2019 Updates: Since publishing this recipe, I’ve made a few tweaks. I’ve increased the Cheeto quantity (a frequent request), slightly reduced the pretzel quantity, and learned how to gently speed up roasting time. I’ve also received questions about what a “big” bottle of Worcestershire sauce is, so I’ve tried to clarify below. Amusingly, I just received a gift of a very old Merry Mix recipe card my father once gave to my brother. I can tell it’s old because it uses only one kind of Chex, no Cheez-Its, only 3/4 cup butter, and a paltry 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (gasp!). Also, all the seasonings were salts (celery salt, garlic salt, etc.). I’ve verified with Papa that he makes his Merry Mix the way I describe below now, and it’s how I’ve been making it for years. What can I say? Never stop improving.
As far back as I can remember, my Papa involved me in cooking projects. He’d arm me with a paring knife so I could help prep, or he’d drag a chair to the stove so I could stir. I loved squishing meatball mixture through my tiny, chubby fingers. I got really good at pleating gyoza. One of the all-time favorite recipes we made as a family was Merry Mix.
He’d pull out the enormous, commercial-kitchen-size stainless-steel mixing bowl and plunk it on the table. (When I say this bowl was enormous, please understand I could sit in it and sled down a hill. And I did. We had to take all the racks out of our oven and bake it with the door slightly ajar because it scarcely fit.) I’d open all the bags and boxes and dump everything in, mixing gently with my hands.
Papa always claimed Merry Mix was “an old Moore family recipe,” but I know he’s modified it over the years. I think his original recipe was inspired by a Nalley’s snack mix from his youth. In the ’80s, we sometimes included Bugles. My brother, Matthew, has had good success experimenting with new ingredients, including one notable version using wasabi peas. I tend to make it with the same ingredients every year, just as we did in that giant steel bowl when I was really little, but I have some suggested modifications down below in the notes.
Oh, and don’t make the mistake of calling this Chex Mix. The “Official” (barf) “Original” (lies) Chex Mix recipe from General Mills doesn’t call for nearly enough flavoring agents and it leaves you with half a dozen partially eaten boxes of cereal and snacks (hisssss). Merry Mix completely eliminates the waste and most of the measurement required in the corporate-sanctioned recipe. It goes like this:
- Use the whole box/bag of each component. Why have leftovers?
- Use a whole pound of butter (melted). Yeah. Four sticks.
- Use a whole bottle of Worcestershire sauce (the biggest bottle you can find)—maybe even more—because it’s delicious.
- Use plenty of seasonings (granulated garlic, granulated onion, celery seed, paprika—optionally, seasoned salt of your choosing).
- Bake on low heat (250ºF) until even the most saturated pieces are crispy and dry.
- Approximately every 30 minutes while the Merry Mix bakes, gently fold the mixture with a wide, flat spatula, coming in from the edge of the baking dish to avoid breakage. This accelerates the drying process and prevents burning at the edges.
Yes, it takes forever. Yes, your house will smell absolutely amazing. Yes, the yield is a little more than three gallons. Yes, you may have to use multiple baking dishes to contain all of the magic. It’s worth it.
The recipe can easily be modified to be gluten-free (leave out any ingredients that contain wheat—Wheat Chex, pretzels, Cheez-Its, some brands of Worcestershire).
In my house, Merry Mix is a Christmas necessity. Merry Mix is a great thing to make in the fall/winter when houseguests are plentiful, but it also makes a killer road trip snack in the summer. I hope you’ll give Merry Mix a try (please tell me if you do!). You won’t regret it.
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 3 to 8 hours | Yield: ~3.5 gallons
One normal-size box Rice Chex
One normal-size. box Corn Chex
One normal-size box Wheat Chex (omit for gluten-free mix)
One normal-size box Cheerios
Two normal-size bags Crunchy Cheetos (if desired, try swapping one bag with Flamin’ Hot)
Approx. 14 oz. pretzel sticks (see note below if using gluten-free pretzels)
One normal-size box Cheez-Its (omit for gluten-free mix)
One canister Spanish peanuts (red-skinned)
1 lb. salted butter
10 to 15 oz. Worcestershire sauce (you cannot go wrong increasing this amount)
1 TBSP. granulated garlic
1 TBSP. granulated onion
2 to 3 tsp. ground celery seed
2 tsp. paprika
Seasoned salt (such as Lawry’s or Johnny’s), to taste, if needed
- Preheat oven to 250ºF. Toss all cereals and snacks into a very large vessel or two for mixing. (Those aluminum foil roasting pans from the grocery store work well.) Using your hands, toss gently to combine.
- Melt butter. Stir the dry spices together in a small dish.
- In three to four additions, top mixture with the melted butter, several liberal glugs of Worcestershire, and a generous pinch of the spices, stirring gently to combine between additions. Continue until you run out of wet ingredients and spices. Taste, and if it needs more of any of the spices, sprinkle a bit extra on or add some seasoned salt (Worcestershire sauce varies in saltiness, as will your dry ingredients).
- Spread the now-wet mixture into as many baking vessels as your oven will hold. A shallower vessel (such as a baking sheet) roasts much faster than a deep vessel (such as a roasting pan). The downsides of using shallow vessels is you’ll need to stir more frequently to avoid burning, and folding the mixture can be precarious. These days, I’m doing a half-batch of Merry Mix at a time and that fits on two half-sheet pans (rimmed baking sheets).
- Bake in oven, folding gently with a wide spatula to bring the wetter ingredients at the bottom of the pan up to the top every 30 minutes. Merry Mix is done when all pieces are dry and crisp, which will take less time in shallow dishes than it does with deep ones. A half batch baked on two baking sheets takes about three hours. A full batch in roasting pans could take as long as eight hours. You’ll have to taste some of the most well-saturated pieces to be sure. Note that one pan may finish faster than the other. Allow to cool completely, then store in gallon-sized zip-top bags.
- Optional mix-ins: Crispix cereal, mixed nuts, Goldfish or Bunnies crackers, pretzel Goldfish or teeeeeny twists in place of pretzel sticks, wasabi peas, sesame sticks, broken pita or bagel chips, Fritos, Bugles, red pepper hot sauce (such as Frank’s Red Hot). If you add a bunch of extra stuff, think about leaving something else out to compensate (or increasing the butter/Worcestershire/seasonings and loving your life).
- Gluten-free modifications: Omit all ingredients that contain wheat and check your Worcestershire sauce) and consider increasing other Chex quantity (or adding other mix-ins) to compensate for loss of bulk. If substituting with GF pretzels, wait to add them until after the mix has baked and cooled. I’ve read that, due to their composition, GF pretzels do not hydrate and crisp up again the same way traditional pretzels do.
