Thursday, August 14, 2014

Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting // One Year!!! (weeks 51 & 52)

Did you hear that? That was the sound of all the champagne bottles I’m popping. Okay, maybe not, though it certainly feels like I should.

It’s been one year. One year! One year of stress and sleepless nights, of small celebrations and set backs. One year of new friends, new employees and new worries. In the past year, we’ve been a part of one dozen new pop-up markets around New York, been robbed once, had a (now past) employee try to rip off our recipes twice, have added two entirely new sections to our menu (braised meat mac & cheese or brown rice bowls anyone?), have partnered with one of our favorite dessert companies, have received a handful of bad reviews that helped us to do things better and have been shocked to receive a handful of glowing reviews that have made us realize we are capable of doing things way better than we ever thought we could. We’ve survived the dog days of summer, the doldrums of winter, and all the ups-and-downs in-between. Maybe I really should go open that bottle of champagne after all.

Right now, I feel riddled by clichés; however, they all feel true. Time flies. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. I really don’t know how our first 365 days of operation have unfolded so quickly. In some ways it feels like Jay and I both still have paint and caulking beneath our fingernails from last summer’s renovation. In other ways, it feels impossible to imagine our life together just one year back. What did our life look like before our brick and mortar shop existed? What did we do with our days? What did we possibly talk about other than our shop?

Back in 2011 when we sold our first sandwich at a small, weekends-only pop-up in downtown Brooklyn, we never thought we’d last through the first month. Then, when we spent the next fifteen months operating at pop-ups year-round, we felt we might never have the chance to do more than that. When we signed the lease on our first storefront on NYC’s Second Avenue last spring, we were terrified that we’d never be able to pull ourselves together enough to make the whole thing work out. And then, on August 16th of last year, the day of my 31st birthday, when we opened our doors for real, we were both plagued with anxiety about surviving our first full year.

Last year, the night before my birthday was probably the most unglamorous event of my life. Just short of twelve hours before we were scheduled to open, our dining area was littered with custom tables that still were not assembled; rented tools were spread all across our service bar which, as a result, needed a fresh coat of black paint; our menu sign still rest in the trunk of my mother’s car in New Jersey. I rang in the first few minutes of my 31st year by running a shop vac across our kitchen floor and eating the remains from a bag of gummy candy I left out the day before. Very fancy, I know.

This year, life looks pretty different. For the first time since our shop opened, Jay and I are heading out of town for a few nights (I think some people call this sort of getaway a va-ca-tion. Did I pronounce that right? I can’t be sure). It’s our first big road trip – a thirteen-hour drive south to Charleston – and, naturally, it revolves around food. We’ll be hitting up both of Sean Brock’s restaurants for dinner, and will basically spend the rest of our time searching for the perfect bourbon and taste-testing skillets of cornbread. We both plan to come back at least five pounds heavier.

I’m packing our cooler with all the basic road trip essentials. PB&Js. Stone fruit from a nearby farm. Raw nuts. Granola. And for a taste of something sweet, these little zucchini cakes with chocolate frosting. I know, I know. Chocolate frosting for a road trip? It’s like I’m just asking for a messy t-shirt and sticky hands. However, I figure it’ll be worth the risk to be able to pull over at some scenic southern rest stop, many hours from home, to stretch our legs and enjoy a few sweet bites of these mini end-of-summer cakes to celebrate the fact that together, just one year later, we’ve made it this far. 

Good tidings for now friends. I’ll be back soon.

Sweet Little Zucchini Cakes w/ Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from I Am Baker

For the cake:
-       1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-       2/3 cup sugar
-       ½ teaspoon vanilla
-       3 egg whites
-       2 cups all-purpose flour
-       2 tablespoons cornstarch
-       3 teaspoons baking powder
-       ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
-       2/3 cup almond milk
-       1 cup shredded zucchini, patted dry

For the frosting:
-       1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
-       ¼ cup cocoa powder
-       2 cups powdered sugar
-       1 teaspoon vanilla
-       2-4 tablespoons almond milk
-       a pinch of coarse salt

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tins with paper liners. Set aside.

Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, combine the butter, sugar, vanilla and egg whites. Beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds, and then on high for about 2 minutes until the mixture becomes very light and fluffy.

In a medium-sized bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add some of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture. Then add some of the almond milk to the sugar mixture. Continue to alternate until all ingredients are mixed. Mix on low until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the zucchini.

