Bite-Sized Wisdom

As I get older, I’ve come to appreciate education more and more. I’m fascinated by all there is that I still don’t know about the world, and each day I learn something exciting and new. There are so many classes from high school and college I’d like to go back and take again – books I would’ve read a bit more thoroughly, professors I’d have listened to a bit more attentively.

Thankfully there are certain things I’ve been taught that I had enough sense to absorb at the time – moments when I knew I was about to learn something truly important about the world around me, the people in front of me, or even myself. These moments have usually happened (and continue to happen) when I am talking to incredible women whose confidence and strength wake me up to new ways of thinking and being.

Amanda Zelechoski is one of the great teachers in my life. I first met her when she was a law student at Villanova, and when she and her husband moved to New England, I pretty much followed them up there. (Okay, not directly – but on my pro/con lists for college one of BC’s top ‘pros’ was “Amanda and Steve live nearby.”)

Amanda has taught me so much about being an authentic human being – not always by any particular piece of advice but just by the way she lives her own life. Over the past decade she has talked me through major and minor life decisions, good and bad relationships, and everything else in between – and she’s done all this while also being hilarious, smart, and so, so full of love.

In a time when our country needs strong women more than ever, I am overwhelmingly happy to celebrate Amanda’s recent tenure at Valparaiso. The community is incredibly lucky to have such a brilliant person within it!

Amanda, thank you for giving me bite-sized wisdom at all the right times in life. You are an amazing educator both in and out of the classroom. I love you!


Mini Lemon Cupcakes

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 cup sugar

2 eggs (room temp)

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter (room temp)

½ cup sour cream (room temp)

1 tsp vanilla extract

½ tsp lemon extract

Zest and juice of one lemon


  1. Cream butter and sugar together in large bowl. Add in eggs, sour cream, extracts, lemon juice and zest.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Fold dry ingredients into wet until completely combined. Divide evenly into 24-count mini muffin tin.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes (until toothpick comes out clean).
  5. Top with favorite icing and sprinkle with a colorful garnish!

Mamma Mia, here I go again

(…Here I go again trying to put into words how incredible my mama is.)


Last week my mom came over for tea, and what began as a civilized afternoon deteriorated into a popcorn catching contest. (Mom caught every single one. I caught zero.)

Kitchen silliness is not new to me; in fact, my earliest memories go back to my mom leaping up from the dinner table to perform a routine from her elementary school cheerleading days. I learned most of the more mainstream curses because of her love-hate relationship with the Christmas cookie press. And just last year she made a mocha icebox cake shaped like the head of the panda in the DC zoo to celebrate his first birthday. She made (and continues to make) cooking, baking, and eating so much fun.

Mom taught me the importance of sitting down and sharing a meal. Our family ate dinner together almost every night until I went off to college. Even if we were fighting, tired, or incredibly busy – dinner was the time to put everything aside and be present to each other. We shared food, stories from the day, and each other’s company.

It’s so easy to get preoccupied with cell phones, a primetime television show, or the thought of how much work we need to get done before going to sleep. But making mealtime about the food in front of us and the people around us is such a simple concept – and it’s one that can open us up to more meaningful conversations, genuine belly laughs, and even a bit of friendly popcorn-catching competition.


Peppered Popcorn


1/2 cup popcorn kernels

3 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp melted butter

2 tbsp black pepper

1 tbsp dried parsley

1 tsp salt


1. Heat vegetable oil in large pot over medium heat for about a minute. Add popcorn kernels and cover (with the lid ever so slightly ajar). Keep over heat until there are about 2 or 3 seconds between each pop. Turn the heat off and let sit.

***Letting it sit after the heat turns off is super important unless you want popcorn continuing to pop in your face, behind the refrigerator, and ALL. OVER. the floor. Trust the one who found out the hard way.

2. Combine black pepper, parsley, and salt. Coat cooked popcorn in melted butter and then toss with spices.


Happy birthday and happy every day to my sweet Mamma Mia! I love you!

What the World Needs Now

It’s easy to feel sort of bummed out during February. Christmas is over and January resolutions are long violated, resented, and ultimately ignored. It always seems to be the awkward temperature that’s too cold for rain but too warm for snow, leaving many pairs of shoes ruined by that gross salty grey slush. And there is always – always – some sort of build-up, expectation, and disappointment surrounding the 14th.

Valentine’s Day is weirdly one of the most polarizing holidays ever. It’s stressful for people in relationships who try to create the perfect romantic environment for their significant other. It’s sad for people who have lost their significant other or haven’t found the right one yet. A holiday that is supposed to be all about love suddenly becomes more about jealousy, anger, or self-doubt.

I love this holiday. I always have. I never have gotten over the joy I felt when every person in my second grade class exchanged little notes of appreciation. I still look forward to the Snoopy card my mom puts in the mail for me or the inevitable sugar rush from tons of up-for-grabs chocolate at work. A simple gesture goes such a long way. Loving words that don’t occur to us to say the other 364 days of the year seem to pour out of us on this one.