- What’s a box/bag/bottle/canister?: I didn’t note a size for the cereal boxes, Cheetos bags, or even peanuts canister. That’s because sizes vary within stores, brands, and regions. The goal here is ease and the recipe is flexible. In general, if you have a choice, use the “normal” box for all the cereals, not the giant “family size” boxes. For the Worcestershire sauce, that’s personal preference. I like to use the largest bottle that Lea & Perrins makes (which in my area is 15 ounces), but sometimes I can’t find it so I use one-and-a-half 10-ounce bottles. I’ve used smaller bottles before from all sorts of other brands (like Whole Foods’ 365 or Annie’s or Kroger’s) and the Merry Mix has come out fine. If you dig Worcestershire like I do, get the bigger bottle (or a couple of littler ones).
- Think of your vegetarian friends: Some Worcestershire sauce, such as Lea & Perrins, is not vegetarian because it contains anchovies. If you’re feeding any vegetarians, use an appropriate bottle of Worcestershire sauce so they can partake (or at least warn them so they can make an informed choice). Many inexpensive grocery-store house brands are vegetarian.
I haven’t written here in a long time. Partly that’s because, in the immortal words of the Fresh Prince, our “life got flipped, turned upside down.” Starting in the middle of last October, I was selected to serve on my church‘s leadership table (and then had to step down before I was ever “sworn in”), we finished our PADI open-water scuba-diving certification, and then we weathered Hurricane Sandy. That involved late-game evacuation, a week without power and water, 16 days without hot water, and 20 days without heat. In the middle of all that, my magazine folded and I lost my job (RIP, Everyday Food). Then we celebrated Thanksgiving with our largest table of friends yet, my best pal Ivo came to visit from the Netherlands to celebrate the ordination of our friend and pastor Emily Scott, I turned 33 on 12/12/12 and we went to Medieval Times, we got Nitrox certified (more diving stuff), we celebrated Christmas in Hawaii with my parents, we moved across the friggin’ country, and now we’re firmly ensconced in a beautiful (rental) home in Seattle, establishing a very good life there. Yesterday was the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy’s arrival in New York City, so I spent the evening reading through my Facebook updates from a year back. It made me realize that they already tell the story better than I could rewrite it, so I collected them here, along with links to additional illustrative photos from the Flickr set I made after the fact.
October 26, 2012
8:15pm: Let’s just be very clear about one thing: If this storm (Sandy) is totally blown out of proportion and manages to do no damage and the only thing that interrupts your day is maybe a few train delays, THAT IS GREAT.
October 28, 2012
8:57pm: Since we were diving all weekend, we had to do our weekly grocery shop in a hurry, picking up a few necessities from the storm-prep-ravaged aisles.
Mike: “Sorry, the bread aisle was completely wiped out.”
Me: “That’s okay. I’ll just bake a loaf tonight.”
I AM LIVING MY BEST LIFE, YOU GUYS.
October 29, 2012
11:15am: We are holed up in our little 12th-floor apartment here in Manhattan. With two cats, our choices are smaller, and we feel confident at this point that we’ve made the right decision (we are one block away from zone B, which is not part of the mandatory evacuation order). Our whole apartment (and its windows) is sheltered in an alcove, and our building is old and sturdy as hell. Yes, there is some flooding in Battery Park City right now, which is several blocks to our west, but it’s not close to us (yet). Even if it reaches our building, which may happen later in the day, we will be fine up here. We have food (in the fridge and in the cupboards both), remarkable amounts of water, flashlights, supplies for the cats, a hand-crank and solar-powered radio/USB charger/flashlight, first aid supplies, toilet paper, friends in the building and a super who’s here (most residents are, actually), charged-up cell phones and other portable devices, books, and smarts. Don’t worry about us, friends, but pray for the poor, the traveling, and the farmers. We’ll keep you posted, but so far so good.
12:24pm: Making chicken stock, introducing Mike to The Great Mouse Detective. 12:24 and all’s well.
3:31pm: Mike enjoyed the movie, chicken stock is finished and delicious, cats are only mildly agitated. The wind gusts are picking up now. Water has receded in the Hudson since this morning’s high tide but tonight’s high tide at 8:50 or so is supposed to be when the legit flooding will happen. Still have power, but got a robocall it may be shut off as a preventative measure. Living next to the financial center of the US means outages here are typically restored pronto, so we’re not worried. 3:30 and all’s well.
6:49pm: Wind has been very quiet for the last two hours. Nothing to report but this supper of chicken noodle soup (homemade stock bragginess is tempered by frozen mixed vegetables–thanks, hurricane shopping) and toast points made with my last night’s loaf of whole-wheat bread. 7:50pm and all’s well. [Added as a comment: By which I mean 6:50pm, of course. Heather, eat your soup, dear, you’re overtired.]
8:27pm: Power just went out. Waited for us to finish watching The Walking Dead! now it time to hang out and read by candlelight. Scrabble maybe? 8:27pm and all is dark but still well.
10:42pm: Power still out and will likely be out till the morning at least. They’ve even finally turned the lights out in the new WTC towers. We went upstairs to our neighbors’ apartment and could see the scope of the flooding (they are not in the alcove that we’re in, so they can see to the street). The streets on both sides of our building are flooded–enough to submerge bench seats. Remarkably, one block east, which is zone B, the road is dry. Over the last hour, we watched the water recede a little. The surge of water at this evening’s high tide is now past us and we await tomorrow morning’s high tide to see if any more flood waters come in. Our concierge came upstairs to tell us that our lobby has water in it, up to the front desk (which is about six steps up from street level). We are still glad to be where we are. There’s very little wind or rain at this point. We have plenty of nonperishable food (good, since we won’t open that fridge), water for days, and lots of light. Now…we wait! But first, we sleep. No more updates tonight. 10:37pm and all is very very wet and still dark, but we are totally fine. Hope the same (or better) can be said for you all! Preserving phone power now. Goodnight!
October 30, 2012
6:43am: 6:40am, all is quiet. Power still out. Going to bed for a while longer, but so far so good. I know folks who’ve been forced to evac their apartments (not near here) due to electrical fires in nearby buildings and such. Not us, we are fine. More sleep now please!
10:46am: Gas still works–had to light the stove with a flaming bamboo skewer–so we’re having hot oatmeal with cinnamon and raisins. It’ll be a fun game to see what we can cook without the fridge. We’re going to have to toss so much food when the power finally comes back on (not because we stocked up on perishables, btw, but because we are people who cook and keep a well-stocked larder), but if that’s the greatest of our worries, I guess I’ll take it. Water is still running but pressure is starting to taper. Glad we filled the bathtub with flushing water! 10:46 and it’s daytime, which is nice because we can see without flashlights. All’s mostly well.
10:56am: Just found out the water has totally receded, even right along the Hudson. Our super is the one who shut our power off last night, after an electrical explosion at Trinity nearby. Now he’s waiting for a pump for the basement, but we still don’t know if ConEd has restored power here even if the super turns us back on. And that’s my power story.
12:25pm: Brooklyn Battery Tunnel entrance just south of our apartment. Wow. There’s power two blocks from us and ConEd trucks in a huge row, working hard.
