Family Cookbook, Lesson 1

In my last post, I mentioned that there had been some big life changes over the last year.  One of them, as I said, was a divorce.  Now, our family has long been known to “keep” people, regardless of relationship status.  A prime example?  My parents.  They met in college and dated until the end of their senior year.  My father lived near their college but over the years spent more and more time with my mother and her family at their house, which is the one my family lives in now.  After they graduated and ended their relationship, my mother moved a few blocks away from her parents, and my father…. moved in next door.  There was a rooming house next to my grandparents’ house and he took a room there.  Which meant every time my mother came home to do laundry, visit, or have a meal, my dad was there too, playing basketball with her brothers, helping my grandfather with work for the store or sitting at the table, talking with my grandmother.

“Family!”  she finally exclaimed, “I broke up with him!”

“We know, ”  they said, “But we didn’t!”

Clearly, they got back together because, well, here I am telling this story.  It doesn’t end there, however.  When I was 8 my parents separated and eventually divorced.  My dad remained in the area and stayed close to my grandmother.  At one point, he brought his soon-to-be second wife to meet her.  Grandma loved everyone and was gracious and accepting.  My father stayed close to both my grandparents until their deaths.  When family gets together now, even if he isn’t present (and he often is), they ask about him and reminisce about good times.

It’s not just my father, it’s all the ex-wives, ex-partners, friends, long-lost-relatives, roommates and others who remain in the family.  Everyone is always welcomed back.  For funerals, weddings, and other family holidays and events, we always have a large number of people who have to explain their connection (“Oh, I used to be married to…” and “…I lived at the house when I was…”). I’ve said it before somewhere but at one point we had a very large dinner (30 + people) and we asked everyone who’d ever lived at our house to raise their hands, and almost everyone there had a hand raised.

So it would make sense that the same is true for my divorce.  My ex-husband plans to live with us for one more year and then to continue to visit and spend time with all of us.  He’s using that year to save money, organize himself and to pick up some new skills that he’ll need to live alone.  One such skill is cooking.  I’ve promised him that I would teach him how to make a few dishes so that he won’t be stuck eating boxed macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs for each meal.

As a result, I plan to post a few recipes here that he will be able to use.  A bit of an on-line cookbook, with step by step instructions for some basic, healthy, but still kind of impressive dishes.  We are starting with chicken because if you have a protein, you just need a vegetable and maybe a starch and you’ve got a full meal.  Plus, once you have cooked chicken, it can be used in almost anything- tacos, pasta, salads, sandwiches…. you name it.  It seems like the best place to begin.

Now, I have shamelessly stolen my chicken method from the wonderful, instructive, website The Kitchn.  They explain how to make a simple, but juicy chicken breast here.  I have followed the steps and taken photos and am going to explain it below but I need to make it clear, this isn’t my method or recipe.   That being said, it’s my go-to way to cook chicken.

Ingredients

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 per person or you can cut one in half if it’s large)

Flour (you’re going to coat the chicken in flour so maybe a cup or so, more if you’re making more chicken, less if not)

Salt, pepper, seasonings

1-2 Tablespoons of butter

1-2 Tablespoons of olive or canola oil

*You will also need a saute or frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.

 

Directions

Start by placing your flour into a plate- better to use a large plate with a bit of a lip or even a flat baking sheet with a lip.

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Add your seasonings (pre-mixed is ok! but it will salty so adjust accordingly.  You can always add more salt but taking out salt is much harder.).

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Use a small whisk or a fork to stir it together.

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Whisk or stir until it looks evenly incorporated.

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Now, at this point, you can pound your chicken breasts so that they are all of uniform size. To do that, use a meat mallet or a heavy jar or can and pound evenly  all around.  That being said, I don’t always do that, because I’m lazy (as is well established) and this method still works.

Put a frying or saute pan large enough to hold your chicken pieces without crowding them on the stove and turn the heat to medium to preheat the pan.  Keep your eye on this!  You don’t want to burn the pan.  And if you’re nervous about this, because multitasking is tough, don’t do it.  The chicken can always sit for a minute while you heat the pan.

If your chicken is extra wet, pat it dry with a paper towel.  Again, lazy, so I don’t always do that step either.  Then place it in the flour on one side.

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Take it out and gently shake off any excess.

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Do the same to the other side.

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Again, shake off any excess. You should have a light coating of the seasoned flour all over. Set the chicken aside on a clean plate.

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Put a pat of butter and some oil (about a tablespoon  or two of each) into the preheated pan or, if you didn’t preheat, do it now, over medium high heat for about a minute or two, and then add the butter and oil.

