Five Food-Related Movies To Watch This Weekend

The Hundred Foot Journey -  This 2014 film about an Indian family and their struggle to run a business directly across the street from a Michelin star restaurant became an instant favorite. If you like beautiful cinematography, French cuisine, Indian food, and a terrific soundtrack you should get hold of this criminally under-discussed movie.

Ratatouille - 2007 brought us both unrealistic expectations of what peasant stew should look like and the skill of being able to forever after spell "ratatouille" correctly, first try. I know it's a kid's movie and not considered royalty among the insanely high expectations of Disney-Pixar movies, but I love and always will love this movie that proves via an improbably cuisine-talented rat that "anyone can cook."

Sabrina (1954) - While this movie isn't strictly a cooking film or even highly related to food, Audrey Hepburn's character has some rather funny scenes pertaining to attending a culinary arts' school in Paris. I'm always down for watching a Hepburn movie, even if I have to stretch facts a little to make it count for the particular genre. Probably more romantic comedy than culinary. But seriously, who can forget that - "A woman happy in love burns the souffle. A woman unhappily in love forgets to turn on the oven" -?

No Reservations (2007) - The sum of my experience with this movie comes from two in-flight viewing sessions of it. According to my travel-logged mind, it was a pretty good movie - certainly no classic, but a sweet film about family love and a man who stayed. My primary reaction to it, if I remember correctly, was an immediate and solemn case of cheekbone and eyebrow envy. Catherine Zeta-Jones, folks.

Chocolat (2000) - Otherwise titled, "but how weird can Johnny Depp get?" I mean, the Mad Hatter is a pretty strange person, likewise Jack Sparrow. But until you've seen Johnny Depp as a chocolate-gnawing, musically-gifted Irish gypsy I don't think you've really seen him at all. Equipped with a gorgeous soundtrack and dream-like scenery and cinematography, Chocolat is a decadent (if odd) tale about a chocolate maker and the shuttered town into which she moves.

Have you seen these films? Admit it - Ratatouille is a favorite. What food films would you add to this list? 

Ice Cream and Straight A's: Charm School, Richmond, VA

Walk through the mint-green door of Charm School and you're faced with a question that has as many possible answers as a multiple choice question on a standardized test:

which flavor do I want today?

Located in downtown Richmond, VA in the space once used as the Quirk Gallery, Charm School is a sort of ice cream Mecca. The kind of place you happily detour to on your way up or down I-95. Good ice cream is something worth traveling for, and Charm School's is one of the best. Co-owners Alex Zavaleta and Meryl Hillerson certainly thought so. Zavaleta is a Virginia native who moved to San Francisco and got his start in the business by learning the art of ice cream-making in his spare time.
“I'm always a Virginia person no matter what," Zavaleta told me. "Even living in the bay area I was always a Virginia person. When I started my ice cream business, I started selling it at punk shows. It was a real crap show if I'm being honest.”

Nevertheless, Alex Zavaleta had enough of a passion for his new hobby that he began dreaming of opening an ice cream business and soon had friend, Meryl Hillerson, on board.
"Meryl was the best baker I know," he said. "She was good at things I could never hope to be good at - making pastries, making caramel..." And so the partnership was born: a magical mashup of ice cream parlor, elite bakery, and local flavors. Zavaleta and Hillerson originally intended to open Charm School in the San Francisco Bay area but when Zavaleta returned to Richmond for a friend's wedding, his Virginia blood sprang back to life.
"I knew that Richmond would be perfect," he said, "but I didn't know if Meryl would go for it - she was born and raised in California."

Thankfully for the East Coast, Hillerson agreed to the change and after two years of planning, the business partners relocated to Richmond, Virginia and opened Charm School in the building which one hosted the old Quirk Gallery.
On the day I visit, my friends and I approach the building from the wrong end of the block, missing out on the giant pop-art Virginia postcard painted on the building's side. We enter Charm School shortly after it opens for the day and are greeted by a soft-spoken Zavaleta who is standing behind the counter. Plenty of natural lights sifts down through the skylights, highlighting the subdued play of green and white on walls and floor. The tables scattered around are made of dark wood with a friendly, community-desk feel. Book-stack wallpaper completes the prep-school feel as your eyes are drawn to the deep bay window and vintage desk inside. And yet for all the tongue-in-cheek propriety, a strong band of humor runs through Charm School. Bathrooms are labeled as being for a “good kid” or a “bad kid.” Funky music from records Zavaleta has personally chosen crackles in the background, accompanying the hum of freezers and chatter.
Meryl and I would not be found as graduates of a charm school,” Zavaleta jokes when asked about the name. “We're a little too far gone for that.”

