always felt slightly stuffed by my parent's attempts to get me to eat the food they thought I should eat, while I was trying to leave room for dessert--I was the annoying little girl who would get up a million times during dinner, even when eating outdoors, to look at the salamanders sunning themselves on the sidewalk, rather than eat.  It's amazing I wasn't thinner, but the fact that I never met a dessert at the period of my life that I couldn't demolish is probably why.  That and fried clams, pizza, and Chicken McNuggets.

These cookies can be made, baked, and consumed dangerously quickly, so probably you should put more care into apportioning the jam, simply to prolong the process.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies


 --makes 10-12 large, 12-15 average-sized cookies--

1 stick (1/2 cup) of very soft butter (I used salted, since the original recipe had not salt in it at all.  You could use unsalted 'plain,' or add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to an unsalted butter if desired)
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
2/3 cup flour
1 tablespoon of powdered sugar
3 tablespoons (approximately) of a tart or strongly-flavored jam (plum, cherry, or apricot)


1. Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cream butter and sugar together . Slowly spoon in the flour and incorporate it until a dough is formed.
3. Use a cookie scoop to make small balls, then roll in the powdered sugar.
4. Make small depressions with the back of a wooden dowel, then slightly enlarge the depressions with your thumb.  Wash your hands first.
5. Fill each depression with 1/2 teaspoon (approximate) with jam.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Cookies will be very, very slightly brown around the edges.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Stuffed Cornish Hen with Lemon: Disengaged Chicken

One of the most famous chicken recipes of all time is Marcella Hazan’s Chicken with Two Lemons. There are many good reasons for its popularity--its ease, its lack of hard-to-find ingredients, its healthiness (it's carb-free and has no added sugars), and its accessible flavors. But that's not why it's famous.  It's because the recipe is also known as 'Engagement Chicken.'  According to Glamour Magazine: 

It all began 26 years ago, when then-Glamour fashion editor Kim Bonnell gave the recipe to her assistant, Kathy Suder, who made the chicken for her boyfriend, who, a month later, asked her to marry him. “It’s a meal your wife would make. It got me thinking,” says Jon Suder, who now has three children with Kathy. Details of the simple dish passed from assistant to assistant like a culinary chain letter. When Bonnell heard that her recipe had inspired three weddings, she dubbed it Engagement Chicken.  

Supposedly, more than 70 confirmed marriages have been attributed to this chicken at Glamour alone and untold numbers elsewhere. Even Howard Stern, for heaven's sake, was roped into proposing after eating this chicken.

If you apply a scientific mindset to analyzing the power of this recipe, it's easy to see why preparing roast chicken and proposing are linked--correlation, not causation. If you're just in the courting phase with a guy, you're making him a steak. Tacos. Mac n' Cheese.  Dude food. Or if he's a food snob (heaven help you), beef bourguignon. But when you're making something simple,  that you probably want to eat yourself, that tastes good accompanied with healthy veggies, then something serious is going on.

Be forewarned, however, according to the comments on Glamour's website, the recipe isn't foolproof. One commentator wrote

i made the chicken in May....but it backfired. We broke up on the 20th and can't seem to get back to where we were. :( apparently my cooking is terrible, lol.

As for me?  Well, truth be told, I'm the loner type, not the marrying type.  I'm pretty set in my ways, and even as a kid, my dolls were more inclined to go on Adventures than to play Bride. I once said I would only consider marriage if I were wealthy enough that my husband and I could have separate houses, including separate bathrooms.  I like people, but I have enough self-knowledge to know that I need a lot of time alone to think, write, and pursue my various hobbies.

However, I hasten to add that I have many married friends and have tremendous respect for people who make their partnership 'work.'  Although, I have never really understood people who pine to 'get married' when they aren't dating someone.  I totally 'get' my friends who have been dating for x number of years and want to marry, but a few acquaintances and relatives have irritated me when they don't even have boyfriends and say that they are 'ready.' I guess I think of marriage, with the authority of the non-married, as being a relationship you have with a particular guy, rather than a love affair with the institution in general.  Which shows how screwed up I am, because I do understand when someone says they want a dog, cat, or horse, even though they haven't picked out the animal yet. 

Anyway, rather than cooking a full chicken, and noting that free-range, organic Cornish hens were on sale, I decided to create my own scaled-down version of Chicken with Two Lemons or Engagement Chicken--friends, I present to you Cornish Hen with One Lemon.  Because nothing says 'single gal' like roasting a Cornish hen for yourself--it's great for a small dinner, with leftovers for lunch, and adorable, too.  It's wonderful to double for a small dinner party, if you have a friend over who you like very much, but not enough to actually want to share a chicken with as a meal.  Think of this as a 'friends with benefits' version of Engagement Chicken, or 'I love you, but not enough to touch hands with you after they have been picking at a chicken' or 'what to make if you're a gay guy, and don't want to give your best female friend the wrong idea.'