October 31, 2012
3:52am: Our cell/3G service has been out all day, but I just woke up to find its on, at least for now. We’re still awesome, though power and water are still out for us. We now live in a twelfth-floor walk-up, so our two trips outside today were for fun as well as fitness. The west side of lower Manhattan was hit SO much worse than us, it’s incredible. We witnessed some remarkable flood damage at the South Street Seaport area. Where we live, there’s power in Battery Park City (don’t believe everything you see on the news–they never even lost power once!), two blocks from us. We also shopped at a market that had no power today. Everyone was wandering the aisles quietly, standing in a long line to pay, as if nothing was odd. We saw no evidence of looting, even at the Seaport where many businesses had broken windows. This made me so proud of New York. We’ve eaten very well, as our stove still functions: oatmeal for breakfast, open-face meatball sandos for lunch, bean and cheese burritos for dinner. We played Scrabble as the sun went down. Tonight we took turns reading one another Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark by the light of a single candle. We’re going to walk a few miles uptown today, where there’s power, to grab a shower at my gym. 3:49am and all is a little stinky and a little stir-crazy, but well. We’re still SO glad we stayed, as all this is is inconvenient, not life-threatening or scary. This would’ve been so much harder with the cats had we evacuated, given we never could’ve carried all the supplies we needed for them for this long. thanks for all your well-wishing. Keep it coming, and please help the storm-ravaged coast in any way you can. Hope the cell service stays…we missed you guys!
4:48am: High water line at the South Street Seaport.
9:12am: Walking up Broadway, power turned on at 26th St.
11:04am: MSLO closed again today but BBDO is open so Mike had to head in. I walked with him uptown and asked his boss if he needed any pinch hitters. And that’s how I find myself freelancing at the world’s largest ad agency! Still out of W&P at home, but above 26th Street in Manhattan it as if nothing happened.
4:23pm: When you haven’t had access to a legitimate computer for a couple days, it’s REALLY hard to force yourself to do copyediting for your church when THERE IS ALL THAT INTERNET TO BE READING. Focus, Heather, focus.
(In other words, almost done kickin’ it in the BBDO office today, it’s possible our power is back on at home, and no word yet if I have to go into MSLO tomorrow. Still doing fine, still not much to report. You can bet that Mike and I are enjoying the HELL out of these toilets that flush here at the office, though.)
5:32pm: Here we go, on our walk back home. It’s light for now, but will be dark soon. We have flashlights and warm coats. Let’s hope the power’s on when we return! 5:32pm and all is well. It’s remarkable what a shower and a day in front of a computer will do for your spirits.
8:27pm: Things are not as rosy as they seemed. Still no power, Gordon was cowering under the bed when we got home, and word from the landlord is that we could have power in a day or two…or a week or two. Flood water in the basement, about two or three feet high, has to be pumped before they can assess the damage and decide to get our lights running. We’re having some serious conversations tonight…after we eat these grilled cheese sammies and tomato soup. Continued prayers, y’all.
9:41pm: On a lighter note, we snapped this on our walk home, in a pitch-black Union Square area, to wish you a Happy Halloween.
November 1, 2012
8:13am: Is there an appropriate gift that says, “Neighbor, thanks for asking us to take care of your cat when you evacuated because it allowed us to use your two-bathroom apartment as our pooping annex. Sorry for the stink when you return”? Or even a Hallmark card?
8:24am: I woke up this morning to a remarkable number of people offering to house Mike, me, and the kitties. From people sharing their studios an one-bedrooms to empty apartments that haven’t sold yet to sublets to a palatial rectory, the gamut has been run and it makes me weak with gratitude. I know the best people, there is no doubt. Some of these folks are old coworkers. Some I’ve only even met once. Some are close friends. Some are churchgoers with me. Know this: The generosity and care of New Yorkers is second to none. You are all amazing. I’m 99% sure we’re set for a place with L&L (only variable is transportation) if we decide to evac today after talking to the guys about how the basement pumping went, but you are all amazing and you’ve touched me deeply. Sorry to leave anyone off the list, but huge thanks to Burke Gerstenschlager, Laurel Morley, Michele Whitney, Sophie Harris, Mandy Kain, Lisa Goldschmidt, Nora Smith, Andrew Martin Ross, Luke Burrows, Laura Gomez, Tanya Munroe, Samantha Seneviratne, Sarah Moore, Jon Shannon, Ross McKillop, Celeste Young, Cliff Young, Joyce Farnsworth, Erica Jo Gilles, Amy Plitt, Kelly Tanner…
12:11am: Gettin some Shake Shack for lunch. Love BPC so hard right now.
6:50pm: Details about relocation: Our power was shut off on Monday night, before the flooding began, and as such, our water is out. The pump that brings the water to the 12th floor is electric. We’ve been getting by, happily, but one shower in three days ain’t great and it is impossible to gravity-flush our toilet with water from the tub (we confirmed this by calling the manufacturer). We spoke to the super this morning and, while power has been restored to our area by ConEd, the flooding of the basement is making it impossible to give our apartment the juice it can access. The boiler was completely submerged, the water was head-high, and the teeny pump they ran for the last 24 hours has almost cleared all the water. However, then the switches and electronics and such have to dry out, and THEN an inspector from the city has to come and give the go-ahead to flip everything on. Our building has been branded by the city as uninhabitable (there’s a big yellow sticker!) and we don’t take that lightly.
Given there are no guarantees when the power will return (super says probably by Sunday), and the toilet conditions are verging on medieval, it was time get out. We stopped at our vet and got a prescription for kitty xanax (really just small doses of people xanax), which I’m sure you will be unsurprised to learn has rendered Gordon delirious with cuddles and has had no effect on the hissing, growling ball of frightened fury that is Astoria, poor girl. We packed up, hauled our stuff down 12 flights, and stood on a cold corner till I could convince a cabbie to take us to Brooklyn. Gas is critically low in the city now, so drivers are riding around with their off-duty lights on, taking fares for quoted rates rather than metered (which is illegal), and pocketing the money. We were in no place to quibble and my silver tongue convinced the driver to take us for $40 plus tip. We paid $55 for what usually would be a $20 ride. I don’t care. Does it suck that they’re price gouging? Yes. But we have the means and we needed to go. Hearing about the gas made me glad we decided not to wait another day. We got here remarkably quickly and are settling in fine (aside from Astoria, who hates everything and everyone). And hey, we can shower! How blessed we are to have such generous friends.
6:54pm: Details about losing my job: In the middle of packing, I got a voicemail saying I needed to confirm that I could make the conference call. Say what? I checked my work email and told Mike I had to call in while we waited for the kitty Xanax to take effect. I rang in, along with the rest of my Everyday Food coworkers, and we were told by the CEO that our magazine was being shuttered, effective immediately, and we are out of jobs as of Monday (building still closed tomorrow, so one more day of “hurricane vacation” before I’m on severance). Obviously no one wanted to have to tell us this way, but likewise we needed to know before it hit the papers. Still, oof.
