New Year, Same Me

2016 wasn’t quite as bad for me as all the memes made it out to be, but I’m happy to move on. Not that a change in year means moving on from the challenges of 2016… but sometimes it’s nice to be forced to refresh a bit 🙂


My resolutions last year were to (1) actually blog more, (2) volunteer, and (3) learn how to cook meat. Obviously I failed miserably at (1), so we can add that to the list again. I didn’t do a great job at (2) either, but did volunteer with my family at a shelter in Philly on Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve Eve and really enjoyed it — going to add (2) to the list again as well. I think I actually did a good job at (3) – woohoo, go me! I tackled a few different meatballs and made brisket twice. Still some room for improvement here, but I’ll consider it a (mild) success.


So it’s a New Year, but I’m pretty much going to be the same me with similar goals. Fitness and nutrition goals aren’t really my jam (see below) so looking forward to 2017, I resolve to: (1) actually really blog more, (2) volunteer, (3) work with a dog trainer for Moose, (4) bring my coffee, breakfast, and lunch to work more often [rather than buying it] and (5) learn how to better manage my various anxieties [#toopersonal?!] I also want to continue to cook a lot, and am toying with the idea of cooking my way through this nacho cookbook I bought myself…

My office is closed between Christmas and New Years and I always enjoy the stay-cation. This year, Brett and I got to spend time with all of our parents, four of our eight collective siblings, and lots of friends. We took a trip to the Guggenheim with our toddler nieces, attended an amazing Christmas Eve mass in Philly (with musical guest Kathy Sledge!), lit the menorah *almost* every night (7/8!), ate at a great new (for us) restaurant – Xixa – in Williamsburg, ate at my favorite old (for me) restaurant – Pisticci, and made a quick visit to Columbia’s campus to see the lights — one of my favorite winter traditions. We spent New Year’s Eve playing Scrabble and making pizza. On New Year’s Day, I made Croque Madames (yum) and a Cacio e Pepe Cake (really yum). We slept a lot, ate a lot, and drank a lot of wine. It was lovely. But now, back to work tomorrow and onto 2017!



Manda Cooks: Rugelach


Rugelach are my favorite cookie. I made them last year and couldn’t find the recipe for the life of me. So, when in doubt, use Smitten Kitchen’s. They turned out perfectly. When made correctly (::wink::), rugelach have everything you need in a cookie — dough that’s buttery and a little salty, cinnamon and sugar inside AND out, sticky and sweet jam, crunchy nuts and, of course, chocolate. And somehow they work just as well for breakfast as they do for dessert! It’s a miracle, really.





Thanksgiving just might be my favorite holiday, so it’s not a huge surprise that I find a way to celebrate it multiple times. Brett and I kicked things off with Friendsgiving two weeks ago. On Thanksgiving we volunteered with my family at a shelter in Philadelphia. We were in charge of mac ‘n’ cheese (used this recipe from last year) and decorations – two of my favorite things! It was a nice change of pace from the traditional Thanksgiving at home, and it felt good to give back. The next day, Friday, we made the usual Thanksgiving feast at home. I made corn pudding and a brussels sprouts salad — the salad is apparently a much modified version of tabbouleh from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav cookbook. It was so simple but so good, and provided a nice, fresh crunch on an otherwise buttery and cheesey (and delicious) plate. On Saturday Brett and I went to his sister’s for a “siblings-giving” potluck. We made roasted carrots and potatoes, but nothing compared to the rack of lamb his brother-in-law cooked up. Still thinking about it. And finally, on Sunday, we had “Italians-giving” at my dad’s house – chicken parm and penne alla vodka!


