Thursday, May 25, 2017

Advice for a Happy Marriage

LUCY BURDETTE: John and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next week. I feel so grateful to have a husband and a marriage that I can rely on for love, support, and lots of laughs. And that his kids, who were part of the package, have become my beloved family, too. Here we were on that day 25 years ago. #younganddumb

Every marriage has its challenges and heart of ours was probably negotiating a new relationship while becoming a stepfamily. Some statistics show that divorce rates for all marriages lie between 40 to 50%, with second marriages coming in at 60% or higher. There’s a reason for that—it’s hard! The kids have to cope with an upheaval in their lives, loss of their full-time parents, and two sets of rules (if they’re lucky and have both parents involved.) The divorced parents have to grapple with having contact with the parent of their children to whom they are no longer married, often for good reason. The stepparents have to face the reality that a peaceful, orderly life as they knew it has changed. I had been single for seven years when I married John—I had a cute little Cape Cod house, two cats who were always glad to see me and never talked back, and complete control over my schedule and my refrigerator. Making the adjustment was--ahem-- a challenge! #biggestchallengeever #notalwaysgraceful

At one point early in our marriage, we were advised to develop a schedule of positive reinforcement for the kids, where they earned points for things like picking up, cleaning the guinea pig cage, setting the table etc. And then let them choose prizes they could win once they reached a certain point total. We posted all this on the refrigerator. Molly's top choice was a big troll. 

One day John's brother and sister-in-law came over and Margaret noticed the list. In a perfectly flat voice, she looked at John and said: "But Roberta already won the big troll."

Thinking about what I’ve learned over this period of years, I wondered what I would have advised my younger self? #stillworkinprogress #advicefromme

1. If there is a choice, opt for being kind and generous. Corollary to that: How important is the stand you are taking right now? (See Still Working, above...) #channelDalaiLama

2. In tough times, remember the things that attracted you to this person. (Let’s assume for now that these were positive!) Are they still there? #worthfightingfor

3. Every day thank God and Universe for my John! #Lucy'sgotthebigtroll

What's your advice for a happy marriage or partnership?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Rhys on Downsizing

RHYS BOWEN: Hallie's post on Monday, on tossing out spices, herbs from her pantry touched a nerve with me. I am not planning to move or downsize or anything but I know I'll have to some day.
I have a good friend who has just moved into an upscale retirement community. She has a large apartment, gourmet meals, plenty to do, from lectures to yoga to concerts to trips to places of interest. I have to admit it does have its appeal. So I'm thinking... someday. If I were on my own, I might well do that.

And I have recently become fascinated with that show on tiny houses. I've tried designing a few tiny houses in my head but I'm always put off by having to climb a ladder to get to my bed. No way I'm going to do that in the middle of the night!

But then I look around my six bedroom house, each room filled with--well, stuff. And I ask myself what I would want to keep if I had to move to a small space. And the answer is "Not very much." Photos of the family, definitely. A Queen Anne writing desk.
A glass topped table filled with little boxes.
 My pride and joy that is a Gaugin numbered print (and I was thrilled when I saw its brother in the Gaugin museum in Tahiti). A couple of other paintings, but that's about it.

I have become less attached to things as I get older. I could easily give away all my furniture. Many of my clothes. Most of my books (except for my Agatha Christie collection and one each of all of my books). I'd probably have a hard time parting with my Agatha teapots, my other awards.

We were at our condo in Arizona this weekend for my grandson Sam's graduation. One of the reasons I love the condo is that it is only stocked with what we really need. Furnished from scratch. Nothing superfluous! While I was there I sat looking around me, thinking "I could let all of this go, apart from my adorable ceramic man from Mexico and a couple of Native American pots. But then would the Native American stuff even look right outside Arizona?

So I've vowed to start eliminating as soon as we return from vacation in Europe. I've already weeded out boxes and boxes of books but now the time has come for pictures and ornaments. My collection of paperweights that has not been taken out of a box for years. Ditto my Indian elephants. I will keep weeding out until I will become an Eastern sage, living with the minimum around me and meditating..... well... not quite.

So how about you? What would you hang onto if you had to downsize?

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

All About Your Name

The Women of Letters logo
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Do you still write letters? I mean, letter-letters? It’s difficult for me, because my handwriting is so illegible, I honestly get emails from people saying “Thank you for your thank you note. What did it say?”

But the other day I participated in an astonishing event. Sponsored by Women of Letters, it’s an international program that asks women to write a letter on the topic of WOL’s choice, then read it out loud to an audience. 

