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Throwing together a library collection for a small community may seem, at first glance, like a simple task. Pick up the classics, whatever’s hot at the moment, and a hefty stack of reference books. Right?

Wrong. Building a useful library collection is tough — even under the best of circumstances. Add to that the challenges of budget, transportation, language, and organization, and you’ve got yourself a real undertaking. Not to mention the need to constantly maintain the quality of the collection, which is an exercise in pruning and buying, weeding and purchasing, on and on and on. And on.

It was with these challenges in mind that I set about outlining recommendations for a burgeoning library in Costa Rica. Dependent on donated books and limited by the logistical constraints of back-country living, this library will not come together easily. Nevertheless, with enough planning and determination, anything is possible, and I hope to hear their success stories soon.

Click the link to see my list of recommendations for the Rancho Mastatal Library.

After a particularly grisly dental bill ruined my perfectly lovely Thursday, I decided to make it up to myself with a big pot of this hearty, vegetable-rich stew.

The spicy-sweet balance of cayenne pepper and fennel seeds; the comforting trifecta of carrots, celery, and onion; and a whole head of garlic make this ideal winter comfort food. Plus, it’s easy to make: use ready-made, frozen meatballs and you can have it on the table in an hour. Or, if you’re a little tired of meat, opt for a meat substitute. I used Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs and didn’t miss the real thing at all.

Finally, I have to give this stew the props it deserves for being a top-notch cabbage delivery system. John and I struggle with cabbage, and have been working our way diligently through a huge head we got in our CSA back in early November. The flavors of this stew are strong enough to stand up to the cabbage; I hid at least three cups of chopped cabbage in tonight’s batch and didn’t grumble one bit eating it.

Sicilian Cabbage and Meatball Stew

Makes 6 main-course servings.

  • 1 T oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 2-3 T red wine vinegar and/or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large (or 2 small) carrot, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1/4 C fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 can (15 oz) diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 3 C stock
  • 1/8 C parmesan cheese
  • 1 medium-small zucchini, chopped
  • 1/2 head cabbage, shredded
  • 16 small meatballs or soy meatballs

Heat the oil over medium-low flame; add onions and saute 3-5 minutes.

Add garlic, fennel seeds, rosemary, oregano, paprika, bay leaves, salt, and cayenne; saute 3-4 more minutes.

Add vinegar, carrot, celery, parsley, tomatoes, stock, and cheese. Simmer 30-35 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.

Add zucchini, cabbage, and meatballs; simmer another 15 minutes or until cabbage is wilted and meatballs are warmed through. Serve with crusty bread and a nice aged cheese.

Remember the tandoori lamb we made for Thanksgiving? Well we had a hefty chunk of the original lamb roast left after T-day and, not keen to  leave it languishing in the freezer, whipped it into Greek-inspired stuffed lamb medallions. Not the quickest or easiest dish to prepare, this nevertheless turned out beautifully and would make a nice main dish for family or company. We had ours with balsamic-braised brussels sprouts and a nice slice of wheat toast.

Greek-Inspired Lamb Medallions

For the stuffing:

  • Olive oil (to saute)
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 1/4 dried mushrooms, chopped (or 1 C fresh mushrooms, chopped)
  • 4 C chopped spinach
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 C red wine
  • 1/4 C crumbled feta
  • 2-3 T pine nuts (raw or toasted)

Heat oil over low flame; add garlic, leeks, mushrooms, and black pepper. Saute 5 minutes; add spinach and red wine and cook until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat and mix in feta and pine nuts.

For the medallions:

  • 1-2 lb lamb roast, butterflied and pounded flat
  • 3 T olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary, stripped
  • Garlic powder, to taste
  • Filling mixture
  • 1/2 C red wine

Preheat oven to 375F.

Drizzle olive oil into a shallow pie pan or plate; sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, and garlic powder. Gently lay the flattened lamb into the oil & herb mixture and press to coat one side.

Top the lamb with an even layer of the spinach-leek-feta filling. Carefully roll the lamb around the filling; secure with skewers or cooking twine. Be sure to tuck in and secure the ends, as well.

Drizzle a baking dish with olive oil; transfer the lamb, seam-side-down, to the baking dish. Scrape any remaining oil, spices, and/or filling onto the top of the roast. Add wine to the baking dish.

Roast 20 minutes uncovered, then cover with foil and roast another 30 minutes. Baste once or twice throughout the roasting period.

Remove the lamb from the oven and allow to rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Carefully remove the cooking twine or skewers and transfer to a cutting board or serving plate. Slice into thin medallions and serve with bread, cooked vegetables, etc. Would also be great with rosemary mashed potatoes, or as a sandwich filling!


This year for Thanksgiving we tried something a little different: Indian Thanksgiving.

Not Native American Thanksgiving. Not beans and dried meats and corn pudding; not smoked fish or berries or wild turkey. This year we cooked tandoori lamb, palak paneer, chutney, and roti. All the thematic elements of a traditional Thanksgiving — meat, bread, cranberries, and cooked vegetables — seasoned with a lively blend of turmeric, cumin, paprika, and ginger. Sure, we had the traditional pumpkin pie and a hearty batch of raw cranberry-orange sauce, but for the most part this was an unconventional — and stellar — Thanksgiving Day meal.

Full recipes below the fold. Try this menu — or any of its components — any time of the year!

