New Flavours from Willow Tree Chicken Salad- Avocado & Cranberry, and Sriracha

August 25, 2016

There's a couple of things I've totally fallen for since moving to New England: summer days on sandy beaches, clam chowder (or chowdah), crispy russet leaves in Fall, and Willow Tree Chicken Salad.

When working downtown I used to pop 'round the corner to a small cafe for my lunch, my go to order being Willow Tree Chicken Salad on a french roll with cucumber and red onion. I first ordered it because it was the closest thing I could get to my British Coronation Chicken, but instead of the Indian spices and sweet sultanas tucked up amongst the mayo, I discovered the rich flavour of roasted chicken and rounded sweetness of brown sugar.

Willow Tree Farm recently reached out to offer me a few samples of some of their new flavours. Being totally onboard with prepared foods right now, with two small babies in the house anything that cuts down the time between opening the fridge and food being in my mouth is ok by me, I was excited to say a big 'heck yes' and eagerly awaited my goodies.

A couple days later my Avocado & Cranberry and Sriracha tubs arrived. Whilst full of enthusiasm and grand ideas for how best to enjoy these new delights, the babies had other ideas and it wasn't until this week that I finally got to put my ideas together!

Whilst the quality and fabulous flavours of these new products would stand alone, piled on a couple of plain slices of italian bread, these sandwich ideas take inspiration from Willow Tree's new recipes to kick it all up a notch:

Willow Tree Avocado Chicken Salad
on Tarragon & Tomato Roll with Crispy Bacon

To me, avocado's best mates are bacon and tomato, so when I pulled the Willow Tree Avocado Chicken Salad out of my care package I knew what was in the offing.

With ease of preparation being the key to any cooking I'm doing right now I used a pre-made bread dough and made it my own by adding some fresh flavours. 

After roasting some tomatoes, the last of my little crop, on the grill (keep that kitchen cool!) I let them cool before mashing them into the dough with some fresh chopped tarragon. 

I stuffed the dough, which didn't need a second rise (hell yes to time saving tactics), into a big fat muffin tin to make my rolls and cooked as per the instructions- around 15-20 minutes at 380-400f, until risen and golden brown. Check your rolls are completely cooked through by tipping one out of the tray and tapping its bum. It should sound hollow rather than a dull thud, which would indicate an uncooked, soggy center.

A generous dollop of the avocado chicken salad is crowned with crispy bacon and finely sliced red onion to give all that richness a bit of bite. 

Willow Tree Sriracha Chicken Salad
on Bibimbab style Spinach Flatbread with 'Slaw and Egg

I'll come clean, i'm not a massive fan of all things spicy. I can take a bit of heat, but for me it has to be tempered with some cooling flavours.

My favourite thing to squirt Sriracha onto is Bibimbap. The fresh vegetables and rich, runny egg is just right for a bit of spice so I wanted to make a simple sarnie version for my Willow Tree Sriracha Chicken Salad.

Using some more trusty pre-made bread dough, this time I mashed in some cooked, cooled and drained spinach before rolling it flat and cooking on a very hot cast iron pan. 

My dough was pretty cold and less than obliging to being flattened out. It was a little easier to roll flat after some gentle encouragement in the pan, so if your flatbread starts to puff up and look more like a spinach muffin, fret not. Hoik it out of the pan and give it another flattening after a couple of minutes in the pan.

To get my bibimbap flavours bouncing, I used some fresh coriander, lime and crushed peanuts, along with a crunchy 'slaw seasoned with some sesame oil and soy sauce.

The colours of this flatbread alone are enough to make your mouth water! You can totally serve this up sans egg, but there's nothing quite like the crispy fried white and rich runny yolk to really make you feel like you're eating a bibimbap tribute!

Thank you so much to Willow Tree Farm for sending me out the samples of their new products, whilst they didn't require me to make something with my goodies, it was great fun making up some tasty treats using their great recipes as a jumping off point!


Q+A with Author of 'Approval Junkie', NPR & CBS Personality, and all round nice person: Faith Salie

August 04, 2016

A month or two back, I had the great pleasure of being one of the lucky few to receive a copy of Faith Salie's new book 'Approval Junkie' before the masses.