I was thrilled to be invited. Until I heard their topic. We had to write “A Letter to My Secret.” My secret? It took a lot of thinking. And at some point, I was dismayed (?) to realize I have no real juicy secrets. I guess that’s a good thing—no, like, criminal record, or almost criminal record, no horrible encounters or crushing humiliating miseries. Any secret I thought of was—embarrassing. Or boring. Or embarrassing AND boring.

And then I got it. I would reveal—that I do not like my name.

Here’s a photo of us all on stage.

My letter began like this:

To: Whom it may concern:

Yes, I understand where you're coming from, completely. Because let me tell you, Whom, I never liked my name either. "Whom it may concern" works really well for you, and I wish I had thought of it. But I have had to make other arrangements

And then it went on:

It was 1963, remember. And it was bad enough being considered a farm girl when I wasn't, but what made it worse that was that my name was Harriet Ann.  Harriet Ann! 

When all the cool girls are Debbie and Linda, and you are nerdy bookie and unpopular, and named Harriet, it does not make for a pleasant junior high experience. In fact, when all I wanted to be was most popular, they voted me most individual. Harriet the individual. And they put my picture in the school paper upside down. They would not have done that to Debbie or Linda.

I could not understand why my obviously sadistic parents named me this. They tried to explain it, that it was a family thing, that my father, my biological father, was the music critic for the Chicago Daily News, and my great uncle Harry, or something like that, had introduced him to the music of Mozart. So they had, in gratitude, named me after him. Uncle Harry, not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Which would have been equally horrible.

I did my best, as geeky little Harriet, to overcome this name thing. Oh, you're saying, how about Harriet the Spy? She was cool. Yes she was, and had Harriet the Spy existed at this time, I would've been fine. And writing you about something else.  But there was no other Harriet except for Ozzie and Harriet. Ricky Nelson's mother? Are you kidding me?

It went on—we each read for about 8 minutes. (And I mentioned Harriet Vane, of course.) But wow, it was a memorable evening. 

I ended by revealing how I kinda like Harriet now.

Here’s another photo—this is me backstage with host Sofija Stephanovic, then Abeer Hoque and Callie Crossley,  then me, then Marianne Leone, Rose Styron and Claire Messud

And if you EVER get a chance to attend a Women of Letters event—we had a packed house at Oberon in Cambridge—please do. 

We’re not allowed to talk about what anyone else told—what happens at WOL stays at WOL. 

But people were laughing, and crying, and it was truly unforgettable. 

So Reds and readers—I won’t ask you to tell your secret. Not today at least. But—do you like your name? Have you always felt that way? What do you wish you were named?


Monday, May 22, 2017

How old is your paprika?

HALLIE EPHRON: Last week’s post on our rotating recipes had me looking in my supply closet to assess my staples. An aside: When my husband was a poor graduate student his go-to meal was “staple stew” which consisted mainly of canned tomatoes and beans with a little chopped meat (if he was flush) and a ton of chili powder.

 Here’s the cabinet where I keep my spices and flavorings and assorted staples.

Pulling at random from the shelf, I checked out some of the “BEST BY” dates:

  • Cayenne pepper 5/2005
  • Celery seed 5/2005
  • Ground ginger 8/2012
  • Marjoram 8/2007
  • Baking powder 6/2007
  • Paprika 4/2020
This explains why my from-scratch cakes rise so feebly.

At least they're all this century. Probably not so for the poppy seeds, mace, and ground sage which had no best-by dates (hadn't been invented yet?) but they were all priced $.59. I can only imagine when I bought them.


I can say for certain that spices and herbs with expired dates do not kill you. But how long before you pull the plug? This exercise resulted in my tossing dozens of items.

The good news is that these days, mostly I use fresh herbs—basil, mint, parsley, sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, dill, scallions—many of them from my garden. And fresh ginger, always have some of that in the house. Fresh herbs make it abundantly clear when they've passed their best-by date.

So here’s the test. Go to your staples supply closet shelf and pick a few at random. Are you expired and what do you intend to do about it?

We really should do this every spring.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Our Jungle Red MINI Cookbook

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Last week, when we were discussing meal subscription services (Hello Fresh, Plated, Blue Apron, etc.,) several of us mentioned some of our favorite rotating recipes. (And we all said we want to move in with Hallie! She is the most fabulous cook!)

