Saturday, May 14, 2011


This time last week I was at the Kentucky Derby. It was honestly one of the funnest events I've ever been to. It may have been that I could drink mint juleps for 12-hours straight—and I wasn't the only person doing it. It might be because I was with a group of super awesome friends (new and old) and we were all dressed up fancy, which I don't get to do often enough in casual, beachy California. I do know it wasn't because I won any money, that's for sure. I also just love new adventures and experiences. It makes me feel alive, like I'm really taking advantage of my time on this Earth.

Because I played hooky from work for a few days to attend, I landed in Santa Barbara and found myself walking smack into a brutal marathon of professional commitments. I believe in the motto, "you've gotta pay to play," so I'm not complaining, but I must say Friday couldn't come soon enough this week. I'd been functioning in zombie mode for the past few days, just trying to keep afloat and make sure no balls dropped. When I woke up this morning I felt like I could finally take a deep breath and relax. It felt so good to wake up with the sunshine streaming through my window in my own bed. I don't think I moved once during the night so it felt good to stretch out, my toes feeling the cold undisturbed corners of the sheets.

Once I'd run the requisite errands, it was luxurious to just sink into my sofa and watch a few episodes of Glee I'd missed with all my recent travels and read through a stack of magazines that'd been piling up. As much as I love to travel, it felt decidedly wonderful to be home. When hunger got the best of me, I wandered into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator half expecting it to be filled with oodles of fresh Farmers Market produce and a lovely salmon filet. For a girl who's spent 15 out of the last 28 days on the road, I'd say that was clearly delusional. Instead I found 26 jars of condiments, some wilted celery, a dried out bag of baby carrots, an expired carton of milk, and a 6-pack of beer. Not exactly inspiring. As I walked toward the pantry, I spied the cover of the May issue of Bon Appetit. On it was a bowl of simple pasta pomodoro, claiming to be the "simplest, silkiest sauce you'll ever make." In that moment, I couldn't think of anything more perfect or homey than that bowl of pasta. Thank goodness I had the few necessary ingredients on hand because I simply couldn't bare the thought of having to leave my house again.

So I began chopping, sautéing, stirring, simmering, which felt almost meditative after being out of the kitchen for so long. I even loved that my windows were starting to fog up from the kitchen heat.

Shortly thereafter, I found myself eating this lovely bowl of pasta delicately coated in a truly delicious sauce. The simplicity was where the genius laid. At times I love nothing more than to spend an entire day composing a ridiculously complex dish. But tonight, I just wanted to sit down with a beautiful glass of wine, spin a few strands of painted pasta around my fork and turn pages in a magazine while sitting on a bar stool in my own kitchen. It was no Kentucky Derby, but it was perfect.

Pasta al Pomodoro
from Bon Apetit

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
1 Tbsp kosher salt
5 large basil leaves, chopped
12 oz spaghetti or capellini
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino

Heat olive oil in a 12" skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion, stirring until soft, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 2-4 minutes. Add a pinch (or more) of pepper flakes; cook for 1 minute. Add can of tomatoes and season with salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly and the flavors meld, about 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in basil and set aside.
Meanwhile bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil and add pasta. Cook according to directions but remove 1-2 minutes before tender. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Stir in the pasta water to loosen the sauce; bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring, until sauce coasts pasta, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese. Transfer to bowls and serve with more cheese if desired. Yield: 4 servings.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cause for Celebration

This photo was taken 33 years ago. My father was serving at Fort Leavenworth, KS (the military post not the penitentiary, just to clarify) and it was the day he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army. I don't remember much about the day but I remember being horribly shy and not wanting to pose for this picture.

This photo was taken today. My brother retired from the US Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. It's frankly hard to believe so much time has elapsed; that we're all grown up. Because it does seem like just yesterday my brother and I celebrated the bicentennial in Fort Leavenworth by walking around the neighborhood banging pots and pans (and I remember being a little scared of the fireworks); or my brother matriculated at West Point as a Plebe cadet, or we celebrated my father's own retirement after 30 years in the Army. I mean, where do the years go?

Even though it seems like time does slip through our fingers, the many rich moments remain tattooed on our souls in a way that shape us into the people we are today. I'm so proud of my brother and his selfless and courageous service for the past two decades. The Nation has much to thank him for. But above all, as the head of the ROTC program at University of Tampa, I think it's a fitting swan song that Rob is shaping the future leaders and protectors of our country. I'm so proud of him, respect him immensely and feel blessed to call him my brother but more so my friend. People love Rob and were happy to come together today to help send him on his way in this next chapter. Because ever so often you meet people who make a real impact in your life. That's Rob. He doesn't try to be that way. He just is.

So today was a day of celebration. It was rather infectious actually. We all had a bit of a hop in our step, a brighter smile on our faces, were kinder to strangers, and more patient with loved ones. It was also a little bit surreal but isn't life like that to some degree? It keeps you on your toes and also reminds you of how important it is to honor and respect and remember and celebrate.

In that vein, I wanted to remind you that tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, a day set aside to celebrate Mexico's heritage and history. I mean, who doesn't love a good margarita?! While this south of the border holiday may not be universally recognized, the folks south of the Mason-Dixon line have never been one to shy away from a reason to party. So even if you're not Mexican, or Southern, or your awesome brother didn't just retire after 20 years of kicking ass in the Army, you should celebrate. Because life is good. Trust me. Look closer if you have to, but it's there . . . beautifully there.

Whether it's the unconditional lick of love from a fuzzy creature; or the beautiful draping of Spanish moss on a warm Southern night; or finding yourself surrounded by people you love even though they drive you a little crazy; or the fact that you can run to 7-11 at 2 am and pay for vitamin-infused bottled water. . . . I mean, really, life is quite grand. Embarrassingly grand. Quietly grand. Remarkably grand.

So celebrate. Make this delicious guacamole. Make these margaritas. Because both are ridiculously good . . . and ridiculously easy, yet make things feel a bit special. But be prepared to have people high-fiving you like a Navy SEAL who just took out OBL.


Guacamole with Roasted Chile, Cumin and Feta

Note: For whatever reason, the roasted poblano transforms the typical jalapeño-infused guacamole.

1 poblano chile
1 medium lime
3 firm-ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
3 medium scallions, white and light-green parts only, chopped
5 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 tsp ground cumin, preferably freshly ground
Kosher salt
1/2 cup medium-diced fresh tomato
2 radishes, slivered
1 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese

On a gas stove, turn a burner to high and set the chile directly over the flame, turning it with tong, until completely charred, 5-8 minutes. Put the chile in a bowl, cover, and set aside to steam and loosen the skin. When cook enough to handle, peel, seed and finely chop.
Finely grate the zest from the lie and then squeeze the juice. Put the avocado in a bowl and mash with a potato masher or back of a fork. Stir in the lime zest and 2 Tbsp of the lime juice along with the scallions, cilantro, cumin, and 1/2 tsp salt. Season to taste with salt and lime juice. and then fold in the chile and tomato.
Heap the guacamole into a bowl and garnish it with the radish and feat. Serve with tortilla chips.