Oysters Deluxe at The Boston Wine School - a great gift for yourself or a friend

Aren't you starting to think about next year already? I know I am. In the last flush of holiday hustle, there are so many decisions to make. I've been intrigued by the notion of decision-fatigue. Even President Obama understands the power of eliminating decision-fatigue. I think I read that he wears only one or two suits, completely eliminating wasted energy on unimportant decisions. Having some constraints actually can be freeing since it turns out, our brains seem to have a finite ability to make decisions. Even unimportant ones seem to detract from our ability to make later decisions. This applies to critical and non-critical things. It applies to will-power and food decisions. If you're starting to think about resolutions, it's an interesting thing to consider. While I love diversity in food, I've found that having the breakfast routine really helps me start the day on a positive note and that leads to better food choices throughout the day. But before we get to resolutions, let's finish up our holiday decisions, shall we?

Should we bake more cookies? What should we put on the menu for Christmas dinner - duck? Seafood? Turkey? Is it too late to do a year-in-review TinyLetter? (TinyLetters are shorter and more personal than a newsletter, sign up here and let me know what you think.) What's the best gift I could give myself or my favorite person?

My goal is always to make your life more delicious, more grounded, more informed, and more fun. So here we go, I'm reducing your decision fatigue right here and now:

1. Cookies: While some of us have been requested to "stop baking cookies" by those watching their figures. I think cookies are such a simple joy. I say yes! Bake one more batch. You can help moderate your sweet tooth in a couple of ways. Most all cookie doughs freeze well. This means you can bake a small batch and roll the rest in parchment and wrap well for future slice-and-bake treats. I have a log of peanut butter cookie dough in the freezer now. Okay, most of a log of peanut butter cookie dough...

Cookie Platter

2. Christmas menu: Unlike Thanksgiving which tends to be traditional, with favorites requested again and again; Christmas dinner around here seems to be the time for a little flexibility. This year I think we'll do a seafood risotto Christmas Eve and a roast duck Christmas day. Or maybe a turkey breast. I've got that killer cranberry-raspberry sauce from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry and those crackly, sparkling cranberries are begging to be made again.duck_sugared_cranberries

3. TinyLetter: We do love to re-connect with loved ones this time of year. Newsy updates, photo cards, and year-end emails and "listicles". If it seems too much to create your newsletter from scratch, check out TinyLetter. I got great feedback on my first one sent just before Thanksgiving. (Included two recipes for apple cake, too. If you missed it let me know, I'll be happy to re-send.) I've got a special one coming out soon. BOLO: TinyLetter.

4. Killer gift ideas: Okay. I know some of you might still be hunting for the perfect gift. Only three days left to Christmas - how did that happen?  I love to give and get experience gifts. Who needs more stuff?

  • For Cooks: How about private cooking lesson in your own kitchen with a skilled and patient cook at your side? Learn to make food you love with Kitchen Confidence. Email me to set a time for a free consult call. What have you been dying to learn?
  • For the Bivalve Curious: A night out with a special meal, delicious wines, charming company sounds heavenly, doesn't it? Even better, how about a lobster dinner with the "snob-free" Boston Wine School preceded by an everything you always wanted to know about oysters but were afraid to ask class with me? Come join me for this fun tasting adventure, see what wines you prefer with your oysters, discover a few surprises, impress your friends with your new-found oyster lore. What better way to kick off the new year: well-fed, well-lubricated and full of new tastes and ideas. Also, did I mention? OYSTERS. Guests get Oyster Century Club membership and a special gift in addition to dinner and the oyster class. Jonathon's classes sell out and seating is limited so click today!


Sobremesa "over the table" stories and laughs: the very best part of the meal

I had planned a Japanese meal in my head. I really did. Little braised meatballs made with okara, nimono soy-simmered vegetables, hakkusai with yuzu kosho, rice, miso favorite matcha panna cotta. Then a little bug (me) a sprained foot (him) got in the way of the shopping. As I began to mull over alternative menus for this upcoming dinner, I stumbled across a random tweet or post somewhere with the word “sobremesa” which I’d totally forgotten.