Most years I make a little list of things I am thankful for. So, to keep tradition alive, here we go:

Brett, my family and friends (especially my three (!!) 91 year old grandmas and “my” nieces and nephews), Brett, Facetime, cookbooks, nail polish and lipstick, Chanel mascara, PJs, New York City, flannel sheets, fireplaces, paperback books, naps, whiskey, wine, taxi cabs, the Obamas, pop music, Liberty of London florals, elevators, fresh ricotta, pepperoni, pizza (and pepperoni pizza), Muji pens, airplanes, Italy, Maui, ribbon, Bread’s Bakery, iced coffee with almond milk, fresh flowers, J.Crew, online shopping, sprinkles, good olive oil, ruffles, wall paper, fresh herbs, rain boots and sunglasses, This American Life, gchat, magazines (I still subscribe to three!), cheetah print, animal shelters, and all dogs and cats but especially my most precious babies – Pico and Moose


Manda Cooks: Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce


When Friendsgiving rolls around, I always sign up for Cranberry Sauce because it’s so easy to make and use. This year I made Orange Bourbon Cranberry Sauce – it was tangy and sweet, with a little smokey kick from the bourbon. It was more interesting than a traditional Cranberry Sauce, but still paired perfectly with everything on the menu. I also put it on top of crackers with brie for an easy appetizer.

You’ll Need:

1 bag cranberries, rinsed and picked through
1/3 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
Juice and zest from 1 orange
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon bourbon

Combine everything in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, until most of liquid is absorbed and cranberries have popped.


Manda Travels: A Long Weekend in SF + Napa


A few weeks ago Brett had meetings in San Francisco on a Thursday and the following Tuesday — the perfect excuse for me to fly out and meet him in between for a long weekend in Northern CA! We spent two days in San Francisco with one of my best friends Emily and her boyfriend Robbie. Thankfully their priorities align perfectly with ours (food first, activity second, sleeping a close third). We ate really, really well. After two days in SF, we spent two days in Napa, where we continued to eat really, really well. And drink really good wine, of course. Some highlights from the trip below!




Coqueta: On our first night we went to Coqueta for dinner. Although the portions were a bit small, the food was incredible. I’m still thinking about the Suckling Pig (!) and the Patatas Bravas.
Don Pistos: We went to Don Pistos on Saturday night. We had three different meat dishes (I think the pork chop, pollo asado and a pulled pork special) and it was some of the best meat I’ve ever had. (And yes, I know I went 15 years without meat but trust me). The restaurant was loud and dark, but the vibe worked well on a Saturday night.
Ferry Building Farmer’s Market: We walked through the Farmer’s Market and grabbed lunch before we drove out to Land’s End. Emily and I had open faced smoked salmon toast, and Brett and Robbie had chorizo and egg sandwiches. Insanely good all around.
The Girl & The Fig: I love the atmosphere and food here, it’s a must if you are in Sonoma. I had eaten here four years ago, and everything was as great the second time as it had been the first. We sat outside on the patio and shared a brussels sprouts salad and mussels, among other things.
Redd Wood: Brett and I ate here on our last night in Napa. We’re spoiled by pizza in New York, but Redd Wood held its own. The chicken wings that showed up at our table compliments of our server were a highlight. As was my jack & diet after a day of wine 😉
Oxbow Public Market: Our hotel was a two minute walk from here, thank goodness. We had amazing breakfast tacos from C Casa, and some of the best oysters we’ve had from Hog Island Oyster Co. I also picked up some fun flavored salts from Whole Spice.


Copain: Our favorite winery that we visited! Amazing views.
Dark Horse: Definitely more of a fun/more energetic vibe here, we each did the sparkling wine tasting.
Hope & Grace: Brett and I did the full wine and cheese tasting at this tasting room in Yountville. Really friend staff and some of the best red wine we’ve had.
Scribe: A young, hipster winery recommended by a friend. The vineyard was actually closed so we went to a pop-up tasting in downtown Napa – great wine, and apparently a very chill vineyard to visit. We’ll add it to our list for next time.


Manda Travels: Positano


[view from our airbnb!]