Pour the batter into the muffin tins until they are 2/3 full and bake for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make the frosting, add the butter to a clean bowl of an electric mixture and mix for 1 minute until the butter is creamed. Add in the cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt and mix on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Turn the mixer to a low speed and add in the milk, one tablespoon at a time.

Remove the muffin tin from the oven and allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Peach & Raspberry Muffins w/ Cinnamon Honey Crumble // Sticky Fingers (Weeks 49 & 50)

Last week, for the first time in our three years as business owners, we were robbed. When Jay called to tell me that someone -- likely a current or former employee based on our current investigation -- snuck into the shop overnight, stripped our cash register and stole whatever was left behind in the petty cash drawer, I was furious, insulted and hurt. During our tenure at our shop, we've always done our best to make it not only a comfortable space for our customers, but also a comfortable space for our staff. We pay livable wages. We offer free food during shifts. We allow our employees to express their individual personalities by wearing whatever street clothes make them feel best. When our company takes part in big events, such as summer concerts and festivals, we hand out hundreds of dollars worth of free tickets so that our crew can enjoy a few fun nights out with their friends. We permit cell phone use and smoke breaks and rarely get pissed if someone shows up to a shift fifteen minutes late or needs a last minute day off. We dole out advances when our employees are faced with difficult times. We provide cash bonuses at the close of crazy pop-up markets or seasons as a thank you for a job well-done. We use mistakes as teachable moments and allow our crew's input about cool new menu ideas. We usually just laugh when our twenty-two year old counter workers show up still reeking of last night's booze. Overall, I think our philosophy is and always has been this: We get it. We've been there. We might own this place, but we're still humans too (albeit mildly dysfunctional ones from time to time). 

So when I learned that someone who recently was or still is a part of our team violated us, it felt like the ultimate slap in the face. Was this person that desperate for some extra cash, and if so, why didn't he just ask us for a little something to help float him until the next pay date? Was this person in trouble and at a horrible low point and, if so, were we that blind as bosses to identify such a problem? Was this person out to prove something -- to himself or to his friends maybe -- or out to stick it to us (i.e.: did we, as shop owners, somehow become "the man" and, therefore, someone worth "sticking it" to)? Although my brain kept reminding me to be angry about the missing money, I found myself growing more and more pissed about the fact that 1) someone we trusted and believed in turned his back on us and violated our sense of trust, 2) someone felt we sucked that much as bosses that he didn't feel comfortable coming to us and simply asking for whatever he needed so desperately, and 3) some current or former employee thought we were dumb enough not to notice our shop's cash flow, which infuriated me most of all.

Immediately following this unfortunate "sticky fingers" incident, Jay made phone calls to several of our friends who also own small NYC restaurants, pop-ups, food wholesale businesses and the like. It turned out we weren't the only ones who ever dealt with a greedy employee. In fact, the majority of people we spoke with admitted that they discovered employees skimming a bit of extra cash off the top of the stack within their first year of operation. Sad news, though I think it made us feel slightly better that we weren't the only foolish shop owners who have ever been "had."

Now that we are just a week shy of our shop's one year anniversary, we've learned a lot. For one, we've learned how hard it really is to be the boss. As our business grows, we can't be physically present in the shop nearly as much as we were present at the start of things. If our business is going to grow, then as owners we need to step away from the shop to take part in meetings, to spend time scouting out new markets and new spots for additional locations and doing a whole lot of not-fun business stuff that far exceeds whipping up new condiments in our kitchen. In our absence, we need to trust that the staff we've trained will prepare our recipes just so, that they will show up when they're supposed to show up and that they will complete all their daily tasks before they leave. We also need to trust that they won't rob us during the times when we need to step away.

In addition to stepping away from the shop for meetings and all that fancy business stuff, we've also periodically stepped away from the shop this summer to have, well, a life. Trust me, it's been a pretty hard thing to do. I imagine it is what a young mother feels like the first time she leaves her child in the hands of another caretaker. Terrifying, yet necessary for one's own mental health.

