What Vacation?

"I always love you, love New York". I first heard this lyric my senior year of university. I was sitting in the living room of our North Street cottage in Chapel Hill when a very close pal, Carrington, played it for me. I was hooked. Fast forward 18 years and I now know the songs of Ryan Adams intimately as he is a favorite of Matthew's. Or at least was before his image began to tarnish some months ago. Anyways, whenever I make plans to visit New York, book a ticket or the skyline comes into view while driving into the city, this song echoes in my ears and I am transported back to that wonderful afternoon with a most dear friend. 

New York is a special place for many. The Breyer's included. My father was born and raised in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He attended not one but two universities there. In 1974, my parents called the bustling, busy city home. Fast forward some 45 plus years, they call it home again. Growing up, we used to visit my grandmother Irma in Rego Park, Queens as well as my grandfather in Brooklyn. We always stayed at the Waldorf Astoria (I gather thanks to Hilton points) and we children jumped on the beds of our pink and white wallpaper lined room ogling out the windows gaping onto congested and twinkling streets. 

Following graduation in 2004, Michelle officially called New York City home. From John Street to Charles Street (and a stone's throw from SJP and Ferris Bueller) to now a street identified with a number and an elevator, she has been there ever since. In 2009, after six outstanding years abroad and fueled by a serious case of heartache, I sought out to write my next chapter and a move was inevitable. I decided upon the Big Apple. I connected with my posse from my Dallas days at the Hockaday School. I reunited with my UNC pals. I found a charming alcove studio apartment on west 21st street with a wall of windows giving the feeling that I was living in a space larger than the room itself. A gentleman living across the street must have been an art collector as evidenced by the changing paintings that adorned his cavernous walls. He also hosted parties and not infrequently. There was never a dull moment living in that flat. I purchased a Fodors book prior to moving and I physically explored nearly every one of its pages.

Within a year, along came little brother Keith by way of Beijing, China. I flew to Germany for a week with my folks to meet and escort him home. For once since high school, we three children were living within ten blocks of one another. Enter Jay Z's Empire State of Mind proudly blaring out of speakers across the city. Each Sunday, mother hen (moi) insisted on family dinner at my apartment and here Keith's love for chicken tortilla soup was born. My two best friends lived there while I was there. One on the upper east side and the other in then-unchartered-lands, Brooklyn. So as you can see, New York is more than just a destination for me. It is a home away from home. When I moved to Charlotte in 2009, I always made it a point to celebrate my birthday in NYC. This began with my thirtieth and save missing one or two here or there, it has become my place to ring in each subsequent year. 

Now more than ever, we are reminded of the Big Apple. My sister, who still lives there, is experiencing day who-knows-what in quarantine with her family. We are watching Cuomo's daily press events with much interest and attention. Matthew keeps saying how much he misses NYC and what he would give to travel there (minus the pandemic). I have told him owing to the current workings of the world, I doubt we will get there this year. And when we do return, it will most likely be a very different place from our recent memories. In fact, I am not sure what vacations will look like this year. If there will be any vacations this year. We are supposed to go abroad for my Mom's 70th come December. Stay tuned.

Coronavirus not in the picture, upon arrival in the Big Apple, I always take a leisurely walk down 7th avenue for coffee in the West Village. I peer in the windows of Barney's (which has since closed, insert tear here) and Williams Sonoma. A manicure next to the famed Stonewall Inn. Reservations galore at spots I always research with gusto in the weeks leading up to my trip. I still swear by Conde Nast, Bon Appetit and Eater as my gastro bibles. The hopeful celebrity spotting at the Spotted Pig, where by the way we no longer eat owing to the unsavory activities that took place in the den of iniquity upstairs. It too has since closed. A pitstop for tacos and guac at Chelsea Market. Killer donuts on 19th street, 14th street and Morton Street. A glass of vino at Otto. Another spot ruined for us by Mario Batali. 

A long cruise down to the Meat Packing District to peer into the open garage doors of the now closed, Barbuto. A favorite for their perfectly roasted chicken, crispy potatoes and green as grass kale salad dusted with insane amounts of parmesan cheese. Afternoons in China Town for hot pot, dumplings and peering into the malodorous buckets of squirming fish. Neapolitan style pizza at Marta. In my estimation, the best in the City next to Roberta's in Brooklyn. Oysters at Grand Central Station. The definitive Diner for their incredible burgers. I first ate here one evening with two of my brother's bosom pals. As they scribbled the night's menu across our table, I was hooked. The meat feast at Cote. And if the company is eager, drinks at the Gramercy Park Hotel. Other boozehound favorites include beers al fresco at White Horse Tavern, martinis at Pete's Tavern in Gramercy, sawdust and brews at McSorley's, beer from a boot at The Standard Hotel Beer Garden or Wogies and Claudette on lower 5th for their perfect Aperol Spritz. The list goes on and on and on.

