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Guest Post: A San Diegan in Raleigh


Walking into The Young Demler Homestead, I felt some trepidation on a few fronts: what if I hated this house? And how uncomfortable would I feel as a guest in their home?  I will confess that I’ve always been an itinerant hotel guest, begging my way out of staying at people’s homes. Yet on my first visit to Raleigh, NC to visit my niece, Carly, and her husband, John, there was no way to gracefully ask for the nearest Holiday Inn without insulting them. I knew I would have to make it work.

Drying out

Upon entering through the front door, I followed John’s lead and took off my shoes. What struck me immediately was the warm and cozy feeling of the house—good feng shui or vibes (take your pick). My tour of the house revealed a comfy guest room right next to the one bathroom in the house. Good. At least I could get first dibs on its use…

Appropriately, the heart, stomach, and intestinal tract of the house (still thinking of that bathroom) was the kitchen:  bright and airy despite its outdated appliances. It even had a center island! I envisioned Carly’s future cooking adventures here—perhaps with a curly-headed, flour-covered ankle biter at her feet (one can only wish).

Carly and John proved to be the most gracious of hosts:  that night we dined on roast pork in a fruit-based glaze, barbequed to perfection by John. Apparently this is a time-tested recipe for him.*

Still drying out

In bed that night, I found a note on the nightstand assuring me I was sleeping on clean sheets. Would I get fresh towels each morning and turn-down service every night? A mint on my pillow?

I could get used to this.

In the morning I poked around the kitchen and saw evidence of wedding gifts already being put to good use: wine glasses, dramatic black plates, lovely table wear, and a Tiffany blue Kitchen Aid prominently displayed on the counter. But what was most impressive was the spice drawer. Here I found identical sized small jars of spices set neatly into a rack that allowed for easy viewing and use.

“Wow,” I thought. “I hope nobody gives them a big container of curry powder. It will throw the spice drawer into chaos.”

Everybody into the pot


Almost done

I live in San Diego on an acre-plus of landscaped property that looks like a park. At one end of the big lawn are several citrus trees: blood oranges, limes, lemons, tangerines, and a kumquat tree. They provide privacy from the street and more fruit than I can ever use. I’ve baked orange Bundt cakes. I’ve stuffed chickens with cut-up oranges. I’ve made lime ice cubes for sauces and cocktails, blood orange sorbet, and lemon ice cream with basil from my herb garden.

Oranges bound for NC

Every year I send Carly citrus which grows abundantly in my backyard. This year, having seen all her lovely mason jars on display, and noting that both she and John have sweet teeth (tooths?) I will make some orangettes—chocolate covered candied citrus peel—to send to them for display and eating. I bet they won’t last too long.

-Auntie Nori

Orangettes II

*Editor’s Note: As of this post’s publication, our fact checkers were still diligently working to ascertain the accuracy of this claim, and a plausible reason why there is a half-empty bottle of Braswell’s Select Cherry Balsamic Grilling Sauce in the fridge.


3 medium oranges
3 cups granulated sugar
10 ounces good bittersweet chocolate

Supreme the oranges:  Cut off bottom and top so fruit is exposed and oranges can stand upright. Following the curve of each orange with your knife, cut away the peel and pith in vertical strips. Reserve interior fruit for another use.

Trim pieces of peel into more uniform, flat-edged, thin strips.

Blanch the peels to remove bitterness:  Bring a medium-sized saucepan filled halfway with water to a boil. Blanch the peels for 2 minutes. Strain, rinsing peels with cold water. Fill saucepan with fresh water and bring to a boil a second time (or start two pots boiling at the beginning so the second is ready to go). Repeat blanch-and-strain process.

Prepare a simple syrup: In your now empty saucepan, combine sugar with 3 cups of water. Bring the syrup to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Place the peels in the saucepan, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, checking occasionally to make sure the vapor is not escaping from under the lid. (I say this because I’ve seen it happen!)