At the start of this summer, when our employee roster grew to fifteen, we knew we needed to begin to occasionally step away. Although during most of the year, weekends at the shop can be kind of insane, New York City tends to clear out on summer weekends, and so we figured we'd take baby steps and use these quiet periods as times for us to begin to step away. For the past month, we've been heading to the shop on Saturday mornings to drop off food and make sure things are running smoothly, then scooting down to the Lower East Side for lunch (I really ought to tell you more about our recent lunch at Momofuku, but more on that in another post), briefly popping our heads back into the shop to take care of any minor disasters (they always -- ALWAYS -- pop up) and then leaving to enjoy the rest of our weekend, our full confidence left in our staff.

On Sundays, we've been waking up early and spending a good hour or so foraging for wild berries near our home. Once we collect one or two quart containers filled with wild blackberries, raspberries and wineberries, we head to our favorite farmers' market and buy all our produce and bread for the week. Then we come home, lounge around on the couches, bake a little treat using the fresh berries, prepare a proper Sunday supper and then sit outside to eat and drink in the warm night breeze. It's been kind of a dream...

Although I've enjoyed all our Sundays spent together, I'm wondering if perhaps some of our temporary seasonal staff members (i.e.: those staff members who, in reality, we've only known a few weeks and who therefore do not know us or our business practices very well) misinterpreted our time away. Maybe they thought we were crappy business owners for not sweating it out in our kitchen twenty-four hours a day. Maybe they thought we were stupid and didn't pay attention to our sales. If only they knew that, even on those days spent outside of the shop, we are never really away. In between all those peaceful moments, we're constantly touching base with our managers, calling different purveyors, our fingers constantly tapping our cell phone screens so we can access the many apps that keep us up-to-date with shop sales, deliveries, catering concerns, payroll, schedules, invoices and spreadsheets.

These Peach & Raspberry muffins are one such treat I've made on a recent quiet weekend. The recipe calls for a generous amount of fruit, meaning that every bite of these muffins includes a taste of sweet, ripe peaches and tart berries, as well as a satisfying cinnamon and honey crumble. Plus, instead of oil, this recipe relies on Greek yogurt, which turns out an incredibly moist muffin that seems completely acceptable for breakfast. Likewise, I've also discovered that is it one hundred percent acceptable to face a half dozen of them while testing out infrared security cameras (say "cheese"!).

Although it is already August, a few weeks worth of summer Sundays still remain, as do several weeks worth of high summer produce. I hope you get to enjoy it all.

Peach & Raspberry Muffins w/ Cinnamon Honey Crumble

For the muffins:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 2-3 large ripe peaches (or any stone fruit), diced
- 1 cup ripe raspberries (or any berries)

For the crumble:
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of coarse sea salt
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
- 2 tablespoons golden honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tins. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and set aside to cool. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In another medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg. Add the sugar and the vanilla and continue to whisk until thick and creamy. Add the almond milk, butter and yogurt and stir to combine. Combine the egg mixture and the flour mixture until fully incorporated. Fold in the fruit and set aside. To make the crumble, add all ingredients to a small bowl and mix by hand until a crumble begins to form. 

Pour the batter into the muffin tins until they are about 3/4 full. Top each muffin with a generous amount of the crumble. Bake the muffins for 35-40 minutes, or until the muffin and the crumble are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of each muffin comes out clean.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

Friday Roundup

Earlier this summer, I made big promises to craft a weekly roundup post every Friday. So naturally, this is the first time I've had the chance to write one in several weeks. So it goes, I guess.

Today is officially the first day of August, meaning our humble little NYC sandwich shop has officially reached its twelve month mark (yah!!!). Although as Jay was quick to point out, it is not yet our official shop anniversary (more on that in two weeks), I couldn't help but feel a little emotional this morning when I realized that, if nothing else, we've just about made it through our first year. Pretty sweet stuff. But on to this week's roundup…

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pickled Blueberries w/ Rosemary Sprigs // Phish at Randall's Island (Weeks 47 & 48)

Our farmers' market is pretty much giving away blueberries. Last week, I popped by to pick up some greens for dinner and happened upon the deal of the summer: six pints of locally grown berries for three bucks. Naturally, I bought twelve. The problem, however, was not that I bought a dozen pints of fresh berries. The problem was that I foolishly did so just one day before we headed out of town.

Okay, so we weren't exactly out of town. Rather, we headed out early Friday morning to pack up all our food and equipment at the shop and then zipped it over to Randall's Island, where we were scheduled to serve as food vendors at Phish's three-day show.

