Tuesday, November 29

Welcome Sweet Chloe Jean

all photos courtesy Claudia Kay Photography

About a month ago, the ever-talented Claudia Kay and Kim from Simple Twist joined me in hosting our very first baby shower for our dear friend Allison.  Being surrounded by such a talented little crew, it was easy to get all DIY-crafty for this shower.  Allison's theme for her baby girl's nursery are birds and wildflowers -which if you know Al, couldn't be more perfect.  And so, we ran with the theme, along with her prego-food of choice: bagels and donuts!  

Fun and unexpected things we did to make the day special:  We crafted with guests to make baby Chloe one-of-a-kind onesies and suffice it to say, her closet is full and totally original!  Another big hit for the Mom-to-be were the pre-addressed envelopes guests filled out upon arrival to make Thank You's a snap.  And nearly all the decorations were handcrafted to be repurposed for Chloe's nursery. 

Yesterday we were featured @OntoBaby, credited by the Claw's mad photography skills.  If you're planning for a little one, or are helping to plan for a baby shower, this site is ripe with great ideas! 

In the meantime, I hope you are enjoying the most wonderful time of the year!  As I write, I'm watching chilly Nashville skies fill with the year's first snow flakes. (!!)   

OH, and P.S. Allison and Brett welcomed their beautiful baby Chloe Jean into the world last Monday!  Cheers!

Sunday, October 9

A Rustic Apple Galette with Sage Honey

Autumn is truly my favorite time of year.  The thick, Southern wall of heat some call air, has gone and left us breathing for the first time in months.  I suppose I could blame my absence around here on the traveling or the visitors.  Then again, it could've been the ice cold beer that didn't leave my hand, which consequently makes it difficult to type, but does a great job soothing the heart of a homeowner who is temporarily kitchen-less.  With the arrival of Fall however, I find myself coming home to a slower pace of life, and being a self-proclaimed homebody, I'm loving every minute of it.

On a side note, you'll be happy to hear we've sewn our DIY oats.  I wasn't sure if I'd ever cook again during our kitchen remodel, but thanks to my husband's mad carpentry skills, we're back in business.  I'll apologize now for not posting pics, but it's a bit like showing someone the rough draft of a manuscript; there are still many revisions to make and I'd feel naked showing it to you just yet.  Soon though, I promise.     

Besides the fact that I have my glorious kitchen back, there's something exceptionally delicious about this time of year.  I've had my windows open day and night- which I've been told is purely a Californian thing to do.  What's better than snuggling beneath your cozy blankets while a crisp breeze fills your bedroom, leaving just your nose cold?  Maybe only the stacks of books piling up all over the house, fuzzy slippers and cinnamon & spice-scented-everything.       

After a three-month long hiatus, I'm feeling a pull towards the kitchen once again.  It's usually something warm and hearty that I'm craving this time of year, and I haven't been able to get this Apple Tart out of my head.   After a few rough stints with unreliable recipes online, I turned to one of my favorite books "The Art of Simple Food" by the glorious Alice Waters.  I found a recipe for an Apple Galette with a buttery, flaky, crust.  Alice re-established my faith in baking with her simple instructions and hopefully she'll give you the confidence too, to make the most heavenly pastry on earth.    

One of the reasons I love Alice Waters so much is that she believes good food comes from the best of ingredients -in all of their simplicity.  I try to abide by this as much as possible, and every time it pays off.  With just a few ingredients in this recipe, I wanted to use the best I could find.  I picked up some apples from the Delvin's and I don't think I've ever tasted anything so divine.  I swear there were hints of ginger and cinnamon lingering on my tongue.  Do you remember the dinner in the their baby orchard last fall?  Aside from the unparalleled taste, it also feels really good to support a local family that works hard to bring us honest food.
I've also been dying to use the divine Sage Honey from the Jalama Road Family Farmstand that we picked up on our last trip home to Santa Barbara.  I was so excited, I grabbed two giant bottles and even risked my luggage to get these suckers home.  I can assure you, every drop was worth it.  

I slightly altered this recipe by creating my own apple filling.  I wanted softer apples with hints of cinnamon, vanilla and thyme.  If you prefer to use the original recipe, just slice the apples, layer in concentric circles and sprinkle with two tablespoons of sugar.

