portrait of a tomato

With knowledge comes responsibility. I’ve been known to tout the old adage, “ignorance is bliss” but in reality I really should proclaim that my own ignorance is often a reflection of laziness. Once you’ve gained knowledge is hard to sit comfortably without action.

Today I’m acting out against slavery. Along with The Giving Table, International Justice Mission and 50 other bloggers across the Internet we’re shedding light on the horrific slavery that still exists within the U.S. tomato industry. In partnership with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and The Fair Food Standards Council (FFSC), IJM is removing our ignorance by revealing the mis-treatment of thousands of migrant workers (including children) who earn less than $0.01 per pound they pick.

You should know that not all tomatoes are treated equal and not all are grown under these circumstances. Slave-free tomatoes can be purchased as places such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and from many local farms. Not only are tomatoes purchased from these places guaranteed to be grown under much better circumstances – without abuse – they taste much better.

With the knowledge of this tragic mis-treatment comes responsibility. There is much you and I can do to change these conditions. In fact, I have no doubt that collectively we can completely abolish slavery in the tomato industry. First of all you can purchase all your tomatoes from places that buy slave-free tomatoes. As I mentioned above these places include Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Farmers Markets and direct from the farms. Your purchase is power. Secondly, send a letter to the markets who have not yet adopted the policy to buy slave-free tomatoes.  The form in the link provided makes it very simple. Just add your name and send. These markets depend on you to survive so don’t underestimate your power in making this change a reality. Thirdly, inform others of these conditions. No one should be treated in this manner and with this knowledge it’s our responsibility to shine light onto the darkness of ignorance.

 

There are few things more beautiful than a tomato. Ragged and jewel toned, tight skinned and fragrant with a scent that to me is the perfume of gardening. In fact I wish it came bottled so I could wear it year round. But nothing makes these nearly perfect orbs more beautiful than knowing that no person was treated improperly in the process of getting to my table.

 

Tomato Toast with Basil Butter // Tomatoes with Blue Cheese

Tomato Toast with Basil Butter

With a beautifully grown tomato I argue that very little should be added to it. A thick slice with salt is the perfect way to enjoy a sun-ripened tomato. This recipe has only a few more ingredients and has quickly become my favorite late-summer lunch.

This butter is summer’s condiment. On grilled corn it’s magic. 

 

1 Tablespoon chopped basil

4 Tablespoons butter, softened

1 piece of rustic bread, toasted

3 slices of thick-cut, slave-free tomatoes

sea salt

 

In a small bowl combine the basil and butter. Spread a bit on the warm toast. Top with tomatoes then sprinkle with salt.

 

Tomatoes and Avocado with Blue Cheese dressing

inspired by Ina Garten

With so few ingredients use the best you can afford. I used Rogue River’s Flora Nelle and I’d do it again. Pungent without smacking you in the face. This salad has no need for lettuce. Simple and stunning.

 

Blue Cheese Dressing

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

1/4 cup whole milk

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

 

Combine everything in a bowl and stir to combine keeping large chunks of blue cheese intact.

Arrange thick cut slices of slave-free tomatoes and avocados onto a platter. Generously top with blue cheese dressing. Finish with fresh ground pepper.

Serve immediately.

Leftover dressing can be refrigerated for one week.

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White chocolate covered cherries

 

It’s nearly impossible to return from the market without baskets and baskets of berries in various forms this time of year. I’m not the only shopper in the family who falls for their brilliant hues and sweet perfume that lures you in from yards away, my husband is easily wooed too – I adore that about him.

Last week it was blueberries. He had just returned home from the store when I spotted a heap of large, tight-skinned berries on my counter. My immediate thought was cake. No, wait – pie! No. A crumble! Yes. A crumble. Hmm. But a cobbler would be nice too. Then I ate one thinking it may further help seal their fate. It did, but not in the way I was expecting. I stood there in the kitchen eating those berries until there were only a few left, stopping for the sake of my berry-loving children.

It is often my instinct to see something like a pint of fresh berries and to immediately concoct an elaborate plan. Most likely these plans involve butter, a lot of butter. But as I stood there in my kitchen shoving blueberries into my mouth I couldn’t have imagined a better way of enjoying them. Covered in a smooth, firm skin, crowded with little leaves and soft stems, still warm in a just picked sort of a way with an endearing tartness that I adore.  Sure, a pie would have been nice but often simplicity has a way of showing off one’s true character. It’s honest, unpretentious and gratifying. There will still be cakes, pie, crumbles and crisps but it is great to be reminded that sometimes eating berries straight out of their green composite container is really the best recipe.

Days later a large wooden crate of cherries arrived at my doorstep (a gift from a local farm). I’m not (too) embarrassed to say that I took the crate in its entirety with me to the couch where I sat there and stopped just shy of eating its entire contents. This time is was the fear of not sharing these beauties with you people that caused the cherry feasting to end. I didn’t think you’d be satisfied with a recipe that instructed you to eat cherries alone on a couch (or in bed – I ate them there too). But I couldn’t bring myself to poach, roast, bake or even pickle these berries. They were far too perfect in shape, flavor and color. The best way to enjoy them was just out of the crate.

