Peach almond buttermilk cake with salted caramel gelato

Peach almond buttermilk cake

It’s peach season. Does anything else need to be said? This is the time of year to grab a juicy peach and eat it while standing over the sink while it drips all over you, or to slice one into your breakfast cereal (or try it combined with cucumber and lemon for a summery new twist), or to make into a cake that is as pretty as it is delicious.

Now, we don’t make desserts very often, because, really, nobody needs to take a simple and perfect ingredient like a peach and add sugar and butter and unbleached wheat flour to it to make it better. A ripe peach is already perfect. But every once in awhile, say once every three months or so, we veer away from simplicity and make a cake and enjoy every last crumb of it.


  • 3 large peaches
  • 4 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2⁄3 cup buttermilk (the magic ingredient that adds tang and moisture)
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • ½ cup almond flour, plus extra for dusting the cake pan
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Grease and flour (with almond flour) a 9-inch cake pan.

Peel the peaches, cut in half and remove the pits, and chop coarsely. You want pieces that hold their integrity. If you chop the peaches too small, you’ll end up with mush.

Remove about 1/3 of the chopped peaches to serve with the finished cake and refrigerate until ready to serve. Set the others aside.

Measure out all the buttermilk, and then use a ¼ cup measure to remove the amount you’ll need first. (Otherwise, you’ll get stuck figuring out the math for what 2/3 cup of buttermilk minus ¼ cup buttermilk means, and that will take some time for most of us, and will probably also yield an incorrect result and a headache.)

Whisk together the egg yolks, ¼ cup buttermilk, and vanilla, and set aside.

Mix the dry ingredients, preferably in a standing mixer, but you can also do this by hand.

Add the butter and remaining buttermilk and beat until light in color and fluffy looking.  This will only take a couple of minutes in a stand mixer.  Prepare for some arm work if you’re beating by hand, but it won’t require a helper, as long as the butter is at room temperature.

Scrape down the sides of the mixer or bowl then add the vanilla–egg–buttermilk mixture in a few batches, mixing well after each addition.

Fold in the reserved chopped peaches by hand and pour into the prepared cake pan. (Don’t forget to lick the spoon and the bowl, one of the quiet yet deeply intense pleasures of being the cook. Share if there’s anyone around, otherwise, rejoice in your solitude.)

The prepared cake, ready for the oven.  You can see that the sides of the pan are dusted with almond flour.

Peach cake ready for cooking

Bake for 30–40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Be careful that the edges don’t burn, though—this is a very moist cake and the cake tester may pick up a couple of crumbs from the center. If you’re not sure, set your timer at 1-minute intervals while checking.

Place the pan on a rack to cool completely, then invert onto a plate. Lightly press the toasted almond slices onto the top of the cake.

Peach cake with almonds on top

Serve with the reserved peaches, and, if you’re feeling especially self-indulgent, ice cream. Vanilla would be fine, but we like the excuse to have a little bit of salted caramel gelato. If you serve gelato, buy the best. The cake (and you) deserve it.

P.S.  This cake is a candidate for a flourless treatment, using just almond flour in place of the cake flour.  It might be a little less light and more dense, but it would be easier on the conscience to eliminate unbleached white flour from, well, everything.


And here’s what a peach/cucumber breakfast looks like.  Drizzle it with a little lemon and peach balsamic vinegar if you have some.

Peach cucumber breakfast

Fig and Tomato Salad with Blue Cheeses and Pine Nuts

I have to admit that I when I heard about this recipe I wasn’t completely sure that figs and tomatoes would make a good match.  Usually when I make a salad with figs, it’s on a bed of greens and a very light, fruity vinaigrette.  But hey, it’s tomato and fig season, and so an experiment was in order.  We’ve had a disappointing year as far as tomatoes go in the garden—some kind of blight has taken all but the smallest cherry tomatoes—so we had to buy the tomatoes for this salad, which also made me doubtful, since I’ve gotten used to strolling out the back door to pick them warm when it’s time to make something.

For this salad, we went the extra step and peeled the tomatoes—probably not strictly necessary, but a nice touch.  And we used two kinds of blue cheese—a classic French Roquefort and a local blue.  If you’re not a fan of blue cheeses, any tangy, crumbly cheese will do.  As in usual in our dishes, we aren’t strict about measurements—we were feeding four people, so we cut up what looked like enough tomatoes and figs for four.

