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There is no holiday tradition I love more than the baking and sharing of cookies. Most of the year, I do my best to keep the sweet treats at bay, but during December, all bets are off. I make at least half a dozen varieties and hand them out to my friends, neighbors, and family members.

My first cookie of the season is always a basic roll-out sugar cookie. The recipe comes from an old family friend. It’s easy to make, can stand up to repeated rolling, and holds its shape during baking. I like to decorate them with a simple shake of colored sugar or sprinkles, but the truly ambitious can employ frosting as well.
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One of my fondest fall memories from childhood is that of driving out to an agricultural island near our house in Portland. There was an antique apple orchard on the grounds of an old farm turned park, and visitors were allowed to pick any windfall apples from the grounds.

We’d fill paper grocery bags until they were nearly ready to split open and then head home to make applesauce. I’d help my mom with the peeling and chopping, until we had enough to fill our very largest pot.
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During my early life, my exposure to sauerkraut was limited to the rare occasions when my dad took me to a baseball game. We’d get Dodger dogs with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions and a dab of sauerkraut.

The next time I had sauerkraut with any regularity was in college. Every couple of weeks, the cafeteria would do a German theme night, complete with sausage, pierogi, dark brown bread, and lots of sauerkraut. I’d load my plate up with a pile of that krauty goodness.

However, it wasn’t until my twenties that I found a groove with sauerkraut. MORE

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There is no better late summer treat than a ripe, juicy, misshapen heirloom tomato. When they’re in season, I eat them at every meal. In the morning, I scramble eggs and top them with cubes of tomato. For lunch, I cut tomatoes into thick wedges and stack them on top of sturdy slices of mayonnaise-spread toast. Come dinnertime, I make tomato salads, pasta sauces, spicy salsa frescas, and even cocktails.

This week, I’ve pulled together some of my very favorite tomato-centric dishes for a full-on tomato supper. MORE

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If you’re like most of the English-speaking world, when you hear the word jam, your mind goes first to a sugary sweet fruit spread that is best spread on toast or stirred into yogurt.

However, I’d like to float an entirely different idea of jam. I propose that we open up our minds to a world of jams that includes spicy, tangy, and even savory flavors. These are jams (and butters) that can enhance grilled cheese sandwiches. They can enliven roast chicken. They can even take the place of ketchup as a burger and roasted potato topping. MORE

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Grape tomatoes. Most of year they are readily available and entirely average. But as soon as the hotter days arrive, truly exceptional tiny tomatoes start trickling into local markets. By high summer, it’s a welcome deluge.

I buy a pint or two every time I shop, to have on hand for quick meals. I toss them into salads, scramble them into eggs, and dip them into hummus. I also have a few favorite recipes in which I make repeatedly over the summer months, in order to get my fill before the season ends. MORE

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For the last 11 years, I’ve lived in an apartment without a single square inch of outdoor space to call my own. Most of the time, this isn’t a hardship, as it means no leaves to rake in the fall and no snow to shovel in the winter.

Really, there’s just one thing I miss about having a patch of the outdoors and that’s having the space in which to set up a grill. However, I’ve found that there are even ways to work around my lack of outdoor space. Thanks to a sturdy grill pan, a countertop griddle, and generous friends with backyard Webers, I always manage to get my warm-weather grilling fix.
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When I was very young, I was entirely preoccupied by the color pink. I wanted all my clothes to be pink, played only with my Strawberry Shortcake doll, and longed for my meals to be exclusively pink. My parents responded to this phase by dyeing my pajamas pink, buying me a pair of inexpensive Strawberry Shortcake sneakers, and serving me a dish of strawberries with nearly every meal.

These days, I’m not nearly so mad for the color pink. In fact, the only vestige of my early obsession is the fact that come strawberry season, I go a little berry crazy. I buy pounds and pounds and make jams, purees, tarts, pies, salads, and dressings.
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Green garlic is one of the true joys of spring. It’s immature hardneck garlic, plucked from the rows to give the rest the space they need to grow into heads of garlic that will last through the winter. It’s typically picked before the cloves or their papery layers have formed, and so is entirely edible from top to bottom.

Typically, green garlic is sold in long, grassy stalks with the roots still attached. I like to trim away the leggy roots and use the rest of the vegetable in stir fries, baked goods, salads and pestos.

The flavor of green garlic is bright and mild (compared to storage garlic, at least). It mellows nicely when cooked or roasted. The green tops can be wilted into soups, though do take care to trim away any browning or tough parts.
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Each spring, when the first local asparagus arrives in the farmers markets, I go a little bit overboard. Those fat, green-verging-on-purple stalks mean that the season of abundance has finally arrived. I binge on asparagus, buying several pounds at a time without any kind of a plan, a little bit fearful that it will disappear before I have my fill. MORE

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When I was eleven years old, my family moved to a house that had once been owned by a botanist. She left behind antique apple trees, a row of lilac bushes and a rhubarb patch the size of a queen bed. Every April, the rhubarb would start to unfurl from the soil and I knew that spring was really and truly on its way.
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I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about peas. For most of the year, they are an ever-present vegetable that lives in the freezer. I regularly add a handful to soups and salads (rinse them under warm water to quickly defrost them) and appreciate them for how little they demand of me. However, when spring arrives and peas are in season, I feel it necessary to celebrate the joy that is the green pea. MORE

The Larder

Roll Out the Oats

A flexible pantry staple full of possibilities

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My maternal grandmother (Tutu) was not much of a cook. A perpetual dieter, she was far more interested in what she wasn’t eating than what she was. However, as a woman raising children in the 1950s, it wasn’t possible that she escape the kitchen entirely and so learned to make a few things to fill the gaps when the maid or my grandfather were unavailable.

Oddly, her specialties involved either beef (broiled steak, hamburger patties, and pot roast) or rolled oats (hot oatmeal and oatmeal cookies, mostly). When she made meatloaf, she would bring her two favorite ingredients together, relying on the oats to act as a binder. Beaten eggs and generous amounts of onion salt rounded out that recipe.

When I was old enough to pay attention, she took me into the kitchen and taught me her secret for making creamy oatmeal. You always start the oats in cold water and you heat them very slowly. That way, you give them the chance to soften and release their starch. As we stirred the quietly simmering oats, she’d say, “Cook them like that and you don’t even need butter!”
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With March 17th just around the corner, it’s time to start planning the St. Patrick’s Day menu. Tradition states that one eats corned beef, boiled potatoes and steamed cabbage on this greenest of holidays and most years, my household has followed suit. It’s a meal towards which I look forward each year, as I’ve found that there’s really no way to go wrong with tender beef and soft, floury potatoes (particularly when they’re served with a dab of grainy mustard).

It’s not until you get to the cabbage that I find myself balking in the face of tradition. I don’t think it does it justice to the cabbage to boil or steam it into submission. The end result develops a palid, near-grey complexion and ends up tasting horribly bland and watery. There are better, more delicious ways to tackle cabbage and make it fit into the framework of your St. Paddy’s celebration.
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