Are You A Good Houseguest?

A widely utilized, well-meaning phrase, “Mi casa es su casa” is a fun way to extend a welcoming greeting to a guest, friend or acquaintance as they arrive and settle into your home. Intended as it is to make people feel comfortable and relaxed in an unknown place, good house guests know that there are certain boundaries that come with the “mi casa es su casa” invitation (some people will take it literally and stay at your house unbeknownst to you while you are on vacation!)

As with most everything in life, it always takes some time and experience to learn not just the art of being a good host, but also – and more importantly – the rules and etiquette for being a good guest. In fact, it is not necessarily the experience of being a guest that teaches, but rather that of being a host that instructs one on how to be the kind of guest who is pleasant and easy to have around.

Town & Country BooksIndeed, the host-guest, guest-host relationship is like a simple mathematical equation: the perfect host combined with the perfect guest equals a pleasant memory. As Pamela Fiori writes in the introduction to Town and Country’s book Social Graces:

“Why should we care about good manners and proper behavior in the first place? Because they smooth the path. Civil obedience, if you will, makes life infinitely easier and more pleasant for everybody concerned.”

In over thirty years of welcoming people into our home, the art of being a gracious host and a good guest has become a well practiced and instinctual one that leaves one a little wiser to the do’s and don’ts, concerning both big and small things.

Summer is a season of many things, from weddings and picnics to family outings and reunions. It is also considered the “high” season for hosting guests. Accordingly, as Lizzie Post, the great- great- granddaughter of Emily Post and the etiquette expert at the Emily Post Institute, says in the Wall Street Journal article on how to be the perfect houseguest, “Being aware of how you’re going to impact the host and the house you are going to visit is very important.”

And so, ATG puts forth an end of the summer question that is worth reflecting on: “Have you been a good guest where you have been invited for a summer stay?”

Find out with the “Good Guest Checklist” below, which is a good preliminary guide to becoming the perfect guest who always gets invited back.

Please note that the below checklist is a combination of our recommendations and Lizzie Post’s via the Wall Street Journal article: “Lizzie Post On How To Be The Perfect Houseguest.”

Emily Post Houseguest etiquette

Good Guest Checklist

  1. Remember to think of the house as a home – a home that your host and hostess have considerately and lovingly invited you into to share.
  1. Learn to be a “low-impact” guest – i.e. “the best house guests leave no trail.”
  1. Make sure your room looks tidy and put away – i.e. make the bed, do not leave clothing strewn about and keep your toiletries tidy in an unobtrusive place.
  1. Do not help yourself to things, always ask or wait to be offered.
  1. If at the beach ALWAYS remove shoes and hose off sandy feet before entering the house.
  1. Always hang up wet towels – never leave them on the bed or furniture.
  1. Never place luggage or big bulky items on furniture of any kind. Luggage, big bags and purses should be placed out of the way in a corner.
  1. Always bring a hostess gift – i.e. a beautiful vase with flowers, wine, chocolates, coffee table books – anything that reflects some thought and consideration to the host and hostess.
  1. Step up to the plate and help in some fashion, especially at meal time whether it is setting the table, fixing the appetizer plate or helping to do the dishes after the meal.
  1. Always write a thank you note, even if you expressed your gratitude before you departed.

Blueberries for…Cobblers, Crumbles and Crisps

Blueberry dessert recipesIn her little book, Very Blueberry, Jennifer Trainer Thompson, a chef who has been nominated three times for the James Beard Award, inspires one to a daily dose of blueberries with her collection of over forty “sublime” blueberry recipes.

She reminisces about picking blueberries as a child in Maine in August and remembers reading Robert McCloskey’s, (the author of the famous children’s book Make Way for Ducklings) Blueberries for Sal all winter long. She fondly recalls canoeing out to Blueberry Island with old Folgers Coffee cans to collect wild blueberries, and talks about how beautiful the blueberry bush, cousin to the azalea and rhododendron, is with its red foliage in the fall. And she also mentions the incredible health benefits that blueberries have long been touted to have.

“Sweet, low in sugar, and highest in antioxidant levels of all fruits and vegetables,” blueberries, nicknamed the little blue dynamos in 2010, are referred to as a miracle fruit. They are thought to have preventative properties for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and are rich in fiber, high in vitamin C and manganese.

Below please find a sampling of her recipes that we will be busy experimenting with over the next few days. In the meantime, try the very easy and delicious blueberry peach cobbler, a favorite summer evening dessert that we have made time and again.