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On my stove that looks like this:

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Once it has melted but not browned (like this:)

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Add your chicken, carefully because it may spatter and you don’t want to get burned.

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Now, here’s the hard part:  turn the heat to medium and leave the chicken alone for a full minute.  Don’t touch it at all.  At all. Trust.  This will work.

After a minute, flip the chicken over.

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Now comes the big leap of faith. Cover the pan.

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Turn the heat to low and don’t touch it.  Leave it alone.  Don’t peek, don’t mess with it, don’t flip it, don’t change the heat, don’t take the lid off, just LEAVE. IT. ALONE.  For ten minutes.  Then, turn the heat off (yes, off) BUT DON’T TOUCH THE PAN OR LID for another ten minutes.  Let the chicken sit, with the lid on for these ten minutes (it will be twenty minutes in total: ten with heat, ten without).  After that, open the lid and gaze lovingly at the beautiful end result that YOU created. I tend to put mine onto a cutting board- letting it sit for 2-5 minutes- and then I slice it so that I can use it for any number of things (salads, chicken salad, pasta dishes) or I just eat it plan with some veggies on the side.  Works every single time.

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A Year In Food

It has been over a year since I’ve posted.  Obviously, I’ve been eating during that year- and some really good stuff, too- but there have been bigger life events that have taken up my time, along with work and travel and parenting and general life stuff, so I haven’t been blogging.  Or even taking that many photos.

The biggest news, I suppose, is that I am now divorced.  It wasn’t painless (no divorce is, I don’t think) but it also wasn’t as hard as so many divorces are.  My ex-husband and I still get along, at least well enough that he will continue to be sitting at My Family Table for many meals to come.  I also have a new partner who is wonderful and who my kids adore.  So, the seats at Our Family Table are expanding and shifting and creating new ideas about family.

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In terms of food, well, it’s all a blur.  One of the benefits of a new family configuration is that we suddenly have time to eat out or I suddenly have help in the kitchen.  So I’m not even sure what I’ve been eating.  I’ll post the highlights of the year here.

Most recently, we had a dear friend from the outer reaches of Canada visit us these last ten days and we made him a birthday dinner since his birthday is tomorrow.  We had what I call Moroccan chicken (a variation on this dish), spinach with garlic and couscous.  He requested a funfetti cake with whipped cream frosting and couldn’t get over how I “made it from scratch.”  It was delicious and so cheerful!

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We also had “Israeli dinner” while he was here because it was so hot.  This means I made yummy tuna salad (tuna with mayonnaise, chopped up pickles, grated (yes, on a grater) hard boiled egg and a bit of lemon juice, salt and pepper), and Israeli salad.  We ate it with thick pita bread and an assortment of salads, dips, cheeses and fruit.  So good on a hot day.

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My son, the cherry monster.

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The best tuna salad ever.  I learned it from my Israeli cousin and I wake up at night craving the stuff.  And I don’t even *like* tuna salad.

I celebrated an anniversary with my partner and know that he’s the one for me because we went out for drinks and appetizers.  When we looked at the dessert menu, nothing thrilled me so he suggested that we order espresso martinis and mashed potatoes.  Must be true love.

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There was so much delicious restaurant food over the year. Scallops wrapped in bacon, birthday hash napoleon with pineapple mimosas, meatballs and Spanish tortilla, roasted brussels sprouts with soy caviar, oysters, adorable tea cakes shaped like turtles, creamy soups and sweet, gooey desserts.  I ate well this year.  I hope you did too.

I ran cooking club at school again this year.  We made a number of things including rice cake cats, celery animals, candy turkeys, snow people, crepes and smoothies.  Admittedly, we had a guest chef to help us make crepes and they were fantastic (and have also become a staple in my house as my kids love them).

There were birthdays to celebrate this year as well.  My kids wanted a Dragons Love Tacos and a Star Wars party.  This gave me the chance to perfect my food-that-looks-like-something-else skills.  I think that tiny tacos are adorable, and the Yoda Guacamole was so cute!

We had our holidays, too.  Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Chanukah and Purim… they all involved food and lots of friends around our Family Table.  It’s always good to have a sous chef with you for support during those big meal preps.

There were more meals, of course.  The regular, every day dinners, the bigger dinners with friends, the cookies and cakes and (made from scratch) key lime pie, new fizzy drinks, lobster dinner, meatballs, pancakes, school lunch sandwiches, Halloween treats, and the ice cream.  We eat so much ice cream.

So there you go.  A year in food.  I’d like to say I’ll post more often now but… I don’t want to make false promises.  I have at least one post in the drafts, almost ready to go, so I will promise at least ONE more post this summer.  How’s that for not over-promising, under-delivering?

