Food for Thought: Chicken Soup for the Soul

We have entered the darkest time of the year — the time when it seems winter will NEVER END. This soup will help you get through, I promise. It is a tangy, bright riff on traditional chicken soup. Make it on a Sunday and have it for lunch all week.  Let it simmer as you write. Sip it as you read over what you’ve written. Muse on revisions as you dunk in a hearty piece of toast and let flavorful broth drip off.

Let this soup nourish you.

Miranda’s Chicken Soup

(serves 4)

  • Meat pulled from a roasted chicken carcass (I often use the dark meat.  You can roast your own chicken, or you can buy one from the store and pull the meat off that. Use as much or little as you like, but probably not less than 1 cup and not more than 2 1/2).
  • Poulet glace gold demi glace (about 2 Tbs) – this is a jellied reduction of chicken stock, available at most grocery stores
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 a large onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • 2-4 carrots diced (depending on size)
  • 2-3 Tbs chives, minced
  • 1 Tbs butter + flour (just shy of 1/4 a cup), for a roux
  • Curry powder (about 2 tsp)
  • Fresh lemon juice (to taste)
  • Salt & pepper

Roast a whole chicken (or buy a pre-roasted one) and pull the meat from the bone. Save as much (or as little) as you like for this soup.

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil (about 2 tbs) over medium heat. Add the onions and saute (do not brown). Add the garlic, celery & carrots and lightly saute till just warm.  Add 5-6 cups of water and sufficient poulet glace gold to flavor and darken the broth (I usually start with about 2 tbs).  Bring to a low simmer (do not boil).

Meanwhile, prepare a roux in a separate pan and cook until beginning to lightly brown and become fragrant (this means: melt your butter, then add flour and whisk, stirring as it bubbles and cooks). Add stock from the soup pan and whisk to bring to a nice, creamy consistency.  Add curry powder and salt to taste.  Incorporate the thinned roux mixture back into the soup (this will give the soup a nice body without making it actually thick).

Add the chicken meat to the soup and continue to simmer on low heat.  Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Finally, when the soup is as you like it, add the fresh chives.

This keeps (and freezes) well, so you can have it for lunches all week. I like to toast a piece of whole grain wheat bread to dip in the hot soup.

Bon appetit!

Food for thought: Granola

Homemade granola may be the perfect food — sweet, salty, crunchy, fruity, and healthy (though not, alas, low calorie).  It’s also relatively simple to prepare, more a concept than a recipe.

This is nourish-the-writer-brain food and makes a saliva-inducing start to the day or a good energy boost in the afternoon.

My favorite kind of granola (and the “recipe” I share here) is one with lots of seeds and nuts in it.  I don’t give quantities because this is a fluid recipe — add as much or as little of your favorite ingredients.  You will need access to a good bulk-food section or health food store for some ingredients.

Start with an assortment of seeds and nuts – I use pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and cashews – but you can add or omit whatever you like.  Mix in proportions that prioritize your favorites.

Mix the seeds and nuts with oats and puffed rice to give the granola some body.

Prepare a dressing of 1/2 cup canola oil, 2 tbs good quality maple syrup, 1/4 cup honey, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt.  Whisk this together and pour it over the nut, seed, and grain mixture.  Stir well to coat everything.  If you’ve really made a big batch of granola, you might need to double the dressing.  The mixture should be damp, but not dripping.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Turn the granola mixture out onto baking sheets, spreading thinly and evenly.  Bake the granola for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes until well toasted, crispy and golden.  It’s important to set a timer and stir regularly so the toasting is even and nothing burns.  Use the time between stirs for writing sprints on your current novel or short story project.

Once the granola is well toasted, turn it all into a large bowl and mix with the dried fruit of your choice.  I usually include dried cranberries and dried golden raisins, but you can put in whatever you prefer.

If you have the strength, it’s best to let the granola cool before diving in…but if you can’t wait, I won’t tell 😉

The best way to serve this granola is on top of some good plain yogurt with a drizzle of honey.

Bon appetit!

Regime Change

In my opinion, to be a happy and productive writer, one must also be healthy.  Despite my insatiable love of food (see yesterday’s blog post), I’ve always striven to be as healthy as a I can.  In some regards, I do quite well.  I eat almost no processed foods or beverages and I cook most of our food from raw, whole, organic products.  In other areas, I miss the mark by a mile.  My favorite foods are full of fat — cheese, butter, cream, cured meats.  And then there’s the whole exercise side of the equation.

I hate to exercise, and when it comes to things I don’t enjoy I can be one big lazy fool.  Motivation is a major issue and I’ll latch on to any excuse to avoid exercising.  When I was younger, my metabolism was awesome and I could get away with this.  Not so anymore.  I’ve gained 10lbs in each of the last two years.  While I might be starting with the advantage of being slim, that won’t be the case much longer.  Extrapolate out 10lbs of weight gain a year for a few more years…a troubling and unhealthy trend by any measure.

