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sunday dinner: summer dinner party menu.

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According to the Department of Labor website:

“Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

The first Labor Day was celebrated in September 1882 in New York City (we’re early adopters here in the Big Apple), and with what better way to celebrate than…a picnic.

And why not? The farmer’s markets this time of year are positively bursting with gorgeous fruits and vegetables, and the weather is just begging you to spend as much time outside as possible. Throw in the modern upgrade of a three-day weekend, and we’ve got a party, folks.

Consider this menu an elevated version of the original Labor Day picnic. You’ve got your spicy oven fried chicken — a twist on an American classic, paired with roasted corn salad and some simply dressed fresh tomatoes, both enhanced by the addition of freshly chopped herbs. Finish the day with an oat cake overflowing with blueberries and blackberries — a simple, homey treat that highlights the best of the season.

Now, full disclosure here, you don’t have to make all of this menu for dinner. If you want to make any of these individually, you can use any of the following recipes: chicken, corn, tomatoes, blueberry oat cake. But. If ever there was a more perfect combination than these best of summer flavors, I don’t know about it, so I highly encourage you to attempt the full menu.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Spicy Oven Fried Chicken

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cleaned and fat trimmed
1 cup flour
2 large eggs
1 ½ cup buttermilk
1 ½ cups panko breadcrumbs
3 teaspoons cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
hot sauce
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roasted Corn with Fresh Herbs & Lime Butter

6-8 ears of corn, in the husk
¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as basil, sage, tarragon, chives, flat-leaf parsley)
1 large clove garlic, minced
juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 stick unsalted butter, melted

Farmer’s Market Tomato Salad

1 container mixed small farmer’s market tomatoes (such as cherry or pear), halved
¼ cup chopped fresh basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley
extra virgin olive oil
white balsamic vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blueberry & Blackberry Oat Cake

½ stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
¾ cup flour, plus more for pan
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons quick-cooking oats, divided
2/3 cups water
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups mixed blueberries and blackberries
2 tablespoons course sanding sugar

Kitchen items needed: large shallow bowl or baking dish, two large sealable plastic bags, large baking sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper, metal tongs, 8×8 square baking pan

Prepping and cooking a dinner party menu is all about timing. For everything to come to the table at the same time, it requires a little multi-tasking, and you’re not going to be cooking one thing at a time. You’ll likely be cooking one thing and prepping another with the goal that all is beautiful and ready to be served without spending too much time resting or cooling to a less than ideal temperature. Follow me, and you’ll be a master at this balancing act in no time.

With that in mind, we’re going to tackle dessert first (life is uncertain, etc., etc.). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grab your 8×8 square baking pan and a stick of butter and rub butter over the bottom and the four sides of the pan (do not use the entire stick, this is not Paula Deen’s kitchen). Then, throw a tablespoon or two of flour in your pan and toss it around until the pan is thoroughly coated. Discard the excess flour, tapping the side of the pan a few times. You really only want a thin layer of flour and butter so the cake doesn’t stick to the pan when it bakes.

Measure out 1 cup of oats and combine with the water; set aside to soften.

Grab two large mixing bowls, in one whisk together all the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon). In the other, combine your butter and sugars (granulated and brown) and beat until light and fluffy, about  minutes (you can do this in a stand mixer, with a hand mixer, or by hand with a fork, depending on how equipped your kitchen is). Once the butter/sugar mixture is creamy and light in color, add egg and vanilla and stir until just combined. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in small quantities until thoroughly combined, then mix in the softened oats. Fold in about half of the berries, being careful not to crush them.

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Spread batter in your buttered & floured baking pan, using your spatula to evenly distribute. Top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of oats and the sanding sugar, then top with the rest of the berries. Place on the center rack of your preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean with some moist crumbs. Set aside to cool.

With dessert covered, let’s turn to the chicken. Clean and trim your chicken so any excess fat is removed, and place your chicken thighs in a shallow bowl or baking dish. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and douse each thigh with a few shakes of hot sauce. Cover the chicken with one cup of buttermilk, ensuring that the thighs are completely submerged in the milk. Cover dish lightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to marinate.

