a year in food and life

Catching up… June 15, 2010

Filed under: food,Musings — superspark @ 12:03 pm

My past six months of blog posts all seem to start with some sort of “Wow- has it really been a month since I last managed to write?!” sort of introduction. In this case, nearly two months, actually, and I’m not entirely sure that I have a proper recipe to post. There’s been a whole lot of cooking in the house, but my urges to document it all have fallen by the wayside, I’m afraid. Along with that, I’ve been moving away from my long list of favorite food blogs a bit, finding that the ones that mix in a little more lifestyle, if you will, are more compelling to me these days. So a bit of Superspark life before we move on to culinary matters…

There are lots of things keeping us busy these days, chez Superspark, not the least of which is our little Madeleine who is fast approaching two years old.  She’s actually much less of a handful than in her “youth”, though no doubt that pendulum will swing again soon.  So we can’t blame her for our busy-ness this time.

Nor can we blame the newest little Superspark, due to arrive in early September.  That’s right, Maddie is going to have a little brother- eek! We’re all very excited, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that this baby is already missing the constant excited vigilance of a count down to his arrival.  I don’t think I’ve cracked a pregnancy book once this time and what will be the nursery is still primarily a resting place for old yearbooks, unhung art, and various other home goods without a home.  He’s -11 weeks old and already suffering from second child syndrome.

It’s just life in general that has us busy these days…building a monumental vegetable garden in the yard (complete with 8-foot fence to keep out deer!), finishing Dylan’s first year of residency (thank goodness!), trying to keep up with the joys of homeownership (mowing, cleaning, bills, etc…), and of course my own job, where we’ve managed to pull in an epic amount of NIH grant money recently, making news of each success both a blessing and a curse (in that there’s just that much more work to do now).  So all in all, things are good.

But on to the food! My favorite part of cooking these days is still the planning- culling through my recipes to find two or three to make in the upcoming week.  And thanks to the internet, there are all sorts of fun menu planning/shopping list tools to feed my love of obsessive planning.  Here’s the one I’ve been using recently– my favorite one is no longer on the interwebs, but this suits my needs pretty well, if not perfectly. So fun! And what sort of menus have I planned in the past few weeks?

There was this exceptionally yummy posh variant on mac and cheese. Posted on The Bitten Word, I made it for a potluck only to have my social plans thwarted by a sick baby. Keeping my chin up, I bravely managed to eat the whole delicious thing myself for the rest of the week…

What else? I’ve been making mini-muffins every couple of weeks and then freezing them for quick snacks.  Because when else, other than pregnancy, can you justify a couple of mini strawberry muffins on any given morning, just because? Thanks to Pink of Perfection for that tasty recipe.

And how about one more winner, amid a fair number of also-rans? Yeah, I know, Rachael Ray bugs me, too.  But the leftovers of this spring noodle stir-fry made multiple co-workers come ask me for the recipe as I was microwaving.  Plus it features some of the best in spring veggies- sugar snap peas and asparagus.  I ramped up the amount of pasta to make it more filling, but beyond that, stuck more or less to Ray-Ray’s vision.  Turns out the garbage bowl, a big bowl in which to put your scraps as you prep a meal (rather than wasting time running back and forth to the garbage can), is not her only idea worth keeping.

So that’s it for updates around here…no food pictures, I’m afraid, but were we to wait for those, it might be a very, very long time.  Enjoy the rest of June and fingers crossed that I managed to write something before the month is out!


Back in LA January 7, 2008

Filed under: Musings — superspark @ 7:15 am

Wow, it’s been ages since I last posted anything on Superspark! It wasn’t the busy-ness of the holidays that prevented me from posting so much as a complete and utter lack of cooking. For us, the holidays always mean a trip back to New York to see family and what with the price of airline tickets and the unpredictability of dates for using frequent flyer miles, we were gone a good two weeks, returning just this past Saturday afternoon. And in that time, I barely set foot in the kitchen, aside from heating up leftovers or pouring a bowl of cereal. No, these trips to New York inevitably turn into a long parade of events- with relatives and friends to see and parties to attend (not to mention Christmas itself), we end up eating out to the point where I just want to curl up on the couch with  a bowl of oatmeal for dinner.