Blueberry Peach Cobbler*

In 11″ x 8″ glass baking dish, melt 2 tbsp. of butter and stir in 1 tbsp. brown sugar.  Add 3 medium-sized sliced peaches (cut into bite size pieces) and 2 & 1/2 cups of local farm fresh blueberries. Stir gently in baking dish to thoroughly coat fruit pieces in butter/sugar mixture and then spread evenly on bottom of dish.

Blueberry peach cobbler recipe

Ingredients for the topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 egg, room temp.
5 1/3 tbsp. butter

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon. Beat the egg lightly and stir into the sugar mixture (after adding the egg, I used my hands to better mix the crumble mixture evenly). Spoon the mixture on top of the blueberries and peaches. Melt the butter in pan and drizzle over the batter. Bake for 30 minutes or so (until nicely and lightly browned) in 350 degree F oven. Let slightly cool before serving with your favorite vanilla ice cream.

Blueberry cobbler recipe

Note: the cobbler topping for this dish is from Olwen Woodier’s Apple Cookbook, a revised edition of an award-winning cookbook when first published in 1984.  Every recipe I have ever tried in this book has turned out superbly and so when looking for a blueberry cobbler recipe I decided to use their apple cobbler recipe substituting peaches and blueberries for the apples. 

*A cobbler differs from a crisp in that the cobbler has a biscuit/cake/cookie-like batter that is dropped on top of the fresh fruit in small rounds giving it the appearance of a cobbled road. A “crisp” is made with a streusel-like topping that always contains oats which “crisp” up when baked. A “crumble” is very similar to a crisp however does not use oats. The names “crumble” and “crisp” originated from England and as time has gone by the lines between these two names have blurred and are now used interchangeably.

Blueberry Jam (taken from Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s Very Blueberry)

Note: this jam tastes like it took hours to make, but it goes from pan to jar in under 30 minutes. Double the recipe so you can save some for dark winter mornings, a reminder that summer will be back.

2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
1 tbsp. pectin
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup water
1 cup sugar

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes, or until the mixture begins to gel. To test the consistency, chill a small plate in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove the plate from the freezer and drop small amounts of the jam onto it. The jam is ready when it holds its shape instead of pooling out over the plate. Transfer to clean jars with tightly fitting lids and refrigerate for 30 days.

Note: Sterilizing and sealing the jars keeps jam fresh for up to a year. Those who plan to keep the jam for an extended period should sterilize a jar and its lid by using a pair of tongs to submerge them in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. Alternatively, place the jar, lid, and metal soup spoon in the oven at 250 degrees F for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and, wearing oven mitts, use the sterile spoon to scoop the jam from the pan and into the jars. Still using mitts, tightly screw on the lid, and set aside to cool. The hot air between the jam and the lid contracts as it cools, sealing the lid tight. The jam is now safely stored at room temperature. Once the jar is open, place the jam in the refrigerator and use within 30 days. Makes about 1 ½ cups.

Blueberry-Mint Vinegar (taken from Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s Very Blueberry)

Note: Use this vinegar in a dressing for an arugula or spinach salad, or as a marinade, glaze, or reduction for pork, ham, or duck. The beautiful plum color makes it an ideal gift item. Add fresh blueberries for decorative purposes.

1 tbsp. honey
1 cup white wine vinegar
½ cup fresh mint leaves
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries

Combine the honey and vinegar in a small, nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the mint and blueberries in a glass bowl and pour the honey and vinegar mixture over them. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 2 days. Pass through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. The vinegar is best when used within 30 days. Makes one cup.

Goat Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions and Blueberries (taken from Jennifer Trainer Thompson’s Very Blueberry)

Note: Perfect for a light lunch, this tart goes well with a green salad or as part of a larger buffet. Make the tarts a day ahead, cover in plastic wrap, and store in the fridge. Always bring them to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients for crust:
Very Blueberry Reviews1/3 cup walnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp. baking powder
6 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg
1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Ingredients for filling:
3 tbsp. canola oil
3 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
5 ounces soft goat cheese
6 ounces cream cheese
¼ tsp. dried thyme
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. salt
2 eggs
½ cup heavy whipping cream
1 ¼ cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives

To make the crust, roast the walnuts in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Stir often until they begin to color and become aromatic. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool. Place the flour, sugar, salt, thyme, pepper, baking powder, and roasted walnuts in the bowl of a food processor fitting with the metal blade and pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Place the egg and lemon juice in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Add to the flour mixture in a steady stream while pulsing. Pulse until just combined and a ball of dough forms.

