Toddy Tonic


“She keeps washing her hair and walking outside into the cold before she dries it. That’s why she keeps catching a cold,” my mom told me on the phone the other day. She was talking about my niece. “Mom, you know that you don’t catch a cold if your hair is wet, right?” I said hesitantly. “Of course you do!” she replied emphatically.

My mom is not the only one who believes that. Most people in Cyprus do. When I was a kid, once we showered and washed our hair, we were expressly forbidden from walking outside until it was bone dry. Cold foods and drinks were also thought to cause sore throats and colds. Ice cream was banished in winters, as was refrigerated water.

When we were little and we did get a cold or the flu, my parents cupped us. They put some cotton at the end of a fork, dipped it in alcohol and lit it on fire. They placed the burning ball in a small drinking glass and then quickly placed the glass on our bare backs. The heat created a strong (and painful) suction that pulled our skins into the cups for several minutes. It was believed that it “sucked out” the fever. All I remember is that the next day, my sister and I would laugh at the “salami” marks on our backs, the perfectly round bruises from the cups.

There were many such medical myths in my childhood. It was, for example, absolutely forbidden to eat raw cake batter or cookie dough, because it could cause worms to grow in our stomachs. Whether this belief came out of mothers trying to keep kids out of their baking bowls or from stories of people getting tapeworm and blaming it on what they ate, I don’t know.

Perhaps the most bizarre medical myth I remember was a story that was all the buzz in Cyprus for a few months when I was little. According to this story, there were people in the Philippines that were able to conduct surgery without cutting with scalpels. Instead they used “special energy” to reach with their bare hands through skin and muscle, repair the damage, and remove their hands without leaving a scar. In those days before the Internet and Google, the story took a life of its own and became national news, science be damned.

Today’s recipe is a hot drink that claims to be a “digestive sleep aid” and a “healing elixir,” thanks to the “anti-inflammatory properties” of turmeric. I have serious doubts about all that. But what I do know is that it’s absolutely delicious. Hot apple cider, spiced with six different spices, with a touch of butter, I mean, what’s not to love?

Toddy Tonic – Slightly adapted from the New York Times


6 cloves
2 cups apple juice or apple cider
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom ghee, optional (recipe below)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Place the cloves on a baking sheet, and bake for 5-7 minutes to release essential oils. Set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, warm the apple juice/cider over medium-high heat.

4. Add the cloves and ground spices to the juice and let come to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat to low and let the mixture steep for 5 minutes.

5. Strain out the spices before serving.

6. Stir in the cardamom ghee, if using, and enjoy.

Cardamom Ghee

¼ cup ghee
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the ghee.

2. Once the ghee liquefies, add the cardamom. Turn heat to low and let steep for 3-5 minutes.

3. Strain the ghee and remove and discard the cardamom granules.

Peach Pie Braided Bread


One of the things I experienced for the first time in my life when I moved to the U.S. in 1990 was the mall. Growing up, we had heard of malls and seen them in movies, but we never had one where I lived. So there I was in Philadelphia, with just a suitcase and in need of bedding and other basics for my new college dorm room. I was quickly given directions to the Gallery, Philly’s largest mall. I took the subway (another first) and landed at the glass and steel entrance. I pushed through the revolving doors and I was instantly in love.DSC03175

It’s funny how all the things that over the years I’ve come to hate about malls are the exact ones that made me love them when I first experienced them. There was the clean, almost antiseptic smell, a mix of marble, perfume, and ozone, that made me think clean! and safe! I loved the constant muzak, so calm and innocent, sort of like a glistening snake smoothly gliding towards you in the sunlight. I thought that having all those stores in one place was such a great convenience (no need to walk out in the streets!) and I loved the little stands that dotted the middle of the mall, mimicking actual street stalls. Never mind that what they sold was nothing but gimmicks and AS SEEN ON TV! products.DSC03167

But my absolute favorite was the food court. Cheap and barely edible Chinese food? Bring it on. Cheesesteaks with four tiny slices of steak under a mountain of processed cheese? I was all in. Pizza with greying ham and canned pineapple? Heaven.