So, regime change time. I have to start exercising and eating more moderately (let’s just say that little trip to France didn’t help matters).

Enter another problem: I am a woman of extremes.  I’m always either boiling hot or freezing cold, starving to death or so full I’m gonna throw up, bursting with energy or so tired I JUST CAN’T GO ON.  This little character flaw extends to every exercise and weight loss endeavor I’ve attempted.  Usually I wake up one morning and announce I’m going to get fit and lose weight.  I rush to the gym, totally overdo it for about a week, and starve myself on a calorie restriction diet.  This results, as you might imagine, in injury or physical collapse.  The outcome:  I stop exercising.

Time to learn the art of moderation.

I resolve to exercise and eat moderately with the goal of gradually, rationally losing 10lbs by the end of the summer.  Since I’m big on accountability (it’s the only way to avoid the “any excuse to stop” mentality), I’ll use a few tools to help me stay on track.

First, with regard to food, I’ll keep track of my calories on  This site is free and provides a number of handy pages for counting calories, entering activity (calories burned), and tracking progress.  It informs me I’ll need to keep my caloric intake under 1800 calories a day to meet my goal by August 31 (either through calorie restriction, calorie burning, or a combo).

Second, I’ll reinstate a tool that’s helped me in the past: Miranda’s Chart of Shame.  This is a simple excel spreadsheet I worked up that displays each day of the week with the type and amount of exercise I should do that day.  If I do it, I get to cross it off.  If not, I have to write SHAME in bright, huge, block letters on the day in question.  The chart is printed and displayed on the front door of the apartment, for me to look at every time I come and go.  It’ll be there, JUDGING ME, every minute of every day. For the first month, I’m going to start gradually with 3 days a week of cardio, 1 of weightlifting, and 5 of stretching and exercises for my back (from an injury sustained the last time I tried to exercise regularly).  After a month, I’ll reassess based on my progress.

Third, I’ll post my progress here on the blog — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  At the end of each week, as part of a general weekly update, I’ll include whether I met my exercise and dieting goals for the week or not.

I’m hopeful this system will work.  It is a good time of year to start adopting better habits, after all.  Nicer weather makes it more enticing to go out and exercise, and all that colorful spring produce makes it easier to eat right.  So, wish me luck, guys…and if you want to join in my crusade to get healthy, let me know!

Food for Thought: Lemon Tart

It’s a rainy spring Sunday and I’ve decided there’s no better way to embrace my inner-sunshine than to bake a simple, gorgeous lemon tart.

The work involved is minimal for such a sumptuous and impressive desert.  Best of all, you can fill the hour or so you’ll need to wait before eating the tart with some writing time.

The tart recipe I offer here is one I learned at a cooking class in Nice, France.  It riffs on a traditional lemon tart by adding local olive oil to both the crust and filling (Nice olives produce a light, mild oil that pairs well with the tart lemons).  While this may sound strange, it only imparts the faintest essence of olive oil to the taste and gives the crust a cookie-quality and the filling a silkiness that’s the stuff of dreams.  Trust me 🙂

Lemon Tart with Olive Oil (serves 4)

First, you need to make a pastry crust.  This sounds intimidating, but the crust here is very resilient and hard to mess up.  Start by cutting 1/4 cup of cold unsalted butter into pieces.  Place them in a bowl and sift 1/4 cup powdered confectioners sugar over them.  Add 1 1/2 TBS of finely ground macadamia nuts (or almonds, if you prefer).  You can pulverize the nuts in a baggie with a mallet, or use a nut/spice grinder.  To this, add 1/4 tsp sea salt and sift in 2 TBS of flour (you’ll need 3/4 cup flour in total, so measure out the full amount and then sift in just 2 TBS of it).

Work this mixture with a pastry paddle, a spoon, or your fingers.  The goal is to get the dry ingredients well integrated into the butter.  Don’t worry if it looks a mess.  Once it’s mixed, sift the rest of the flour in and add 1 egg yolk (separate and discard the white) and 3 1/2 TBS olive oil (if you can’t get an AOC Nice oil, select something light and mild).  Mix this all together with a fork.  It’ll be quite wet.  You may even want to put the bowl in the fridge for 10 minutes or so to stiffen the dough up before you work it into the tart pan.