That is until I decided to give them a bit of a dip in melted white chocolate blended with a fragrant vanilla bean. Still simple but dressed up enough to be called dessert. Everything I loved about these cherries remained intact – a crisp bite of a pinkish skin that yielded to a bright, tart interior. As a young girl in a dress suddenly stands up taller with a bit more confidence and grace as she instantly feels more like a princess so were these cherries in their sweet, vanilla scented dress. A gentle and subtle addition to accentuate their honest beauty and simplicity.

 

 

Classic Amaretto Sour

Newly married, Amaretto Sour was our drink of choice. I think it made us feel grown up then. Now we drink them because they taste so darn good. We’ve matured in many ways over the years with one of them being the banishment of pre-made sweet and sour. With only two ingredients this cocktail mixes together (a little too) quickly and easily. These vanilla and white chocolate cherries add a layer of sweetness and invade your senses before you even taste the cocktail. Each drink really should have two – one for eating immediately and the other for lingering until the last sip.

1 ounce Amaretto

juice from 1/2 a lemon

2 white chocolate dipped cherries

 

Rim an old fashioned glass with lemon and dip into sugar. Shake the amaretto and lemon juice then pour over ice. Garnish with cherries.

*These cherries were gifted to me. I received no payment or had no obligation to tell you about them – I just couldn’t help it. Cherries this good must be shared.
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White Chocolate Covered Cherries

White Chocolate Dipped Cherries with Vanilla Bean

The cherries I dipped were a rare type called Orondo. Darker and sweeter than a Rainier, lighter and tangier than a Bing. Really, the perfect cherry. If you can’t get a hold of these beauties I’d take Rainier over Bing any day. 

This recipe is quite rough. Essentially you melt white chocolate, stir in vanilla seeds and dip cherries. I gave rough numbers for those who like them.

 

6 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1 vanilla bean, split with seeds scraped

1 pound cherries

 

In a small bowl melt chopped chocolate in a microwave or over a bowl of simmering water. If using the microwave only heat for 20 second intervals, stirring in between each. Once melted, stir in vanilla seeds. Reserve the bean to add to you sugar jar or simmer in simple syrup for cocktail or lemonade making.

Dip the clean cherries into the melted white chocolate. Place on a parchment covered tray and refrigerate until firm or ready to eat.

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Dating My Husband

“Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.”
― Robert Frost

We want you to get a glimpse at our date night. The mess, the chaos and the joy.

We start before the kids are in bed. At times they help us prepare the meal knowing what the food is for – a special date night for mama and dad. Ivy guides my hand to cut the tomatoes just to be a part of it. She’s eager to help taste and her joyful reaction assures me that I’ve done something right. She is already fearless in the kitchen. I watch her confidently grab for ingredients as she nudges her way into the process. Carefully I remove knives out of her path and do my best to keep her safe while not discouraging her bravery and curiosity.

The cocktails are made and the kids are put to bed while I remove the sweet and tangy pork from the oven. In the not-yet-quiet  house the smells of fatty pork and pungent garlic lure us to the table and help to mute the distractions.

This evening we find ourselves casually eating on the couch. The tacos disappear quickly while the conversation lingers. By this point the house is quiet and we settle in a little closer while we talk about the latest book we are reading together.

Both of us work from home so we see each other quite often throughout the day. Quite often we are able to have three meals together as a family – a blessing I cherish in these precious days. But because of that it is easy for us to forget that even though we see each other a lot we are rarely connecting on the level that is needed to deepen our relationship. To become lazy in our marriage is the disease that can quickly kill it. Working hard to preserve our friendship and intimacy we set aside these times, learn together and carve out moments to grow.

While the summer sun slowly retreats we pull our little ice cream bombes from the freezer and finish our night with a sweet, satisfying and unsophisticated dessert that reminds us that while deep and intimate conversations are vital to the marriage, so is having fun. The laughter and goofiness instantly reminds me of falling in love with my husband as his carefree attitude and easy ability to laugh drew me to him. His joy was and continues to be infectious. Somehow he managed to turn our first “date” (said loosely as we insisted we were just friends for months) of a walk to 7-11 into a hilarious adventure that had me laughing for days, actually years, after.

The evening ends and life continues. We go about our days and weeks checking off the hundreds of items that scatter our to-do lists but that time to shut everything off sustains us and sets us closer together. We walk away feeling more of a team and less of just “roommates” and already we anticipate our next day, our next meal and our next adventure.

_________________________

For the pork I used this recipe from my dear friend Rachel. Her carnitas are pretty darn spectacular – fatty, sweet, salty and tangy – everything you want in a great taco.

Additional taco fillings:

cotija, cilantro, radish and lime.

Pico de Gallo
adapted from Bon Appetit June ‘12
makes about 2 ½ cups

It was my mother-in-law who really grew my love of pico. At their house it is a staple and it is not hard to see why. This quick salsa is so fresh, simple and with the perfect bite you get flecks of sweet tomato, spicy jalapeno and cool cilantro. Summer’s ideal accessory.

½ medium red onion
2 cups diced tomato
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced jalapeno
Kosher salt

Combine everything in a medium bowl. Season with salt. A squeeze of fresh lime is perfectly acceptable I’d say.

 

Taqueria Guacamole


adapted from Bon Appetit June ‘12
makes about 2 cups

Usually I like my guacamole thick and full of large chunks of avocado. This simple recipe yields a simple and creamy guacamole perfect for adding to tacos.