Once your cake is out of the oven, turn the temp up to 450 degrees. Grab your corn and trim any excess husk or silk but do not remove the husk completely. Cooking the corn in the husk allows it to roast and steam at the same time, which delivers a sweet and juicy result. Once heated, place your corn directly on the oven rack, using two racks if necessary to ensure no cobs are touching each other. Roast for 30 minutes. The husks will brown and your kitchen will smell a little like a camp fire, but this is no cause for concern. It is merely one stop on the journey to delicious.

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At this point, you’re about half way to showtime, and you look gaaawwww-geous, daaaaahling.

While the corn is roasting, let’s make us some lime butter. Mince your garlic and place in a small mixing bowl. Juice the limes and add to the garlic, and then add the salt and pepper. Melt the stick of butter (in the microwave is easiest), then while whisking constantly, add the melted butter to garlic-lime mixture in a slow stream until completely combined and emulsified. Set aside until ready for use.

When the corn is completely roasted, remove from oven and allow to cool slightly on a baking sheet. Once cool enough to handle, remove husks and using a sharp chef’s knife, remove kernels from each cob and place in a large mixing bowl. Set aside until ready for use.

And now, it’s chicken time. First, turn your oven down to 375 degrees.

Next, grab two large sealable plastic bags — in the first, add the flour and season with salt and pepper; in the second, add the panko breadcrumbs, the cajun seasoning, the smoked paprika, and season with salt and pepper. Take your marinating chicken out of the refrigerator, and using tongs or a fork, remove the thighs from the milk, shaking a bit to remove excess liquid, and place them on a large plate. Dump the marinade and rinse out your dish, then to it add the other 1/2 cup of buttermilk, the two eggs, a few healthy dashes of hot sauce and season with salt and pepper. Whisk quickly with a fork to break down the eggs and combine with the buttermilk.

Now, you’re going to set up an assembly line of sorts in the following order: your plate of chicken thighs, the bag with flour, the buttermilk-egg mixture, the bag with the breadcrumbs, then a large baking sheet covered in parchment paper or tin foil. Using your metal tongs, grab two to three chicken thighs and place them in the bag with the flour. Seal the bag and toss the chicken thighs until thoroughly coated in flour. Use your tongs to remove the thighs from the bag (shaking to remove excess flour) and place them in the buttermilk-egg mixture. Thoroughly coat the thighs in the mixture, then transfer them to the bag with the breadcrumbs. Seal the bag and shake to coat all sides of the thighs with the spiced breadcrumb mixture. Finally, grab your thighs from the breadcrumb mixture and place, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet. Repeat this assembly line until all thighs are properly ‘dressed’ and placed on the baking sheet (don’t do too many thighs at once so as not to gum up the flour or the breadcrumbs).

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Bake the chicken for 45 minutes until the crust is golden brown and crisp and the juices run clear.

While the chicken is baking, slice the tomatoes and chop the herbs for the corn and the tomatoes. You don’t want to give the herbs the opportunity to wilt, so all of this should be put together at the last minute. Place your chopped tomatoes in a serving bowl and drizzle a little olive oil and white balsamic over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

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When your chicken has about five minutes left on the clock, mix the lime butter with the corn, then add the fresh herbs and toss to incorporate. Add the other fresh herbs to the tomatoes and toss lightly.

Remove chicken from oven and transfer immediately to a serving platter. Bring everything to the table, crack open a bottle of wine (hopefully you did this awhile ago, but if not, now’s the perfect time — I’m LOVING this rosé right now), and dig in.

The crunch of the chicken with the fresh, limey flavor of the corn and the sweetness of the tomatoes are just the absolute best flavor combination. This menu truly celebrates the best of summer and should leave any guests ‘ooohing’ and ‘ahhhing’ well after the sun goes down.

Serve the berry oat cake for dessert — it’s sweet enough that you don’t need any accompaniments — and if you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, this is pure magic with a cup of coffee for breakfast the next morning.

Truth be told, I want to eat this meal every weekend, surrounded by friends and family, laughing and rollocking and just livin’ life. It will be a bright, happy memory to revive in the dark winter months when a fresh, juicy tomato is but a dream.

Until then, enjoy the last few beats of this glorious season with some fresh food, some good wine, and some great company. That, my friends, is just perfect.

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sunday dinner: best of summer salad & avocado feta toasts.