Rustic Apple Galette with Sage Honey
8 servings

Ingredients for Tart Dough:
1/4 cup icy cold water
6 tablespoons cold butter, sliced in 1/4 inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose, unbleached flour 

Ingredients for Filling: 
5-6 medium size apples (try to find local varieties that are crisp and sweet)
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

Instructions for Tart Dough:
*The trick here is to work very quickly without overworking the dough.  Leaving chunks of butter in the dough will steam it while it's baking, making for a super-flaky crust.  Use your fingertips, and not the palms of your hands.  

In a medium sized bowl, mix together salt and flour.  Work chunks of cold butter into flour with fingertips for 1-2 minutes. 

Start pouring a small amount of water into dough, tossing with a fork until it clumps.  Use only 3/4 of recommended amount; the amount you need will depend on the flour you're using.  Grab a small amount in hand and squeeze; if it holds together without crumbling, it doesn't need more water.  

When the dough is the right consistency, bring it into a shaggy ball, working only with fingertips.  Place in plastic bag.  Flatten into disk with hand.  Pinch any edges that crack. (this makes it easier to roll out later.)  Place in fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375.  

Instructions for Apple Filling:
Slice apples to desired thickness -I like them medium-thin.
Add apples, flour and spices to medium sized pan and place over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Rolling out Dough:
Remove dough from fridge.  Flatten firmly again with hands, pinching off any cracks that form.  Place onto floured surface and begin rolling from center, clockwise.  Roll it a little less than 1/8 inch thick and brush off excess flour with brush or towel.  To move dough, fold in half, and then in quarters.  Place onto parchment-lined circular sheet -like a pizza pan.  Place pan in fridge to firm up dough, about 10 minutes.  

Pull dough out of fridge, and begin layering apples in overlapping concentric circles, leaving a 1 1/2 inch border.  Fold the dough border over the apples.  

With a pastry brush, generously spread 3 tablespoons melted butter on dough border, lightly patting apples with the remainder.  If desired, sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over crust.  

Bake for about 35 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Let cool slightly before slicing.     

I served this alongside plain Greek yogurt drizzled in more of that fabulous honey.  Holy mother!   

Friday, June 10

Love is in the Details

I've been feeling particularly Southern these days.   Maybe it's the hot-sweet smell of the magnolias in this impetuous June heat, or maybe it's the calluses on my hands as we continue our fourth consecutive week of construction that has somehow put me in touch with myself once again.  Sometimes I think I was born to live a quiet Southerner's life and spend my time using my hands -cooking, scrubbing, painting, fixing, making.  After so much time spent on a single window pane, it starts becoming about something else.  You begin to see all the love that goes into the details.

I had a moment the other day while I was in the car.  I was embracing my inner redneck (I've been doing a lot of that these days) and rocking out to some good ol' fashioned country music when out of nowhere a voice in my head said "you need to look at this house the way God sees you; not for what you are -but for the potential you have."

Ahh, potential.  Lord knows it's there, but reaching it is the real ass-kicker.  Whether it's scraping away 60 years of lead-based paint or trying to live your life on purpose -it's all a mystifying experience, isn't it?  It's a matter of pooring your heart into everything you do that allows that potential to shine through.  Otherwise you're just missing out on the beauty of it all and you become blinded by what lies on the surface.

But pooring your heart into something for hours, days, weeks at a time, is exhausting.  Mentally, physically, emotionally.  I'm damn-near running on fumes and I think I've forgotten one key element to this whole process:  The joy of life -my joie de vivre!  I've literally dreamed of owning a "fixer-upper" my whole life and here I am just going with the motions -and not soaking it up!  What the Frank?!

Last night was the first night in our new home and as we speak, our house sits full of unopened boxes with unorganized piles of whoknowswhat everywhere.  You'd think all I'd want is to be at my new home after all this anticipation, but no.  All I wanted in the world was to stop! the madness and go somewhere with my husband where I could do NOTHING but enjoy the moment with him.

Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys

Sometimes I think my favorite moments are spent here at Imogene + Willie's.  I know that probably seems silly to you -it is a clothing store, after all.  But there are few things I enjoy more than good food, good music, and good people (some rather stylish people, I might add).  Love is truly in the details -the sweet and simple details of this so-called life.  Then again, maybe it's God that's in the details, but I'll let you decide that one for yourself.

Thursday, May 26

This Old House

First off, thank you all so very much for the kind birthday wishes.  I had a week filled with lovely surprises and I was reminded how truly blessed I am to have such a loving family and group of friends.  The memories of celebrating my 29th birthday as we purchased our first home made it a birthday I won't soon forget, nor will the orange scented whole wheat french toast with raspberry sauce and creme anglaise that I had.  Yum, yum, yum.                 

