Saturday, September 14, 2013

Where Inspiration Lives

Good light

Inspiration is a funny thing. It has to strike in just the right way, in just the right moment for me to put pen to paper, or whisk to bowl. For me, inspiration often lives in our apartment, early on a quiet weekend morning, sun streaming through the windows, illuminating the plants. Music. Cat, sleepy-eyed and happy that I'm home. Clothes tumbling in the dryer. Moments like now, when I look around and see how blessed I am, and realize how good I truly have it, that's when I feel inspired to create. At this moment, it happens to be writing. Sometimes in these early mornings, I creep out of bed as my husband rolls over and back to sleep, and I sneak downstairs to bake. Alone in the kitchen. That's inspiration.

Where does your inspiration live? Is it a particular place? Or a time of day? With a particular person? I always enjoy that feeling. When you spend time with someone who inspires you and then you go home feeling energized and ready to take on.

Saturday morning

Sometimes find myself chasing that feeling and when you have to chase it, it seems nearly impossible to catch. Other times,  it catches me and tackles me to the ground. Like right now. I should be cleaning, grocery shopping, going to the bank. But the light is just so and the coffee is hot and perfect. I'd love to hear what inspires you. Will you share?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

In Her Kitchen: Tamales with Mary Ann

I have so much appreciation for home cooks – my friends, family and colleagues that live to be in their kitchens. For whom cooking is more than a way to feed their families, but a way to feed their souls. I’m going to be featuring some of those home cooks and the moments I spend in their kitchens, here on The Coquettish Cook blog.

My first opportunity to spend time with a cook in their element came through Mary Ann Barajas, a colleague with whom I've enjoyed many conversations about food and cooking. Last Saturday, I was welcomed into the Warwick home that Mary Ann shares with her partner, Missy, to watch some tamale making in action.

Clockwise: One of many pieces of Mexican Day of the Dead folk art in the house;
Mary Ann, tasting her creations;
A party guest, showing her daughter how to roll a tamale.

Mary Ann’s family is Mexican and lived on a ranch in San Angelo, Texas until she was 7. “We had chickens, cows, pigs and goats on the ranch. Sometimes when I was small I would wake up early and go into the barn or the chicken coop where my mom would find me fast asleep." The kitchen was a big part of her life. "My mom and my brother are both excellent cooks.”

Tamales are a dish that Mary Ann grew up with – tender meat, enfolded in a corn dough, called masa, steamed in a corn husk. But tamales are not something you make for just one dinner guest. In fact, Mary Ann said, in Mexican culture, tamales are typically a Christmas dish, made for large groups. (When Mary Ann called her brother in Texas to verify a step in the tamale making process, he asked “what are you doing making tamales in July?”) Seasonality aside, an important part of the tradition is that the family gathers to make the tamales as a group – it’s part of the festive nature of the dish. Mary Ann called for reinforcements and the party began. While a hungry crowd chatted and laughed outside, a few of us gathered inside to learn how to spread the masa on the corn husk, fill it with the slow cooked, shredded  top round beef and roll it into a tight package.

Rolling and steaming the tamales

The tamales steamed in a large pot for about an hour. Fortunately, we had other tasty treats to keep us happy. Mary Ann and Missy’s friend Jean, who is Columbian, made both sweet and savory fried plantains. The savory variety were my favorite – crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and lightly salted. Jean said the savory style was made from green plantains, cut, smashed and fried til golden brown. The sweet variety are made from yellow, more ripe plantains, cut and fried whole. No eggs or coating are used. I love the simplicity of them.

Jean's Sweet Plantains

While we waited for the tamales to reach the perfect degree of doneness (with the corn husk pulling easily away from the masa), Mary Ann set out some additional dishes: ground beef enchiladas with home made enchilada sauce and queso fresco; yellow rice with peppers and onions and slow cooked pinto beans with bacon.

Enchiladas, Rice and Beans

Finally, the main event. The tamales came out piled high on a platter and everyone dug in. They were like nothing I've ever had in a restaurant, with layers of flavor infused into all the components of the tamales. We all ate packed into the kitchen, unwilling to wait for the extra second it would take to bring our plates to the table. For a short time, I got to experience a little slice of Mexican Christmas. Surrounded by people, happily eating and laughing, kids, dogs, cat and one lucky blogger. When it was time to leave, Mary Ann sent me home with a heaping plate of tamales and enchiladas. Merry Christmas indeed.

Sunday, July 28, 2013


I love vacation. I love being far from home, far from responsibilities and obligations. I love forgetting what day it is because you just don’t need to know. Having 4 glasses of wine at lunch with absolutely no reason to say no or feel guilty. I don’t get enough vacation. I take days off here and there, I visit my folks down south. But I don’t get a week of whatever, whenever… hardly ever. So my recent trip to Colorado to spend time first with my sister and law and then with 2 dear friends was kind of magical.

There was bike riding, eating, drinking, reading, hammocking (I just made that a word), laughing, more eating and drinking, singing, driving, star-gazing… oh and dog loving! Because everyone in Colorado has a dog.

Here are some things I ate, drank and saw…

Denver skyline, from a bike.

A sampler at Odell Brewing Company, in Fort Collins Colorado.
My friend Emily works in the tap room.
Crab stuffed, fried avocado at Colorado's Austin's American Grill.

Sugar crusted cornbread at Austin's.

My friend's husband Dennis made the most amazing grilled
pizza with a crispy crust, kale, tomatoes and goat cheese. Amazing.