It’s a simple word that conjures such warmth, evoking more than a single word should. Sobremesa, literally “over the table” it refers to the lingering conversation, laughter that happens with friends after a good meal. The Spanish have elevated it to an art form, of course, and many Latin cultures carry on after dinner in this way. I’ve seen dinner parties that seemed as if the whole evening was only foreplay. Dancing might break out. Joking and naughty tale shared or a remembrance of the last party, absent friends are toasted.

This is the warm feeling people will remember fondly, long after the meal. When we were planning our wedding and I reached the freaking-out point, Caleb stopped me and said, "This is our day. What do we want people to remember?" I said I wanted them to be filled with warm memories of good food and a good time. That clarified things for us and I was able to (mostly) ignore the distractions that came along with that process. Almost ten years later, I think that’s what folks remember from our wedding.



These are the best moments in life when the phones are put away, the laughs continue, the stories unfold.

When you’ve eaten, drunk wine. You’re comfy, maybe a little fuzzy, but enjoying the company - when the right pieces come together -- this is what you get: sobremesa. People don’t want to leave the table.There may be nibbles and crumbs, the last dregs of one bottle, the need to open another. Maybe another round of food, or at least some cookies or bread comes out. Some digestif. On and on it goes.

Begin with the end in mind

This is how our dinner comes together - I begin with the end in mind. I think this is a good starting point for anyone planning a dinner, a party, a brunch, even a wedding. Don’t be distracted by someone’s notion of “the perfect dinner” or the “ultimate appetizer” or “drop dead gorgeous dessert.” Stress is the number one killer of any party plan.

Think of a good time, create an atmosphere that will invite your guests to relax. Some nice music, not jarring, not too loud, a lively but gentle soundtrack for the evening. Some candles for a soft glow. Think about what you can do ahead, so you too, can relax and enjoy your company. Our guests this night: Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man's Feast and her wife Susan Turner, Senior Designer at Random House who just published the Big New Yorker Book of Cats. My former Duckathalon teammates had yet to meet Doc. It was their anniversary, too. Much toasting ensued.

I was trying to make a meal with some gluten-free options, dairy-free, but all delicious.

Here’s what we ended up with:

  • Coca de Pimientos Rojos y Tomates - Catalonian Flatbread with roasted peppers and tomato; one with chorizo, caramelised onions and roasted peppers. (not gluten-free, but I needed to test the Baking Steel and wanted a variety of nibbles.)
  • Jamon w/figs - Fold jamon with figs, spear  (in my case, scrunch jamon, spear with figs macerated in their own syrup)
  • Tortilla Española - made ahead, cut into squares (gluten-free)
  • Gambas al ajillo - sizzling garlic shrimp
  • Paella "Brut"- chorizo, chicken, shrimp, peppers, artichokes ("brut" means rustic, not really one or another regional style)

paella brut

Bubbles to celebrate good friends, accomplishments, plans, the new year. (La Vida al Camp Cava - Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada grapes I came to know in Valencia. Bright citrus notes, good acid, fine bubbles usually found in more expensive bottles. One of the top 100 wines of 2013 according to the International Wine Report.)

Wine with dinner - Garnacha from old vines: a perfect blend of new world fruit forward and old world structure and minerality. Garnacha (Grenache) . (Breca Garnacha 2011)  Drinks well above its price point. Robert Parker said:  "Frankly, I was at a loss for words when I tasted it. It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades. The wine world is changing, and Jorge Ordonez and his associates deserve a huge amount of credit for producing something this remarkable at this price point. Consumers should fill their trunks with these beauties."              

Matcha & black sesame layered panna cotta with lemon-ginger simple syrup; genmai cha.


Chocolate velvet poundcake.

choc velvet pound cake

Fernet Leopold - Amaro from Colorado, minty, herby, lovely.

And laughs. And stories. More laughs. Ah... sobremesa the perfect end to an evening.