(gorgeous photo from   

There was our lovely trip to the French bistro Orsay, a cozy pasta dinner at Pomodoro, and of course the requisite slice of Manhattan pizza. Then there were the desserts: sinfully creamy chocolate cake from Citarella, a decadently rich chocolate cake from Payard, and an ice cream extravaganza on New Year’s Eve. Add to those a four course dinner Dylan cooked in his father’s honor, a handful of restaurant visits on Long Island and in Westchester, and a studied comparison of Manhattan versus Long Island bagels. All of which goes to say, I would be happy not to see the inside of a restaurant for the next few weeks and my enthusiasm for whipping up meals is low. Thus far, we’ve mustered up the energy to heat up microwaved vegan food and veggie burgers, but not much else. So my return to blogging may be slow this month (which marks, incidentally, Superspark’s first birthday), but I’m starting to warm up to simple vegetable soups, steamed veggies, and other such light fare. As my appetite returns, so will the blogging…back soon!


The Graduation Saga, Chapter II: Veggie Planet June 15, 2007

Filed under: food,Musings,Restaurants — superspark @ 8:20 am

Yes, that’s me on the left, doing my best Harry Potter imitation. Another June, another round of graduations, only this time, I was up on stage (FINALLY! HOORAY!). Though I had finished my Ph.D. last September and “officially” graduated in November, I returned to Cambridge, MA last weekend to walk in my long-awaited graduation ceremony. I debated the merits of the cross-country trip. Given the demands of work and the timing of Dylan’s Ph.D. graduation ceremony (very conveniently scheduled in Pasadena, CA the very next morning), it would literally be a 36 hour jaunt from LA to Boston and back. In the end, the promise of seeing friends and family won out. And in all seriousness, finally getting a chance to wear those rockin’ robes was no small incentive. The velvet tam, the satin hood- when else can you get away with wearing such ridiculously over-the-top attire? Fabulous! So the shoulder pads were worthy of a linebacker and the sleeves were so long that we had to pin them up in order to allow my hands to peek out…it was a kick anyway and I only wish I had been able to prance around in them all afternoon rather than jetting off to the airport immediately after graduation. C’est la vie!


Another factor luring me back to Cambridge? Veggie Planet, my favorite Harvard Square eatery. I’ve yammered on and on in the past about my beloved Veggie Planet cookbooks (Entertaining for a Veggie Planet and Vegetarian Planet), so much so that you might think I was on commission, but these days I rarely have the opportunity to go straight to the source for their terrific cheap, quick, all-natural vegetarian and vegan pizzas. I took the red eye to Boston, arriving at 4:50 am and by noon I was happily perusing the menu at Veggie Planet with Dylan, Amanda, and our long-lost friend Zarin, who recently returned from a year of following chimps in Uganda. With so many favorite pizzas, it was hard to choose, even when given the option of splitting it into two half pizzas of different flavors was presented (see photos below). A little peanutted out, I passed on my usual favorite, Thai Peanut Curry, and skipped over another favorite, Dinner for Henry (a delightful butternut squash, goat cheese combo) as well, figuring that I could make it myself using the recipe in Entertaining for a Veggie Planet. In the end, I went with the ever-popular Caesar on a Cheesy Crouton (a delicious pizza crust with a thin layer of cheese topped with a vegetarian caesar salad) and the Blonde on Blonde (their version of a white pizza). As always, the food was delicious, the environment mellow, and with my husband and two old friends in tow, I couldn’t imagine a better return to my old stomping grounds.


Dinner for Henry (butternut squash and goat cheese)


Caesar on a Cheesy Crouton and Blonde on Blonde (white pizza)

Veggie Planet: 47 Palmer Street (Harvard Square); Cambridge, MA 02138; (617) 661-1513 


Blueberry muffin tops cereal March 7, 2007

Filed under: food,Musings — superspark @ 8:27 am


This is one of those products that makes you wonder what the marketing team was thinking when they named it. I can only imagine that they thought they were quaintly naming their cereal after the tastiest part of a muffin and were blissfully unaware of the more modern connotations of the term “muffin top“.


(photo from

With apologies to the poor women who were captured here on film sporting the dreaded muffin top, can you spot the resemblance? I’m just saying, people need to be more careful when naming cereals. Then again, it made us buy it, didn’t it?