The ingredients list went something like this:


4 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled and sliced
8 figs fresh figs, tips cut off, quartered
2 varieties blue cheese, crumbled

Handful of toasted pine nuts, cooled


1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oi
Pinch salt, freshly ground pepper

A few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only, whisked into the dressing at the last minute

And that’s it.  Assemble it on a platter in layers, starting with the tomatoes, then the figs, then adding the crumbled cheeses and pine nuts.  Drizzle the dressing over all just before serving.

I was wrong to doubt the tomato/fig combination.  We licked our plates. Our tomato sadness evaporated.  It tasted just the way summer is supposed to taste.



Spinach Lasagna with Fresh Basil

2016-01-22 13.46.25Someone in this house had some dental surgery and was limited to soft foods for a week or so. This is a great go-to comfort meal for when you want taste but can’t really chew. Or anytime, really. It’s good for dinner, good cold for breakfast, good heated up in a bowl for lunch. And it gets better every day.


  • 1 package lasagna noodles.  You want to use the whole package, because some of them will break, and this way you’ll have whole ones when it’s time to layer.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped shiitake mushrooms (substitutions are ok, but I wouldn’t use anything but shiitake myself)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 3 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 bunches fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 cups tomato pasta sauce—I don’t make this from scratch very often, so to entertain myself I’ll blend three different jar sauces
  • 5 cups grated Parmesan cheese


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted and oiled water to a boil.
  • Blanch the spinach for a few minutes, and use a strainer to remove it. Drain, then squeeze out excess liquid. I do this with my hands; it’s fun. Chop spinach.
  • You can use the same water for cooking the noodles. Add lasagna noodles one at a time, so they don’t stick to each other. Don’t use instant lasagna noodles for this dish. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente, then drain.
  • In a skillet over medium-high heat, cook mushrooms, onions, and garlic in olive oil until onions are tender. Drain excess liquid and cool.
  • Combine ricotta cheese, Romano cheese, spinach, salt, oregano, pepper, and egg in a bowl. Add cooled mushroom mixture. Beat for 1 minute. Lay 5 lasagna noodles in bottom of a 9 x1 3 inch baking dish. Spread one third of the cheese/spinach mixture over noodles. Sprinkle 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese on top. Spread 1 cup pasta sauce over cheese. Place fresh basil leaves on top of each layer.  Repeat layering 2 times.
  • Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour.
  • Add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Cook uncovered, just until cheese is bubbling, about 10 more minutes.
  • Cool 15 minutes before serving.

The house mouth invalid said this was the best lasagna he’d ever eaten. I don’t know if that was the painkillers speaking, but I liked it too. (He’s back to real food now.)

Life. With Food.

2015-10-17 12.14.58A few months ago, a reader asked me why I had posted a tribute to my friend Jonathan on the anniversary of his death.  “It’s a food blog,” he said.  “I don’t think it’s appropriate to write about personal things on a food blog.”  When I pointed out that our tagline is “Life. With Food” he still wasn’t convinced.  So maybe we need to be clearer that this isn’t only a place for recipes and where we can delight in and show off our cooking accomplishments.  It’s also where we shine a light onto many other things that matter to us.

I grew up in New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s, in a pretty ordinary small town notable only by its proximity to the Delaware River, just two blocks from our house, and an easy drive to Philadelphia, our nearest big city.  We sometimes caught big ugly catfish in the river, but never ate them—even then, the water was brown with sludge and who knows what else.

I don’t think I knew any men—any dads—who cooked, although they would sometimes, on firefly lit summer nights, handle steaks and burgers on the backyard brick grills that they had built themselves.

Our moms did the cooking, and it was about what you would expect in suburban New Jersey in those days.  Breakfast:  cold cereal, milk, toast (white bread), orange juice.  Eggs and waffles or pancakes on the weekends.  Lunch—which I walked home for, from school, since moms didn’t work outside the home those days:  Campbell’s cream of tomato soup, peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches (white bread) or grilled Velveeta cheese on white bread.  Supper:  spaghetti and meatballs (that was the only pasta I knew), or hot dogs and beans, sometimes fishsticks dipped in ketchup. Chicken cutlets.  I remember eating, but hating, spinach (which for some reason was seasoned with sugar) and summer squash, both watery on the plate.  Mashed potatoes.  Sloppy joes.   Jello or ice cream for dessert.