My year (the last few really) has been full of heartache, tears, shouting and sadness. Divorce is hard, parenting is hard, new relationships and navigating, well, life, is hard.   But this year has also been filled with the most wonderful bouts of laughter, joy, happiness and decadent food.  My connections with others in my life have kept me afloat and we have connected over wine, beer, dessert, dinner, coffee, pancakes and, of course, ice cream.

Wherever you are, whatever shape your family is, no matter what you’re eating, I hope that you keep space at Your Family Table for laughter, joy and pure delight, with each other, with your food and, most importantly, with yourself.

Easy, Quick and Not Fancy

Oh, hey, hi!  I’m still here.  *waves from corner of the kitchen*

Remember me?  Yeah, well, I managed to make it through another school year and we are well into our summer (hooray!) and I am already starting to feel the stress of the next school year.  Today, however, I blissfully ignored it and read a book.  A whole book.  My children watched a lot of DVD’s and ate cake and applesauce and I read. a. book.

That has nothing to do with food, except for the cake, of course (more on that, later, I hope), but I had to say it.  Gleefully.

But that’s not what I came here to post about this time.  This time, I wanted to post about a recipe that has become a quick, easy standby.  One that works when I don’t feel like cooking and one that works when I have very little food in the house.  It’s even something that 3/4 of the people I usually cook for will happily eat.

It’s spaghetti carbonara.  Yes, I know, it sounds fancy and incredibly unhealthy but it’s really not so much either of those things.  I use Ruth Reichl’s recipe and she refers to it as “bacon and eggs with pasta instead of toast.”  I’ve found that the recipe is pretty flexible.  I almost never measure my cheese, I sometimes add an extra egg or egg yolk, or sometimes add some of the pasta water to make it slightly more creamy.  I made it most recently when my dad was visiting and his response was that it was delicious and that he’d had it the last two times he visited and this time was the tastiest.  I guess I make it more often than I’d thought.  But maybe I’m just…. perfecting my technique?

At any rate, it’s delicious and comforting and not super heavy.  An easy meal to whip up in a short period of time and most people seem pretty impressed with it.

Ruth Reichl’s Spaghetti Carbonara

Ingredients

1 pound spaghetti

1/4-1/2 pound thickly sliced bacon  (don’t use maple flavored….ick)

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 large eggs

1/2-1 cup grated parm cheese, plus extra for on top

black pepper

Directions

Get a large pot of water, salt it and bring it to a boil to cook your spaghetti.  Once it’s boiling, add the spaghetti and cook for 8-10 minutes or whatever your package of spaghetti recommends. While it’s cooking, you can get everything ready.

Get out your bacon.  I keep my bacon in the freezer.  Yes, I am the only person in the world who isn’t obsessed with bacon and who actually doesn’t use a whole package at a time.  But keeping it in the freezer makes it easier to slice, as it’s less sticky and fragile.  Plus, then I always have bacon.

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Get your bacon out and get ready to slice.

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Slice into thick-ish, but small pieces.

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You will also need garlic.  I keep my peeled garlic in the freezer.  Are you seeing a pattern here?  If you let it thaw on your cutting board for about a minute, it’s super easy to smash/chop.  You don’t have to do that for this recipe, whole cloves will be fine.

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Get your bacon into a pan and cook over medium-high heat.

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You want it to be brown and cooked but not too crispy.

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Add your garlic in- I always sort of smush my garlic once it’s in the pan.  But Ruth recommends that you take it out before mixing it into the pasta.  I always leave mine in both because I am lazy and because I like cooked garlic.

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Crack your eggs into a large bowl.

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I used an extra egg and yolk in this version because my eggs were medium sized but 2 large eggs will be plenty.  Add the pepper (a few grinds) and the cheese.

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Whisk it all together.

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Once your spaghetti is ready, scoop out a cup of the cooking water and then drain your spaghetti. You have a few choices.  Ruth says to put the hot pasta into the eggs and to mix thoroughly, “the heat of the spaghetti will cook the eggs and turn them into a sauce.”  Then add your bacon and toss again.

I, on the other hand, tend to toss it all in at once, starting with the bacon and then the pasta.  You can drain the fat from the bacon before you add it, if you want to, but you will lose a great deal of flavor that way.  Better to just add it all into the pasta.

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Mix it well, making sure to coat all the pasta with the egg/cheese/bacon mixture.  I sometimes add a little bit of that reserved pasta water to help with the coating.  A few tablespoons should do it- you won’t need the whole cup.

