Woo-ha woo-ha! (Song of the Summer)


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Water Fountain

by tUnE-yArDs

“Woo-ha woo-ha!” I heard on the radio back in May when tUnE-yArDs’ new song “Water Fountain” was released, introducing me not only to a very cool band but to a very very cool tune.  As summer finally winds down, I find myself still listening to it, the cheeriest song to hit the airwaves since, well, last year’s “Happy.”  tUnE-yArDs (yup, that’s how they spell it) is actually Indie darling Merrill Garbus and her partner Nate Brenner, who compose some of the most eclectic music out there; equal parts Afro and Indie pop, funky percussive beats and odd rhythms. And all featuring Garbus’ soulful and incredibly unique voice, which really shines on “Water Fountain.”

Most of all, though, the song is just plain old FUN!  It hooks you in fast, builds momentum, and adds layer after layer, leaving you almost dizzy.  Is this Bjork, you think?  Cat Power?  The Talking Heads with a new singer?!  Nope, it’s tUnE-yArDs, no matter how you spell it, and since I can’t seem to get it out of my head nor stop dancing to it, it’s my nomination for Song of the Summer 2014!


Like it?  Check out more tUnE-yArDs, ie. the bluesy “Powa,” and “Gangsta,” explosive and sultry and recently heard in the Netflix hit “Orange is the New Black.”



More World Cup … Cocktails!


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Why did I only learn about this drink the night after the World Cup ended??  I wanted to enjoy the World Cup, I want to like soccer, I want to call it futbol like cool people, I even want to travel to Uruguay and paint my face.  But let’s face it — I’m a red, white + blue baseball girl to the core, so while I cheered on American Tim “The Human Wall” Howard and marveled at the acting chops of the Dutchmen, I have to admit that I was a little ….. bored.  I promise you I’m no Ann “soccer is foreign” Coulter, and I think it’s a terrific sport, the world’s sport.  I just don’t understand it.


American Goalkeeper Tim Howard

What I do understand, however, is a good summer cocktail, so when I went out on Sunday after Germany beat Argentina in the Final, I was overjoyed to discover that there’s a companion drink to the Caipirinha, the long-popular Brazilian drink.  It’s called the Caipiroska, equally popular throughout South America and equally delicious.  There’s lots of lime and lots of sugar, yet instead of the Brazilian cachaça liquor, the Caipiroska is made with vodka.  Oh snap, I thought, I’m making these tomorrow!  NYTimes food writer David Tanis says that “Caipiroskas are best served with a beach in view, on the beach itself, or with a beach in mind.”  Anyone know of a good beach in Uruguay?

from “One Good Dish” by David Tanis
  • 2 small limes, quartered
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 oz. vodka
  • Ice cubes

Put the limes and sugar in a cocktail shaker or sturdy glass.  Mash vigorously with a wooden muddler or pestle.  Add the vodka and a few ice cubes, shake well, and pour into a rocks glass.

serves 1

Best Tomato Sauce Ever (Vol. II)


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Facebook: Scarpetta

24 dollars for a small plate of spaghetti?  That’s what I said to a friend when she told me about Scott Conant’s signature pasta dish at Scarpetta, his fantastic restaurant in the Meatpacking District in NYC (with other locations in Miami, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Toronto).  But trust me, it’s not your average plate of spaghetti, no sir.  It’s his simple Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil, and it is simply divine.  His secrets?  A pat of butter at the end (isn’t it always butter?), peeling tons of plum tomatoes and breaking them down with a potato masher (his grandmother’s trick), and infusing his oil with garlic, red pepper and basil, rather than adding them directly to the sauce.  That last bit, which he saves for last, is what defines this dish the most.  As he put it: “The last thing you add will be the first thing you taste,” and that’s so true.

