Archive for April, 2012

Spring Movie Fever

The tree outside of my bedroom and kitchen windows has finally grown leaves this past week. All winter its stark brown limbs have framed my views of the sky that shift from blue to yellow or indigo to gray depending on the time of day and weather. I see the tree as I chop, mix, slice or do anything in my kitchen. Yes, in the past few months I have spent way too much time observing this tree. Seemingly over night I noticed soft sprouts of green at its very tips, and how the next day there was fluttering of pale new leaves. There are also the Cherry Blossoms in the Botanic Garden, which transformed this week from not yet an idea to a profusion of pink blossoms, and now a cascade of confectionery snow. Yes, I have spent a lot of time here as well. I was going to begin by mentioning all of this lovely spring that is infusing my life, and how all I want to do is go and see a movie! The movie bug has bitten me. So I guess what I am saying really is nothing I wrote about above pertains to anything that comes below. But I hope spring is with you wherever you are…and I hope you make it to the movies, especially a few of these.



I went to see JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI this past weekend and loved it. It is so much more than its parts, like any exquisite meal but especially sushi; it is the simplest seeming movement that is at its foundation the most complex and finely tuned structure of art. It is about dedication, love, and passion. It made me want to jump on a plane and return to Japan and it made me relish the experiences I had there.

I added KINSHASA SYMPHONY to the top of my Netflix saved list. It is a film about the only classic orchestra in Sub Saharan Africa. If follows the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste in the capital city of Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is about music and art and the power it has in people’s lives. It shows how regardless of what culture, language, and history we come from in the presence of art and music we are all brought back to our core humanity. The Orchestra itself is inspiring to me and the film has caught hold of my mind.

Since the first time I saw a poster for THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
I have wanted to see this movie. All I can say is Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Nighy, Directed by John Madden, set in India…Yes please and thank you ever so much!

This damsel has been excited to see DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, its how I am spending a special Friday.

And to round out my seasonal list of film excitement is MOONRISE KINGDOM, the new film from Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.


04 2012

One Weekend, Two Holidays, And Countless Reasons To Celebrate

The title of this post says it all. Whether you hid the matzo or hunted for Easter Eggs this weekend I hope you found as many reasons to celebrate as I did.

My weekend looked a little something like this.

Easter was spent baking this delicious Artichoke Goat Cheese Tart with a Polenta Crust, the recipe I have included at the end of this post. My friend Jenni had a birthday, spring, and Easter brunch on Sunday and I have been looking for an excuse to make this delectable piece for a long time. The day was spent sipping spring cocktails blushing with pink and sparkling like the sunlight with Prosecco. There was a home made pound cake with berries, whip cream and crème fresh, the clinking of glasses and laughter. There is nothing like a lazy day spent around a communal table with friends and food.

Passover was spent getting ready to join Bari and family for Seder. I made a salad, matzo s’mores, and matzo with dark chocolate and pistachios. The Seder was the first Bari and Matthew ever hosted on their own and it was a tremendous night of food, tradition, laughter, and thanks to Asher some calisthenics. Sadly I forgot to bring my camera to the seder but I was having such a good time I doubt I would have even paused to snap any shots. One of the reasons I have always loved holidays like Passover is the connection to the untold vast communities across the globe gathering at the same time. It is the marking of time and tradition. It is the annual seder, the Yom Kippur fast, and lighting the Chanukah candles that makes me feel connected to a family lineage I barely know. I feel close to generations I never met and I feel certain in these moments that generations that come after me will continue in the same direction. I find it humbling to feel but a small speck in history and know at the same time that I am surrounded in my history by people I care about so deeply.

On most days I could find any number of reasons to be grateful; I was raised in a house that taught gratitude as much as it taught me to eat with my mouth closed. At the end of Saturday night Asher came up to me with his 2 bedtime stories to read to him, one on animals and one on San Francisco. With his small hand resting lightly on my knee we looked at pictures of Coit Tower, at cable cars climbing steep hills, and we discussed the difference between the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges. There is a section in the book about Golden Gate Park and part of it talks about the Buffalo in the park. I found myself telling Asher how when I was his age my mother used to take me to this park to look at these Buffalo, how they are still in the park and how I still go watch them. I caught myself for the first time talking about my mother with not a whisper of sorrow. I found myself remember the love my mother had for me and forgetting everything else. I discovered that perhaps this is partially the shape my relationship with her will take, not one of regret in the time missed as much as celebrating in the moments and memories we shared and sharing them with others. Asher’s wide eyes looked up and he asked the same question I had always asked my mom, what do the Buffalo eat (and for me if I could feed them). I found in just a few still moments that the love my mother felt for me was not lost on the night she died, but was left to share with generations she will never meet.

Maria Speck’s Artichoke Tart with Polenta Crust
This makes one 10-inch tart
 that is amazing! I adapted this ever so slightly.

1 1/2 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cups polenta
1/2 cup (about 2.5 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth and water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the salt. Slowly add the polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly, and continue whisking for 30 seconds. Decrease the heat to low and cover. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to keep the polenta from sticking to the bottom of the pot or clumping. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring a few times.

Stir in the cheese, egg and pepper.