Strain peels, and cool on cooling rack.

Meanwhile, heat chocolate chips over a double boiler (or, in a heatproof bowl placed atop a saucepan of simmering water). Stir to melt chocolate. When chocolate is fully melted, remove from heat. Drop candied orange peels in chocolate, a few at a time. Remove, shaking off excess chocolate. Let cool on parchment paper for at least an hour.

Store orangettes in fridge or freezer.

Steep Perchance to Sleep: Vanilla Lavender Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée

For all of my other imperfections, I’ve always prided myself on being a perfect sleeper—one of those people who climbs into bed talking and is unconscious before she can finish what she was saying. Once, not long ago, John replayed for me a sound recording he had made the previous night on his phone. I am snoring so loudly, it is truly terrifying. The noises coming out of my face were not ones you’d ever want to be associated with.

I have slept soundly and deeply for as long as I can remember. Gelfond family lore has it that when I was 4 or 5, my parents were awakened in the night to a loud “THUD” from my room. They came running, only to find that I had fallen out of bed, hit my face on the corner of my night stand, had a bloody nose—and was still fast asleep.

Lil vanil bean

Dried Lavender

These kinds of stories continue into adulthood. I recall waking up one weekend morning in the Brooklyn apartment I shared with my roommate, Liz. I wandered sleepily into the kitchen, where Liz was sitting at the table. “I cannot BELIEVE you slept through that,” said Liz.

“Through what?” I asked. Liz explained that she’d been awakened at dawn to a crash so loud, she was convinced the apartment building had been hit by a bomb. As it turned out, a car fleeing the police had careened down our street, smashing into parked vehicles like bumper cars. Outside, the sidewalks were a web of yellow crime scene tape. I had slept like an angel.


But now, it seems that my excellent track record has run its course: for the first time in my life, I’ve been having trouble sleeping. I blame it on the fact that I’m just not exhausted enough at the end of the day. In New York City, even just walking a few blocks down the street demanded a lot of energy—it was sensory overload all the time. Cars, pigeons, window displays, dog poop, someone you know, sirens everywhere, always. In Raleigh, life is pretty chilled out. I’m chill, but I’m also hoarding energy like a squirrel saving up nuts for the winter. Of course, it’s nice not to be so exhausted. I’m not complaining—I’m just not sleeping.

Cage free oeufs


Whatever the reason for my sleepless nights, I am determined to solve the issue with crème brûlée. You heard me: crème brûlée. The beautiful thing about crème brûlée—well, one of many beautiful things—is that you can steep just about anything in the crème. I have seen everything from green tea crème brûlée to banana cardamom crème brûlée to coffee crème brûlée, and on and on. The smooth, eggy custard is to die for all on its own, but it also provides you with carte blanche to add whatever it is you wish to flavor it with. And so this is what I’ve schemed: Vanilla Lavender Crème Brûlée.

Ready for their bain-marie

Lavender, by the way, is pretty neat. It’s a flowering plant in the mint family, with lovely blue or violet buds that, when dried, are sometimes used as a culinary herb. For centuries, lavender has also been thought to possess therapeutic properties. Scour the internet and you’ll find people all over the place claiming lavender as an antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory, a sedative, an anti-depressive, and on and on.

Pretty neat.

When I confined my search to legitimate sources, though, like, a few things became clear. The first was that not enough large-scale studies have been done to make anything conclusive. Oh well. The second was a bit more promising, however, in that small-scale human studies have shown that the aroma of lavender may slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, and put you in a parasympathetic (relaxed) state. The effects have been more pronounced in “women and younger people.” (Well, I was a woman the last time I checked, but a younger person? Depends on who I decide to ask.)

Getting ready for the fun part

Moreover, and perhaps most significantly, I found that not enough research had been done on the effects of lavender when steeped inside crème brûlée. I felt that this was an unforgivable oversight and immediately decided to step up to the plate.