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It’s that time of year, folks. The dog days of summer — that perfect time when the days are long and the sun is high and clouds are sparse. The summer in New York has been glorious, GLORIOUS I tell you, which is completely unexpected and I thank my lucky stars each and every day for such atypical temperatures. This is my kind of polar vortex, people.

This time of year also means that when I food shop, I’m spendin’ my dollahs at the farmer’s market, y’all. The farm stands are positively bursting with fresh produce around here, and it is divine. You haven’t really eaten a tomato until you’ve eaten a farmer’s market tomato in the month of August. Real talk.

If you’re doing it right, meals this time of year require little cooking (if any) and they should heavily feature fresh vegetables (mostly tomatoes, the tomatoes in these parts are unreal this time of year). And this little ditty fits the bill just perfectly. The salad is fresh and bright (the addition of parsley and mint to the salad greens takes it to another level, promise), and the toasts round out the meal with creamy and salty and a little crunch. Roasting lemons was new for me, but it added such a lovely citrus flavor to the salad and also provided a bit of crunch — a new age crouton, if you will. If I had a back patio, I’d be enjoying this with a bottle of wine, a little Glenn Miller Orchestra Pandora station, and a summer sunset. Sososo good.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Best of Summer Salad with Roasted Lemons & Avocado Feta Toasts

Best of Summer Salad (adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 carton mixed small tomatoes, halved
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large
1 cup arugula or other fresh salad greens
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Roasted Lemons
1 lemon, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lemon Vinaigrette (adapted from Martha Stewart)
juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon course salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Avocado & Feta Toasts (makes 4 toasts)
2 slices multigrain bread, cut on the diagonal
½ avocado, sliced
4 slices feta cheese, preferably bulgarian feta but french or greek will do
8 arugula leaves
olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

First things first. The lemons and the toasts are going to take the longest, so we need to get those going so we can focus on everything else. For the lemons, preheat the oven to 325 and at the same time, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil on the stove. Once boiling, drop the lemon slices in the water and cook for two minutes. This takes the bitterness out of the lemons so when they roast, they’ll take on a sweet, citrus flavor. While the lemons are cooking, quickly chop the sage. Strain the lemons from the water and spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toss thoroughly with the sage, sugar and olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until dry and slightly browned.

Once the lemons are in the oven, grab another baking sheet and lay your toasts out in a single layer. Brush each toast with olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper. Place the toasts in the oven with the lemons and cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until the toasts are nicely brown and crisp.

While the lemons and toasts are in the oven, slice the tomatoes and onions and throw ‘em in a big bowl with all of the greens (parsley, mint, arugula). Season veggies and greens with freshly ground salt and pepper and set aside.

Next, let’s make some vinaigrette. Now, you can totally use your favorite store bought dressing if you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own, but the freshness of this vinaigrette is the perfect compliment to the veggies and greens, so I highly recommend taking the time. The easiest way to make the dressing is to combine the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a jar or lidded container and shake to combine until the sugar and salt are dissolved into the liquid. Then, add the olive oil and shake again until combined. Taste and adjust ingredients if necessary.

When the lemons are fully cooked, remove from oven and allow to cool for approximately 10 minutes. Once cool enough to touch, remove from baking sheet and add to the bowl with the veggies and greens.

Finally, just before the toasts come out of the oven, slice the avocado and feta and set aside.

Dress the salad with your preferred amount of lemon vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Place one piece of feta and 1-2 slices of avocado on each toast, then top each toast with a few leaves of arugula. Drizzle each toast with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Serve toasts along side the salad, and don’t forget a big ol’ glass of wine (it’s summer, so rosé is the obvious choice). This meal is light but filling, the perfect celebration of summer’s best ingredients. Enjoy!

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national lipstick day: my five all-time faves.

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Ladies!

It’s National Lipstick Day! Can you believe it? This actually exists? I mean, I guess everything has a day now, but for me, this is obviously a reason to celebrate. I feel like we should also all get the day off to take field trips to Sephora to stock up on our favorites, don’t you?

Alas, today is just a normal work day, but that doesn’t mean I’m not rockin’ my favorite shade.

And since it’s a day of recognition, which means we should celebrate in some fashion, I’m going to sing praises for my five fave lipsticks. These are the ones that have gotten me through good times and bad, and no matter the day, the time, the occasion…they’re my go-tos. My ladies. My bevvy of beauties.

