gazpacho two ways: traditional red (from jose andres) and green (from bon appetite)

For months my husband and I planned to tear up half of the cement driveway that sits to the left of our house. We had 10 feet of concrete slab that was a total waste of space and didn't make sense to maintain since we have one car (and hope to keep it that way) and a scooter. We thought the space should be turned into our family garden.

After dragging our feet for most of the spring and early summer, Matt finally rented a jack-hammer. It took only (!) seven hours of drilling in the sun, in temperature that exceeded 100 degrees, to get the job done. We removed the concrete and assembled the elevated garden beds. Then we tilled the hard clay, added bags and bags of soil, and got to planting. We're growing basil, jalapeños, Corsican mint, Kentucky Colonel mint (hello mint juleps! and mojitos!), heirloom tomatoes, kale, marigolds, milk weed, jupiter's beard and a host of other bee-welcoming and butterfly-attracting plants. 

In just under 5 weeks we have started to reap the benefits of our hard work. Otis is in charge of watering the plants every morning and every evening. Theodore, being slightly less helpful than his older brother, usually takes the garden spade and swings it in the direction of the tomatoes until something falls off the vine (hopefully he outgrows this soon). There is an enormous satisfaction in knowing that we are greening the land, and our garden serves as our proudest DIY-it to date. We've come a long way since I tried to grow a strawberry plant on our fire escape in Brooklyn. I lovingly watered that silly plant and placed it in the sun, but the result of all my effort was a pitiful yield - a single and sad looking berry that didn't even taste good. 

But times have changed and this garden is a total thrill. It's thriving and it's growing. I can't tell you how amazing it felt to pick some of the gazpacho ingredients  from our little plot of Earth....
Patricia's Gazpacho 
(Courtsey of Jose Andres via Food + Wine. With thanks to the Truffle Table  in Denver for suggesting this recipe.)

2 pounds ripe plum tomatoes (about 10), cut into chunks
8 ounces cucumber (1 cucumber), peeled and cut into chunks
3 ounces green pepper, in large pieces
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice rustic white bread
6 plum tomatoes, with the seeds, prepared as "fillets"
8 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into cubes
4 pearl onions, pulled apart into segments
2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sea salt
4 chives, cut into 1-inch pieces


  • In a blender, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, green pepper, garlic and sherry vinegar and blend until the mixture becomes a thick liquid. Taste for acidity; this will vary with the sweetness of the tomatoes. If it's not balanced enough, add a little more vinegar. Add the olive oil, season with salt, and blend again. Strain the gazpacho into a pitcher and refrigerate for at least half an hour.
  • In a small pan, heat the olive oil over moderately high heat and fry the bread until golden, about 2 minutes. Break into small pieces to form croutons and set aside.
  • To serve pour gazpacho into each of 4 bowls. Place 4 croutons, 2 "fillets" of tomatoes with seeds, 4 cherry tomato halves, 3 cucumber cubes and 3 onion segments into each bowl. Add a few drops of olive oil to each onion segment and drizzle a little more around each bowl. Add a few drops of vinegar to each cucumber cube and drizzle a little more around each bowl. Sprinkle sea salt on the tomatoes and sprinkle the chives over the soup. Serve when the gazpacho is refreshingly chilled.
José's tips: If you want to be original, buy yellow or even green tomatoes. Also, if you want to save time, you can simplify the garnishes: Just use a few cubes of cucumber, tomato and green pepper.
* * *

I've been on such a gazpacho kick recently that I just had to try this green gazpacho recipe from July’s Bon Appetit magazine. It’s completely different from the traditional red gazapacho, but equally delicious. If you don’t want the soup hot (taste-wise, not temperature-wise) you can reduce the amount of jalapeño or increase the amount of yogurt. But personally, I love a soup with kick!
Green Gazpacho (Courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1½ cups whole-milk plain Greek yogurt, divided
½ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 oz. ciabatta or country-style bread, crust removed, bread torn into 1” pieces (about 2½ cups) 
1 medium English hothouse cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeds removed, cut into large pieces
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
4 large tomatillos (about 12 oz.), husked, quartered
4 scallions, cut into 1” pieces
2 jalapeños, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
Piment d’Espelette or Hungarian hot paprika (for serving)