The good news: I loved my job and my superiors liked me, so getting references will be easy. Also, I have severance through the end of January as well as health insurance (not COBRA, regular old insurance). Really, this is incredible. I feel very fortunate. Magazines are always unstable. No magazine is safe in this economy. I’m so lucky to have worked for my idols for almost a year, and glad they’re doing well by us on our way out. I will be okay. WE will be okay. But it’s quite a blow to get when you’re already jumbled up. I hung up, cried in a real ugly way, and then pulled my shit together because I’m a fucking grand-master at pulling my shit together and we got out of dodge.And so begins a new adventure.
November 2, 2012
1:55am: Astoria took about an hour to launch her first attack against Gordon (who was happily sleeping in Mike’s arms), and now it’s a freakin blitzkrieg. She hasn’t stopped growling incredibly loudly, she lunged at my face while I had my eyes closed, and now she’s commandeered the bed, where she sits on our pillows, growling and hissing and basically scaring the shit out of us. Mike has gashes on his hands and feet, I’m crying because she’s so scared and scary. When L&L wake up, we’ll be separating them entirely to see if that helps. I think it’s safe to say the Xanax didn’t work for her.
5:05pm: This is why we relocated.
November 3, 2012
1:25pm: Our apartment is still without power/water, so we’re still ensconced in Brooklyn at our saviors’ apartment. Astoria and Gordon were both introduced to the concept of stairs yesterday. Unfortunately, this allowed Astoria to show her displeasure with this recent move by shitting on the couch, which she has never done before. Poor girl is so scared and still not eating/drinking much, but the constant growling has stopped. She slept in a bathtub for a while and then under a bed, where she seems the most soothed. We got more sleep last night (which is to say “any”), but are still worn out by this whole thing. I’ll make chicken tikka masala for dinner, which will make me feel more normal. We are very ready for this to be over. Apologies to all our friends in the neighborhood, we have not been in a social aspect since we arrived. This is not vacationy, it’s just hard, you know? But we’re pullin through.
10:24pm: Want to know how to donate supplies to victims of Sandy? NYCares hooks you right up.
11:12pm: I’m feeling better after a slow start this morning. Both cats are getting closer to normal (Astoria even let Mike pet her in his lap! And Lisa pet her!), Astoria is eating a little bit again, I spoke to my former HR department to get the details of my termination sorted out and I continue to be blown away by how awesome my severance package is, Mike and I took a long walk in the neighborhood, and I spent half the day cooking a monster Indian feast for dinner. When I need to feel normal, getting into the kitchen always helps. It’s work, but it’s my FAVORITE work. (Also, this kitchen is ridiculously gorgeous.) Our last update from the building said that ConEd estimated we’d be able to restore power tonight around 11 or midnight, but we’re not holding our breath. Sure would be nice, though. In related news, we’re going to have so much cleaning to do when we’re able to get home…
November 4, 2012
5:56am: I’m sitting on the bathroom floor because Astoria has been mewling for attention from the hallway. She’s now alternating gobbling down food, rubbing her face all over me and begging for cuddles, and growling warily; sometimes she combines two at once. It’s like she’s experiencing all the emotions at once and isn’t sure which one to express. Won’t it be fun when we do this again at our own home? (And it WILL happen again there, if history means anything.) Speaking of which, no word on that, which is making exactly no one happy. At least I’ve gotten enough sleep that I find Astoria’s antics amusingly sad instead of heartbreaking and upsetting. She’s improving.
10:47am: Has anyone taken the 4/5 from Brooklyn into Manhattan since service has been restored? How frequent are the trains? We’re weighing our options now in advance so we can make the best decision for getting back with these cats. (Still no all-clear, but it looks like now we’re just waiting on water.)
11:03pm: Short form: We have power and running (cold) water, so we returned to our home (God bless Arecibo and their $17 trip). We have no heat or hot water and won’t for a few days, but gas works and our place is actually a really comfy temp, so we’re fine with having to boil water for baths for a few days. We’re cleaning like mad. Astoria is hissing a little but more out of habit than actual distress, as she clearly knows she’s home and is relieved. Gordon is a total chillbro. And we have Led Zeppelin blasting as we clean, so things feel a lot better. More to the story to come later, but first: more scrubbing. PS – We usually use natural cleaning products, but you bet your ass we just bleached the holy hell out of that toilet. Yiiiiiiikes.
November 5, 2012
3:19pm: On Tuesday morning (Oct 30), Mike and I went on a walk after the flood waters had receded into the Hudson (or, you know, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel). While we didn’t get flooding as high as they did at the South Street Seaport, this is how high the waters were in the building next door to ours (again, Mike for scale). This is how much water came into our building at street level, so you can imagine how much was in our basement.
6:50pm: Post-Hurricane Knowledge
Learned behaviors that are impossible to unlearn: Flipping on the light switch when you walk into a bathroom, even though you haven’t had power for days. (Blessedly, this bit of doltishness is no longer an issue.)
New behaviors that are learned in a matter of hours: Checking to make sure the water hasn’t mysteriously been shut off again before you use the toilet.
November 6, 2012
12:23am: Apparently the only way to get me to workout is to cut off my hot water because being an unemployed person who goes to the gym and showers without working out first is too sad even for me. Yay?
4:24pm: I want you to know it took every single scrap of my professionalism to avoid commenting on Everyday Food’s recent Facebook post about the “changes” ahead for the magazine with, “Wow, you think you readers feel bad that the magazine kicked the bucket, imagine how it is for all the employees they just fired!”
Heather Quiet Dignity Young, that’s what they call me.
November 7, 2012
12:16pm: I haven’t done a hurricane-style status update in a while, so here you go: Mike procured a space heater (the space heater of his dreeeeeeeams!) on Monday, so our apartment, while occasionally chilly, isn’t by any means unlivable. The joint holds heat in pretty well, and we’ve been keeping the curtains drawn like invalids. I move the heater from the bedroom to the living room depending on where I’m going to be. The cats sometimes follow (Astoria, in particular, likes to sit right in front of it, because she is a heat hog). Speaking of the cats, they’re largely back to normal. Commissioner Gordon seems to be under the weather with a kitty cold and Astoria is mostly fine but occasionally hisses at Gordon if he gets too close to her (or if she gets too close to him). It’s dissipating though, and is par for the course with her (this also happens when either or both of them go to the vet). All shall be completely back to normal, behaviorwise, in a couple days.
