The Credit Is Carol's Lemon Squares

Well, it’s about time. At last, it’s time for me to buy new running shoes. I’ve been wanting new running shoes since the old shoes I’m retiring were, in fact, new. According to the sinewy salesmen at The Super Runner’s Shop, you are supposed to replace your shoes every 350-500 miles. I’ve always thought that was a way to get you to buy new ones more often but I fully embraced the rule this year and started my countdown after the first run—I couldn’t wait to get rid of what was a big mistake. What happened was two pairs ago I went to the store when my knees started feeling achy, pretty sure it was time to send my sneakers onto their next life as shoes for the shoeless. (Really, they do that at the store and you should always donate your old sneaks to them). Then the Asics model I usually get was sold out in my size. “Oh, you should upgrade anyway,” Mr. Super Runner said as he convinced me to spend 50% more than I usually spend. I didn’t think twice because, unlike the bright blue of my old pair, these were pink and red, my two favorite colors. Much prettier!

It wasn’t until I was taking them off after their virgin run that I noticed something seemed off. First, I realized there was writing on the shoelaces. “What was that?” I squinted. Printed on the laces were the words “2008 ING Marathon.”
But that wasn’t all. The pretty design under the swoosh on the side wasn’t just a pretty design but rather an embossed photo of all the runners crossing the Verrazano Narrows Bridge!
Not even the inside was spared—the green insole bore a cheerful map of the marathon’s course. How had I missed the fact that I just bought the Marathon Edition of a running shoe for a marathon I had never (and would never) run? Let's blame my botched LASIK.
You see, I really hate it when people take credit for things they haven’t done. What if people thought I was trying to pass myself off as a devoted, serious runner when half the time I cheat, blow off the treadmill, and use the elliptical machine instead?

My reaction to the shoes brought back so many memories of when, in a life long, long ago I was a talent agent. As far as I was concerned it was my job to represent the actors—it was about them, not me. However, I worked with so many people who seemed not to understand that concept. According to one of my colleagues he had discovered every person the agency represented—I’m sure he would have found a way to claim Marilyn Monroe as a client had she not OD’d before he was born. His not so private chuckles about time spent with a Jon Stewart or a Calista Flockhart (circa Ally McBeal), when all of us knew his role in their careers was peripheral, were infuriating. Every sentence began with “I” and every story ended with “and thank God I was there.” It was beyond annoying but you know what? He was totally rewarded for it and his “look at me” attitude, whether deserved or not, sent him on an upward trajectory that shows no signs of stopping. Not a surprise to anyone who watches Entourage.
But there was one woman I had the good fortune of working with who, like me, always said “we,” “us” and never claimed credit for anything that wasn’t duly hers to claim. Also not a surprise she was not rewarded for that behavior. I haven’t spoken to her in many years but her warmth and honesty brought a humanity to a profession where it is sorely lacking. I still remember a dinner at her house in Westchester that made Carmela Soprano’s Sunday supper look like a snack: platters upon platters of antipasti, sausage and peppers, lasagna, breads, salads and bottles and bottles of wine.
I didn’t eat a thing the next day because, naturally, I had to see every course to the end and would never have passed on dessert. There was ricotta cheesecake and cannoli but it was her lemon squares that I never forgot. Recently I found a 15 year old photocopy of the recipe she gave me, after much pleading, and I finally made them. These are buttery, sweet, sour, crumbly and chewy. And all of the credit goes to Carol. She deserves it.

The Credit Is Carol's Lemon Squares
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2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 sticks butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup plus 2 teaspoon powdered sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Extra powdered sugar for finishing

Cream together butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and flour until fluffy and well combined.
Press into 9x13 baking pan and bake 15 minutes until pale gold at edges.
In a large bowl lightly whisk together eggs, granulated sugar and salt until combined.
Stir in lemon juice and zest until well combined.
Sift 1/4 cup flour and 2 teaspoons powdered sugar onto egg mixture and fold in to combine.
Pour egg mixture over crust and bake for 30 minutes.
Sift extra powdered sugar over top and loosen edges with spatula or knife.
Cool completely and cut into 48 1 1/2 inch squares. (Or don't do what Carol did and cut into any size you like).