In the last couple of weeks, we've managed to demo our kitchen, take a road trip to Atlanta and pack up our apartment - all while fixing decades worth of bad paint jobs before we install our new kitchen.  Suffice it to say there's been an absurd amount of drywalling, sanding and repeating goin' on around here.  Not to mention surviving the cicada invasion of 2011.  Have you ever seen (or heard) those suckers?!  They are BIG and NASTY, and apparently rear their ugly heads (quite literally) every 13 years in Tennessee.         

I need to come clean about something, by the way.  I swore up and down it would never happen, but last week I busted out an "I'm jist sayin".  It's officially official: I think the cicada invasion triggered my being a true southerner.     

All kidding aside, these last couple of weeks have allowed us to develop a relationship with our little home, albeit a rocky one at times.  We're growing with it and learning to love it for it's charms and quirks that come with a near sixty-year old home.  Somedays I wonder what we thought would be so romantic about buying a "charming" mid-century ranch home that we could put our stamp on.  Who cares about stamps anyways?  There isn't a whole lot of romance in windows that barely open and a basement that leaks after a big storm.  Nevertheless, it's our home, and I think it might be a good sign that my dog whimpers with joy and excitement every time we pull into the driveway.  

The first inspiration for my "industrial farmhouse kitchen."

Like with anything in life, I'm learning to take things in stride.  I'm trying to chill out a little on the whole "perfectionism thing" and not obsess too much over making my house look like a photoshoot from Sunset Magazine right away.  A little delayed gratification is something I can learn to embrace, and heck, it might even make me a better person for it.

And while we're on the emotional roller coaster that comes with being first-time home buyers, I know these experiences will be ripe with memories in the years to come.  It surely hasn't been all romance with this old house, but these are the things that make life crazy and complicated and wonderful.  

Here's a recipe I found alongside lemon and thyme grilled pork chops, and a grilled potato rosemary cake in Sunset's June issue.  I won't be entertaining quite yet, but do me a favor, will you?  Throw a killer Memorial Day BBQ with your favorite peeps and maybe even get a little drunk while rockin' out to some good country music.  Okay, it can be a tad more sophisticated than that, but that's what I would do.  I'm just sayin'.               

photo courtesy Sunset Magazine

Carmelized tomato bruschetta   
1 slender baguette (8 oz.)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pt. large cherry tomatoes, halved
About 1/4 tsp. each kosher salt and pepper
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup small fresh basil leaves

1. Heat grill to medium (350° to 450°). Cut 18 thin slices from baguette, each 3 to 4 in. long. Save remaining bread for another use. Set baguette slices on a tray to carry to grill and brush all over with about 1 tbsp. oil.
2. Grill bread with lid down, turning once with tongs, until browned, 1 to 3 minutes total. Transfer to a platter.
3. Heat a large cast-iron skillet or other ovenproof frying pan on cooking grate with grill lid down until water dances when sprinkled on skillet, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 1 1/2 tbsp. oil and spread with a heatproof brush. Pour tomato halves into pan, then quickly turn with tongs so all are cut side down. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Cook with grill lid down, without stirring, until juices evaporate and tomatoes are blackened on cut side, 10 to 15 minutes. Gently loosen tomatoes from pan with a wide metal spatula as they're done and transfer to a bowl.
4. Spoon ricotta into a bowl and drizzle remaining 1/2 tbsp. oil on top. Put basil in another bowl. Set out toasts with tomatoes, ricotta, and basil so people can build their own bruschetta. Season with more salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, May 11

Strawberry Madness

Ah May, what a beautiful and intricate weave of events you bring.  From a cold and wet Spring we lurch into the heat of Summer.  We're teased with the decadence of strawberries -just a hint of the bright and colorful flavors to come in the months ahead.  Historically speaking, May has always been a month of big changes for our little family and in the scheme of things, quite the launching pad for big life events.

As you sit here reading this, hopefully enjoying a delicious cup of joe, my hubby and I will be closing on our very first home. (!!)  And while I can tell you that we're both thrilled, I can't quite convey the feelings I have at this moment.  I'm just glad we both agree that we're a bit shell shocked; none of it seems real and we're both trying hard not to think about all the crazy-ass things we have in mind for the house and just relish in the moment.  Ahh, to be homeowners.     