In 2011, when the winds of change blew Matthew's and mine to an intersecting point once again, he asked for my phone number but took his sweet time calling. When he finally did reach out, apparently his phone had gone missing in where of all places? New York City. Towards the end of this first year of dating, it was time to meet the family (again) and we all convened in the Big Apple for Michelle's 30th birthday soiree. Talk about halcyon times. We kicked off the weekend festivities with a family dinner (minus Ted who stayed back in Germany owing to meetings) at a beloved Yiddish spot in the East Village. I think Matthew was quite literally thunderstruck to see the amount of food the Breyer's ordered, and put back. The first of many meals together. I like to think I gave Matthew the NYC bug as over too-many-trips to count, I have shared my NYC with him, and together we have carved out our very own game plan for the City. Lower East side for ramen and bagels, Brooklyn for the parks and bars, and everywhere else in between to quite simply, explore, gorge and imbibe, though not necessarily in that order.

Recently, we found ourselves in front of the TV (what else should we do these days) whilst baby napped and a program was on with folks jumping into a cab and playing games. As B-roll footage ran, we found ourselves shouting and pointing at the screen - hey, we know that bodega. Or, that street is the one where we had our cab pull over to so we could jump out and explore. Eataly! One couple's stop was Gramercy Tavern, one of our favorites. We took the baby to the Big Apple when she was three months old but of course she doesn't remember a thing. 

I long to take her back, when my entire family is there, to experience the culture, the sights and given her appetite, the eclectic eats. Speaking of food, check out the easy Indian recipe below. Inspired by a very dear friend who brought us buttery chicken for dinner when Lucy was a baby. She and her husband were also in NYC the same time as me. Just down the street in fact. You see, all roads lead to and from Manhattan. 

Buttery Chicken

What Dreams Are Made Of

2 large breasts
4 skinless boneless thighs 
1 TBS garam masala
1 TBS cumin
1 TBS turmeric
1 pinch red pepper flakes 
1 onion chopped 
4 cloves of garlic chopped
Knob of ginger - peeled and chopped
2 TBS tomato paste
16 oz can tomato sauce
16 oz water (just fill the can)
One cinnamon stick or 1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup full fat whipping cream
1 stick of butter
Pepper and salt
Chopped cilantro

You Can Do Anything

Mix spices together and divide in half.

One half apply to the chicken in the bowl and the other half hold onto for a "New York minute."

Heat butter on medium heat and add chicken. Brown it for around ten minutes. Set aside.

Now add a bit more butter and gently cook the garlic, ginger and onion for around two minutes. Add the remaining spice mixture, cinnamon, tomato paste and stir to coat around a minute. Add the tomato sauce, water, chicken. Now, more butter. Add two tablespoons, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

At this point add the cup of full fat whipping cream, mix and let cook for another 10-15 minutes.

You can serve garnished with cilantro or not. Would taste amazing over rice. We are watching the carbs during the week and enjoyed ours over cauliflower rice. You could also do broccoli rice or lentils. 

*Quick tip for preparing black lentils. All you need is one part lentils / two parts water and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer, cook until water is evaporated. I like to add 2 TBS sesame oil to enhance the flavor. Then, employ as you will!


9 Months

I wrote this some time ago and don't think I posted it? At the time, we were in the bowels of managing a new life with a 10 week old baby. And small world. I just pulled out the goodies to make this salad. 

I have returned and a very great deal has transpired since my last posting whose recipe - by the way - still stands as one of the favorite go-to meals of the Johnson household. You can peruse how to make dynamite gyros at home, here

So, where to start? We sold Matt's beloved house he purchased at 29 years of age and it was a touch melancholic packing things up. While house hunting, we moved into an uptown flat to lead lives as city people. I envisioned dinners picnicking in the park, visits to the wine bar below our building, evening ball games and Saturday mornings with coffees in hand walking across the city to the grocery store for provisions. Not entirely.

From my first tiny 160 square foot pre-war flat in Dusseldorf to my doorman, shoe-box alcove apartment in the thick of Chelsea in New York City (120 West 21st street had me with the massive closet, which was larger than my kitchen) to my Trade street digs circa 2009, I am all for apartment living. Lock and leave. Problem? Call someone. No cutting grass, leaving garbage bins on the side of the street, finding an absurd dollar amount to replace an HVAC or worrying about drawing attention with absent cars. My husband and apartment living? Not so much. Waiting for elevators in a building with some 400 units, erroneous small talk with strangers, the random dog who sniffs annoyingly and schlepping groceries from a communal garage with an entry door that sticks is not exactly his definition of #goodtimes. 

After more months of searching than we care to admit, our agent found a gem of a spot in a wonderful neighborhood in my very favorite neck of the Charlotte woods. The former owners could not have been lovelier, and kindly turned over the keys to the home they raised their family in for more than 40 years. Requiring a bit of TLC, we spent some time transforming it from the screen set of Silence of the Lambs to a place to hang our hats. We moved in ready to host a neighborhood shebang rivaling those from our wonder years at Reynolds Ranch only to move out a month and a bit later thanks to a compromised main sewage line, which resulted in a wrecked downstairs. The downstairs bathroom had not even been christened. 