Here we go.

5. Revlon Lip Butter in Tutti Frutti: perfect peach shimmer for those days when you want a little bit of color but can’t be bothered with the upkeep. It’s also so moisturizing given that it’s kind of a lip balm and a lipstick in one. There are a million colors to choose from, but Tutti Frutti’s orangey-peach shade works best for my fair skin.

Revlon - Tutti Frutti

4. Boots No 7 Sheer Lipstick in Attract: this was SUCH a random find years ago when Target first started selling Boots products, but it has stood the test of time. It’s crazy cheap (but not too cheap that you question quality) and for my lips, it’s the perfect neutral shade. High marks all around for this British transplant.

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3. Nars Lipstick in Dolce Vita: this is the one lipstick I’ve bought more than any others combined. It’s my ‘My Lips But Better’ shade and I wear it almost every day. It works with any skintone and it’s just the best, best, best neutral shade. Nars formulation is also super moisturizing and has staying power, and it’s one of the best in my mind in terms of price-value relationship.

Nars - dolce vita

2. Tom Ford Lipstick in Wild Ginger: god, I love this lipstick. It’s so chic and so beautiful and I just feel pretty when I wear it. Tom Ford really knows his way around a lipstick; I have really never worn anything with better coverage, depth of color, and feel than this lipstick. The only reason it’s not my number one is the price tag — $50 is steep for a lipstick, and while you certainly get what you pay for with this ones, I definitely save it for special occasions knowing that replacing this on a regular basis can get pricey.

TF - wild ginger

1. Nars Lipstick in Schiap: sigh. For me, this is the lipstick to end all lipsticks. It’s the perfect shade of bright pink for me, and I wear it anywhere and everywhere (to work, to dinner, to the grocery store, to lounge in my apartment eating bon bons). It’s the one lipstick I’d take with me if I was stranded on a desert island, and it’s my go-to if I’m having a bad day and just need to put a little pep in my step. Love it, love it, love it.

Nars - schiap

Honorable Mention — Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey: this one’s iconic, period, the end. It’s been around for ages, it somehow magically looks great on everyone, and for a higher end brand, its price is very nice. If you want a neutral-ish option that works for any occasion and won’t break the bank, this is your ticket.

Clinique - black honey

What about you? What are your favorite lipsticks? Let’s celebrate those shades, ladies!

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sunday dessert: homemade peach crumble pie.

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I have this thing that happens to me every once in awhile. I’ll be going along, living life, doing my thing…and then, this wave will wash over me, stop me in my tracks…and I must bake. I absolutely must. I enjoy baking, but I don’t often have the time or the occasion to do so, but then this thing happens and I don’t need no reason, no rhyme. I just have to bake something or I won’t be satisfied.

Today was one of those days. My eyes snapped open at 6:30 AM this morning and all I could think about was peach pie. Which is super weird. But having known myself for 33 years now, I knew the only solution was to fulfill my baking needs. Plus, it’s the height of summer, the peaches are glorious this time of year, and who doesn’t want pie, you know, just laying around? Hands up emoji.

When it comes to pie, and peach pie specifically, I’ve been refining my skills for years now, so this recipe (which started from three different recipes) is something I’ve played with and tweaked and edited over the years, to where I’ve gotten it just right. Until I change something again. I’m a mystery. Stay with me.

If I’m being completely honest with you, dear reader, this pie is not an easy task. It’s both time and labor intensive, and I wouldn’t say that it’s a good place to start for a novice baker. However, I’ve always said that baking is more science than art, so if you follow the steps exactly, you should produce a pretty great result. But know what you’re getting into because this is an afternoon spent working hard in the kitchen.

OK, you ready? Let’s do this.

Homemade Peach Crumble Pie

You will need:

For the crust:

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (¾ stick), cut into small pieces
¼ cup cold vegetable shortening, like Crisco
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup ice water

For the filling:

3 ½ pounds peaches (about 6-8)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons minute tapioca, ground to a powder using a spice grinder or a mortar and pestle (or 3 tablespoons corn starch)

For the crumble:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup light brown sugar
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter (¾ stick), cut into small pieces

Kitchen gadgets/materials/tools: pie dish, rolling pin, pastry cutter (you can use two forks as a substitute), mixing bowls — LOTS of mixing bowls

First things first, put on clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and an apron (or my personal baking accessory of choice, a kitchen towel stuck through the belt loop of my jeans). Baking is messy, y’all. Martha Stewart I am not.