Being the beta cook February 23, 2007

Filed under: Musings — superspark @ 2:51 pm

I just had my first (half) day of gainful employment since finishing my PhD and you’ll rarely find someone so happy to commute for an hour each way in heavy traffic to go to meetings and sit in an office. Seriously. I know it will get old pretty soon, but I am reveling in the feeling of once again having some responsibilities and being a productive citizen.  Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed with a puritan work ethic, but staying at home was just not for me. I don’t know how people do it. Obviously cooking was one of my prime pursuits, and one of the most enjoyable aspects of my unemployed life.  I’d imagine I’ll now have less time to cook, unfortunately, and having commandeered the kitchen over the last few months, Dylan and I will go back to a more equitable balance. But cooking together? I’m not so sure…

Last week’s New York Times ran an article, He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love, describing clashing kitchen dynamics in couples who share cooking duties.  So-called alpha cooks tend to dominate in the kitchen, leaving their betas feeling like inept sous-chefs.  Meanwhile the alphas, apparently, grow resentful of feeling like they have to check up on everything their partner does.  The article, alas, is no longer available to read free online through the NYT, but seems to be posted here, and is, in many ways, eerily reminiscent of the scene at our house.  Dylan is definitely the chef in our family, with a creative palate, a can-do attitude, and a solid cooking background.  He is also an irrepressible instructor, which is what ends up transforming him into the alpha in our kitchen, and me the tooth-gritting beta cook.  I fully admit that he knows way more than I do when it comes to cooking technique, but when he starts critiquing things like the way I slice bread, my feathers get a little ruffled.  I mean, having managed to make it to age 30, I think I can cut myself a slice of bread, no? Or say, fill up an ice cube tray myself.  Do I really need instruction on proper fill height?

But it’s quite clear that Dylan, a constant self-improver, only means the best by it.  Had I novel and time-saving culinary techniques to share, he’d be the first to ask me to show them to him.  And if his interest in perfecting things extends to the way the ice cube tray is filled, so be it.  Like many of the couples in the New York Times story, the best solution for us seems to be to let each other have our space in the kitchen, so that if he presides over lunch, I do dinner.  In the end, I know how lucky I am to have a husband who loves to cook and makes such wonderful meals.  Even if he is an alpha.


On ballooning and babies (literal and Dutch) February 12, 2007

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,Diversions,food,Musings — superspark @ 9:21 am

What a weekend we had planned! As a work-related excursion, we had been invited on a hot air ballooning-wine tasting retreat. How cool is that? We would get up very early Saturday morning and drive to Temecula, where we’d be whisked away on a balloon tour of wine country. The rest of the day would be spend tasting and touring at the various vineyards, with breakfast and lunch stops at carefully selected restaurants. I’d been looking forward to the trip for weeks.  Maybe you can already sense that my excitement about this excursion was soon to be squelched. On Friday afternoon, we found out that because the forecast for Southern California was for rain on Saturday, the whole trip was cancelled. Waaaah! And if that weren’t bad enough, when we woke up on Saturday morning, it was gorgeous and sunny and lovely. I can only hope there was a monsoon over Temecula.

Perhaps, we thought, we’d drown our sorrows in some homemade strawberry ice cream. But somehow Dylan, who is an ice cream pro and tends not to give much thought to silly things like recipes, managed to curdle the milk with the acid from the strawberries, leaving us with a brew of hot strawberry paneer. Yegh.

Luckily things started to get better on Saturday night, when we headed out to babysit. Clearly we have no children yet, for only the childless could look forward to spending Saturday night with an eight-month old while his parents go out for a romantic birthday dinner. But just spending an hour with a delightful, sweet-tempered baby can cure any foul mood. His chubby legs, wide-eyed startled look, and baby head smell had us wondering whether it would be fair to keep him up past his bedtime so that we could play with him more. (We didn’t, but it was tempting.)

Spirits lifted from babysitting, we returned home and whipped up a batch of cinnamon ice cream to put the cap on what ended up being a not-altogether-terrible day, even if it was not what we had thought it would be. The ice cream was amazing, but as the premier ice cream maker in our house, Dylan gets dibs on blogging that one. He’s been experimenting with a new recipe for the base that produces incredibly smooth and non-eggy results.