  • Whisk vinegar, lime juice, 1 cup yogurt, and ½ cup oil in a large bowl until smooth. Add bread, cucumber, bell pepper, tomatillos, scallions, jalapeños, garlic, and ¾ tsp. salt and toss to coat (make sure bread is well coated so it can soak up as much flavor as possible). Cover and chill at least 4 hours.
  • Working in batches, purée bread and vegetable mixture in a blender until very smooth; transfer to a large bowl and season gazpacho with salt.
  • Whisk remaining ½ cup yogurt in a small bowl, thinning with water a tablespoonful at a time, until the consistency of heavy cream; season with salt.
  • Serve soup in chilled bowls. Drizzle with thinned yogurt and more oil and sprinkle with piment d’Espelette.
DO AHEAD: Gazpacho can be made 1 day ahead; cover and chill. Mix well before serving.

rocky mountain arsenal wildlife refuge + a breakfast shakshuka

If you are a parent with a small child (or children), my guess is that you are about to (or already have) spent a whole lot of time with your kids. It's winter break and most preschools are closed for the holidays. My own children have been off since December 20th and classes don't resume until January 7th! Yup. There's a whole lot of quality time taking place up in here...

Since winter break began, we have visited the Children's Museum, the Clyfford Still Museum, the Denver Art Museum, and the Museum of Nature and Science (also referred to in our household as "The Dinosaur Museum"). Joyce, our fabulous realtor, cooked a five-course dinner at our home for some friends (party!) and we ate lots of delicious food at Christmas Eve dinner…and even more yumminess at a lunch the following day. I felt like a walk was in order and I wanted to do something new…

So when my friend Kelly asked me if I wanted to go to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, I was game. It was also going to be 60 degrees in Denver (we are having a stretch of mild weather), so really, how could I refuse? I don't know why I hadn't visited the refuge before-- it's so close and so cool!

The refuge sits on about 15,000 acres and it's only 10 miles outside of Denver. I would liken it to the distance between Manhattan and Jacob Riis beach; you can't believe it's so close and yet it seems so far away. The refuge has gone from Native American hunting grounds, to homesteader farmland, to a WWII weapons arsenal and an Army chemical manufacturing facility (I believe sarin and mustard gas were produced here), to land leased to the Shell Oil Company. The arsenal was quite controversial until it closed in 1992, but then it was cleaned up (a major urban achievement) and turned into a wildlife refuge, managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Today you can find more than 330 species of wildlife at the former arsenal.

We parked in the lot near the Visitor's Center and immediately spotted two coyotes. The kids colored coyote masks, howled a bit, alarmed some of the other visitors, and we snagged free exploration packs (borrowed for the day), complete with magnifying glasses, nets and bird charts. Then we set off in the direction of the bison (you have to drive, you can't walk or bike due to safety concerns).

After viewing some bison (we saw calves too!), we walked around both lakes and set up a picnic lunch. The views of the Rocky Mountains were breathtaking. If you are looking for someplace near the city and want to see wildlife, this is the place to do it! It's a hidden gem that's right in your own backyard. 


Getting there: It takes about 15-20 minutes from our home in the Congress Park section of Denver (close to the Botanic Gardens). 
Admission: Free!
Activities: The new Visitor's Center has a lot of information, colorful wall panels and a kids activities room. Pick up an exploration pack too!

Hiking or walking on an empty stomach is a big no-no in my book. I get grumpy and so do the boys. So before we set out on our arsenal excursion, I made this simple and super tasty dish. Shakshuka, eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, is one of my favorite things to eat in the morning and it's relatively easy to make. I've posted the dish before and I've been playing around with the recipe ever since.
For that post I used an old Saveur recipe, adapted by Smitten Kitchen. This time I futzed around with the original recipe and made a few adjustments- but they were pretty minimal. Instead of using 8 cloves of garlic, I used 5. I also used 3 jalapeño peppers instead of 5 Anaheim chiles. Instead of crushing the tomatoes by hand, I pureed them (I like the sauce a little bit smooth, though there is some bite thanks to the peppers and onions) and I cooked the sauce longer than suggested, until the garlic was really soft (that's just my preference).
I firmly believe that recipes are meant to be tinkered with, so fool around with it until you find what tastes best to  you. 
Eggs Poached in Spicy Tomato Sauce, Shakshuka
(Adapted from Saveur)
Serves 4-6
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. paprika
1  28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained (I puree them)
Kosher salt, to taste
8 eggs (I always use at least 6)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tbsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley
Warm pita, for serving

1. Heat the oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat (I love using my cast iron skillet for this dish). Add the chiles and the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, and paprika, and cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is soft, about 2 more minutes (this step takes me 5-7 minutes).