Plop that dough out into the tart pan (you’ll need a 9 1/2 inch one with a removable bottom) and, using your fingers, work it until it thinly covers the entire bottom and sides.  You want this to be thin – such that you can almost see the tart pan through the dough.  Pay special attention to the corners.  The dough on the sides will sink slightly while the tart bakes, so make sure you get the corners extra thin to start.  If the dough gets too soft to work with, just toss the whole thing in the fridge a few minutes to firm it up.  Scrap the excess dough off and discard.

Bake the tart shell in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes.  Watch it carefully near the end so it doesn’t burn.  You want a nice, golden brown color.  Set the shell aside to cool while you prepare the filling.

For the filling, begin with 3 plump lemons.  Roll them on the counter before you juice them (this helps release the goodness within).  Squeeze the juice into a bowl, discarding any seeds.  Before cutting and juicing the final lemon, use a microplane grater to zest 1 lemon.  You can add the zest right into the bowl with the juice.

In a small pot, crack 2 whole eggs and 2 egg yolks (separated from the whites; whites discarded).  Whisk these together with 3/4 cup of granulated sugar.  Whisk in the lemon juice and lemon zest and sift 2 tsp of cornstarch over the mixture.  Whisk the entire mixture over medium low heat until it thickens.  The idea is to keep whisking constantly so the lemon curd aerates.  Once the mixture is fairly thick, remove it from the heat and whisk in 4 TBS of unsalted butter.  Then whisk in 2 TBS olive oil, the same type you used for the crust.

Pour this mixture into the cooled tart shell and put in the fridge for at least an hour to set and cool.  Rather than drive yourself crazy waiting to cut into the tart and devour it whole, take this time to sit down and write.  The tart, after all, will be your reward for a good word count 🙂

After you’ve achieved at least a couple hundred words, or can wait no longer, whip a little lightly sweetened cream.  Cut the tart and serve with a dollop of cream.

Happy writing and eating!

Food for Thought: World’s Best Lasagna

Yes, seriously.  This recipe produces the world’s best lasagna.  Try it.  I dare you. 

Okay.  It’s a sleepy Saturday and you’ve got a dilemma.  There’s writing to get done, but you’ve also got people coming over for dinner.  This is the perfect dish to prepare because it allows time to write (about an hour and a half while the ragu is reducing to a melty puddle of animal goodness) and results in a soul satisfying meal.

This recipe is loosely adapted from Mario Batali’s cookbook “Molto Italiano” and is in the style of a Lasagna al Forno.

Serves 6. Total cooking time about 2 1/2 – 3 hours (but worth every second, I swear!).

For the ragu
1 lb of Italian sausage, removed from the casting
4 oz of pancetta, finely diced
1/2 lbs of ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large rib of celery, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
4 cloves of garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup of tomato paste
12 oz of diced tomatoes in their juices
1/2 cup of whole milk
1/2 cup of water (or white wine)
1 tsp of fresh thyme
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

To make the ragu: pour about 1 Tbs olive oil in a large pot and heat on medium high. Add the diced onion, celery, carrot, and garlic and saute until translucent but not brown (about 5 minutes). Increase heat to high. Add the sausage, pancetta, and ground beef. Stir and break up clumps with your spoon until the meat is browned. Add the tomato paste, diced tomatoes, water (or wine), and milk. Stir well to incorporate. Add the thyme. Bring the mixture to a low boil and then cover and reduce heat. Let the ragu simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour and a half. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings by adding salt and pepper as needed.

While the ragu cooks, sneak to your office and get some writing done!

For the bechamel sauce
5 Tbs of butter
1/4 cup of flour
3 cups of whole milk (2% may be substituted, but do not use skim)
grated nutmeg & salt to taste
2 Tbs of mascarpone cheese

To make the bechamel: in a clean pot, melt the butter and wait until it bubbles/sizzles slightly. Add the flour and stir while it bubbles and sizzles to cook the roux. Add the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the mixture over medium to medium-high heat until the sauce thickens and bubbles. Add grated nutmeg and salt to taste. Whisk in the mascarpone.

For the noodles
1 package of dried Lasagna noodles
fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese (do NOT substitute pre-grated cheese!!!).

To cook the noodles: bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook 4 lasagna noodles at a time, about 4 minutes each to par-cook.

To assemble the lasagna: layer the ragu, noodles, bechamel, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano in a large, oven-safe casserole dish. Begin with a thin layer of ragu (enough to just cover the bottom of the dish). Layer noodles (one noodle thick) atop the ragu. Add another layer of ragu (a good, thick portion so that the noodles no longer show through.) Atop the ragu, add a layer of bechamel sauce. Atop the bechamel, add a layer of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and a sprinkle of sea salt. Repeat this process until the dish is nearly full. Be sure not to skimp on the layers of ragu and bechamel; the idea is to create a thick, gooey layer between each noodle. You should wind up with only about 3 layers of noodles. The final, top layer should be bechamel sauce with plenty of parmigiano grated atop it and sprinkled with sea salt.

