All posts by Cathy

snappy popcorn

img_1612We’re moving. Did I mention that?

nps-campusOur house sold in July, we closed in late August. Four days later, we closed on the condo. (Building photo above, common room below.) We rented the house back for 60 days to give us time to redecorate the condo.

one of the many common areas in the buildingIt’s one month and one week later. Somehow, with the help of our amazing contractors, we selected everything for the condo in record time. We picked out materials from floors to tile to cabinets to appliances. We picked paint colors and faucets and drains.

img_1509It’s deconstructed now. (photo above) We’ve got furniture on order. We recovered some of our current furniture. I found lighting and closet hooks and rugs, medicine chests and a bicycle hanger. I went to seven stone yards before finding the perfect countertop granite.

img_1534The contractors have been busy. The condo is starting (slowly) to come together. We move in 12 days. Yes. 12 days. We’ve called utility companies and internet service providers and cable companies to shut off and turn on service.

img_1463We have hired a company to run a three day estate sale from October 21 to 23. We are seriously downsizing and there are going to be some very good deals. I am sad to say farewell to some things, but overall I feel lighter going forward with less.

some of my childhood books Through all this, we slipped away for two weeks in the Berkshires, a vacation planned months ago, well before we had any idea we would be moving. It was a nice two weeks, although the rental property was less than we hoped for — it was not very clean which was horrifying. And sadly, it had a truly dreadful kitchen.

img_1587Thankfully, I brought a cast iron pan and a baking sheet, because I always travel with one of each! Ha! Well, if dinner couldn’t be made on the sheet pan or in a cast iron pan, it didn’t get made. I brought along my friend Charlotte Druckman’s fabulous new cookbook, Stir Sizzle Bake, for inspiration. An entire book on cast iron pan cookery! It’s totally brilliant, people. You need this book.

img_1575The good news is the lake was lovely and the views calming. We had friends and family who came to visit which always makes for a fun time. And at the end of the two weeks, I was ready to take on the move.

img_1608It’s a busy time for WORK, too. (In case you are thinking that I’m just packing boxes and dreaming of living in a castle.)

Perhaps you’ve had a chance to see my new monthly column, BRING IT!, for the Washington Post Food section. It’s so much fun to be writing about potlucks and other occasions and the foods that we bring to celebrate.  Check out my Slab Pie story, a Chile Verde recipe for everyone, and the tastiest road trip lunch, Lentil and Farro Salad.

Watch for my story in The Local Palate next month (November.)

And be sure to pick up the Edible DC Holiday issue, arriving on news stands mid-November. Jennifer Steinhauer and I were the guest editors and we asked all our favorite local writers to contribute.

img_1611Finally, I can’t leave you without a recipe, but I’ve been cooking so little lately, I have only my latest obsession to share. Popcorn. Spicy, sweet, salty popcorn. I credit Mary Reilly (editor of Edible Pioneer Valley) for teaching me all about popcorn possibilities. And mailing me enough gochugaru to spice up any situation.

Cracker Jill
Makes about 12 cups

6 ounces bacon, diced (optional)
1 cup popcorn kernels
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
2 cups salted peanuts or slivered almonds if you have run out of peanuts
6 ounces unsalted butter
8 ounces light brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon gochogaru chile powder (or pimente d’Espellete or Aleppo pepper or cayenne), depending on your pantry and your preference

Heat oven to 400°. If including bacon, line a baking sheet with parchment and spread out the bacon in a single layer. Place in the center of the hot oven and cook until crisp, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 250°. Let the bacon cool a bit then chop it up into small bits.

In a 5 quart heavy pot heat the grapeseed oil and three popcorn kernels. When the kernels pop, add the rest of the popcorn, remove the pot from the heat, cover and wait exactly 30 seconds. Place the pot back on the heat, shake and shake until the corn stops popping. Dump into a very large bowl ASAP. Add the peanuts and the bacon and a little bit of the bacon fat that is on the baking sheet.

