what i ate when...

the food and drink that make a lifetime

Florence at sunset

Ah, Firenze…

Speaking of Florence, here is Giada De Laurentiis cooking on-set during season 2 of Giada in Italy. Her location for the shoot is enough to make you weep...from some angles, you can see the Duomo in the background.

Speaking of Florence, here’s Giada De Laurentiis cooking on-set during season 2 of Giada in Italy. I’d probably look hysterical like this too if I was standing on some Florentine balcony with a glass of wine to hand and the Duomo behind me, whipping up a bunch of Italian deliciousness. Even if I knew Raffy was about to pick my cooking to bits.

When it came time to celebrate Shelley’s birthday last week, there was no question in my mind what I had to make: she’s been talking to me about strawberry risotto for so long that it seems like it’s always been a fixture in our shared food lexicon. It’s not exactly the most common dish, though, so my previous attempts to make it had been foiled by the lack of a recipe. And also a healthy fear of the unknown. I just couldn’t imagine what on Earth this thing was supposed to taste like.

Strawberry risotto has a very strong memory of place for Shelley: One of Florence, Italy. While I could not for the life of me imagine  what strawberry risotto was supposed to taste like until I tasted it, I certainly can identify with Shelley’s love of all things Firenze: the greenish-golden hue of the air…its ancient, yet approachable, nature…a timeless city of unquantifiable beauty. She had the risotto in question while there on an art history trip in college. It stayed with her since that time.

To back up a sec, I absolutely adore risotto. Aside from the babysitting aspect of its preparation, it’s super simple, and of course, risotto is the ultimate versatile meal or side. However, it’s been years since anyone in my house other than me would eat the stuff. Mr. Ex does not like risotto, and neither do my sons.

Orzo pasta. Virtually indistinguishable from arborio rice, right? Unless you're a male under 18, apparently.

Orzo pasta. Virtually indistinguishable from arborio rice, right? Unless you’re a male under 18, apparently.

As an aside, Shelley’s boys do not care for risotto either. Y’all…is this some kind of y-chromosome thing? This is a mystery to me. During swim season, I like to make fauxsotto with orzo pasta, and lots of butter and lemon and parm. Sometimes if I have it around, I add a touch of cream, and whatever herb I have handy. The swimmers like this, and it’s really JUST LIKE RISOTTO (I use a little leftover pasta water to get the consistency right)…but they will not eat risotto. Oh well. More for us.

Since it was just going to be Shelley, Mom and me for this birthday meal, I decided to build the evening around risotto…a veritable RiceAPalooza! I made arancini for starters, and Mom chimed in with her much-beloved stuffed mushrooms, then I did my favorite lemon risotto for first course. We had the strawberry risotto as a side to my default roasted chicken thighs with root veggies for main.

Roasted Chicken Thigh with Strawberry Risotto

Roasted Chicken Thigh with Strawberry Risotto

I cribbed the strawberry risotto from Marian Burros’ recipe at New York Times Cooking – which Shelley identified as the closest to the original. I think I did a pretty good job, despite having bungled the cooking instructions a bit. But I did, at last, completely understand the “point” of the dish…it’s delicious and winey, but fruitier than winey. While I served it with chicken, because that’s my default setting for guests, it would be delicious with a nice rare filet or ribeye. I’d love to make it again in the spring here, when our strawberries are at their peak.



For Shelley’s birthday treat, she asked for tiramisu, but said the one thing she doesn’t really love about this, her favorite dessert, is the strong coffee taste that gives the dessert the kick in its eponymous “pick me up.” I’ve been toying with the idea of a tea-flavored version of this dessert for a while, so in Shelley’s honor, I decided to do an all-Southern Tearamisu featuring Charleston Breakfast Tea from Charleston Tea Plantation and Lewis Redmond Hand Mash Bourbon from Dark Corner Distillery. And this…if I do say so myself…was delicious! Try this one, for sure. Next peach season, I’ll be making this again and adding some peaches into the custard layers. Mmmmmm….

Lewis Redmond, "The Robin Hood of Moonshiners"

It’s good to be bad.

What is it about the bad guy?

If you’ve never considered that question, you were probably never a high school girl.

Your basic average Good Bad Guy.

Your basic average Good Bad Guy.

Of course, if you weren’t a high school girl, mazel tov on your dramatically lower therapy bills, and you can of course share in the bad guy phenomenon simply by reflecting on popular culture. Silent movies would have been nothing without Snidely Whiplash, the mustache-twirling villain, but strictly speaking, I’m not talking about cut-and-dry villainy. I’m talking about that bad guy who’s the one you want to go home with, regardless of what your Mama told you. (And you know she did.) Where to draw the distinction? It’s the glint of vulnerability you see in his eyes. Check your dictionary under “James Spader.” You know what I mean.

Click here to Read More
Sick Day

Sick Day

This has been a WEEK, y’all. It has kicked my ass. Funny thing is, it began and ended the same way…with a sick day.

Here's my dog, Shannon. Clearly, she also enjoys my cooking. If you look really hard in the background, you'll notice that my bedroom is messy. Don't tell anyone.

Here’s my dog, Shannon. Clearly, she also enjoys my cooking. If you look really hard in the background, you’ll notice that my bedroom is messy. Don’t tell anyone.

#2 son, ten, has been fighting this same weird malaise for a while now: Gaggle of nonspecific virally symptoms including intermittent low-grade fever. He has been diagnosed by our sainted pediatrician with a sinus infection, but also had (more!) blood taken yesterday because we’ve been having a tick problem this summer. Lyme? Erlichia (which the dog has)? Results pending.Click here to Read More

The bite that started it all…

When deciding on a taste to start out with, I had several ideas. First, I planned out an entire menu focusing on our amazing South Carolina peaches, because they are my favorite summer fruit and have an inexorable connection to my childhood. However, knowing I was going to launch in mid-September, that just didn’t feel right.

This is Shelley, with one of the apples of her eye, her new niece Vera.

This is Shelley, with the most recent apple of her eye, her new niece Vera. (Photo courtesy of Shelley Summer.)

In discussing the subject, my bestie, collaborator, and ex-wife-in-law (come back on Wednesday to learn what that means! and other stuff!) Shelley pointed out that “Everyone’s already into the pumpkin spice now.” Click here to Read More


Good, bad, or indifferent, the bites (and sips) we take influence our lives and certainly our memories of auspicious – or mundane, but memorable – occasions. Whether it’s the first Proustian sample of a melt-on-your-tongue Parisian croissant…sip one of a green drink from your Ninja savored just after earning your yoga certification…the truly horrible steak Diane you suffered through on The Blind Date from Hell…or that first hand-squeezed lemonade guzzled down greedily at the Blossom Deli after a long walk downtown on a summer day between fourth and fifth grade…chances are you have a food or drink memory that stands out in your mind.

What I Ate When explores these connections between our neural pathways and our tongues, and offers pointers for forging new and exciting connections moving forward. Equal parts foodie indulgences, nostalgia, and travelogue, we bring the most memorable tastes home to you.

Additionally, we’ll be offering up special steals and deals for foodies on eats and drinks, kitchen equipment and accessories, and travel bargains to expand your palate.

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