After my father died and my mother remarried, we moved to a small family farm nearby.  I had of course known in the abstract that food didn’t grow in the supermarket, but it was the farm that really brought fresh tastes home to me.  A peach picked warm from a tree in the late summer, cherries and strawberries and tomatoes and corn and, to me, the most exotic of all, asparagus and lima beans, minutes from plant to table.  I even started to like squash.

My mom’s cooking branched out, too.  She had a small vegetable garden and, for the first time ever, I tasted lettuce that wasn’t iceberg.  She began to keep bees and collect the honey—and was on call to deal with bee swarms all over our part of the state.  She experimented with recipes and turned from an average cook into a very good one.  She sometimes said that the reason she gave up smoking, after decades, wasn’t for her lungs—it was for her taste buds.

When I was about 17, just new in college, I started cooking too.  Vegetarian and macrobiotic, no surprise, it was the early 1970s—and although I eventually moved away from cooking as dogma, I retained my knife skills and the deep belief that food prepared with love would be received with love.

I eventually got married, and had a daughter and a husband who was an excellent cook.  Lots of guys were cooking by the time I reached my late 20s.  My mother and stepfather moved to the town next door, so they could share in the work and wonder of raising their granddaughter.  By this time we were in Massachusetts, just outside Boston, and there wasn’t an ingredient from any part of the world that we couldn’t get if we wanted it.

My mom and I both bought an international cookbook and began a friendly competition.  We shared our triumphs and tips and laughed with (and at) each other when we goofed up. We generally cooked for each other once a week, and talked to each other every day.  Whenever one of us traveled, and we traveled a lot, separately and together, the first question we had for each other when we got back was “what was your favorite meal?”

My mom didn’t know it for a long time, but she was an adventurer.  She was passionate about equality and justice, and questioned authority all her life.  She was a joiner, a change agent, a mentor, and a loyal friend.  We argued, of course, but only a handful of times, and we made up easily.

As my mother pulled into her late 80s, she lost interest in cooking, but not in good food.  So I, and her friends, filled her freezer with easy-to-prepare meals and joined her as she ate them.  She was strongly independent and equally sociable, so she usually had company every day, or went out to see her friends.

About a year and a half ago, my mom, who had been old in years but not in energy or spirit, started to experience fatigue.  For a young old person, this was a big shock.  There didn’t seem to be a medical reason for her tiredness—she was just fading.  She hated having to ask for help—a trait I share with her.  On January 2nd, her 90th birthday, she went into the hospital with pneumonia and then into a nursing home.  She was surrounded by friends from her Quaker community, and by her extended blended family, and, most frequently, by me.

In the months before her death in July, my mom lost her appetite.  She and I both knew that choosing not to eat was making the choice to die, and she was certain that she was ready to go.  My job was to support her, and by the time she died, which took much longer than she wanted it to, we had no unfinished business, nothing left to say.  The last thing she ate was a spoonful of lemon sherbet; the last thing she drank was a sip of lukewarm tea.  Our final conversation was about how much we would miss each other, and about death as the greatest mystery of life, and what would happen to Don Draper of “Mad Men” as he aged.  I believe her last words to me were, “Can you hand me a tissue?”

This isn’t a food blog.  It’s not just about meals and recipes, but what we learn about life and ourselves and each other when we prepare and eat food with and for the people we care about. Food is the thread, life is the theme.

2015-07-01 10.36.53

Orange and Pomegranate Sparkly Starter Salad

2015-04-25 19.29.42We broke way out of our comfort zone about a month ago and prepared a three-course meal for 12 strangers, in an unfamiliar kitchen in the South End of Boston. We’d volunteered to be part of an online auction, and someone actually bid on us—well, to be completely honest, I volunteered and Chip, with his eternal good nature, went along. We worked with the host to create a menu, which ended up as:

Orange and Pomegranate Sparkly Starter Salad (aka Jewels on a Plate)

Grilled rack of lamb with cilantro honey sauce

Cauliflower cake with roasted red pepper sauce

Roasted asparagus with hollandaise

Poached Anjou pears in a dark chocolate sauce

Almost all of the meal was prepped in advance and finished on site, which was essential, since we had no idea what we were going to encounter. We learned from our last experience and brought EVERYTHING we thought we’d need, including salt and pepper, because you never know.