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Serve immediately.  Add more cheese on top if you like.  Gobble it up and tell me that isn’t the easiest yummy pasta ever.

Group Cooking

I am part of November Project which is something I am sure I’ve mentioned a few billion times on this blog.  One of the best parts of it is the community and friends I’ve made.  One subset of this community is in love with pizza in a pretty serious way.  As a result, when this pizza bowl video was making the rounds on facebook, there was immediate buzz and plans were made to try it out in real life.  We decided it should be documented someplace.  So here goes….

Pizza Bowl

Ingredients

(makes one)

1 bread boule
1 cup marinara sauce
8 oz fresh mozzarella
6 oz pepperoni
½ onion, sliced
½ cup basil
1 cup cooked sausage
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1 cup white cheddar, shredded

Directions:

Slice off the top of the bread round and scoop out the inside, leaving it hollow.  This leaves you with A LOT of extra bread.  Maybe feed the ducks?  Make bread pudding? Make breadcrumbs for later?  I don’t know, but it’s a lot of bread.  Spoon your tomato sauce into the bread bowl.

Add cheese and toppings and layer as you like- add more sauce, more toppings, more cheese.

We used these toppings:

Make sure to finish with a layer of of cheese and then replace the top of the bread that you cut off earlier.  Wrap it tightly in foil and then- according to the recipe linked to above, put something heavy on top of it for 30 minutes.  Surprisingly, none of us- and there were probably 15 of us at this pizza event- had bothered to read that part.  So we improvised.  And sat on the pizza bowls for a few minutes.

Once you’ve let them sit for 30 (or just a few) minutes, unwrap them and put sauce and cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Now, we baked some that way, and others we baked in the foil.  We were taking all kinds of liberties with this pizza thing.

To be honest, it was good.  I think it would have been better had we let it all smoosh longer.  (They aren’t kidding about the 30 minutes under something heavy)  It was sort of like a very crunchy calzone or a very full panini.  I think I might prefer actual pizza.  But it was a fun night.

Do you ever get together with friends and cook?  This group of us try to have dinner together, in some combination every few months.  It’s neat- one person hosts and cooks the main meal and the rest of us bring wine, sides and desserts.  It’s a lot of fun and way better than going out to a restaurant.

 

 

Fast Savory Meals For Winter

In my last post, I featured all sweet things.  In this one, I want to share with you two fast, savory, yummy meals that we’ve been eating lately.

The first is this soup, which I posted about a few years ago, had in pretty serious rotation and then… forgot.  I am so glad I remembered it because it is so good.  Slightly spicy, warm, full of healthy vegetables and soothing noodles.  This time around, I used onion, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, baby bok choy and carrots.  I think I added chicken that I had previously baked as well.  Soy sauce, sriracha and a dash of fish sauce rounded out the broth.

I’m not kidding when I tell you that this soup was gone in two days.  Twenty minutes to make.  Amazing flavor.  No regrets.

When I was traveling, I had the chance to read for fun (imagine that!) and i ended up reading Ruth Reichl’s Garlic And Sapphires:  The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise.  It’s a delightful read and she sprinkles in recipes here and there.  I was intrigued by her Spaghetti Carbonara recipe which she says is “the perfect last minute dinner, and I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t like it.”

While it was in fact, easy and good for a last minute dinner, of course MY children didn’t like it.  Which is fine, really.  More for me!

More Sweet Things

I am constantly, CONSTANTLY, thinking that I need to cut back on sugar.  Not candy, so much, as I am able to resist that but cookies, cakes, brownies, bars, ice cream, etc.  So every few weeks, I decide I am done and I stop eating desserts.  Which lasts between two hours and two days.  Then I remember that I am over 40, I work out almost daily and I will never be thin.  Therefore, why should I deny myself the yumminess?

So, in the last few months, I’ve made a bunch of different sweet things.  I managed to photograph the final product but not usually the process.

First were these divine cookie dough bars.  They taste like raw cookie dough but have no eggs in them so they are safe to eat.  I have to say, I found them very, very sweet and rich and had to cut them into smaller pieces.  But, so good.  Note: the chocolate topping has peanut butter in it but I suspect could be left out if you so desired.

The kids and I made a vanilla chocolate chip cake with milk chocolate ganache frosting, just because.  It, too, was delicious.  But I can’t remember what recipe I used.  I do remember facetiming my math friend to help me figure out the ratio for the ganache.  (Insert eye roll here, for me not being able to do fractions on my own).