Crust: 

Next, we turn our attention to the crust. Listen, you could totally punk out at this point and buy a pre-made crust and it would be fine and life would go on. But. If you’ve ever experienced the glorious deliciousness of a homemade pie crust, you know why this extra effort is worth it. And it is.

So, as you dive into prepping your crust, you should have one mantra in mind at all times — ‘keep ‘em cold’. If there is any secret to a perfect, flaky homemade crust, it is that all the ingredients save the flour, sugar, and salt should be ICE cold. Butter, shortening, water. Keep ‘em cold. All of them should be as cold as possible without being frozen (though I do keep my shortening in the freezer). Doing this will ensure a perfectly flaky crust, which is the only reason why we’re doing all of this, am I right?

First, take out your butter, cut it into small pieces, place it on a plate and put it back in the refrigerator while you prep your dry ingredients. In a large bowl, combine your flour, sugar and salt. Working quickly, add the butter and shortening, and with either a pastry cutter or two forks (don’t use your hands as it will warm the butter/shortening too much), mash the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles course sand. You should still have pea-sized pieces of butter — that’s OK — this is where the magic happens. Finally, add the ice water and quickly mix the ingredients together to form the dough, bringing it together in ball. Do not knead the dough, the point is to mix it enough that it stays together, but nothing more — again, you don’t want anything warming the dough too much. Wrap in plastic wrap or a ziploc bag and flatten into a disc. Place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Filling: 

While your dough is chilling in the fridge, it’s time to prep the filling. If you’re going to skin your peaches (which I do, I find that it leads to a better quality filling), put a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil. In a separate large bowl, prepare an ice bath for the peaches (basically a bunch of cold water and a bunch of ice). Cut a small X on the bottom point of each peach (opposite from the stem). When the water on the stove reaches a rolling boil, add as many peaches as can fit in the pot and poach for two minutes. When ready, move the poached peaches from the boiling water directly to the ice bath and let them sit for about one minute. Do this until all the peaches have been poached/bathed. Pull one peach at a time from the ice bath and starting at the X you cut earlier, pull the skins off the peaches. They should be very easy to remove at this point, for any pieces that don’t want to budge, you can always slice them off with a small knife. Once you’ve skinned all of your peaches, cut each in half, remove the pit, and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices and add to a large bowl. Add the lemon juice to the peaches and toss to coat.

In a small bowl (you’re basically going to use every bowl in your kitchen for this little ditty, sorry), combine the white and brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and tapioca, stirring with a fork until just blended. Pour the sugar mixture over the peaches and toss to coat. Set aside until ready to build the pie.

Crumble: 

Some people may be two-crust pie purists, but me, I’m a crumble believer. It adds such a different spin to a pie, and you get the best of both worlds — a buttery, flaky crust on the bottom, and a crunchy, sugary, salty, oat-y crumble on top. For me, there’s no better combination. YUM.

NOTE: If you’d rather a two-crust pie, find another blog. I kid, I kid. You’ll need to double the crust recipe above; follow the same directions below for a solid crust or take a look at this for a lattice crust.

To make the crumble, combine the flour, sugar, oats and salt in a medium bowl (again with the bowls) and set aside. Cut your butter into small pieces, then using your hands this time, work the butter cubes into the flour mixture to form the crumble. It should be mostly incorporated with some small pieces of butter still intact. Wash your hands, then cover crumble with plastic wrap and store in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Putting it all together: 

We’re nearing the finish line, kids. Now it’s about combining all of that magic you’ve just made in the kitchen into one delicious, magnificent pie.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Grab some flour and liberally coat your rolling pin and your counter top, cutting board or pastry stone (if you’re Mr. Fancy McFancy Pants). Take your dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place in the center of your floured board. Then, taking your floured rolling pin, press and roll your dough carefully a few times in one direction away from you. Turn your dough one quarter turn and repeat. Do this again and again until the dough is rolled into roughly a 12 inch circle. Add more flour as necessary to both the rolling pin and the dough to discourage sticking or tearing. Be patient with it and don’t rough up the dough. Remember, the idea is to work the dough as little as possible so the butter stays intact and the dough doesn’t get rubbery. Once you have your circle, fold the dough in half then in half again and carefully transfer to your pie dish. Unfold the dough and situate appropriately so it covers the whole thing; you’ll likely have dough hanging off the edges, that’s OK. Remove the excess dough with a sharp knife, fold over the edges, and pinch between two fingers to ‘crimp’ the dough. Do this all the way around the pie to create a pretty pattern.

