How does a person in her right mind propose covering a marshmallow in more sugar?  It’s a valid question.  For starters, I like sweets.  I do.  I have always had a powerful sweet tooth and have been known to eat chocolate chip cookies for dinner when I think I can get away with it.

But this is about more than just achieving sugar nirvana.  A handful of marshmallows or a spoonful of brown sugar gets me there. (Not that I have ever set a spoon on my kitchen counter for the sole purpose of nabbing little spoonfuls of brown sugar every time I pass the jar – not really, not ever.  Or not much.  Rarely, really.  Just once.  Or so.  Anyway.)  This is about taking a strange little canvas and decorating it in the way it deserves.  This is the miniature millinery of dessert.  The chinoiserie wallpaper of a dollhouse living room.  Dress it up, make it fancy.  Put a bow tie on that butterfly.


(Keep reading Marshmallows Part II…)


I grew up dancing.  Ballet at age 5 led to ice skating at 7, which led to creative dance at 9.  After a year in open enrollment classes, I auditioned for Children’s Dance Theatre, a beautiful and amazing company at the University of Utah made up of 200 dancers ranging in age from 8 to 18.  It was a place to learn, to grow, and most of all, to dance.  I cherished every minute.

One of our regular performance avenues were lecture demonstrations – lec/dems, as we called them – at elementary schools around the state.  A small group of dancers would travel to a school in the early morning, rehearse briefly, and perform condensed versions of the previous season’s full-company concert.  It was an exercise in adapting, in transforming our full-scale productions into something that could look good in a cafeteria  amidst row upon row of transfixed grade-schoolers sitting cross-legged on a sticky, linoleum floor.  Sometimes, if you were unlucky enough to dance at your own school, it was a lesson in humility as you tried to avoid eye contact with anyone who had mileage to gain from this unitard-clad existence of ours.

At the end of each performance, we would pantomime filling our mouths with giant marshmallows before throwing the same imaginary marshmallows into the audience.  With our cartoonish puffed cheeks, we urged the audience members to follow suit.  It was a favor to the teachers; you can’t talk with your cheeks full of marshmallows.  The hope was that a critical mass of kids from each class would be so enchanted with the mere idea of marshmallows that they would play along and follow their teachers back to the classroom in velvety silence, rather than unleash the wellspring of their previously suppressed energy.

Every time I eat or even think about marshmallows today, I think of those imaginary ones.  I still marvel that the trick worked so well.  The very suggestion of a marshmallow – a very simple combination of sugar, vanilla, and gelatin – was enough to coax all but the most jaded elementary students to suspend their disbelief and play along.  Simple as they may be, marshmallows are a sort of wondrous kid magic.  Sweet, spongy, and overwhelmingly throwable, they beckon to both the young and young at heart with their overt mirth.

I don’t know why I decided to make my own.  It seemed like such a bizarre thing to render at home – aren’t they an ingredient, not an end in and of themselves?  I was surprised at how very simple they proved to be.  And how an array of freshly cut marshmallows simply screams “dress me” to those so inclined.  The results are intensely satisfying – a backstage pass to one of the best components of a child’s dietary dream.  Though delicious in their pure, unadulterated form, the well-accessorized marshmallow transcends the trappings of childhood and becomes a truly adult indulgence.


I apologize in advance for the extent to which you will crave this cornbread when you finish the first batch.  It started out innocently enough.  As so often happens to me, yesterday I read the word “cornbread” and had to incorporate it into dinner.  I don’t know why that happens – it’s like a fleeting idea of a particular dish will flip a switch in my brain and all of a sudden I am hungry for something I didn’t realize I wanted.  It’s fine when this happens with foods for which I have the necessary ingredients; not so much when I start jonesing for pan-seared foie gras.


So cornbread.  I started jazzing up cornbread a few years ago with diced apples and barbecue sauce – also delicious – and got really hooked on the idea that cornbread can take the main stage as an entrée rather than stay on the side dish sidelines.  I thought the savory trio of the onions, bacon, and cheese here would nicely complement the sweetness of the cornbread.  I didn’t really anticipate that the flavors would come together in a storm of perfection to create something I would end up dreaming about last night as I laboriously digested a third of the pan in my sleep (after intending to eat an eighth…oops).