Coat a 10-inch tart pan with vegetable-oil cooking spray. Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour. With floured hands, press the dough into the pan. Refrigerate the crust for 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prick the crust all over with a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Allow the crust to cool.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are deep brown and reduced in volume by at least two-thirds. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.

Place the onions, goat cheese, cream cheese, thyme, pepper, and salt in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to combine. When smooth, add the eggs and heavy cream, and pulse just to mix well.

Place the berries evenly over the crust and cover with the filling mixture. Sprinkle the chives over the top. Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the surface is slightly brown and the filling is completely set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 10 to 12.

See also the recipes for lemon blueberry bread and blueberry cheesecake (both pictured below).

Lemon blueberry bread recipe

Blueberry cheesecake recipe

James Harrison: Wise Words From A Man of Steel

I imagine that one of the most empowering aspects of being famous is the ability to have your voice heard: to fearlessly and boldly share your thoughts and opinions knowing that people are listening and responding on a national or international level.

While their qualifications to speak on certain topics and issues can at times be questionable, the influence public officials have is truly immeasurable, stirring a debate or movement with a simple act, speech or – in the case of James Harrison, the NLF linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers* – a post on social media.

This past Saturday, the notoriously aggressive professional football player used social media to lambast “participation trophies,” writing a paragraph-long post explaining that trophies should be awarded based solely on merit, not for simply trying.

The full post reads:

“I came home to find out that my boys received two trophies for nothing, participation trophies! While I am very proud of my boys for everything they do and will encourage them till the day I die, these trophies will be given back until they EARN a real trophy. I’m sorry I’m not sorry for believing that everything in life should be earned and I’m not about to raise two boys to be men by making them believe that they are entitled to something just because they tried their best…cause sometimes your best is not enough, and that should drive you to want to do better…not cry and whine until somebody gives you something to shut u up and keep you happy. #harrisonfamilyvalues.”

As you might expect, his words elicited a debate and spiked conversations both online and off from those who applaud his sentiment against the “culture of entitlement” and those who were taken aback by the “harshness” and “cruelty” of his message.

James Harrison Participation trophies

This certainly isn’t the first time that Harrison has caused controversy. He made headlines in 2008 when he was arrested on charges of assault and criminal mischief when he allegedly broke down a door his wife was hiding behind during an argument over whether to baptize their son (the charges were dropped when he agreed to undergo anger management and other counseling).

Harrison was also fined $125,000 for illegal hits and $75,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit in 2010, and was eventually suspended for one game without pay in 2011.

Needless to say, there’s a reason Harrison has a reputation for being a fiercely competitive, intense and daring athlete (HBO’s Hard Knocks once labeled him “The baddest man in football” and in an ESPN poll, NFL players chose Harrison as “the most violent, dangerous player in the NFL”; his nickname is “Silverback” and his teammates have referred to him as Deebo, from the character in the Friday movies).

There are people who have – and will – point to his past imperfections or errors as proof that his “participation trophies” post and message about entitlement should be disregarded. To do so, however, is to cast an unjustly harsh judgment on someone who, like the rest of us, is human and, like the rest of us, has at times faltered.

While no one is required to agree with Harrison’s message, the fact that it comes from someone who is living proof that success is earned and achieved through hard work should not be overlooked.

Indeed, his career as a professional athlete was anything but handed to him. Harrison wasn’t recruited by Kent State University – he played as a walk on. And he wasn’t even drafted by the NFL (he was labeled “too short” at six feet tall).

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Harrison as an undrafted free agent in 2002, making him the first Kent State alumnus to play at linebacker for the team since Hall of Famer Jack Lambert. It wasn’t until 2007, however, that his career really took off, as he was cut four times by NFL teams before actually appearing in a game. Since then, he has earned two Super Bowl rings, five Pro Bowl appearances and has the record for the longest interception in Super Bowl history (100 yards).

Accordingly, Harrison’s thoughts on today’s culture of entitlement has merit – and is certainly not hypocritical. He is right to say that success does not come from being handed opportunities or from being told that we are good, great or worthy. It comes from working hard, being determined and persistent, and having a positive attitude; from making your own opportunities, continually improving, and trying over and over again until you get it right.

There’s a reason they say anything worth doing is worth doing well. Ask any of the most “successful” people in our world today and they’d likely tell you that, at the end of the day, their accomplishments were achieved through nothing but hard work.

In a culture overly saturated with “political correctness” – where the slightest comment challenging social norms is vociferously attacked – it was refreshing to read a post asserting that any honor or success must be earned and not assumed. And, as far as I can tell from reactions on social media and news commentary, other people found it refreshing, too.