2 large, ripe avocados
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon lime zest
Kosher salt
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl mash avocado with lime zest, juice and a hearty pinch of salt using a fork to break up the avocado.
Once creamy and well mashed stir in the cilantro and minced garlic. Add a bit of water (1 Tablespoon at a time) to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt or more lime juice.

Little Bombes
adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer via Bon Appetit, June ‘12

12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
⅓ cup coconut oil
pinch salt

topping suggestions:
cinnamon
lime, lemon or orange zest
ground coffee
cocoa nibs
coconut
sprinkles
flake salt
candied ginger
turbinado sugar

In a medium bowl combine the chocolate, coconut oil and salt. Microwave in intervals of 30 seconds stirring between each or melt over a bowl of simmering water.

Once melted remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

While the chocolate is cooling scoop some ice cream onto a cold plate then place in the freezer until ready to dip.

With a scoop of ice cream on a fork spoon the melted chocolate over the ice cream. Using another fork gently slide the chocolate covered scoop of ice cream onto a plate and sprinkle with any number of toppings. Work in small batches and quickly return ice cream to the freezer. Let set for at least 10 minutes before serving.

This can also be done several days in advance.

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Pork Tacos // Little Ice Cream Bombes

For the pork I used this recipe from my dear friend Rachel. Her carnitas are pretty darn spectacular – fatty, sweet, salty and tangy – everything you want in a great taco.

Additional taco fillings:

cotija, cilantro, radish and lime.

Pico de Gallo
adapted from Bon Appetit June ‘12
makes about 2 ½ cups

It was my mother-in-law who really grew my love of pico. At their house it is a staple and it is not hard to see why. This quick salsa is so fresh, simple and with the perfect bite you get flecks of sweet tomato, spicy jalapeno and cool cilantro. Summer’s ideal accessory.

½ medium red onion
2 cups diced tomato
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon minced jalapeno
Kosher salt

Combine everything in a medium bowl. Season with salt. A squeeze of fresh lime is perfectly acceptable I’d say.

 

Taqueria Guacamole


adapted from Bon Appetit June ‘12
makes about 2 cups

Usually I like my guacamole thick and full of large chunks of avocado. This simple recipe yields a simple and creamy guacamole perfect for adding to tacos.

2 large, ripe avocados
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon lime zest
Kosher salt
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

In a medium bowl mash avocado with lime zest, juice and a hearty pinch of salt using a fork to break up the avocado.
Once creamy and well mashed stir in the cilantro and minced garlic. Add a bit of water (1 Tablespoon at a time) to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt or more lime juice.

Little Bombes
adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer via Bon Appetit, June ‘12

12 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
⅓ cup coconut oil
pinch salt

topping suggestions:
cinnamon
lime, lemon or orange zest
ground coffee
cocoa nibs
coconut
sprinkles
flake salt
candied ginger
turbinado sugar

In a medium bowl combine the chocolate, coconut oil and salt. Microwave in intervals of 30 seconds stirring between each or melt over a bowl of simmering water.

Once melted remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

While the chocolate is cooling scoop some ice cream onto a cold plate then place in the freezer until ready to dip.

With a scoop of ice cream on a fork spoon the melted chocolate over the ice cream. Using another fork gently slide the chocolate covered scoop of ice cream onto a plate and sprinkle with any number of toppings. Work in small batches and quickly return ice cream to the freezer. Let set for at least 10 minutes before serving.

This can also be done several days in advance.

 

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grilled avocado salad + berries with honey creme anglaise

Summer is easy. It’s easy to be inspired by the vibrant rows of produce lining the crowded stalls at the farmer’s market. Flipping through the summer issue of my favorite food magazines it’s easy to create dinner plans for tonight, tomorrow and the weeks to come. Walking down the aisle at the grocery store it is easy to grab a half flat of strawberries on a whim as their perfume intoxicates to the point of near delirium. With no solid plans for them and paying no mind to the fact that I just used up a flat the day before, it is easy to get blindsided by the charms of this season.

The sun keeps us outside for as long as it decides to linger. There are lemonade stands to run, new bikes to ride and a small garden to painstakingly tend to. I’m called in only briefly to quickly assemble a simple summer dinner, one that requires little more than a hot grill (grill pan) and loads of fresh vegetables. It’s easy to be deemed a great cook in this season as much of the work is done for you in the freshness of the produce. The sun sweetens, the earth gives depth and heft and all that is left to do is assemble.

As the weather slowly warms up and the activities of summer take full swing it is the meals that don’t require an oven, that come together in a moment’s time and with each bite taste of summer itself that I turn to. Few ingredients brought together in creative ways served family style at the table or better yet, on the grass – this is the food of our summer. Easy.

Grilled avocado and Corn Salad

It was the latest Bon Appetit that brought my attention to grilling avocados and for that I can never thank them enough. If I could I would grill a stick of butter but since that seems improbable avocados are the next best thing. Their flesh softens under the heat giving them the texture I dream of when thinking on grilled butter. The smokiness from the grill does them well.