Instead, I’ll just mention the dutch baby (or variation thereupon) pictured above that we made for brunch on Sunday. Having drooled over The Wednesday Chef’s Sow’s Ear pancake ever since it was posted here in mid-January, we finally decided to make one. I think, in looking back at the recipe, that it may have been intended for dessert, not breakfast, but doesn’t that seem unnecessarily restrictive?And I won’t even begin to ponder how anyone could manage to get six servings out of this glorious apple-y goodness. Let’s just say there’s nary a scrap of pancake left at our house today. (And wow, wouldn’t it have been good with a little cinnamon ice cream on the side?! I’m almost embarrassed that that didn’t dawn on me until just now!)

You can check out the original Sow’s Ear recipe as posted by the Wednesday Chef here or for a couple of interesting variations…

-Dylan has made slightly smaller, individual-sized oven-baked pancakes that are nearly the same as the sow’s ear pancake. We loved the peach version, but were slightly less wild about the fresh fig version . One neat thing about Dylan’s recipe is that the pancake really climbs up the side of whatever baking dish you use and can take on crazy and interesting contortions.

-Just this morning, Erin of Erin’s Kitchen posted a completely ingenious version of a baked apple pancake in which she substituted powdered chai latte mix for the sugar in the recipe. Brilliant!


Tapas at Firefly Bistro February 9, 2007

Filed under: food,Musings,Restaurants — superspark @ 9:58 am

(photo from the Firefly Bistro website)
I had my first blog encounter last night. My friend Jill invited me to meet up with her and her friend Erin (of Erin’s Kitchen, one of my favorite blogs) for a stroll through the South Pasadena farmer’s market followed by a trip to Firefly Bistro. Being fairly new to this whole blogging thing, I had yet to actually meet someone who I’ve know solely through her blog. With apologies to Erin for the silly analogy, it’s sort of like meeting a celebrity in that you feel like you know them and something about their lives, but in reality, you are only familiar with the small windows that they choose to share publicly. That said, it was lovely to meet Erin and learn a little more about the woman outside of her kitchen. 🙂

After a quick stroll through the farmer’s market (where I exhibited commendable restraint by emerging with nothing more than a bunch of green onions), we headed to Firefly for their Thursday night tapas and sangria. The setting is beautiful, a large white tent over candlelit tables. I imagine that it would be a lovely, romantic setting for a Valentine’s Day dinner, were I someone who wanted to fight the crowds that night. The restaurant is fairly pricey, so sangria and tapas were a perfect way to enjoy the atmosphere without breaking the bank. From pear fritters to garlic shrimp to tempura asparagus, the tapas menu was full of interesting and appealing little bites and everything we ordered was well-prepared. All in all, a delightful evening and I plan to return for a full dinner as soon as I have something big to celebrate (like a new job!)

Firefly Bistro: 1009 El Centro Street, South Pasadena, CA 91030 (626)441-2443


Tom Colicchio, you mystify me January 25, 2007

Filed under: food,Musings,television — superspark @ 9:51 am

I am most definitely a cook, not a chef. I like the security of a recipe, I like flipping through cookbooks, and I am not particularly good at whipping the odds and ends left in the fridge into a gourmet meal. Nevertheless, I can’t help but like Bravo’s Top Chef , even if, as a semi-vegetarian, I wouldn’t eat half of what they cook. I certainly watch my fair share of television (including, guiltily, reality television) and there is something remarkably compelling about watching people compete at a task they love and consider their calling. The fabulous Project Runway started this trend and though it is still foremost in my heart, Top Chef is pretty great, too.

Last night, the final four chefs in the competition (Sam, Elia, Ilan, and Marcel) headed to Hawaii, where they were told that two of them would be eliminated and two would go on to the finals. They were instructed to make a traditional Hawaiian meal, but to put their own personal twist on it and modernize it. The four judges agreed that each of the finalists stepped up to the challenge and made a great meal, but they were left to decide which two contestants made the best meals. There were reasons to choose, or not choose, each of the contestants- Elia, for instance, put so much of her own Mediterranean flair into the meal that its Hawaiian roots were virtually unrecognizable.