I've fallen in love a bit with both Governor's and Randall's Islands this summer -- two tiny specks of land that float just off the coast of Manhattan. Although they're both just a five-minute ferry ride from the city (and are still technically a part of the city), they feel like a reprieve. There is a ton of green space (almost all green space, come to think of it), sweeping views of the East River and the city's skyline just across the water, and perhaps the best part: with the exception of food vendors and emergency vehicles, cars are not permitted on either island. Umm…bliss.

The concert itself felt like such a treat. In college, I was a pretty serious Phish fan. Throughout the school year I'd save all my money from my work study gig so that in the summer I could pack up my Jeep with friends and tents and cases of beer and hit the road to go watch them play up and down the East coast. It was such a carefree time. None of us were worried yet about careers or paying bills or starting families or any of that grown-up stuff that bogs us all down today. The only thing we cared about was getting drunk and listening to music and falling asleep under the stars next to cute tie-dye clad boys. 

On Friday morning, after our crew set up our pop-up booth, I had an opportunity to hang out in front of the stage and listen to Phish warm up during their soundcheck. It felt like a private show. As a stood alone, listening to all the familiar chords, it brought back so many memories and made me feel (just for an instant) like I was that free and easy twenty-one year old girl again for a brief sliver of time. 

When I returned to our booth, all smiles and nostalgia, Jay just kind of shook his head and then reminded me that I was no longer "on tour" with the band. There was work to be done, he reminded me, and then handed me a box of bread and a knife. 

Each night of the weekend, as Phish took the stage and our line of customers slowed down until after the show, Jay and I lingered just outside of our booth to listen to the band play and to engage in a little harmless people watching. There was a lot of inebriated dancing, to say the least. It was funny to watch all those college kids in their teensy belly shirts and their flower crowns moving and shaking and smiling and drinking like it was the very best night of their lives. Who knows? Maybe for some of them, it was. 

For us, it was just another night of work (but with a much better musical backdrop). On Friday and Saturday, we were all sort of revved up by the energy of the band and the crowd. But after three days of waking up early and heading back to the shop to clean up until very late at night, by Sunday I felt completely wiped. During Phish's second set, I was sort of over my own nostalgia and was instead starting to get annoyed by the humidity and the constant smell of cigarettes and the gross port-a-potty situation and the slew of drunk kids who kept returning to our booth to beg for free food. While Jay and our staff started to clean up, I snuck off to a quiet, secure spot behind the booth, situated myself on a large rock at the water's edge and cracked open a beer. Nearby, a few other food vendors huddled on the rocks to sneak a joint, but I didn't mind. I had a clear view of the illuminated NYC skyline and the gentle currents of the East River that lapped against the shore. It was my own private space to sit and sip my beer and quietly listen while Phish performed their final song. While I still love Phish's music, I'm no longer that carefree girl I was way back when. After all, we still had a long night of work ahead of us back at the shop after the show. 

Monday morning, I returned home to discover a dozen pints of on-the-way out blueberries. Pretty poor planning on my part, but I had only myself to blame. Some of the berries were whipped into muffin batter. Some made their way into a summery crisp. About a pints-worth was eaten fresh while I mopped the kitchen floor. As for the rest of them? Well, they found their final fate inside a Mason jar. 

The rosemary-infused brine for these quick-pickled blueberries is as easy as, well (wait for it), pie. You should note that the recipe calls for a fair amount of sugar. However, if your berries are particularly sweet, you can certainly scale the sugar back to your liking. The final result is a jar full of very sweet, pleasantly tart, plump little berries, which you can enjoy on salads, serve alongside cheese spreads, scoop onto some seasonal crostini or use as a substitute for fresh berries in your favorite summer desserts. Enjoy, friends. 

Pickled Blueberries w/ Rosemary

- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 3/4 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 3-4 springs fresh rosemary
- 1 pint fresh blueberries

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, peppercorns and rosemary to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, rinse the blueberries and add them to a clean glass jar. Remove the saucepan from the heat and allow to slightly cool, about five minutes. Pour the brine over the blueberries, being sure to cover the fruit entirely. Allow to cool to room temperature. When kept covered and stored in the refrigerator, the blueberries will keep will for about 1 week. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Herby French Potato Salad w/ Thai Basil & Garlic Scapes // The Art of Doing Nothing (Week 45 & 46)

Last summer, our lives were preoccupied with goals and to-do lists. Exactly one year ago this week, we were one month away from opening our sandwich shop, and we were surviving on too many iced coffees and take-out salads from a bad chain restaurant up the street. No matter how much of our renovation to-do list we tackled every day, by the time we finally made it to our bed we both felt like we'd accomplished nothing at all. There was so much to do -- ALWAYS -- and no time to slow down and enjoy the simple things that you are supposed to enjoy throughout the summer season.