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Next, take your filling and spoon into the center of the dish, including any juices from the bottom of the bowl. Spread evenly, ensuring there’s no areas with too many peaches or too much juice.

Grab your crumble from the fridge and sprinkle evenly over the top almost all the way to the crust. I like to leave a little ring of crumble-free area between the crust and the crumble for the peaches to bubble through as they cook in the oven.

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Place the pie in the center rack of your oven with a baking sheet placed on the rack directly below it (just in case, to catch any overflow). Cook for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and cook for an additional 35-40 minutes. The pie is done when the crust and crumble are golden brown and the peach filling is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for at least two hours. I know. That seems like an impossible task. BUT. This time will allow the pie to set and for the tapioca to work its magic, so when you go to slice the pie, it won’t fall apart immediately. Trust the process, people. You can do it, I promise.

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When you’re ready to serve, I like to reheat each piece for 20-30 seconds in the microwave, then top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (I do not understand people who do not like their pie à la mode, I just don’t).

Swoon. Yell. Dance around your kitchen. Fall on the floor overwhelmed with emotion. It’s that good. It is summer all bundled up in one delicious package for you to savor in the late evening light. Eat up, kids.

 

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sunday dinner: ahi tuna poke.

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As Hawaii week comes to a close (although it will never really be over, will it), we must talk about the food. Oh, the food. It’s secretly/not so secretly the main reason I travel. I don’t feel I’m alone in this. My friends and family might give me the crazy eyes when I tell them I’m flying half way across the world to spend six days in Hawaii on a whim, but whatever, I’ll be the one drinking mai tais and eating fish caught fresh that day while watching a technicolor Hawaiian sunset, so who’s winning at life now?

The food we had in Hawaii was a fantastic mix of Asian cultures and local island favorites; we ate our way through China and Japan and Korea for days (all in one strip mall, in fact — yes, the BEST food in Hawaii is always found in a strip mall), and that’s not even covering the more traditional Hawaiian dishes like poi and kalua pork and lomi lomi salmon. I somehow escaped the islands without trying spam (which I really wanted to do!), but I made up for it by eating as many manapua I could get my hands on.

But. If we’re talking about the true hero of the trip, my absolutely favorite thing I consumed in my time in Hawaii, something I ate at nearly every meal, it’s poke. I could write an entire album of songs (probably even a multi-disc collection) about my love of poke. No, not the annoying, seemingly useless Facebook feature. I’m talkin’ Hawaiian poke (pronounced po-kay), and if you haven’t experienced this little Hawaiian gem, you’re not living life to the fullest, my friend.

A few things about poke for you to know. You must enjoy raw fish to enjoy poke. What is essentially the Hawaiian version of ceviche, poke’s main ingredients are typically raw fish (most popular is ahi tuna), soy sauce, some form of onion (spring, sweet, Maui or otherwise), and finely chopped macadamia or kukui nuts. Poke is usually served as an appetizer, or pu pu in Hawaiian, and it is deliciously addictive. Our first night in Hawaii I was invited to the house of my friend’s family for dinner. Pu pus came to the table and I casually swiped a piece of poke with my chopsticks and was so enticed by the salty, buttery, slightly sweet flavor I almost fell out of my chair. Picture me trying to be polite and gracious and charming while also trying to covertly shove as much poke in my mouth as possible. I’m sure I was the picture of manners; just call me charm school over here.

When I left Hawaii, I knew the first thing I wanted to attempt to make at home was poke, and tonight I have done just that. While searching out the ingredients will take a bit of effort (and unfortunately, there are a few things you just can’t get outside of Hawaii), actually putting it together is a breeze. The soy sauce does all the work for you, so all that’s required is a little chopping and you’re done. I’ve made some slight alterations based on my preferences (believe me, I tried about 500 different kinds of poke on your behalf, so consider me an expert in this field), but this is a pretty straightforward, ‘basic’ recipe. The flavors, however, are faaaaaar from basic.

