Show Me Your Mussels

For my 20th birthday, I had a few friends over for a sophisticated party. Nothing too wild, the party was an afternoon affair. I had a few friends over for a light meal and opening presents. My mom made mussels, one of my all-time favorite meals.As my mom was cooking the mussels in the kitchen, my friend, filled with curiosity, wandered in to observe. He had an important date coming up and really wanted to woo this woman. He thought making her mussels might do the trick, but he was afraid they’d be too complicated to cook. My mom assured him that there was nothing to it and walked him through the simple steps of how to cook mussels. His date ended up being a success and the two of them dated for many months until graduation inevitably sent them in separate directions.
This birthday anecdote exemplifies why I love mussels. They seem so fancy, yet they’re affordable and easy to make, and they always wow the crowd.
When I’m cooking in the summertime, I want a meal that takes minimum effort to prepare while giving me maximum taste and satisfaction. Lately, I’ve been making meals for dinner that I could make with my eyes closed–grilled salmon, salad, corn on the cob, and mussels. That always comes as a shock to my friends when I tell them I had mussels for dinner in the comfort in my own home. These scrumptious mollusks are easy to make! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Go to your local fish market and pick up the freshest mussels you can find! (1 lb. for 2) When I’m in Milwaukee (which I usually am in the summer), I go to St. Paul’s Fish Market for the freshest fish around.
  2. Pick up a dry white wine in which to cook your mussels. When it comes to cooking with wine, I look for cheap, but also something I would drink (thanks mom and Julia Child for teaching me this important lesson). Obviously you’re going to have a glass while you’re cooking (another important tip from both my mom and Julia Child), so you want something that tastes good and doesn’t break the bank. My mom always cooked with Frontera, so that’s become my go-to wine for cooking. I usually use a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay.
  3. Chop up a bunch of scallions and a clove (or 2) of garlic. You’ll be adding these to sauce.
  4. Wash off mussels. Put them in a pot. Add wine (enough to cover mussels but not too much so you can’t properly cook off the alcohol), garlic and scallions.
  5. Cover pot. Bring to a boil. Once all mussels have opened, turn off the stove, and there you have it (as Julia used to say)!
  • Serve over pasta or with a side of crusty bread.
  • Fun fact: the shells make great dipping spoons.
  • If you’re still feeling extremely unmotivated to cook, here are some places (that I like) where you can go to get your mussels fix:
  • Whether you decide to cook your mussels at home or enjoy someone else’s cooking, I hope you throughly enjoy your meal. Bon appetit!
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    Please Stop Saying that Kids Don’t Read Anymore By Andrea Koleck

    A great post written by my friend and colleague about how our own generational bias impacts how we view children’s literacy.

    learning curves nyc

    The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.

    We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective.  And honestly, as a collective group…

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    The Perfect Table, or How to Dine Out

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    The perfect table.

    I follow a few simple rules when dining out. First, only dine in places serving cuisine and dishes that I couldn’t make myself. Second, as my good friend puts it, if your meal is under three hours or courses, you’re doing it wrong. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be the perfect table.

    When I worked in the restaurant industry, we referred to “the perfect table” as one that coursed out their meal and ordered a bottle of wine with every course. There are several variations on this theme, but generally the perfect table starts out with a round of cocktails before looking at the menu. Then, they share a bottle of wine with their appetizers. Following appetizers is the main course and another bottle of wine or two. Lastly, dessert arrives along with a round of after-dinner drinks.

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    The Champagne and oyster course.

    I love starting off the meal by sharing a half-bottle of champagne with my dining companion and a dozen oysters. If I’m dining Italian, then the meat and cheese board is a must. From here, depending on my appetite, I could go into a soup or salad course, or I might dive into the entrée. Whatever the choice, there will always be a new bottle of wine to pair with the meal– a substantial red if I’m eating a meatier fish, steak, or hearty pasta; white if it’s lobster or a lighter fish. I’m partial to an unoaked Chardonnay or an Albarino. Depending on the number of guests I’m dining with or how quickly we sip our wine, a second bottle will be ordered for the table.

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    Pass the Courvoisier.

    Finally, after several hours of libations and good cheer, time for what is perhaps my favorite part of the meal: the after-dinner drink. Nothing complements a delightful evening of food and friends quite like a snifter of Courvoisier. Some reach for the port, others a Brandy Alexander, but me—I love cognac.