2. Put the tomatoes and their liquid into a medium bowl and crush them with your hands (see note above, I favor pureed tomatoes). Add the crushed (or pureed) tomatoes and their liquid to skillet along with 1/2 cup water, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened slightly, about 20 minutes (sometimes longer, taste it). Season the sauce with salt.

3. Crack the eggs over the sauce so that the eggs are evenly distributed across the sauce's surface. Cover the skillet and cook until the yolks are just set, about 5 minutes. Using a spoon, baste the whites of the eggs with tomato mixture, being careful not to disturb the yolk. Sprinkle the shakshuka with feta and parsley and serve with pita, for dipping.

You can find the original recipe here.

Share it with a group of friends, a loved one, some kids…or just gobble it up yourself! Enjoy!

Other shakshuka recipes that I can not wait to try:
This one from David Leibovitz
This one from Kate Bradley's Kenko Kitchen
This one from Melissa Clark at the New York Times

hiking mondays: road trip to hanging lake + glenwood hot springs and a summer caprese

Before we started a family, my husband and I used to travel a lot. There were camping trips in Africa, boating adventures in the Galapagos Islands, hosteling in Europe, zip-lining in Central America and excursions through parts of the Middle East and South East Asia. Travel was just something we did. And we loved it. 
When Otis was born we weren't completely ready to stop traveling all together. So, much to the surprise of almost everyone around us, we boarded a plane when he was just 6 weeks old and spent 2 weeks in Spain. It was a gamble, but it was one we were willing to take and it tuned out well. A few months later we took Otis to Jerusalem (with a side trip to Petra) and at 6 months old he flew with us to Mexico for the wedding of two very close friends.
When I became pregnant with Theodore we still had a bit of wanderlust, and so Otis spent 5 days with my in-laws (his grandparents) while Matt and I went to Puerto Rico on a second baby-moon of sorts... 
Theodore arrived 22 months after Otis, born in the same hospital in lower Manhattan. We were still living in our teeny-tiny apartment in Brooklyn and we were starting to feel a bit overwhelmed. Family trips following the birth of our second? Drum roll, please...New Jersey. I think we went Connecticut too. Then we moved to Colorado...

\\These days we travel back to New York about 2 times a year, but we haven't taken any big family vacation outside of the Tri-State area, or even stayed at a hotel together as one unit. That is, until last week.
Denver is a great jumping-off point for some spectacular hikes and scenery, but we really wanted to get deep into the mountains. We would settle for anyplace on the other side of the continental divide. That, however, would require spending an overnight in a hotel, because 6 hours of round-trip driving in the car with 2 young kids isn't exactly a good time. So we booked a hotel in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Before getting into the car, we ran the boys around a bit, and then we set our departure time for nap time. Otis and Theodore fell asleep immediately. When they woke up we were well past Vail and just a short distance from Glenwood Springs- a really great place that has enormous pools fed by natural hot springs. 
We checked into our sleeping quarters, which were perfect- two twin beds, air conditioning and a pool- and set out for dinner. 

\\The next morning we went to the Hot Springs and we spent about 3 hours in the pool. I ventured into the therapeutic baths for a bit and came out feeling like jello (super relaxed)...and my feet were so soft! It was awesome.
\\Heading back on I-70 in the direction toward Denver and the Continental Divide, you hit the exit for Hanging Lake, a magnificent lake at about 10,000 feet in elevation that is a pristine ecosystem with aqua blue waters.

\\When we got to the trail head I was thinking it would be a relatively easy hike. It's only about 1 1/4 miles to the top of the trail and the lake, and we routinely take our kids on 3 mile hikes. Unfortunately for us, I didn't exactly do the research that I should have done. And the hike it turns out, while only 1 1/4 miles long, has a 1000 foot incline. It's basically like hiking straight up a mountain. Literally.

\\But we persevered and slowly made our way to the top...and finally got to the last of the 7 bridges that we needed to cross...

\\By the time we got to the lake we were incredibly exhausted, but it was spectacular and the canyon views were GORGEOUS...(see that, I'm using CAPS-- that's how beautiful this hike was!)

\\Then it was time to go back down the trail...

notes on the hike:
Getting there from Denver: About 3 hours. I recommend staying in Glenwood Springs for a night or two. It's about 10 miles from the hot springs on I-70 heading east.
Difficulty: Strenuous, especially with young kids.
Distance: 1 1/4 miles.
Duration: Plan to spent between 2-3 hours getting to the lake. It took us less than 45 minutes to get back down.
Pack: sunscreen, a hat and lots of water!