Ingredients for the salad (serves 4):

4 navel oranges

1/3 cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 hot red chili pepper, thinly sliced into rings

1/3 cup olive oil

salt & pepper

1 cup fresh arugula

1 cup feta or other goat cheese, crumbled

4 tablespoons fresh parsley

4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds


Peel the oranges, removing the white pith. I do this with a knife so that I can get all the pith off. (Yes, I know, pith off.)  Cut the oranges into ¼ inch thick slices.

Boil the vinegar and sugar for 3 minutes, then add the chili and cook for another few seconds, just so the pepper softens. Pour over the orange slices, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, drain the juices from the oranges into a bowl. Whisk the oil into the juices and add salt and pepper to taste.

Assemble the salad, starting with ¼ cup of arugula. Then layer the oranges over the top, and add the cheese. Top with parsley, and pomegranate seeds, and drizzle the dressing over the top.

The dinner party was a big success—maybe there’s a boutique business there someday down the line. All I can say for now—we had a ton of fun, everyone ate every bite and asked for more, and we would have been delighted to find this meal on our plates in any restaurant. We’re getting pretty good at this.

Maybe one of the top ten (20?) most fun days I’ve ever had.

Photo Apr 25, 7 48 45 PM

Pears poaching, asparagus ready to cook, salads all plated.

Photo Apr 25, 7 49 33 PM

Lamb marinated overnight in cilantro and honey, flash-grilled at home, finished in the oven on location.

2015-04-24 18.45.29

Cauliflower cake.

2015-04-25 17.55.45

We stayed calm and happy the whole time.



Cauliflower cake

2015-03-08 19.50.13I bought the Plenty More cookbook, by genius chef Yotam Ottolenghi, on the basis of his recipe for cauliflower cake.  One look at the photo that accompanied the recipe, and I knew I had to make that cake.  It’s a bit weird, because not that long ago, I wouldn’t eat cauliflower in any form…something about it just, yuk.  And then, overnight, when I was in my fifties, my fifties, I fell in love with it.  I have no idea what happened. Maybe my taste buds finally grew up—my antipathy towards okra went away around then, too.

I’ve now made this cake several times, and while I like the original version, which is delicate and sublime, I need something a bit wilder, crunchier, more aggressive.  This is what’s so much fun about cooking—playing around, making mistakes, making something your own, having the confidence to trust your own palate, sometimes failing, sometimes improving.

What follows is the original recipe, with my changes (so far) in italics.  I’m not done with this recipe yet.


1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1 1/4-inch/3-cm florets
1 medium red onion, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
7 eggs
1/2 cup basic leaves chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted (or not–I don’t have a sifter)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric (or more, up to 1 tablespoon)
5 ounces coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese
Salt and black pepper
Melted unsalted butter, for brushing
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds (make that 4 tablespoons, lightly toasted)
1 teaspoon nigella seeds  (4 tablespoons, lightly toasted)

1 very generous pinch peperoncino



Preheat the oven to 400°F

Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.  Or, roast the cauliflower florets at 350°F until they are beginning to brown around the edges.  They will have softened somewhat but will still retain a bit of crunch.

Cut 4 round slices off one end of the onion (each 1/4 inch thick) and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. (I like to reserve some of the onion and add them in at the last minute, so the onion mixture retains some texture.) Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Transfer the onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk well, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Add the peperoncino.  Whisk until smooth before adding the cauliflower and stirring gently, trying not to break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2-inch/24-cm spring-form cake pan with parchment paper. (I’m not very good at parchment paper, so I just line the bottom.) Brush the sides with melted butter, then mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss half of them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Sprinkle the rest of the sesame and nigella seeds over everything.

Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It needs to be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.  (Or cold from the fridge, for breakfast the next morning, held in your hand while you run out the door.)


This recipe seems infinitely adaptable.  My next go at it will involve experimenting with egg whites instead of whole eggs, adding even more crunch and spice, and trying to take it out of the somewhat “brunchy” place it holds in my head to something substantial enough to serve for dinner–in other words, I guess, making it less “ladylike” and more edgy.  Maybe a peppery red sauce?  Maybe some leeks along with those onions?  No matter what, though, it will always be beautiful to look at, just like the photo that grabbed me in the first place.

2015-04-06 20.58.23

Blizzard breakfasts

2015-02-15 09.36.40-1I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but it’s been snowing a lot in Boston.  And it’s snowing as I write this post—not a(nother) blizzard, but several more inches are on their way—which makes me think of snowbound winter breakfasts.

