Memory Aid

Last week Lilli used the term “feet wrists.” I almost didn’t want to correct her and let her know most people prefer to use the term “ankles.” After it happened, I wanted so badly to write it down somewhere, so I wouldn’t forget how precious my little girl is. And then I thought of this space. I come here to share recipes and stories with you, but I realize now it’s also so I won’t forget them.


Cheap Beets turned 6 this week. I’ve shared stories, a birth, another birthjobs, and now a move. But it always comes back to the food, and I have so much more sharing to do. But for some reason, I forget to blog about it. It took me until nearly the end of June to remember how I love tossing coins of summer squash with more garlic than I think I need, some fresh thyme, olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and then roasting it all in a hot, hot oven. If only I wrote it down somewhere, I thought to myself.

And last night I thought to myself, if only I could write down somewhere that the perfect corn salad is three ears corn, half a zucchini, quartered, three radishes, chopped, and just a smidge of  chopped sweet Vidalia onion. (Honestly, it didn’t need the feta, although it was a nice touch.)

A friend was once flipping through one of my cookbooks and laughed when she saw my annotation about there being too much onion in the recipe as it was written. But of course you have to write notes in the cookbook! That way you’ll know the next time you read the recipe and think it sounds pretty good, you’ll be forewarned about the onions.

That brings me to this watermelon caprese salad, which I found in a Rachael Ray magazine floating around my mom’s house. It was a solid concept, but the 6 Tablespoons of EVOO was far too much. I ended up dumping much of it out and adding more vinegar and sugar, although that may have more to do with how much I like vinegar. My mom, on the other hand, could not be persuaded to try the salad because of the dressing.


Of course, the salad would have been better if I’d had basil on hand. I didn’t, but it was still wonderful, and it will make it onto our summer table for years to come. I think it’s easiest to taste the dressing as you make, or even leave it on the side, if you remember to.

Watermelon Caprese from Rachael Ray Every Day, September 2016 issue


4 Tablespoons EVOO (6 in the original recipe)

3 Tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 ball (8oz.) fresh mozzarella, sliced into 8 rounds

8 square watermelon slices (seriously though, the shape isn’t essential)

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil


In a medium bowl, whisk oil, vinegar and sugar to taste.

On platter, layer cheese and melon. Drizzle with dressing; top with basil.


The Happy Valley

By now you know the drill: I disappear for a while, then show up again talking about a new job, or sharing photos of a new baby. Nope, no new babies, but I do have news: We moved! After 20 years away from Western Mass, I finally made it back home late this spring. And I do mean literally: we’re living with my very dear, very patient, very generous parents until we find a home of our own.

My new gig is in the Donor Relations department at Smith College, where both Sylvie and Miriam went (although they actually met on JDate, for those keeping track). We were very lucky that Rich’s boss asked him to stay and telecommute, so he’s also based in Northampton at a shared workspace.

There were many reasons why I wanted to be in Western Mass: like being closer to my parents, having a house with a yard, and wonderful schools for the girls. Lilli goes to Fort Hill, the early childhood education center through Smith College where arts and crafts is referred to as “staging a provocation”. Bea is at The Little Schoolhouse, a home daycare where they provide the organic bamboo diapers that get composted via bicycle, the milk and yogurt are delivered every day from the farm, and they grow their own fruit. As my New York friend Jason quipped, “You’re living on the set of Portlandia.”


My commute. I’ll make sure to snap some photos during peak foliage this fall.

When I can, I’ve been taking Lilli to Shabbat Shabloom, a Friday morning sing-along on Abundance Farm. Afterwards we pick flowers on the farm for the dinner table. And of course it’s great to have Shabbat with Oma and Zayde every week. So when I received an offer to review a book called A Month of Sundays: Striding Toward Spiritual Refreshment with Good Food for the Road, I smiled and said I’d love a copy. Sure, the book’s author Paula Hartman and I observe different Days of Rest, but I still get it. The book promises “food for the body as well as the soul” across 31 chapters of reflections and meals. To be honest, most of the recipes didn’t sing to me, and there’s no index, which is somewhat frustrating. But one recipe, for corn fritters, caught my eye.

Lilli at Emily Dickinson Museum

My friend Mark snapped a series of wonderful photos of the girls at The 19th Century Circus – Creatures of Mystery and Bliss, at the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst.