Stuffed Cornish Hen with Lemon: Disengaged Chicken


One Cornish hen
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
Sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Pat the Cornish hen dry, remove giblets. Salt and pepper outside and inside.  Slice the lemon in quarters. Squeeze lemon juice all over the chicken, inside and out.  Stuff with the cut-up lemon slices.

2. Place in oven breast-side down.  Reduce temperature to 350F. Roast 15 minutes.  Flip breast-side up.  Cook approximately 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes, until juices run clear or the meat thermometer reads 180F. (Cornish hens should be cooked approximately 1 hour, 1 hour 15 minutes if stuffed, as in this instance). Serve with fresh thyme sprigs, if desired.

The lemon juices blackened at the bottom of the pan, but the Cornish hen was tasty!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Spicy Roast Cauliflower with Greek Yogurt


Originality is overrated.  I learned that in grad school. Shakespeare, the greatest writer who ever lived, cribbed 90 percent (or more) of his plots from myth, folklore, and history. It's the execution that makes something brilliant.

This is also true of food. The greatest test of any true chef is making a perfect omelet or roast chicken. 

Still, every now and then, I become entranced with eating a slightly weird combination of foods that I usually don't post on this blog.  I tend not to think of those recipes as original, or the culinary equivalent of Cubism in the 20th century...rather I tend to think of them as the food equivalent of 'outsider art.'  Maybe creative.  Maybe insane. Not for everyone.
Source: Wikipedia

For a couple of months, my favorite 'weird food creation' has been crispy roasted cauliflower paired with full-fat or 2 percent-fat Greek Fage yogurt.  Most people I know eat  yogurt in a sweet format.  However, I've been trying to cut down on the sugar that I eat, so I switched to eating yogurt with vegetables rather than fruit.

Then, I heard noted food writer Melissa Clark promoting her new book on WNYC, my local NPR station.  Much to my chagrin, I learned that one of her new recipes was based on the same concept--the textual contrast between crunchy roasted cauliflower and ultra-creamy, fatty yogurt.

"That idea is mine!  Mine!" I shrieked, with all of the outrage of my childhood heroine Ramona Quimby when she learned that the evil, perfect blonde girl with the bong-bong curls had copied HER image of an owl wearing glasses onto her paper bag in art class.

Okay, Melissa's recipe was a leeetle different than mine. Melissa roasted her cauliflower with cumin and topped the Greek yogurt with chopped mint and pomegranate seeds.  I decided to come up with my own spicy version, with the ingredients I had on hand.

However, even if you aren't a fan of Indian spices, I urge you to try this recipe.  Leave off both the curry powder I suggest and the dried mustard, and just roast the cauliflower with olive oil and some fresh sprigs of thyme.

This is a healthy yet decadent-tasting main course when you make it with full-fat yogurt.  Don't bother with the fat-free stuff, although 2 percent Fage isn't bad, if you're really atoning for post-holiday indulgences. Incidentally, I also 'dry' roast cauliflower without oil, if you really want to tighten up the calorie quotient on this dish, which is already pretty minimal.

Spicy Roast Cauliflower with Greek Yogurt

 --serves 2--


1 very large head of cauliflower, cut into florets
1-3 tablespoons of olive oil (enough to coat the cauliflower lightly)
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 1/2 cups (more or less, depending on your level of hunger) full-fat or 2 percent Greek yogurt
Paprika and more salt, to taste


1. Preheat the oven to 430F.  Toss the cauliflower with the olive oil on a large baking sheet, lightly coating the vegetable.
2. Sift the curry powder, salt, and dried mustard together and sprinkle evenly over the cauliflower.
3. Roast until crispy for 20-35 minutes (cooking time will depend upon the toughness and size of the vegetable and your preference).
4. Serve warm topped with dollops of Greek yogurt.  Sprinkle paprika and salt on top of the yogurt, if desired.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Cereal Personality Test

With the next post I'll return to my normal, semi-serious self. Right now, I'm eating lots of steamed veggies, Greek yogurt, roasted chicken, and salty nuts (girl's gotta live, ya know) and taking a brief baking hiatus.  So, until then, I leave you with another food personality test. (Before reading, remember to insert tongue firmly in cheek and adhere it to the side of your mouth with peanut butter and take my peanut butter personality test, if you haven't already).