Make the caramel. In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the butter, sugar and salt until dark amber (265-270°), add the baking soda and stir well, then add the bourbon and chile powder and stir very thoroughly. Pour the caramel over the popcorn and stir stir stir to coat everything.

Spread the popcorn out on two baking sheets lined with parchment. Slide in the oven and bake for one hour. Cool completely. Break up especially large chunks.

Lasts only a day or two, at best.


a cool salad for a fast pace

IMG_1297It’s been a crazy time but this salad has gotten me through. It’s everything. Sweet, salty, sassy with chile pepper heat.

IMG_1243In the last month, in the craziest 9 days, we staged our house (POD in, POD out) and put it on the market. It sold 5 days later. We rejoiced, cried, panicked, and ran away.

IMG_1228After two days by the waterside, things look more manageable and I am working on reestablishing a regular routine for the next little while.

13876469_10209660722616892_4040056958626144540_nThis is where we’re moving. Our condo is on the other side of the building. We don’t move until October, but on the other hand Holy Crap. WE MOVE IN OCTOBER.

IMG_1255For those days when the house was on the market, I barely cooked, but I did manage to knock out some bagels one night because this recipe from the Washington Post is delicious and I’ve got it down to about 20 minutes of active work, including clean up. This is a skill you want to have: Bagel making at home. Trust me.

We ended up out of the house driving around while the house was being shown to what seemed like a zillion people. We made the best of it, visiting the truly adorable and everything delicious Buttercream Bakeshop, Tiffany MacIsaac and Alexandra Mudry Till’s sweet shop in Shaw. Dennis loved the blueberry lime bar and I went savory with an artichoke and spinach filled yeasty roll. Delicious.

IMG_1276I escaped for lunch once and snagged  a stupendous Bahn Mi at Straw, Stick and Brick.

On the day when there were 8 showings, a leisurely brunch was the only option. We headed to Osteria Morini where Chef Matt Adler was cooking up a storm before leaving (with his pastry chef wife Kimberly) for adventures of their own making. I was so happy to have a chance to taste his pasta one more time (so tender, so delicious, every element perfection.) We’ll all be watching to see where he lands next. In the meantime, Matt’s executive sous, has taken the helm.

IMG_1197Osteria Morini’s menu has included, in one form or another, a starter that I never pass up. It’s not complex, but it’s exceptional in its simplicity. One of the happiest combinations around. The components are the very freshest seasonal fruit, burrata, hazelnuts and a calabrian chile vinaigrette. I’ve enjoyed this combo with ruby grapefruit, with strawberries and, most recently, with cantaloupe.

IMG_1294I am officially obsessed.

So I created a bastardized version. It’s a little proletariat, maybe missing the Chef Adler flair, but as salads go, it’s a winner.

Thank you to the Washington State Fruit Growers for the beautiful nectarines and peaches that I’ve put in this salad day after day after day.

Not Matt’s Salad (Summer Fruit and Mozzerella Salad)

3 slices of ripe cantaloupe, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ripe nectarine, pitted and sliced thin
1 ounce fresh mozzerella, torn into pieces
A small handful of roasted, salted pistachios
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
A healthy squeeze of Mike’s Hot Honey (or substitute your favorite honey and a pinch of red pepper flakes, Aleppo pepper or pimente d’Espellette)
A good pour over of your best olive oil
Flaky salt

Pile the fruit and cheese and nuts on a plate or in a shallow bowl. Drizzle with lemon juice, honey and olive oil. Salt. Devour.

(Substitute any fruit and remember tomatoes are fruit, too. Use burrata if you have it. Swap out the pistachios and use hazelnuts or almonds or cashews. Tear up some basil or mint leaves or snip some chives over the top. And so on.)

Let me know what you think.


PS Looking for a fun FUN beachy read? This book is a delight.