(And because I love to run with metaphors) I will tell you the recipe I concocted (for testing purposes) hits it out of the park. Judged solely on flavor, this is a stop-everything-and-moan-loudly-to-yourself dish. It is silken and creamy, sweet and a little bit floral. But this dessert appeals to other senses, too: crack through the caramelized shell—I use a mini condiment spoon, because it’s cute but also because then dessert lasts longer (fact)—and scoop out the custard, speckled with tiny vanilla beans. It’s so beautiful, you can’t believe you made it.

I bet you’re wondering: but did the lavender-enhanced crème brûlée help you sleep, Carly? Oh, uh, yeah maybe. I am definitely sleeping better, post-VLCB. But I think that’s because Homeland is over and I stopped taking my phone to bed. I guess I forgot to control my variables. Oops. Hey, I’m a cook, not a scientist. Enjoy!

Who's your daddy.


Vanilla Lavender Crème Brûlée

Special Equipment: This recipe requires use of a torch to caramelize the sugar on your VLCB. They are pretty inexpensive and nice to have. I just bought one and it is really awesome. Don’t forget to buy the butane, sold separately! (Yes, I know: supposedly, you can put the ramekins under the broiler as an alternative, but I’ve read that this cooks unevenly and, as one cookbook put it, “don’t even think about it.”

Note: This dish needs to chill for several hours, so plan your day accordingly!

4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
2/3 cup granulated sugar
Pinch table salt
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean (pod will be used, too)
2 teaspoons dried culinary lavender flowers*
12 large egg yolks
About 8 teaspoons turbinado or Demerara sugar (in a pinch, granulated sugar will work)

*I bought mine from these guys at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer’s Market in Brooklyn. You can also buy it from them online.


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Combine 2 cups of the cream with the sugar and and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla seeds, the vanilla bean pod, and the lavender to the cream. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and let steep, covered, 15 minutes.

Line a large baking dish with high sides with a kitchen towel. Arrange 8 small (4- or 5-ounce) ramekins on the towel. Bring a large saucepan or kettle of water to boil.

Stir remaining 2 cups of cold cream into the hot cream to temper it.

Whisk the yolks in a large bowl. Add the cream mixture into the yolks and stir to combine evenly.

Strain cream egg mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl. Discard solids. Pour mixture into ramekins.

Place baking dish with ramekins on rack in oven. CAREFULLY pour boiled water into the baking dish without splashing water on self or into the ramekins. Fill until water is halfway up the ramekins.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until centers of ramekins are just barely set and do not slosh.

Transfer ramekins to a wire rack and cool 2 hours. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours (or up to 4 days).

Uncover the ramekins and sprinkle with turbinado or Demerera sugar. Tilt ramekin so that sugar evenly covers the cream. Ignite torch and carefully caramelize the sugar for a few seconds.

Refrigerate to re-chill for about 30 minutes (but no longer), then serve immediately.

All Hail Spandex + Recipe for Waldorf Salad

Waldorf boats

Well guys, it’s been about a week and a half since I’ve worn pants. No, no, I’m not traipsing around the house half naked, all “winter shminter!” with the heat cranked up (though our new shutters were installed this week so who’s to know if I am?!) No, what I mean is that these past few days I’ve been wearing leggings like a second skin, and that’s because I got tired of unzipping my jeans after every meal I ate. Oh, Holiday Season. You are the best worst thing.

Apples and Mint


Sliced and Cored

If you haven’t experienced it, I don’t think I can describe to you what meals at Christmastime in the Midwest are like. Truly, it’s breathtaking, by which I mean that you eat so much delicious food, it becomes difficult to breathe. At breakfast one morning at John’s parents’ house in Chicago, I loaded my plate with scrambled eggs, bacon, and a gooey, dense cinnamon bun. Yes, a cinnamon bun. This might not have been so bad had I not followed that up with a few gingersnaps for dessert. Who has dessert after breakfast? When breakfast already entailed a cinnamon bun? Now do you understand my situation re: leggings for the foreseeable future.