By the way, have I told you we're demoing our kitchen this weekend?  Madness, I tell you.  I wish I could say I have the stomach for this.

I've decided though, notwithstanding the faint nausea that occasionally creeps up, May is my favorite month.  Nevermind that it's the month of my birth and I love being spoiled (have I told you about birthweek yet?).  It's also caught between the beauty of Spring and the heat of Summer when it's still being eagerly welcomed.  If that weren't enough, the bounty of strawberries should be.

As I approach my 29th Birthday, buying a house and entering the last year of my twenties has a peculiar way of making me feel like a grown up.  I definitely enjoy the luxuries of being an adult, but I don't think I'll be taking myself too seriously anytime soon.  Especially not while I still jump up and down when I'm super excited.  In all likelihood, I'm probably doing it right now.  

I'm sure one of the reason's I love strawberries so much is because I associate it with happiness.  May=Strawberries+Whipped Cream+Birthdays=Happiness.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Yep, it's strawberry madness.   

As I sit here enduring self-inflicted rashes that could only be a result of too many strawberries, I wanted to share my current favorite breakfast (and sometimes lunch) that I recently saw in MSL.  It's quick, it's simple and gives a much needed boost of energy.  Just smother (preferably sprouted or whole grain) toast with almond butter and sliced strawberries and voila!  Just don't be surprised if my next post is about strawberries too beacuse I plan to stretch this moment out for as long as I can.   

Monday, May 2

Sunday Showers and a Spring Frittata

I didn't leave my house once on Sunday.  In fact, the only time I went outside was at 8:00 am to let Ava go potty.  It was stormy and lovely and I finally found some time to catch up on my magazines and a book that I just received in the mail.   

I had a strange energy about me all day;  the book I speak of had me all wired and thinking about all kinds of things, while the sofa wasn't quite ready to give me up.  I was feeling creative so I finally decided I needed an outlet or I might've burst at the seams.  Do you ever feel like that?  I decided I had far too much on my mind to let a whole day go to waste.  

Last week, I was pleasantly surprised to get a book in the mail that wasn't supposed to be on the shelves until mid-May.  I ordered Plate to Pixel back in February and since then have been anxiously awaiting it's arrival.  It's written by the one and only Helene Dujardin, a French ex-pat and writer of Tartelette, who's passion is food photography and styling.  I literally could not put her book down - her photos were sensational and her writing identifiable.  Naturally, I was no longer able to sit still.  All I could think about was getting into the kitchen- fast!   

The stormy weather had me craving comfort food.  But comfort food that was already in the pantry because heaven knows, I wasn't about to change out of my pajamas.  Life has been non-stop here at the Isaacson pad, so there weren't too many things to get excited about in the fridge.  I missed my farmer's market this weekend, so what's a girl to cook when everything is on the brink of turning?

I remembered a recipe that my Grandma uses with leftovers -sometimes for dinner, but more often than not -brunch: fritatta!  If you're not familiar, it's basically an Italian name for an omelette but way better.  I myself am not a huge fan of the omelette, but frittata's are different.  The bottom usually has a layer of thinly-sliced potatoes and is then smothered with a concoction of eggs, leftover veggies and cheese.  Just like omelettes, you can use anything you want.  If I'd made it to the farmer's market, I would have used asparagus and gruyere as my main two components.

What I did have on hand however, were heirloom tomatoes, spinach, parmesan and basil.  No complaints here!  It was so simple and it had me wondering why I don't make this more often.  The rest of the afternoon I rigged my dining room to play with some lighting techniques.  I'm officially beyond excited to have a real "grown-up" office in our new house.  I'm all about making this next home beautiful but functional and real.  I have a feeling this will turn into a foodie/design/DIY blog in no time flat.

The best thing about frittata is that you can make it with anything.  Leftovers, frozen veggies or whatever you have in your fridge.  Be inspired by seasonal ingredients and go for this meal when you need something quick and easy.  I’m obsessed with the velvety texture of this dish.  Other yummy ideas: feta, spinach and mushrooms or ricotta, basil and leftover penne.