I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies

Among the many things I would like to change about myself is my inability to say ‘no.’
The few times I’ve tried I am plagued with so much guilt and conflict that it hardly seems worth it and instead I say ‘sure’ and become completely resentful—as if it is the other person’s fault that I didn’t say ‘no’ to the thing that any normal person would have politely refused to do. It’s really a no-win situation. Well, actually, it’s a win for the person who asked me to do the something but a big lose for me. I say ‘yes’ to: eating in an outer borough at 6pm (hello? If there’s a 5 or 6 in front of “o’clock” it’s time for a drink, not a meal), Thai when I really want Italian, waiting for a guy’s cable guy and working as a fundraiser for the school that made me feel like a moron. As Ado Annie sang (in a different context) in Oklahoma, “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.”
You might be thinking I’m a martyr or a deranged people-pleaser. But here’s the twist; I also can’t say ‘no’ to myself. Okay, I don’t give into every whim or passing fancy, (especially the expensive kind) but if it’s not going to really cost me, emotionally or materially, I always say ‘yes.’ The way this issue presents itself the most clearly is (big surprise) with food. If I am craving something I will think about it non-stop until I give in. At first I will try to resist; do I really need to order in a hunk of lasagna when I have a box of spaghetti and a jar of sauce? And then my mind will split in two and one side will say, ‘but it’s not the same thing—you want something gooey, cheesy and meaty!’ while the other side will say, ‘oh come on, what’s the difference? It’s still tomato sauce and pasta. Shut up!’ This battle might even persist for a few days and ultimately I will buy the piece of lasagna (remember, heavy cooking smells are not welcome chez moi) and dig in. I’ve been haunted by everything from coffee milk shakes to sausage pizza to cold sesame noodles. Sensing a pattern here? We’re talking the high sodium, high fat, high glycemic index diet plan we are all waiting in vain for Dr. Weil to endorse.There was one time when a craving caused me to behave like a crack head searching for a shifty looking guy on the corner. (Although, if I were a crack head I’d probably go to that corner every night and this situation was a one-time fix—no need to call Dr. Drew). It was 11pm and I was cozy at home lounging in my lounge wear when I flashed back to the gorgeous piece of carrot cake I’d spotted earlier in the day at the place where I’d met a friend for breakfast. The memory of the domed cake keeper protecting the thick, glossy swirls of cream cheese frosting and the tiny butter cream carrots would just not leave my brain. So I did what I always do when I have an ill-timed craving; I ate around it—a complete rookie move. I tried a few spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream in the hopes of satiating the creamy quality of the frosting. No dice. I tried to distract myself from carrots with a Mint Milano. My palate isn’t that stupid. When a craving calls, just say ‘yes’ so you can move on with your life.
So, I hit the streets. Seriously, I put jeans and a coat over my at-home ensemble and pressed my nose up against the glass of the dark, closed tea house where I’d first seen the beautiful cake. Then it was on to a 24 hour deli whose pre-cut slice looked like it had been made out of car wax. No thanks. Then I remembered that the little Italian coffee shop was open till midnight and I hit carrot pay dirt. By 11:30pm I was back on the couch, plunging my fork into two layers of creamy, tangy, spicy, moist deliciousness.
But clearly this is no way to live a life, running out to the streets in the middle of the night because my mind turns to a sundae, doughnut, or lemon square. Barring the ability to turn off whatever part of my brain is dangling the ‘carrot,’ I need to be more prepared. I’m not about to bake a cake to have on hand because there is something really sad about baking a whole cake for no reason other than hedging a potential craving and then having to take full responsibility as it goes from round to crescent to wedge to gone. And really isn’t it all about the cream cheese frosting? These cookies have solved my problem. There is nothing pathetic about keeping cookies in the house and they combine all the things I love about carrot cake. The balance of frosting to chewy cookie is perfect, the spice of the cookie is tempered by the cooling tang of the frosting and I’ve added some orange zest to perk up the whole little package. Plus, they’re portable just in case I feel the distant tremors of a craving that could strike when I’m, for example, on the subway going to Brooklyn to eat dinner at 6 o’clock. Make them and say ‘yes.’ I promise you won’t feel resentful.

I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, April 2004
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1 1/8 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup plus 2 Tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup grated carrots (from 2-3 carrots-I used my food processor, you can buy a bag of pre shredded)
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup raisins or currants (I only had currents in the house)


Preheat oven to 375. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium size bowl whisk flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Set aside.
In bowl of electric mixer beat butter, sugars, egg and vanilla on medium until light and fluffy, @ 2 minutes.
Add carrots, nuts, raisins and mix on slow speed until combined.
Add flour and spice mixture on slow speed until just combined. Do not over mix.
Using 2 teaspoon ice cream scoop (or 2 teaspoons) drop batter on cookies sheets allowing 2 inches between cookies.
Bake 11-12 minutes until cookies spring back when touched lightly.

Cool on pan on rack for one minute then remove from pan and cook completely on rack.
Yield: @ 46 cookies

1/2 stick butter, softened
6 oz cream cheese, softened (3/4 of 8oz Philadelphia Cream Cheese brick)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup powdered sugar
grated zest of one small orange (optional)

In bowl of electric mixer beat butter, cream cheese and vanilla on high until light and fluffy.

Stop mixer, add powdered sugar and mix on slow until combined. Then on high until light and fluffy again.