Some of our lovely readers suggested that we should publish a Jungle Red cookbook. That might be a bit beyond us, with our busy book schedules, but in lieu of that, today we're each going to give you one of our favorite standbys. Bon apetit!

Here's mine: I discovered this recipe a couple of years ago when I treated myself to a Le Creuset cast iron braiser. I was looking for new braising recipes and found THE BRAISER COOKBOOK by Wini Moranville on Kindle. The book only has 22 recipes, and all I've tried have been delicious. But this one is a real standout, because it is so easy and so good. It's become a regular selection on our table.

Salmon on Creamy Cabbage

(serves 4)

2 tablespoons butter (divided use)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 (16-ounce) package coleslaw mix
1 - to 1-1/ 2 pound fresh salmon fillet, skinless, cut into 4 pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 shallot, finely chopped (1/ 4 cup)
1/ 4 cup dry vermouth or white wine
1/ 4 cup white wine vinegar
1/ 4 cup whipping cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Snipped fresh chives

Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter and the olive oil in a 3-1/ 2-quart braiser over medium heat.
Add the coleslaw mix and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly wilted but still crunchy, about 5 minutes.
Season salmon with salt and pepper.
Place salmon on top of cabbage mixture. Cover and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until salmon flakes easily when tested with a fork, checking after 5 minutes of cooking time to make sure cabbage is not browning— lift and stir cabbage around the salmon if needed.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until tender, stirring occasionally. Add vermouth and vinegar; simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in cream. Simmer to desired thickness. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep warm. 3. To serve, spoon cabbage mixture onto plates. Top with salmon fillet and spoon sauce over top. Garnish with chives.

(Leftovers are good if you are only cooking for two.)

HALLIE EPHRON: I've made this a few times it's a keeper. I usually have some frozen shrimp and often a zucchini on hand. The rest of the ingredients are staples. It's a twist on crab cakes.

Zucchini/shrimpcakes with dipping sauce


1 large zucchini
1 egg (might need 2)
Flour (a handful)
Cornstarch (a half handful)
5 or 6 large deveined peeled shrimp, cooked (I boil them for 3 minutes) and chopped into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
Vegetable oil

Cook and chop the shrimp
Grate the zucchini (large holes on the grater)
Place shredded zucchini in a colander and salt liberally, toss to distribute the salt, and let it stand 10 to 15 minutes
Rinse the zucchini (to get rid of salt) while it’s still in the colander and press out excess water
Dump the zucchini into a clean dish towel and wring out as best you can
Scrape the shredded zucchini into a bowl and mix with the chopped shrimp, egg, flour, cornstarch (add a second egg if it isn’t holding together)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in over medium (NOT HIGH) heat in a frying pan
Drop heaping tablespoons of zucchini mixture into skillet and flatten
Cook, turning until golden and crispy on each side
Drain on a paper-towel lined cookie sheet
While you make the next batch let the sheet sit in a warm oven

Serve with soy dipping sauce, approximately equal parts:
Soy sauce
Rice vinegar
… mixed with about 1 tsp sugar
ADJUST proportions to taste

DEBS: Yum!!!! And I have a great go-to salmon cake recipe which I will share another time.

INGRID THOFT:  This is a go-to in our family, and I’m tempted to be embarrassed by its simplicity, except it’s a Mark Bittman recipe from the New York Times.  According to Bittman, the roots of this recipe can be found with Chinese immigrants who live in India, which makes me feel quite worldly as I grab the ketchup from the fridge.  Most importantly, it’s delicious, easy to make, and I always have the ingredients on hand.  FYI – I don’t like spicy so I leave out the cayenne pepper, and it’s still great.

Time: 20 minutes
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken, preferably dark meat, in 1/2- to 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup flour, more as needed
4 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons slivered garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cup ketchup

1. Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. When chicken browns on one side, toss it and cook until just about done: smaller pieces will take 5 minutes total, larger pieces about 10. Remove to a plate. Turn off heat and let pan cool for a moment.

3. Add remaining oil to pan and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add ketchup and stir; cook until ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly. Return chicken to pan and stir to coat with sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

LUCY BURDETTE: I love this recipe, set on a bed of salad greens with any kind of steamed veggies on the side. And a biscuit's the perfect way to use leftover chicken. And it's lower in sodium because the curry makes the flavor pop so you really don't need salt!