Spring Frittata 
Cook time: 40 minutes Yield: 6 servings 


4 large potatoes, washed, peeled and thinly sliced
4 eggs
1/2 cup milk 
1/2 cup of your favorite cheese – I use Quattro Formaggio, a mixture of provolone, asiago, romano and parmesan cheeses
2 handfuls of spinach
a few sprigs of parsley, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh pepper


Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in medium frying pan. Add potatoes and salt generously. Toss occasionally, letting each layer get brown and crispy, about 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

While potatoes are cooking, whisk together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add cheese, parsley and spinach.

When potatoes are soft and nearly falling apart, spread evenly over bottom of pan. Add egg mixture. Do not stir. Cook over moderately low heat for about 5-7 minutes, or until sides are cooked. Remove from stove top and transfer to oven uncovered in oven-safe pan.

Bake for about 12 minutes or until top sets. Remove from oven and invert onto large dish. Re-invert on another dish. Allow to sit for 5 minutes.

Cut in wedges and serve hot.

Friday, April 22

Happy Easter (Bread)!

This week has me feeling the warmth of family traditions, all 2000 miles away from home.  I can pretty much bet my left arm that my favorite little women on the left coast are busily preparing their treasured loaves of Easter Bread - the holy grail of recipes passed down from the family monarchy.  In my lifetime, not a single Easter in Ruffo history has gone by without it.  Even though this week marks a time of revival, I relish in it's familiarity and tradition.  It's the kind of steadfast change I love; the season is new, but predictable.

You must know, I'm a huge wimp when it comes to big changes in my life.  Unlike otherwise grounded people, it takes me a while to get used to an idea before I can fully commit.  I liken it to hearing a new song for the first time.  I usually hate it the first three times I listen to it, but after that it's pure unwavering love.

 I'm not sure why buying a house scares the bejesus out of me -it's not like I'm the first person to buy one.  Then I think back to risks I've taken in my life that paid off in a huge way.  Like my move to San Diego when I was eighteen, bushy-tailed and had $5 to my name.  Then came Nashville and I never imagined things could be this good.  I think that's probably how life goes most of the time.  You never really know how things will turn out, but you have to take the risk to see the magic in it all.

I think I've listened to this song long enough to know that buying this house (did I mention we're in escrow?!) will only open my world up to more good things.  Instead of running the opposite direction like I sometimes prefer to do, I'm ready to get my hands dirty (hello, garden!) and fully commit.  So this weekend, as I enjoy my nonpareil Easter bread while relishing in the festivities, I'll be envisioning all the memories we'll be making in our new home.  Our home (and do my best not to have a debilitating attack of anxiety).  Good thing there'll be mimosas.         

This recipe was perfected by my mom and sister one Easter, when they left the eggs in the mixer for ten minutes by accident.  It made this normally dense bread light and airy.  You can substitute the anise for almond extract if you shy away from it's distinctive flavor.  We typically cover it in sprinkles, but I love the addition of lavender buds and lemon zest instead.  It's best enjoyed warm, slathered with butter and leftover (and slightly melted) frosting.  Happy Easter (Bread)!  

Easter Bread 
Makes 2 large loaves and 1 small (perfect amount for an addict; maybe halve for your first time)

8 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cube butter, melted 
8 large room temperature eggs, warmed in bowl of water 
3 packages quick acting yeast 
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract 
2 cups warm water (stick your finger under your tongue and use this as your temperature gauge -you want the water to be the same temperature)
2 tablespoons anise extract 
Zest of 1 large lemon 

Preheat oven to warm; place two empty bread pans in warmed oven.

Crack eggs into large measuring cup.  Add warm water to measuring cup to equal 2 cups total liquid between eggs and water (this will be a minimal amount). 
Beat egg and water mixture about 10 minutes until super fluffy.
Mix in sugar; add butter. 
Add what's remaining of 2 cups warm water; slowly mix in 4 cups of flour.  
Add salt, yeast, lemon rind, vanilla and anise. 
Slowly add the rest of flour and mix. 

Turn off warmed oven.  Remove warm pans and fill about ½ way full. Place pans back in oven and let rise until just reaching the top of pans, but not overflowing -about an hour and a half.

Remove and preheat oven to 350.  Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. 

Cool on racks and remove from pans. 

1 pound powdered sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla 
1 stick butter, softened 

Mix all ingredients until a creamy consistency has formed, about 5 minutes. 
Spread evenly over bread.  Cover with sprinkles, or lavender buds and lemon zest.

Monday, April 11

Croissant French Toast

There's nothing quite like a weekend well spent to allow for a proper start to the week.  And while the virtually never-ending to-do list is always in the back of my mind, I've been getting better about having an entire day of rest to enjoy some of the sweet and simple moments of life.