2 avocados, halved and removed from their skin (I find a spoon works best for this)
1 Tablespoon buter
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 scallions, chopped
1 Tablespoon diced jalapeno (more or less)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup crumbled feta (optional)

Add the butter to a hot skillet. To that add the corn, cumin and a pinch of salt. Saute until corn is just cooked, 2-3 minutes then turn off heat. Toss in the scallions, jalapeno and cilantro. Taste and add more salt if needed.

On a very hot grill or grill pan place the avocados on the grill. Let sit undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Flip the avocados over and grill the other side. Salt the avocados and place on a platter with the corn salad.

Grill some thinly sliced bread that has been drizzled with oil. Brush the grilled bread with a garlic clove. Served alongside the salad.



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Grilled Avocado Salad // Strawberries with Honey Creme Anglaise

Grilled avocado and Corn Salad

It was the latest Bon Appetit that brought my attention to grilling avocados and for that I can never thank them enough. If I could I would grill a stick of butter but since that seems improbable avocados are the next best thing. Their flesh softens under the heat giving them the texture I dream of when thinking on grilled butter. The smokiness from the grill does them well.

2 avocados, halved and removed from their skin (I find a spoon works best for this)
1 Tablespoon buter
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 scallions, chopped
1 Tablespoon diced jalapeno (more or less)
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup crumbled feta (optional)

Add the butter to a hot skillet. To that add the corn, cumin and a pinch of salt. Saute until corn is just cooked, 2-3 minutes then turn off heat. Toss in the scallions, jalapeno and cilantro. Taste and add more salt if needed.

On a very hot grill or grill pan place the avocados on the grill. Let sit undisturbed for a couple of minutes. Flip the avocados over and grill the other side. Salt the avocados and place on a platter with the corn salad.

Grill some thinly sliced bread that has been drizzled with oil. Brush the grilled bread with a garlic clove. Served alongside the salad.

 

Strawberries with Honey Creme Anglaise

1 ½ cups heavy cream
½ cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
pinch salt
¼ cup honey
4 egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a saucepan combine the cream, milk, vanilla seeds and bean. Bring to a simmer. Then turn off the heat and let stand for at least 15 minutes to infuse the cream with the vanilla.

In a medium bowl whisk the yolks, honey and a pinch of salt.

Bring the cream back to a simmer then slowly pour that into the bowl with the yolks while whisking. Pour everything back into the saucepan and continue to cook on low until it thickens slightly (170-175*F). It should just coat the back of a spatula or wooden spoon.

Strain this mixture into a clean bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Pour warm, if the weather is gray and clouds cover or cold, if the sun persists over the clouds, over a bowl of sliced strawberries.

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Rosemary Lemonade with cherries

Plans for the stand began weeks before school let out. He saw the potential for profit enabling him to buy yet another lightsaber while we saw the opportunity to teach hard work, beginning business skills and a way for us to drink cup after cup of tart lemonade this summer.

The moment Baron (6) came up with the brilliant idea of building the stand on his wagon, making it mobile, everything else quickly fell into place. Gabe set out to work getting a few moments of help from the boys in between sword fights, while I perfected the recipe and kept little fingers away from sharp saws. Covered in plastic ponchos Baron, Roman (4) and I painted the stand a pristine white with lemon (of course) yellow stripes stretching the width.

I stood back to observe the scene and set its details deep in my memory. A blonde head of hair covered in white paint as he took his job of painting the inside of the stand (a section virtually unseen by anyone) very seriously. He refused to stop until every inch was coated in a thick layer of paint – including himself. Baron directed us and gave tips on painting techniques, pridefully beaming as we inched our way closer to opening day. The grass, now covered in a layer of paint became cool and damp as the gentle sun made way for evening. Carrying our tired and chilled bodies inside we warmed up with hot chocolate while yet dreaming of our lemonade business.

So far we’ve only opened one day as the rains have kept us inside and leave very few pining for the refreshing chill of lemonade but it was a successful first day. As the first customer approached the stand Baron quickly tucked in his shirt to appear a bit more professional and promptly set out to muddle a few cherries into their cup. Timidly avoiding eye contact he thanked them and proudly took their money while handing them their cup. With the first customers just steps away he was already eager for the next.

Roman helped too, although we are still working on his understanding that not every cup of lemonade is for him. A lesson we realized necessary as he took a drink of a customer’s before handing it to her. We made her a fresh cup while laughing at his sweet misunderstanding. Unlike his brother, he’s not as motivated by the money but would just rather sit and drink lemonade all day. I couldn’t love them more.

There have been only a few days that demand the cooling effects of lemonade but we have had a taste of what the sunny days of summer look like for us now as lemonade stand owners. And it’s as pleasant as the lemonade itself – not too sweet, tart but not painfully so and softly piney and herbal – a far cry from the Country Time powdered concoction I sold at my childhood stand.

It feels a momentous thing, this lemonade stand. One that evokes memories of my childhood while sealing in new memories for both us and the kids. It’s a small project with great reward – growth as a family, connectedness with our community, learning to serve, pushing oneself out of our comforts and a near endless supply of lemonade.