It’s August in Western Mass, which means there is fresh corn, tomatoes and squash wherever you turn. Honest to goodness, you turn down a street and there will be a sign for those foods, grown in someone’s backyard, for sale in the driveway. The farm stand my mom took me to growing up is still going strong, so now I take Lilli to get the corn and tomatoes.

I had actually asked my mom to pick up some corn for a braised corn recipe I bookmarked in another new cookbook, but since I had everything else on hand, I chose to try this one instead. And it was great! The recipe doesn’t call for salt, although I’ve added it, and Rich and Mom both agree it could benefit from some spice. I liked it as is, but I don’t disagree with their input. My mom doesn’t bake and only had self-rising flour in the house, which I knew would work perfectly. I actually had fancy corn meal on hand; someone gave it to me on the Fourth of July, although I have no idea who it was.

This last thing is very important so I will write it in BOLD ALL CAPS: PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN FRYING THESE FRITTERS. Fresh corn spurts and jumps about in the pan. You’ll need to wear long sleeves while frying and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while you make these.

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Mom’s Corn Fritters Adapted from Month of Sundays by Paula Hartman


½ cup (125 mL) of milk

2 cups (450g) of corn cut from the cob, or 16 ounces (450g) of canned corn

1 cup (225g) of flour

1 cup (225g) of cornmeal

2 teaspoons (9.2g) of baking powder

1 egg

2 Tablespoons (30g) of finely chopped onion

Two pinches salt

Cooking oil


Beat milk and egg. Add corn and onion to egg mixture. Add dry ingredients alternately. Batter will be stiff.

Heat oil in a large bottomed skillet with sides. (I prefer non-stick for my frying projects; Rich prefers cast-iron. I will leave that up to you.) To test the oil, drop a dot of the batter into the hot oil; if it sizzles, continue by dropping by teaspoons into the skillet. Cook until browned, then turn the fritters over and cook until that side is brown. This should take no more than 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.

The recipe says it makes approximately 12 fritters, but I got closer to two dozen using an actual teaspoon that you use to stir your tea.



Hipster, Meet Toddler

For the past dozen years I’ve lived in a neighborhood in Boston called Allston. Think Venice Beach, with maybe a touch of St. Mark’s Place. It’s full of students, mustachioed, tattooed hipsters riding bicycles, and there are still punks leftover from the 80s. This year a civic board I sit on for the community built a pop up skate park/vintage market/bike co-op/event space. It’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

bea, eating grilled cheese

Being the student enclave, Allston is where you go for cheap eats and to find food from around the world: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese, hot pot, Venezuelan, Honduran, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese, ramen, Lebanese and Indian. It’s got some of the best beer bars in Boston, and a thriving vegan scene. The girls’ day care is also in the neighborhood, in a building just behind some of the best restaurants in all of Allston. There’s Lone Star Taco, where I get my amazing nachos. Deep Ellum, which shares a kitchen and an owner with Lone Star, has incredible beer, remarkable cocktails and it cures its own lox. You’ll never have vegan ice cream like they sell at FoMu any place else. Whole Heart Provisions does this thing with a seared avocado and crispy lentils and za’atar that’s just… wow.

And then there’s Lilli’s favorite restaurant, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The restaurant started as a food truck; they still are on the road and share the parking lot with Lilli’s daycare. We passed one of the trucks leaving the lot today, and she pointed and said, “Grilled cheese truck!” You can get a cup of tomato soup with your sandwich, or some poutine, or even grab a burger and a nice beer. There’s also an old school Ms. Pac-Man to play, along with a pinball machine.

grilled cheese

As you can imagine, getting out at all is tricky with a toddler and a baby, but I am here to report that, after close observation at Roxy’s, as well as making dozens of them in my own kitchen, I have perfected the grilled cheese sandwich. It’s kind of like America’s Test Kitchen around here, but for grilled cheese. (Rich could write much the same for French toast: frequently requested, hardly ever “actually” eaten, to use the toddler’s new favorite word.)

First haircut

Today I offer tips and tricks from extensive research, rather than a definitive recipe. This is not cave-aged gruyere on artisanal sourdough. My kid eats provolone (“circle cheese”) on challah or white bread. To my own taste, there’s something to be said for rye with a nice, sharp cheese. A college classmate of mine who’s now a junior doctor in London (damn you, Jeremy Hunt!) swears by Munster cheese, although she says it’s impossible to find over there. I know people enjoy caramelized onions, or maybe some mushrooms or sautéed greens. All are good.