We still have no hot water. Mike has been bravely taking “camp showers” at night, which means in about two minutes he soaps himself up, rinses himself off with frigid water, and then leaps out to come hug me while he shivers. It’s very cute. Because I’m a bigger baby, I went to my gym (corporate membership hasn’t been canceled yet — small blessings?) to shower yesterday. I probably spent 30 minutes in there. It’d been a week since I last shaved. You guys have seen my brother. In a week, I was bordering on Full Yeti. Today, as on every alternate day, I will place a metal bowl in my bathroom sink (the stopper for which is largely ineffective, rendering the lavabo the only real way to do a whore’s bath) and boil a pot of water on the stove so I can wipe myself clean in discrete portions without shivering too much. It’s very methodical. At this point, I’m relatively confident the power is stable, so I should probably do my grocery shopping for the rest of the week. Oh, and we’ve got heavy rains all day and rain/snow mixed tomorrow, which is exactly what this region needs. (We should make it through that stuff fine, but if you ever had any doubt I’d update you about every little problem during a weather event in NYC, I hope I’ve reassured you I’m a blabbermouth. If there’s “news,” I’ll tell ya.)It’s really, really strange to stay behind while Mike goes to work. I started a big list of the kinds of things I can be doing to keep myself sharp and useful. I also just really want to knit something. There are some big changes brewing and it’s time to get ducks in rows. More news when we have it to share! As of today we’ve been without hot water for 8 days. We had no power or running water for 6. I’ve NEVER dealt with after-effects of a storm like this. How blessed I’ve been, and how lucky I am that it wasn’t worse for us here in our little part of Manhattan.
3:12pm: It’s snowing in Manhattan right now. Praying for those who are without heat or shelter.
6:15pm: Everyone knows I love snow, but damn, this is a MEAN snowfall. The wind is blowing hard and basically any way you turn you’ve got chunks of ice being thrown in your face. I bailed on Whole Foods and went to the crappy Gristedes down the block instead. But now: cranberry-bean curry! And maybe I’mo bake some cookies for those doormen of ours who have all been working so hard!
6:15pm: PS – The holdup on the heat/hot water is that the boiler requires some new parts after it was completely submerged. Estimate: MAYBE ANOTHER WEEK. We’re so fortunate that we weren’t harder hit, but yiiiiiiikes.
11:45pm: A couple months ago, I asked Frost Valley YMCA if they’d be open this Thanksgiving and they said they’re always closed due to general lack of interest. Today, they announced they’ll open for several weekends (including Thanksgiving) and will host families affected by Hurricane Sandy. For free. Because they’re just that good. I mean, seriously, there may need to be room for two camps in my will because though my heart belongs to Huston Camp and Conference Center, Frost Valley just keeps endearing itself to me. I’m so glad Mike and I began our marriage there.
November 8, 2012
12:06am: A heap of triple-ginger molasses cookies: DELIVERED! Those fellas have been working so hard. Did you know the Marriott next door is still out of power? Ours was restored when it was is due to the quick thinking of our super who shut it off before the flood. It’s cold in our apartment, but the lobby is significantly worse off, what with the snow outside and everyone coming in and out; the concierges are all bundled up like mad. Cookies don’t make anything better, but I hope they convey one small portion of the appreciation we feel. Mike and I benefit from a lot of privilege and when I’m whinging about not having hot water, it’s important for me to remember how freakin’ great we have it.Also, the apartment is totally warm now that I’ve been running the oven for two hours.
November 9, 2012
10:53am: Well, off to MSLO to kind of get canned again (for the first time, in a way, since this time I’m actually getting my severance agreement!). It’s gonna be a weird day, folks.
2:53pm: It was great while it lasted. Now on…to adventure!
November 10, 2012
1:41am: Had my severance meeting, cleaned out my desk, said goodbye to too many lovely people, took a meeting at BBDO with the inimitable Jd, rode the train home with Jeremy, got dinner with Burke and Michelle, and then saw Skyfall with them and Tim and Whit. But why am I so TIRED?
5:45pm: How is it possible that I know all the best people? How did I ever get this lucky? So blessed. Yes, heat and hot water are still off. Doesn’t matter, because I’m warmed right up by the kindness and generosity and thoughtfulness of all of you. Really. You people are freakin amazing. My cup runneth over.
November 12, 2012
11:59am: Well, it’s time for another pitcher “shower.”
12:30pm: For the first time in 16 days, I took a hot shower in my own home. Hot water’s back!(Still no word on heat, but we’re fine.)
November 17, 2012
10:51pm: On this, the 20th day since the hurricane, we have just been informed that heat has been restored to the building. We’re still out two elevators and the phones don’t work (which means the door buzzer at one entrance and the laundry-card-refilling-machine in the laundry room are both hosed), but I believe our apartment has now been restored to “livable conditions” according to the city. Frabjous day!
November 18, 2012
3:05pm: Just found out that, while we have heat in the apartments in my building, the lobby still has no heat, so there’s no respite for our poor doormen and concierges. Further, one of our guys (Augustine) lives over on the east side of Manhattan and still has no heat, hot water, or gas at his home, so he just travels from a cold home to a cold job. It’s still rough all over, folks.
November 20, 2012
1:59pm: I’m the wild-eyed hunchback sautéing onions at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn for a Thanksgiving dinner that will be taken out to hurricane victims in the Rockaways!
November 22, 2012
1:56pm: Some of you really enjoyed my extensive updates during the hurricane here in NYC. Know this: Mike and I got off remarkably easy. This year, we’re thankful we didn’t lose our homes, our community, our businesses. Not everyone here was so lucky. Please consider expressing your thanks for your many blessings by giving those who recently lost much and are still struggling.
November 27, 2012
1:57pm: Well, it’s official. Mike and I are moving to Seattle at the end of January!If any of you have leads on work (I’m a copy editor, Mike’s a graphic designer) or housing (we’re looking to rent a cat-friendly house in Seattle, under $2K/mo), please hit me up with a message or email. We don’t have much time to get our ducks in a row. A new adventure awaits! And I hope a nice place and good jobs are part of that adventure.
Last year, when I got a SodaStream, I started mixing various juices with seltzer to make fruity spritzers. A favorite in this house is equal parts apple cider and seltzer with a couple spoonfuls of ginger ale syrup. It’s autumn in a glass.
But I’m fussy about my fruits; I won’t eat apples out of season. As soon as the trees stop producing, I cut off my daily apple consumption, and that includes putting the kibosh on buying jugs of cider. I really make the most of my fall cider purchases, and I once experimented with cooking it down to make a syrup for Saturday-morning pancakes. I had some leftover and I stirred it into soda water. What wizardry had I unlocked?
Nothing my ancestors hadn’t already well-documented, it turns out, but it’s a treasure all the same. It turns out that Colonial New Englanders—no slouches in the department of preserving the harvest—knew exactly how to extend the delicious, tangy joy of cider so that it could last year-round. By cooking cider down, reducing it to one-seventh its original volume, you concentrate the sugars, capture the sweet-tart nature of the juice, and make something that lasts at least a year if refrigerated (though I’m sure our Colonial predecessors didn’t worry about that last part). With apples being as plentiful as they were, boiled cider was one of the cheapest sweeteners available (not to mention the tastiest).
This recipe falls in the “set it and forget it” category. It involves no complicated appliances, only a single ingredient, and nothing but a little time in the house. Simply put, boiled cider (or apple cider molasses, or cider syrup) is fresh apple cider that is cooked down until thick and syrupy. That’s it. There’s no trick to it, it’s just a simple trick.