I attended an event at a friend’s that was titled “My Drunken Neighbor Totoro Night”.  We watched this wonderful, beloved movie and, well, drank.  Or at least they did.  I know my limits, and as the oldest person in the room by at least 20 years, I stuck to water.  But Micah and I made Totoro cookies for the occasion.  They were a pretty good first attempt but I am sure I can do better.  Micah, on the other hand, is a master cookie cutter outer.  We used this sugar cookie dough and glazed them with the chocolate ganache.

Finally, we just celebrated Purim.  In our house that means we read the Purim story (which is way darker than I remember!) and make hamanaschen.  We used this recipe and then were a little…. creative…. with our filling.  We had traditional strawberry and blueberry.  But we also used mini reeses cups, milk duds (SO GOOD), Israeli chocolate spread and caramel chips.

See? Why give up sweet things?  All in moderation, right?

Authentic NY Egg Cream

If you are from Massachusetts, and you are of a certain age, and you enjoy ice cream,  I can name a few places that will surely bring nostalgia to your hearts.  Friendly’s, Brigham’s, Bailey’s, Steve’s and Herrell’s.  There are probably countless others.  All of these are ice cream stores/parlors that have closed or have dwindled down to just one or two in the area.  But these are the ice cream places of my youth.  Bailey’s used to have sundaes that were so messy that the toppings dripped over the sides of the metal fluted cup, falling into the metal saucer placed there for just that purpose (The only place that comes close to this today is Cabot’s in Newton, which I highly recommend).   Friendly’s was where I got my peanut butter sauce fix.  Steve and, later,  Herrell’s was where we “smooshed in” toppings into the ice cream.  Brigham’s was the place where my mother would double park, hand me $2.10 and send me in for two cones, mocha almond for her, usually m&m chocolate for me.

If you’re from Massachusetts or really, New England, then you already know that ice cream is a year round necessity, not saved just for summer.  But in the summer?  For me, there is nothing more refreshing than an ice cream soda.  Perhaps you’re not familiar? According to Wikipedia (that trusted source), ice cream sodas also go by the name ice cream float.  To me those are completely different things but Wikipedia says, “it is a beverage that consists of ice cream in either a soft drink or in a mixture of flavored syrup and carbonated water.”

If you’re from New York, you probably know what an egg cream is, right?  Chocolate or vanilla milk, with carbonation from seltzer.  New Yorkers get very particular about their egg creams- very specific about the brand of chocolate syrup, about the type of seltzer, about the milk.  For me, an ice cream soda is an egg cream with ice cream on top.  The perfect blend of Boston and New York.  It’s refreshing, sweet and not too filling.  When you’re hot and thirsty, the best part is definitely the cold, not too carbonated, creamy soda part.

I was recently taught how to make an authentic New York egg cream by a native New Yorker.  And when I say taught, I mean that I watched while he made it for me.  He narrated the whole process and I will do my best to offer that narration as I document it here.

Authentic New York Egg Cream

Ingredients:

Whole milk

Fox’s U-Bet Chocolate Syrup (no other brand will do)

Fox’s U-Bet Coffee Syrup (again, only this brand, lest you be mocked by true New Yorkers)

Plain, unflavored seltzer (we used the local kind, from Polar)

Directions:

Gather your ingredients, along with a tall glass and a long spoon.  Make sure that your milk and seltzer are very cold.

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Now, there were no measurements for this.  My New Yorker was able to do this all by sight/feel/taste.  Bear with me, we can figure this out.

Mix some chocolate and coffee syrup in the bottom of your glass.  Should be way more chocolate than coffee.

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I was told that the coffee syrup enhances the chocolate flavor (I do this with coffee powder in chocolate cake so I was completely in agreement).  Add a little bit of milk (maybe 1/4 of the glass?) so that you can mix it all together.

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Once it’s mixed, add about 1/4-1/3 cup more– enough to be a little more than half the glass.  Mix it well.

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Now it’s time to add the seltzer.  Apparently, you are supposed to hold a spoon in one hand, and sort of pour the seltzer down, over the spoon.   Sort of like when you pour a black and tan except instead of having the spoon upside down, it’s right side up.  So, do this and pour in enough seltzer to fill the rest of the glass.  (Shhh!  Don’t tell NY man but I’ve done this without the spoon trick and it’s JUST AS GOOD.)

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Once you’ve added the seltzer, give it a quick stir- but not too much, as you don’t want to flatten the carbonation- just enough to combine it.  Then?  Drink away.

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Sweet, bubbly, creamy and cold.  Just the thing for a sweet treat.  But as a true Boston girl?  I’d have to add a scoop of ice cream on top, perched on the side of the glass.

But?  You do you.  Yummy, regardless of how you do.