Chip and I don’t overlap for breakfast very often.  A snow day is the perfect excuse for me to hint, broadly and shamelessly, that I’ve got a craving for his excellent, magnificent, fantastic protein pancakes.  The basic recipe looks like this:

1 cup lowfat cottage cheese
1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
6 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla
Cinnamon to taste
Splenda to taste

Mix everything up in a blender, pour perfect circles into a nonstick skillet heated to medium high, and flip when bubbles form at the edges of the pancakes.

Last week, during the latest blizzard, Chip modified the recipe.  Instead of using oatmeal, he used mixed whole grains—and what had been always reliably delicious ramped up to sublime.  Add grilled Canadian bacon, berries, plain yogurt, and warmed-up maple syrup (grade B, which is dark and rich) and you’ve got a breakfast that warms the soul.

2015-02-15 09.50.28He served me first.  I’m a lucky woman.

On regular winter days, breakfast looks like this:

2015-03-01 09.28.51We’re berry fond of berries.  (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)  The secret ingredient here is the yogurt, Siggi’s Icelandic style.  Thick, creamy, not too sweet—we go through a LOT of it each week.

See that spoon?  It belonged to my grandmother, Ella Bernhardt, and was brought over from Germany when she and my grandfather (and, eventually, my father) made their escape.

In praise of friendship

Jon MaslowThis wonderful man, Jon Maslow, died a few months shy of his 60th birthday, 7 years ago this week.  We met in college, a tiny school in southern Vermont, where I was just about the youngest freshman, newly 17, and he was a lofty four years older, a senior.  It was like, maybe even love, at first sight.  Within minutes we knew we were soul mates.  I dated, and then lived with, Jon’s roommate.  Jon attracted all of the most beautiful women in the area with his dark grace and passion for living.  He was my first and best guy friend.

Jon made me laugh. He knew all my secrets, and I knew his. We came of age together, shared everything, and loved and respected each other. We coached and counseled each other through love affairs and marriages, and supported each other even when we didn’t approve of the inevitable bad choices and bad decisions.

I roamed with him in junkyards, looking for whatever he needed to repair his ancient Volvo.  I visited him in the winter on the farm where he lived with his friends Richard and Oliver—no electricity, no heat, no running water, but a massive wood stove kept us warm, and houseplants flowered despite the cold and dark. We often talked all night.  He peed off the porch.  I slunk around the back of the house in my boots and jeans and flannel shirt and aimed as best I could into the snow.  We walked our dogs together.  We went skinny dipping in the small ponds in our town, and in the bright enthusiasm of youth and idealistic fervor, tried to change the world by changing our corner of it.  We started a restaurant, a day care center, a political party.  We talked endlessly, read deeply, stalked wild mushrooms and owls in the forest, baked bread, argued about just about everything, gardened, complained, challenged each other, grew up.  I felt safe with him, always.

His letters from South and Central America were long, insightful, silly, and written in beautiful calligraphy.  His house and garden in New Jersey were messy, crammed full of oddities he’d picked up from great distances and around the corner.  The books he wrote—The Owl Papers; Bird of Life, Bird of Death; Sacred Horses; Torrid Zone; Footsteps in the Jungle—opened up my world, and I was thrilled that he chose to rest in my company between his voyages.

In our one, and only, attempt at becoming lovers, we ended up laughing so hard we simply gave up—makes sense, in hindsight—we had a different kind of chemistry.  I loved to look at him and to hear him talk—of course I did, look at that face!  He’d read Mark Twain to me at night until I fell asleep, every time he came to visit. His annual calendars of adages and proverbs were the best gifts ever.  This is the one from his last year on this earth.2008

I still talk to him when something great or funny or perplexing happens.  When I get lonely for his voice, I read his letters.  Grief has no timetable, and love endures. Here’s to friendship.  Hang on to the people who get you and let them know that you love them.

Thanks, Jonathan. Without you I wouldn’t be who I am, or have all those 19th century Russian novels under my belt, or know how to make a mushroom print, or have the skills to be a lifelong friend. I miss you, wherever you are in that mysterious space/time/matter continuum.  And I still want that hat.

Hat man


Last Supper

ThanksgivingWay back in November, we cooked a Thanksgiving meal, not for crowds of people, as we had the year before, but just for each other. It was a chance to try out some ambitious recipes and to please just ourselves. I had at first said, “no poultry,” but a trip to Whole Foods revealed some never-before-seen exotica that ended up as the basis for our meal.