Admittedly, it also doesn’t hurt that I come from a long lineage of diehard Steelers fans who, thanks to Harrison, have just one more reason to wave their terrible towels with admiration and pride on game day.

To anyone who says Harrison is made solely of steel, I say this: he may be intense, aggressive and forceful, but he is not without emotion. In an interview on ESPN, when told that he was one of the best outside linebackers in Steelers history and showed a tape of veteran defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau, this was his reaction.

*The Pittsburgh Steelers have a long history and great reputation of producing outstanding linebackers; Andy Russell, Jack Ham, Jack Lambert, Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, and Joey Porter were some of the most productive linebackers to ever play in the NFL.

To note: The 2009 book, Never Give Up, chronicles Harrison’s life, revealing the hardships he’s faced and adversities he’s overcome through persistence and hard work.

This piece was also published in The Huffington Post.

Cooking On The Coast of Maine With Chef Edward Lee

If you’re an avid explorer, artist or writer, you can hardly find a better place to visit than the coast of Maine. With its 67 harbors – from Lubec Harbor in the northern most point to Bar Harbor, Camden, Rockland, Boothbay, Kennebunkport and York in the South – Maine offers unrivaled vistas for the painter’s eye, solitude and inspiration for contemplative writing and a treasure trove of shops, cafés, antiques, museums and gardens for the ultimate seeker of unique trinkets or treasures.

One such treasure – a pleasant place for a rest stop when traveling up the coast of Maine – is Stonewall Farms in York. Known for their specialty foods and gifts (especially their jams), they also have a café that offers deliciously prepared, fresh food sourced from local farmers and bakers – including everything from “Truffle Lobster Mac and Cheese” and “Curry Mango Chicken Wraps” to a refreshingly tasty “Summer Berry Salad.”

If you enjoy cooking like me, and happen to find yourself inspired by the café’s offerings, you might also want to head over to Stonewall Farm’s “state-of-the-art classroom cooking school” to pick up a schedule for their monthly cooking class offerings that are hosted by a variety of renowned restaurant chefs, cookbook authors and cooking professionals.

Most recently, Chef Edward Lee, a “Brooklyn-bred son of Korean immigrants”, “acclaimed Southern Chef/Owner of 610 Magnolia and MilkWood in Louisville, Kentucky”, “three-time James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southeast” and “an Iron Chef America winner who competed on Top Chef: Texas,” taught a class on “Korean and Southern Fusion.”

Chef Edward Lee
Chef Edward Lee at Stonewall Kitchen; York, Maine

Demonstrating some of the secrets and techniques that professional chefs use, Chef Lee also educated us on little known ingredients, such as sorghum* (which, according to him is, “all the rage now”) and the Asian spice togarashi.**

Our menu?

Appetizer: Warmed Oysters with Bourbon Brown Butter

Main course: Brined Pork Chop with Peach Ginger Glaze and Pistachio Gremolata

Side: Butter Beans with Garlic-Chili and Celery Leaves

Dessert: Togarashi Cheesecake with Sorghum

Aside from being absolutely delectable, the class was a fun way to learn about the similarities between Korean and Southern food (one of which is the abundant use of pork and pork products). It was a trip certainly worth taking – and one that I’d encourage all food lovers to make!

I’ve shared the recipes from our class below. Enjoy!

*Sorghum has experienced a resurgence of late. Originating in Africa – where it has grown for over 4,000 years – it is thought to have been brought to America on slave ships. It once was the staple sweetener in the south because it was cheaper and more plentiful than other pricier sweeteners. A thick golden syrup that adds a “unique flavor” and “a lot of depth to what you’re cooking” (according to Chef Lee in The Huffington Post article: “What Is Sorghum? And Why Is The South So Obsessed With It”), sorghum is considered a cereal grain that grows tall like corn and is used as a livestock feed that can also be turned into ethanol. It is also drought resistant.

**Togarashi is a Japanese word for “red chili peppers” and a general name for a varying combination of spices/condiments such as red chili peppers, black pepper, sesame seeds, green nori seaweed flakes and dried mandarin orange peel.  

Warmed Oysters with Bourbon Brown Butter

Ingredients for oysters:
Enough rock salt to cover the bottom of your skillet
12 fresh oysters in the shell, scrubbed clean under cold water
Zest of 2 limes
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro

Preheat your oven to as hot as it will go. Place a layer of the rock salt in a heavy cast-iron skillet and heat the salt in the oven for at least 15 minutes. Place the oysters over the hot salt. Bake for 4-6 minutes. The oysters are ready when you see a slight bubbling coming out of the sides of the shells.