Out of my three “Best Tomato Sauce Ever” recipes, this one is probably my favorite, but I tend to make it the least because it’s pretty labor intensive.  (Ok, and also because I live near the Meatpacking District and tend to pop in to the bar at Scarpetta and eat it faster than you can say “Pass the Ragu” ….. ) You can cut out some of the prep time by using good canned tomatoes (ie. San Marzano) instead of peeling tons of plums, but regardless, it’s so worth the effort.  This simplest-sounding, traditional of dishes packs a mean punch of sophistication and flavor, equaling more than money can buy.

Here is the recipe, below, or for step-by-step instructions by Chef Scott himself, check this out:


Scott Conant’s Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil
@ Scarpetta: New York City, Miami, Beverly Hills, Las Vegas, and Toronto
          • 6 oz. spaghetti, high quality dried or fresh
          • Kosher salt
          • Basil – 16 large leaves
          • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
          • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Tomato sauce (2 cups):

          • 12 ripe plum tomatoes (If not in season or if tomatoes lack some flavor, supplement with 1/4 can San Marzano tomatoes)
          • Red chili flakes, 2 pinches
          • Kosher salt
          • 3 tbsp. plus 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
          • 10 cloves Garlic, whole
          • 3 stems of Basil, leaves on



Place a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Prepare an ice bath by placing ice in a bowl and filling with cold water. Core tomatoes with a paring knife, and discard cores. Score the bottom of each tomato with an “X.” When water has come to a boil, place tomatoes in water and leave for 15 seconds, until skin begins to split away. Transfer to ice bath. When cool, peel with paring knife.

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with your thumb, and set seeded tomatoes aside. Reserve seeds and excess juices. If using canned tomatoes, seed in the same way. In a new pot, place 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, carefully transfer tomatoes to the pot. Add a pinch of salt and chili flakes. Allow the tomatoes to cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften, then smash them with a potato masher. If the consistency is particularly thick, strain excess tomato juices for seeds and add to pot. Cook tomatoes 30 to 45 minutes over medium heat, smashing and stirring occasionally.

While the tomatoes are cooking, prepare the basil-garlic oil. Take a small saucepan and place the remaining 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil in the pan. Add garlic cloves, basil, and chili flakes. Slowly heat to allow the flavors to transfer to the oil. When the garlic is lightly browned, remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Strain the oil and combine with the tomato mixture.  Remove the sauce from the heat and adjust the seasoning with additional salt, as needed.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Heavily season with salt, until it tastes as salty as a broth would. Cook the spaghetti in the water and remove when it is just shy of al dente—depending on the pasta, 3 minutes for fresh, 10 minutes for dried.

Roll basil leaves into a cylinder and thinly cut lengthwise into a chiffonade. Set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, place the sauce into a sauté pan, heat slowly, and reduce slightly. Add the pasta to the sauté pan along with a bit of pasta water, to add starch and seasoning, and finish cooking, over medium high heat. The sauce should coat the pasta and look cohesive. When you shake the pan, the sauce and pasta should move together.

Remove from the heat and add the basil, cheese, and butter, tossing gently to incorporate. Divid the pasta among individual, wide shallow bowls. Adjust the seasoning, drizzle with oil if desired, and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Hola….. George.


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El Xampanyet

Hello… Newman.  Hola … George?  What would you do if one of the most iconic of TV characters worked at a bar near you?  Go there almost every night, like I did?!  I truly think that when I lived in Barcelona for a year, I chose an apartment in the Barrio Gotico, or Gothic Quarter, to be near the bar Xampanyet, where the spitting image of George Costanza, the curmudgeon from the TV classic “Seinfeld,” worked.  El Xampanyet (pronounced sham-pan-YET) is a small, traditional tapas bar across the street from Barcelona’s famed Picasso Museum, and two things make it a local favorite: the homemade cava they serve, and its decidedly unhip vibe in a neighborhood bursting with trendy, modern hot spots. But what made me return to it night after night was the owner’s uncanny resemblance to grumpy, jumpy George, aka Jason Alexander, Jerry Seinfeld’s not-so-loveable sidekick.  Same smile, same stature, same bald head. The cava-serving Signor doesn’t speak English, but in my barely there Spanish I’m pretty sure he told me that he heard that a lot. Not from the locals, of course, but from the tourists visiting the museum and then taking his picture afterwards. So why not stop in, try the bubbly cava and some delicious Catalan anchovies or Pa amb tomàquet (tomato bread) and do your best Elaine dance outside, just like I did!

