new feature in the washington post

washington post instant pot

If you’re a journalist working in food, odds are good that someone has asked you write a piece about the Instant Pot. Thanks to its efficiency, it’s enormously popular, but I felt compelled to find out whether it could make a few of my favorite dishes taste as good. So I did a side-by-side taste test and feature for a newspaper I’ve long admired, The Washington Post. The piece is here, a few of my other clips are here, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to see it as the cover story for the food section this week.

Thanks for reading, and if you have questions, please come ask them in an online chat on Weds, January 24th, at noon, right here!

otto’s one-legged turkey

granny pop-pop

I was lucky enough to know all four of my grandparents. Grandpa Van Buren showed up every Christmas as round and rosy-cheeked as Santa Claus, bringing with him a big suitcase full of gifts—sweaters with snowflakes, and sensible things like that—he and Grandma had picked out in Florida. Even into his 80’s, he remembered meeting her, clear as day, when she was a nurse at the hospital where he was a doctor: “Her red hair shone like an angel’s!” He fought in Korea, and they raised eight kids in Flatbush, and then Long Island. Though Grandpa has passed on, grandma is still with us, living in Massachusetts. She is 99. She still looks like an angel.

Granny and Pop-Pop raised my mother first in Queens and then in Long Island, just down the street from the Van Burens. The photo above shows them on their first date, on Central Park South, on May 1, 1936. They were so clearly already smitten, and they went on to marry and raise seven children together. (Our family weddings—teeming with aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousins’ babies, all of whom think they can dance—are no joke.)

My memories of Granny and Pop-Pop are ferociously strong, so I wrote about them—my Granny’s frugality, my Pop-Pop’s pride, and a one-legged, possibly rabid, rather Irish-Catholic turkey—for The Daily Beast this Thanksgiving. I think I edited this piece 33 times on my own before sending it to Noah Rothbaum, who is running one heck of a food and drink page for TDB. I hope you enjoy it, and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

traveling and being leisurely for travel + leisure


Chocolate mousse pie at Pels Pie Company in Brooklyn. Credit: Alex Van Buren 

This morning my computer had a close encounter with a cup of coffee. I shorted out the keyboard but maybe not the entire contraption; time will tell. It’s shocking that this hasn’t happened prior to today, as I am an accomplished klutz. And it could be worse by a longshot, as I’m overdue for an upgrade. Some days peanuts, some days shells. (Does anyone know the origin of that expression? Is this correct? I’m very curious.)

I love autumn. I haven’t yet made it apple-picking, but will soon head upstate to drink cider and see family before November is out, so I feel lucky. And! Travel is officially part of my job description now, as I’ve been writing extensively for the lovely team at Travel + Leisure about topics as eclectic as lobster, Dia de Los Muertos, etiquette, and Chris Christie. I even, with great trepidation, revealed my best tip for scoring a cheap car rental, and may regret it in the years to come.

I’ll tweet these stories as they surface online, but definitely also follow the site’s Twitter handle. And yep, I’m still writing, editing, and consulting for a variety of other wonderful publications, too, such as Epicurious and Real Simple. I just feel especially fortunate to be able to focus on travel for such a neat site.

recent to-ings, fro-ings, and eats


Dry-aged beef potstickers at Brooklyn’s East Wind Snack Shop. Go there. Sprinkle that umami secret spice mix on ’em. So good. Photo: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

Happy August! So let’s get something clear up front: No one is allowed to mention anything about [redacted] or shoveling [redacted] to me yet. I haven’t jumped in enough lakes or eaten enough lobster rolls yet. Let’s just wait till [redacted] to discuss [redacted] weather, shall we? Thank you.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, here’s what I’ve been up to: consulting, writing, and editing, with a bit of copywriting, to boot. It’s been a blast, and I’m ramping up for fall. I have two stories up at Epicurious, a site I’ve always loved, about the bizarre egg shortage (and how prices are likely going to spike this fall) and five smart ways to use canola oil, my go-to for making Pok Pok wings at home. I’ve also been doing some work for the fine folks at Liquor.comBrides, and Vox, among others.

So let’s not get all grim about [redacted] being around the corner. And I hope to see you eating ice cream, wearing a floppy hat, or picking out fat peaches at the market some day soon.


setting the table

tablePhoto: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

My father’s mother recently realized that her eldest unmarried granddaughter is living in Brooklyn, alone, without the proper accoutrements.

Our calls typically involve my shouting so she can hear me—she is 94—and grandma shouting so she can hear herself. One exchange several months ago went like this:

Her: “Alex! Your father tells me you’ve moved! What are you doing for china?!”

Me: “Sorry, grandma?!”

Her: “CHINA!”