Not only did I manage to get my hands on the book, I also stole away a little of Faith's precious time to pick her brain about what led her to write Approval Junkie.

Whilst I planned on getting this Q+A up on the blog in a much more timely fashion, life got in the way.. literally two lives actually. So, finally, here is what Faith had to tell me about Beauty Pageants, baking and being a mum:

Though it follows a chronological path through your life, Approval Junkie's chapters are each a stand alone essay in themselves, did you write these pieces over the years or during one period of reflection on your 'quest for approval'?

Only a few of the essays had been written before I decided to write Approval Junkie as a whole and as something that is an implicit memoir.  I’d published the “What I Wore to My Divorce” and the “My Fling With Bill O’Reilly” chapters years before I wrote my book. The year I published them, I didn’t recognize that they shared a theme, but when I decided I wanted to write a book and I started mulling the most dramatic and funny tales I had to tell, I recognized that they all had this theme of striving for validation in them.  I appreciate your noting that the essays can stand on their own, because I very much want them to. My goal wasn’t so much to tell my story of how I got from here to there, as it was to talk about different meaningful experiences in my life and the lessons I learned from each of them. So, for example, I’d like to give my chapter about breastfeeding, “Breastfeeding Sucks” to anyone who’s ever thought about breastfeeding or tried to or managed to do it until her kid’s bar mitzvah.  Or, frankly, to anyone who’s ever suckled, just so you can know what your mother did for you. Even though my stories are very unique (I mean, I assume not many people asked their gay brother to show them how to give a killer hand job or had an exorcism of sorts), I believe that almost everyone—particularly women—can relate to stories of losing mothers and babies and husbands and jobs and gaining new loves and babies and fulfillment and gratitude.

One of the things I loved and appreciated most about the book is your honestly about the good, bad and embarrassing, how does it feel to put yourself out there so openly?

Oh, thanks!  Thank you for that. I feel sometimes I get too much credit for my willingness to be so open, because, really, I know no other way to be. (This was a big problem for my wasband, in my first marriage!) I’m horrible at being discreet and unforthcoming. I’ve found that transparency and vulnerability are superpowers that connect us.  I figured how dare I ask people to be generous enough to absorb my stories unless I am generous enough to give them as much of myself as possible. And it’s personally gratifying to dig deep and to be honest and self-deprecating. It’s healing. And I love making people laugh—I’ve always known that. But what I didn’t anticipate is how moved I’ve felt to learn that my book has also made people cry and touched them.

Having claimed the title of Miss Aphrodite 1989; paid $130 to be told 'you're not as pretty as I want you to be'; spent enough money on lashes to fund a small public radio station; but ultimately been beautiful 'in sweats, without a lick of make-up', what advice would you give to someone about beauty and appearance?

Oh man, right now I’m not the one to ask.  I have a ragged topknot and am in the same shirt I sweated in at 6 AM when I took my daughter out to walk by the river. (Ie I wore her while I did lunges until I wanted to pass out. She’s two and kept asking me, “Mommy, why are you doing lunges?”  Then she sang “Mr. Tambourine Man” while I panted.) I think becoming a mother changes us all. I mean, I’m not saying you have permission to let yourself go when you become a mother, but the beauty standards I once held myself to are now impossible to achieve. I used to have eyebrows done, weekly manicures, walk everywhere (bc New York City, and I had the time), take the stairs. I never used to eat rogue spoonfuls of mac and cheese.  And mostly I was well-rested, which went a long way towards keeping up an appearance. 

Now, I try to dress as comfortably as possible so I can chase them. Then, on days when I have to be on camera, I become another creature entirely: makeup, “real” hair, beautiful “TV dresses,” jewelry and heels. Hardly anyone recognizes me, which is rather disturbing, really.

So…advice? Do figure out a way to get exercise every day. You owe that to yourself—to clear your mind and keep your body strong.  Never feel guilty about taking time to be alone with your own body, mind, and heart.

The chapter about your mother was incredibly moving, Vanilla will never taste or smell the same to me again. Baking, whilst standing on a chair pushed up to the counter, next to my mum is a really vivid childhood memory for me as well, one I hope to pass on to my children. Do you bake with your children now? If so, what's your favourite thing to cook with them?