Speaking of sweet, I had to share one of the better things I've ever had the pleasure of eating:  Croissant French Toast at my favorite restaurant in Nashville- Marche Artisan Foods.  It was crispy and flaky on the outside, and all soft and french-toasty on the inside.  I had to refrain from licking the flakes drowning in a heap of syrup and powdered sugar off the plate.  And I had the full order.    

Sometimes I think some of the best ideas are had during such moments of simplicity.  While on the Amalfi coast several years ago, I sat for some unknown length of time and had what some might call a vision.  Maybe I was dreaming, but either way I envisioned owning a quaint cafe and marketplace of my own with baked goods and aritsan olive oil.  I think that's why Marche holds such a special place in my heart - it is straight out of my dreams -farm style tables and all.  Not to say I could ever do it quite so well.  But who's to say?

I hope you have a beautiful week and if there's Croissant French Toast involved,  I'd say you're off to a pretty good start.    

Thursday, April 7

April, Arugula Blossoms and a Cottage

To say the first few days of April were eventful would be an understatement.  I don't think my rump will get any lounging again until next winter by the looks of it.  But I'm happy to be occupied with the renewal of Spring.  The grey that had settled over us for those long months has lifted away and unearthed a slew of new and all-too familiar experiences to uncover.  And never mind that it's tornado season here in the Southeast.  That's a story for another day.
Last Saturday, as I ran some early morning errands, I stumbled upon the unmistakable cluster of white canopies attracting (blindingly pale) folks clad in shorts - carrying away sprouting herbs, Kenny's Farmhouse Cheeses, and armfuls of luscious spring veggies.  I wasn't expecting the West Nashville Farmer's market for at least a few more weeks, so you can imagine my excitement.  Delvin Farms lured me to their corner with their fast-dwindling bunches of arugula blossoms -something that struck my curiosity.  

The always informative Amy Delvin pulled a few of the maroon-veined blossoms off their weedy tendrils and insisted I try a taste for myself.  Piquant like arugula leaves, but milder with a sweet aftertaste.  I grabbed a bunch along with a few other things and headed home, but not without treating myself to a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Ava loves the farmer's market.

This is usually the time when windows are flung open and a vinyl copy of the likes of Paul Simon blasts throughout the house as I unload groceries and scatter my flowers in my favorite antique vases.  But today was a little different.  We rushed to meet with our real estate agent to start our first house-hunting experience.  An arugula blossom and strawberry salad I had been craving had to wait.    

If you've ever embarked upon this adventure, you know how draining the process of weeding through houses can be.  We saw cute, not-so-cute and "I'm good from the street view".  But on Sunday, we pulled up alongside a quintessential Cape Cod cottage with a blue door and a blossoming dogwood in the front yard.  Someone had been lovingly tending to our home over the last fifty years.  How kind of them.  It was everything you would imagine a first home should be.  We sat in the backyard prematurely enjoying the bushes of lavender as we envisioned the next 20 years of our lives.

With just three days on the market, we knew we'd have to jump to make an offer.   It never occurred to me that someone else had set their sights on it first.  There were in fact, two other couples who thought this should be their home too.  Such sadness we felt.  We knew it wasn't meant to be, but we sat quietly that night and pondered the loss of a loved one.  

Luckily for us,  the weather has been gorgeous and with it brings high hopes of good things to come. We're still looking diligently for a place to call home, but like a couple of seasoned vets, we have our wits about us.  In the meantime, we'll be joining friends at Imogene and Willie's first Supper and Song of the season tonight and for that we're grateful.  Saturday brings a whole new round of lovelies to try at the farmer's market and maybe then I'll have a chance to Spring-ify our current home and enjoy a just-harvested salad with all the Spring fixin's.     

This is very much a kitchen-sink kind of salad so you won't find measurements here, except for the vinaigrette.

Arugula Blossom Salad with Strawberries and Fennel

 mixture of Spring greens (spinach, dandelions, radicchio, arugula) 
sliced avocado
a couple tablespoons fennel fronds
crumbled Gorgonzola
sliced strawberries
a handful of arugula blossoms

Place all ingredients in large bowl and toss.  Drizzle with strawberry mint vinaigrette (below).

Strawberry Mint Vinaigrette
makes 1/2 cup -enough for four servings

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 mint leaves
1/2 teaspoon honey
About 13 small-medium strawberries, hulled
pinch of salt, to taste

Place ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  Refrigerate unused portion covered for several days.