Me: “Grandma, I have plates and bowls. They’re nice. I’m fine. I promise.”

Her: “Hmmmph. What about crystal and silver?!”

Crystal and silver? Me: “Grandma, I’m FINE.”

Now, we are not a fancy family, but Grandma hails from Kings County herself, and had her wedding reception right off the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. And apparently she’d be damned if any granddaughter of hers would be entertaining in her home borough without proper silver. This resulted in my dad lugging an unexpected gift to me from Massachusetts a few years ago: Silverware. Lots of it. A slightly mismatched but very elegant set in a heavy, velvet-lined box.

I busted it out in February, alongside the plates I’d picked up at the Vanves flea market in Paris.

table twoPhoto: Alex Van Buren, Instagram

It had been my first big trip to Paris. Ten days. Steak frites obsessiveness. Lots of coffee. Lots of fromage. And I loved it, like you do, but I returned not feeling covetous of the bistros or the restaurants, but wanting to cook more for the people I love. In Brooklyn, as in Paris, we’re able to walk from butcher to cheesemonger, grocer to café, and I was reminded that I can do a lot of great things with easily accessible, excellent products. (Also, I mean, those plates. Yowza.)

Hosting friends for Valentine’s Day, I made Mark Bittman’s pernil, half of which I turned into carnitas, and a shrimp ceviche with blood orange juice. I yammered on about my “tablescape” all night long. (My grandma, in a sense, saw this aspect of my personality emerging before I did.) It was a delightful evening regardless.

In work news, this week marked my last week as an editor at Yahoo Food. I had such fun there and learned so much, and was proud of the work I featured, whether it was a sweet speech by a bartender, an Italian-American grandma’s meatball recipe, a gorgeous series of stone fruit cocktails, or a website doing civic-minded food journalism. I left in order to restart my own digital content strategy, consulting, writing, and editing business. I couldn’t be more excited, I’ll post about cool projects occasionally on this page or on Twitter, and I hope you have a lovely spring.


a launch + a memory


So yesterday was a bit of a rough one.

It wasn’t work that was tough. My colleagues and I launched a new site, Yahoo Food, a work in progress of which, as Features Editor, I’m proud. We’ve been toiling away for a couple of months behind closed doors, and now the floodgates are open to everyone’s critiques. It’s a challenge we’re up for; constructive criticism is a good thing, and you can send it here or even here until we get comments functionality.

But the first story in what we in the biz call the “hero module”—the one with the floury hands shown above—when that one went live, my heart sank a bit. I’ve been working on this piece on and off for several years, and although I hope it’s well-written, and that it moves you to cook for the people you love, it doesn’t do justice to the woman who inspired it.

My first mentor, who I call “Betty” in the essay, could write circles around me. Not only did she get me my first job in magazines, but she was terribly kind about my earliest, most horrible drafts of stories. Her stories had the most gorgeous, ephemeral ledes—all sweetness and light, for an île flotante—and then she’d hit you with a perfect pun, or a flip turn of phrase that made you giggle. Her kickers left you wishing the article was twice its length.

She wrote circles around me, and she would have written circles around me today, and I wish like hell I hadn’t had to write this piece at all, and that she was still here. Her empathy was extraordinary; no matter how down cancer got her, she always wanted to hear about your day. Betty was just straight-up a better person than I am, and I think of her when I consider how best to treat other people.

I didn’t use her name, and I never would, because her byline was a source of pride. (She wasn’t vain or arrogant, ever, but she was a perfectionist when it came to her work.)

My little essay is just an effort to remind the chilly people in the big cities that casseroles and caretaking can be transporting for those in need, especially this time of year.

Hope you dig the site. My articles are here, but you should be sure to read the articles by my colleagues, too.

cat-sized watermelons and other indignities

My last post overstated things. Prosciutto and butter and bread are excellent, yes. But that was then (May), and this is now (July), and the city has an ineffable stickiness that makes you root, root, root for the kids wasting water with the open hydrants (you know it’s wrong, but man is it fun to bike through the spray).

So I’ve been eating my share of squash and blueberries, favas and corn like the rest of the local food crazies. This being my first year in a CSA, I’m gonna crack open the cat-sized watermelon* I just got and turn it into the glorious watermelon-feta salad featured in the August InStyle (the one with Jessica Biel on the cover). It’s a Hugh Acheson recipe, and part of an article on summery Southern cooking by yours truly. All of his recipes are lovely and light, and I’ve been dreaming up riffs on his Pimm’s Cup all summer. Pictured above (right) is Acheson’s fava bean, prosciutto and mint appetizer. It is wonderful.