NPS campusWe’ve got big news. We’re moving! And it’s only 8 minutes from our current home.
2016-03-26 17.32.08Dennis and I have lived in our current home for all but one year of our 18 together.  After years of moving furniture and artwork around, renovating bathrooms and living areas and (finally last year) the kitchen, it’s “done.” It’s perfect. There is so much I love about this house. It’s light and bright. It’s up on a hill. The views are wonderful and woody.

2016-04-14 09.24.55Out the wall of windows in the breakfast room, the view is sublime, the result of a garden 17 years in the making. We are next to the treasure that is Rock Creek Park. The dogs get long walks in the deep woods on a daily basis. We have an abundance of wildlife and a pristine and quiet environment just a few minutes from downtown. It’s a heavenly home.

IMG_0539But we’re not getting any younger, and we were beginning to feel burdened by our stuff. We use only half the rooms in the house, I have an office as does Dennis, but mostly, we move from the eat-in kitchen to the den to our bedroom.

2016-03-26 17.33.07I give my responsible husband all the credit for saying early on “We’re going to want to think about where we will retire.” I’m more devil-may-care “What will be, will be.” But for at least 15 years we have been looking for a community where we might age in place.

IMG_3133The search for Our Next Home has taken us from western North Carolina to the southern edge of Massachusetts. From southern New Hampshire to coastal Maine. We nosed around on the Eastern shore and explored the entire state of Delaware. We’ve looked at homes in suburban DC, in downtown DC, and in Baltimore. It’s been a crazy experience: we’ve made our friends so suspicious of any reference to looking at real estate that many of them reacted to the news that we have a contract on a new home with complete disbelief.

IMG_3124Our tastes are similar, but not the same. I’m a fan of older, quirkier while Dennis leans toward new construction. Consequently, over those years of looking, we’ve been challenged finding a place that made us both happy. Even so, we’ve come this close to a contract three times.Exterior (Front) - Magnificent restoration for Historic National Park Seminary Project! Beautiful wooded setting & located close to Metro & downtown Bethesda!But today, yes, really, we have a contract. And our house will be on the market in two weeks. We don’t know how the timing will work out; all I know is the world is suddenly moving very fast. And we have a lot of crap in this house.

hotelWe’ve purchased a condo. It’s about half the square footage of our current home, not including the basement and garage. It has a beautiful, enormous terrace. And it’s on the campus of the National Park Seminary, recently and very tastefully renovated by the Anderson Company.

girlsatseniorhouseFor the next few weeks, I expect I’ll be writing about this move. About the confronting aspects of downsizing. About what methods we used to determine what living situation was right for us, what we needed, what we wanted and how we figured it out. Not to mention how we are going to take the trappings of 18 years and fit it all into four rooms. Ahem.


tart cherries, sweet cherries and a Preserving Italy giveaway

IMG_1051 The Northwest Cherry Growers from Washington State sent me a box of cherries. They were so delicious, I almost ate them all without preserving a single one, but I managed to set aside some for these delicious projects.

IMG_0922Cherry Bounce. It’s a delicious cordial, George Washington’s fave tipple! It’s delicious and takes about 15 minutes to stir together and then a world of patience while it does its thing for weeks. Make it before the cherry season is gone and you’ll be serving it this fall.

IMG_1041With all those gorgeous cherries, I turned to my good friend Domenica Marchetti’s lovely new book – PRESERVING ITALY – chock full of so many sensational recipes. It is a joy to read, Domenica’s writing is encouraging and fun, and the fabulous assortment of sweet and savory preserved foods are incredibly appealing. Throughout this charming book, are warm, generous stories of her family that make you want to spend the afternoon in her kitchen.

IMG_0915The introduction hints at one of Domenica’s favorite recipes – Sour Cherries in Boozy Syrup – that uses a fascinating technique of partially drying the fruit in a very low oven (or the sun) before soaking in sugar to create a syrup and then dousing in booze. I think, when they’re done, these will be the closest to my favorite Italian import cherries, so I’m excited.

Domenica’s publisher (HMH) was kind enough to send me an extra copy – so I’m giving one away. Leave a comment and tell me what you do with cherries and the book will be yours. (The winning comment will be randomly selected Friday, July 2.)