 

 

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Rosemary Lemonade

 

Honey and lemons are a natural pairing which is why my version uses honey in the simple syrup. As a result less sugar is needed and it gives the lemonade a herbal sweetness that sets it apart and leaves customers returning again and again.

makes about 2 ½ quarts
½ cup honey (use a light flavored honey such as clover)
½ cup sugar
2 cups water
3 sprigs rosemary
2 cups fresh lemon juice
about 5 cups water (more or less depending on desired sweetness and tang)

Rainier cherries (or whatever variety you have on hand)

In a small saucepan combine the honey, sugar and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil then turn off the heat. Give this mixture a quick stir to ensure all the sugar has dissolved then add the rosemary. Let steep until cool.

Meanwhile juice enough lemons to produce 2 cups of lemon juice. I like a bit of pulp in my lemonade so I strain the juice then add back a bit of pulp.

When the syrup is cool combine it with the lemon juice in a pitcher. Add in 5 cups water (you can start with 4 then add more if needed. I like my lemonade quite tart so you may even want to add up to 6 cups). Taste and adjust to your liking.

If serving at a lemonade stand muddle two pitted rainier cherries in each cup before pouring over ice. If not you can muddle a cup or so of cherries into a pitcher then add the lemonade. The cherries don’t give off much flavor to the lemonade but the lemonade gives great flavor to the cherries making them a wonderful reward for finishing an incredibly refreshing cup of lemonade.

 

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Two pies are better than one

They called out for chocolate pie or yet another strawberry pie but I chose the cherries. I may be getting a bit ahead of myself as the cherries were a bit firm and not quite up to their usual sweetness but I couldn’t resist their nearly black exterior and the sign that praised their local roots. Also, I happen to agree with Nigel Slater who says, “A bag of cherries is a bag of happiness.”

Then for some reason the little tomatoes with tight skin and a red reminiscent of a fire engine called to me as well and I thought, “what’s better than a fresh home baked pie? TWO fresh, home baked pies.”

I told the kids there would be a pie picnic and I quickly set to work.

There is something strange and wonderful that happens when I make pie. It’s as if I’ve pressed the mute button to life as I begin to slice through cold butter. The kids play around me but I don’t really hear them. The house remains a mess but I’m focused on the pie and carefully mixing the ingredients to form a dough that is both tender and flaky. One that would make my grandma and my mother proud. Both ladies who have made and continue to make some of the best pie around.

I tackled the pile of cherries only briefly quibbling with myself as to why I didn’t just get strawberries – a pit-less fruit. But the spatters of blood-red juice that paints my kitchen were soon forgiven with one bite of their sweet and spiced juice baked in a buttery shell.

We made a meal of pie and I felt no guilt. There was sun, green grass and birds singing a melody hoping to woo us to give them a bite (they gave up the wooing and stole a piece when we weren’t looking). We were left with enough leftovers to ensure us of a promise of pie for breakfast – my favorite way to eat it.

 

 

 

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Roasted Tomatoes with Sharp Cheddar Crust // Cherry Pie

Roasted Tomatoes in a Sharp Cheddar Crust

Sharp Cheddar Crust

4 ounces melted butter
1 cup flour
1 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar (I used a microplane)
½  teaspoon salt

Add melted butter and flour in a bowl, stir in cheese and salt. Make sure everything is combined well and there are no clumps of cheddar.

Press the dough thinly and evenly in a 9” tart pan.

1 small shallot thinly sliced
10 ounces (roughly 2 cups) cherry tomatoes, halved
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp fresh thyme
salt and pepper

Toss these ingredients together in a bowl then pile on top of the tart pan.

Bake in a 350*F oven for 1 hour or until the edge of the crust is deep golden.

Let cool for at least 20 minutes on a wire rack before removing tart rim. Serve room temperature with greens.
The tart is beautifully tender so take care when removing from the pan.

Pie Dough

2 ⅓ cup (10 oz) all-purpose flour
1 t. salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 sticks (8 oz) cold butter, cut in ½” cubes
2 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons cold water

In the bowl of a stand mixer add dry ingredients. Mix on low to combine. Add butter using to hands to evenly distribute. While mixing on low slowly add the oil, cream and cold water. When crumbly and dough holds together when squeezed it’s ready. I like to finish off the mixing by hand to insure that the butter is evenly mixed and some remains in rough pea-size crumbles.

Divide in two discs and wrap well.

Chill for one hour.

Cherry Filling 

2 pounds cherries (I used Bing cherries. If you are lucky enough to have sour cherries you can use those and simply omit the lemon juice)
3/4 cup brown sugar
¾ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ t black pepper
¼ t salt
3 Tablespoon cornstarch
zest and juice from 1 lemon

egg
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons sugar

Mix everything in a large bowl then set aside while rolling the crust.

Roll out one of the discs of dough and place in a pie pan (I prefer glass pie pans as you can see the color of the bottom crust while baking and it seems to bake more evenly).

Use flour if the dough is sticking at all. Roll to about ⅛” inch thick. Place the pan with the bottom crust in the freezer while rolling out the second disc.

Roll out the other disc to ⅛” inch thickness. If you are doing a lattice top cut the dough in ½” strips.
Remove the pan from the freezer and fill with the cherries. Top the pie with the top crust, alternating the ½” strips.

Brush the top with a lightly beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Dot the pie with a few little bits of butter before putting in a 370*F oven for at least one hour or until the crust is deep golden and the juices are bubbling thickly.

*My friend Stephanie makes those lovely little pie boxes you see in the photos. They are perfect for sharing a piece of pie and for taking home leftovers from a pie picnic.