It was in that tone that they designed the interior of Charm School, and its hours.
I wanted someplace that felt inviting and was open late. So often ice cream places are hurried or cramped. I put 'social club' in the name because I imagined a place me and my friends could sit down and hang out at together if, I don't know, we didn't feel like going to a bar. It's open late, so that's different for an ice cream parlor.”
Charm School opens at noon daily, and we're ready to replace our lunch with a double-scoop cone.
What flavor are you feeling today?” Zavaleta asks.
I'm suddenly glad I've brought three friends. With a menu that changes sometimes weekly, I feel the need to capture the flavors of the moment. The Charm School way is the intuitive way: work with the flavors the season is giving you. Winter means citrus, chocolate, mint, ginger, coffee, tea. And of course the ubiquitous toast & jam flavor, which is a Charm School original.
I don't come from a food background,” says Zavaleta. “My approach is very unconventional. I like toast and jam. Will that work as an ice cream flavor? You're inspired by what is around you and what you like. You're not going to find me flying to Morocco because I'm not Moroccan. This is where I'm from. I'm a Virginia guy.”

Zavaleta and Hillerson try to source their ingredients as locally as possible. Everything you eat at Charm School is created in-house except the sprinkles. I get the chance to watch Zavaleta make fresh cones while Hillerson comes out to introduce herself, then returns to cleaning the churns for yet another batch of ice cream. If Alex Zavaleta is the more vocal of the partners, Meryl Hillerson is the genius behind the baked goods (vegan and classic) and the culinary arts expert. The two hold themselves to a high flavor standard, often remaking batch after batch of ice cream to perfect a flavor, as they did when developing their coffee flavor which pairs their ice cream with coffee from nearby Lamplighter Coffee Roasters.
“It was good,” Zavaleta had told me over the phone a week prior, “but it wasn't amazing. So we kept working on it.”
By the time I try out Charm School, a perfected coffee ice-cream is one of the flavors in the case.

Guys, everybody get something different so we can try them all!” I command.

I choose earl grey and orange cardamom with the addition of toasted marshmallow, piped and torched right there on top of my cone. Among the other flavors we try (molasses, ginger, cereal milk, peanut butter fudge, mint chip, banana, coffee), one thing stands out: the fact that Zavaleta and Hillerson have tapped into their essence. The earl grey isn't just right, it's an archetype. All other earl greys are as naught before Zavaleta's and Hillerson's. Likewise, when you taste the peanut butter fudge, you realize that this is the height that all kinds of peanut butter fudge flavors were trying (and failing) to attain. Flavor after flavor prove that this new addition to Richmond food scene will become somewhat of destination for food and ice-cream lovers everywhere.
Zavaleta and I chat while he rolls cone after cone, then I return to my friends and finish my ice cream. We're quiet, subdued, enveloped in the quiet of the “school room” and the flavors of the accompanying ice cream.

Then just like that I snap a few more photos, wave goodbye to Zavaleta, and head out the green door to stand in front of the giant postcard and act like a tourist. Charm School is an instant favorite and sure enough, I visit again on my way to DC just a week later. Hillerson and Zavaleta have created a new regime: all other ice cream shops will now be graded on a curve. Welcome to Charm School – the proper kind of elite.

Bye, Bye Hygge, Hello Lagom

Hygge. It's nice that my aesthetic has a Danish name. I'm just a little bitter I never knew about it until the word is on its way out. Because yes, even words can be trends. Apparently 2016 was the year of hygge (hoo-gah) across the pond and more than twenty books on the word were published in America alone. And yet somehow I did not realize the word was even a word at all (or a movement) until it was popularly "over with." Not happy, Bob. Not happy. Thankfully I'm advised of most trends before they phase out. I like to be informed even if I don't choose to participate in the trend. For instance, I don't love green tea so I've ignored the matcha craze but I am aware that it exists and that dozens of moldy-looking cakes are the Instagram It-Foods of the moment. I've even heard that the world isn't done with matcha and that Australia is currently the hot-bed of the fad, propitiating it into 2017 and beyond. But I tend to feel a deep sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) if I don't opt out of a tend voluntarily. So hygge? Come on! It even has its own adjective: “hyggelig” (hoo-gah-lee). I love that the enjoyment of simple things produces hygge. I love that taking shelter from something (a thunderstorm, a crowd, deep snow) can also produce hygge. So whether humanity will join me or not, I intend to keep the art of cozy living alive and well in 2017. Oh, and lest you think I'm just talking, I've literally been living a hygge life from birth so it's no great sacrifice to slap a label on the status quo. No, the thing that will be harder to follow if I so choose is 2017's projected trend of “lagom.” What the heck is lagom? Well, besides not being a misspelled version of “lagoon,” “lagom” is a Swedish word translating to “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right.”