El Xampanyet
Calle Montcada
Barcelona, Spain
Bar Xampanyet . Tapas . Barcelona

George Costanza doppelgänger?


Jason Alexander as George Costanza



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Justin Timberlake & Jay Z

“I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one,” I sang to the doorman of my chi-chi apartment building the other day. “Say what, white girl?!” he laughed. “Hit me!” I replied with a fist bump as I tried to act cool.  But acting it was as I only really discovered Jay Z’s music last summer, when I caught the Justin Timberlake/Jay Z stadium tour at Fenway Park, and full disclosure: I went for JT but I left for JZ!  Yup, I’m one of these cougar-aged women who secretly love the curly-haired, former ‘Nsync singer … If I had kids, they’d be mortified by my dancing to “Sexyback.”  So I bought the tickets, eagerly awaiting to see my love live for the first time.  Yet I found that Timberlake’s music is much better suited to a smaller, more intimate setting, while the inimitable Jay Z blew the invisible roof off!  His stuff was grand, theatrical, fun, and funny.  It had rhythm and panache – never mind his outfits – and I was relieved that I knew at least a few of his hits.  So if you’re like I was until recently and one of the few in the universe who’s not a fan of Beyonce’s better half, check out my favorite tracks, below, and just try not to sway and smile.

(I hate that 3 of my 4 tracks include Kanye “Father of North” West, but, sigh, they’re good collaborators and great songs. Notice, too, that I did not include any of his songs with JT.  Not my faves.)

“Otis” – Jay Z & Kanye West (featuring Otis Redding)

“99 Problems” — Jay Z

“Ni**as in Paris” – Jay Z & Kanye West

“No Church in the Wild” — Jay Z & Kanye West, featuring Frank Ocean



Lady Macbeth


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As “Orange is the New Black” launches anew on Netflix, I still can’t stop thinking about the network’s other, and original, binging stalwart, “House of Cards.”  With all due respect to Kevin Spacey, it’s Girl Power on Netflix as the ladies, or in this case, the lady, shines. Not since Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano has an actress’s look so perfectly embodied a character, but Robin Wright as Claire Underwood is P E R F E C T I O N.  Her portrayal, her character, her look is the thing that stands out the most this season, as the former Princess Bride transforms into an Ice Queen for the ages. Machiavellian to the core, with a long, lean runner’s body and a short and sleek hairstyle, her androgynous yet sexy Claire is Lady Macbeth in couture.  Whether it’s a Zac Posen shift dress and Louboutins during the day or a strapless evening gown by Armani or The Row at night, this powerful political wife is calculating in what she wears — fittingly in only black, navy or neutrals — and careful in how she wears them.  The subtlety of her palette lures you in; the boldness of her pieces spit you out.  Her look is her character – striking, sophisticated, severe and ice cold – and Robin Wright, with her acting chops honed and her enviable physique toned, pulls it off with aplomb.  Frank Underwood sure commands attention, but when the missus walks into a room, full of purpose and Prada, attention is served.


And for heaven’s sake, will someone please tell me how I can get my hands on this absolutely fabulous white suit she wears in Season 2 (chapter 25), which made me gasp when I saw it?  Narciso Rodriquez, maybe??  Alas, I have no power lunches to attend, but at least I can go as Claire Underwood on Halloween, natch!


Whose gorgeous suit am I wearing?!



Go Charlestown Chiefs!


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What is icing?  How about high sticking?  If you don’t know, then you probably won’t be tuning in to the Stanley Cup Finals, which start tonight.  What’s the Stanley Cup?  Oh dear…. you might want to check out my recipes (see: cakes, icing).