Imagine a multi-man hazmat team cleaning for ten days, stripping dry walls on newly painted surfaces, tearing up floors installed a whisper of time beforehand and the piece de resistance - the identification and removal of asbestos. And lest I not forget, a demised front lawn thanks to an unruly backhoe. And a destroyed sprinkler system. The list of "what nows" seemed to ensue exponentially. All icing on the "welcome to the joys of home ownership" cake. I embarked upon the tiresome task of finding an (insurance company approved) GC in a market saturated with them who are in positions to be choosy. 

At some point before the house sale, we were elated to be pregnant, and then 14 weeks later we weren't, and in October of last year, we were pregnant again, and feeling very confident about things. Our dreams finally came true on June 29 when our 10 pound 3 oz not-so-little lady charged into the world. Now, I am writing whilst listening to my 10-week-old baby Lucy squawk like a hungry little bird indicating it's, yet again, nap-time. Only, as I am fast learning, achieving said nap during the defined "relentlessly search for sleepy cues" window continues to be a total enigma to me. We are utterly enthralled with our "Bonnie Lass" as my mother likes to call her. Our miracle baby. My labor and delivery were both horrifying exercises, and my recovery is slower than molasses. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," my doctor reminds me regularly. 

Thank my stars for grandparents; cooking splendiferous meals, watering our thirsty plants, lending their valued expertise, picking up cases of wine, giving our arms a break when we need one and putting fresh flowers in vases. I am imploring the clock to slow. Every day flies by and I marvel as weeks turn to months and we ask each other, how could we be so far along yet feel as if we just began. Halcyon times indeed.

Our cherished Lucy is feisty, strong-willed, active and inquisitive. In the hospital she was grabbing for her bottle to the utter awe of nurses and since week three, has been able to hold up her head, alert with pride. She has big, inquiring eyes that peer with attentive amazement. And, she has officially captivated her mama with her smiles. Motherhood has been a positively overwhelming fantastic whirlwind. I am hooked! Lucy is my doppelgänger and staring at her has become a daily past time. When she is flummoxed, I pick her up, shhh into her ear and she melts into my chest like a little chocolate bar. Each morning, our routine begins with a trip to the front porch so she can peer out into the world. We practice our nursery rhymes at changing time. When she sneezes, I speak to her in German and explain the derivations of "Gesundheit." 

Over the past 11 months, I have accepted (not always so smart of me) each and every piece of advise given (solicited or not). I have exhausted Google to the point where I am now a self-appointed medical professional. Why didn't I go to med school I ask my husband each night when we have ten minutes to spend together before we jump into bed at the same time as her because who knows when we will be up again. Pre-Lucy, I scoured the mom blogs for everything I absolutely needed to have for the delivery room (on day two of labor Matthew took home two bags of "stuff" citing the amount of loot we had was embarrassing) to must-have items for a new baby at home (once again, 99% of items, I did not need). Thousands of dollars at Amazon literally, pissed up against a wall. One stellar piece of information we did receive was to bring the nurses chocolate. During my lengthy stay in the hospital we distributed some 16+ pounds of the good stuff. Three times a day, my Matthew walked the halls with treats in hand to distribute to the incredible staff who took tremendous care of us. Tremendous care of me.

Sweets aside, our wonderful network of friends have delivered scrumptious dinners to us the last 10 weeks and for this, we are forever grateful. Despite my love of cooking, I have found little time to do anything except be with our baby. I said to someone recently, I was always suspicious of my friends who upon becoming new moms were slow to respond to text messages. How difficult is it to send a text message, I asked. Now, I totally get it. So for those of you to whom I have been slow to respond, apologies. Anyways, I have been tucking into all sorts of treats like double stuffed Oreos (one of our first deliveries), Jeni's ice cream because as people tell me - "enjoy yourself, you just had a baby" and the chocolate chip lactation cookies I am just telling myself work. 

The below salad is one my dear cousin Annabel always prepares in bulk once it's time for fitting into her skinny pants. Speaking of Annabel, my folks just arrived in London and have the pleasure of her glorious company as well as that of my cousins Graeme and Finley for the next week. They SnapChatted me this morning whilst enjoying lunch at their local pub. Lucky ducks kicking off Fall, abroad...

Annabel's Salad


1 head of red cabbage - chopped
1 head of lacinto kale - chopped
1 carrot - chopped
OR you can cheat and buy a container of ready prepared greens (perfect for the new mom!)
1 TBS fennel seeds
1/2 cup of salted, roasted sunflower seeds - toasted
1/2 cup of sliced almonds - toasted
3/4 cup of blue cheese
1 packet of prosciutto / lardons or bacon - sautéed until crispy
1/3 cup of sesame oil
1/3 cup of rice wine vinegar

It's That Easy

Add all to a large bowl, mix and season with maldon salt.


Beauty School Dropout

I don't know about you, but I am feeling quite homely these days. This morning, I read a post about a woman not enjoying her furry upper lip. My hair is about seven weeks past due for a trim and color. Thanks to all our al fresco picnics in the sunshine, my strands (nevermind the silver roots) are a hue I would never ask a hairdresser to duplicate. I am growing my hair out but the current shape is not cute, at all. A couple of months ago, I did Whole30 followed by Keto, and some 10 lbs down (another 16 to go, Jesus) I am still following a variation of the latter that involves falling terribly off the wagon on Saturdays. And, lest not forget the 5pm temptation as neighbors congregate at a safe social distance with beverages in hand(s). We are all only human. Nevermind the regular exercise in which I am engaging (Barry's Bootcamp trainer videos, these amazing barre classes with Caitlin, Yoga with Adrienne and daily neighborhood walks), the upward journey continues. Give yourself grace, people tell me. You created the miracle of life. Well, yes, I did and she is simply marvelous, but a closet full of clothes that only sort of fit is not okay. The season of white skinny jeans is fast upon us and mine currently look like a murder scene. 