Best. Pecans. Ever.

I have started to believe, however, that there is something to be said for going whole hog at the holidays. Stuffing yourself day after day after day, you finally hit a tipping point. You begin to crave a detox. Not one of those starvation purges in which you leach out the “toxins” (total baloney), but one in which you eat regular old oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter and jelly for lunch, a big veggie-rific salad for dinner. In other words, you just crave normal food.

Thus, for all my fellow pants-less friends out there, here is a post-holiday recipe for you—a bright and crunchy Waldorf Salad that, personally, is just the thing I’ve been craving. It’s not a purge—there’s mayonnaise in it! But not much, and I assure you it’s a super healthy way to hit the reset button on your body as the season of endless partying at last draws to a close.

Red Onions. I’ve replaced the traditional walnuts here with toasted pecans, since my friend Mireille brought a bag of the freshest, most delicious ones I’ve ever tasted from Georgia. I’ve also subbed half the mayo for Greek yogurt, which adds a bit more healthfulness and tang, but no less creaminess. Because detoxes in this household are still creamy! And fun! —This Waldorf Salad is served in leaves of romaine lettuce, which, according to my husband, makes it look “like the salad is kayaking.”

Part of the charm of the holidays is that we know the revelry and gluttony can’t last forever. And it just so happens that neither can leggings. Yesterday, fate decided that my favorite pair of pedal pushers (oh, is that a dated term? whatever, I’m 30…) should snag on the seat of a wooden chair, and a hole would promptly begin to form in the butt. Oh well. Thus, the season of carefree lounging, sans pants, concludes not with a bang, but more quietly, with a small but growing rip.

Salad anyone?

Fait accompli.

Waldorf Salad with Pecans

Adapted from a recipe by Alton Brown

2 Fuji apples
1 Red Delicious apple
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
½ cup light mayonnaise
½ cup 2% or fat-free Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
1 cup golden raisins
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 handful chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 red onion, or 1 small shallot, minced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Several inner leaves of romaine lettuce

Cut apples in half. With a melon baller, remove the seeds in the core. Chop apples into ½-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, toss apples with the cider vinegar. Add mayonnaise and yogurt, and stir to combine. Add curry powder. Fold in pecans, raisins, celery, mint, and red onion or shallot. Add salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning.

Refrigerate for at least one hour to allow the “flavors to get to know one another.” (I don’t know who said that, but it has stuck.) To serve, arrange lettuce leaves on plate and fill each with a few spoonfuls of salad.

Chocolate Bark with Pepitas and Sea Salt


Sometimes, when you’ve reached a certain birthday, it becomes easier to write it out in pepitas than to say it aloud. Though it turns out that writing things out in pepitas is not that easy either, and in fact requires very small (check) and very steady (uncheck) fingers.

When I turned the above pictured age a few weeks ago, I surprised myself in the days preceding it by doing the exact opposite of what I thought I’d do:  that is, instead of quietly sulking, I told everybody. I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly wanted to bare all (age-wise). Seeing as how I now spend my days at home or running errands, “everybody” meant the lady at the Rite-Aid pharmacy counter, the people at the furniture store and the guys at the post office, and Dallas H.—my favorite cashier at Harris Teeter. “Friday’s my birthday,” I’d tell them, unsolicited, before whispering, “30!” and blushing when they’d say they didn’t believe it.


Yeah, it was all fun and games until I actually turned 30.

When I was little, I remember standing at either end of the escalator at the mall and pretending it was my job to pull the black rubber railing. I would strain and breathe loudly, making believe that the giant moving stairway needed me to power it. It was a physically demanding task, but somebody had to do it. Or actually, they didn’t. As soon as my parents would call me, I’d run off, leaving the escalator to function perfectly well on its own.