*Today the internet is having a bit of a pie party. Check out all these beautiful pies.

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Taste to remember

When asked questions about childhood I often draw a blank. I’m mentally paralyzed as I search the dusty corners of my brain seeking to withdraw stories coated in details that reveal more about who I am today. I envy those that can paint vivid images of when they stood, just barely, on their sausage-like legs. They can seemingly make sense of every year of their life and beautifully illustrate how it informs of who they’ve become and anticipate who they are yet to be.

I can barely remember yesterday let alone the days when my permed hair was tangled into two little pig tails. But when a familiar taste from those days finds me then suddenly the surrounding details become more clear.

I remember gathering around our large oak table slightly off-set from the rest of the house, when mom had spent hours in the kitchen preparing a special dinner. I never liked seafood but salmon pie was another story. Perhaps it was the mashed potato filling and the buttery crust that made it bearable for me to choke down the fish that flecked the inside. Or it could have been the cream sauce made lightly sweet with chartreuse peas.
There is nostalgia over nachos as we had a date with them every Sunday night sitting down with a giant cheese-laden platter while watching America’s Funniest Home Videos followed by The Simpsons. I found comforte in fried tortillas and my family all around.

Taste triggers those memories of time with my family, of what season we were in while eating those meals and how sometimes it was just the meal itself that remained the constant while we all grew up in various forms.

With my own struggles to follow a recipe or make the same thing twice I worry that my kids won’t have repeated tastes to draw from but then, without consciousness, there seems to be flavors that mark our time. A dish that I can’t help but make again and again while the berries are fresh or while peas are at their sweetest. In the present we can grow weary of the same taste but I can’t bare to move on to another while the season produces perfection so briefly.

In this season we’ll recall sweet roasted strawberries buried into a buttery crust with cool whipped cream acting as a blanket filling the crevices. That taste will evoke memories of a potluck where neighbors gathered and the kids ran around us with swords and loud, happy voices. They’ll remember it as their sweet reward after working so hard to build their lemonade stand with promises of many cups of the sour/sweet themselves and sticky fingers counting the day’s profits.

We’ll also have the taste of a nutty, crisp cracker with pungent blue cheese and a bright, lightly spiced pickled peach. The kids may not remember this bite as much as just the crackers themselves but for me this taste will mark memories of a picnic that lasted nearly the whole day. Of a conversation with a new and not-as-new friend that left me feeling inspired, fulfilled and satisfied. Years later, when this taste evokes memory, I’ll laugh about nearly pummeling Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan) as I profusely thanked her for her pickled peaches that inspired this bite. It’s a taste of a Summer when the kids were young and we were tired but eager to soak in the sun and these precious days.

It’s one I’ll eat again and again for sealing in the memories of this season.



 

 

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Cherry Rosemary Crisps // Blue Cheese Walnut Spread // Pickled Peaches

Cherry Rosemary Crisps
adapted from Dinner With Julie 

There are so many great flavors in these crackers it’s hard to pick just a couple to pull out for the sake of naming them. Call them whatever you want after you’ve tasted them. I was looking for an alternative to something like the Raincoast Crisp – which are reserved for special occasions because of their price. While this may not be a perfected version of those I was quite happy with what I came up with, as were the many people who I shared them with.

2 cups white whole wheat flour (all-purpose or whole wheat would work fine too)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 Tablespoons molasses
¼ cup honey
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup sesame seeds
¾ cup dried cherries
1 Tablespoon minced rosemary (or more if you prefer a stronger rosemary flavor)
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

Pre-heat the over to 350*F

Combine everything in a large bowl. Stir well to combine.

Pour the batter into two greased standard size (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 ½) loaf pans.

Bake until edges just start to pull away from the pan, about 40-45 minutes. The top should feel firm to the touch with a slight give.
Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before unmolding and continuing to let cool on a wire rack.

Slice the loaves as thin as you can ¼” (or thinner if possible) then place the slices on parchment lined sheet trays.

Bake at 300*F until crackers are crisp. The baking time will depend on the thickness of your crackers. Start with 15 minutes then flip and bake another 10 minutes. Continue to bake if they still feel soft. Some of mine took quite a bit longer.
Let cool completely before storing for up to two weeks in an airtight container.

 

Blue Cheese and Walnut Spread

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces blue cheese, (I like Rogue Creamerys’ blue)
1 cup (3 ounces) toasted walnuts

Cream the cream cheese and blue cheese in a food processor. Once combined pulse in the walnuts leaving some large bits of walnut intact.

Serve immediately or refrigerate in a well-sealed container for up to one week.

 

Habanero Pickled Peaches
slighlty adapted from The Homesick Texan Cookbook

3 pounds (roughly) peaches
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
½ habanero pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
2 cloves
2 sprigs basil

Sterilize two pint jars and their lids. Set aside on a clean surface.

Peel the peaches by cutting an x with a sharp knife at their base and submerge in boiling water for 30 seconds. Run under cool water then slip the skin off. If it doesn’t come off easily you can peel with the help of a paring knife or submerge in the boiling water again.

Slice the peaches and place them in the jars along with ¼ of a habanero pepper (Lisa calls for half a habanero in each jar but I love the soft spice of just a quarter. Take great caution when working with this pepper. It is incredibly spicy. Use gloves when cutting or if gloves aren’t available cover your hands with plastic bags as I did).