In this uncertain time, the one element in my life of which I have total control is caring for my skin. I used to have horrible skin; in earnest, it looked like I had measles. I started seeing a dermatologist at a young age and my resounding memory is him looking at me when I was 16 and saying "oh shame." Two words no awkward teenager with braces and tragic skin ever wants to hear in reference to his or her appearance. We tried everything in the books to no avail. Fast forward a couple of months to our last resort, an Accutane treatment and a series of more embarrassing moments i.e. the nurse asking if I needed a monthly pregnancy test. The horror, "absolutely no reason for that" I told her. The unpleasant side effects hit me like the ten plagues: dry skin, nose bleeds, cracks in the corners of my mouth, sore joints, the list went on. My family holidayed in Spain the month I stopped the medication and we spent a week on the Costa del Sol. I do not know how my mother (or I) missed the sun sensitivity memo and I somehow found myself with third degree burns across my chest and arms. Let me tell you how cute I looked after a trip to the farmacia with gauze wrapped around my arms and the neon yellow ointment oozing through. Our family photographs at the Alhambra in Granada are especially charming owing to my adornments. But once the dust settled, I came out on the other side with (not to toot my own horn) beautiful skin. I was unrecognizable. 

And so, following the previously detailed acne trauma and per my mother's recommendations, I have given careful attention to my skin ever since. My medley was shaped by my skincare lady of the last twenty years (sadly she just sold her spa) as well as products about which I have learned from my mother, who has phenomenal skin. Quarantine life has infused an entirely new level of commitment to my skin regimen. I am not regularly going for facials anymore, and the below is serving as a close cousin. When I jump out of bed (and after my first set of 25 squats; I am doing a 100+ squat a day challenge with my cousins in London), I do the following. If you are interested in procuring them, Google around to find the best prices:

For makeup removal, I use Bioderma Micellair. It makes for easy peasy cleaning. I use this at night, too.

Arcona White Tea Purifying Cleanser - this leaves my skin feeling impossibly clean and the scent is amazing. My mother turned me onto this. I also use Sothy's Desquacrem. My facial lady has had me using this for years. They recommend Sothy's products. In the shower, I keep a big bottle of Dermalogica Skin Cleansing Gel

Fresh Rose Face Mask - smells amazing and my skin already feels so hydrated. A little goes a very long way. I put this on in the morning before I enjoy my coffee.

Elemis Dynamic Resurfacing Facial Pads - I have only recently started using these and I already see as well as feel a difference. My skin feels so soft. Almost as suave as Lucy's little tushy. Game changer for sure. 

Every once in a while, I use a dab of salicylic acid on my skin (after the facial pads). I like the Peter Thomas Roth number for aging skin. I am 40 and figure I need all the help I can get.  

After the facial pads or the Peter Thomas Roth (pea sized squeeze), I love this Sothy's moisturizer. 

When in the shower, I always exfoliate. My second mother, who is in her 70s and looks fabulous, says the key to maintaining youthful skin is relentless exfoliation. I really like this but this oldie but goodie works just fine, too.

I have used a whole host of expensive eye creams with so-so results, and shy of getting Botox (no judgement but my mother would kill me), I read an article that touted the benefits of Aquaphor. So I am on day four and so far, I like what I see. Stay tuned. 

Last but not least, I love, love, love serums. Back during my days living in Germany, the lady who did my facials was also enamored of them. The result was a gorgeous, dewy glow. Per spectacular reviews, I have just ordered the Skinceuticals B5 gel. It is not cheap but I understand a little goes a long way. What's your daily skin regimen? Am I missing anything?

Skincare aside, I CANNOT GET ENOUGH of the chicken patties made with the chicken used to create this stock. Many people add it back to the soup or for chicken salad but these patties are the way to go. In this blog, I have a handful of articles touting Jewish Penicillin but this is the new recipe to which I am adhering, and it's the jam. 

Chicken Stock and the most amazing Chicken Patties


4 lb chicken
3 carrots cut in half
23ribs of celery cut in half
One head of garlic cut in half
One yellow onion - leave the skin on - quartered
Bunch of thyme
Bunch of parsley
Bunch of dill

Salt - lots of kosher salt
Pepper - lots of fresh cracked pepper
Saffron - a pinch (if you don't have it, star anise will give some depth to your stock, too)

Chicken Patties

Chicken meat - both dark and white meat
2 eggs
1/2 red onion - chopped
1 carrot - chopped
1 celery - chopped
Dill - chopped
Olive oil

To do:

Put everything in a big pot and fill with water. Bring to a furious boil and lower to a simmer for four hours. Do not cover. Scrape the funk off the top every once in a while.