While hygge is more of a feeling, a mood, a setting lagom is more of a mantra of moderation. A restaurant could be have both hygge and lagom (cozy, perfectly lighted, the portions just right) but a pair of snuggly cashmere socks would likely be less lagom, more hygge. I always find myself interested in what we feel we need more of, collectively. I think the austere minimalism of 2015 left us lacking the essential comfort of home. Personal spaces were zen for sure, but clinical in their empty whiteness. Not the sort of place you feel like letting down your guard. So in 2016 we wanted a retreat away from the cold world and all its madness. We wanted to settle down, dig in, burrow like a velveteen mole into a world of crackling fire and mulled wine. Welcome to 2017! Now it is time to emerge into this new world we somehow created, to face it like adults, and learn to live in the balance. We're always looking to create balance, aren't we? That is probably the basis of ninety percent of the New Year resolutions people make: more of this, less of that. So lagom isn't quite a new idea as much as it is a reminder to live with intention and moderation. There is so much wisdom in the idea of lagom and so many ways to apply it to the everyday. Eat well, not legalistically. Buy quality items but don't get distracted by excessively priced things that are “on trend.” Exercising doesn't mean you have to sign up for a SoulCycle class. A hyggelig walk in the rain would fit the bill just as well. I'm looking forward to a return to moderation as a focus, aren't you?

 Let's pretend lagom is the reason I've been spending my evenings and weekends deep-cleaning and de-cluttering my bedroom in preparation for the massive project which is "re-decorating." As terrifying as the mess of seven years' living in that bedroom has been, it has felt wonderful to get rid of things. To simplify. To focus on what I really value to toss or give away the rest. Lagom when I'd never even heard of the word. And no, these plants aren't mine. They're my younger sister's: a person who (in her room decor) achieved the 2017 ideal last year. As I redecorate and repaint and finally hang my gallery wall, I'll still be as hyggelig as a cotton-tail bunny but I'm ready to embrace lagom as well. Fewer things, quieter surroundings. Moderation is something we could all stand to focus on this year and for the rest of our lives. In 2017, the only thing I want to have (and give) in excess is love. Not even the lagom trend can convince me the moderate that.

Grapefruit Jazz

Ever since the La La Land soundtrack came out I've been in love with jazz. Actually, I've loved jazz ever since I first learned who Louis Armstrong was. And I learned that pretty early because Mama read The Trumpet of The Swan aloud to us and we had a huge family feud over whether "Louis" was pronounced "Lew-ie" or "Lewis." I was in the "Lewis" camp and got my comeuppance and an introduction to jazz music. Anyway. Today we're jazzing up grapefruit. This isn't exactly a recipe post. It's more of an excuse to further discuss La La Land and tell you to throw some cilantro and red pepper flakes on the top of the next grapefruit you eat. Basically yes, this post is over.

In one notable scene, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), the male lead in La La Land is trying to describe to Mia (Emma Stone) just why he loves jazz music and his intensity left me chilled in the best possible way. I left the movie theatre more excited about jazz than I was before. This character's passion for the genre is infectious. I'm not sure if Gosling himself is as excited about jazz as the character he portrays but considering the fact that he spent three months learning jazz piano for the role, I'd say he's also a fan.
 "It's conflict and it's compromise and it's very very exciting."
So says Gosling with the most adorable and determined cast of his eyebrow, daring Stone's Mia to challenge him.

Guys, jazz is happening on top of this grapefruit. If you're bored with your morning citrus routine, try this: chop cilantro (or fresh rosemary if cilantro isn't your thing), shake some red pepper flakes on top, maybe drizzle a little balsamic reduction over it (or not). Turn on some Etta James, and let the mood roll forward into your day. I promise your life will be better for it and hey, we can't all have Ryan Gosling playing "City of Stars" for us over the breakfast hour...sadness.