Bring the vinegar, sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks to a boil. Stir to ensure sugar is dissolved. Pour the liquid into the jars. Tuck a clove and cinnamon stick into each jar as well as a clean sprig of basil.

Cover and refrigerate. I like their flavor the very next day. A week after is great too although the peaches start to break down a bit.

They will keep in the fridge for one month.

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Dating my husband: no excuses

It had been a long time. For weeks excuses were made when Thursday nights would come around. Our Google calendar would notify us of “date night” but I would simply sigh and push it away putting some other task in its place.

A couple months passed before this evening where we finally sat down to a table together, surrounded by food and no distractions. It seemed so small and insignificant when I ignored the reminder of our weekly appointments. “No, this week is just too crazy.” I would say. “We’ll do it next Thursday. What’s one week?’

The following Thursday would come and without searching too much I managed to find another excuse not to cook, not to sit down to the table and to avoid some things that really should not have been avoided.

I simply didn’t feel like cooking after a long day. I longed to linger on the couch with a good book and sit in my own space rather than connect with my partner and best friend. There wasn’t anger there or heated issues that I was necessarily trying to escape it was more a matter of apathy and choosing my own desires rather than putting the needs of our marriage first.

This week was no different. Excuses could have been created, other plans could have been made. We longed to shut down after a more-exhausting-than-usual day. I could see in his eyes that he didn’t have much more to give and I am sure he saw that in mine too. But it had been too long since we made our relationship a priority and we have been dealing with the painful effects of that.

The meal was simple. Classic burgers, a simple salad dressed with homemade ranch and a strawberry tart for each of us. I fought my crazy desires to make the buns and chips from scratch reserving that energy for my husband and our time together. Scrambling through the fridge I sought out ingredients that would make these burgers special in order to set this night apart from the others. Counting on the tart to woo us to dinner and to each other I sliced local strawberries and laid them on a cushy bed of mascarpone that snuggled into a tender crust. A shower of turbinado sugar rained over top setting off a light molasses scented breeze.

We lingered over dinner, sat in our exhausted silence then finally gave ourselves permission to leave the table still cluttered with dishes and a few remaining bites.

It would make for a more compelling story to speak of how that one evening changed our marriage. How we managed to stay up talking for hours, rekindling those late night that rolled into early morning conversations that came so easy when we were dating. But that is not what happened. In that I was reminded that the health of our marriage is defined by the small decisions. The ones in which we choose to fight through our fatigue to spend time with one another. The decisions we make to put work aside in order to be there for one another. To put the iphone down so that we can actually look into each other’s eyes. It’s when we choose our marriage rather than ourselves.

That night over burgers we did connect. A conversation that lyrically described the perfect burger (I have much to say on that subject) made its way towards one that dug below the surface to where the heartbeat of our relationship lives. We poked and prodded under there then gave ourselves the grace to turn on a movie and just be together knowing there was more to be said but encouraged by the small, yet powerful step towards intimacy that came from making the right decision.

It’s far too easy to make excuses. Those pesky little twerps that squirm their way into our lives whispering lies of a more satisfying and rewarding decision. Their grip is firm and once they’ve got a hold they are not inclined to let go. The power of excuses is only waned by the act of not using them.

We neglected our excuses the night we dated at home. Tasting the sweet reward of a more connected relationship has helped us fight those excuses since. I have no doubt we will be tempted again but we fight together for our marriage, for each other, because it is those little battles that we bravely fight that will strengthen and bind our marriage in the years to come. And near the end of it all he’ll slide my withered and wrinkled hand into his, we’ll look into each other’s eyes and continue to say, “I do”. Just as we did 8 ½ years ago and just as we continue to daily.

I did, I do and I will.

 

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

2 cups buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
3 T finely chopped herbs (I used chives, parsley and dill)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
¼ teaspoon Espelette (optional, paprika is a good alternative)
salt and pepper

Stir together the buttermilk and mayonnaise until well combined. Stir in the herbs, garlic and Espelette (if using). Taste and add salt and pepper to your desire.

Refrigerate what you don’t serve. Will keep for 1 week in the fridge.

 

Tart Crust

adapted from Alice Medrich

I have made so many variations of this recipe over the years. It simply could not be easier. In fact once while teaching a tart class I had the students time me while making this recipe and I think the mixing took all of 10 seconds. In this latest variation I attempted to add a bit of nutrients as well as depth of flavor by using coconut oil and white whole wheat flour. Of course you could substitute butter but I found this version perfectly light, tender and ever-so-sweet.

4 oz coconut oil, melted
¼ cup Sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour

Pre-heat oven to 350*

Combine the coconut oil, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour then press the dough into individual tart pans (makes 4-5 4″ inch tarts) or a 9” inch tart pan. Press the dough quite thin as it puffs a bit while baking.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Let shell cool completely before removing outer ring. This dough is incredibly tender so take care while unmolding to ensure the fluted edges remain intact.

Once cool cover the base of the crust with a rough ¼” layer of room temperature (makes it easier to spread) Mascarpone. Top the tart with sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of Turbinado sugar (dark brown or muscovado would do nicely here as well).