The tops of the cooked oysters should easily pop off using an oyster knife. Remove the tops and place the oysters back onto the salt bed on their bottom shells. Serve with warm bourbon brown butter either drizzled on top or served on the side. Garnish with chopped cilantro and lime zest.

Oysters recipe

Ingredients for Bourbon Brown Butter:
6 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 cup bourbon
A few drops of lemon juice

Warm the butter in a small pot over medium heat until it begins to foam, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and continue to cook until the butter begins to turn brown and a nutty aroma wafts through the air, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add the bourbon, add a few drops of lemon juice and keep warm until ready to serve.

Brined Pork Chop with Peach Ginger Glaze and Pistachio Gremolata

Feeds 4 as a main course

Ingredients for Brine:
1 cup of gin reduced to ¼ cup
2 cups water
4 tbsp. salt
3 tbsp. sorghum
3 tbsp. brown sugar

Ingredients for glaze:
3 peaches
¼ cup white wine
2 tsp. ginger grated on a microplane
2 tsp. honey
Pinch of salt and pepper

Ingredients for Pistachio Gremolata:
1 cup pistachios
¼ cup bread crumbs
Zest of 1 lemon
1 ½ tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 garlic clove finely chopped
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper

4 one-inch thick bone-in pork chops, about 11 ounces
2 tbsp. olive oil

Brined Pork Chop recipeInstructions:

To make the brine:
Heat the gin in a small sauce pot over medium heat until reduced to about a ¼ cup. Add the remaining ingredients and warm over low heat just long enough to dissolve the brown sugar. Take off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Place the pork chops in a large gallon-size zipper sealed bag and pour the chilled brine into the bag. Close the bag and brine the pork chops in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight up to 24 hours.

Peel the peaches and cut each peach in half to remove the pit. Cube and flesh and transfer to a small sauce pot. Add the wine, ginger, honey and salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes or until the peaches are very soft. Let it cool off a bit, about 15 minutes, then puree in a blender on high until smooth. Reserve in the refrigerator until ready to use.

To make the gremolata:
Combine all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse about 10 times just until all the ingredients are well combined. You can also grind it in a mortar and pestle until a rough paste forms. It should look coarse and crumbly. Keep this chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Remove the pork chops from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the chops dry with paper towels.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the pork chops and cook for 3 minutes on each side.

Brush a dollop of the reserved peach glaze over each pork chop. Then sprinkle a generous, even layer of the pistachio gremolata over the peach glaze. Transfer the pan with the pork chops into the oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the pork is cooked to a medium rare. The juices should run clear when pierced with a knife close to the bone. The glaze will set and the pistachios will look just a shade brown and crunchy on top.

Let the cooked meat rest in the pan for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Butter Beans With Garlic-Chili and Celery Leaves

Feeds 6 to 8 people

2 ½ ounces bacon
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup tomatoes, chopped fine
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fresh butter beans, shelled and rinsed
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. butter
Salt and pepper
1 few drops of lemon juice
Small handful of celery leaves

Heat the bacon in a medium pot over medium heat and render out the fat, about 3  minutes.

Add the onions, tomatoes and garlic. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the butter beans, chicken stock, 1 cup water, vinegar, red pepper flakes and butter. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper, add the lemon juice, and spoon into bowls and top with a few fresh celery leaves.

Togarashi Cheesecake with Sorghum

Ingredients for crust:
2 cups ginger snap cookie crumbs
1 ½ tbsp. sugar
5 tbsp. melted butter

Ingredients for filling:
14 ounces fresh goat cheese
6 ounces cream cheese
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
4 eggs
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. togarashi (Asian spice)
1 tbsp. sorghum, for garnish

Togarashi Cheesecake

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir cookie crumbs, sugar and melted butter in a medium bowl with a fork until evenly moistened. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 9-inch Springform pan. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the goat cheese, cream cheese and buttermilk until smooth and fluffy, about 4 to 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Add ½ teaspoon togarashi and mix together. Pour the filling into the pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining ½ tsp. of togarashi.

Place the cake pan inside a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to have it come a third of the way up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The cake will be slightly puffed when done.

Blasting Into A Future Realm With Elon Musk

Elon Musk Biography BookYou might know him as the face of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, but when you read Ashlee Vance’s biography on Elon Musk you soon learn there is a whole lot more to discover about the man determined to “invent a future that is as rich and far-reaching as a science fiction fantasy.”