After four hours, strain and set aside chicken carcass. Broth is now ready for manipulation. I like to add chopped kale, red pepper flakes to ours. You can do a can of garbanzo or cannellini beans, carrots, celery, mushrooms; the list goes on.

And onto the chicken patties. These are crack. A whole chicken should yield 10-12 patties and I bet you a dime they won't last 24 hours.

Strip the white meat / nice looking dark meat and put in a big bowl. Shred with a fork, add two eggs and mix with your hands. Add salt and pepper.

Pulse carrots, celery, onion and dill in food processor. Sauté in olive oil. Once everything has had a nice chance to sweat, remove from heat and add to chicken and egg mix. Mix with your hands until uniform.

Form balls. Cook in olive oil on high heat - I like to smash mine with a spatula - flip and cook until crisp on the exterior.

Day #32, friends. Bon weekend.



Quarantine has left me a serial vacuumer. There, I said it. I can't stop vacuuming. Or spraying Windex (note, do not ever buy generic Windex, it is the one chemical whereby you need the real deal to perform), bringing out the Bona for our hardwoods and going through absurd shakes of Bar Keepers Friend for everything from our kitchen and laundry room sinks, Waterford decanters to anything else I can Google to clean. One morning, I spent who knows how long cleaning all the cabinets in the house. Kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room. I polished all hardware until it shone. Another day I said I was going to hand soak all our cutlery to make them sparkle. I did and they do. Don't even ask me why. I am lawfully driving my husband crazy. We have had countless "talks" whereby he has stated, the 6 a.m. "what are we going to clean or tackle today" (with Breyer infused punch and gusto) is not working for him. Sigh. Nevermind my husband hounding, our house has never looked so good.

COVID-19. I should start by expressing I am utterly aghast by what's happening in the world. The terrible sickness, the rising number of deaths, the staggering unemployment, the flailing economy. The list goes on. The fact that countless bars, restaurants and shops will shutter for good is heartbreaking; an utter apocalypse for so many. I want to underscore, I speak from a position of ignorance. I only know what I read and what I hear on the news, and yes, we are diversifying with regards to our sources. I know two people who had COVID-19 and thank God, both survived. One was in NYC. He called his doctor with symptoms who said, you most likely have it but tests aren't available. He self-quarantined, all alone in his Chelsea apartment, for 14 days of feeling like he had been run over by a truck. Another friend was hospitalized in London, put in a medical induced coma for two days. He called his twin to outline the details of his will unsure of his own fate. Thank God, he is home and recovering. I mention these two because so many people say to me, I don't know anyone who has it. I suspect it is only a matter of time before we all know someone who either has it, had or it has been adversely affected by its wrath.

On the other side of the coin, there have been many pluses, in my book. Cuomo's daily press events. The new skin regimen I have started thanks to products pulled from other bloggers. The Barry's Bootcamp, yoga and barre classes I am streaming every day via Zoom and getting to know (virtually) new friends. The livestream concerts. We listened to Dave Matthews Band in our den on a Friday night with libations and him crooning from my iPad. That was pretty cool. It is almost as if we have reverted to our most primordial selves. We are learning how to cook again (I will expound upon this more, momentarily), bake bread (my Mom has become the maestro with a seeded South African number), make our own beer, bring mixology to our very own homes. I for one am experimenting with citrus and tequila. Quarantinis abounding over ice. Some shaken, others stirred. Stay tuned. 

Perhaps most importantly, our daughter. The line between baby and little girl is fast blurring, and it is such a privilege to be home with her as she squeaks her first words and takes her first steps. Games, puzzles and picnics in our front yard. I just picked up this new blanket, and it's perfect. I have heard of others learning second languages (I am hoping Matt brushes up on his Spanish) and YouTube "teach me to play the guitar" videos are taking the web by storm. As society has put the screeching brakes on any sort of social activity, we are all exploring new ways to engage, identify with and connect. My neighborhood has become ground zero for social distancing cocktailing. My family around the world came together virtually to create an amazing video. Please see below! Help us make it go viral! My folks saw our daughter walk for the first time via video chat. Perhaps, one day we will all look at this knowing we set ourselves on a more clear course. I don't know.

We were supposed to be celebrating Passover and Easter on the Jewish Riviera with my family but of course that went out the window. All the beautiful smocked bubbles procured for Lucy will continue to hang in her closet as it is 49 degrees today. I miss my sister, who lives in NYC with two little boys and hasn't left her apartment in going on (I think) 26 days. I miss my brother, who lives in LA with his lovely lady Erika and their roommate, Adrian. Their quarantine was just extended to May 15. I miss my folks, who are in southern Florida and enjoying their daily routines. I don't know when I will see any of them, and nevermind the daily FaceTiming and HousePartying, I miss them. I am sure they miss me and our sparkling home, too!