From practically the first episode of the season, Dylan and I agreed that Sam was the one to beat, and watching him cook each week only strengthened our convictions. His dishes were always creative, visually appealing, and apparently, delicious. But beyond that, he seemed to have an intuitive grasp on food and rarely made a misstep. Beyond that, with the exception of his outburst at Marcel, he showed a maturity and responsibility that made the others look like a bunch of sophomoric hotheads. So when Marcel and Ilan were chosen to continue to the finals, while Sam and Elia were told to pack their knives, I was astounded. And from the sequences and conversations that were included in the final cut, I got the sense that judge Tom Colicchio had strong-armed the decision. Padma Lakshmi (the host and Salman Rushdie’s wife -wha?!?!) looked like she was about to cry when she sent Sam packing.

I will agree that based on the dishes they cooked last night, Sam’s were no better (though maybe no worse) than Ilan’s or Marcel’s. (Elia seemed the clear loser in this bunch, based on that meal.) And presumably the judges are supposed to based their decisions on that round of cooking alone, not their prior accomplishments. But I would be shocked if Sam wouldn’t have easily beaten either Marcel or Ilan in the finale. So why send the best chef of the group home? Is anyone with me on this? Did they forget that Sam has been the strongest competitor throughout the many weeks of competition? That said, Sam’s career will probably flourish regardless of the fact that he didn’t win the competition; he seems like a chef you would want in your kitchen, not one who is going to lose it under pressure or rub people the wrong way.

So while I’m still looking forward to the finale, I’m a little disappointed that the top chef has already packed his knives.


Movies- Shattered Glass January 17, 2007

Filed under: Diversions,Musings — superspark @ 12:55 pm

I’m not sure where I was when the whole Stephen Glass scandal at the New Republic went down, but I had only the faintest memory of it until watching Shattered Glass last night.  I knew he was a journalist who had committed some serious ethical breaches, but I would have been hard pressed to distinguish between Glass and the other recent notorious journalist, the New York Times’ Jayson Blair. (I still don’t know much about the latter, but am now pretty interested in finding out more.)

In any case, I really liked the movie. Part of it was my amusement at how similar the fledgling writers played by Hayden Christiansen, Chloe Sevigny, and others were to the handful of real-life budding journalists I know.  But more importantly, the story was just incredibly compelling.  If I hadn’t known it was an account of an actual media scandal, I might have said it was altogether too outrageous and preposterous.  How could any journalist, no matter how green or overly ambitious, think he could get away with writing articles that were partially (or even entirely!) fictionalized? The story that led to Glass’ downfall,”Hack Heaven”, described him meeting a teenage hacker hired to work for a large software company after successfully infiltrating their files.  Turns out not only was the hacker a fictional character, but even the software company was a product of Glass’ imagination.  And that was only the start of the fictions and the trail of lies and deceptions he then perpetuated to cover his tracks.  I guess it just perplexes me, with my rudimentary knowledge of journalism, editing, and fact-checking, that a writer could have the audacity to publish such a piece. Even if his editors didn’t catch the lies, wouldn’t someone, somewhere in the readership know enough to call him out on it? Or am I giving us all too much credit?

Anyway, I’ve been sufficiently intrigued by the whole thing to do a little more reading on the subject this morning and I’m even finding myself curious to read some of the pieces that are still online. I suppose I should ask myself why I’m more interested in reading these false stories than say, actual, fact-checked pieces in the New Republic (which I have never once looked at).  And I’m having a bit of a moral dilemma as to whether it would be okay to read Stephen Glass’ “novel” based on the story, The Fabulist.  The reviews on Amazon largely skewered it and of course, I don’t really like the idea of buying a book from an author who is well-known primarily for fleecing the public.  Maybe a used copy would settle those qualms? I find myself morbidly curious about how one tries to redeem oneself and reestablish a career after such public ignominy.


New Year’s Resolutions 2007 January 9, 2007

Filed under: Musings — superspark @ 8:58 pm

I’m not usually much of one to make resolutions because I’m pretty much happy with the way I live my life. But there are a few areas where there’s room for improvement and so this year not only have I made resolutions, but perhaps putting them in the public space will help me stick to them.

1. Read the newspaper every day. I am way too uninformed about politics and world events.
2. Spend the last 30-60 minutes of every day reading for enjoyment. No watching TV until I’m too tired to do anything but roll into bed.
3. Learn more about photography so Dylan doesn’t have to always be the official family photographer. A side benefit: having a more aesthetically appealing blog.
4. Find a job. Almost too obvious to post, but I guess the larger point is not to let myself get discouraged so easily when a dream job doesn’t just present itself.