My kids love to “help” bake with me.  This is really a Buddhist lesson for me to be okay with the entropy (read: mess) they create in the kitchen. The kitchen in our apartment is small, so a little mess goes a long way towards creating a disaster area.  Augustus particularly enjoys making Coca-Cola cake with me and announcing to the doormen and his teachers, “I MADE A COKE CAKE!” Because we do not live in the South, no one understands what kind of delicacy he’s talking about.  He’s on the fence about cracking eggs—some days he likes it, and some days he finds it too aggressive an act. He loves whisking, which sends batter everywhere. Minerva, his little sister, basically just wants to do whatever he’s doing, which means double the mess.  Really, what my son enjoys the most is washing dishes. He can’t get enough of pulling up a chair and playing with stuff in the sink under running water. (I know this is terrible, environmentally.) Someday I hope to embrace this affinity of his, resulting in a cleaner kitchen, rather than a soaked one.

As someone who has also had a few hiccups along the way to becoming a mum (I'm nearly there- a couple more months to go!), I was surprised by the outpouring of support when I did speak up about our experiences. Have you found this to be the case since sharing your not-so-simple journey to motherhood?

Writing about becoming a mother—about the surgery I had on my uterus when I was single in order to become what I thought would be a single mother; about freezing my eggs at age 39, the day after I went on the first date with the man who would become my second husband; about my five pregnancies and two babies; about becoming a mother for the first time in my 40s; about all the injections and semen and the candles we lit and the vespers we said—was one of my favorite experiences of creating my book. Motherhood has so changed me, healed me, exhausted me, invigorated me, surprised me, softened me. When I read my audio book, I found that the last paragraph of my “Ovary Achiever” chapter includes some of my favorite words I’ve ever written.  I like the cheekiness of the chapter title. Not to get too Steel Magnolias about it, but that’s how life is: the very funny and the deeply tragic, painfulness and gratitude, bump up against each other all the time.  Women tell me over and over how that chapter in particular has spoken to them. I’m humbled when they thank me for sharing my journey to motherhood.

I’m surprised, though, that you’ve been surprised at the support you receive when you talk about your fertility challenges.  What could bring out compassion in us more than sharing our sadnesses and joys on the road to becoming parents? I’m evangelical about encouraging women to freeze their eggs, and I talk about my experiences with IVF and miscarriages, because I never understand why anyone would ever feel a sense of shame around fertility. I’m so happy for you, Holly, about your boys and glad that you talk about your experiences! 

Your gentle love story with your husband John is as touching as it is aspirational. With a busy lifestyle and two children to keep you both permanently occupied, how do you try and make time for your relationship amidst the hectic schedule known as 'life'?

I’m so, so lucky. I’m not sure how I got lucky enough to have been successful with the JSAP.  “JSAP,” as I write in my book, is what a friend of mine named my courtship with my John: the “Jewish Semen Acquisition Program.” John and I met when we were 39 and were married a year later in Rome while I was improbably pregnant with our son.  We had so little time to be together as a couple before we became a family of three…and then four when our daughter arrived two years later!  We both work so much and also devote so much of ourselves to our kids that it is very difficult to carve out time for our relationship.  What’s great, though, is that we both agree that our marriage must remain paramount, that making time for just each other is actually the best thing we can do for our kids.  About once a month we go to Chicago together for my NPR show, Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!  We spend three days together and leave the kids with a babysitter back at home.  We live for those weekends, even if we don’t do much but hold hands and go out to lunch. 

Once a year, we get back to Rome for our anniversary, and that, too, is sacred.  But for the rest of the time, sadly, we often say, “I miss you,” even though we live together. He works in New Jersey, and we live in Manhattan.  We hardly see “Daddy” during the week, and on the weekends I often take one kid while he takes the other, due to various commitments and different naps. Sometimes we forget to kiss each other in the morning even though we never forget to kiss our kids—we both work on that. We remind each other constantly how these long days will be short years, and soon enough, our lives won’t revolve around naps, and we won’t be stumbling around sleep-deprived.  Maybe because John and I were both married before and because we both became first-time parents in our 40s, we are acutely, almost onerously grateful…and that usually gives us perspective.  Occasionally, though, we’re way too exhausted to feel as appreciative as we should!