Now, why would you want to do this? Aside from the fact that it makes your house smell incredible (and seriously, I mean incredible), the resulting syrup has a number of applications both savory and sweet.
- Stir it into seltzer for an awesome soda treat long after the apple harvest (apple soda in May!).
- Add it to boiling water to make hot cider after a long wintry walk.
- Brush it on raw bacon strips and roast for a candied bacon that’s out of this world.
- Mix it into the dough for baked goods, like scones, cake, and donuts, to add cider flavor and cut refined sugar.
- Toss apples with it to bake in a pie. If you want to blow someone’s balls off with the awesome appletude of your pie, do this. Trust me.
- Warm it and drizzle it over ice cream (pumpkin ice cream is a particular treat).
- Add a bit to your baked beans.
- Swirl it in your morning oatmeal or yogurt.
- Glaze roasted squash or carrots.
- Whisk it into a vinaigrette.
- Put it on pancakes in place of maple syrup.
- Spread it on buttered toast.
- Make a PB & boiled cider sandwich. Vow to never use ordinary jelly again.
- Glaze ham or chicken.
- Add some to a gravy for pork.
- Stir into hot tea.
- Add to cocktails (rum, whiskey, brandy).
- Use it to make BBQ sauce.
- Stir it into cream cheese and put it on a bagel or a slice of pumpkin bread.
Are you excited yet?
Boiled Cider / Apple Cider Molasses / Cider Syrup
Active time: 10 minutes | Total time: 3 1/2 to 5 hours | Yield: approximately 2 1/4 cups
1 gallon fresh apple cider
- In a clean, nonreactive pot, add 2 1/4 cups cider. Stick a skewer into liquid and mark the height by drawing on skewer with a pen or wrapping it with a rubber band. This will be the way you measure how much the cider has reduced (2 1/4 cups is approximately 1/7 of a gallon). Add the rest of the cider and heat over medium-high. (If desired, add spices at this time.) After 30 to 45 minutes, use a spoon to skim off any foam around the edges.
- Keep cider at a rapid simmer for 3 1/2 to 5 hours. Every hour, stick a second, clean skewer in the pot, take note of the height of the liquid and compare it to your marked skewer.
- When the level of cider is near the mark on your skewer, stir every 5 to 10 minutes, making sure liquid does not bubble over. When it has reduced to 1/7 original volume (it should coat the back of a spoon and be the consistency of warm maple syrup), remove from heat and pour into a clean glass jar (if you wish, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve first). Let cool to room temperature, seal, and refrigerate, up to 1 year.
A note about spices: Traditionally, boiled cider is made without any additional flavorings, as spices can muddy the flavor and also turn the syrup an unsightly color during the long cook time. If you want to add spices, try 1 cinnamon stick, 9 peppercorns, a few allspice berries, 2 whole cloves. Remove spices after 2 hours to prevent overconcentrating their flavor.
A note about reducing too much: If you boil your syrup too long, don’t panic. Apples contain a ton of pectin, which is what makes fruit jell, so if you overboil your syrup you just get cider jelly! You can either keep it that way (and usually, I do—the applications for the jelly are almost identical to the regular, more liquidy boiled cider, and it’s even better for putting on bread or PB sandos) or add a little water and thin it back out a tad.
The other day, I posted this on Facebook: Fact: Taco salad is the best salad. Not a single person dissented; many agreed quite vocally. Seriously, what’s not to love? Taco salad can feel somewhat virtuous (though frequently it’s far from it), it’s a little more kicky than your usual garden greens, and it’s fairly customizable. One complaint I often hear about eating salad for lunch is that you wind up hungry by 3pm. Not so with a taco salad! There’s so much happening in there, so many good, filling ingredients, that you’ll be satisfied till supper.
When I was growing up, we’d often have taco salad for dinner. Matthew and I loved this meal and happily ate it out of an enormous salad bowl in which Papa tossed everything together, but if you have fussy little ones, it’s easy to do individual plates of taco salad, omitting the undesirable ingredients as needed. Feeding a crowd? For heaven’s sake, make a taco salad! I’ve yet to meet a person who was not delighted by the appearance of a bowl of these Mexi-ish greens.
I was a vegetarian for about half my life, so I typically make this salad without any meat, but you can add in whatever you like. My Papa used to cook up seasoned ground beef to toss in, and if I like to make Mike really happy, I’ll sometimes grill up a marinated chicken breast to shred. But even without meat, it’s plenty filling and quick to make. Perhaps best of all, you can pack it for lunch (even pack it days before) and have the best lunch ever at the office. Below is my recipe to feed a family of four, but below the main recipe I have included tips and quantities for making two lunch-size portions (and how to pack them). I usually prep 2 dinner salads in big bowls and make leftover lunch salads at the same time with the full 4-serving quantities.
Basic Taco Salad
Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes | Serves: 4
6 tablespoons sour cream
6 tablespoons fresh salsa
3 tablespoons chili sauce (we like Heinz)
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce
Salt and pepper
12 to 16 ounces romaine lettuce, chopped
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black or small pink beans (pinquitos), rinsed and drained
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved (or 2 medium tomatoes, diced)
kernels from 2 cobs of corn (or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed)
1 large bell pepper, diced
4 scallions, sliced (or 1/2 white onion, diced)
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar, Colby Jack, or Monterey Jack cheese (6 ounces)
4 handfuls tortilla chips, lightly crushed into bite-size pieces
cooked taco meat or shredded cooked chicken breast, diced avocado, sliced black olives, cilantro leaves, toasted pepitas (optional)
- In a small bowl, stir together sour cream, salsa, chili sauce, cumin, and onion powder. Season to taste with Tabasco, salt, and pepper.
- In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, beans, tomatoes, corn, bell pepper, scallions, cheese, and dressing (along with any optional mix-ins). Divide among four plates and top with crushed chips.
For two lunch servings (note reduced quantities):
In a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons sour cream; 3 tablespoons fresh salsa; 1.5 tablespoons chili sauce; 1/4 teaspoon chili powder; 1/8 teaspoon cumin; and 1/8 teaspoon onion powder. Season with Tabasco Green Jalapeño Pepper Sauce, salt, and pepper to taste. Divide the dressing between two 4- or 6-cup storage containers with tight-fitting lids (we use yogurt tubs). Splitting quantities between the two containers, layer the following items in this order to prevent sogginess: a handful of diced tomatoes (about 6 grape tomatoes per container); 1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained; kernels from 1 cob of corn (or 3/4 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed); 1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced; 2 scallions, sliced; 1/2 pound romaine lettuce, shredded (about 4 handfuls per container); 3/4 cup shredded cheese (3 ounces). Cheese always goes on top! In a small bag, pack a handful of chips (don’t worry about them getting crushed; you’ll be crushing them shortly anyway). Refrigerate. At lunchtime, shake like the dickens or toss in a bowl with crumbled chips. Enjoy the envious stares. [Note: The photo below shows the dressing kept separate, which you can also do. I just don’t have tiny containers like that anymore and I learned it’ll do fine in the base of your 4-cup container!]
