Don't Harsh My Mallow... It's Christmas, Man.

I feel like I haven't been here much lately. And that's because I haven't. So much life stuff is happening. I have a lot to tell you. I know, I'm sounding obtuse again. Things will come clearer soon enough. Truth be told, it was a big challenge to pack up, move clear across the country and then unpack and get settled in our new world with a new climate, new sights and smells, new people, new markets, new restaurants, new routine, new everything and then have the wherewithal to share it all.

But that changes now. So let's catch up.

We left off with the road trip trajectory in Atlanta. From there we drove to Charleston where we spent a couple of fantastic nights. A lot of very cool stuff is happening there right now. Especially in the culinary realm. We had our most favorite, most memorable, and surprising meal on our first night at The Ordinary – which was anything but. In fact, in addition to the cocktails, wine, oysters on the half shell, tempura battered okra with sambal, Capers inlet clams Meunîere with pan con tomate and fresh sea salt potato chips - all of which were extraordinary- I tasted, quite possibly, the most remarkable soup of my life. And that's saying something. It was a pumpkin, blue crab and miso soup with chives and brown butter – and it blew my mind. Our lunch the next day at Xiao Bao Biscuit was equally distinctive with an amalgam of dishes pulled willy-nilly from across Asia and tweaked considerably with Southern accents. We had a somewhat disappointing experience at our much anticipated visit to Husk. You win some, you lose some.

We spent a few hours in Asheville and an early tapas dinner at Curate, a restaurant that about half a dozen people insisted we check out if we had only one meal in Asheville. And this was yet another great call. A couple glasses of albariño, an order of pan con tomate (twice in one trip!) with manchego, some iberico ham, boquerones, and a few other odds and ends and we were ready to take the dogs on a breathtaking sunset stroll through the heart of picturesque Asheville, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. All this smack in the middle of the peak of fall beauty. Yes, it was only a few hours, but it was memorable.

And then we were on the road again. After two and a half weeks of travel, we were getting anxious to anchor down in our new home. With a short night's sleep at a (creepy) motel in nowhere, North Carolina and brief stop in another tiny town the next day for a classic meat 'n three, Carolina BBQ lunch (pulled pork sandwich, collards, mac 'n cheese and hush puppies), we were in the final stretch.

We were so close, we could just about tune into the Richmond Folk Festival on the radio. I remember it was raining, but through the windshield wipers, I could just begin see the city come into the horizon and I took a big, anticipatory breath and looked over at Fred. He was sound asleep. As the buildings got bigger and my home town began to envelope us, all of the familiar exits and landmarks whizzing past, as the beautiful sounds from the folk festival hummed on the radio, I was relieved I was sort of alone for that moment. Because I realized that for a very long time, many more weeks than we had been on the road, months, maybe even years, I wanted to come home – and here I was. And in that very personal moment, reflecting on everything in my rear view mirror and everything that lay ahead, I burst into tears of elation. I was finally home. And my family was with me.

We have been here for two months now. A stunning and colorful Fall complete with an intimate and delicious family Thanksgiving has come and gone, leaving us with Winter and the holidays right on our doorstep. A lot of important things have happened, some of which will unfold right here in the weeks and months to come. One pretty big zing, however, is that all of these years of writing about life, the universe and everything food-related right here, with you, has yielded something exciting – I will be writing for our monthly magazine beginning in the new year (!!!!). 

There has been a shameful amount of cooking that I lament not sharing with you – especially considering it has been filled with all of the big, robust dishes of the colder months that I so love. But, as I said, we will catch up.

For now, it's Christmastime. And I've been doing more than my share of holiday baking and the like, including two different batches of the ever-tedious gingerbread men. But, something new also... something wintry, holiday-y, sweet and smile-inducing: big, fluffy, sproingy marshmallows to bob around on that steaming hot mug of decadently chocolatey hot cocoa. Make them with your love, your best friend, your mom, and enjoy and toast their completion over that cozy cup of happy – together.

Better yet – what a great idea for a stocking stuffer?!

Fluffy Fun Time Holiday Marshmallows
(Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes about 20 assorted holiday cookie cutter shaped marshmallows.

About 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

3 1/2 envelopes (2 tablespoons plus 2 1/2 teaspoons)
unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 large egg whites

1 Tablespoon vanilla 

Oil bottom and sides of a 13- by 9- by 2-inch rectangular metal baking pan and dust bottom and sides with some confectioners’ sugar.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer or in a large bowl sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold cold water, and let stand to soften.

In a 3-quart heavy saucepan cook granulated sugar, corn syrup, second 1/2 cup of cold water, and salt over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat to moderate and boil mixture, without stirring, until a candy or digital thermometer registers 240°F, about 12 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and pour sugar mixture over gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin is dissolved.
With standing or a hand-held electric mixer beat mixture on high speed until white, thick, and nearly tripled in volume, about six minutes if using standing mixer or about 10 minutes if using hand-held mixer.

In separate medium bowl with cleaned beaters beat egg whites (or reconstituted powdered whites) until they just hold stiff peaks. Beat whites and vanilla (or your choice of flavoring) into sugar mixture until just combined. Pour mixture into baking pan and don’t fret if you don’t get it all out (learning from my mess of a first round). Sift 1/4 cup confectioners sugar evenly over top. Chill marshmallow, uncovered, until firm, at least three hours, and up to one day.

Run a thin knife around edges of pan and invert pan onto a large cutting board. Lifting up one corner of inverted pan, with fingers loosen marshmallow and ease onto cutting board. Coat a 1- or 2-inch holiday-shaped cookie cutter with oil or cooking spray to prevent it from sticking. Cut out as many individual marshmallows as possible; coat cutter with more spray as needed. Use marshmallows immediately or store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

Two years ago: Sunday Cassoulet

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