Elon Musk: Telsa, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is, truly, a fantastic read, bringing you into the life and mind of a fascinatingly unique, intriguing and intelligent human being with a work ethic most aptly described as “intense.” He is confrontational when impatient, audacious in his relentless drive and he never, never, never gives up.

After all, “Where Mark Zuckerberg wants to help you share baby photos, Musk wants to…well…save the human race from self-imposed or accidental annihilation,” writes Vance.

Born in 1971 in Pretoria, a large city in the northeastern part of South Africa, Musk comes from a family of intelligent, adventure seeking individualists – most vividly captured in a photo of Musk’s mother with her four siblings, all of whom are sitting in camp chairs reading books in the African bush with their parent’s single engine plane in the background.

As a young child, Elon was dreamy, awkward and bookish, immersing himself intensely in books such as Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Lord of the Rings and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. When he ran out of books, he would read the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Needless to say, he spent a lot of his time engaging his mind. As his mother recalls, described in the early chapters of Vance’s book devoted to his family background, “He goes into his brain, and then you see he is in another world…He still does that now I just leave him because I know he is designing a new rocket or something.”

At seventeen years old, with a strong interest in computers and science fiction – and with an unusual maturity – Musk knew that his “entrepreneurial soul” would wither in South Africa, so he set his sights on Silicon Valley.

The first stop on his journey was Canada, where some of his relatives lived and where his younger brother, Kimball, soon joined him. He enrolled at Queens College in 1989, eventually transferring to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied economics and physics.

“When Elon gets into something, he develops just this different level of interest in it than other people,” writes Vance. “That is what differentiates Elon from the rest of humanity.”

He continues: “[Musk] would daydream at Queen’s and Penn and usually end up with the same conclusion: he viewed the Internet, renewable energy, and space as the three areas that would undergo significant change in the years to come and as the markets where he could make a big impact.”

The story of Musk’s journey as a young entrepreneur in Silicon Valley and his evolution into a celebrity-status industrial titan – “a modern alloy of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs” – who is arguably the “most successful and important entrepreneur in the world” today (according to Jon Gertner, New York Times) is a lively and engrossing one that takes you through the ups and downs of his life and ventures with a chapter on each of his startups, including Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City.

Elon Musk Mars Plan

With over 50 hours of conversation with Musk and interviews with close to 300 people, including employees and family members, Vance’s biography of Elon and his world is one of continual wonder and amazement:

Wonder that such a young man with no knowledge of the aeronautical industry – he didn’t know a lot about space, but he had a scientific mind, a “deep technical intelligence” and he read up on “old Soviet-era rocket manuals” and “spent months studying the aerospace industry and the physics behind it” (quotes from Jon Gertner, New York Times and book) – travelled to Russia in 2002 to negotiate rockets with the Russians and walked away when they wouldn’t meet his price.

“Musk asked point-blank how much a missile would cost. The reply: $8 million each. Musk countered, offering $8 million for two. They sat there and looked at him…And said something like, ‘Young boy. No.’ …At this point, Musk had decided the Russians were either not serious about doing business or determined to part a dot-com millionaire from as much of his money as possible. He stormed out of the meeting. On the return flight home Musk turned to his team and flashed a spreadsheet he’d created…and said, ‘Hey guys, I think we can build this rocket ourselves.'”  

Amazed by his ingeniousness early on in Canada, as he and his brother read the local papers to find who the most important and interesting people were so they could begin cold-calling, eventually setting up lunch meetings with the likes of Peter Nicholson, a top executive of Bank of Nova Scotia, to discuss their online banking ideas.

Amazed by his intimidating impatience when, on one occasion, he became frustrated with some of the employees at Zip2, his first startup, which was a map and business directory that was eventually bought by Compaq.

“Employees at Zip2 would go home at night, come back, and find that Musk had changed their work without talking to them…”

“Musk said: ‘I would be frustrated waiting for their stuff, so I’m going to go and fix your code and now it runs five times faster, you idiot.’”

This certainly wasn’t the only astonishing comment he’d make. In the early years of Tesla, in an email to an employee that Musk was reprimanding for giving the wrong answer to a question Musk had asked him, said: “I want you to think ahead and think so hard every day that your head hurts. I want your head to hurt every night when you go to bed.”

Amazement when Musk finally launched Falcon 9 with success, making it one of only two private companies to have docked with the International Space Station. He rocked the long-established world of fat government-contracted rocket building with corporations like Boeing, proving that rockets could be built cheaper while also moving closer to SpaceX’s mission to serve as the “Southwest airlines of space.”

