Peanut Butter Thumbprint Cookies

I like buying presents. I like shopping and wrapping, searching and spending, being laden with handled bags and packages. I don’t even mind the malls at Christmas. With their harried crowds and moth ball suited Santas. How great is the Hickory Farms pop up kiosk? All that unrefrigerated sausage and cheese. I’m so serious. I love it. But I also like to shop on Main Street. In our little town, the Farnsworth art museum is giving out cards with purchases and The Grasshopper Shop has great and silly stocking stuffers. I think all the glittery fuss is absolutely necessary at this time of year, an ancient way to stave off seasonal depression. The lights and ornaments, shiny paper, ribbons and bows, and the rest of the gilding may seem superficial but I believe it brightens our spirits to be surrounded by beauty in dark times. Bringing the colors of December nature inside with evergreen wreaths, mistletoe, hollyberries, pine cones, snow flakes and stars. While I very much enjoy adding presents to my virtual cart on Amazon, I also find pleasure in spending an evening handwriting cards or an afternoon baking cookies to mail to family far away. This is the only occasion all year that we dig deep into shallow pockets to buy a little trinket for everyone who adds something to our lives. Even if what you purchase is sugar, flour, butter, and eggs. The act of making and giving creates hope and spreads love. It’s magic. It matters. All we have is each other; we must wrap our arms around our people and not let go. Take good care of your loved and little ones. Bake them cookies.

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Things I Feel Fortunate to Have Eaten in NYC this Week

As our Facebook and Instagram friends who were playing along from home already know, we have spent most of this week in New York visiting good friends and meeting their new baby. I wanted to post a quick roundup of some of the things I feel fortunate to have eaten over the last few days. Most of the time, I only had my phone with me, so please accept my apologies for the quality of some of these snaps. At least now you’ll understand why I will be busy Googling the phrases “kettle bell” and “juice fast” for the rest of the evening.

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Mexican Junk Food: ConeInn Pizza

I’ll be honest with you, just this once. Sometimes, when I am walking through my particular Mexican supermarket of choice, thinking about which product to choose for !Lunes Sabroso!, I often select an item which I know is going to be simply disgusting. After all, it’s much easier to write about a product that’s awful, because you can unleash the full power of your snark. Sometimes this strategy misfires, though, and you end up with a product that looks awful, but is kind of…not bad.

ConeInn Pizza had been occupying far too much of my brain-space for a few months. Every time I went to the market, there were more varieties available, and the section of the freezer isle dedicated to ConeInn Pizza seemed to grow and grow. It started with the simple “Margarita” variety, and then there was Pepperoni, and of course, inevitably, Jamon. “What in the world could this BE,” I wondered with every trip to the supermarket. Was it like an ice cream sugar cone? Or was it pizza dough? Was it just like a big wet bag of pizza toppings squished into a cone shape? And what was with the spelling of the name? “Pizza in Cone,” I would understand. I would even accept “Cone in Pizza,” even though that seems to describe the exact inverse of the actual product. But “ConeInn Pizza” makes no sense. The pizza served in a cone-shaped motel? Ugh, it was making my head hurt.

The other thing that seemed unusual about ConeInn Pizza was that it seemed to cross all boundaries of income and class. At about 20 pesos for two ConeInn Pizzas, they were as available in the crisp, clean confines of Superama in Merida as they were in the bombed-out, post-apocalyptic nightmare of rotten food that makes up Bodega Aurrera in Progreso.

Finally, I had thought about it too long, and bought a box of the “Margarita” variety as an easy mark for !Lunes Sabroso!. Here was a product that would be so awful, so inedible, that I would end up with some smart-alecky narration and a few good photos of myself making faces. I would take one bite, and throw the rest away.

The first thing that began to impress me about ConeInn Pizza was the sheer amount of cardboard accessories hidden within the package, all printed with ominous warning messages. I had no idea how to approach cooking my pizza cone, but fortunately, there were also detailed instructions included:

I knew that the only conceivable way these pizza cones would be remotely edible was by preparing in the conventional oven, so I can only take responsibility for your results if you also prepare them this way. If you do choose to prepare them in the microwave, you do get crisping sleeves included, but I would imagine you are going to get a wet mess. If you cook them in the oven, though, you still get to have some fun with folding cardboard; you get to cook them upright in a little stand, so you don’t end up with, “OvenInn Pizza.”

Side note: Halfway through the cooking process, my Dad walked in to find me on the floor, staring through the window on the oven door. “What the $#!+ are you doing,” he asked. “Cooking ConeInn Pizza,” I replied.

“Conan Pizza? What does that mean?”

20 minutes later, I was stunned to find that my piping-hot ConeInn Pizzas looked…pretty good?