Chewy Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hiiiiii friends! Happy National Gluten-Free Day (yes, that's apparently a thing). I've been hoarding this recipe for paleo chocolate chip cookies for quite a while and making it over and over and over and over again. I keep thinking, were those cookies really as good as I remember? Um, yes. Yes they were. No, but could they possibly be paleo and divine? The answer to this is also yes. See, I believe with obnoxious optimism that healthy foods should taste just as good as the non-healthy ones, otherwise why bother to make them? You, too, will become that obnoxious Pollyanna in your food world once you make this recipe. 10-10 I would rather eat these paleo chocolate chip cookies than the more traditional variety and I'm not just saying that. This recipe began as the one found on Texanerin Baking - all hail that genius over there, thanks. I've increased the recipe, added some bits and bobs, and included three ideas for jazzing the cookies up a bit. A clever mixture of almond and coconut flours make these cookies chewy along with a generous dose of palm sugar, chopped high-quality chocolate (or chocolate chips), coconut oil, and few select other ingredients.

Yes, that's popcorn in that cookie. Close your mouth, Michael, we are not a codfish. What happened here was a fortuitous clash of snack-time (stove-popped popcorn) and rolling cookie balls. I looked from the popcorn to the slabs of chocolate just nesting in the caramel-y dough and thought, "yes." The result is basically moose munch in a cookie form without the terror of hard popcorn kernals hiding in the chocolate which haunts me year round but especially at Christmas because I value my teeth, thanks. I also took the liberty of sprinkling a few with sesame seeds (extra crunch! pretty sprinkles!) and rolling others in unsweetened coconut flakes. Whatever your jam is, roll the cookie dough in it and I'm a believer that it'll taste great. Salty nuts? Poppy-seeds? Why not? If you're not in the mood for a million and five cookies, feel free to make half the recipe. However, I think you'll be more than happy if you make the full batch. Just be sure to hide them - nobody can tell they're not everyman's chocolate chip cookie and that means they're fair game.

Chewy Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies (three ways)
makes roughly two dozen large cookies

2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cups (12 Tablespoons) coconut oil, room temperature
1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar
3/4 cups (12 Tablespoons) natural almond butter (no sugar or oil added)
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 cups high quality chocolate, chopped or dark chocolate chips
extra toppings: sesame seeds, fleur de sel, crushed popped corn, shredded coconut, etc.
  1. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a large bowl cream coconut oil and palm sugar. Add almond butter and quickly blend, then eggs and vanilla.
  2. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well. Add in chopped chocolate. Chill dough in the refrigerator at least 1 hour but up to a week (huzzah).
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll golf-ball sized balls of cookie dough. Roll in desired toppings or keep plain, then flatten gently with palm.
  4. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes on tray before scooping onto a cooling rack or plate.
  5. Enjoy slightly warm or sore in an airtight container.

Southern Rice Breakfast Bowls

Did you hear that?
That universal cry of happiness and joy?
Here in Southern Virginia snow-days that actually count are rare and beautiful creatures. I love my state with everything that is in me and proudly declare to anyone who will listen (and even those who won't) that it's the best out of all fifty. But it does lack the quintessential white winter palette. Except that almost every year for one glorious day or two, the weather obliges. Then comes snow and more snow like down comforters being shaken over the land and suddenly a girl remembers she doesn't own a single pair of waterproof shoes. If you're like me in that way, you'll just shove your feet into your father's extra boots and put on extra socks to make up the extra room. People shuffle in deep snow anyway – it's just done.

This past weekend a grand ten inches of the fluffiest, puffiest flakes dumped on us and made getting out for anything – work, church, groceries – not just inadvisable but pretty impossible. Being the sort of person who is on the go all the time, I like being snowed in. I like the decision to not go out being made for me by happy circumstances out of my control. To celebrate this once-annual event I braved the masses beforehand, grabbed the essential groceries, and re-built my favorite brunch place's “Southern Rice Bowl.”