Wednesday, March 30

Trip to Italy

Copeland and I had an amazing dinner in Italy a couple Saturdays ago.  Okay, so technically we weren't in Italy, BUT the quaint Pizzeria we went to transported us back five thousand miles and two and a half years.  Yes, it was that powerful.  We had two recommendations in a single day to try Bella Napoli, a restaurant neither of us had heard of.  To our delight, it was nothing short of pure-pizza bliss.  Like all good things, we finished our meal wanting to shout from the rooftops and share the love we discovered in Edgehill Village.

We followed signs that were tucked in a secluded alley of an old brick building -away from the chatter of a bustling Saturday evening -straight out of the narrow streets of Sorrento.  As we turned a dark corner, white globe lights were strung between the fortress-like brick walls - illuminating a few picnic tables that carried fun and energetic conversations, all the while hinting that Spring had sprung in Nashville.
picture courtesty Bella Napoli

The Neapolitan owner selects a few key ingredients to be shipped from Italy, which I believe is the secret to it's authenticity.  Just like the food in Italy, most of the items chosen are free from additives and preservatives- something I'm sure is responsible for the amazing taste.  The pizzas are baked in a 900 degree wood-burning oven that lightly crisps the bottom, while keeping the rest of the crust soft and chewy.  Cope and I shared a pizza - mozzarella, prosciutto crudo, cherry tomatoes, arugula and parmesan.  Mmm.  And HOLY tiramisu! I don't even like tiramisu, but I had a hunch with this place.  It wasn't too boozy and the espresso was super mild.  If you're here in Nashville, you must pay Bella Napoli a visit.  And if you aren't, well then (cough -family and friends), this place alone will make your trip worth it and less expensive, I might add, than the real deal.

After the cleanse, I started introducing wheat and gluten back into my diet slowly, and each time it was like a punch to the gut.  I don't think I'm allergic to either, but maybe a little sensitve to them.  So lately I've been experimenting with Bob's Red Mill (gluten-free) pizza crust at home.  (Sidenote:  This in NO way compares to the real deal.  This only justifies the trip afterwards to Sweet Cece's.)  It has a heartier taste and texture than regular pizza dough, and if you're up for the healthier version, you should be able to find Bob's Red Mill products at most grocery stores.  Otherwise, below is a recipe for a standard pizza dough that creates a perfectly crisp and chewy crust when cooked on a hot pizza stone.        

Use your imagination for toppings... provolone and broccoli rabe, figs and brie (you know I'll be smuggling those across state lines when we visit California over the summer), or like below...

Three Cheese Pizza with Onion, Sage and Arugula 
recipe adapted from Gourmet Italian

Pizza Dough (below), shaped into a ball and allowed to rise
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 pound fontina cheese
2 ounces crumbled gorgonzola
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
6 large sage leaves, thinly sliced 
1/4 cup grated parmesan
4 ounces baby arugula

Preheat Oven:  At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, place stone in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 500 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
Shape Dough:  Dust dough with flour, then transfer to lined baking sheet.  Pat out dough evenly and stretch into a 14-inch round, reflouring fingers if necessary.  

Assemble Pizza:  Brush dough with oil, leaving a 1-inch border, then scatter fontina and gorgonzola over dough.  Scatter onion and sage leaves over cheese and sprinkle pizza with parmesan.  Slide pizza on parchment onto pizza stone.  Bake until dough is crisp and browned and cheese is bubbling, 10-15 minutes.  Slide baking sheet under parchment to remove pizza from oven, then transfer to cutting board.  Top with arugula.  

Pizza Dough 
1 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour, divided, plus more for dusting
3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees), divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Stir together yeast, 1 tablespoon flour, and 1/4 cup warm water in a large bowl and let stand until surface appears creamy, about 5 minutes.  (If it doesn't appear creamy, discard and start over with new yeast).
Add 1 3/4 cups flour, remaining 1/2 cup water, salt and oil and stir until smooth.  Stir in enough flour (1/4-1/3 cup) for dough to begin to pull away from side of bowl.  (Dough will be slightly wet.)  
Knead on a floured surface, lightly reflouring when dough becomes too sticky, until smooth, soft and elastic, about 8 minutes.  Form into a ball, put in bowl and dust with flour.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.  

Buon Appetito!