There is cornbread and there is cornbread.  This is the latter.

(Keep reading Cowboy Quiche…)


My first foray into Passover baking came during my second year of law school.  My wonderful Seder hosts asked me to bring a dessert.  Knowing the somewhat crippling restraints on Passover baking (and there are really only so many flourless chocolate tortes one can choke down in one lifetime), they were kind enough to suggest that a few cans of Manischewitz macaroons would be fine – “so long as they are plain or chocolate flavor and not something gross like tutti-frutti.”  I wasn’t really interested in bringing macaroons from a can, so I embarked on what proved to be a horrifyingly fraught adventure in Learning How to Make Sponge Cakes the Hard Way.  The next time I feel like making that particular Passover sponge cake again, I’ll show you and I’ll detail the ways around my prior missteps.  It may be shortly after I cure cancer, so don’t hold your breath.

Tutti-frutti grossness notwithstanding, macaroons are a mainstay of Passover dessertdom.  There are two families of macaroons – coconut and almond.  If you aren’t particularly rigid in your definitions of chometz, my Mandelhoernchen could also work (the powdered sugar in the almond paste will pose a problem for many, as it contains cornstarch).  This year, I decided to try my hand at simple, straight-up, no frills coconut macaroons.  Ideally, they should be little orbs of golden coconut; crisped exteriors with chewy, creamy centers.  Some people extrude them from a star-tipped pastry bag, but I prefer to shape them by hand.

I’m somewhat sorry to say I didn’t get around to making these until the very tail end of Passover, and ended up finishing them after it was over.  I won’t make the same mistake next year.  Though not as addictive as matzoh toffee, they are profoundly good when you want something simple and tooth-achingly sweet.


Once upon a time, an enterprising member of a hunter-gatherer tribe grew restless at the idea of yet another bowl of the same mammoth stew and added a handful of peppery-smelling leaves to the batch. The first bite brought surprise and delight to all, and soon seasoning the meat was de riguer.

Or something like that. We don’t really need the specifics. Amidst the variety of reasons our most ancient ancestors began seasoning and varying their food is a reason so simple and obvious it generally goes without saying: because it tastes good.

And so it goes today – we continue to think, churn, generate, experiment, augment, and create, create, create beautiful, wonderful, delicious dishes. Cooking is both an art and a science, and is easily accessible at some level on both fronts. But the art side has a special, unique aspect to it. Everyone participates in it, somehow, every day. You don’t have to listen to music, view a play, examine a painting, or read a book every day, but you do have to eat. I think this is why I find cooking so appealing; it’s at the very core of our lives, waiting to be drawn out and caressed.

Yes, there are different strata of cooking and food. There are simple dishes and complicated ones. I can make a complicated sauce using fifteen ingredients, or a baguette using four. “Good” is so subjective, and doesn’t necessarily correlate to expense, difficulty, or complexity. Food: the great equalizer.

It is also very personal. Everyone’s palate is different, sensitive in varying ways. To prepare food for someone is, in a sense, to attempt to really know a very fundamental part of them. And this is one of the reasons I love to cook. It is powerful to fill an empty plate with the symphonic orchestrations of your kitchen’s contents and your own two hands. You begin with nothing, and end up with a serious something. When you cook with someone else in mind, when you reach out and access someone else’s palate and say “I think I know what you’ll like,” you share a part of yourself with them. I gave my bridesmaids a cookbook of my favorite recipes before my wedding. In the introduction, I told them “I consider the kitchen to be the heart of any home; in sharing these recipes with you, I hope to share a piece of my heart as well as my home.”

I continue to connect with the people around me through food (see, e.g., this website). Recently, upon realizing I had forgotten to wish a coworker happy birthday, I told him I would bring him the baked good of his choice the following Monday. He asked for Mandelhoernchen, a favorite cookie from his childhood in Germany. I happily agreed. He told me later, after leaving me what promises to become one of my all-time favorite voicemails, that he didn’t realize when I told him to specify a baked good that I would be making it. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.


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