The secret haven of the brunch crowd is found at Commune, a plant-centric restaurant in Virginia Beach. This place is pretty fantastic. Their sourdough croissants are so flaky the outer layer shatters like glass and the flavor combination of their main dishes are pretty ingenious. Not to mention 95% of the ingredients used are locally sourced or even grown in their backyard garden. I want to meet the executive chef and get the scoop on his flavor instincts because they're pretty legitimate. Commune's food is so good that I've fallen into the bad habit of ruining my friends' lives with it; the food is that stellar. So taking the memory of two separate occasions on which I had the Southern Rice Bowl and trying to recreate it accurately for a snow-day brunch at home was a little comical. How on earth do you match culinary flavor genius as an amateur? I sat there remembering the taste and smell of this delicious, protein-packed bowl and blindly felt my way forward through the root vegetables, the sausage, the egg, the mustard, the greens, and finally to the rice itself. Commune uses a mixture of rice and barley while I opted for wild rice. And not just any rice – the creamiest, most non-sticky, most delicious rice you've ever met with in your life. But how was it prepared and with what flavors? The magic of Commune's dishes are the fact that you don't know what you're tasting but you know it's magical. I found my answer to the rice dilemma in Julia Child's described method for the French way to make a risotto. Gosh, I love Julia Child. Her wording is hilarious and kooky sometimes, as with part of the instructions in this recipe:
“...stir over moderate heat for 2 minutes to impregnate with the butter.”

With a little tweaking and a lot of hope, I followed the steps (including impregnating the rice with butter), grated some peccorino romano into the finished product and took a taste: gold medal. From here it was a victory lap through roasting a pan of parsnips, radishes, and sweet potatoes to assembling the bowls: one easy-over egg, one thick patty of perfectly browned, home-grown sausage from Dad's pigs, a generous dollop of coarse mustard, the finishing garnish of young, fresh greens. And there we had it: an approximate version of one of the heartiest, most healthy-and-filling brunch foods. The kind of food you want on a day when temps are in the low realm of “above zero.” Maybe the flavor combinations weren't my idea, maybe I'll still never meet the imagination level of the man who makes Commune's magic, but at least I can imitate his craftsmanship! Set aside whatever other brunch plans you'd made for next weekend and try this handsome fella.

Southern Rice Bowl
makes four large bowls
for the risotto:
1 ½ cups wild rice blend
3 qts boiling water
1 ½ Tablespoons sea salt
4 Tablespoons of butter
1 Tbs. each finely minced onions and celery
A 2 ½ qt. casserole dish with cover
1 ½ cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
salt & pepper
3 Tablespoons freshly grated hard cheese such as peccorino romano

for roasted root vegetables:
1 bunch red radishes, chopped
1 large parsnip peeled and chopped
1 small sweet potato peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper

for toppings:
4 large patties good sausage, browned in skillet
4 eggs, cooked over-easy
4 Tablespoons very coarsely ground mustard thinned out with a little mild vinegar
1 small head baby frisee lettuce
1 large handful clover sprouts

Preparing the risotto:
  1. In a large pot on the stove, bring water and 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then drain. In a large skillet on the stove melt butter and saute onions and celery for two minutes. Add drained rice and “impregnate” it with the flavors of the butter.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and warm casserole dish inside. Pour rice, onions, and celery into the dish and add broth, bay leaf, and salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 34-40 minutes until the rice has absorbed the broth. Fluff with a fork, then add grated cheese.
Preparing the roasted root veggies:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Toss chopped veggies with olive oil and salt and pepper. Spread onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until nicely browned. Shake trays once or twice while cooking to shift vegetables.
Assembling bowls:

  1. Throw some rice in the bottom of the bowl and top with roasted veggies, a generous Tablespoon of the mustard, the sausage, egg, and greens.
  2. Grate a little more peccorino over-top if desired, and serve immediately.

Five Ways To Clean Up Your Eating


In a Credibility Pageant most of you wouldn't really choose Lipstick & Gelato as the finest, most upstanding example of a clean-eating blog. You know I love to write about croissants, ice cream, lattes, and macaroni and cheese. But in reality, these treats don't make up the majority of my diet. I love to eat and cook healthily. Proteins and I are buds, and I had trouble not being distracted by Commune's roasted veggies while chilling with a giant s'more's croissant. You'll be seeing a lot more of the healthy, whole, rejuvenating foods on Lipstick & Gelato this year and I can't wait to share the delicious meals my family and I eat on the regular. Don't worry - I'm not cutting out everything like Liege waffles or chai tea cake. The non-shrinkage recipes will just be shuffled in a lot of the things that I choose to cook more often. To celebrate the fun to come, I wanted to share five things that have made cleaning up my eating act easier over the years. The clean eating is nowhere near as hard for me as committing to exercise. I love to cook (and eat). I hate working up a sweat unless we're talking dance parties or a hike in gorgeous country. So breathe easier, carb-loving friends. It isn't all bad.