Brett and I spent 5 days in Positano back in May and it was perfection. We stayed in a fantastic airbnb with a giant terrace and an outdoor shower that overlooked the sea. Per usual, we outlined our days around meals and explored or relaxed in between. The food was so, so, so good. We ate just about every type of seafood imaginable — mussels, clams, shrimp, octopus, squid and, of course, fish! We also ate our weight in fresh mozzarella, and had our fair share of prosciutto and melon. The region is known for lemons and we finished each meal with a (complimentary!) glass of limoncello — a custom I wouldn’t mind adopting back home. We took thousands of steps each day, so meal after meal of pasta felt well deserved. And to top it all off, the wine is almost cheaper than water! Some of our specific favorites below, plus photos that don’t even get close to doing any of it justice!


[the first of many, many limoncello cheers]

Our favorite restaurant was Da Adolfo – it’s only accessible by boat, and located on a small private beach. It was really the most special place. We had grilled mozzarella in lemon leaves (one of their signatures), prosciutto and melon, and a whole grilled orata fish (below!) After we ate, we relocated to the beach chairs with aperol spritzes.

Speaking of aperol spritzes… we became obsessed. We make them at home all the time now, but drinking them on our roof is not quite the same as having them on the beach in Italy (just a tad different).

The best pasta we had was the lemon pasta at Hotel Santa Caterina. Made our day trip to Amalfi 100% worth it (but aside from the pasta, we mostly just missed Positano because we became attached after just 24 hours). The hotel itself was beautiful — it is built straight down the cliff, has an incredible pool right on the ocean and its own lemon orchard. The pasta was the perfect balance of tart and creamy – I still dream about it. After lunch, we snuck into the hotel pool to digest, naturally.

Despite my best efforts to stay in bed and miss the ferry “by accident”, I’m so glad Brett forced us to take a day trip to Capri. I had some amazing sort of coffee milkshake (“cafe freddo”) at a cafe in the main square (“piazzeta”). We walked through the Augustus Gardens, where some of the best views of the island are. And we spent about two hours in the afternoon at Fontelina Beach Club – one of the highlights of the trip! Funny enough, the photographer Gray Malin posted a photo of the beach club on his instagram earlier that day and we somehow ended up there. You have to pay a fee just for chairs, which was annoying at first but worth it. We shared a bottle of prosecco for lunch (because, vacation.)

On our second to last day, we discovered Casa e Bottega and fell in love. It’s a cafe/juice bar/shop that really hit the spot after days of pizza and pasta. Don’t worry, I ordered cake for breakfast (picture below), but had one of their juices on the side. They sold the prettiest ceramics and pillows – we got a little ceramic fish as a souvenir!

Other bests (but really, you can’t go wrong):

Best meat: braised beef pasta at Da Vincenzo

Best mozzarella: from a tiny family-run cheese and wine shop, Latteria

Best mussels: Il Pirata in the neighboring town, Praiano (*we took the public bus there and ended up standing on the street for 90 minutes waiting for a bus back, only to later find out they had stopped running for the night… next time we’ll look at the schedule!)

Best view & best house wine: Lo Guarracino, which is located on the walkway between the two beaches in Positano.


[Capri’s Marina Grande]

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 [Da Adolfo!]


[Leftovers from lunch]


[Lemon Pasta from Hotel Santa Caterina… don’t get me started on the dishware]

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[Lemon Ricotta cake for breakfast at Casa e Bottega]


[Fontelina Beach Club]






Manda Cooks: Summer CSA & Lettuce Overload


This is my and Brett’s third summer as members of a CSA. Every week we get a load of vegetables, and every other week we get a dozen eggs, a pound of ground beef and a block of cheddar. Our veggies have varied week by week, and I’ve learned a lot about the sub-seasons of summer — tomatoes and corn (the definition of summer produce in my mind) weren’t even part of our weekly delivery until two weeks ago! The tricky part about a CSA is that you don’t really know what to expect each week, but if you’re up to the challenge of figuring out a) what kholrabi is and b) how to eat it, it’s pretty fun. Toward the beginning of summer, the weekly challenge was finding ways to eat all of the lettuce. I’m talking like 4…5…6 heads of lettuce in a single week. In the first few weeks I would spend 30 minutes washing lettuce, and then I’d have to figure out how to use it all. Eventually salads for 6 meals straight gets boring, so we had to get creative…the obvious solution was to use lettuce as a vehicle for other food, specifically salty and spicy ground beef, cucumbers, carrots, peanuts and rice (because #carbs). The result, Vietnamese Lettuce Wraps, were so good we’ve made them three times this summer. (Secret tip: they go quite well with scallion pancakes too….)