    With there being thousands of dining options in New York, I want my dining experience to be just that—an experience. I want the restaurant where I dine to grant me access to food and wine that might otherwise be out of my reach. If not, there’s no point in eating out. While I don’t dine in this manner every weekend, I do strive to be the “perfect table” at least once or twice a month. Of course, being the sensible New Yorker that I [almost] am, I always budget for such meals.

    The Dark Before the Dawn

    “Remember,” they say, “that the darkest hour of all is the hour before day.”- Samuel Lover

    The actual dark before dawn.
    The actual dark before dawn.

    It’s been far too long since I wrote my last blog post. I could give you a laundry list of excuses as to why this is the case, but I don’t believe in excuses. It looks like I’ve allowed myself to fall victim to the “busy trap” once again.

    My last blog post was about letting loose and de-stressing, which is ironic, because at the time I wrote it, my stress levels were at an all time high. New York City was wearing me down and instead of attacking back with a can-do attitude, I let it run me over.

    In my two-and-a-half years of living in New York City, I’ve found that city life is a constant give and take. Some days I feel the city takes more from me than it gives. Yes, it’s extremely expensive (I’m looking at you, income taxes). Yes, it feels overcrowded at times, bordering on extremely claustrophobic. Yes, people can be rude, not to mention pushy. At the same time, I love everything the city has to offer. Botanical gardens, surfing lessons, Broadway shows, art museums, French films, awkward poetry readings, garage band performances. You name it, New York City has it.

    Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.
    Just another day of reaping what New York is sowing.

    There’s so much to do in New York that it can be distracting. I still have to make money and even save it, too. It’s hard to save money when I’d rather be out reaping all that New York is sowing. I feel a constant struggle between making money and doing what I love. Part of the issue is that I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do professionally. Being unsure of what you want to do in a place like New York City where you have to be cutthroat to get what you want doesn’t work out so well. For too long, I’ve put what I love to do professionally on the back burner.

    Until recently.

    A few months ago, I made the decision to return to teaching. Teaching is where I’ve always belonged, I just didn’t realize that until I took a six-year hiatus. Last week, a few days before my 31st birthday, I accepted a classroom teaching position. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I’ve finally turned a professional corner, or at least returned to the right road.

    I’m excited to start a new chapter in New York, which is working in a field I so strongly believe in, in a position I’m passionate about. It will be challenging, stressful, and a whole slew of other adjectives, but I’m looking forward to being a position where I can give back to the community of which I’ve grown very fond.

    10 Things Someone Can Expect To Learn In the First Year Living In NYC

    20130208-023409.jpg On Tuesday, I celebrated one year of living in New York with my two dearest New York friends in the comfort of my Manhattan apartment. Moving to New York City was such a great decision that I decided to honor February 7th, the day I moved to New York, the same way as I do New Year’s. It just so happens that my one friend moved here on the same exact day, so this gives the day added meaning. I couldn’t imagine my New York life without these two friends, so it was only fitting that they came over for dinner. Seasoned New Yorker brought over his cheese biscuits and Fellow Newbie brought this amazing list written on loose leaf paper entitled, “What Someone Can Expect to Learn in the First Year Living in NYC.” Without further adieu, here are 10 things someone can expect to learn in first year living in New York, as told by Fellow Newbie:

    train10. The most disgusting things in the whole word can be found on the trains of the NYC subway system.

    9. It is inevitable that within your first NYC year you will scream, not yell, not talk loudly, but scream profanities such as “F*ck you!” and “You’re an a**hole!” to a taxi driver.

    8. You will realize that hell actually does exist on Earth and it is located on 3rd Avenue between 76th and 77th streets.

    7. It is a guarantee that on a day you are walking the city streets with a slight smile on your face, appreciating its greatness, feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride that you actually live here in the amazing city of New York, a semi-truck, cab, or local driver will honk their horn with such a loud prolonged persistence that you will contemplate murdering them.

    Times Square6. By the end of your first year, if not by the end of your first month in NYC, the mere thought of having to go anywhere near Times Square makes you want to kill yourself.

    5. You will learn that the appropriate and only acceptable attire for women of the Upper East Side is as follows: yoga pants, oversized sweatshirt and/or t-shirt that droops exposing shoulder, unbrushed bed head looking ponytail, aviator sunglasses, a stroller, a coffee, a nanny, and a fake, half-assed man-eating grin that screams, “I’m a rigid c***.”

    4. It will become apparent that those women who trudge around the city in heels are nothing more than mere masochists. You will learn that flats are not only appropriate but less of a health hazard. Wearing heels, you are destined to fall on your ass if you hit the wrong pothole, step on a grate, or get shoved by a fellow passerby.

