In French bakeries, often in a basket by the register, you will typically see little sugared pastries that look like unfilled cream puffs. When I first started traveling, I wasn’t sure what they were so I asked. “C’est chouquette. Pour l’enfant” I was told. I understood the “for the kids” part but I wasn’t sure what “chouquette” meant or even if I heard it correctly. Were they cream puffs? Was there cheese in there, like a gougeres? What the hell were they? Creamless cream puffs did not sound very appealing but I was too intimidated to do anything but smile and nod, like I knew what they were talking about. I always purchased something else.

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Throwing springtime dinner parties, such as Easter dinner and sunny Sunday brunches, perplex me the most. The main dishes are typically set – Easter ham or Polish sausage for example, but filling out the side dishes always give me a pause for thought. Green, spring-y vegetables are a given, such as sugar snap peas and asparagus. Easy. A bright, vinegary cucumber salad is always welcome as is a fruit salad of some sort. But what else?

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For a few summers, I worked my friend Pete’s fruit stand at the Green City Farmer’s Market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. It was an early start, the market opens at 7am, and not being much of a morning person it took me a while to get rolling. Once we got the stand set up and I got my bearings, I was usually looking for something to eat before the big crowds rolled in with their double wide strollers and large dogs who liked to pee on our sandwich board signs. Oh joy. You need some sustenance to deal with that. My standard go-to breakfast, one I really looked forward to, was from Hoosier Mama a fantastic pie company in the city. On the back of their checkered tables was a large black plastic warmer thing. If you were smart, you knew this is where they kept the amazing savory hand pies nice and toasty. While there were always a few varieties, the breakfast sausage hand pies were my favorite and apparently others too because they sold out fast. A warm flaky pastry filled with herby breakfast sausage, I could inhale 42 of these things in no time if given the opportunity.

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day and I have to admit, I’m well beyond drinking cheap green beer from plastic cups. I never much enjoyed crap beer anyway. In college, my friends and I would save our pennies for a pint of two of Guinness. Sure the corner bar had $1.50 pitchers of Coors Light every night but when we could, we’d spring for $4 pints of the good stuff. Really. These days my festivities turn more to good beer or Irish whiskey, old friends and delicious food. It is still just as fun if different in tone and I still enjoy a nice pint of Guinness. Which is, believe it or not, is a lot easier on your system than cheap, skunky, questionably colored beer. True story (in my inexpert but experienced opinion).

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I’ve written a lot in the last month about so called “food holidays”, days that some politician somewhere has deemed important enough to commemorate with some sort of food. I find them hilarious at best and perplexing at worst. Case in point: March 30 is National Turkey Neck Soup Day. What?? How is that even a thing? But today is one, unofficial as it may be, that I love. Pi day. 3.14159265359. March 14. Rather than some random ridiculous day honoring something odd, like green beans or turkey necks, it is clever and funny, a combination sorely lacking in the majority of these “food holidays”. So every year on Pi Day, I make a pie.

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For reasons that baffle many, myself included, its damn near impossible to get a good bagel outside of New York City. Maybe Montreal; they get a pass. Some say it’s the water, others say it’s the flour but I think it’s the technique. Making good bagels is complicated, involved and time consuming. You have to develop the proper amount of gluten in the dough and do a long, slow cold rise that sometimes lasts 2 days to develop that distinct flavor and texture. Then the coddled rounds of dough need to be poached in a solution of lightly sweetened water spiked with lye to develop that distinctive crust before a relatively short bake at a high temperature. Sure, bagel shops abound nationwide. Not the same. I find them to be universally bready, lacking in that toothsome chew that makes a bagel great. You can buy them in the bakery section of your local grocery store but they more resemble a dense onion roll. And yes, there they are in the freezer section. Walk away. I was raised on Lender’s and they are an abomination. Unless you live in NY with a bagel shop on the corner (and even those are becoming harder to find these days), there’s only one solution to this conundrum. Make your own. It’s not as difficult as you may think.

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Of all the recipes out there, one of the easiest and most impressive is cured salmon. Mix some salt and sugar, maybe additional spices and/or herbs, rub a piece of fish (typically salmon) and refrigerate for 1-3 days depending on the size of your fish. It’s unbelieavably simple and incredibly elegant. For the easiest bang with the smallest amount of effort, gravlax is the one for you.

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