On Making A Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I prefer non-stick and Rich prefers his cast iron. Whichever you do, go you low and slow. Put your stove top on medium, then turn it just a touch towards low. Your sandwich might take about 15 minutes to make, but it’s worth the time.

Here’s the big reveal: Instead of buttering the outsides of your bread, use a thin layer of mayo. (Hellman’s if you’re on the East Coast, Best if you’re out West.) Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to measure out how much that would be – a teaspoon? Two teaspoons? A tablespoon? — but I’ve realized it will really depend on what size bread you’re using. But the mayo is what makes the bread that deep brown, and greasy in the best way possible.

I also don’t assemble my sandwich on the counter. Once my bread is shmeared, I turn to my heated skillet, add a generous tablespoon of butter, watch it melt, then put a slice of bread down. Then I add my cheese – at least two slices – then top it with the second piece of bread. Fry that sucker for a good six minutes, then gently lift up a corner and admire how nice and golden it’s turned. Flip with a spatula, slide a second pat of butter on the pan, then cook until golden and gooey.

Finally, and this is key, once you’ve finished making your grilled cheese, quickly remove it from the pan, slice it in half, then prop the two pieces on their side on a cutting board. This will cool it down enough to eat, and will prevent the bread from getting soggy. Then you can proceed to cut it into toddler-sized triangles, or squares, or “squares and triangles” as has been the request this week. (The geometry on that one took me back to high school math.)

on its side

So, yes, fried, mayonnaise-slathered, grilled cheese, for the toddler. Judge away. She’s so tiny that she needs the calories however we can get them in her. And she barely eats half of what we give her, anyhow. Which means we (mostly Rich) gets to eat a lot of grilled cheese. And French toast.



Has anyone else noticed that a head of cauliflower now costs $6? I’m not sure when it happened, and the truth is, that’s what it should cost. It’s winter. Wherever it was grown and picked – most likely by someone being paid a disturbingly low wage – it had to be transported here. Cheap gas or not, fresh produce is getting more expensive.

I mention this because it gets to the whole premise of my blog, which is that eating a vegetable-based diet is more affordable. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what that exactly means, especially considering that I don’t get to come by this space very often these days. For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve found to be the most affordable foods I can find at the grocery store: frozen vegetables and canned beans.

girls on couch

I’ve used frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli, frozen peppers, frozen leeks and frozen spinach. I’ve found all these things at Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even Target. There are still some things that are more affordable fresh. A two-pound rutabaga is more affordable than a one-pound bag of frozen rutabaga. Ditto for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Frozen zucchini makes for a kind of soggy dish, but so does fresh zucchini.

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful green curry made with frozen spinach and frozen fish from Costco. Sitting on rice noodles I can buy for a couple of dollars at the Asian super market, the whole meal cost less than $6 to produce.

Of course, starting with dried beans is an even more affordable way to go, but my pressure cooker is broken, and I have no idea where to get it repaired. And honestly, I can buy a can of chickpeas at Stop & Shop for 79 cents. (I think it’s 89 cents at Trader Joe’s, but I’ve had a heck of a time opening their cans. Has that happened to anyone else? Impossible to open cans from Trader Joe’s?)

A lot of this has been going into soups: butternut squash with miso and coconut milk; sweet potato with a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. Tonight I made a green soup with frozen broccoli and frozen spinach. For Rich’s I added a dollop of plain whole yogurt and a swirl of jarred pesto I had in the fridge. One of the main reasons I’ve been making all the soups is for Bea who loves eating but isn’t yet very good at it.

The recipe I have for you today came via a mommy blog I get updates from, even though I don’t remember signing up for them. It’s for a chocolate cake made with black beans. The original recipe called for a can of chickpeas, but Lilli always breaks out in a rash whenever she eats hummus. I guess this is another trick to hide something healthy, like the chocolate zucchini cake from this summer, although the flavor is even more subtle here. I made some guests I had over for Chanukah sample the cake, and they described it as “very creamy.”

It’s a dead simple recipe – you dump the ingredients into a blender and press the button – so it’s very kid friendly. Instead of making a loaf, I make these in mini muffin tins, perfect for lunch sacks. It’s gluten free, and since the Conservative Movement announced that kitniyot (beans, rice and corn) are now permissible to eat, it’s now kosher for Passover. But you don’t have to wait until April to give this one a try.