Add orange zest and beat until thoroughly combined.

With cookies on wire rack turn half of them over so the flat side is up.
Place 2 teaspoons of frosting on flat side and sandwich with neighboring cookie.
Yield 23 sandwiches


Happy National Pie Day Asparagus Quiche

I come from a family that doesn’t celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day; “Hallmark holidays!” was how my father dismissed them years ago. On the one hand, it is a relief not to have to rack my brain for an appropriate gift for either Mom or Dad since they are both impossible to shop for and they happen to celebrate each other better than anyone else ever could. On the other hand, sometimes when I see clusters of parents, adult children and grandchildren taking a post-brunch walk in the park on that Sunday in May, I get a little wistful and think it would be nice to raise a mimosa to my mother and apologize for the time I called her “stupid” for not letting me see The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I was 12. But then I remember the Mother’s Days of my youth, when both of my grandmothers were still alive and torturing their respective children in their own unique ways, and my nostalgia floats away.
All those years ago my parents used to force us into party dresses and short pants so we could sit on the Long Island Rail Road to join my maternal grandmother and step-grandfather for the Mother’s Day Luncheon at their country club. Despite the make-your-own-sundae dessert buffet it was a huge pain in the neck to go out there. My mother’s tension was palpable and she was pointy and short tempered until we got home. Not because she didn’t love her mother but because the day wound up being more about Nana showing off her offspring in a really aggressive way than family togetherness. How many times did the Mrs. Silvermans, Bernsteins and Smiths (huh?) appraise the three of us with a once-over and a “Hello, Melissa” (that would be Miranda), or a “Nice to see you Jennifer," (that’s Jessica to you). My brother was spared the name butchering but “Tony” was met with a quizzical cock of the head. Can you blame stupidity on a too taut face lift? I think so.
But there was one Mother’s Day that ended our observance forever. For some reason my parents decided to make lunch at our apartment and invite both grandmothers to celebrate together. This was not a regular occurrence at all considering there were no two women on this planet more different than Nana and Grandma. Nana was young, fun, competitive, and opinionated.
Grandma was older, conservative, sensible and just as opinionated.
After lunch, when we sat inside our living room on a gorgeous spring day, it was present time. My father handed each grandmother a package and 68 year old Nana smiled and said to 80 year old Grandma, “Age before beauty,” and motioned to her to open her gift first. Can you believe?! I didn’t know where to look and I think my parents just started to laugh, trying to pretend it was all just such a funny joke. Yeah, not really.

So, that was that with Mother’s Day. And why am I talking about a holiday in May in January? Well, I recently learned that tomorrow is National Pie Day. Who knew? And who knew just how many holidays there are that seem to be invented by people with too much time on their hands. Did you know that Pie Day shares its day with National Handwriting Day? What does that mean? Are we all supposed to practice our cursive? And Sunday is National Belly Laugh Day. And what are we going to laugh at? Seems to me it should coincide with Tell An Old Joke Day which is on July 24th. My nieces would really love Monday’s holiday—Bubble Wrap appreciation day. Although Monday is also a Room of One’s Own Day so if you have two little girls jumping up and down on bubble wrap in one room you really would have to lock yourself in another to have any peace and quiet.
All this is to say, there are a lot of holidays that seem foisted upon us. Maybe we should be doing more spontaneous and regular appreciation. I don’t need a day in May or June to tell my parents I love them. And I don’t need someone telling me I have to make a pie when I don’t feel like it. But of course, because I am a neurotic person who bakes, I feel guilty not honoring Pie Day. So, I’m going to do it on my terms. First of all, I am not in the mood to make a pie crust. Aren’t you relieved? It’s time to use a frozen (albeit organic) one! And I’m also not in the mood to make a fruit pie since we know how I feel about apples and a pear or citrus pie is just not doing it for me. And what am I going to do with a whole, sweet pie anyway? So, I will make a savory pie (or quiche if you will) which will at least serve the purpose of feeding me lunch for a few days.

So, make a pie if you feel like it but don’t forget that today is Answer Your Cat’s Question Day. Just get down your encyclopedia and be prepared.

Happy National Pie Day Asparagus Quiche
Adapted from The Good Housekeeping Cookbook, Hearst Communications 2001
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4 large eggs
1 cup half & half
1 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded
1 pound fresh asparagus
1 frozen, deep dish ready-made pie crust (Yay!)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Thaw frozen pie shell for 10 minutes.

Prick sides and bottom of pie shell with a fork.
Bake pie shell for 15 minutes, cool on rack and turn oven down to 350 degrees.

In medium bowl whisk eggs, milk, half & half, salt, pepper and nutmeg until well blended. Set aside.
In two quart saucepan bring 4 cups of water to boil over high heat. While water is heating up...
Trim asparagus and cut into 3/4" pieces. You should have @ 2 1/2 cups.