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Manda Cooks: Brown Butter Bars


I have a weak spot for brown butter. Like a really, really weak spot. I saw these on Smitten Kitchen’s instagram a month ago and thought about them pretty much non-stop until I made them. I doubled the recipe because I just had a feeling it was the right move. And it was, because they were so good that I still can’t stop thinking about them. According to the Union Square Farmer’s Market, cherries are “done.” (okay, then) so I substituted blueberries and blackberries. No complaints there. So, if you have a (dozen) stick(s) of butter lying around, brown that sh*t and make these. You’re welcome.




Manda Travels: White Stone, Virginia


I spent last week in White Stone, Virginia with Brett, Dana, my mom and Barry. We played a lot of cards (Shanghai and Oh Hell), took Moose to the beach, went crabbing, visited two wineries and, of course, ate a lot of crabs and oysters. Everyone’s favorite part of the trip is below : )


Amanda: playing corn hole at Good Luck Cellars & cooking and eating crabs

Dana: crabbing & oysters and sunset at Merrior

Brett: playing cards & the melon margaritas we made

Mom: crabbing, playing cards & visiting Good Luck Cellars

Barry: playing cards, painting oysters at The Dog & Oyster, & watching an osprey chase mom while kayaking


Hawaii Eats 2016 Edition


Hi there! Brett and I spent the last week in Maui, returning home on Monday to 2 feet of snow..and work…and winter. We took the same trip during the same week last year, and if this becomes our January “thing” I won’t complain : )

It was a perfect vacation – we came back well-rested and sun-kissed. Once again, we basically ate our way through Maui – planning meals first, activities second. The food there is just so good. A recap of our trip according to what we ate is below, hope you’re not hungry! ; )

Makawao Steak House: The night we arrived, we celebrated Brett’s birthday at Makawao Steakhouse with some family of his that lives on Maui (#dreamlife). We stayed with one of his cousins that lives in Makawao, aka “up-country”, a small town that has an old Western/cowboy feel. The small main street in the center of town is one of our favorites for shopping. Brett celebrated with a T-Bone steak, which he said was great.

The Mill House: This restaurant opened just a few months ago on Maui’s Tropical Plantation, and the meal we had here was one of our favorites. They use only local ingredients from Maui and the neighboring islands, so the menu changes depending on what’s available. We shared Sage and Brown Butter Gnocchi (so rich, and so good), Kauai Shrimp, Harissa Pizzetta (yummy, but could have skipped this), and Pork Belly (would eat this every day for the rest of my life if I could). They also offer a “Chef’s Table” experience, which is expensive but probably worth it.

Paia Fish Market: Our first repeat visit of the trip! Last year, the Mahi and Ono sandwiches were one of our favorite meals of the trip, and they were just as good this year. Paired with fries and Maui Bikini Blonde Beer, of course.


Nuka Sushi: Our waitress at The Mill House recommended this sushi spot to us, and it was delicious. The rolls were enormous and we were stuffed. We had the Hawaii Roll, the Nuka Roll and one of their specials.

Komoda Bakery: This 100 year old bakery is on Makawao’s main street and is famous for their donuts. We especially loved the “stick donuts.”


Eskimo Candy: Another recommendation from our waitress at The Mill House — it’s a Seafood Market and Cafe where we shared a Poke Bowl and Shrimp Tacos. Everyone around us was eating Fish & Chips, so safe to assume those are great too. I consider myself to be quite the texture snob, so I’m weird about raw fish texture sometimes, but this poke was amazing. This place is sort of in a weird location, but is much better than it looks.