What was your cereal personality as a kid?

Directions:  Ask yourself, what was your FAVORITE cereal as a kid?  Not the one you ate the most, but the one which you begged for incessantly as a child.  I can't make an exhaustive list of every cereal ever created, but of these, which one resembles your favorite the closest?

You were a worried, nervous kid.  You weren't picked on a lot, you were kind of in the background and were afraid of becoming the kid who was picked on, like Jill in Judy Blume's Blubber. You were never overweight, but had a limited array of kid comfort foods you liked growing up, like McDonald's hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and French fries. You have the occasional, fleeting suspicion that you aren't a fascinating person.  You may have a Kleenex stashed in your sleeve right now.  You had allergies growing up. If you were a little bit crazy and liked Honey Nut Cheerios, you may have done something wild, like getting a PhD in French literature, but people still don't like to be around you when you start talking about one of your 'favorite subjects.'
Rice Krispies
You were a sensitive, artistic and wounded soul.  You were thin and liked to draw as a kid, growing up.  You ate lots of fruit, including the fruit in your cereal. You may have had some food issues and did stuff like bring peanut butter and saltines to a video game party in the 80s, because you didn't like pizza. You may be a vegetarian now, or at least you don't like meat that much and prefer sushi. Your intellectual bent is shown in the illustration--Rice Krispies always had pretty crappy prizes, but then again, you could make dessert out of it.
Lucky Charms
Everyone knows that Lucky Charms is simply an excuse to eat candy for breakfast. You have serious self-control issues around food. You probably did some kind of illegal drug in college. You're probably an investment banker or work in sales.  You drink a lot of coffee and eat fast food but you're spazzing out so much all the time it probably doesn't make you fat.  You still eat this stuff, but with skim rather than whole milk.
Corn Flakes
You're probably older than the average person reading this quiz and kind of stuffy when it comes to food.  You like roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, and peas for dinner.  You might even still eat your cereal with whole milk.  That's okay, because it's a little-known fact by people in the 21st century that corn flakes with sugar and whole milk tastes pretty much like dessert.

Golden Grahams
You loved the taste of this cereal as a kid, unlike the other kids who just begged for their cereals because of the cartoon characters on the front.  You're kind of a hippie, but not really. You like carrot cake with half an inch of cream cheese frosting, and tell yourself it's healthy. Not only did this cereal taste awesome, but it also had great prizes and commercials. Once, you poured real honey on it. That was SO good. Sometimes, when you eat it today, you start to eat it straight from the box and can't stop.

Trixx OR its circular cousin Froot Loops
You had a surprising amount of self-control as a child, It's fun to pick out the differently-colored nuggets and eat them in order, and unlike Lucky Charms all of the cereal actually tastes pretty good to a kid--i.e., like pure refined sugar.  Today, you don't eat this stuff (what adult can, given the cereal's glycemic index) and are probably a pretty good cook.  You're especially good at chopping things and baking. You still feel a pang of pity for the Trixx Rabbit.  But he probably is better off just having carrots and leaving the cereal to the kids.

Frankenberry OR Count Chocula
 This cereal tastes like sugary awesomeness and contains candy.  It only lacks the delight of differently-colored marshmallows like Lucky Charms. If you were allowed to eat this stuff on a regular basis, you grew up with parents that allowed the coolest junk food ever in the house.  You had brown sugar Pop Tarts, Double Stuff Oreos, and could eat frosting out of the can and no one would care. Today, you might be a foodie, but more of the kind who can makes some mean BBQ than someone who cooks with different kinds of vinegar. You probably don't live in a big city.
Cookie Crisp
You tend to buy things based on superficial packaging, rather than what is inside.  You've had some really bad relationships in your life.  Your parents found it easier to give you everything you wanted, like a bowl full of mediocre chocolate chips in cereal, than persuade you to try new things. The prizes in this cereal were always great (stuff that made noise, Hershey Bars, McDonald's coupons) but the cereal itself, even to the palate of a five-year-old, was forgettable.

Fruity Pebbles or Coco Pebbles
Your parents weren't there for you when you were growing up--you came from a big family, had a difficult sibling, or they drank. Or all three. That's why they bought you cereal so sugary the spoon could stand in the multicolored milk after you ate it all. You've been in therapy at some point.

Apple Jacks
Nobody likes Apple Jacks best.  If you did, you were one of those weird kids who would pour apple juice or orange juice in his cereal or drink cereal milk with a straw.