IMG_1054Before the season slipped by, I put up a few jars of my favorite sour cherry jam. I created this recipe two years ago, after the book was finished and I’m so happy to finally share it with all of you.

The secret to this jam is in the splash of nutty liqueur added at the very end. Many recipes suggest amaretto, an almond flavor; I think it’s cloying and too sweet for the tart jam. Try Frangelica (hazelnut) or, if you can find it,  Chestnut liqueur. (I found it in Gascony while shopping with Kate Hill. #sorrynotsorry)

IMG_1043Sour (tart) cherries have almost no natural pectin. I rely on Ball Classic Pectin or my own Gooseberry Pectin to gel the jam.

Sour Cherry Chestnut Jam
Makes 8 half-pints

3 pounds tart cherries
Juice of one lemon
4 ounces homemade Gooseberry Pectin or 6 tablespoons Ball Classic Pectin
21 ounces granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 ounce Chestnut or other nut flavored liqueur

Start a large pot of boiling water for the canner at the same time you begin the jam making. If it comes to a boil before you are ready, turn the heat down and hold the water bath until the jam jars are filled.

Pit the cherries over a large preserving pan (6 quart or larger) to capture all the juices. Dispose of the pits. Stir in the lemon juice and pectin. Start with medium heat and increase to high over a few minutes until the mixture is boiling hard and is foamy. (You’re looking for the “boil that will not stir down.”)

Add the sugar all at once and stir well. Adjust the heat to medium or medium high, stirring all the time to avoid scorching. Bring back to a full, rolling boil. Cook at a hard boil for one full minute. The foam will have receded. Turn the heat off and wait 2 to 3 minutes. The jam should have begun to set and will wrinkle when you push against the surface. If it is still loose, turn the heat back on and continue to boil hard for one more minute. Check again. When satisfied, add the butter and the liqueur and stir well. The butter will help clear the last bits of foam.

Ladle the jam into the jars, wipe the rims carefully and place the lids and rings. Process the jars for 10 minutes. Use the jam within 12 months.


Friday, 5pm Congratulations, Rebecca! You’ve won a copy of Preserving Italy.


garden walk. high summer.

Today I strolled through the back garden and snapped these photos. It’s been a perfect summer for gardening in the DC area. Too much rain in May, yes, but since then the weather has been warm and summery but not unpleasant. Bouts of humidity have been balanced by dry breezy days. I almost don’t recognize my hometown.


It’s made the hydrangea happy as can be. I’m not sure why two plants next to one another should be pink on one side and blue on the other. Perhaps it was Morty’s helpful digging around the roots?

I stuff planters full of lily bulbs and cut them freely to bring into the house.  I overwinter the planters in the garage, bring them out in the spring and they flower again. Year after year.

I have a few pepper plants. Happy to see my first jalapeno.IMG_1075

I planted two varieties of hosta, with blue green, thick, corrugated leaves. The flowers are scented.IMG_1076

This hosta walkway celebrates the yellow green hosta family, the plants on the right receive more sun than the ones on the left (the same variety).IMG_1077

The lilies are coming. Yellow and orange day lilies, tiger lilies and then the 6-foot Casa Blancas. July is lily month.IMG_1078This “Lady in Red” red-stemmed fern is vigorous. Wonderful addition to a vase of flowers. At some point, the neighborhood cat (who hangs out in the backyard at night) will make a cat-shaped impression in them, but for now, they still look pretty good.

On the left, Annabelle hydrangea, a  plant that is cut to the ground every fall and returns with these massive white blooms every summer. On the right, the flowers of the oak leaf hydrangea, aging from white to rose.

Climbing white rose, boxwoods and a lace cap hydrangea surround the shady nook and guard the back gate. On the other side of the gate, the beech tree, a gorgeous specimen.

Happy Sunday, friends. Get outside in the garden today.


vin de noix


Cherry Bounce next to the Vin de Noix.

