Monday, December 29, 2014


New Year's Eve Italian braised lentils with bacon and onion detail

New Year's is approaching, and I could not be more excited given the tone of the last three months of the year. (As I said elsewhere, the Libra horoscope for the end of 2014 was a picture of a dead albatross.) To make sure 2015 starts in the best possible way, I cannot forsake the Italian tradition of eating lentils on New Year's Eve to ingratiate the gods of money for the following year. This tradition is still popular in Italy, and appears to have originated in Ancient Rome, where it was customary to give a little bag of lentils on New Year's Eve in the hope that they transform into money in the new year. I know it's just superstition, but I have never skipped a year and, frankly, I'm pretty terrified to see what would happen to my "finances" if I don't have lentils on December 31.

Money concerns aside, I love lentils and I take every opportunity to eat them. Actually, I will say that lentils stir in me a deep affection and gratefulness that I don't have for any other food. This love for lentils exploded on a terrible night, four years ago. I was home with my husband and my then 5-day-old baby, and we got horrible food poisoning from a Whole Foods lasagna brought over by our well-meaning family. For an entire night, Mr Bee and I shivered like two demonically possessed while taking turns vomiting, excreting, and taking care of our very hungry and loud newborn. And if you're not familiar with the needs of a 5-day-old, please know this involves nursing and pumping every two hours, diaper changing and counting, diaper-content analysis, and worrying like mad that everything is normal.

What can I say? That was really a dismal night of fear and solitude that made us reconsider our nature as human beings. Luckily the truly dictatorial symptoms subsided after 12 hours, but the fear and depression persisted. I can vividly remember sitting on the couch the next day while the baby was sleeping, talking with Mr. Bee about how terribly scary everything was, and how completely unprepared for parenthood I felt even in the face my very well-honed aptitude for catastrophizing. In order to restore some of our strength, we decided to defrost a lentil soup I had stocked in the freezer. We ate in total silence, and suddenly a miracle happened: With every bite of lentils, our bodies were being replenished with ancient, rich nutrients that gave us a noticeable jolt of energy. At the same time, our mood noticeably improved, moving from completely-forlorn-to-the-ineluctable-destiny-of-all-things to kind-of-hopeful-that-this-parenting-thing-might-just-be-alright.

So eat your lentils on December 31. They might bring you money, health, and happiness even when you've lost all hope. And what more could you wish for 2015?

Happy New Year, everybody.

New Year's Eve Italian braised lentils with bacon and onion detail


This recipe contains meat, but can be easily made vegan by replacing bacon with EVOO and using vegetable rather than chicken stock.

2-3 strips of pancetta or bacon cut in thin strips (optional, but if not using substitute with 3 tbsp EVOO)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cups dry lentils (I like the French ones, but green lentils will do)
1/2 cup white wine
1 cup chopped San Marzano tomatoes and sauce
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
salt, pepper
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar (optional)
  • Heat a large pan and cook the bacon strips until they release a decent amount of fat and appear translucent, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook at medium heat for 10 minutes or until soft.
  • Add the dry lentils and stir them around the pan.
  • Add the wine and cook until almost completely evaporated, for about 8 minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, the stock, and the bay leaf. Cover and cook for an hour or until lentils are cooked through, adding more stock or water if necessary. 
  • Adjust for salt, then serve sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper, EVOO, and a little bit of apple cider vinegar (3 tbsp should suffice for the entire pot, but follow your taste).
Another thing. Lentils are usually served as a side dish, but you can add more stock and turn it into a soup. And if you're overstuffed already, a tablespoon is enough to get by, monetarily, in the next year.

Need more recipes for New Year's Eve? You should really try my Smoked Salmon Butter then.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


The holidays are sneaking up on us with shrapnel-fury (who's the genius who gave us a late Thanksgiving this year???) and demand that we silence our wreathing inner demons for about two weeks and be merry and cheerful and bright. It's an impossible task, of course, but we'll try once again. To help you expedite your holiday shopping and possibly delay your anger explosion at the Christmas family table for an hour or two, here is Dead Chef's holiday gift guide for the family and beyond. Everything here is pure gold: I dare you not to buy anything. Let's start!