- You can substitute Greek yogurt for the sour cream, if you like.
- If you choose to include avocado in your make-ahead salad (I like to), dice it and toss it with some lime juice, then put it on the very bottom of your lunch container before you add the dressing. The dressing will blanket the avocado to protect it from the oxygen/keep it from browning.
- If you put shredded chicken in your lunch salad, pack it on top of the lettuce, like the cheese (ground meat can go on the bottom).
This is a recipe I knew before I met Heather and, had she not been a strict vegetarian at the time, one that I no doubt would have made to woo her. It’s delicious, impressive, and very easy to prepare. If you make this for the lady or gentleman of your fancy, it could very well result in after dinner sexytimes. I make no promises, but your odds are definitely improved.
In the past, I have enjoyed this dish on a bed or angel hair pasta (with a simple garlic butter sauce), but it plays well with a myriad sides. Last night, I served it with my roasted broccoli, but it also goes very well with roasted brussels sprouts, steamed or sautéed green beans, peas, mashed potatoes, or any combination thereof. Note that I have made the recipe for two, but it scales up perfectly to serve however many people you prefer.
Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes | Serves: 2
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, halved horizontally (to make two thinner fillets)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
salt and fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
2 1/2 tablespoons brined capers, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped (this is mostly garnish, so chop more or less to taste)
- Season the chicken filets with salt and pepper (both sides) and dredge them in flour. Shake them off, but don’t go nuts; that extra flour will come in handy later when you scrape the pan to make the sauce.
- Add 1 tbsp of butter and 1 1/2 tbsp of olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. When it starts to sizzle, add the chicken, cooking each side for about 3 minutes. Remove and set aside.
- Add the chicken broth, lemon juice, and capers. Bring to a boil, stirring and scraping the pan to get all of those nice, flavorful brown crispy bits. Put the chicken back in the pan, then reduce the heat and let everything simmer for about 5 minutes.
- By now the chicken should be a nice golden brown and everything should smell capery and buttery and awesome. Plate the chicken, then add the remaining butter to the pan. Scrape it around again and whisk everything together until it begins to thicken. Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle the parsley on top, and serve.
- Get the most juice from your lemon by microwaving it for about 20 seconds. Then, roll it on the counter until it is noticeably softer. This helps burst the the little juice cells inside which makes the juicing easier and yields the most liquid.
- You a regular skillet (vs. non-stick). Otherwise, you won’t get those brown crispy bits that add extra flavor. Don’t worry; because of the oil and butter, the meat sticking to the pan is not an issue.
- Because we’re dealing with hot oil, butter, and chicken juices, I like to use a splatter screen. Of course this is totally optional, but I am a kitchen neatnik and mine has served me very well.
Confession: Hot dogs are directly responsible for me quitting vegetarianism after more than 15 years. You guys, I love hot dogs. My brother, Matthew, and I used to split a package of Lit’l Smokies when we came home from school (for the record, that’s four servings each; it’s a miracle we’re not dead). I like a hot dog off the grill, I like a boiled dog, I like a dog charred in the flames of a campfire, I like sliced dogs stirred into stovetop mac and cheese, I like pigs in a blanket…I even like tofu dogs, but when I was faced with a hot dog at my first Mets game in Shea Stadium, I folded like a cheap suit. Folks at my old magazine caught wind and asked if I’d eat meat for a week and write about it. The rest is history. Sweet sweet sustainably-and-humanely raised animal-eating history.
Truly, I don’t eat much meat these days, particularly red meat, but I just can’t resist a hot dog. That said, I had never known the glory of a Chicago-style dog until I moved East, and once my eyes were opened, they were opened wide. Now, I’m a fan of condiments. The more, the merrier, I say. I like my burgers overflowing with stuff. I’m the guy at Subway who orders a sandwich “with everything. No, seriously, all of it.” A Chicago dog speaks to this innate need for a well-dressed weenie. In the Chicago style, when a beef dog is “dragged through the garden,” it’s placed in a steamed poppyseed bun and topped with yellow mustard, pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, fresh tomato, pickled sport peppers, diced white onions, and celery salt. Sometimes, a cucumber slice or two are added; the occasional inclusion of ketchup is a hotly contested issue. This colorful dressing takes a simple dog and elevates it to a full, colorful meal.
There’s one problem: Chicago dogs are messy, y’all. The tomatoes always end up slapping against my nostrils, the onions fall off, and the sport peppers, when they’re not squirting spicy brine, are torpedoing out the tail end of the bun. We make these babies fairly frequently in our house, so I’ve been tinkering with the method. Boiled dogs are fine, but Mike prefers ’em grilled (“chardog”), so I’d been splitting them in half and slapping them on our Griddler. They curl up like crazy, though, and the charring isn’t that fantastic. I also often eliminate the sport peppers because they’re a bit much when you bite into a big one. I tried out a few methods of steaming the bun (a soft bun is essential), none of which were satisfactory. And then? I had a brainwave. I saw a video about spiral-cutting hot dogs. How cool is that method? That’d prevent the curling issue I’d been experiencing. A spiral-cut dog is perfect for holding chunky condiments like relish…waitaminit! What if I turned the toppings into a sort of chunky salsa?
I set to work and suddenly we found ourselves eating the greatest (and least messy) Chicago dogs I’ve ever made. We’ve had them this way three times since then. Y’all, this is a winner. To those of you from the great state of Illinois, I ask your forgiveness for messing with a classic. Don’t hate until you try it, though. I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Better Chicago Dogs
Active time: 25 minutes | Total time: 25 minutes | Serves: 4
4 all-beef hot dogs
4 potato hot dog buns (poppy seed if possible)
1 medium tomato, cored, seeded, and finely diced
1/3 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1/4 medium white onion, finely diced
1 dill pickle (or 3 baby dills), finely diced
2 sport peppers, finely diced (optional)
1/8 teaspoon celery salt
mustard, for serving (and ketchup, if you don’t mind being noncanonical)
- For the relish: Combine tomato, cucumber, onion, pickle, sport peppers (if using), and celery salt in a glass bowl.
- For the dogs: On a cutting board, lay a hot dog front of you, parallel to the long edge of the board. Position your knife on top at a slight angle. Slowly and carefully rotate the hot dog, cutting about halfway through in a spiral. [For a video of this preparation process, visit Chow, but note that it’s just as easy to do it without the skewer if you hold your knife in the same place (height, angle) while turning the dog.] Repeat for remaining hot dogs. Heat a medium skillet over medium, coat with cooking spray, and cook dogs until warmed through and slightly charred on exterior, about five minutes, turning often.
- To assemble: Wet two paper towels and then wring out any excess water. Wrap two buns in one damp paper towels, set on a plate, and microwave 30 seconds to steam. Repeat with remaining buns and paper towel. In each steamed bun, place one cooked spiral-cut hot dog, a stripe of mustard (and ketchup, if using), and one-quarter the Chicago Dog salsa.