Kixx, Wheaties, or any other 'healthy' kids' cereals
You were really boring as a kid, the kind of kid who was satisfied getting raisins as 'dessert' his his lunch box.  You were too close to your mother and it became an issue in later relationships.

Cracklin' Oat Bran
Otherwise known just as 'crack.'  Insanely delicious, pseudo-healthy cereal with twice as many calories as other cereals.  You had a highly developed palate, even as a child, and loved sharp cheeses, pungent meats and spices, and weren't afraid of exotic ethnic foods. Your cardiologist hates you.

Captain Crunch (all varieties)
Sometimes, late at night, you get the urge to eat peanut butter straight from the jar while having a peanut butter sandwich slathered with honey, bananas and bacon.  You like older men and have some father figure issues.

Full disclosure: I no longer eat cereal, and prefer Greek yogurt every morning. However, as a kid, I did in fact eat all of these cereals at least once.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Peanut Butter Personality Test

Tell me what peanut butter lies in your refrigerator or cupboard, and I will tell you who you are.

Skippy ('regular,' either chunky or smooth varieties)

You ate A LOT of peanut butter sandwiches as a kid. You may have been one of those kids who would ONLY eat peanut butter sandwiches with grape or strawberry jelly.  You're change-resistant when it comes to food.  You never use peanut butter in savory applications, with the possible exception of peanut butter on celery.  You have a strong preference for either smooth or chunky and never deviate. You may have a special ritual for eating peanut butter sandwiches, although sometimes you do go crazy and have peanut butter and banana or peanut butter and bacon sandwiches.

Jif ('regular,' either chunky or smooth varieties)

You will specifically NOT buy peanut butter if it isn't Jif.  You have a sweeter-than-average palate than the typical diner.  You bake a lot. Your parents may have used Skippy.  You're more flexible about the crunchy-smooth texture thing, but you always use Jif.

Peter Pan
You buy your peanut butter in bulk containers at Costco. Peanut butter for you is a purely functional pantry item, kind of like chicken bullion cubes.  You probably have kids.  You make peanut butter and Fluff sandwiches for your kids, and finish off what your kids don't eat, but you seldom eat peanut butter or cook with it on your own. You buy creamy, but only because your kids won't eat anything but creamy.

Smart Balance
Your cardiologist put you on a strict diet.  You're elderly and grumpy. This peanut butter tastes really gross, even on honey or bacon.  Even WITH honey or bacon.  It doesn't matter if you buy smooth or creamy.  They both suck and taste slightly fishy. But not as bad as Jiff with Omega-3 fatty acids, which lists tilapia gelatin and anchovy and sardine oil as part of its ingredients.

Smucker's All-Natural Peanut Butter
You feel guilty and are trying to eat healthfully, but not really. Your refrigerator has lots of Yoplait Lite dessert- flavored yogurt.  You eat this stuff with bacon or on French toast late at night.

'Low-fat' peanut butter (any variety)

What the fuck?  Are you living in the 80s or something?  Everyone knows that low-fat peanut butter has more sugar than regular peanut butter, and just as many calories.  Throw out your Lean Cuisines and move into the 21st century.  Throw away those 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' t-shirts, too.

A 'natural' commercial brand version of Skippy or Jif like 'Simply Jif,' ' Jif Natural ,' ' Skippy Natural '
You want to eat 'clean' but really have the palate of a five-year-old. You eat a lot of gummi bears and Reece's Peanut Butter Cups. New foods kind of scare you so Morningstar vegetarian fake chicken nuggets are your compromise, instead of McDonald's.

The Peanut Butter Company's flavored peanut butters (white chocolate, cinnamon, dark chocolate, and so forth)
You have a raging eating disorder. The peanut butter never makes it into any applications, even toast.  You think none of your co-workers know that you puke up the candy you buy from the vending machine at 3pm in the remote bathroom on the fifth floor every day.  Peanut butter does not need added chocolate, even before you apply it to candy.  Get help.

Small-scale brands of peanut butter with only 'peanuts' as an ingredient
You try to maintain your public image as a 'clean' eater, but secretly hate quinoa.

You eat almond butter.
You're probably a yoga teacher.

You prefer Nutella to peanut butter and don't get what this peanut butter fuss is all about
You're European and reading this post in your second language. Or you're faux European and pepper your speech with French phrases and references to obscure movies with subtitles. You can eat a croissant smeared with Nutella and leave half of it on your plate.  Your fat American co-workers hate you.