Place the lasagna into a preheated 375 degree oven and cook until the dish is bubbling and the cheese on top is beginning to brown (about 45 minutes). Any exposed pasta edges should be crisp. After removing from the oven, let the lasagna rest about 10 minutes (if you can bear it). Serve with wine (to cut the richness) and a simple salad.

Bon appetit!

Food for Thought: Homemade Pizza

Second in my “food for thought” series, I offer a recipe and instructions (that even the most timid cook can follow) to prepare delicious homemade pizza.  For this recipe, the dough (though easy to assemble) takes an hour to rise  —  the perfect amount of time for a quick session of writing or editing!


serves 2 (recipe can be easily doubled or trebled). allow 2 hours for start to finish preparation

The first thing to do is make your dough.

Everyone seems so intimidated by the idea of making homemade pizza dough, but its honestly incredibly easy.

Step 1: preheat your oven about as high as it will go – 475 is good.  If you have a pizza stone, be sure it’s in the oven heating up too.  You want the oven preheating for at least an hour to get good and hot.

Step 2: get out a nice, large mixing bowl and put 1/2 cup of hot water in it.  Sprinkle 1/2 a package of active dry yeast onto the water and let it sit until dissolved (a few minutes).  Swirl to incorporate the yeast and water.  Then add 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/2 cup flour, and 1 tbs olive oil.  Using a large, wooden spatula (or other favorite stirring device), stir these ingredients until wet, shiny, and smooth.  Gradually incorporate another 1 cup of flour.  The mixture should grow denser but still remain sticky and pliable.  Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and kneed 2-3 minutes, adding additional flour as needed to keep the mass of dough soft and stretchy.

Spill a bit more olive oil back into your dirty mixing bowl, drop in the ball of dough, turning to coat, then cover it up with a towel and leave it in a warm spot (perhaps near your preheating oven) for 1 hour to rise.

While the dough is rising, go write!

Step 3: peek at the dough.  It should have doubled in size.  Punch it down and give it a few turns on the floured work surface to get it pliable again.  Get out a sheet of parchment paper, sprinkle it with a little flour, and roll the dough out on top of the parchment.  I like to curl the edges of the dough up a bit so the sauce doesn’t run out.  Easy!  Now you’re ready for toppings. 

Step 4: Sauce.  You can buy pre-made pizza sauce.  It’s fine.  You can also make your own very easily.  Run open a can of tomato sauce and pour it into a saucepot (I like to do this while the dough is rising).  Add some olive oil, salt, a tsp of sugar, and assorted dried herbs: oregano, basil, fennel seeds, and crushed red pepper.  Stir it up over medium heat.  Taste it.  Adjust to your liking.  Boom.  Done.

Spoon sauce onto the rolled dough and spread it around with the back of a spoon.  I like a thin but not pathetic coating.  If you like a lot of sauce, then put on a lot of sauce.  It’s your pizza!

Step 5: Toppings.  Okay, gospel from me to you:  buffalo mozzarella.  Use this stuff.  It’s like a present from god, I swear.  Way better than regular mozzarella (though the later will certainly work if you can’t get your hands on buffalo mozzarella).  Slice off some pieces of the mozzarella (you’ll need about 1 large ball per pizza) and space them out across the dough (they’ll expand a little as they melt).  As for the rest of the toppings, the sky is the limit.

My favorite combination is Speck (smoked prosciutto), little dribs of pesto, and caramelized onions (for the latter, save a bit of the reduced onions from your French Onion Soup preparations).  Artichoke hearts and goat cheese are a nice combination.  So are spicy Italian sausage crumbles and onions (and red pepper!).  When you’ve finished topping the pizza, be sure to grate a layer of fresh Parmesan cheese on top, sprinkle with kosher salt, fresh thyme leaves, and grind with fresh pepper.

Step 6: Baking.  If you’re using a pizza stone, you’ll need a pizza peel to transfer the pizza on parchment into the oven.  These items might seem like expensive, specialty goods…but once you become addicted to making pizza, you’ll want to do it all the time and having a stone & peel will be a good investment. 

While a pizza stone is the best way to end up with a crispy crust, if you don’t own one, you can use a regular pizza pan or cookie sheet just as well.  Carefully slide the parchment onto the pizza pan/sheet and put it in the oven.  You should cook the pizza at a very hot temperature (at least 400, 475 is better) for 14-16 minutes to allow the crust to get crispy and everything on top to get bubbling and awesome.

You can eat the pizza with a salad, but really…pizza stands alone in its awesomeness and needs no accompaniment.

Bon Appetit – and please let me know if you try the recipe!