The Stanley Cup, of course, is the championship playoffs of the NHL (National Hockey League).   As an avid sports fan who follows baseball, football, basketball and SportsCenter pretty religiously, I’ve always wondered why I never got in to hockey.  My father loved the Detroit Red Wings, my brother lovingly taught me and my sisters what a hip-check was, and I was fascinated by the players’ gorgeous skating during the one game I saw live.  But watching on TV?  Zzzzzzzzzz.

The one thing I do love about hockey, however, is the movie “Slap Shot.”  A raw and raunchy comedy from the late ’70’s, it stars Paul Newman in his oh-so-sexy prime, as the veteran coach/player of a downtrodden minor league hockey team (the Chiefs) who realizes that dirty play and fighting is what brings in the fans.  The roster of characters is priceless, especially the completely clueless Hanson brothers, three bespectacled goons who are so outlandish that if the movie came out today, they’d get their own spin-off. Having just seen it for the first time in years, I was struck by a) how Connie Britton/Tammy Taylor-ish Paul Newman’s wife is, b) they didn’t wear helmets in the ’70’s?!? and c) only Paul Newman could look manly in a long leather coat with fur trim. Oh, and for the umpteenth time, I pee’d my pants during the final (hockey) scene.  Don’t believe me?  Forget ESPN and the Yankees and the French Open tonight and check out this hilarious sports gem of a movie, eh?



Best Tomato Sauce Ever (Vol. I)


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Food lovers, look away, for I have a confession to make:  I hate tomatoes.  It’s blasphemy, I know, for the tomato is one of the staples of practically every type of cuisine, yet since I was young and had my first BLT, I literally gag at the sight of them.  My poor mother spent years picking little cherries out of my salads and big beefsteak slices from my sandwiches, and when I lived in Florence for a semester, it’s possible that I pissed off an entire city. (“Ma che cosa ci fa?? Stupido Americano!”) But what can I say?  Eat a tomato in front of me like it’s an apple and you will see a grown woman squeal like a 5-year-old. (It’s the seeds, by the way.)

Cook the little suckers, however, and it’s a whole different ballgame.  It’s ironic that for a girl who shuns gazpacho and bloody mary’s, I salivate at the thought of a sumptuous tomato sauce.  Remember that scene in “The Godfather” when Clemenza was teasing Michael about his phone call to Kay (“Tell her you love her, Michael!”) all the while teaching him how to make the best Italian “gravy?”  I had to make that sauce right away! And when I first made the holy grail of all tomato sauces, Marcella Hazan’s Tomato sauce with Onion and Butter, I felt like writing the city of Florence a mea culpa.  Chefs from Matio Batali to practically every food blogger out there have sung its praises for years, elevating Hazan, the “Julia Child of Italian Cooking” to superstar status.  It’s also ridiculously easy to make, so there’s really no excuse not to try it.  Oh, unless you’re on a diet.  Or watching your cholesterol.  Because what makes this sauce so good is butter, and lots of it.  Yep, it’s not your nonna’s traditional gravy with garlic or wine or sugar, but rather a lush and velvety sauce that is so simple and good, you may never make another tomato sauce again.*


Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan 

  • 1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano if you can find them), with their juices, cut up
  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 1 onion (preferably yellow), peeled and cut in half
  • salt, to taste

Put the tomatoes, butter and onion in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  When the tomatoes start to bubble, lower the heat to a slow and steady simmer, and cook uncovered for 45 minutes or until the fat floats free from the tomatoes.  Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes to the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.  Remove from heat, add salt to taste, and discard the onion before tossing with pasta (Hazan suggests spaghetti, penne or rigatoni).  Add grated parmesan cheese if desired, though most agree it doesn’t need it it’s so good!


*That is, until you read my “Best Tomato Sauce Ever, Vol. II and III, coming soon!

Hartwood: Grab some people, go there now.