You have a container of cashew butter, macadamia nut butter, walnut butter, or another, more obscure 'nut' butter
You self-identify as a 'foodie' and check food blogs, recipe websites, and food news sites all day at work. Then you eat this stuff, standing at the refrigerator with a spoon after bookmarking a recipe for cashew chicken.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

I predict you will like...Chicken Thighs a la Thomas Keller

I wrote in my last post that I wasn't into New Years resolutions.  Well, I guess that is a bit of a lie, because this year I am resolving to stick to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet except for the 'treats' I bake and feature on this blog--not for weight loss, but because I feel so much healthier and stronger eating green, non-starchy veggies (yep, cutting back on the sweet potatoes and apples has made a difference with my blood sugar) and unprocessed meat and dairy. The fact I can eat more and not gain weight is also a bonus.

I can say unequivocally that I am not going to make any New Year's predictions.  The most recent prediction I heard is that late in 2012, a terrible meteorological event will devastate our  world. Now, I have no doubt this prediction will sadly come true--but given that this prediction 'hits' around hurricane and snow season (no pun intended), it seems pretty safe.  I'm not giving up my home owner's insurance, in other words in defiance of the words of this prediction, but I don't think if it occurs that it proves the value of the science of prognostication.

I remember my first experience with fortune-telling. In addition to reading dorky horse books and craft books while the other kids in my elementary school library were looking at the pictures of the human anatomy in the 'science' section, I discovered a series of purple and gray-colored books that were on astrology.  (Now, I don't believe in censoring any books from the school library, but I do wonder, given the lack of funding for said library, why astrology was high on the list of books to buy for my school).

One astrology book was labeled Sagittarius, one Libra, and so forth, and each detailed the personality traits of the sign.  I discovered that my 'star sign' was Cancer.  The Crab.

As if that wasn't bad enough, when I read the description of my 'star-derived' personality, I learned that I was supposed to be moody, broody, domestic, and ultra-feminine. Kind of like Meg from Little Women.  And who the fuck wants to be Meg? Some people want to be Jo, others Amy.  Maybe if you're really morbid, Beth.  No one wants to be Meg.

As other kids discovered the books, I began to realize something--the people who adored astrology had the 'cool' signs. Leos love astrology.  So do Aries, the most fiery and impetuous sign of the Zodiac. Some Libras like to use astrology as defense for control-freak tendencies (and all of us have said tendencies, in some facet of our lives). Geminis are the sexy, two-faced star signs so of course, they too proudly proclaim how "there is something to it, because the predictions in the newspaper are SO ACCURATE." This attitude always makes me think of a famous psychology experiment, which finds that virtually every test taker will rate a vague personality 'assessment' as incredibly accurate, even if the same assessment is given to each test subject.

I later wrote the astrology section for my high school newspaper, and people would approach me all of the time, saying how accurate my words seemed to them. I was pretty open about the fact that I wrote for entertainment's sake, although I was unbiased enough not to give my own sign a particularly salutary fortune.

I prefer to think of myself as being born under the sign of Ernest Hemingway and Robin Williams, both of whom share my birthday, and neither of whom are conventionally domestic. And I no longer make predictions, real or otherwise. 

Well, except for one.  I don't eat enormous portions of meat, still (I am a 'fill up the plate with veggies' gal, still) so when I do, I like the preparation to be simple.  When I saw the reviews for Thomas Keller's simple roast chicken recipe online, I couldn't believe that something so easy could be rated so highly.  But this is, after all, the chef at the French Laundry, one of the world's greatest restaurants.

I didn't roast a whole chicken, merely thighs (my favorite cut of chicken) but I can attest to the tastiness of the high-heat method

Chicken Thighs a la Thomas Keller.


One pound or more of organic chicken thighs
Coarse sea salt and pepper

Fresh thyme sprigs, butter, brown mustard (optional)


1. Preheat the oven to 450F.  Cover the chicken, skin side up with plenty of salt, top lightly with pepper (I used paprika, since I had no black pepper on hand).  Roast for approximately one hour, until the juices run clear or the meat thermometer reads above a 'safe' temperature of 165F internally.

Keller suggests slathering the chicken with butter and garnishing it with thyme leaves to serve, and using brown mustard as a condiment.  I did use the fresh thyme springs, but eschewed the butter and mustard. The thighs still had a nice crispy, almost glassy surface texture.

Note: My smoke alarm went off while making this recipe, as did the smoke alarm of virtually every commentator on the online version.  Fortunately, I have a silencer button on my alarm.  If you don't, you might want think about slipping your batteries out while making this recipe.  Of course, fire safety is very important, and I am not condoning this, I am only 'observing' that you will want to, but of course you shouldn't.