Elon Musk Tesla MotorsAnd, finally, a sense of wonder as to whether Elon Musk will be able to alleviate his “deep seated fear about the long-term viability of human habitation on Earth” (quote by Saul Austerlitz in The National) by realizing his ultimate fantasy of enabling humans to colonize Mars.

Mr. Austerlitz writes: “Musk is, in Vance’s final estimation, an ubermensch, his experiences taking place at a level mere mortals cannot know.”

Ultimately, however, as Dwight Garner of the New York Times wrote, “What comes through [in Vance’s biography] is a sense of legitimate wonder at what humans can accomplish when they aim high.”

Whether Elon Musk will change the world and how we live in it in a revolutionary way while saving the planet one launch to Mars at a time, only the future will know.

But, I can tell you that reading Ashlee Vance’s biography about one of the most interesting entrepreneurs and “disruptor of things” in our time was like being transported into a crazy, magical realm, leaving me inspired to live my moments on planet Earth with a little less fear and a little more Elon Musk-like intensity.

The Luminous Light of August

Facts about sunflowers

“…in August…there’s a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there’s a foretaste of fall, it’s cool, there’s a lambence, a soft, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times. It might have fauns and satyrs and the gods and – from Greece, from Olympus in it somewhere. It lasts just for a day or two, then it’s gone…the title reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization.”

– William Faulkner, Light in August

Otherwise known as Helianthus annuus, the sunflower is the perfect flower for summertime, deriving its name from helios (sun) and anthos (flower).

William Faulkner quotesA favorite flower of ours, it is believed to have originated in Mexico and Peru and is thought to be one of the first crops grown in the United States. One might be surprised to learn that, today, the countries making up the former Soviet Union are the world’s leading producers of sunflowers, followed by Argentina, France, China, Spain, and the United States.

Aside from producing a sudden feeling of gaiety and euphoria when encountered, sunflowers are known for their seeds, oil and petals that are used for dye.

Deeply rich in nutrients, dried sunflower seeds are an excellent source of potassium, thiamine, magnesium, folic acid, pantothenic acid, copper, phosphorus, zinc, iron, niacin and vitamin B6. For this reason, many professional athletes chew on sunflower seeds in place of chewing tobacco.

One of its most unique features, however, is its ability to “follow” the sun, what is referred to as heliotropism – a form of tropism (or “turning”) that causes sunflowers to turn their flowers toward the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis (see here for details). Doing so provides sunflowers with 10 to 15 percent more sunlight than if they remained motionless, allowing for the full maturation of their flowers and leaves.

Much like we might reposition ourselves during a day of tanning on the beach, sunflowers do the same – craving the sun’s warmth and luminous light to the very last drop!

Sunflower information

See also our summertime musingssummer reading list, and reflection on Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea.

Quenching Your Thirst With Watermelon Salad

There is little I enjoy more during the oppressive summer heat than a refreshing watermelon salad that cools the palette and reinvigorates a hot, sluggish body.

With an infinite variety of watermelon salad recipes to choose from, however, I have found two of the most delectable to be from two different restaurants in New York City’s Upper East Side neighborhood: Peri Ela, a Turkish restaurant, and Paola’s, an Italian restaurant.

Peri Ela’s version, reflecting a typical Middle Eastern style, uses tomatoes, red onion, feta cheese and mint, while Paola’s includes a classic Italian spin with heirloom tomatoes, basil, Montrachet goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing.Both are like eating from a summer garden paradise!

We hope you’ll enjoy our watermelon salad recipe below.

Watermelon salad recipe

Watermelon Salad “Italian Style” (inspired by Paola’s)

1-2 cups of fresh watermelon*, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small garden fresh tomato or 2-3 “cocktail” tomatoes
1-2 good-sized fresh basil leaves
Desired amount of creamy goat cheese (we used Vermont Creamery)
Your favorite Balsamic vinaigrette or our balsamic recipe below (or simply a balsamic reduction drizzling over the salad – i.e. heat balsamic vinegar on stove on medium heat and stir until it reduces to a slightly thick consistency. Then cool and drizzle over salad.)

Ingredients for Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing:
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup of Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar
1 clove minced garlic (optional)
Note: we did not include garlic in this salad. However, using garlic makes this a great dressing for many different green leaf/fruit/nut/cheese salads.