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Carretera Tulum Boca Paila
7.6KM Tulum Mexico

¡Atención por favor, lovers of Tulum!  You’ve no doubt either heard about Hartwood, the remarkable, open-air restaurant in Tulum, Mexico, or even tried to go, but have you gotten in?  There are countless articles about this magical eatery – opened in 2010 by a hipster couple from Brooklyn – extolling its much-deserved virtues that seem hard to believe (No stove? No fridge?).  Believe them all, by the way, and yet I’m going to tell you the most important thing you need to know about Hartwood:  Go as a party of eight. That’s right, eight.  Hartwood (in)famously does not take reservations, and as it’s become insanely popular of late, it seems you have to forsake your after-beach shower and stand in line for hours just for the possibility of a table.  Um, no.  Vacation in Mexico = afternoon siesta, right?  So what to do?!  Well, I recently traveled to Tulum for a certain, ahem, milestone birthday and brought along 7 milestone-making friends with me. Hartwood, you see, does take reservations, but only for parties of 8 or more.  “Mmm, here’s to you!” my friends said as they sipped their grapefruit habenero-infused margaritas and toasted my birthday.  “No, here’s to you,” I replied, “because you all got me into Hartwood!”

IMG_9070                 IMG_9024

Why all the hub-bub?  The romantic, rustic atmosphere sets the tone, the tropical cocktails almost knock you out, and by the time you taste the rosewater-scented sea bass ceviche, you know you’re in for something special.  Fall-off-the-bone pork ribs made my knees weak, and the charred and luscious “Arrechera Angus” was possibly the best steak I’ve ever had.  You’ll want to take pictures of the creative and colorful sides, like the largest, smokiest red beet I’ve ever seen, and you’ll want to savor your dessert, a lime tart that tastes like what citrus and heaven must taste like if they met. Finally, another juicy cocktail, mixed with a blender that is the only electrical appliance used at Hartwood, because that might be the biggest reason of all for all the fuss – this extraordinary restaurant uses no electricity (only a small generator for said blender) but rather relies solely on sustainable energy, a wood-burning oven, and lots of good knife skills.  It is truly the epitome of living (deliciously) off the grid.



So if you’re in Tulum only with your beau, or maybe on a girls’ trip with your BFF’s, find a way to bump up your party. Make friends with that couple you always see at breakfast!  Ask your fellow yogis after your morning yoga class!  Did I take 7 friends to Tulum with me just so that I could get a reservation at Hartwood?  No.  Would I?  Um, could you pass the plantains?


Mozart, baby.


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Out of Africa11

Remember that scene in “Out of Africa” where Robert Redford takes Meryl Streep flying in his little yellow plane, soaring over the lush plains of Kenya, an equally lush soundtrack soaring overhead?  Now, do you like babies?  Read on…

A good friend of mine, successful and single, recently had a baby, and one night six months ago, she rocked my world when she asked me if I would be her “birth coach.”  Say what?!  Birth what?!  Me?!  I could go on and on about that night and all that followed, but let’s just say I accepted and it was indeed one of the most heart-stirring and memorable experiences of my life. One of the things I’ll never forget?  The music! Despite my desire to  put together some dramatic, eclectic playlists for the big day, my friend only wanted to hear Mr. Baby Music himself, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Me, I’d want to hear some soothing Chopin followed by a Jay Z opus or two, but I wasn’t the one popping this baby out.  So a Mozart playlist it was, and when the day arrived and I got THE CALL, I stuffed my Bose SoundDock into my bag-in-waiting, and nervously headed uptown to start my “coaching.”


About 8 hours and 2 epidurals later, it was time for the final push.  I got on one side, the nurse got on the other, and Mozart played on.  I tried to remember all the breathing instructions I was supposed to impart on to my slightly-drugged yet valiant friend, but all I could think of was, Oh my god, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto just came on!  This baby’s got to be born during the 2nd movement!  And me being me, that’s exactly what I said.  “One, two, three …. the Adagio is almost here, the music they used in that great scene from “Out of Africa,”  PUUUSH! … six, seven, eight …. “  And guess what?  Beautiful little Claire Luna, all 8 lbs. 2 oz. of her, was indeed born to this beautiful music, below.  And let me tell you, Robert Redford’s got nothing on baby Claire.


Baby Claire, minutes after birth

Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, 2nd movement (Adagio)


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