So, listen. Heather will probably post some recipes on this site that require dedication, skill, and a certain amount of culinary prowess. Hers will be the recipes of a woman who practically grew up in the kitchen. One who, taught by a master cook, constantly challenges her palate and her skill set, always combining fresh and exotic ingredients into uniquely nutritious, flavorful, unforgettable dishes.
The recipes I post will be the recipes of a man who has to fend for himself while that woman is out.
My recipes will be delicious and healthy, but always very easy to prepare. Knowing your way around the kitchen will be helpful, but not required. If you can boil water and chop vegetables without chopping your fingers, you’ll be safe with me. To that end, I give you …
Penne with Two Tomatoes & Mozzarella
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 20 minutes | Serves: 4
Adapted from: Everyday Food
3/4 pound penne rigate
1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
6 ounces fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup chopped chives
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic (sliced thin)
salt and fresh ground pepper
If you want to save a little prep time up front, slice your sun-dried tomatoes, chives, and garlic ahead of time. This is not critical, as you can easily do it while your pasta is cooking, but if you don’t trust yourself to focus on two tasks at once, this may save you some stress. Otherwise, just follow the steps below.
- Put the mozzarella in the freezer so it gets cold, firm, and easier to slice. While that’s chilling, fill a big pot with water and set to boil. Once the water reaches a nice, rolling boil, add dash of salt and the penne. Cook until al dente (7 to 8 minutes). Scoop out 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Meanwhile, rinse your tomatoes, slice the garlic, chop the chives, and cut the mozzarella into approximately half-inch cubes. How small you chop the chives is up to you, but I prefer them small so that they can get all over the pasta. Put your pot back on the stove over medium heat, then combine the olive oil, pasta water, both kinds of tomatoes, and garlic. Cook until the tomatoes get soft and their skins begin to split—2 to 4 minutes—stirring occasionally.
- Add the pasta, chives, salt, and pepper (to taste). Stir everything around until its all evenly distributed. Serve hot, sprinkling the mozzarella cubes on top last.
In my childhood home, there were always three sodas: caffeine-free Coke, root beer, and ginger ale (preferable Canada Dry). My Papa and my brother were the real soda drinkers, but given those options, I usually gravitated toward the ginger ale. As I got older, I learned that most canned ginger ale is a lot tamer than many bottled varieties, and my allegiance lay with Reed’s Extra Ginger Brew. I like the burn, friends. I like a ginger ale that doesn’t just politely ring your doorbell but instead bashes in your front door, shakes the rain off its coat, and leaves muddy footprints in the entryway. That’s a soda I know I can bro down with—not just a delicately flavored vehicle for sugar and empty calories, but a soda that feels like a full-bodied treat, loaded with nuance and spice.
I bought a SodaStream Fountain Jet a year ago and it has been one of the greatest gadgets to enter my kitchen. We keep three bottles of water cold in the fridge so they can be fizzed (or “bubbed,” as we say in this house) at a moment’s notice. I’ve always preferred sparkling water, and now I can have it whenever I want. What’s more, I can make better-for-you fancy drinks. Mike’s personal favorite is to take citrus juice (either orange or grapefruit) and cut it with bubbled water. I like to drink the sparkling stuff with a few dashes of rhubarb or cherry bitters, which makes something akin to those “scented” waters and makes any table more elegant. And yet, the drink that impresses my guests the most is always homemade soda. I whipped up a natural cola once that tasted great (though was better as a mixer), but the real star in our joint is this ginger ale. We’re the sort of folks who have milk, water, and grapefruit juice on hand…and that’s it. But with the SodaSream, we now have beverage options, and a jar of this soda syrup tucked into the fridge makes it easy to pull out something delicious and unusual for whomever comes by.
I might’ve forgot to mention that it’s super simple. The “hardest” part is peeling the ginger, which is more time-consuming than actually difficult, and I’m not even truly convinced you need to do that (Update: You definitely do not. See below!). I brought four jars of this syrup to a BK Swappers event last week (along with some whole-grain mustard—another experiment!), and it was gone in a flash. Since my double batch was all traded away, I came home and made a third batch just for us. If you’ve never made your own soda syrup, I’d encourage you to try for several reasons:
- You know exactly what goes into it. Look at the ingredient list on a typical can of soda. Spooky, right? This soda contains ordinary ingredients found in my kitchen. To wit: white sugar, brown sugar, fresh ginger, cardamom pods, allspice berries, peppercorns, and star anise. That’s it. I feel better knowing that my treats are made from whole foods that can be traced more easily to their sources (and that I can pronounce).
- You don’t have to have any special equipment. You can just use seltzer from the store to mix with your syrup (though if you’re the sort of person who buys flats of seltzer from Costco, I’d recommend exploring the SodaStream. Better for the environment, better for you, and so dang much fun).
- You can use the syrup for more than just sodas. We use the ginger ale syrup in desserts, too (it pairs beautifully with apples and pears). I’ve drizzled it on ice cream, and I stir it into mocktails and cocktails. Check out the notes in the recipe for some usage tips!
- It’s almost shockingly easy. Beyond
peeling andslicing the ginger, it’s a matter of heating up some spices on the stovetop and then tossing in the ginger, water, and sugar. You let it simmer for a while, then strain. That’s it.
- You can customize the level of sweetness in your beverage. More often than not, I make half-strength ginger ale for myself, using less syrup in my glass of bubbly. This is a great way to wean yourself off of commercial (read: high-sugar, chemical-laden) soft drinks if you’re an avid soda drinker.
- It makes your house smell out of this world.
Now that fall is almost upon us, why don’t you give real ginger ale a try? I think you might like it.
Spicy Ginger Ale Syrup
Active time: 15 minutes | Total time: 1 hour | Makes: approximate 2 cups syrup
Adapted from: Former Chef
1 heaping teaspoon allspice berries
2 heaping teaspoons cardamom pods
4 star anise pods
1 heaping teaspoon peppercorns
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces fresh ginger, washed and then cut into thin slices (no need to peel)
2 cups water
- In a medium pot, heat allspice, cardamom, anise, and peppercorns over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until toasted and fragrant, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Add brown sugar, granulated sugar, ginger, and water to pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 30 minutes. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate in an airtight glass container.
- To make a regular soda, mix 2 tablespoons of syrup into 10 ounces of soda water.
- For an autumnal treat, combine 6 ounces unfiltered apple cider, 6 ounces soda water, and 1 tablespoon ginger syrup.
- For a pancake topper, stir together equal parts maple syrup and ginger ale syrup. (Optional: Heat on the stove and whisk in a tablespoon or two of salted butter until combined.)
- Pour over ice cream.
- Toss with sliced apples or pears, dot with butter, and bake in a pie crust.
- Shake with rum and lime juice for a cocktail.
- Spoon into hot tea.
- Sweeten whipped cream to top pumpkin pie.
- Stir into Greek yogurt.
Two years ago today, Heather and Mike became Heather+Mike! Here’s to many wonderful moments together and many more anniversaries to come!