    3. The phrase, “Ugh, I need a drink!” will be spoken daily, often before 11 am.

    2. You will being to truly contemplate if you can be in a relationship with a gay man. The only men in the city are homosexual and you will inevitably find yourself lusting after one, mentally envisioning your life together regardless of your lack of desired gender.

    1. The desire to shoulder check, shove, or hit people with your bag will become an ever-growing rage as people enter and exit the subway.

    More importantly, in our first year, hopefully you have the luck to land a truly amazing friendship. One that can withstand the trials and tribulations of the city that will bring you up when you are down, that will laugh with you until you cry and one that will always remind you are not alone in this big city, that will walk or run through this adventure with you, never letting you feel defeated.

    Hopefully you find a Sonja.

    Food Obsessions

    While reading about culinary quests in yesterday’s New York Times Magazine issue on food, I started thinking about my own personal food obsessions. As a food lover and cook, there are many dishes, condiments, and meals that I continually obsess over. I am known to frequent restaurants that are way out of my way just to get eggs done a special way or go to a tucked away specialty store to get my favorite variety of mustard. We all have foods that we can’t live without, and below are the items are my food obsessions:

    ImageGigantic salads 
    Among family and friends and anyone else for whom I’ve cooked, the gigantic, all-encompassing salad is known as my signature dish. I love when a salad is a full meal. My salads have staples: toasted nuts, grilled veggies, cherry tomatoes. I like to vary the seasonings and proteins I use. Sometimes I’ll throw in bacon, other times grilled salmon or another grilled fish. I like to add cheese shavings, particularly aged gouda. Homemade dressing always.

    Pesto
    Summer in the Whipp house meant an abundance of pesto on hand. My mom made pesto from the fresh basil in her garden and since I soon became addicted to this sauce, I made sure that I learned how to make the perfect batch of pesto. On many summer mornings, I went to the garden to pluck fresh basil for my pre-swim practice meal. To me, pesto goes with everything; on pasta, in sandwiches, and as dip for carrots. I’ve gone to great lengths to make pesto. Once, at a college dinner party, I resorted to using a mortar and pestle to make pesto because none of us could afford the luxury of a food processor.

    ImagePizza
    Pizza was always considered a treat when I was young and I still view it as such. When my parents left us with a babysitter, we were treated to pizza. When I dined over at my best friend’s house in elementary school, we were surprised with a pizza from the local pizza joint. I could probably eat pizza every day (in fact, I tried that once when visiting the south of France) and though I eat if often, it always feels like a delicacy. I’ve eaten a lot of pizza in my day, but I’m still convinced Zaffiro’s in Milwaukee is the best pizza I’ve ever had. (Joseph’s in Boston runs a close second.)

    ImageBrunch
    Who doesn’t like brunch?! I’ll eat it at any time of the day. I love inventive egg scrambles with interesting spices, breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros, savory breakfast meats, coffee, bloody marys dragged through the garden and topped with oysters, the list goes on. I enjoy going out for brunch as much as cooking it in the comfort of my own home. Since moving to New York, I know also enjoy ordering in brunch. A few months ago, my friend and I discovered a great little place in East Harlem that delivers brunch on the cheap and they deliver coffee! The best part is that the food travels incredibly well. I’ve become a big fan of cheap, instant brunch that I don’t have to cook and can enjoy in the comfort of my own home.

    Deluxe Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
    I do not like plain old grilled cheese sandwiches. What I do like are grilled cheese sandwiches stuffed with meats, vegetables, maybe even a crabcake or two. It’s fun to experiment with making melts because the possibilities are endless. You can vary the bread you use, the kind of cheese, the sauce you put on the sandwich, the kind of bacon, etc. Never met a deluxe grilled cheese that I didn’t like. If you need inspiration, check out the Wisconsin Board of Cheese’s Grilled Cheese Academy for recipes (and food porn).

    Mustard
    My favorite condiment. I’m partial to Grey Poupon, especially of the Country Dijon variety. I put mustard on sandwiches, in dressing, and on crackers. I’ve been meaning to get to the National Mustard Museum in Wisconsin, but time has not permitted. Yet.

    Bacon

    ImageSimilar to brunch, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like bacon (except for my vegetarian friend). Like pizza, I could also eat bacon at every meal. I was delighted to find this “Bacon 25 Ways” article in Sunday’s Times magazine and have already vowed to make all of the dishes. Recently, I discovered the joys of bacon infused whiskey and yes, it is delicious.

    What are your food obsessions? Anything you think I’ve missed? Anything I’ve mentioned that you can’t stand? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.