I could so easily not be excited about Valentine’s Day this year. I’ve gotten clobbered over the past several months in a bunch of different ways. In fact, lots of people I know have felt pretty clobbered over the last few months. The warm and fuzzy feelings are hard to tap into when our headlines and interactions have been so unkind lately. But for every moment of feeling broken or defeated, there have been people and experiences that have absolutely carried me, and those are the things I’m going to focus on during this love-filled holiday.

This February 14th, I’m going to celebrate the family and friends who build me up when I’m feeling my absolute worst. I’m going to celebrate the hobbies and passions that make me excited to get up each day. I’m going to celebrate the people who are my voice when I feel voiceless, or my fighters when I feel powerless. I’m going to celebrate the books that have stuck with me, and the meals that I’ve savored for days after the fact.

I’m going to celebrate not only the love that has been given to me but also the love I’m capable of giving. (And I’m going to start sharing the love by writing out the recipe for my lemony heart-shaped sugar cookies. Dig in!)


Lemon Sugar Cookies


1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla

1 tbsp milk

1 tsp lemon zest

2 cups flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt


1. Combine flour, salt, lemon zest, and baking powder in medium sized bowl.

2. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Whisk in vanilla, milk, and egg.

3. Slowly add flour mixture and beat until all ingredients are incorporated.

4. Form a disk and let chill for at least half an hour.

5. Roll out dough and, using your favorite cookie cutter, punch out shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until edges start to brown. Let cool before icing.

Spread the love!



Port Jelly and Stilton Butter Canapés

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  1. Dissolve one packet of gelatin in 1/4 c. room temperature water. Bring 3/4 c. port to boil and pour over gelatin mixture. Whisk until gelatin has dissolved, pour into glass container and chill for several hours until completely set.
  2. Using a fork, mash together equal parts Stilton cheese and room temperature butter.
  3. Serve on water crackers.

Tuesdays With Calamari



About 6 cleaned squid, sliced into ¼-inch rings

5 cups vegetable oil

Tempura batter:

1 cup seltzer water, ice cold

1 egg white

1 cup flour

1 tbsp cornstarch

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp. black pepper


Juice one lemon

½ cup mayonnaise

Salt and pepper, to taste

Fresh chives to garnish


  1. Heat vegetable oil to 375 degrees.
  2. Whisk lemon juice and mayo. Sprinkle with chives and set aside.
  3. Combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Whisk egg white and combine it and the dry ingredients with seltzer until just combined (it’s okay if the batter is lumpy).
  4. Using chopsticks or a fork, coat each squid ring in the batter and fry for about a minute and a half (until light golden brown), turning midway through cooking.
  5. Serve immediately with lemon mayo.

Enjoy squid tempura with Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays With Morrie, and check in at for future recipes!

The Picture of Dough-rian Gray


Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles:

2 cups flour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ cup granulated sugar

¾ cup brown sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp water, room temp

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

10 oz. dark chocolate chips


10 oz. dark chocolate chips, melted

Holiday sprinkles to decorate


  1. In standing mixer, cream butter and sugars together on high speed until fluffy.
  2. Add vanilla extract and water, then sift in flour, salt, and cinnamon on low speed until dough is smooth.
  3. Fold in dark chocolate chips until evenly distributed.
  4. Using a cookie scoop, form evenly-sized balls and place on baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Chill in refrigerator for twenty minutes.
  5. In the meantime, melt chocolate chips in microwave. (I do this in twenty-second increments, stirring between each time.)
  6. Dip dough balls into melted chocolate, transfer to wire rack to allow excess chocolate to drip off, and top with festive sprinkles!

Enjoy chocolate chip cookie dough truffles with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

The Polar Espresso

When it comes to culinary adventures, taste is the most obvious of the five senses involved. Smell is close behind, and sight is also thrown into the mix. But there are sounds that are always coming out of my kitchen that make cooking about more than what meets the eye, nostril, or tastebud. Just as the young boy who narrates The Polar Express is so affected by the ring of a small bell, I am instantly brought back to a comforting and magical place with certain sounds – the sizzling of a breadcrumbed chicken cutlet, the rhythmic slicing of risotto-bound onions, and (perhaps most importantly) the whiz of the coffee grinder first thing in the morning.

My father is a self-proclaimed coffee snob, and I am following directly in his footsteps. There is truly a difference in tasting the flavor of freshly ground beans in each sip of my morning jolt that has made me very attached to all things espresso. And so, I couldn’t resist injecting a bit of that richness into this festive holiday recipe. Merry Christmas!