I have longing and painful memories of not having this as a kid and being allowed to play with it only at my cousins' (incidentally, they also had all of He-Man character toys). It's a jolly pirate stuck in a barrel and playfully tortured with swords. Once the right sword gets to him, he is launched from the barrel. The Italian jingle explained the process with something that I will loosely translate thusly, "He's going to launch like a missile / Once you tear him a new one." Jokes aside, this is a great game for kids: simple, sturdy, fun, and begging to be played again and again for years. My almost 4-year old is still playing with it. And you know what? This is one of the few games I enjoy, too.

Buy it here.


Aren't you sick of stereotyping dad by making him brew horrible and sour IPAs at home? I'll say enough with the home brewing already! If you want to provide dad with a worthy project to impress his family and reconnect with some kind of olden-days skill, then get him a mozzarella kit. First of all, mozzarella can be eaten with the entire family and in a variety of dishes (check thisthisthis, and this). Secondly, and this might be my own fascination, a man is a man when he can manipulate and subdue a chunk of dairy.

This cheesemaking kit gets great reviews.


When I'm alone, my house looks like this to me.

This is for the parent who takes the most care of the children and who is constantly denounced by society for both spoiling and neglecting the kids so that they will turn out just like Millennials, but without the icing of good manners (i.e. The Worst). I'm trying to be PC here, but we all know I'm talking about mothers. This is the idea: you take the children to the grandparents or to a sky lodge or wherever, and the other parent (mom) is left in A CLEAN HOUSE for an entire weekend. I've been twice the recipient of this gift, and I can tell you there's is really nothing like it. I read, I sewed, I watched a movie during the day, I went out with friends, I ate whatever, whenever I wanted, and I SLEPT IN.


I can't remember how we got hold of this wonderful children book. It is a beautifully illustrated story of a very grumpy Santa on his big day of the year, stuck in what appears to be a much hated yet comforting routine. This Santa hates the cold and the work, complains non-stop throughout his sleigh-ride around the world, and is only really happy when he drinks his Cognac or a bottle of "party-size" red wine surrounded by his pets. Kids will enjoy all of the details in each panel; parents will fall in love with the unsentimental humor. And the beauty of it all it's that there's no post-modern sarcasm in this tale. Somehow, below Santa's cranky mutterings, readers will find the comforting rituals and magic of the Christmases of their childhood.

Buy it used (new is pretty expensive) here.


I found this total joy of a book only a few years ago, so pardon me if you know it already, but it's worth talking about in the hope that future generations will also enjoy it. Published in 1927 as a collection of Don Marquis' columns, this book recounts the stories of Archy, a cockroach who writes poems on a typewriter, and his friend Mehitable, a passionate alley cat. This is a wonderfully funny, dark, bittersweet, romantic, and heartbreaking book. And the illustrations are from George Harriman himself, of Krazy Kat fame (a personal favorite). I am so in love with this book it almost hurts.

You can buy it here.


You know what I really need? An inexhaustible collection of unopened treats in my pantry to be brought as last-minute gifts at parties and family events. I'm always running to the closest grocery store to find something that hopefully is not too popular and won't look exactly like what it is: a desperate random gift wrapped in haste and profanities. And don't tell me I'm alone in this. So let's start a virtuous cycle of regiftables. The idea is, buy two boxes of the same NICE treats, be it cream-filled bonbons, or gourmet macaroons, or Turkish pistachios, or whatever. One is for the giftee, and one is to be regifted. You don't actually have to explain the process to your giftee. You might add a wink if you feel like it, but we all know regifting will happen. You are just a generous and understanding facilitator.