I think of my littler self whenever I’m on an escalator—honestly, I do. That illusion of being in charge—of physically willing something into motion—now seems like an apt way to describe my feelings as this big birthday approached.

Telling people about it, and saying it out loud before it was real, felt like taking charge, too, like I had managed to control what happened and how people would react to me. I fished for compliments and got them.



But then of course, I stepped back from this escalator of sorts and the damn thing kept on going, with or without my touch.

Spread it out

The good thing was that when the big 3-0 finally arrived, I had a lot of good distractions. That weekend John’s parents arrived from Chicago, and my sister-in-law Liz and niece Nora showed up for a surprise visit. Nothing breaks in a new house like a two-year-old! (See previous post re:  thanking my lucky stars John likes to vacuum.)

Almost Done

And now it’s time to tell you about the chocolate bark. This was one of the better choices I’ve made with regard to cooking food for a group ahead of time. It’s totally a crime to even call this “cooking.” It is literally a two-part process in which chocolate is melted and re-solidified again.

The quality of the bark is wholly determined by the quality of the chocolate you use. What does this mean for you? It means that you are the master of your bark. You are large and in charge. You can will deliciousness, and it will appear.

At the end of the day, the birthday was fun, as birthdays usually are, but the day after, I was still stuck being 30. The good thing was that the day after, I remembered the bark. I pulled the sheet pan from the freezer and broke the chocolate slab into jagged chocolate pieces. John’s mom, sister, and I hovered over the kitchen counter and ate half of them straight off the wax paper. (For the record, I think this is a distinctly female phenomenon—the tendency to hide in the kitchen eating the best parts of a food item before serving the, um, not-as-best parts to everyone else.)


The thing about bark, however, is that it turns out that there are no best and not-so-best parts. It is literally all good because it is literally all chocolate. To which, of course, pepitas have been smartly added for a nutty, salty crunch. It’s like the perfect dessert—easy, fancy, and so good you’ll have to make a second batch for the company because the first batch for the company—well, you ate it. (Oops.)

I can’t in good conscience let you get through the holiday season without making this bark. Trust me. I know what’s good for you, and this is a kind of wisdom that can only come with age.


Chocolate Bark with Pepitas and Sea Salt

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I always use Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips, but any good quality chocolate will do)

About 1/4 cup dry-roasted, salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Sea salt flakes (I always use Maldon)

In a double boiler (or metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water), melt chocolate chips, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when chocolate is fully melted and no lumps remain.

Pour melted chocolate onto parchment-paper lined baking sheet, tilting the sheet so that the chocolate forms a long oval.

Sprinkle pepitas evenly over chocolate, and a few pinches of sea salt. Chill for at least an hour before breaking into pieces. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge.

The House: Ready for Its Close Up.

2013-12-01 00.16.43

Dear Friends:  Thank you for your positive feedback on my previous post, as well as your constructive criticism. Of course, the latter sounded a lot like plain old complaining, but I can appreciate that a request for more, even when a little whiny, is inherently flattering.

I’m glad you enjoyed the writing and the recipe, and I’m sorry that you felt teased by the description of our new house that was accompanied by photos of pears in our old Brooklyn apartment, which all of you no longer care about. The crowd has spoken, and I have heard you. Even though this is a cooking blog, I can be flexible. You want to see the new digs, huh? This is logical. I get it. I do.

It really has been fun to sink our teeth into things like home furnishings. Or rather, to shop for home furnishings, then come home to sink our teeth into butternut squash lasagna with caramelized onions and spinach. In other words, this whole domestic life is definitely agreeing with us.

One of the things I found most frustrating about living in New York City was that it could be very difficult to entertain at home when your kitchen is the size of an airplane lavatory and your table seats four, uncomfortably. Okay okay—yes, we were among the lucky few who happened to have outdoor space in New York, but to eat on our little deck, you needed to carry your food through the bathroom. And you know, there was always just something a little unappetizing about that.