Gooey Mocha Brownies:

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ cup espresso powder

1 tsp cinnamon

½ cup strong filter coffee, near boiling

2 oz. dark chocolate chips (and 6 oz. dark chocolate chips later on)

2 eggs, room temperature

2 additional egg yolks, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

1 ¾ cups flour

1 tsp salt

Powdered sugar, for dusting


  1. Whisk cocoa powder, espresso powder, and cinnamon in coffee until smooth. Whisk in first 2 oz. of chocolate chips until melted.
  2. Whisk butter and oil into mixture. Then, add eggs, additional yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  3. Sift in flour and salt and fold until completely combined. Finally, fold in the remaining 6 oz. chocolate chips.
  4. Transfer to 9×13 baking pan lined with parchment paper and sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour, until toothpick comes out clean.
  5. After brownies have cooled slightly, carefully transfer to wire rack. To serve, stack different sized squares at 45 degree angles and dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy gooey mocha brownies with Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

Rip Van Sprinkle

Over the past several years I’ve developed a tendency toward over-organization (and have even tip-toed into the territory of pleasantly neurotic). When I can’t sleep (a problem Rip Van Winkle never had), I relax by unfolding stacks of t-shirts just so I can refold them. I make to-do lists that include “make to-do list” as the first item. And this afternoon, in a surge of Christmas cheer, I divided a container of multi-colored sprinkles one by one to extract the reds and greens. And though that is definitely forty minutes of my life I’ll never get back, the result was a perfect addition to this Christmassy dessert!


Gingerbread Terrines

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temp

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 cup molasses

1 egg, room temp

1/2 cup applesauce

1 tbsp. Cognac

1/2 tbsp. vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. salt

1 cup hot water


  1. Cream butter and sugar in standing mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Gradually add in molasses, egg, applesauce, Cognac, vanilla extract.
  3. Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, salt into the standing mixture.
  4. Finish by gradually adding hot water and mixing on low speed until smooth.
  5. Bake in lined muffin tin 350 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes OR in a cake pan for a bit longer (until toothpick comes out clean).

 Cognac Cream Cheese Icing

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp

8 oz. cream cheese, room temp

1 oz. Cognac

2 cups powdered sugar (or more, as needed for thickness)

Pinch of salt


  1. Beat butter, cream cheese, Cognac, and salt until smooth. Gradually add in powdered sugar and beat until smooth and thick.
  2. Pipe onto cooled terrines or cupcakes and garnish with Christmas sprinkles!

Enjoy gingerbread terrines and Cognac cream cheese icing with Washinton Irving’s Rip Van Winkle, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!

The Legend of Sleepy Challah

Last weekend my friends Jennie and Zander came over for brunch. Jennie and I met over thirteen years ago, and some of our best memories have been shared over a good meal. But when we were younger, I thought Jennie’s food tastes were crazy. A life without meat or chocolate? The thought nearly knocked my head off.

But now that some time has passed, I’ve broadened my own tastes and realized that some of the best flavors on earth involve neither meat nor chocolate. In fact, one can live a perfectly pleasant existence without what I consider to be culinary staples. Take this autumnal french toast recipe: it has both sweetness and substance.

After over a decade of friendship, Jennie and I can still happily coexist with our varying palates. With the warm, hearty flavors of a satisfying brunch like this, who couldn’t love the month of October? (Except perhaps poor Ichabod Crane…)


Pumpkin French Toast:

8 slices challah bread

4 egg yolks

2 cups milk

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted


  1. On parchment paper-lined baking sheet, toast bread in 300 degree oven for about five minutes on each side. Turn off oven and let bread cool.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients (when they have all been brought to room temperature) except for bread.
  3. Soak challah slices in wet mixture for twenty seconds on each side. Allow excess moisture to drip off and immediately put in buttered frying pan over medium heat. Let toast cook on each side for about three minutes, adding more butter if the pan becomes too dry.
  4. Transfer to oven (still warm from step 1) until ready to serve!

Wet Spiced Maple Pecans:

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp milk

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup pecans


  1. Bring corn syrup, maple syrup, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a boil, whisking until smooth. Reduce to simmer and keep on heat for about five minutes.
  2. Toss pecans in spices. Pour syrup mixture over the pecans and toss until evenly coating.

Enjoy pumpkin french toast and wet maple spiced pecans with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews.

Madame Clovery

Over the past 25 years, I’ve learned lots of things from my mother – probably because she’s told them to me again and again (and again and again). The current proverb is to always pay off my credit card in full. When I was 16 it was that not getting the lead in the boys’ school musical wasn’t the end of the world. And when I was a child, it was to at least try what was on my plate at the dinner table; I might be surprised by something delicious.

I’ve always had an aversion to vegetables, particularly the ones that sound particularly heinous, like parsnip and turnip. But – as every mother loves to hear – my mom was RIGHT! Parsnips, when cooked and seasoned properly, are sweet, warm, and autumnally satisfying. Perhaps Gustave Flaubert’s title character in Madame Bovary, who found herself hopeless and in debt, also should’ve listened to my mother. Maybe if she had paid off her credit card in full, the book would’ve had a happier ending…


Mulled Parsnip Crisps:

8 parsnips

1 tsp ground cloves

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 star anise piece

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup olive oil


1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel thin strips of parsnip “ribbon.”

2. Combine all spices in vegetable and olive oils. Heat mixture for about a minute, then turn off heat to let flavors infuse.

3. Strain oil and toss parsnips in the mixture.

4. Spread chips evenly on baking sheet and bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes – until edges are golden brown. Remove and allow to cool and crisp up for several minutes.

Enjoy mulled parsnip crisps with Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and check in at for future recipes and book reviews!