- Skip the Tofu -

I recently read an article which mentioned that Blake Lively - legendary actress and fashion maven - gave up gluten and soy when preparing for her role in The Shallows, but permitted sugar to remain a part of her diet. The reason this is a good idea? Cutting out soy (which I believe is especially vital for women's health) automatically discounts most processed foods including salad dressings. When you switch to making everything you eat, you're in charge of what's going in your body and nobody can sneak in extra sugar, fake things, and unnecessary additives. Though I still use a bit of soy sauce when cooking Asian-style, I avoid it otherwise and really don't find it that difficult to cut out.

- Eat Breakfast - 

Almost no one actually likes to wake up earlier than necessary, but trust the experts: with breakfast being heralded the most important meal of the day, you'll want to set a slightly earlier alarm. Look for foods high in protein or whole grains. Or protein and whole grains. Make a shake with berries, Greek yogurt, and chia seeds for an extra wallop. Poach an egg and eat it with sprouted grain toast. Cook a piece or two of bacon - don't be afraid of bacon - with sweet potatoes and kale and serve with an easy-over egg on the side. Setting yourself up with a full tummy at the beginning of the day majorly cuts cravings later on.

- It's Not Cheating - 

The worst idea in the food world (to me) is the idea of having "cheat days." This sense of shame attached to dessert or non-substantial carbs is debilitating and ridiculous. You should have days where you choose a treat and consume it with glee. This isn't deviating from your plan, this is part of your plan. When you include the possibility of less healthy items now and then you can smugly chow down on chocolate cake while the rest of humanity blushingly admits that they're "cheating today." Eat well 80% of the time and live a little in the pretty 10% margins on either side.

- Prep Chef -

Hailing the sad state of tip #1, most processed foods are terrible for you. Even foods like "gluten free crackers" are still usually not the most nutritional or worthwhile choice. The absence of wheat doesn't mean the absence of sugars, soy, highly processed grains, and other excesses. But unless I prepare and stock the pantry and fridge with things that are actually nourishing, I skid home at 9 PM and end up having to grab the easiest thing before jumping into the laundry list of things awaiting my attention. Have raw nuts, seeds, dried fruits, popcorn kernels, nut butters, veggies, hummus, and fruits on hand. Also, dark chocolate (70% cacao and up) covers a multitude of foods and sins. If you work in a place with a fridge are able to prep snacks, bring your own so you don't succumb to the lure of Goldfish crackers at 3 PM.

- Read Cookbooks And Food Blogs - 

Shameless plug, I know. Actually, this is a routine and beloved part of my cooking life. I am that person who hates getting in a food rut almost as much as she hates wearing the same thing two days in a row or hearing a family member tell their super long and random dream for the third time. Unless I keep inspired by a rich parade of recipe ideas, I'm likely to feel less than enthralled with the task of cooking a healthy dinner. Inversely, you show me what you're making for dinner or hand me a cookbook stuffed with gorgeous photos and even more gorgeous flavor combinations and I'm happily installed in the kitchen listening to "Another Day of Sun" while mincing onions and flipping chicken breast in my biggest cast iron skillet. Read food blogs and actually try the recipes - you'll be amazed at the chutzpah this gives your cooking mood.

Real Liege Waffles

"We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter but work is third." - Leslie Knope, Parks & Rec

"What do we want?"
"What do we eat?"

Or so I imagine the conversation between day-off Rachel and the kitchen appliances to go. See, authentic, Belgian Liege waffles will forever be meshed with rough weather in my mind. On my first trip to NYC on a rainy evening when we had already walked over thirteen miles, my sister and I got almost-lost trying to find the Wafles & Dinges truck in Bryant Park. Just when we gave up the search, we quite literally bumped into the place which wasn't a truck at all, but a sort of cabana thing. Nothing has ever tasted as comforting and home-like as the hot waffles and black coffee we footsore travelers consumed in the middle of a city where we knew not one soul. It's memories like those waffles that makes writing about food so worthwhile. What tastes like a hug from an old friend? A hot Liege waffle. I mean, you don't get to that conclusion by writing about economics, do you?