There, in a freezer on the shelf nearest the floor, a place I admit I never look, we saw guinea hens. And marrow bones. And so the menu started to form in our minds. Neither of us had ever cooked a guinea hen—and we hadn’t eaten one, either. Same with the marrow bones, although we had tasted them before. So the marrow bones for the starter, the guinea hen for the main course, and we needed a side dish. No traditional Thanksgiving green beans or squash—we decided to make saag paneer, including the cheese. I am wild for cheese, and even took a course at the Boston University School of Culinary Arts, where I earned a certificate in cheese, which makes me a dairy queen, or a cheese whiz. I’d never made cheese before—it turned out to be easy, fun, and yummy.

The plan for the day, as much as there was a plan at all, was to take it very slowly, to start whenever we felt like it, and to eat whenever food was ready.

Maybe some other time I’ll write about the recipes. What was remarkable about the day wasn’t the food, which was glorious, but the conversation. It’s rare to have an entire day that can unspool at its own pace, where there isn’t a deadline or urgent errand or sense of a ticking clock and other things that must be dealt with. Even though we share a house and a kitchen, our time together is usually short and silly and then we ricochet off into our separate lives.

For the marrow bones, we chose Anthony Bourdain’s recipe from the book/web site My Last Supper. Roasted marrow bones—his choice for a last meal. At some point after we’d prepared and eaten the marrow bones and were hanging out (actually, lying down on the living room couches) while the guinea hens cooked, I asked Chip, “If you knew you were having your last meal, would you use?” His answer came fast and clear—no, he would want to be entirely present for his end.

Over the next few days, I asked this question of a few of my other friends in recovery. Pretty much everyone came to the same answer, although a few people admitted to being tempted. One friend with 28 years clean wants his clean time on his headstone, and that goal would keep him from using. Others said they had lost any cravings or desire to use.

I like to believe I would face my end with grace and presence…but I can’t be sure. I’m enough of a foodie to think that maybe it would be nice to have a glass of wine or two with my last meal…but when I think it through, I realize I’ve lost my taste for wine. Would I take something to relieve fear and anxiety? I don’t know. I hope not. Being alive, fully alive, until the moment I’m not, seems like a good death. On the other hand, I was very happy to get the epidural during childbirth…so who knows? My tolerance for physical pain is pretty high—less so for emotional pain. And after decades of reaching for a pill or a drink to get me away from emotional pain—I just don’t know how much courage or faith I’ll have, when faced with death.

Oh—what would be on my last meal menu? I don’t know exactly, but I think there would be ripe peaches and figs, rich dark chocolate, and sushi prepared by a master. Not in that order.


Butternut Squash Soup, Thai Style

Thai soupIt suddenly got cold in our house, our neighborhood, and in all of New England.  That always brings on a yearning for soup, hot in temperature and spicy in flavor.  This one’s special–you know you’ve scored a hit when one housemate says “this is the best treatment of butternut squash I’ve ever experienced” and another says “best soup ever.” If you don’t count the time it took to make the chicken broth or roast the butternut squash, this is about an hour’s worth of work.

Don’t worry about making the vegetables look pretty—they’re going to be puréed, so looks don’t matter.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 6 cups cooked butternut squash (Put a whole squash on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven. Cook until a fork goes in easily all over the squash and the skin feels like parchment paper. Cool and remove skin and seeds. Time to roast depends on the size of the squash—start checking it after about 30 minutes.)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 6 cups homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1.5 tablespoons red curry paste
  • 1.5 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk


Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add carrot, celery, onion, curry paste, and ginger. Cook on medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have begun to soften and the onion turns translucent, about 8 -10 minutes.

Add the squash, thyme, broth, coconut milk, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until all the vegetables are tender, about 30-45 minutes.

Let cool slightly, then purée the soup.  I used an immersion blender, but you can use a regular blender too.  Reheat and serve.

Garnishes could include just about anything but try:

  • Coconut flakes (unsweetened) and fresh cilantro–pictured
  • Chopped apples and celery
  • Sliced toasted almonds
  • Plain yogurt or a swirl of cream
  • Chopped bell or hot peppers

This soup is even better the second or third day.  Some kind of magic happens when the flavors merge–but it’s spectacular right away, too.