My tastes have obviously changed over the years and I look back at all that food I ate in abject horror. But there’s one thing I can’t help but remember fondly: Cinnabons. You could smell the sugar, cinnamon, and butter about five minutes before you hit the food court. Each bun was the size of a small baby’s head. I would start from the outside layers, like peeling an onion, and work my way to the insanely rich middle. I would devour the whole thing in minutes, making sure to get all the cream cheese frosting that got stuck on the cardboard box. I was still a teenager and eating a whole Cinnabon after two huge slices of “Hawaiian” pizza was not a problem.

This week’s recipe isn’t for a Cinnabon but it’s for its distant cousin, a healthier and more seasonal version. It will fill your kitchen with the aroma of buttery cinnamon sugar but also with the smell of baked peaches. It’s best eaten warm, with your hands, and with no regrets.DSC03186Peach Pie Braided Bread – Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker


For the Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed to a warm lukewarm
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
a bit of oil for greasing the bowl

For the Filling:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash


In a medium bowl stir yeast with sugar. Stir in the lukewarm milk and then add the egg yolk and melted butter. Whisk together until thoroughly combined. Allow mixture to rest for 5 minutes. It should foam and froth.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt.

Make the dough by hand: Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and start kneading it until it pulls away from the edges of the bowl. Place dough on a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes more. Dough ball should be smooth and damp, without being too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.

Make the dough in a mixer: In a mixer with the dough hook attachment, add the dry ingredients and the milk mixture. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and not too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.

Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover. Allow to rest at warm room temperature for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, whisk together the butter with sugar and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375º F. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Set aside.

After the dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured counter and knead twice. Using a rolling pin to roll the dough to a rectangle of about 18×12 inches.

Spoon the cinnamon filling over top, spreading evenly, leaving a clean 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the peach pieces over the cinnamon filling. Start by rolling the longest side of the dough. The roll will be a bit lumpy because of all the fruit. Using a sharp knife, cut the log in half length-wise leaving 1-inch of the edge uncut.

Start braiding the two pieces, by carefully lifting the left strand over the right strand. Repeat this motion until you reach the bottom of the dough. Press together to seal. Join the two ends, creating a circle with the dough and press together.

Using both hands, transfer the dough ring to the prepared cast iron skillet. Brush the bread with the beaten egg.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread


I really should be starting to post recipes featuring apples and pears and the first winter squashes of the season. I have been furiously bookmarking recipes with seasonal ingredients, anxious to try them out. But in fact, I have done absolutely no cooking for a whole week now. Nada. Zero. That’s because last Friday I had arthroscopic hip surgery to repair a torn labrum and a hip impingement. So, I’ve been hobbling around on crutches, unable to carry anything, let alone stand long enough to cook. Not to mention that for the first few days I was on some serious painkillers that kept me too loopy to be near sharp knives and hot stoves.

The good news is that I’m recovering well and, fingers crossed, when I see the doctor on Monday, he will say I can stop using crutches. At which point, I will be thanking Steve for taking such good care of me by making cherry scones and passion fruit ice cream.

In all seriousness, though, I hate not being able to cook. It’s not just the relaxation it provides or the fact that I know what we are eating (as opposed to take-out food). It’s that it gives me a sense of power that I don’t feel anywhere else. When I am in the kitchen, I am in control. I take decisions and act on them. I make things, physical things, with my own two hands. I’ve been really missing that this week.DSC02127

So, instead of a recipe for french apple cake or roasted squash with dates and thyme (both of which should be appearing here soon), I give you a recipe for a loaf of bread on the healthier side of things. Let me start by saying that I am not a huge fan of whole wheat breads. I definitely do not like the ones you find in the supermarket that proudly call themselves whole wheat, with big letters, but a closer look at the ingredients reveals high fructose corn syrup, “natural” flavors, and a bunch of other, not so “whole” things. But I also don’t really like homemade whole wheat breads either. I find them too dense, too bitter, and a chore to eat.