You book, 'Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much', is out now- do you have any plans to tour, and to offer readings and signings?

I’ve had the wonderful experience of touring and appearing in different cities for different audiences of friends and family and strangers who feel like friends, because they know my stories. Reading from my book—especially reenacting how I won my ridiculous high school pageant—majorly scratches my performing itch. After spending almost two years writing by myself, it’s magical to actually hear people respond to words I wrote in solitude. I have more readings and signings upcoming (on in DC on June 12th), and I’m available to Skype into book clubs! Lots of information is at

What's next in the world of Faith Salie? 

I definitely want to write another book, and I have lots of stories upcoming for CBS Sunday Morning.  I’m also looking forward to shooting a new season of Science Goes to the Movies. At the moment, however, I’m urgently figuring out how to make a “rainbow gecko cake” for my son’s 4th birthday party.  All suggestions welcome!


Cooking Tips for New Parents

August 01, 2016

The title of this post should read "Cooking tips for new parents that want to cook but totally don't have to because they already think of spending thirty second having a wee as a luxury and the thought of cooking a meal is not only less than appealing but utterly ridiculous in the face of their new time absorbing responsibilities" but that was a little bit long.

Pretty much everything surrounding pregnancy, birth and child rearing seems to be open to public judgement and opinion, harsh or otherwise. Just how much you 'should' be doing once your new tiny person has arrived is also hotly debated.

I like to cook, obviously, so for me I really want to cook and be in the kitchen. But I also really want to be hanging out with my new tiny people, let alone ensuring they're fed, cleaned and properly rested. It only leaves a little bit of time here and there, on inconsistent days, so I've started to figure out a couple of strategies to allow me to fit some cooking into those moments.

My tinies were born very early, eight weeks to be exact. They were in the NICU for just over a month, and even when they came home were (and still are) very small. Whilst they are happy and healthy, their prematurity does mean they still haven't figured out breastfeeding. Wanting them to have the benefit of my milk I express milk for them to have by bottle which also has a nutritional supplement added to it to chunk them up faster. As such I NEED calories, but decent ones, not just the ones that are oh so conveniently tucked up in the delicious take out pizza that could be delivered to my door within 20 minutes.

Having two babies, however small, also means our coffers have been working overtime to get all the gadgetry, equipment and diapers (OMG the diapers) that two small boys seem to require. So as convenient as my oh so delicious, calories laded pizza is, the cost of calling in our order is a bit prohibitive as a long term plan.

It's no secret that I'm a major home cooking fan, so because of that and my personal reasons above, I'm back in the kitchen... but I'm totally not going to judge anyone for using their oven as diaper storage a la a maternal version of Carrie Bradshaw, stacking their fridge with microwave burritos, or being on first name terms with the take out delivery guy (which incidentally we totally are as well).

KISSing in the Kitchen:

Keep. It. Simple. Stupid. If you're going to be a home cooking mama or papa don't over burden yourself with trying to cook a Lobster Thermidore in between diaper changes. If a recipe requires precise measurements and timings it's probably not the best one to get stuck into right now.

Stick to one pot meals, slow cooker favourites and stuff you can shove in the oven and won't be entirely ruined if your little one decides they need their dinner RIGHT NOW.

Nobody puts baby in the corner:

....Except when you've got a pot of boiling liquid on the stove and a literal box of fire you're standing in front of. Cooking with kiddos is so much fun and I can't wait to get my little guys making cookies and cakes, but for now they stay waaaaaaaay out of the kitchen.

You're tired, trying to do things quickly, and probably dashing back and forward to placate a fussy bub in between stirring the pot. Mistakes and spills happen. There's no point crying over spilt milk, but there's a lot of crying if that milk is boiling hot...

One of our investments in preparation for the babies was a video monitor, I can keep an eye on the babies who are safely tucked up in their crib in the other room. If your budget doesn't stretch to a video monitor call in one of those people who are desperate to help, to watch over the kiddo for a little bit.