My goal for this season was to do the exact opposite of what I did last summer. That is to say, my goal has been to avoid having a to-do list or annoying reminder messages constantly popping-up on my phone. I just want to enjoy the simplicity of the season: the beauty of a long, quiet morning spent outside reading a book, the pleasure of a guilt-free afternoon at the beach, an afternoon browsing the farmers' market and then stockpiling the freezer with homemade sorbets and popsicles just because…

So I've been doing a lot of that recently, which you already know if you follow me on Instagram (I can't help it…there is no end to my beach pics!). I think that in business, as in all areas of life, it is really important to allow yourself permission to step away now and again. Back in the spring, during a particularly stressful period, Jay and I spent some time talking about just this. We were out to dinner at our favorite Afghan restaurant, and despite the amazing rose-scented rice, candied orange peels and pistachio encrusted meats in front of us, we found ourselves going on and on (and on) about the shop. One of us, I don't remember which, put an end to the conversation and basically said, "This is insane. We're out for a nice dinner, the shop is okay, and we're still here droning on about it and worrying about it when it is totally fine. We need to mentally step away."

That week, we picked up a new meditation CD to listen to in our bedroom in the evenings and we made a rule: from that point forward, unless something catastrophic was about to go down, we were no longer allowed to talk about the shop when out to eat. Or out for drinks. Or out with friends. Or out generally doing something together that qualifies as "enjoying life." It's a good rule, one we admittedly break from time to time. However, I think the most important thing comes from the general root of the rule: the idea that we've granted ourselves permission to periodically step away, to mentally check out and to just enjoy life like a normal, non business-owning couple.

I've permitted myself a similar sense of "mental check out" for this summer. Originally, I had big plans to pump out a ton of freelance work, to get a head start on a bunch of new projects for the shop, and to do about a million and a half things around our apartment. However, instead, I've decided to put it all on hold until after Labor Day. I've given myself permission to spend the fleeting summer season reading books and drinking wine in the daytime and spending as many days as possible in the sun without allowing myself to feel an ounce of guilt. And I have to say, it's been pretty great.

Last week, I woke up on a Saturday morning and realized I had nothing -- glorious NOTHING -- to do. Ahh. Ma. Zing. Rather than call up friends or family and lock myself into time slots and plans, I decided to spend the day alone. I walked downtown to pick up a coffee and sat on a bench to leisurely drink it beneath the morning sun (such a rare treat). I popped by the farmers' market, had a long talk with the woman working at my favorite stand, and then filled my tote bag with an absurd amount of new potatoes and garlic scapes. And then I headed home to an empty house to do whatever I wanted for the rest of the afternoon.

Potato salad is not the type of thing one makes for oneself. That is, typically, one makes potato salad for an event, a gathering, perhaps a summer picnic or a casual dinner with friends. And yet, my tote full of new potatoes looked so lovely that I simply could not resist. I'm not a fan of mayo-based potato salads (or really, mayo-based anything); however, I love the tangy flavor of a mustard-based salad. If you maintain a summer herb garden, this is a great recipe to help you clear out some of your overgrown stash, since you can toss nearly any combination of fresh herbs into the mix -- it's pretty hard to go wrong in fact. This time around, I mixed in a heaping handful of Thai basil leaves, which added a sweet, mildly licorice flavor that worked wonderfully with the subtle garlic notes from the sautéed scapes. You can absolutely make this recipe sans lentils; however, the added protein made me feel a bit more like I was eating a proper lunch and less like I was a girl…alone…eating a giant bowl of potato salad for one.  

Herby French Potato Salad w/ Thai Basil & Garlic Scapes

- 1/2 pound new potatoes
- 1/2 pound red potatoes
- 2/3 cup olive oil, plus one tablespoon
- 1 bunch garlic scapes, roughly chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 onion, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup basil, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup Thai basil, roughly chopped
- 4-5 thyme stems, leaves removed and lightly chopped
- 1/2 cup cooked brown lentils
- 3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Add the potatoes to a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic scapes and sauté for about 5-8 minutes, or until the scapes are tender and gently charred. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool to the point where they are still very warm but you can comfortably handle them. Slice the potatoes into quarters and add to a medium-sized bowl. Pour the stock into the bowl and gently toss.