Mala Ocean Tavern: My friend Yarden specifically recommended the Ahi Bruschetta here, so we had to give it a try. We sat outside right on the water and shared the Bruschetta (incredible) and the Balinese Stir Fry (also great).


Star Noodle: Our second repeat visit of the trip, and again one of our favorite meals last year. This place is just so good. We repeated two dishes from last year – Filipino “Bacon and Eggs” and Singapore Noodles – and tried two new things as well – Kim Chee Wings and Kalbi Steak. The wings were INSANE. On of my favorite things I ate the whole trip.

The Fish Market: Similar to Eskimo Candy, this place was a fish market as well as cafe. We had the most incredible Ahi Sandwich here — perfectly seared, basically tasteless (in a good way), and just. so. good. The kind of thing it would be hard to find anywhere else. We also shared a Fish Taco, which was also good, but the sandwich was the star.


Kimo’s: The only meal we had in “downtown” Lahaina! Felt very vacation-y and the food was pretty good. Their ribs were particularly good, which was a nice change after lots of fish.

Ono Tacos: If I learned one thing about eating in Maui this trip, it’s that you can’t judge a book by its cover. Some of the best food comes out of strip malls or parking lots. We stopped at this food truck for a midday snack and shared nachos and tacos, which really hit the spot. The two guys working were super friendly.


Japengo Sushi: We were planning on returning to Sansei for sushi, but our valet told us we 100% had to go to Japengo instead, which was just up the road in the Hyatt. We were a little skeptical (because Sansei was so good, and hotel restaurants aren’t always great), but we trusted him and he was right. The fish was really fresh tasting, and the setting was really pretty — we sat outside, right on the water. Our waiter was also really nice and sent us two glasses of champagne on the house – can’t say no to that!

Sea House: We went here for Happy Hour, which is from 2-5pm, and sat at the bar. It is right on Napili Bay, and the bar is open so you have a full view of the bay and the beach. I had Whiskey Lemonade(s) and we shared Calimari and Pork Tacos. The food was pretty good and the drinks were great.


Hula Grill: This place was walking distance from our hotel, and our third repeat visit of the trip. We weren’t overwhelmed by it last year, but were feeling lazy so decided to try it again. Happy we did, because it was so much better this year! We shared Ahi Katsu (panko crusted Ahi that reminded us of our favorite Sansei sushi roll) and Firecracker Fish, and both were really, really good. They also have live music at their outdoor bar (where we sat), which is always fun.

Flatbread Pizza: Our final repeat visit of the trip, for pizza before our flight. Nothing wrong with good pizza : )

And, because Brett is a coffee snob, we also tried a few different coffee spots:
Paia Bay Coffee: Right in Paia, so we grabbed coffee and breakfast here before the Road to Hana. Their bacon bagel was delicious (obviously).

Mauigrown Coffee: We grabbed coffee here a few days we were at the hotel, since we passed by it most days.

Memphis Belle Coffee: A cute cafe we stopped into on our way to beaches in Wailea. We didn’t try them, but their crepes looked great.

Sip Me: A cute spot on the main street of Makawao. Coffee paired perfectly with Komoda donuts ; )

And, last but not least, two must-stops, plus a winery:
Surfing Goat Dairy: We did the “Grand Dairy Tour” at this farm and it may have been my favorite part of the trip. We milked goats, herded them, and played with the babies before a massive cheese tasting took place. We probably tried 20 different cheeses and were so full by the end.


Leoda’s: We got sandwiches here last year, but didn’t try their pies. We were driving by on our way back to our hotel, and I made Brett make a bat-turn into the parking lot. I ran in and got a small Banana Cream Pie, which we promptly ate half of in the car.



Maui Winery: We stopped in here on our way back from the Road to Hana for a quick tasting and ended up loving the wines. A lot of them have a pineapple flavor without being too sweet. We ended up buying their Upcountry Gold (a white blend), Lokelani (sparkling rose), and Hula O Maui (pineapple champagne). Cheers!