\\ I was wiped out by the time we got back to Denver, so a simple caprese salad did it for dinner (I really couldn't find enough energy to cook and make a big mess). I cut up a few tomatoes and a few balls of fresh mozzarella. Usually I make my own pesto, but I happened to have some leftover store-bought because I prefer it for my pesto minestrone. I put a big dollop of pesto in between the tomato and mozzarella. Then I drizzled it with some balsamic vinegar reduction and a few pinches of large flake salt. 
Simple. Summer. Enjoy!

On 'Happy' and Heidi's Simple Fire Roasted Tomato Soup (which makes me happy)

Most our boxes have been unpacked and we are settling into our new home. I'm getting back to doing what I like to do once my boys are asleep for the night; namely, watching documentary films. My friend Kelly put me on to a film called, simply enough, Happy. And since I'm always interested in happiness, I decided to check it out. 
Happy is not one of those documentaries that moves you to tears (like The Cove or Waiting for Superman-- both of which had me writing lots of letters to important people well into the wee hours of the night), but it made some interesting points and I found moments of the film to be quite inspirational (special appearance by the Dalai Lama included).
The film-makers interviewed people from 14 different countries and looked at their lifestyles and their overall happiness. (The United States ranks 23rd in overall happiness when compared to all other countries.Ugh.)
About 50% of a person's happiness is pre-determined by genetics, also called the "genetic set-point". A shockingly low 10% comes from circumstances which include income, occupation, gender, age, personal experiences-- things like that. Which leaves a whopping 40% of a person's happiness in their own hands, meaning that they can decided to do things that make them feel fulfilled and happy. 
The film opens with a man from Kolkata who makes his living as a rickshaw driver. His hands are calloused, his feet don't look too great, and he has to muck around town during monsoon season. But the man doesn't mind; he is content and seems to be genuinely happy. A large part his happiness is derived from the love he receives from his family and his community. He feels like he has everything he needs in his life to be fulfilled.
Then there's a woman from Denmark who moves into a co-housing community following the dissolution of her marriage. Chores are shared, as is child rearing. The community gives her strength and assistance. 
The film-makers interviewed people from all walks of life but the common thread throughout all of their stories was the same: family, compassion, giving and community have a tremendous impact on happiness.  
I couldn't help think about some of the people I met with when I was at Big Law doing contract work. Here were these associates, at the top of their profession, with excellent credential and financial success. Yet most of them seemed stressed out and pretty unhappy, dare I say depressed (at least that was my perception). How could the rickshaw driver who lived with his family in a worn-down hut appear to be so much happier than the lawyers I worked with on Wall Street? The film-makers suggest that the hedonic treadmill might have something to do with it. 
Happy looks at an alarming trend among young Japanese men in Tokyo who are literally working themselves to death (karoshi), never taking a break until they collapsed from stress and exhaustion (usually in the form of a deadly heart attack). But in Osaka, where people enjoy a much more relaxed lifestyle, there are more centenarians on the island than anywhere else on Earth. The elderly engage with one another on a regular basis and there's an extremely tight-knit community-- both of which seem to cultivate long, healthy and happy lives. 
Another interesting point that was made in the film is that excessive amounts of money can't buy happiness. Money does increase happiness when it raises an individual out of poverty (or homelessness). But people who can afford their basic necessities (housing, running water, education, health care, transportation etc.)with a bit leftover, are (reportedly) just as happy as people who earned 20 times more. At least that's the conclusion this film makes.  
I've been thinking a lot about happiness recently, so I enjoyed some of the points made in Happy. It was a good way to spend an hour or so and it gave me some 'food for thought.' 
Speaking of food, here's a really simple soup I made last week. You can add coconut milk or brown rice, though I went with whole wheat couscous and a poached egg. Just add what will make, happy.
::For more on happiness, here's a link to PBS This Emotional Life. 
Simple Fire Roasted Tomato Soup 
Adapted ever-so-slightly from Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks, Adapted from Melissa Clark's Cook This Now.
{Try to use cans that use BPA-free liners.} 
Prep time: 5 min - Cook time: 25 min
Serves 4
2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter, olive oil, or coconut oil
1 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1 (28-ounce) cans fire roasted tomatoes (pref. fire-roasted)
Optional: 1/2 of a 14-ounce can coconut milk

Optional: cup of whole wheat couscous or brown rice
Optional: toasted slivered almonds
Optional: poached egg (I fill up a pot with water, add a capful of vinegar, let it boil, put the egg in, give the water a swirl after a minute or two-- to get the egg up from the bottom-- and then I use a slotted spoon to remove it from the water.)
Optional: torn parsley, fresh oregano, pan-fried paneer.