In less melony news, a bunch of my copy for Bon Appétit is live; I worked on this “Dress for Dinner” project (scroll down) and wrote all the little restaurant reviews. I’ve also been working on guides to various cities in collaboration with Restaurant and Drinks Editor Andrew Knowlton. I’m particularly pleased with the Boston and San Francisco writeups, so please clickety click.

A couple of parting notes: If you are biking, please wear your helmet: I got doored by a car that was illegally parked in a bike lane a couple of months ago, went flying, and was bruised for weeks. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t been properly kitted out.

Fellow stone fruit aficionados, don’t miss this article by Mark Bittman. Each approach is so easy: Cherries are simmered in a touch of water and sugar, then maybe topped with mint and crème fraîche (above, left): I am an ice cream fanatic, and I temporarily forgot about ice cream’s existence when I ate these cherries.

Hope you’re having a rad summer.

* We have a large cat. This was a very large melon. It dwarfed her. She seemed indignant. Post title explained.

winter warmers: my favorite cold-weather recipes

Homemade baked béchamel mac ‘n cheese with sriracha

I am not a winter person. I hate the cold, and have vivid memories of my parents using the “double plastic bag” method to keep our feet warm in the winters of the late 1970s.

It went like this: One pair socks, two plastic bags per foot, then snow boots. I would tuck my pants into the boots, hoping against hope. But every time I jumped into a fat Massachusetts snowbank, thinking I was secure against the elements, I’d wind up knocking—panicked—at the door of our home an hour later. The snow would freeze in the tops of the plastic bags, creating glossy ice rings around the shins that would not look out of place in one of today’s adorable vintage punch bowls.

No wonder I became a cocoa person and not a skiing person. But I do admire the effect of the seasons—the way people slow down in the winter, speed up in the spring and fall, and slow down again for the hot summer. There’s something to be said for winter’s indoors-y laziness.

Yesterday I was listening to Nina Nastasia’s “The Long Walk,” and today it’s Nina Simone. And all I want to cook are soups and chili, moles and stews, braises and casseroles. Here are the best recipes I’ve cooked over the last few months.

Nigel Slater’s killer onion tart is far and away my best party trick—layers and layers of slippery caramelized onions with fat cubes of taleggio and wisps of thyme. People freak out about it. Then there’s the cavatelli with sausage and sage from the Frankies cookbook; brown butter is wonderful this time of year. Bon Appetit’s Swiss chard soup is bright and floral with mint and cilantro, creamy from feta and yogurt, and makes a wonderfully warm starter or entrée. I like to strain the leftover soup for the base of some fantastic chilaquiles.

I’m also a big fan of Jonathan Waxman’s chicken-under-a-brick with bacon—that’s chicken butterflied and sizzled in bacon fat, folks—and it will probably be my Valentine’s Day meal. I reckon Molly Wizenberg’s French toast, with nutmeg and vanilla, would be an excellent way to wake up the next morning.

Lastly, I’m totally making Andrew Carmellini’s favorite chili—a recipe from Texas chef Julie Farias—once more before the winter is out. It uses coffee, beer and chocolate, packs a wallop of flavor, and it completely cheered up a sick friend.

We’re not through the season yet, so comment if you’ve got an ace winter recipe—and thanks!

catching up

Pie at Fort Defiance, Red Hook, Brooklyn. Still by Alex Lisowski. 

Oof, I’ve been remiss in keeping this page current! The last two months have been busy. In addition to some fun writing and editing, I’ve produced and hosted nine new videos for CHOW. Director/ shooter/ editor Alex Lisowski and I have had a blast: We’ve covered frozen treats like malted milk ball ice cream at Ample Hills, Bananas Foster ice cream sandwiches at the Coolhaus truck, and gorgeous gelato flowers at Amorino. There was a Restaurant Week feature on a sustainably-fished crudorazor clam in its pretty shell—at Esca, and a behind-the-scenes of the delicious brick chicken with fennel pollen and foie gras at The Beagle.

We drove out to Floral Park, Queens, to highlight the chaats at Mumbai Xpress, a longtime Chowhound fave, then biked to the opposite end of the city (sort of). In Red Hook, the new chef at Fort Defiance is making a mean blueberry-peach pie. We found a gorgeous burrata with ratatouille at newish French wine bar Thirstbaravin on Classon and Pacific in Brooklyn, and deep-fried halusky tossed with rosemary oil at Korzo Haus in Alphabet City.

NY CHOW Report now has a show page on Youtube, if you’d like to catch up on some of my favorite dishes around town. Thanks for watching, and thanks to CHOW colleagues Lessley Anderson, Blake Smith and Meredith Arthur for their sharp script edits. These segments air Tuesdays and Saturdays on NY1.