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Blog: Random Acts of Deliciousness

Recipes and other delicious discoveries, served randomly.

Peter and The Three Sisters

Lynley Jones

If you want to understand children, read to them. Do the voices. Emphasize the emotions. Get (a little) scared at the scary parts, and be joyful at the happy parts. Stories are the window to a child's soul. At On Friday, I read the original Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter to the children at a local nursery school. Then, the kids and I used blackberries, bread and milk to make Blackberry Bread Pudding....

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Good Latkes Make Good Neighbors

Lynley Jones

Get the recipe: Deb's Latkes

I live in The. Best. Neighborhood. In. America.

My daughter and her friend, wearing the most beautiful dresses they could find to build teepees in the back yard.

My daughter and her friend, wearing the most beautiful dresses they could find to build teepees in the back yard.

Kids on our safe street run free, wandering from one backyard to another living room to yet another front yard and to someone else's kitchen, making up their own games, debating the rules, distinguishing between "fake" cries and real ones, and in short, learning how to get along in the world. Largely on their own.

Parents and babysitters are generally somewhere inside or on the periphery, sometimes joining in the game, always keeping one ear listening for signs of true trouble. But usually, giving the kids space to resolve things on their own.

In short, in a lot of ways on our street, it's 1977. (Have you heard about this new Star Wars movie?)

One of the many great things about our neighborhood is the parents and families that come along with all these kids. My fellow grownups are a diverse and talented lot, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, musicians, writers, artists, lawyers, business people and entrepreneurs, stay-at-home parents and working parents, with roots in places like Jamaica, Mexico, Korea, Colombia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, New York, and our own town of Montclair.

Deb's Latkes awaiting party guests in 2014.

Deb's Latkes awaiting party guests in 2014.

We don't always agree on local education policy, or taxes, or which candidate for mayor we support, but we genuinely enjoy each other's company. And fortunately, between the Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, New Year's Eve parties and block parties, we get to hang out together a lot.

Which brings me to the annual Hanukkuh party (which is tonight!) at my friend and across-the-street neighbor Deb's house. The kids spin the dreidel, hear a Hanukkuh story and enjoy the lighting of the menorah. (My son and a friend are planning to raise the stakes tonight by bringing dollars to bet with, instead of pennies. Oy vey.) The grownups hang out and drink and talk. 

And everyone eats. Although Hanukkah is officially the festival of lights, it is unofficially the festival of greasy foods, since it's a remembrance of a time when the oil in the temple that was enough for only one day miraculously lasted for eight. (As Deb tells me, most Jewish holidays have a similar theme: they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.) 

Deb makes tons of latkes, starting weeks in advance, and serves them with ample applesauce and sour cream. There are always jelly doughnuts (more greasy food). And there are lots of other treats and nibbles to be had.

Deb's Latkes

Our attempt at Deb's Latkes, made in the Adventure Kitchen in December 2015.

Our attempt at Deb's Latkes, made in the Adventure Kitchen in December 2015.

This Gentile girl from Arizona had her first bite of a latke (pronounced "LAHT-kuh," fellow Gentiles) at the first of these parties a few years back. Deb's latkes are golden fried-potato goodness, with just the right amount of onion, perfectly seasoned. And despite the greasy-foods theme of the holiday, I do not find them unpleasantly greasy at all. I love them, the same way I love well-made French fries. Crispy, golden and perfect.

Best. Neighborhood. Ever.

Kale Made Magnificent

Lynley Jones

Get the recipe: Lemon-Kale Chiffonade Salad with Nectarines

Lowly kale is hot, hot, hot. In case you haven't heard, it's the super-est superfood out there right now, boasting more nutrients per calorie than anything else known to man.  

Curly kale

Curly kale

It's so chalk full of goodness, we're told it will lengthen our lives, improve our eyesight and even make us more beautiful. Most astounding of all its super-feats, kale has recently crossed the health-food/fast-food barrier and can now be found on the menus of such hallowed eateries as Chick-fil-A and McDonald's. Yes, really.

It certainly wasn't always like this. In my very first waitressing job at a Phoenix-area diner chain in the 1980s, a leaf of curly kale was the garnish on every plate. A little homely to my young eyes, the dark green leaves nevertheless added a much-needed dash of color to an otherwise pale plate of eggs or omelets.

To be perfectly honest, as I spent my high school days slingin' hash after school, it never crossed my mind that you could eat the stuff.  When my mother once murmured, "Oh, that's kale. It's very good for you," and took a bite, I thought she was nuts.

Now, of course, I see that she was right.  (For the record, she was also right about reusing things, not screaming in the back seat of the car, and Burt Bacharach. But perhaps that's another post.) 

But as we now run around adding kale to everything from smoothies to salads to pasta, are we doing it because we love it, or just because we like the virtuous feelings and bragging rights it entitles us to? 

Look, eating kale should not a noble cause, to be enjoyed only by health nuts and foodies. Kale should be delicious! It should be so scrumptiously mouthwatering, that it leaves you wanting more. 

But kale does best with just a bit of nurturing. Like a certain 9 year-old girl who lives in my house, kale is a bit more strong and assertive than most and if you're not on your toes, can leave you with a highly creative mess to deal with (even though it probably sounded like a good idea at the time).

Lemon-Kale Chiffonade Salad with Nectarines

Lemon-Kale Chiffonade Salad with Nectarines, made in the Adventure Kitchen in August 2015

Lemon-Kale Chiffonade Salad with Nectarines, made in the Adventure Kitchen in August 2015

In this salad, the peppery garlic and bright lemon juice in the dressing stand right up to share the spotlight with Lacinto kale, and the creamy pecorino-romano cheese, toasted almonds and the punch of juicy nectarines are there to grab your attention. The kale is cut into chiffonade (very thin strips) instead of standard salad pieces, to help it mingle more evenly with the other flavors in each bite.

In the end, this salad is so good you'll forget about the rest of the meal. I can barely stop myself from licking the plate clean. I humbly hope it has the same effect on you. My mother would be so pleased.

Homemade Eggnog

Lynley Jones

Click here for the recipe.

I LOVE eggnog.  Lucky for me, so do my kids.

Every year, we look forward to the advent of winter weather, when grocery stores will carry its creamy goodness on refrigerated shelves.  We joyfully sprinkle extra nutmeg on top of each glass.  We taste-test various brands each year, deciding whether last year's favorite is still the best, and re-affirming which brands we definitely don't like.  And each year, the steep price for a mere quart of the stuff briefly takes my breath away, before I resignedly tell myself it's only once a year.   

But until this year, I've never made my own.  For years, I would read the ingredients on store-bought eggnog, noticing that they can range from factory-made chemical concoctions to natural, creamy goodness.  And I've often noted (as is so often the case) that those made with natural ingredients - eggs, milk, cream, spices - usually taste the best.  Given how short the list of ingredients can be, and how easily accessible, I have often thought I should just make it myself.

One thing has always stopped me: raw eggs.  Most homemade eggnog involves a cold mixture of raw eggs, milk or cream, and spices, swirled together in various methods, but never cooked.  Raw eggs, of course, are a no-no for children, since they can contain salmonella (easily killed when the eggs are cooked, but potentially deadly otherwise, especially for those whose immune systems may not be up to snuff).

For this recipe, I finally decided to conquer the raw-egg hurdle using a French-custard approach - I whipped the egg yolks with sugar, then gently warmed them with milk until piping hot and safely cooked.  The result - delicious!  Without all the strange chemicals, and without the ridiculous price tag.

Wanna make your own eggnog this year?  Here's the complete recipe.