Flourless Black Bean Chocolate Cakes

1 14 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup mini chips


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan.

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except for the mini chocolate chips, until smooth. If necessary add more milk one teaspoon at a time.

Pour batter into the prepared muffin pan.

Sprinkle chips evenly on top of the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Make sure to let the muffins cool completely before you remove them.

Give the People What They Want

My husband the pollster tells me that those snap online polls that pop up on news websites after political debates are pretty much worthless as a gauge of public opinion. That’s because the people taking part in the poll are self-selecting, and there’s no way to know if they represent the public as a whole. Also, campaigns can hijack an online poll by directing their supporters to take it. Some diehards will even delete the cookies in their web browsers so they can take the poll again and again!


But I’m running a food blog, not running for president. My time is tight and blogging is getting harder and harder to do with a nearly three-year-old, a seven-and-a-half month old, and a full-time job. So when I was trying to decide if the next recipe should be my favorite challah, our go-to pizza, or homemade Cheez-Its®, I took the question to Facebook and asked my friends for their opinion.

The clear winner was Cheez-Its®, although folks made it clear they like the looks of the pizzas we’ve been posting to Instagram. I’ll get to all of them, I swear, and I’ll also share the cupcakes and frostings from the build-your-own cupcake bar we made for Lilli’s birthday party. Sometime before Lilli gets to middle school, at this rate.

I first made these crackers when Lilli wasn’t quite two. It was that golden era when she still ate everything she was served, and gobbled up things like broccoli and mushrooms. It was that naïve time in my life where I actually believed she’d be better off if she only ate things I had personally cooked and baked myself. No puffs for her, and certainly no Goldfish. Obviously she had no interest in these crackers, and, as it turned out, any cheese cracker served to her. No Goldfish, Penguins, or Bunnies. Serves me right for being a Sanctimommy. (Second kids are very different; Bea gets puffs, frozen waffles, and, as of tonight, Nutella.)


The recipe comes is from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber, which is where I got the Nutter Butter recipe. This one is much simpler, and comes together very quickly in a food processor, although there is a little bit of effort transferring the crackers to the cooling rack. I like this recipe because the ingredient list is very short, far shorter than on a box of Cheez-Its®. And even though it does call for two tablespoons of vegetable shortening, using Earth Balance instead of say, Crisco, just feels better.

Barber makes a big deal of warning that the crackers’ high fat content makes them easy to burn. But I’ve had some come out on the darker side, and I swear they were even better. Sometime in the past year the Cheez-Its® people decided that was truth and marketed a dark brown version of the cracker for a limited time.

The second time I made these crackers I ended up not having the time to bake them immediately. Instead of chilling the dough for an hour, it sat in the fridge for about five days. No harm came to the crackers. They were thicker and seemed to rise a bit more in the oven.

I’ve photographed this recipe twice, something of a record for me at this point. But obviously I have no idea where any of those pictures are. Sorry about that. If you want the crackers’ signature pinked edges, Barber suggests using a fluted pastry cutter. I don’t own one, but my pizza wheel did the job. If you don’t have a pizza wheel, just use a sharp knife.

Cheez-Its® from Classic Snacks Made from Scratch by Casey Barber


1 (8-ounce) block extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, coarsely shredded

1 ounce finely grated Parmesan cheese (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into ½ – inch cubes

2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening, cut into ½-inch cubes

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (4 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons ice-cold water


Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the cheeses, butter, shortening, and salt on medium-low speed, OR pulse in the bowl of a food processor until soft and homogenous. Add the flour and pulse or mix on low to combine; the dough will be dry and pebbly.

Slowly add the water (through the feed tube, if using a food processor) and continue to pulse/mix as the dough coalesces into a mass. Depending on the brand of cheese used and the humidity level at the time, you might need a small dribble of water or the full 2 tablespoons. Pat the dough into a disc, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces on a floured surface and roll each into a very thin (1/8 inch or less) 10 by 12-inch rectangle. Using a fluted pastry cutter or pizza cutter, cut the rectangles into 1-inch squares, then transfer to the baking sheets. Use a toothpick or the tip of a chopstick to punch a hole in the center of each square.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until puffed and browning at the edges. Watch carefully, as the high fat content of the crackers make it a fine line between golden delicious and burnt. Immediately move the baked crackers onto wire racks to cool.

Store your Cheez-Its at room temperature for up to a week.