One half roasted chicken, skinned, boned
One bunch red grapes, washed and halved
3 Sprigs of dill, washed and chopped
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise, to taste
1 tsp curry powder
2-3 ribs celery, washed and chopped

I use leftovers from my own roast chicken, but if that's not on hand, use purchased roast chicken from the supermarket. Debone the chicken, strip off skin and any chewy bits, break into bite-sized pieces and add to a large bowl. Wash and chop 2-3 sticks of celery. Wash the red grapes, halve them and add to the bowl. Wash dill and snip into the bowl. Toast 1/2 cup pecan pieces and add them.

Mix the mayonnaise with the curry powder and adjust seasoning. Fold this into the chicken mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  These all sound so great! Here's my pasta on a deadline--I always make this on nights when I get home late and still want to come up with a delicious dinner that's quick and easy.  The recipe has just a few ingredients--the key is a little parallel processing to make sure all the elements are ready at the same time.  It's one of those recipes where you think you know what it's going to taste like--but it doesn't! The total of the hot peppers and the garlic and the cheese is more than the sum of the parts!


 (serves 2 to 3)

A box of your favorite pasta (Penne works well, so does farfalle. Small pasta works better than spaghetti or linguini)
Water for cooking pasta

One tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup or a little more olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 cup or more bread crumbs

1 bunch broccoli rabe, chopped smallish

Grated Parmesan cheese  (the best quality you can find)

Salt and pepper to taste


1. Put uncooked pasta in big pot of boiling water

2. Put olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl, and put in the microwave.  (I know you'll wonder if you really need the red pepper flakes--you do!)

3.  When pasta is two minutes from done,  gently cook oil mixture in microwave for one and a half minutes on reheat.

4. At essentially the same time, add the chopped broccoli rabe to the cooking pasta.

5.  Take the oil mixture out of the microwave, and mix in the bread crumbs to make a paste.  The consistency should be more oily than stiff, so add bread crumbs gradually. 

6. When the pasta is done, the broccoli will be done.  Drain the pasta/broccoli and return to hot pan.

7.  Quickly add the oil and breadcrumb mixture and stir to combine.

8. Serve instantly with grated cheese and salt and pepper. (You don't want this to get cold!)

**I've used regular broccoli, and also chopped spinach instead of broccoli rabe--and it still works perfectly. The peppery flavor of the rabe is a nice addition, though. Sometimes I add hot grilled corn kernels at the same time as the oil mixture.

**You can also heat the oil mixture in a sauce pan--the key is, you're just heating the oil to infuse the flavors, not cooking it.

Add a nice side salad and a glass of wine, and you are good to go!


JENN McKINLAY'S Last Minute Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner:  Bacon-Ricotta Frittata


1 package cooked and crumbled bacon
1 bunch diced green onions
8 cups diced kale and/or spinach
12 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup fresh, fine grated parmesan cheese (divided into ¾ and ¼ cups)
15 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese

Directions:  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Transfer bacon to a separate plate. Set aside the bacon drippings by pouring them into a bowl. Return 2 tablespoons of the drippings to the pan and fry the green onions for about four minutes over medium heat.  Add half of the diced up greens and toss for a minute until they begin to wilt. Add the remaining greens and sauté for about ten minutes until they are wilted. Transfer to a plate. Rinse and dry skillet. Beat eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in ¾ cup Parmesan cheese, then greens and half of the bacon. Stir in the ricotta but not too much, leave some clumps. Heat one tablespoon of the bacon drippings in the skillet over medium heat.  Pour in egg mixture, making sure the greens and bacon are spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining bacon and ¼ cup Parmesan over the eggs. Cook for ten minutes until the edges are set and then transfer to the oven to bake for twenty minutes. Once the frittata is set, remove it from the oven and loosen it around the edges and carefully transfer it to a platter. Let cool for 30 minutes. Apparently, frittatas are supposed to be just a bit warmer than room temperature. Slice into wedges and enjoy with a nice loaf of bread and a fruit salad.

DEBS:  I'm set now for a couple of weeks! I've bought the shrimp and zucchini for Hallie's recipe. I have chicken fries in the freezer that will be perfect for Ingrid's chicken thighs. Next time I roast a chicken or cave for the supermarket rotisserie, it's Lucy's chicken salad. Hank's pasta with broccoli rabe can fill our Thursday night vegetarian pasta slot.  And I'm drooling over Jenn's frittata
and trying to figure out how to make it for two people instead of four (two of which are Jenn's hungry teenage hooligans...) Make the whole thing and have lots of lunch leftovers, I think.

What about you, READERS? Share your infallible get-through-the-week favorites!