In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, mustard, salt and the remaining oil in order to make an emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the potatoes and gently toss. Add the onion, basil, Thai basil, thyme and lentils. Add the cooled garlic scapes and any remaining oil from the pan. Add the freshly cracked black pepper. Gently mix all ingredients to incorporate.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Friday Roundup

Is it just me or does July ALWAYS come as a surprise? It's as though I have no idea whatsoever that, yes, June will inevitably end. For me, July 1st is like the universe's way of grabbing my shoulders, giving me a good, hard shake and encouraging me to get out there and log as many picnics, beach days, irresponsible nights and glasses of rosé as are humanly possible before Labor Day. And yet, here we are at mid-summer and at another Friday round-up...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Simple Iced Mint & Green Tea // Planting Our Roots (Week 44)

I spent this morning pruning our garden, something I should have done two weeks ago but just got around to today. Even though I've neglected it, miraculously, it has continued to thrive. Our arugula has transformed into a wild bush accented by delicate pastel flowers. Our basil plants are a gorgeous, healthy green -- a true accomplishment since most years mine tend to yellow by mid-summer. Our Thai basil plants are nearly a foot high, and are total garden show-offs, what with all those deep, high-reaching plum-colored flowers and tie-dyed looking leaves.

For most of my adult life, I've created a home garden that consists entirely of fleeting annuals. However, the summer we were married I made a deal with myself to experiment with the perennial game. At the end of that summer (and at the end of each summer since) I've planted at least one edible perennial in the hopes that our harsh winters would not kill them and that they'd return with vigor the following season.

At the time that I began this tradition, I was still high on wedding bliss, so the idea felt very poetic: I would literally plant some roots all along the perimeter of our home, which I would then tend to over the years and which would physically nourish us each summer season.

Though I haven't had luck with everything, both my peppermint and my lemon balm plants have found the beauty in my original gesture, and have returned each season as bigger, bushier versions of their former selves. Because of this, I force way too much mint onto our plates throughout the season. It makes a guest appearance in everything, from salads and spring rolls to creative pestos and galettes and once (in a brutally failed attempt) into a simmering pot of otherwise perfectly decent tomato sauce (I've made up for that minor disaster by becoming a bit of a self-proclaimed master of homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream).

Luckily, we (and our cholesterol) have been saved by a collection of pretty green Spanish glass pitchers. Anyone who comes to our home regularly knows that one of these pitchers pretty much always hangs out on the corner of our butcher block island, tempting guests with something refreshing to drink. Some days, it is an easy, fruit-infused water. Other days, it is a fresh-squeezed juice or lemonade. This summer, the drink-of-choice has been a foolishly simple Iced Mint and Green Tea. Though you can certainly add more green tea to suit your tastes, I prefer to keep it subtle so that the fresh mint takes center stage (side note: though I regularly make this recipe with peppermint leaves, any minty leaves work fine, as do lemon balm leaves). Though this feels too easy to really serve as a suitable recipe (simply bruise the leaves, add some piping hot water, dip in some green tea bags and finish her off with a spoonful of honey), it is the perfect cool drink to stir up on warm summer days.

P.S.: if you're so inclined, please feel free to drop by Eat Boutique -- I recently wrote a two-part series for them about owning a small food business titled "Owning a NYC Food Business is Grand, and Other Lies Pinterest Told Me."

Simple Iced Mint & Green Tea

- 1 cup fresh mint leaves, thoroughly rinsed
- 6 cups near boiling water
- 2 green tea bags
- 2 tablespoons honey

In a small bowl, muddle the mint leaves to release their oils. In a medium-sized pot, add the muddled leaves and the near boiling water. When the leaves are submerged in the water, carefully muddle them for another minute or so, being careful not to splash the hot water. Steep for 8 minutes. Add the tea bags to the mixture and steep for an additional 2 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a medium-sized pitcher with ice cubes and set aside. At the end of the 2 minutes, promptly remove the tea bags to avoid a bitter flavor. Using a fine mesh sieve to ensure that no leaves end up in the tea, pour the liquid into the pitcher. Add the honey and stir. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature before serving. When kept covered and refrigerated, the tea will keep well for about 3-4 days.