OK, you ready? Let’s do this.

Hawaiian Ahi Poke (adapted from Hawai’i Magazine)

1 lb fresh ahi steaks, cut into cubed, bite-size pieces
¼ cup soy sauce (shoyu)
¼ cup chopped green onions (tops included)
¼ cup chopped sweet yellow onion (if you can get Maui onion, otherwise a nice Vidalia will do)
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded and diced (optional but highly recommended)
sea salt, to taste (if you use full sodium soy sauce, you won’t need this)
2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

There’s really not much to say in terms of prep other than chop everything up according to the above, place in a large container (I used a large tupperware, but you can just as easily use a big mixing bowl) and refrigerate for at least two hours. I’d recommend serving this as an appetizer, or you could eat as a main course alongside an asian-inspired salad and some rice. No matter how you enjoy it, it will, for if only a fleeting moment, give you a feeling of island breezes and a slower way of life. I will long for it dearly, I will dream of it often and I will one day return.

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A few other foods I enjoyed greatly while bopping around Oahu are the following:

Malasadas (Portuguese donuts) from Leonard’s Bakery: pillowy soft, some rolled in cinnamon sugar, some filled with coconut cream or chocolate, some just a plain old delicious donut…no holes necessary. YUM.

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Korean food from Kim Chee II Restaurant (heck yeah, strip mall feast): sometimes after a long day in the sun, you just want an explosion of flavor in your mouth, and Korean delivers strongly in that category. From short ribs to mandu to bi bimbap, it’s all delicious, all the time over here.

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Kona coffee, literally anywhere: not much to say here other than it’s so good it’s made for ROYALTY.

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Hawaiian Plate Lunch and Slush Float at Rainbow Drive-in: think of it as a Hawaiian ‘meat and three’ (for those of you who have never been to the South, I don’t really know how to describe this to you other than it’s some good down home cookin’). You choose your meat — usually fried chicken, BBQ steak, fried fish, what have you — and it comes with a side of ‘mac salad’ and rice. You can reserve your gravy for your meat (as I did), or you can go crazy and put it on everything. Accompanying this is a magical concoction called a slush float, which is basically a 7-11 strawberry slushie that’s had a love child with an ice cream float. It’s sugary and sweet and oh so good, and it’s a perfect balance to the saltiness of the plate lunch. Listen, I never said eating in Hawaii was healthy. I did, however, say it was delicious.

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rock your friday: songs of summer.

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When one goes to the islands, one must have a soundtrack. Something easy and light — this is not the time for melancholy tunes; this is the time for pop-filled melodies with a beat that go well with a breeze and fruity cocktails. These are the songs that scream summer; they might be overplayed, yes, but would I be jazzed if they came on in the bar where I was enjoying a mai tai and watching another mind-blowing Hawaiian sunset? Definitely.

I speak from experience when I say that this little ditty is also suitable for rooftop pools and backyard BBQs and the morning subway commute. So grab that coconut rum, throw on a caftan and shake that tail feather. It’s summa summa summa-time.

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All cocktails should come with pineapple. Like, as a rule.

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low/mid/high: swim cover ups.

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I have a confession. I am obsessed with caftans. I love the word, I love the concept, I love the lifestyle they represent. When I packed for my Hawaii trip, I brought five caftans for a six day trip. FIVE CAFTANS. Unhealthy? Probably. Fabulous? Definitely. If I had my druthers, I’d spend my days lazing about in my big straw hat and my breezy caftan, drinking an aperol spritz on my veranda overlooking the ocean blue. Sigh. A girl can dream.

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Bring me all the caftans.

As I build my caftan wardrobe (there will one day be a closet just for caftans in my house, I promise you), I’ve picked out some of my faves to share with you. One of the greatest things about cover ups is that they are available at every price point, in every print or fabrication, and for every body type. Caftans for everyone. Weeeeeee!

The following are a few that caught my eye…and a few that may or may not already be in my closet (my closet of caftans…I can’t stop saying caftan). A must for any beach vacation, these beauties will keep you protected from the sun, effortlessly stylish, and livin’ that life of leisure all the day long.