Line of 10 red and white origami Santa against a pillow
Last year I purchased a "Christmas Crafts Fun Kit" for my kids at a thrift store. I'm usually very wary of crafts for kids, mostly because I think it's weird that parents do all the work without even the chance of complaining about it, since crafting requires that you look ecstatic at all times. In any case, the only activity I picked up on is Origami Santa. Now, I like origami in principle but I really don't care about it much. These Santas, though, have something special. They are unapologetically adorable (if I may), and the process by which they're made is weirdly addictive, so much that this year I bought a pack of red origami paper to make as many Santas as I can. I plan on giving one to whomever is going to come by my house, and I'm already sad that in two weeks I'll have no reason to make my little Santas. That's why I think you should make them, too.

Here's a video tutorial. I know it's 7-minutes long, but after 3 Santas, you'll be down to 2 zen minutes.


Jar or Mackerel in Oil decorated with a small origami Santa
OK, so this is not the most photogenic food.
But look, Origami Santa!
Home-made treats are always well received, but if you don't want to bake yet another batch of cookies and want to surprise your giftee with something strong-flavored and unexpected, then home-made mackerels are just what you want. You just need a few mason jars, a few whole mackerels (get them at H-Mart), and good olive oil. They are salty, oily, great with bread, and, according to science, healthy, so really, what's not to like? There is a slim chance your giftee might find them a little too tasty, but I believe this is the kind of litmus-test gift to see if this friendships is a keeper or a tosser.


For 2
3 jars

2 fresh whole mackerels, cleaned
Kosher salt
freshly-ground black pepper
2 tbsps lemon juice

  • Turn the broiler on. Place the mackerels in roasting dish, and sprinkle liberally with salt on the outside and inside. Let stand on the counter for 30 minutes.
  • Broil the mackerels for about 8-10 minutes, turning them halfway, until the skin bubbles up.
  • Fillet the mackerels and add more salt if desired, then sprinkle with freshly-ground black pepper.
  • Mix EVOO and lemon juice together.
  • Place fillet inside the mason jars, then pour in the olive oil mixture to cover the fish.
I read the mackerels in oil keep refrigerated for a month. Just bring them to room temperature before serving them.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014



I've spent the last 2 months (or more, who cares) locked at home with a ton of work to do and with a child who has been sick every other week with a variety of viruses. My life has completely unraveled. My baby has been wearing the same summer onesies, designed for children half his age, and I can't remember the last time I went shopping for groceries. I can only tell you that today my fridge contains only vintage exotic sauces and two half cabbages, soft and jaundiced like two moldy pillows. But never mind the baby or the fridge: After two months with basically no real nutrition or human contact, I have regressed to what can only be described as a female hominid at the dawn of our species, struggling with bipedalism and clearly affected by reverse encephalization (i.e., I walk on all fours, and my cranium shrank). I've also become intensely paranoid and easily startled, like a trapped beast, and I find myself napping on the floor, cuddling with my dog and growling when I dream, because now I live like I would in a pack of wolves. My husband realized I was in desperate need of socialization and took me out to a dinner party last week. Everything seemed menacing and weird. My eyes were popping out of my skull at the unusual sound of human words; I dug at food with my hands from the potluck table; and when I finally retreated to the bathroom, I left the door open because at this point I don't know any better. So yes, I'm an anthropologist's dream, a fantastic human regression whose only purpose is to now be subject of study. This is all to say, I need human companionship. Someone take me out, please.


In the past year, I've become more interested in perfumes. Mostly I love how perfume smells on other people, and I finally realized I can also simply buy a bottle and become part of that crowd. From then on, I've been struggling to find a fragrance I feel comfortable in. The most-acclaimed perfumes are too sexy and sophisticated, and I don't really see the purpose of wearing a perfume with more personality than I'll ever hope to have. Really, I tried Tom Ford's Black Orchid, and it demanded I behave like a mix between Joan Crawford and Ernest Hemingway. Clearly impossible. So I'm looking for a deadpan fragrance, but I'm having no luck so far. This also led me to realize one massive gap in modern perfumery: Where are the food-inspired scents? You would think all the major perfume houses would be just churning out food perfumes. After all, is there anybody who doesn't count fresh bread as the best smell in the world? I'd be all over a perfume giving me the smell of a croissant, or bread pudding, or possibly my favorite smell of all: a nicely charred hanger steak.