One productivity boon in our lives (cleaning, organizing, etc. aside) has been finding the time to cook properly, again. Let's face it, as a working mom with a baby, our lives move at the speed of light. When I returned to work, dinner was meals prepared efficiently on a Sunday, baked chicken or scrambled eggs. But now that I am home, I have returned to the kitchen. We had two nights of Passover feasting (I will write about this later in the week), and I am preparing to set the course for our Easter feast (peppercorn tenderloin with orange horseradish sauce, roasted sweet potatoes with tahini and soy drizzle and a parsley with chopped fennel salad). This morning began with my looking at our fruit bowl and seeing three ailing bananas. These days, I am furiously dieting to lose the last 16 "Lucy pounds" but figured I would make a sweet treat for the family.

And so, while Matthew took the baby to his mother's grave to wish her a happy holiday, I got to work on banana bread. It was not my most elegant of preparations. I somehow cut my finger (discovery made when I saw smears of red on my white cabinets), dropped and subsequently broke my mixer, accidentally forgot about a stick of butter in the microwave that turned into an almost beurre blanc that was a real bitch to clean, put two huge gouges in the Black Fox paint of my island when I dropped said mixer (thank God I hadn't brought out the Kitchen Aid mixer) and with my bloody, butter fingers, knocked over a pound bag of hemp seeds that scattered from the island all over the floor. Winning for sure. This said, the end result is a clean house that smells like cinnamon, warm bananas and toasted nuts. And Matthew just had a slice citing, "F*ck, that's delicious."

Lots of people say they can't cook or bake. That's absolute rubbish. If you can read or ride a bike, you can cook. Hell, if you can hold a pen or brush your teeth, you can. Just ensure you measure properly, and go to town. I figure you may have some time on your side right now, so why not?

Banana Bread

You Need:

Cooking spray
1 stick of butter - soften it in the microwave
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3 pinches of salt (I use Maldon salt)
2 eggs
1/4 cup of Greek yoghurt (you can use milk too)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 ripe bananas
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
1 tsp hemp seeds

To Do:

1. Set the oven to 350. While the oven heats up, throw in your walnuts to get nice and toasty with the mosty. And spray down your loaf dish or pan. I use this one. 

2. Carefully soften your butter and transfer to a bowl. Add in the sugar. Mix until creamy with whatever devise you want.

3. Add the eggs. Mix. Add the yoghurt and vanilla. Mix some more.

4. Add the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Mix until uniform.

5. Add the toasted nuts. Mix some more. 

6. Now with a spoon or fork, add the bananas, gently mash and mix until sort of uniform. Like corn bread with actual corn in it, I want some banana pieces herein.

7. Transfer your batter to the dish. Sprinkle on top with hemp seeds. Bake at 350 for one hour.

Serve and enjoy however you like. Butter, whatever. We are animals and grab pieces directly from the dish. I am going to wash and blow dry my hair today. Happy Easter!


We Don't Need Another Hero

As of late, we are utterly besotted with yoghurt. We don't gorge on it in copious amounts but for this and that, I do not procure the ever popular, no fat. Sweet or savory, it is a game changer and can give life to really any old dish. Back during my days living in Germany, full fat was the way of the world. While there, I always wondered why my Milchkaffee (latte) tasted better. Full fat milk. Honestly, it must have been umpteen percent. In fact, two summers ago when Matthew and I had a layover in Munich en route to Scandinavia, I insisted he order one. He agreed, the business. There was no such thing as skim (or at least I did not know how to ask for it in German), so when in Rome. With my first job, we had a busy cafeteria (Germans call them cantines) and every morning I enjoyed crunchy muesli with plump grapes, nuts, seeds and the richest, creamiest of yoghurts. Now that I am a wiser in the kitchen, I know the reasons behind its glorious flavor, spellbinding texture and incredible creaminess could be attributed to one simple thing: Fat. 

Now let the record show, when I cook I do try keep a careful, healthy eye out. I am mindful of the amount of olive oil I use. In fact, when I see the bottle running out, I quickly calculate in my mind when I bought said bottle. This usually triggers a mind race of "oh my stars, how quickly did we consume this." Then I begin to calibrate the thousands of hidden calories and immediately I have the reason why I cannot lose these last 5 pounds. These days, it lasts longer than it used to, so we will consider this a win. We are regularly playing around with spices, and I am always picking up new ones. In fact, this very morning, I ordered some Sichuan pepper, black sesame seeds and preserved lemons. We make a concerted attempt to "go vegetarian" at least once a week. This requires some creativity as I cannot consume beans, and Matthew is not wild about grain only meals. We consume pounds and pounds of kale. Really, the two of us have cornered the market. I try to keep it in check in the food department during the week because it seems Friday to Saturday our eating habits are the picture of bedlam. 

Back to the yoghurt. Some evenings, if I have a sweet tooth, I dish out a spoonful of the full fat stuff. I tizzy it up with raw almonds or hazelnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds and a drizzle of good quality honey. I enjoy this with a small spoon and it is pure delight. The most decadent of treats. In preparing vegetables, I am always looking to make them more interesting. For this, you can very simply transform your yoghurt into a show stopper. Throw a cup it in your food processor with a bunch of fresh herbs (parsley and cilantro are magical), chopped garlic, the zest of a lemon and a pinch of kosher salt. Blitz and hoorah, you have your very own green goddess dressing. How easy is that? With yoghurt you can make this or this or this.