The cone-shaped pizza crust was nicely crisped, the cheese was browned, and the kitchen was filled with the aroma of fresh pizza. It was clear from the appearance of the pizza that the insides could be potentially dangerous to my mouth, so I waited five solid minutes before tackling the ConeInn Pizza with a knife and fork. Holding the whole thing up to my face just seemed too risky; with a knife and fork I could bust the whole thing open and let it cool. All of these careful preparations made no difference. I burned the hell out of the whole roof of my mouth with my first bite.

Here’s the surprising thing, though: It wasn’t half bad. Sure, the sauce was weirdly sweet, the cheese weirdly salty. The crust didn’t add much to the experience, other than being a different texture. And honestly, eating a ConeInn Pizza is not unlike just heating a big, hot bowl of melted cheese…but is there anything wrong with that?

Don’t get me wrong. ConeInn Pizza should by no means be called, “good,” or even, “pizza.” If anything, it is a cross between the pizza that you used to get for Hot Lunch in grammar school, and what I would imagine it would be like if Chef Boyardee managed to somehow cram a whole, hot pizza into a can. But all in all, it’s not half bad, and I can imagine them getting into your head the way the “Fiesta” tacos (a heady combination of pork, peppers, onions, white gravy, and a rolled up piece of ham) at Los Compadres do. And at 20 pesos a box, it’s an inexpensive itch to scratch.

This is an edited reprint of a post (and photography! Yikes!) I originally published in 2008, while living in Southern Mexico on a steady diet of ham, ham stuffed with cream cheese, and ham stuffed with cream cheese stuffed into cinnamon rolls. The series, originally titled “Lunes Sabroso!,” detailed my sometimes baffled introduction as a foreigner to the items for sale in the junk food section of our local tienda.

Top photo: Flickr/JaBB

Cheese & Mushroom Pull-Apart Bread

Browse Pinterest for inspiration for long enough, and some strange things start to happen to your sense of right and wrong. Two hours in, a search that may have started with a simple pan-seared duck breast eventually ends in “Mozarella Ganache Stuffed Nutella Coffee Cake Pancakes with Red Velvet Honey Mustard,” and you’re staring open-mouthed and dead-eyed at the screen, your senses so thoroughly overstimulated that you no longer know which end is up. It’s then that a dish like this begins to make sense.

And don’t get me wrong: This is crowd-pleasing party food at its best. It looks like it’s complicated, it’s great at absorbing alcohol, and it’s positively packed (packed!) with melted cheese. Once you’ve got the technique for slicing the bread mastered, you’ll be stuffing your bread with all kinds of combinations. How about a pizza version, stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella, served with a sidecar of marinara for dipping? Or a “buffalo chicken” version, stuffed with pepper jack, blue cheese, shredded chicken, and Frank’s Red Hot? The mind wobbles.

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Fried Haddock with Sriracha Coleslaw (Homemade)

Today’s sandwich features a homemade fried haddock fillet, topped with Sriracha coleslaw, and served on a Portuguese roll.

Notes: It’s about this time of year in Maine, that I forget that Spring and Summer ever existed. The leaves are off the trees, there’s a bite in the wind, and most days find me bundled under layer after layer of sweatshirt and jacket, braced against the shorter, significantly greyer days.

On days like today, I like to try and force myself to remember what Summers in Maine look like, when every single shack up and down Route 1 is slinging a lobster roll or a haddock sandwich, traditionally with tartar sauce, a slice of American cheese, and a dab of tartar sauce. The geniuses at Hoss and Mary’s in Old Orchard Beach do the Maine staple sandwich one better, slathering their crispy deep-fried haddock fillets in a spicy coleslaw, dubbed the “Cuban Haddock” on days when you’re lucky enough to find it on special.

Living in Rockland puts us farther away from Hoss and Mary’s than we’d like, on most days. Thankfully, we can always whip up our own version of their sandwich, to remind us of brighter, longer days, the Summer sun, short pants, and cold beer.

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On the Rocks: The Old-Fashioned

The Old-Fashioned is a classic cocktail that never goes out of style. It is the perfect holiday sipping drink, for myriad reasons. A single liquor is less likely to leave you feeling unwell at your desk the next morning, bitters will aid digestion if you have overindulged in sweets and meats, the seltzer keeps you hydrated, always a smart move in stuffy, too-warm gatherings. Bulleit rye is good enough to drink straight, so we also tried mixing Canadian Club whiskey, which tickled me because it is such a throwback without irony. Or did I just add a dash of irony without meaning to? CC & 7 is a drink for dads, dads with mustaches and denim shorts and corduroy blazers and soft packs of Winstons. I liked its plain, straight-to-the-point bottle. Brazenly cheap and commercial. Sedate and bare bones with just a kiss of Kenny “The Beard” Loggins. Also, not delicious. Not straight anyway. But, with a little help from sugar and bitters, Canadian Club becomes palatable. I wouldn’t recommend drinking many. But if you’re mixing up a batch for a big party, go for it.

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