While most of you were getting a solid start on your New Year resolutions, I was still enjoying my holiday and burrowed into the first day or two of 2017 with Liege waffles piled high on a Dutch-blue plate. Liege waffles are not to be confused with Belgian waffles: those airy, pale, "wait, I thought the hotel breakfast bar was open till noon" sort of thing that sometimes come in the shape of Texas if you happen to be in Texas and always sink into sad, dismal discs of disappointment the moment they come off the griddle. No, my friends. Belgian waffles are not Liege waffles, though Liege waffles are Belgian by heritage. First, a brief history:
The Liege waffle came to popularity in (of all places) Liege, Belgium. There's a whole of lot legend, mysticism, and understandable exaggeration surrounding its origin but the well-researched facts are that it probably came about in the mid-late 1800's, snatched from similar brioche-dough waffles from France, though no official recipe is to be found until 1921. You can read it all in this article if you'd like to know more than you ever thought you needed about the production of beet-based sugars and one sugar in particular; the secret weapon of all Liege waffle-makers from the moment the first one was turned, piping hot, onto a plate for some decadent Belgian nobleman:

Belgian Pearl Sugar

When I think of a Rachel in the Belgian waffle era, I like to think of her as some beautiful wife of a nobleman, half-sunk in her massive feather-bed. Her cook brings her a crystallized, beautiful waffle on a pewter plate - no silverware. That's the important part of this waffle fantasy, the no-silverware bit. She congratulates the fat, blushing cook and asks what made the exquisite pockets of shattering caramel and said fat, blushing cook stammers out, "P...pearl sugar, my lady."

Yeah guys, the pearl sugar is where it's at. I had a pretty roundabout time getting pearl sugar. Save yourself the trouble - get it straight from Waffle Pantry  because first we got Swedish pearl sugar which is basically a baby version of the item you actually desire for the perfect Liege waffle and doesn't quite fit the bill. In lieu of ordering Belgian pearl sugar, some research suggests that you can hammer sugar cubes and achieve a similar effect, but having not tested this personally, I say try at your own risk. Liege waffles are a yeast dough, allowed to take a nice nap in the fridge overnight, turned out the next morning on a counter-top where you then knead a cup of this sugar-gravel into the mix. There's something so awesome about having breakfast made the night before - the only work for the morning with this recipe is hazarding your hands by squishing in the sharp chunks of sugar. then you get to cook the actual waffles which is so much fun. If you're one of those people who likes to impress other people with an amazing brunch when you've stayed up till two AM the night before watching Magnificent Seven to try to get over the emotional devastation of the newest episode of Sherlock, then this recipe is for you. At almost zero work the morning-of, you have the yummiest breakfast you're ever going to taste this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The staying power of a Liege waffle is legendary. The most delicious way to eat them is straight off the griddle, no toppings at all. You can add "bling" if you're that sort of person (confession time: a smear of Biscoff is such a hit that you almost don't realize you're a full grown adult woman eating cookie butter for breakfast) but these babies don't need a blessed thing. Crisp on the outside, built like a soft pretzel on the inside, encased in this touch-me-not coat of sugar are in serious danger of a vanilla and pearl-sugar-induced coma upon smelling them cook. And maybe the best part of it all is that these don't go soft when they get cold. Thanks, sugar-glass. Get some black French pressed coffee ready, cook your waffles, and consume them with joy and thanksgiving. Linger as long as possible in the flavor of peace on earth, goodwill toward men. I don't think even baby angel breath smells as sweet and innocent.

Liege Waffles
(makes app. sixteen small waffles)

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 cups warm water
1 teaspoon, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 1/2 cups flour
2 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Belgian pearl sugar

  1. The Night Before: in a large bowl mix together flour, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar. In a medium bowl whisk eggs with melted butter and extracts.
  2. In a small bowl proof yeast with water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Allow to rest 5 minutes, then add to the flour along with the egg mixture. Mix together with wooden spoon until very well combined, then turn onto floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Transfer to oiled bowl, cover, and rest in refrigerator overnight. ** a quicker method can be achieved by allowing dough to rise for two hours in a warm place until doubled.
  4. The Next Morning: remove dough from fridge and allow to rest on counter. Turn onto clean surface and knead in 1 cup of pearl sugar.
  5. Divide dough into 16 equal chunks and cook in greased waffle iron at about 350 degrees F, if possible. If your waffle iron does not have adjustable heat, cook waffles for 1-2 minutes, then unplug iron and allow to continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes longer. Serve hot, either plain or dusted with powdered sugar and topped with desired "bling."
Fix these on a rainy when you need a hug. Get a friend to come over. Collect the hug and revel in waffles. Cheers!