Here in Raleigh, the house is being slowly colonized by furniture, and last weekend we finally felt we were in a place to invite our first dinner guests over. A colleague of John’s from work, David, and his wife, Maria Clara, both of whom also relocated from New York, came over on Friday night to see the place and eat some good food. Now, I have to say that, with regards to the former, it’s kind of nice having a pass when it comes to fixing up the house for company. What do I mean by this? I mean that people totally understand when your dining room table doesn’t actually have chairs. That everyone has to carry in his or her own chair from the kitchen. That good ambience is created by unscrewing a few light bulbs from the overhead lighting fixture and putting a lamp on that stack of packing boxes in the corner. That stack of packing boxes? Oh, it’s filled with books we haven’t unpacked yet because we have no bookcases. All of which is met with nods of benevolent understanding because, of course, well, you “just” moved in.

(How much more time until we can no longer get away with this excuse? Don’t answer that because I don’t want to know.)

Bonus pic of dining room

Instead of a fruit bowl...a French bread board.

With regard to the latter reason for having David and Maria Clara over—the good food—this was the fun part. For someone who loves to cook, cooking for others is one of life’s necessities. It’s like a muscle you yearn to use. Without the opportunity to use it, you die. Okay, maybe not, but you crave the satisfaction and the exhaustion that the creation of good food made for other people brings.

Besides all that, I was so excited to socialize with real other people!

I spent all day cooking, preparing both the above mentioned lasagna and a pear and Manchego salad, along with a flourless chocolate layer cake (yes, a post on this ridiculously decadent cake is forthcoming). And WOW. Just wow. All I can say is that taking on serious cooking projects in this kitchen (which one? This one:

The Kitchen.



$80 from Craig's List


You know how I love Ball jars.


Yep, that one. See what I’m doing here? You’re welcome.) Where was I? Oh right: Taking on serious cooking projects in that kitchen is so infinitely easier than cooking in a veritable airplane restroom, I cannot express it in words. In New York we used to keep our silverware in flower pots because we didn’t have drawers. So, you get the idea that this is a nice change.


Hanging pans are the way to go.

Cooking tools or weaponry?


The evening went perfectly. We absolutely loved having David and Maria Clara over, and I think it’s safe to say that we’ve made two new friends. But of course, as I’ve noted on this blog before, having people over is exhausting, and after they left, we both collapsed on this couch:

Living Room

We didn’t have much time to rest up, however, because the next day, my good friend Mireille would arrive to stay for the night while passing through Raleigh on her way home for Thanksgiving. The good thing was that I had made enough butternut squash lasagna and chocolate cake to feed everyone south of the Mason Dixon Line. So food preparation was all taken care of.

Not that I was worried because I knew Mireille would be an easy houseguest.  She was a delight to have, and I think she was delighted by the house. She even got her own room, although this was under the condition that she agreed to share the bed with this handsome guy:


Luckily, Mireille enjoys Joel and this was not a problem.

By Sunday night, Mireille had continued on, and we had the house to ourselves again. After a dinner of three-day old lasagna, (if you know anything about lasagna, you know that this is the absolute BEST kind) and chocolate cake, followed by an episode of Homeland, John was cleaning up, and went looking for the vacuum. (By the way, here I’ll pause to note that one of the things about my husband that I appreciate most is his inclination to vacuum. I have an aversion to this chore so strong it baffles even me.)

“Oh,” I called to him down the hallway. “I just remembered I put the vacuum in Mireille’s room.”

“Mireille’s room?” John asked. I smiled because it was funny, but I really did feel like that room was Mireille’s, because it hadn’t been anyone’s room before then.

So there you have it. A glimpse of our new house and a little snippet of our new life, as requested. It’s almost like you’re right here with us, you know? Of course, while I very much appreciate your interest from afar, please know that you have to come visit us to get your very own room. Mireille:  Until then, it’s all yours.*

*and Joel’s.