Thick and creamy, it is magical spooned over roasted acorn or butternut squash, cumin toasted carrots, sautéed greens, chili con carne. The list goes on. Matthew likes a dollop over brown basmati rice with pickled vegetables and some red pepper flakes. And why stop there? Roast some garbanzo beans in a pan with olive oil and turmeric, drain, and put a plop of yoghurt and some fresh herbs on top. A drizzle of olive oil and you have an elegant side dish. You can even smear it on warm biscuits or scones. When a recipe calls for sour cream, I always substitute full fat Greek yoghurt. In my book only, the many applications of yoghurt are not as delightful, satisfying or delicious when using its lower fat sister. In short, buy a tub of the 2%, and keep it on hand in the fridge. A little goes a very long way. 

Back to Germany. One of my favorite foods was a Turkish sandwich (ninth wonder of the world in my book) called a "doener kebab". You would go to a doener shop, and salivate as a person shaved beef and lamb off a spit into an oversized pita. Next came a medley of whatever. I typically opted for shredded cabbage, diced cucumbers and tomatoes, a garlicky yoghurt sauce known as tzatziki and red pepper flakes. Wrapped in foil, and best enjoyed with lots of napkins. The very best was in the town in which my folks lived, Wiesbaden. My brother can attest this sandwich is the premiere hangover doctor. The place near me in Dusseldorf served theirs with homemade feta. Whenever I took a bite, the cool yoghurt sauce would drip down my free hand. I think I am starting to hallucinate. Once in a blue moon I crave this and so last night, minus the meat on the spit, we made our own. 

Now, we have prepared this a pair of times for dinner parties. In addition to its ridiculous deliciousness and the novelty of "doing it yourself", all the dishes on the counter or table make for pretty presentation. While I got to work on the chicken and garbanzo beans, Matthew took charge of the yoghurt (and also the dicing of cucumbers and tomatoes). All you need is one cup of 2% yoghurt, 2-3 cloves of chopped garlic, the juice of 1.5 lemons, a pinch of kosher salt and as little or much zest you like. Stir like crazy, put in the fridge, let sit for an hour and voila. Game changer. And again, it goes with and on everything. The next time you come to ours for dinner, there is an outstanding chance you will enjoy the below. I am about to enjoy leftovers for breakfast. We don't need another hero. We just need a gyro. 

Gyros At Home

We Need

2 lbs organic skinless, boneless chicken thighs - cut into chunks
2 cloves of garlic - chopped
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
2 tsp paprika
Pinch of red pepper flakes or Aleppo pepper
Bunch of chopped parsley
Olive oil

The Making of a Hero

In a large bowl, gently mix all of the above with your hands. Spread out on a baking tray (that you first drizzle with olive oil). You want to roast this at 425 for 35 minutes. The meat should be nice and crispy. Once it is out, another pinch of Maldon salt on top. If you are not familiar with Maldon, you should be. It is used for finishing dishes only. A pinch here and there. Brilliant. 

Serve on a platter alongside smaller dishes of chopped, tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded cabbage, fresh mint, crumbled feta cheese, crispy chickpeas and of course, the piece de resistance, your garlicky yoghurt. 



I am most fortunate in that in addition to my incredible father - who you by know affectionately know as Big Teddy - I have two additional dads, Nathan and Keith. Upon moving to Charlotte in 2009, I was a single gal living uptown and had established a comforting ritual of venturing to my local Starbucks every Sunday morning. I was encouraged by many to 'put myself out there' so Sunday coffee seemed quite innocuous. On one such morning, I bumped into Nathan while waiting in line. I commented on his bracelets, which looked like Hermes, and perhaps awkwardly regaled him of a colorful narrative of my amazing cousin Annabel, married to my South African cousin Graham, who lives in London and wears near identical bracelets on her arm to match her Hermes watch. 

Generously, he asked where I hailed from and I responded I had just moved to the Queen City from New York City. A very favorite place of theirs he told me, and thus, a spectacular connection was made. Nathan invited me to grab my coffee to join he and his husband, Keith, to continue our conversation. This most fortuitous coffee encounter quickly became a tradition and each week, I counted down days to dates on Tryon Street or wherever else to drink coffee or whatever and amuse about life with two wonderful gentlemen who would become my second dads. There was plenty of verve and livery in between. We learned more about and met each other's families. I spent my first Charlotte Halloween with them people watching (which is a grand understatement) at the Epicenter following a night on the town. We took trips to the farmers market. Dinners and cocktails followed. We attended street festivals and traveled on the Lynx enjoying libations in Starbucks cups. 

I quickly learned of Keith's incredible acumen in the kitchen. A CIA trained chef and multiple former restauranteur, Keith quickly became my go-to for all things gastronomy and cooking. This includes but is not limited to recipes, spices, dishes, critiques, how to clean a cast iron skillet, how to deseed a cucumber, what to do and not to do, and everything in between. When I have a dinner party, I run the menu by him. More often than not, he has a sly recommendation or tweak that catapults my food to the next level. And then some; I respect and value his opinions on all matters really. 