Grease a 10-inch tart pan or cake pan with olive oil. Spoon the polenta into the pan and press it out, pushing it up the sides. Set aside for 15 minutes and then form an even rim about 3/4 of an inch thick with moist fingers, pressing firmly. Don’t worry if the crust looks rustic.

Artichoke filling:

1 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup finely chopped scallions
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces artichoke hearts, canned or frozen
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 F.

Whisk the yogurt, eggs, scallions, salt and pepper together until well combined.

Cut the artichoke hearts into quarters and distribute them evenly over the polenta crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese on top of the artichokes and pour the yogurt filling evenly over the artichokes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the tart until the top turns golden brown and the filling is set, about 45 – 55 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for at least 20 to 40 minutes.

I made the tart in the morning and enjoyed it a few hours later at room temperature and it was a tremendous hit at the brunch.

Matzo S’mores

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange matzo on baking sheet, cover with chocolate chips. Bake until chocolate starts to melt, this takes perhaps 5 – 8 minutes. Remove from oven and spread chocolate across matzo. Place matzo in refrigerator until set.

Melt another ½ of chocolate in the microwave or double boiler. When matzo is set break into pieces about 2 inch square, take half of the matzo and with the unchocolate side facing up drizzle the melted chocolate to make a pattern, this will become the lid or top to your matzo s’mores.

Toast marshmallows on tin foil lined cookie sheet in the broiler until they are at your liking – golden or burnt. Be very mindful because this does not take long, and goes from golden to burnt to holy cow the oven is on fire in less than five minutes (yes I did all three).

Remove marshmallows from broiler and make a s’mores with your chocolate matzos. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate And Pistachio Matzo Bark

4 Pieces Salted Matzo
2 Cups Dark Chocolate
1/3 cup of Pistachios chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange matzo on baking sheet, cover with chocolate chips. Bake until chocolate starts to melts, this takes perhaps 5 – 8 minutes. Remove from oven and spread chocolate across matzo.

Sprinkle pistachios.

Place in refrigerator until set. Break into pieces and store in tin in refrigerator.


04 2012

A Spring Lemon Cake

Spring keeps teasing us here in the northeast; it comes for a few days, entices us, and then it shyly retreats leaving us to wear long sleeves again.  We have had some perfect spring-could-be-here weekends. I can’t get enough of it at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where every day it seemed a new bud opened; the air was perfectly scented of a perfume I have sought my entire life and have yet to find in a bottle. I felt inspired to start spring cooking and baking.

Then I left New York early last week for 30 hours of work in Denver, where they were also in the lush glow of an early spring with warm air deep into the evening. I returned to New York to find the spring I had left behind was coyly hiding again behind gray and cooler skies. This weekend has been a reminder of what we will soon leave behind with damp clouds overhead.

This past Saturday was my mother’s birthday and feeling that tug of spring I decided to bake a lemon cake that would bring the sun out of hiding from anywhere. The recipe I decided on came from one of my favorite cookbooks Fuel for your Family; it is a cookbook I picked up in a small wool and local goods shop in South Canterbury New Zealand. I love everything I have made from this cookbook from a vegetable crumble perfect for the heart of winter, to a carrot feta and harissa salad, and a chocolate bread and butter pudding with honey-roasted pairs. Yum, I will have to share all of these recipes here someday.

The cake I decided on was a simple one. One of the things I like about this cookbook is that it celebrates simple food cooked well but is about the age old from farm (or sea) to table approach. The cake itself is light and airy with just a suggestion of lemon and the glaze or syrup that goes over it is like a perfect glass of lemonade—the compliment of sweet and tart with the scent of fresh lush lemon. It sings of spring and light and I do believe if it can’t call the sun out it will at least make you believe the sun never was far away. I know my mother would have loved this cake. I listened to her friend Bloch’s cd of music she made annually for my mother’s birthday, this one with If I Had A Million Dollars, Feeling Good Again, and Hallelujah on it.

I hope spring is finding all of you and I encourage you to break out those baking pans if it has or hasn’t and bake yourself a little piece of spring with this cake!

~ Ramona

Lemony Lemon Cake:

The only draw back of using this cookbook is the entire thing is in metric, which means I have to do math while baking, always a little tougher than a simple follow directions. I have included both the original metric and the amount I used below.



125 grams (1/2 a cup or 1 stick) of butter

250 grams (1 cup – I ran a little light on sugar as I tend to) of castor sugar

2 eggs

185 grams of self-rising flour (I used 1 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder with pinch of salt)

½ cup milk

Zest of 2 lemons


60 grams (1/4 cup) castor sugar

Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 Fahrenheit). Grease a loaf pan. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time and beat after each addition. Sift flour; add alternately with the milk (I did this as a ¼ cup of flour and a ¼ teaspoon of baking powder and a pinch of salt alternated with an 1/8 of a cup of milk) to the butter, sugar and egg mixture. Add lemon zest and mix well. Pour mixture into tin and bake for 40 to 45 min (mine took closer to 50 min), or until a skewer comes out clean.

While cake is baking mix lemon juice with extra castor sugar and set aside. Do this early so the sugar can partially dissolve.

When cake is cooked, leave in tin and pour lemon/sugar mix over cake while still warm. Leave to cool before slicing. Enjoy it with a big smile.


04 2012