My youngest baby is now a toddler, an event that I almost missed thanks to my oldest son's constant interference. Anyway, if there one lesson I've learned about dealing with children aged 6 to 18 months, is the Rule of Two, and I want to share it here for parents in need. It is a simple concept: Give them two of anything. When you're having dim sum and your child is bored out of his/her mind, do not reach for the iPhone. Give them two soup spoons. Or two straws. Or two cars, if you have them (good for you!). If you give your child one toy, this will be hurled across the restaurant; but two, it's a game. And when you're child gets bored, change objects or add a third.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


You might remember I published a list of genius inventions for parents a few months ago. There I proposed 5 ideas for products that will make the lives of new parents immensely easier, so I'm surprised I wasn't contacted by any venture capitalist afterwards. I guess those people have nannies. In any case, now that my children are a little bit older, my needs as a parent have matured. For example, I'm meditating on purchasing half a dozen wet floor signs to be used around the house every day. But I digress. Here's a list of five more inventions that need to happen right now.

And wheels.


I was watching the leaf collector on Thanksgiving Day (why were they working?) and I had a vision. What if, at the end of the day, I could just vacuum all the toys around the house so that they fall straight into their dedicated box? So here is the idea: a vacuum with a larger nozzle that will suck toys big and small into the canister, which is actually a wheeled toy box. How great that would be? I would love if the vacuum part could be detached and applied to different toy boxes.


Look at my headband!
I think the next big thing in televised sports will be Baby&Toddler Dressing. I am really surprised nobody has thought about it. It involves physical force, quick smarts, and lots of drama. It's the ultimate man vs. beast conflict. For those of you who appreciate how difficult it is to get a child aged 0 to 4 dressed, but still feel unfit for formal competition, then I might have a solution for you. It's a headband with a clip on the front for your smartphone, so that your baby can be distracted by the cute video of a baby sloth on your forehead while you change his/her diaper and put clothes, socks, shoes, coat, and even gloves on your little love. You know it will work.

Just as effective.


This is so essential. It's a wall-mounted loudspeaker who repeats the word "GENTLE!" strongly but firmly at regular intervals (suggested: 45 seconds). If you have a baby and a dog or two small children, you know you need this. As far as I'm concerned, this will finally allow me to have a conversation with my husband without screaming "GENTLE!" every five words.


This is a device to instantly cool food that your child deems too hot to eat without screaming, and then proceeds to scream anyway because he's hungry. I'm a mother who cooks, and there's nothing as maddening as scrambling to get lunch ready only to see it rejected with desperate rage because its temperature is not ideal. Technology did actually bring us the Blast Chiller, but it is used only in molecular gastronomy restaurants and is huge. I need something small and cheap-ish to keep on my kitchen counter or even at the table.


Yes, you can go on the slide, dear.
When I'm stuck watching my children at the playground, bored out of my mind, I dream about Playground Bar. It is a coffee bar with an enclosed playground inside and outside. You come in with your children and send them to the playground while you watch on the side, seated comfortably at real table on a real chair rather than an acorn stool (I live near a "treehouse" playground) with people serving me food and drinks (I'm dreaming of other mothers working part-time, so that they know what I need). Ah, the dignity... The thought only is intoxicating! For those of you who think McDonald's already fits the bill, I'll counter by saying that Playground Bar does not serve junk food. Instead, it provides appropriate snacks in the form of fruit, cheese, bread, and other healthy treats. For mothers, it will serve very complex French pastries that kids don't yet understand and therefore will be suspicious of. At Playground Bar, I can order a coffee, or a stiff drink. And about this, can someone tell me why Irish Coffee is not every mother's favorite drink? It has everything you need: the energy of caffeine, the soothing embrace of booze, and the health benefits of calcium. Playground Bar, come to me.