Did you know you should never cook lamb unless you know people love it? Restaurant grade sheet pans should always be used for broiling. Well-seasoned pans shouldn't have food stick to them. Salad spinners are a must as water is the enemy of greens and dressings alike. And yoghurt should always be tizzied up with garlic, seeded and finely diced cucumber and fresh dill. I have him on speed dial and check in - most usually daily - to inquire about this addition, that substitution, his thoughts on everything from emotional well being to the ridiculous notion of mini-kegs of ranch dressing made for one's fridge, to sneakers and wedding dresses, politics and the likes. Nathan and Keith have been by my side for new apartments, new job opportunities, haircuts (good and bad), travels, the journey with my Matthew, and honestly, everything in between.

Nathan is the maestro of relationship management and orchestrator of the grandest of events. Everyone knows Nathan. When Matthew and I were engaged two Novembers ago and needed a venue on the quick (we planned our wedding in some 34 days only thanks to his expert guidance, direction and of course, patience). I called on a Tuesday, and he told us to come to his establishment after work that very same Friday to pick a space in which to get hitched. Together, the three of us selected the quintessential Matthew and Elizabeth room, and quickly checked big ticket items off the list including the magnificent florist, the ever-talented photographer, who so perfectly captured our wishes for urban pictures, the sublime restaurant where we would host our post-nuptials celebratory dinner. I think Nathan was even behind the chef asking his French pal to create us a sweet wedding cake for the night's celebrations. The day before our grand event, Nathan casually called to say he had taken the liberties of hiring an acoustic guitarist to play Tina Turner's Simply the Best as my father walked me down the aisle. None of this could have been executed so elegantly, and in such a time dash, without the prowess of Nathan.

Fast forward three months later, and they joined the Breyer family (because according to Big Teddy, they are family) in New York City for the newlyweds soiree my folks hosted at their Chelsea apartment. The night before, we enjoyed a splendiferous dinner of duck carnitas and the respective accoutrement at the ever-chic Cosme in the Flatiron District of Manhattan. The day after our shindig, we cruised lower Manhattan in the rain and ended up enjoying an early supper at a favorite of the four of ours, Otto. Over Negronis, Italian red, chopped salad, pasta puttanesca and pizzas, we shared tales of the night before. The following month, Nathan brought to life our "Celebration of Marriage" event, once again. My only wishes were a DJ (well this was Matthew's wish really), spectacular flowers, romantic lighting and donuts in addition to our cake. After an incredible tasting, and promises of a magnificent patisserie spread, the day of I entered a small library to see towers upon towers of donuts prepared with affection and care by their talented pastry chef.

Now that Matthew and I are "an old married couple", Nathan and Keith are still very much involved in our lives. We are neighbors living uptown and it is not infrequent that we bump into Nathan crossing the street to work, or Keith walking the dog. Sometimes, when I am doing my occasional solo walking uptown, I receive text messages from Keith asking how in the world can I safely be crossing the street while staring at my phone. I can only assume he has spotted me from a window? Every once in a while, for a good chortle, we stand on the balcony and wave. If I have the pleasure of bumping into Keith in a grocery store - a most fortuitous occasion - he patiently takes me down each aisle showing me what I must buy. Jarred bell peppers for muhammara dip or cambozola anyone? When new restaurants open, we venture there together. Over champagne and other libations, we naughtily giggle about our acumen for critiquing dishes and spaces asking one another, are we the only ones who do this? Just last week, we enjoyed cocktails and multiple courses at uptown's new, Angelines. We shall return, and together. Next Thursday evening, in advance of Thanksgiving, we are doing a pizza and movie night at ours.

Words cannot do justice our wonderful relationship with my two dads. Recently, my mother chimed, "Nathan and Keith really are the best thing that ever happened to you in moving to Charlotte." (Matthew, my dear, I had already met you.) They are our family. They know us intimately. I think Keith coined it best when just one morning this week, following a dynamic conversation the night before, he chimed via text, "Every Hindenburg needs a readjustment in the mooring, occasionally." He was referring to me, of course.

With this, the below is a recipe ala Keith. I texted him last night asking what to do with chicken thighs. He asked if I had garam masala. Yes, I responded. And what follows was not exactly what it should have been (I did not use my food processor to create a paste, which is much better than a marinade as it sticks) but splendiferous all in the same. This tastes great when served along brown rice with sultanas, cumin and pumpkin seeds. You can also add raisins, currants, dried cranberries, dried cherries or Turkish apricots. If you're needing inspiration in the kitchen, just holler and I will put you in touch with Keith. And if you want to host the party of the century, then Nathan is your man.

Curry with Yellow Mustard (For Chicken Thighs)

Make a paste in your food processor or stick blender with:

Garam masala
Lime juice
Touch of white vinegar
Yellow mustard
Fresh black pepper
Kosher salt
A little corn or olive oil
As much hot sauce as you like

To Do

Mix everything together (do stop and marvel at the beautiful color) and massage into your chicken thighs. Do be sure to rub it everywhere so each piece is totally coated. Let sit for 30 minutes.

Heat 2 TBS olive oil in a cast iron skillet, and brown the chicken on all sides. This should take around 7-9 minutes per side. Then transfer to an oven at 425 for 15 minutes until no longer pink.

We served ours alongside cauliflower mash dusted with sumac. Bon appetit!