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We got pea tendrils in our CSA share this week and, having never used them before, did a little Internet research before deciding how to cook them. Ultimately, we chose a simple meal to showcase the tendrils’ delicate, green flavor. This risotto balances springtime flavors reminiscent of asparagus with the brightness of lemon zest; it’s both hearty and fresh-tasting. You could replace the pea tendrils with another green vegetable if you’d like — asparagus, snow peas, or green beans would be ideal.

Pea Tendril and Lemon Zest Risotto

  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp dry thyme
  • 1 C arborio rice
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 C dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
  • 4 C stock
  • 3-4 C chopped pea tendrils
  • 1/2 C parmesan cheese

Melt butter with olive oil in a large skillet; add onion, garlic, pepper, and thyme and saute over a low flame until onions are soft and translucent. Add rice and saute another 3-5 minutes.

Add lemon zest and wine; turn heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until all the liquid is absorbed. Add 1/2 C stock and simmer, stirring frequently, until stock is absorbed; repeat with remaining stock. Just before the last addition of stock, stir in pea tendrils.

Add cheese just before serving.

Almond-Coconut Brownies

For John’s birthday this year I set about making a dessert to channel a few of his favorite things. Namely: chocolate, coconut, and almonds.

Inspired by a certain almond coconut candy bar, and by the ingredients at my neighborhood Trader Joe’s, I created a batch of super-brownies. Chocolatey on the outside with a creamy coconut-candy center, these brownie bites pack a punch; a sprinkling of toasted slivered almonds is, well, the icing on the cake. The recipe:

Almond-Coconut Birthday Brownie Bites

  • 1 box Trader Joe’s Truffle Brownie Baking Mix*
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 C butter, melted
  • 1/4 C coconut cream (not coconut milk)
  • 12 Trader Joe’s Coconut Bon-Bons (they’re like mini Almond Joys)
  • 1/2 C toasted slivered almonds

*Use whatever additives your brownie mix calls for, just replace half of the liquid (oil, water) with coconut cream. In this case, the TJs mix calls for 2 eggs and 1/2 C butter — hence 2 eggs, 1/4 C butter, and 1/4 C coconut cream.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and line 12 muffin tins with liners. I used aluminum foil and then oiled it to make sure the brownie bites would be easy to remove.
  2. Whisk together the butter, coconut cream, and eggs. (Or oil, water, coconut cream, and eggs — depending on what your brownie mix calls for.)
  3. Combine the liquid mixture with the brownie mix; stir until combined.
  4. Fill the lined muffin cups 1/2-full with brownie batter. Press one coconut bonbon into the center of each brownie; top with slivered almonds.
  5. Bake 12-15 minutes (depending on your oven); allow to cool 20-30 minutes before removing from the muffin tins and liners.

Enjoy with coffee, milk, or ice cream. A delectable — if rich — treat!

Close-up of Coconut Almond Brownies

During the summer of 2012 we set out to do as much as we could — as cheaply as we could — in and around Boston. And so the Boston Bucket List was born.

After so many out-of-Boston excursions — kayaking, Portland, South Dartmouth — we opted one weekend to take advantage of what the city itself has to offer. In a weekend spanning centuries of Boston history, we visited the Institute of Contemporary Art, explored the ever-developing Boston Harbor, crossed the Charles to climb Bunker Hill, and toured Old Ironsides. It was a weekend of picnics and waterfront views; of art and history; of the modern-day and the old-timey.

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Ocean Kayaking

During the summer of 2012 we set out to do as much as we could — as cheaply as we could — in and around Boston. And so the Boston Bucket List was born.

Early in the summer, we fell in love with kayaking. The peace and calm of being on the water; the cooling splash; the mild physical exertion — kayaking is exercise we can get behind. So when someone in one of John’s summer classes invited us to go ocean kayaking as a couples day out, we leapt at the opportunity. Free ride out of Boston and a day at sea, to boot!

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During the summer of 2012 we set out to do as much as we could — as cheaply as we could — in and around Boston. And so the Boston Bucket List was born.

Not everything we do has to be strictly in Boston (as our trip to Portland will attest); New England — or even Massachusetts by itself — is a whole wide world to soak up before we leave. Lucky for us, a friend (and former roommate) has spent this summer living on a farm in South Dartmouth, MA, and invited us down for a weekend. It was with a great sense of adventure that we set off one Saturday morning, farmward, on what was to be one of our very few trips south from Boston.

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Yesterday was moving day in Boston.

Moving Day in Boston

September first: The day when thousands of [mostly young] residents pile in their moving vans and and back up traffic from Brigham Circle to Lower Allston. The day when car horns echo into the night; when garbage accumulates into mounds on every street corner. The day when parents can be spotted at every turn, toting “one last thing” for their newly fledged offspring’s apartment. In short, it’s a great day not to be moving. In fact, it’s a great day to hole up with a few good kitchen projects, a couple of movies, and a case of beer.

September first also marks a bit of a turning point in New England: the shift from bathing suits to sweatshirts; from peaches and tomatoes to apples and potatoes; from a general leafy green-ness to more of a rusty orange. Fall is coming, and by September most of us are just about ready for it.

Not surprisingly, all the major breweries are aware of our collective seasonal impatience and have already released their Octoberfest and Pumpkin beers. We’re usually too haphazard in our beer consumption to remember which are our seasonal favorites, so this year we decided to get serious about autumn beer. Pumpkin beverages are easy to screw up; our quest is to figure out who is doing what, and how well.

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