*Watermelons are 92-95 percent water, hence their name. They are native to Africa and were cultivated in Egypt and India around 5,000 years ago where it was “customary for peasants to offer watermelon to thirsty voyagers” (they had watermelon “canteens”). They contain Vitamin C, potassium and are considered a good cleansing agent, diuretic and detoxifier. And so, if you’re ever in fear of a water shortage, grow watermelon!

See also the Huffington Post’s Top 10 Watermelon Salad Recipes.

The Truth Behind Einstein’s Letter on The “Universal Force” of Love

Albert Einstein famous quotesOne of the greatest things about discovering something new is the path it leads us down and doors it opens into new insights and findings that we otherwise might have never known. An article we read leads us to a new author or book. A conversation we have leaves us “googling” something or someone we’ve never heard. A segment on the radio inspires us to learn more about a business or topic being discussed.

Or, as most recently happened to me, a letter circulating via social media leads to the debunking of a myth surrounding its alleged author.

Perhaps you’ve read it: Albert Einstein’s letter to his daughter Lieserl regarding the “universal force” of love. It’s a beautiful read, offering a universal message that speaks to the essence of the human condition and our incessant yearning to believe in love’s conquering force.

That such sentiments were seemingly written by Albert Einstein, the most revolutionary scientist of the 20th century, only solidified its potency and widespread appeal – hence it going viral on social media.

But, as we’ve been forced to learn in our rapidly expanding digital age, you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet, particularly when it lacks an original source, as was the case with this supposed letter from Einstein.

Struck by its beauty, however, I began researching its origins in hopes that it would confirm Einstein as the author and give way to a post about the unlikely musings on love from one of the world’s most brilliant scientists.

What I discovered, however, was a heap of controversy pointing to the fabrication of a letter falsely attributed to Einstein in an attempt to legitimize its words and message.

The preface of the letter explains that Einstein’s daughter, Lieserl, donated 1,400 of his letters in the late 1980s to the Hebrew University with orders not to publish their contents until two decades after his death; this letter on the “universal force” of love was supposedly one of them.

Interestingly, however, further research indicated that Lieserl herself might not be the most reliable source, given that very little is known about her. In fact, her existence was largely unknown to biographers until 1986 when a batch of letters from 1897-1903 between Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, were discovered by his granddaughter Evelyn (in which Einstein mentions Lieserl; these letters were published in the book The Love Letters in 1992).

Furthermore, a 1999 book by Michele Zackheim, Einstein’s Daughter: The Search for Lieserl, argued that Lieserl was born with a mental handicap and died of scarlet fever in 1903 when she was nearly two years old (Lieserl was mentioned for the last known time in a letter from Einstein to Mileva on September 19, 1903). Others, however, have maintained that she was put up for adoption.*

After a search in Hebrew University’s online archives (which houses the Albert Einstein Archives) and the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein failed to yield any results, I was nearly convinced that the letter was, indeed, fabricated.

But, before resting the case, I turned to Diana Kormos-Buchwald, a professor of physics and the history of science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), whose name I happened to come across in an article in the New York Times while researching the letter.

Einstein's daughter lieserlAs director and editor of the Einstein Papers Project* – which just last December launched The Digital Einstein Papers, making 5,000 documents spanning Einstein’s first 44 years of his life available online – surely Dr. Kormos-Buchwald would be able to provide some clarification regarding the authenticity of this letter.

Her response?

“This document is not by Einstein. The family letters donated to the Hebrew University – referred to in this rumor – were not given by Lieserl. They were given by Margot Einstein, who was Albert Einstein’s stepdaughter. Many of those letters were published in Volume 10 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein in 2006 and in subsequent volumes, in chronological order.”

As disappointing as it was to learn that Einstein didn’t pen the letter, it was equally exciting to discover a plethora of documents I hadn’t even known existed. What became a fervent search for validation evolved into an utter fascination by some of Einstein’s authentic writings, many of which are, in fact, written to family members, friends and colleagues.

While the question of who is behind the “universal force” of love letter still remains a mystery, part of the truth has been revealed – and that is what seems most important. That we always remember and strive to seek the truth in all things. That we not shy away from asking questions and challenging notions. That we remain curious.

As Einstein himself once said, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

Dr. Kormos-Buchwald is director and editor of the Einstein Papers Project, established in 1986 to assemble, preserve, translate and publish professional and personal papers from Einstein’s literary estate along with those from other collections. When completed, the printed series is expected to contain over 14,000 scientific and non-scientific documents that will fill close to 30 volumes. The project is sponsored by the Princeton University Press and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and has been housed at Caltech since 2000.

*Further reading:

This piece also appeared in The Huffington Post.