A Fair Bargain

We’re raising the girls Jewish. It was non-negotiable for me, and Rich was fine with it.  This means we have Shabbat dinner every Friday night, attend services most Saturday mornings, and celebrate all sorts of holidays no one’s ever heard of. Rich did ask we celebrate two of his holidays – Christmas and Halloween – and given how much he’s agreed to do, it seemed like a fair bargain.

Shabbat Christmas

This mixing of traditions has had some funny side-effects. For instance, earlier this year I had to explain to Lilli that, no, we do not open the door for Elijah the Prophet on Passover because he’s trick-or-treating. It also means my almost three-year-old thinks Santa is magic. I was actually a little taken aback by this one, and I suspect she learned about it from Connor at daycare. It certainly wasn’t from Aziz, whose mother wears a hijab.

It’s hard to explain Christmas to someone who didn’t grow up with it. The outpouring of generosity and thoughtfulness is incredible; I’ll probably never fully get used to all the gifts that come with the holiday. Even though Lilli received something for every night of Chanukah, each candle in the menorah just meant we were one day closer to Christmas.

This year Christmas fell on a Friday, and we all gathered on Christmas Eve morning at Rich’s brother’s home for a festive breakfast and gift exchange. The presents we all received were amazing, although I did start to break out in a sweat as I stared at the four massive bags of treasures that I somehow had to find a place for in our 1117 square-foot condo.

Frying pancake

For Christmas on Friday, we marked the holiday the way my people do – Chinese food and a movie. Rich and my tradition is to watch Badder Santa – the Bad Santa director’s cut – to mark the holiday. I also borrowed Die Hard from the library, something I’d never seen before. It was great, in case you were wondering.

For Christmas/Shabbat dinner we made a Chinese banquet: veggie potstickers, scallion pancakes, green beans and Chinese eggplant. The scallion pancakes have become a bit of a holiday tradition for us. It’s from Joanne Chang’s flour, too, although we saw her make them on local public television cooking show a few years ago and took it from there. The recipe yields three pancakes, which was far more than we needed for our guest, Eric, and us.

You can use Chang’s focaccia recipe, which is the same as her pizza dough, which I owe you guys because that’s become our recipe and it’s a great one. But you can also use store-bought pizza dough to make it easier on yourself. That’s what we did this year. Mind you, there’s still a bit of work: The dough has to rise, and there’s the frying, of course.


Even if you don’t end up using the pancake recipe, bookmark the dipping sauce recipe. It’s a keeper.

Scallion Pancakes from flour, too by Joanne Chang


8 or 9 scallions, white and green parts, minced

¼ cup/60 ml sesame oil

1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt

½ batch Flour Focaccia dough, or 1 lb./455 g. store-bought pizza dough

About 1 ½ cups/360 ml vegetable oil, for frying

Soy Dipping Sauce

3 Tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp Sriracha sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp peeled and finely minced fresh ginger

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 scallion, white and green parts, minced


In a small bowl, mix together the scallions, sesame oil and salt

Cut the dough into thirds. On a well-floured work service, roll out one portion of the dough into a thin 5-by-10-in/12-by-25-cm rectangle. Repeat with the remaining two dough portions. Spread the scallion mixture evenly over the dough rectangles, leaning a ½-in/12-mm border uncovered on all sides. Starting at a long side, roll up each rectangle jelly-roll style and pinch the sea with your fingers to seal. Spiral each cylinder into a tight coil and tuck the ends under the coil. Place in a warm area, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for about 2 hours to allow the dough to proof and relax. (At this point, the dough can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for up to 1 week; thaw in the fridge overnight before using.)

Line the baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Set aside.

On a generously floured work surface, press each coil into a flat circle, deflating any air pockets and squishing the scallions gently into the dough. With the rolling pin, slowly and carefully roll out each flattened circle into a 10-in/25-cm round. Flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. (It’s okay if some of the scallion mixture comes out.) As you finish rolling each round, set it aside.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering.

While the oil is heating, make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, sesame oil, ginger, vinegar, sugar, and scallion until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside. (The sauce can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in the fridge in an airtight container.)

To check if the oil is ready, sprinkle a bit of flour into the skillet. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. Carefully add one pancake to the hot oil and fry, turning once, for 1 to 2 minute per side, or until golden. Transfer the pancake to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pancakes, always allowing the oil to return to temperature before adding the next one.

Cut the pancakes into quarters, arrange on a platter, and serve hot with the dipping sauce.