Add asparagus to boiling water and cook 6-8 minutes until tender, drain into colander and rinse with cool water.

Pat asparagus dry and spread over bottom of pie crust. Sprinkle with Gruyere and pour egg mixture over asparagus/cheese.

Place pie plate on foil lined baking sheet and bake 55-60 minutes until tester inserted in center comes out clean. (Note: I mistakenly bought a regular pie shell and had overflow. Buy a deep dish one.)

Cool on wire rack for at least 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 Servings.


At Least Bring the Doorman a Piece of Nutella Pound Cake

There are certain things experienced by those of us who live in New York that are hard to capture and explain to those of you who do not. Everyone knows about the crowds, tall buildings and Times Square of it all, the glam restaurants, not so glam subways, Broadway shows, designer shopping on Madison Avenue and knock-off designer shopping on Canal Street too. But what people do not see are the specific types who make up the real character of the city.

What’s ironic is the daily loneliness you witness despite a population of over 8 million. There’s the older woman at Duane Reade (big drugstore chain for you non New Yorkers) explaining to the glazed-eyed cashier why she’s switching to Dove after years of using Ivory (too drying, in case you’re interested). You may hear a young woman getting her nails done shouting on her cell phone to a girlfriend about her upcoming blind date—and you already know she’s going to be waiting for him to call again until he doesn’t. There’s the construction worker flirting with the incredibly patient, cute girl behind the deli counter, asking her when she gets off work for what seems to be the 100th time. You overhear a woman whose jacket is covered in pet hair asking the produce manager if she can buy just the tops of the carrots for her rabbit. And sometimes you’ll pass a sign, like this one, and not even know what to think.
All of this causes “Eleanor Rigby” to play on a loop inside your brain and breaks your heart a little every day if you allow yourself to stop and think about it.

But then you catch yourself and realize you are presuming too much. Maybe the cashier was also considering a facial cleanser switch and welcomed the insight. The blind date could very well call the loud woman (yeah, right). Or the deli girl may have had a fight with her boyfriend before she left for work and the construction worker’s winks made her feel pretty and appreciated. The pet rabbit may also be loved by the husband and children of his furry owner and maybe the parrotlett flew home into Jasmin’s waiting arms! All of these glasses really could be half full.
But there is one character who exists in almost every apartment building with an overnight staff—the man or woman who likes to keep the doorman or concierge ‘company’ when all he really wants to do is play Sudoku. And no matter how you look at the contents of your glass these people must really be lonely. As a teenager I used to see the mother of a boy I went to grade school with (wearing just her house coat and slippers) complaining about her husband to the night desk clerk. In my first solo apartment there was the security guard hired to patrol the street who just hung out in our lobby talking to the doorman while who knows what was going down at the other end of the block. And in my current building there’s the Steve Buscemi lookalike who leans against the concierge’s desk talking about his favorite bands while his Starbucks Venti splashes in his jittery hand.
What I find unacceptable about these night crawlers is that they seem to have no boundaries or sense that they are infringing upon the quiet time every night shift worker counts on. They even show up empty handed! My feeling is if you need someone to chat with, and the captive staff member sitting downstairs is your only potential conversation partner, then at least bring down a beer or, even better, a nice piece of cake! To paraphrase Estelle Costanza after she met George’s future in-laws, “We’re sitting there like idiots without a piece of cake! It’s impolite!” Was there a wiser woman?
I ripped this recipe out of Food & Wine a few months ago and wow, am I ever glad I did. Your doorman will be too.

At Least Bring the Doorman a Piece of Nutella-Swirl Pound Cake
Food & Wine, October 2009 adapted from Lauren Chattman, Cake Keeper Cakes, Taunton Press 2009

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
One 13 ounce jar Nutella

Preheat oven to 325

Lightly grease and flour a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, tapping out excess flour.

In a glass measuring cup, lightly beat eggs with vanilla.

In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large bowl, using hand held mixer, (not sure why the recipe calls for hand held. I'm sure any kind would be fine) beat butter with sugar at medium high until fluffy, @ 3 minutes.
With mixer at medium-low speed gradually beat in egg mixture till fully incorporated.
Add flour mixture in 3 batches, beating at low speed between additions until just incorporated.
Continue beating for 30 seconds longer.

Spread one-third of the batter in the prepared pan.
Spread half of the Nutella on top.

Repeat with another third of the batter and the remaining Nutella.
Top with the remaining batter.
Lightly swirl the Nutella into the batter with a butter knife. Do not overmix.
Bake for @ 1 hour and 15 minutes, until a toothpick/cake tester inserted into center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

Invert the cake onto a wire rack, turn it right side up and let cool completely, about 2 hours.
Cut cake into slices and serve to the doorman.