This recipe, however, is one I quite enjoyed. It uses oats, sugar, honey, and cinnamon to make the bread lighter and a little sweeter. If you can find King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat Flour (a whole wheat flour that is lighter than the traditional kind), the bread comes out soft and bouncy, more like a white loaf, but with the benefits of a whole wheat bread. If you can only find regular whole wheat flour, go ahead and use that. It will be just as good.


Vermont Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey Bread – Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour 


2 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats, traditional or quick (not instant)
1/2 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (or regular whole wheat flour)
4 cups all-purpose flour


In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, oats, maple or brown sugar, honey, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Let cool to lukewarm, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the yeast and flours, stirring to form a rough dough. Knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5 to 7 minutes by machine) until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. Since the dough is warm to begin with (from the boiling water), it should become quite puffy.

Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in two greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pans.

Cover the pans with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the loaves to rise until they’ve crowned about 1″ over the rim of the pan, about 60 to 90 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the loaves in the preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting them lightly with aluminum foil after 25 minutes, to prevent over-browning. Remove them from the oven when they’re golden brown, and the interior registers 190°F on a digital thermometer.

Turn the loaves out onto a rack to cool. Store at room temperature, well-wrapped, for several days; freeze for longer storage.

Baked Doughnuts


The night before I joined the army, the aliens came.

I’m not sure why my parents thought that it was a good idea to spend the eve of my enlistment eating dinner at a restaurant. Perhaps they thought it would be a good distraction. God knows we all needed one. But there we were, sitting al fresco on a hot summer night, eating roast lamb and whatever else my dad had ordered, when I saw them.


“What is that?” I said, pointing at the row of lights that twinkled in the hazy air, hovering high above, somewhere far from where we were sitting. Everyone looked up. We immediately started to guess their nature and it wasn’t long before the UFO possibility came up. This was the 80s and I was a 17-year-old that had grown up with Carl Sagan’s voice describing the “billions and billions of stars out there” and who had read and worshiped Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. It seemed entirely possible to me that what we were seeing was actually a circle of lights viewed from the side, like a great big shiny doughnut resting on the dark canvas of the sky.


The lights became the only topic of conversation for my family and soon other tables at the restaurant noticed them and started to point up at the sky, some laughing nervously. My dad asked the waiter if he knew what they were but he said that he had no idea and that he was sure he had never seen those lights before. This was important. The lights were new. The UFO explanation had gained support.


After dinner, as we were driving back home I kept looking out of the car window at those lights that still hung in the sky, hoping that yes, indeed, they were an alien ship, and that when the morning came, the world would change forever. And maybe this thing that I had feared since I could remember; the menacing rhinoceros that had been charging towards me from the moment I was first told that all boys like me would have to join the army when they finished high school; this experience that, based on the stories I had heard repeatedly from every adult man in my life including my dad, was going to be hard, traumatic, and painful; maybe, just maybe, becoming a soldier simply wouldn’t happen for me.


But when the morning came, there was nothing in the news, nothing in the paper, and as we all got ready for the long drive to the camp, where I would say goodbye to my parents and sister, all of them putting on a brave face for me, saving their tears for the drive back home, we never mentioned the bright lights in the sky.

It wasn’t until weeks later, after basic training was over and I was allowed a day long leave, when I asked my dad if he ever found out what those lights were. “Oh, it turned out to be a new restaurant that opened up on the mountains,” he said. “I guess it was such a clear night, we could see its lights all the way down here.”

By then it didn’t matter. My two-year military adventure had begun and I had discovered that, like just about everything in life, I could learn how to survive it. Without the help of aliens.


Baked Doughnuts – Adapted from The Breakfast Book

Note: These doughnuts are incredibly delicious, even though they are baked and not fried. They are tender and really flavorful. Don’t skimp on the nutmeg. I know it seems like a lot but in the end, you can taste it just enough to give them an unmistakable doughnut-y flavor.


For doughnuts:
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
3 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons nutmeg
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For topping:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon


In a small saucepan, heat the milk, water, and shortening until the shortening is melted. Let it cool to look warm (around 105 degrees F).