I first tasted Vin de Noix, green walnut wine, in a small restaurant in the Paris neighborhood Le Marais. I’ve never found the restaurant again, no matter how many narrow streets I turn down, but the taste of Vin de Noix never left me.

When, several years later, I found the recipe in a small preserving book written in French on yellowed pages I did not expect several more years to pass before I could finally make it.

IMG_0027.JPGThe recipe calls for green walnuts, not a variety of walnut, but the immature nut. To make vin de noix, according to this recipe, the green nuts are picked on Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, June 24. Nocino is the very delicious Italian version of vin de noix, and those recipes call for the nuts to be picked around the same time. A recent peek at a Bulgarian preserving book speaks of sweet and savory applications for green walnuts and calls for the same picking date. FRIENDS, THE TIME IS NOW. The goal is to gather the nut when the outer shell has not yet formed, but the nut has begun to form and is still a bit gelatinous. When, as the book says, “A needle will pass through the nut without resistance.”

For many years I spent fall weekends at farmers markets, seeking locally grown black walnuts, the ones that are so delicious in a Thanksgiving pie or stuffing. About 12 years ago, I spotted them and struck up a conversation with Suzanne Behling (Nob Hill Orchards), who told me the immature walnuts that fell from the tree in the early summer were an annoying ankle turning nightmare. I offered to turn those nuggets into booze. The following spring, we discussed it again. And she brought me a huge paper sack full of green walnuts.

IMG_1049They smell like Christmas. Clove and cinnamon and mace. They’re slightly sticky. I’ve made vin de noix or nocino every couple of years since then.  It’s ready in early December, ready to become a memorable hostess gifts.

Suzanne has retired and my supplies were dwindling. I thought about driving several hours to a place I knew I could get walnuts, but then Domenica Marchetti came to the rescue. Not only did she have some walnuts for me, she was up for a swap – nocino for vin de noix.

IMG_1041Domenica has a superb new book out on Italian preserves. I love the section on oil curing and the agrodulces and can’t wait to make, well, absolutely everything. I’ve got her sour cherry recipe in my sites and will be reporting back soon with that, and other, cherry recipes. (In the photo, you’ll see Cherry Bounce next to the vin de noix. That recipe was published in the Washington Post.)

Walnut forests grow in great swaths across the US. and for hundreds of years have been planted for the hard wood, for the dark stain, for the ripe nut, dried and stored over the winter. But don’t overlook the green nut or even the leaves. Check out my article for Garden & Gun’s latest issue to read about Chesapeake Bay Sauce, made from the young leaves of the walnut tree.

How to find green walnuts? Ask around at your farmers market this week. Stone fruit growers or apple growers often have a walnut tree or two. It’s worth the hunt. Of course, green walnuts may be ordered online, too.

Walnut stain is serious business. Wear gloves or wait a few weeks until it wears off. 

Vin de Noix
Makes 6 liters

40 young, green walnuts
1 liter vodka
5 bottles of red wine (really, any red wine will do. I use the bottles that I’ll never drink.)
2 pounds sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Quartered lemon
4 cloves
1 vanilla bean, split

Gather the walnuts in late June when the nuts are well formed, but can still be pierced with a needle. Soak the nuts in cool water for 1  hour.  Drain, dry and quarter.

Place all of the ingredients in an non-reactive container with a lid. I use a large 5 gallon glass jar. Stir well to begin to dissolve the sugar. Most of it will be on the bottom of the jar at first.

Store in a cool dark place for 40 days, stirring occasionally.

Strain through cheesecloth into a very large non-reactive bowl or food-safe bucket. Taste, and adjust the sugar if you want the drink to be sweeter. It will be a little harsh tasting, but will mellow as it ages.

Funnel the wine into quart jars (I repackage it in smaller decorative bottles for gifting.) Store in a cool dark place, letting the vin de noix age until December 1st.

Serve ice cold. With mandelbrot or buttery cookies. Especially nice in front of a crackling fire.