Welcome to Wyoming. My friend Stacey Doyle and I at the
Colorado, Wyoming border.

I fell in love with several canine friends during my trip. Among my favorites were
Cookie and Daisy, these two loves from Wyoming.

Wyoming is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.

We took the long way out of Wyoming. Along the road, we stopped
at The Bar at the Forks for a beer. With country music in the background and a
bartender who was more akin to someone's mom, this saloon was in the
proverbial "one horse town." This was no Budweiser thought. The Forks served up
an icy cold Odell IPA.

Larkburger. While chains are typically not my thing, good food is.
This Colorado burger chain specializes in all natural ingredients, biodegradable
packaging and the juiciest, most flavorful burger I've ever had.
Oh, and those Parmesan truffle fries? Decidedly un-chain-like.

A picnic along the Poudre River allowed time for both
contemplation and lady giggles.

When I returned, my sister in law texted me: "So when are you moving to Colorado?" I wanted to say, "Tomorrow."

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Recently, the husband and I put our brave faces on and ventured down the street in the extreme, hell-fire like heat to the Providence Flea, a market that pops up on summer Sundays on South Water Street. If you've been in Rhode Island at all lately, you know the kind of heat I’m talking about. Absolutely brutal. But the sky was blue and it was something to do and hell, there would be food trucks. (In case you ever need to sell my husband on something, always open with “there will be food trucks.”)

We spent minimal time browsing the wares. I think I may have mentioned the heat? Yeah, it was way too hot to browse. But we did manage to put away some food. First we went up the line of trucks and investigated what each had to offer. (This is John's influence, of course.) After much debating, we hit up RadishFancheezical, Rocket and Flour Girls Baking Company.

Our chosen trucks, in all their glory.

The Radish truck is the tasty baby of some JWU and RISD students. We sampled their arrancini and their beef empanada. The empanada is fried to flaky, golden perfection and filled with juicy, flavorful beef. The arrancini, a fried risotto and cheese ball was the perfect combination of salt, cheese and fried goodness. We dipped them both in Radish’s red chili mayo sauce, which frankly, I could have eaten by itself.

Flour Girls, Fancheezical, Radish
Clockwise: Flour Girls' apple cider donut; Fancheezical Old Skool
and Radish's empanada

Over at Rocket, I went with the Rocket dog, the all beef,naturally cased Pearl frankfurter. When it comes to hot dogs, I like simple, so I dressed this doggie up with just some Dijon mustard, chopped onions and celery salt. The dog is delicious, but the bread really makes it.

While I waited for my dog, John opted for a grilled cheese from Fancheezical. He went simple as well. The “Old Skool,”  - add bacon. Buttery bread, crispy bacon, melted cheese. Yes. These guys also had another delicious surprise for us. Their cucumber lime and watermelon sodas were so refreshing. Not too sweet or cloying. Perfect on a hot day.

Fancheezical's cucumber lime soda; Rocket's dog;
Flour Girls' cookies and Radish's arrancini

You would think that after all that, we'd be ready to call it a day. You would be wrong. Next up was the Flour Girls Baking Company truck, where a sign advertising apple cider donuts drew John like a moth to a flame. They were served to us hot and smothered in cinnamon sugar, and were gobbled up in seconds flat. But this truck, out of Fairhaven, MA, also boasted some gorgeous cookies. We opted for chocolate chip and double chocolate. Okay, okay, we took the cookies home. Heat stroke was beginning to set in and we feared one more bite would be the bite that set us over the edge.

Now that was some good eatin'.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Baby Bucket List

Last night was one of those great nights out with good friends that I’ll look back on fondly for a long time. Awe sat at a lovely outdoor table at a downtown restaurant, I mentioned that this may be, at least I hope, my last child-free summer.

It’s that time. My 35th birthday is just weeks away. In March, I married my best friend of 20 years. And every time I see, hear, or worst of all, smell a baby, I’m reminded of how badly I want one. John and I agreed to give ourselves until the fall before we started trying, so it wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind that this summer is something of a last hurrah. But it wasn’t until I said it out loud that the enormity of that statement hit me. I know what you’re going to say – having a child is not the death of fun. I know that. But I am certainly unfettered right now in a way that I will never be again once a child hits the equation.

I told my friends that I wanted to make sure that this summer is extra fun. And that I wanted to make the most of the time I have, even if that means going out “on a school night.” Never one to shy away from a list or a project, my friend Courtney ran inside the restaurant to procure a long strip of receipt paper and a pen. It was then that the Baby Bucket List was... ahem... born.

We started off writing down silly things. Fun things. Check out the Connecticut Wine Trail. Sky diving. Ride some roller coasters. Eat a cronut. But quickly, and fueled by much white wine, the list began to evolve into a manifesto for other areas of my life, aside from the fun.

Reach my goal of a 30 minute 5k.

Experience working in a restaurant kitchen.

Save money for a big transition.

Then we started asking others what would be on their lists. Our server suggested “Teaching something you’re passionate about to someone else.” A bartender suggested “Running away for a few days, no agenda, by yourself, just you and your car and some good tunes.” These were added to the list and circled and underlined.

I won’t share my whole list, but I’ll keep you posted as I check some things off. And hopefully, by the time I find out I’m about to start that new chapter of my life, I’ll feel like I’ve missed no part of the old chapter.

Have you ever made a list like this? What’s on it? Are you doing the things, or is the list relegated to your refrigerator door or cork board? I’d love to hear your stories!