In a large mixing bowl, add the yeast, the 1/4 cup of sugar, salt, nutmeg, eggs, 2 cups of the flour, and the lukewarm milk mixture. Beat until well blended. Add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour and mix until smooth. The dough will be very wet and sticky. Cover the bowl and let it double in volume for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 F. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

When the dough has finished rising, scrape it onto a board or countertop that is very generously dusted with flour. Dust a little flour on top of the dough and flour your hands. Using your fingertips, pat the dough out into a circle or rectangle that is about 1/2 inch thick.

Use a 3 1/2″ round cookie cutter and cut out doughnuts, placing them on the prepared baking sheets. Using a 1 1/2″ round cookie cutter, cut out doughnut holes from the middle of the doughnuts, placing them also on the prepared baking sheets. The donuts rise but they don’t spread so you only need to leave about an inch between them. Continue until you have used up the dough. There will be lots of scraps of dough that remain. I like to gather them and roll them into long flat strips that I twist and place on the baking sheets as well.

Let the doughnuts rest and rise for 20 minutes, uncovered.

Bake the first baking sheet for 10 minutes (you can leave the second sheet to rise for an extra 10 minutes while the first is baking), until the donuts are turning slightly golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and immediately brush them generously with the melted butter. Rolle brushed doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar.

Doughnuts are great served warm but they will keep covered for a couple of days. They also freeze really well.

Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins

I was reading Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette the other day. First, let me just tell you that Molly is one of the best food writers currently out there. Scratch that. She’s one of the best writers. Period. If you haven’t read her blog or her book, go read them now. I strive to emulate her knack for blending personal stories with spot-on, yet unorthodox, descriptions of food and cooking. For me, she is the heir to Ruth Reichl (not that Ruth has abdicated her throne yet).


Anyway. Molly was writing about repetition in cooking. About how she tends to go back to the same recipes and make them over and over again. Don’t we all? There’s comfort and safety in familiar recipes. When you have one that works, that’s not to hard to make, that results in food that’s exciting or satisfying or impressive, why wouldn’t you go back to it repeatedly?


In fact, a big reason why I started this blog was to share exactly those recipes that I find myself reaching for again and again. Nobody can deny the thrill of trying out a new recipe, one that caught your eye while reading Bon Appétit or your favorite food blog. But like any unexplored territory, an unfamiliar recipe can hide unseen dangers. Despite the assurances of the writer, your cake never rises beautifully like in the photograph, or your leg of lamb comes out tough, almost crunchy, like cartilage.


Not that tried-and-true recipes don’t offer themselves to some adventure. Over time you may start replacing ingredients (either on purpose or because you forgot to buy the cranberries). Or you may start adding things you suspect would improve it. But most of the time, you just stick to the plan, knowing that, like an old friend, they’ll never let you down.

One of those recipes for me is the one I’m sharing with you today. I make these cranberry orange crunch muffins year-round. They are the perfect muffin. Their slightly crisp exterior gives way to an incredibly light interior. They are almost spongy, though not unpleasantly so. The mildly sweet crumb is bracketed by tart cranberries and the toasted sweetness of the pecan topping.


Fresh cranberries will soon be everywhere. It’s one of the joys of fall (along with butternut and acorn squashes and apples). But you can easily use frozen cranberries to make these. No need to thaw them. Just chop them and use them as you would with fresh cranberries. I bet that once you’ve made them once, you’ll make them again. And again. And again.


Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins – Slightly Adapted from King Arthur Flour


2 cups (8 7/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (6 ounces) 2% milk
1/4 cup (2 ounces) fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

1/4 cup (7/8 ounce) finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) brown sugar, dark or light, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or line them with muffin paper cups.

Batter: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then toss the cranberries in the mix and stir to coat.

In a separate bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, oil, milk, orange juice, and orange peel. Gently and thoroughly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not over mix

Using a muffin or cookie scoop, or a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into 12 lightly greased muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full.

Topping: Combine all of the topping ingredients. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of topping over the batter in each muffin cup.

Baking: Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, or until they’re nicely domed and a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven, and run a knife around the edge of each one to separate it from the pan. Carefully tilt each muffin in its cup so steam doesn’t collect underneath as they cool. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack to cool completely.