In a large pot over medium heat melt the butter. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions really soften up - 10 minutes or so. Not so much that they brown, just until they're completely tender and unstructured.

Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chile flakes, and cook just until the spices are fragrant and toasty - stirring constantly at this point. Just 30 seconds or so. Stir in the tomatoes, the juices from the cans, and 3 cups of water. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, then puree with an immersion blender until smooth. At this point you can decide if you'd like your soup even a bit thinner - if so, you can thin it with more water, or if you like a creamy version, with some coconut milk. Taste and adjust with more salt to taste.
Add your toppings, couscous or rice, egg and/or herbs. 

A Market Inspiration: Swiss Rösti topped with Shakshuka

Last week I took the boys to the Denver Christkindl Market, a traditional German Christmas market that replicates the kind of markets that have existed in Germany and throughout parts of Western Europe for over 700 years. The month-long market (which ends on December, 22) is located at Skyline Park in Downtown Denver, right on 16th Street at Arapahoe. 
Vendors are selling German crafts (ornaments, biersteins, wood-carved toys, lace, nesting dolls, etc.) from traditional wooden stalls. 
And in addition to the crafts (which were quite beautiful), there's lots of great food: cinnamon pretzels, German pastries, crepes, and bratwurst, to name a few.... 
You can eat your culinary treats (and drink some Glühwein too) in a large tent at the end of the market. The tent is filled with picnic tables and benches, a bar, and a stage designated for musical performances.

One of my favorite food vendors at the market is Latke Love. They are serving traditional potato latkes (which I always considered quintessential Jewish food from Eastern Europe, but turns out also exists as a German dish called Kartoffelpuffer or Reibekuchen). I got the classic: latkes topped with applesauce and cinnamon whipped cream. I'm also a big fan of their other vegetarian option, Oy Vey Caliente!- where latkes are piled high and topped with green chili and a poached egg. Delicious!(For the omnivores, there are meat options too.)  
Now many cuisines have potato latkes, they just go by a different name. 
In Germany the latke is called Kartoffelpuffer or Reibekuchen. In Luxembourg you'd order Gromperekichelcher. Poles slather their placki ziemniaczane in sour cream. Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians call their potato pancake deruny or draniki. And the Swiss have Rösti, a very large potato pancake that's a lot like a latke, except it doesn't contain eggs or flour. 
There are variations on rösti: some recipes add herbs like rosemary and caraway seeds. Others add meat, eggs or cheese. But they are all basically grated potato, that's been pressed and fried in a pan. 
This rösti recipe, considered the definitive version, is from Restaurant Della Casa in Bern. It was first published in the January/February 1998 issue of Saveur magazine. And last month, in celebration of Saveur's 150th issue, they reprinted it under 150 Classic Recipes. (I also saw it on Lottie + Doof, one of my favorite food blogs.)
Rösti: Swiss Hash Browns (Courtesy of Saveur Magazine


2¼ lb. russet potatoes (about 3 large)
2 tbsp. lard or unsalted butter
2 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste


1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with cold water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat; cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain potatoes, and set aside to cool for about 10 minutes. Peel potatoes, then refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour. Grate potatoes using the large holes on a cheese grater; set aside.

2. Heat butter (or lard) and oil in an 8" nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. When lard has melted, add potatoes, sprinkle with salt, and mix well, coating potatoes with fat. Using a metal spatula, gently press potatoes, molding them to fit the skillet. Cook, shaking skillet occasionally, until edges are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
3. Cover skillet with a large inverted plate, invert the rösti over onto plate, then slide it back into the skillet, cooked side up; cook until golden brown on the bottom, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, sprinkle with salt, and cut into wedges to serve. 

Now rösti is plenty delicious on its own, but I was feeling inspired by the latke toppings I'd seen at the market. I decided to top the potatoes with shakshuka, a fabulous dish whereby eggs are simmered in a spicy tomato sauce. 
I used a tried-and-true recipe that I've posted here, but  made a few adaptations:

  • Omitted the peppers and instead added a few pinches of red pepper flakes.
  • Omitted the fresh parsley and instead used a few pinches of dried parsley.
  • Used 1/2 a small onion and added one shallot, chopped.
  • Pulsed the sauce a few times with an immersion blender to give it more of a pomodoro-like consistency, which I thought would go better on top of the potatoes.

But get creative. Top the rösti with something you like. Or, you can do as Swiss purists do...and eat it like it's been eaten at Bern's Restaurant Della Casa for hundreds of years.
Happy holidays and happy eating!