Whenever you do get a chance to cook, double or even triple the recipe. Leftovers may have previously been the sign of slightly sad dinner plans, but nowadays they are as exciting to me as a dinner date to the fanciest place in town.

I'll make a huge batch of something, serve up what we need for our meal, and allow the rest to cool. Then I'll portion it into freezer bags and sling it in the freezer for a day down the line when cooking is absolutely not on the agenda.

Also, bulk up your meals with loads of vegetables, whilst not quite as refreshing and invigorating as a just steamed portion of glistening greens, it'll mean that even if you don't have the chance to stock up on fresh rations you'll be getting some vitamin laden vegetation- it'll also help your batch cooking budget!

Prepared items are not the devil:

That might sound a bit counter intuitive for a home cooking advocate but hear me out. It isn't a case of black or white when it comes to home cooked meals; you don't have to chose sides between entirely from scratch vs. delivered to your door. Your time is now your most valuable commodity, use it well.

Buying a pot of pre-chopped onion, a tray of sliced mushrooms and a packet of cubed peppers is going to cost you a couple of dollars more than the whole versions, but it'll save you precious minutes you can use to get the rest of the ingredients in the pot, and the dish in the oven. Overall the cost of the pre-chopped onions isn't going to break your bank compared to take out seven days a week.

For example: microwave rice pouches to go with your home cooked, slow cooker curry will save you 15 minutes of cooking and pot watching time, plus the minutes it'll take to wash up an extra pan- and when the baby is crying those minutes add up.

I'm talking about prepared vegetables, filleted meats and skinned fish portions here, not the fiddled about with, additive laden gunk that the word 'prepared' often evokes. By cutting a few corners in the prep department you can end up with meals that are made from ingredients you're confident in, and fit into your squeezed schedule.

Register somewhere with an appliance department:

Or at least add a chest freezer to your baby shopping list. When I was expressing milk for the babies whilst they were in the NICU we ended up with a surplus that fast outgrew our standard freezer. $150 bought us a decent sized chest freezer that now lives in the basement and basically keeps us all alive.

It's stocked entirely with breastmilk and frozen, batch cooked meals. That thing will keep us fed through the kids' 3rd birthday.

I freeze the meals in single portions as it's not guarunteed that ma and pa will get to eat together, and if we do manage a synchronised dinner date we just defrost two bags instead of one.

Glove up:

Ideally clean up and wash your hands as you go along, so if you have to abandon your station you can do so without covering the baby in marinade or onion fumes.

If you're going to be doing something particularly messy, or if your baby is very fussy stick a pair of disposable gloves on. They are cheap and can be whipped off in a moments notice to administer bbq sauce free cuddles, replace chili-less pacifiers, and avoid a tomato sauce stained baby incident.

Accept help:

Likely if you're reading this, you fail pretty hard at this point... like me! People want to help you, let them! My mum arrived on the boy's birthday and hasn't left since, we'd all be dead without her... I'd like to laugh and say 'figuratively' here but I fear it might actually be in more of the literal sense.

I'm AWFUL at accepting help, though having premature twins is definitely a crash course in learning to do it a bit more.

Whether people offer to cook, clean or watch your baby, let them. Let them fill your freezer, stack your dishwasher, or keep an eye on the LO whilst you dust off your apron strings. Say yes and be super glad you did.

Most importantly...

Take is slow mama and dadda, you've just experienced a life changing thing. Whether you had the picture perfect birth and are now parents to a placid little cherub, or your road to parenthood was pockmarked with challenges and you suspect your newborn might actually be the devil incarnate with colic as its means of torture (though you still love that little ball of madness as fiercely as any parent), life is very, very different now:

You manage to get a home cooked meal on the table? Great!

It's 10pm and your lasagne now looks like that plastic toy food in kids play kitchens, so out comes the take out app again? Awesome- you'll get to eat oh so convenient take out!

You've subsisted entirely on toast for three weeks and have seriously considered drinking some gripe water because you hear it used to be made with gin? You're winning at parenting!

You've got this parents. Your kiddos love you more than homecooking right now so enjoy that microwave burrito with a side of spit up, and give yourself a break*

*hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha... I'm so tired.