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Buttermilk Ranch Dressing // Fresh Strawberry Tart

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

2 cups buttermilk
½ cup mayonnaise
3 T finely chopped herbs (I used chives, parsley and dill)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
¼ teaspoon Espelette (optional, paprika is a good alternative)
salt and pepper

Stir together the buttermilk and mayonnaise until well combined. Stir in the herbs, garlic and Espelette (if using). Taste and add salt and pepper to your desire.

Refrigerate what you don’t serve. Will keep for 1 week in the fridge.

 

Tart Crust

adapted from Alice Medrich

I have made so many variations of this recipe over the years. It simply could not be easier. In fact once while teaching a tart class I had the students time me while making this recipe and I think the mixing took all of 10 seconds. In this latest variation I attempted to add a bit of nutrients as well as depth of flavor by using coconut oil and white whole wheat flour. Of course you could substitute butter but I found this version perfectly light, tender and ever-so-sweet.

4 oz coconut oil, melted
¼ cup Sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour

Pre-heat oven to 350*

Combine the coconut oil, sugar, salt and vanilla extract. Stir in the flour then press the dough into individual tart pans (makes 4-5 4″ inch tarts) or a 9” inch tart pan. Press the dough quite thin as it puffs a bit while baking.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden.

Let shell cool completely before removing outer ring. This dough is incredibly tender so take care while unmolding to ensure the fluted edges remain intact.

Once cool cover the base of the crust with a rough ¼” layer of room temperature (makes it easier to spread) Mascarpone. Top the tart with sliced strawberries and a sprinkling of Turbinado sugar (dark brown or muscovado would do nicely here as well).

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Tent Muffins

“I could set up the tent.” Gabe said, and that is how it began. Suddenly a day that looked like every other was instantly transformed into one that was marked with excitement. A simple sunny day was now one that included a “fort tent” – the perfect setting for adventures that include sword fights, battles with dragons and wrestling matches that put the pros to shame.

Gabe and I fought with the awkwardly long poles as we realized we bought the tent as a newly married couple and this was our first time setting it up. A joyous tent initiation I’d say. The boys flailed their nerf swords around the not yet erect tent, passing the time as best they could.

It took longer than we expected, as these things do, but we managed to elevate it to it’s proper towering state. Baron and Roman moved their wrestling from the grass to the tent and Ivy and I laid under the mesh roof watching the perfectly puffed clouds stumble across the ice blue sky. Gabe took it all in from his Adirondack chair with slightly warmed-by-the-sun I.P.A.

Eventually the wrestling ceased and in its place there were games and movies on the iPad, still inside the tent. We spent that afternoon in the tent and the next morning when the gray skies moved in and the first spat of rain hit the brightly green grass we couldn’t bare to put the tent away. Instead, the rain roof was placed on top.

As it turns out a tent is good for both protecting from the harsh rays of the sun as well as sheltering you from the cool rains of Summer. Another day in the tent, this time there were muffins. The perfect portable breakfast that easily transferred to our recently found second home. With muffins there was coffee for Gabe and I and the comfort of sleeping bags and family close by.

Tart dried cherries tasting of Summer sun and the warmth of toasted nuts and Cardamom as comforting as the soft rain that gently tapped on the roof like a guest requesting permission to join us in our tent.

It was a tent. A simple task of setting up that took us all of 20 minutes to complete was all that it took to transform what could have been a day like any other into something magical and one that will be present with us again.

“Remember the time we set up the tent in the yard?” We’ll recount in some chance moment in the far off future when perhaps our children will have children. With longing in our voices we’ll recall the way Roman snuggled into daddy’s lap cozied under the vivid green sleeping bag. And the way Baron ate his muffin by first plucking off the streusel topping then devouring the rest, using his teeth to release the defiant bits that clung to the muffin paper.

Days easily roll into the next and after awhile they all start to look the same. The monotony can become deafening making the thought of breaking out of the routine seem almost impossible. And then someone suggests building a tent and the day is new, different, and exciting. The routine is put on hold until further notice and we fail to fall into our rhythm as this disruption has shaken us in the best way possible.

In the midst routine it is easily to switch into cruise control, setting you on your path so that you don’t have much to think about except what is right in front of you. The problem I come up against is that everything that surrounds me starts to lose focus. My depth of field narrows and all I see is what is mere moments away. With a subtle agitation every thing is knocked out of balance causing things that were there all along to speak up and become noticeable.

In our breach of routine that was the tent, I stopped to appreciate how young and innocent Roman’s voice still sounds – this won’t be for very much longer. The way he fumbles over his words and his eyes tell of his excitement before a word escapes from his mouth as he tells a story. How Baron is eager to learn continually asking for further explanation of words like anticipate and then setting up the remaining muffins as a math problem taking away one from the three that are now two. He happily eats his subtraction. And Ivy who in a matter of a few days transformed from baby into a full fledged member of the family that interacts and responds to us all. Never ceasing to move, she crawls over us all taking in each snuggle and kiss that comes her way.

The muffin pans get cleaned and the tent gets taken down and puts up a fight in submitting to fit in its convenient black tote. Routine sets in once again. It’s not all bad, in fact some sort of schedule is necessary in order to effectively run a family of five smoothly. But the reminder to occasionally through the routine off balance is one that I won’t soon forget.


 

Cherry Muffins with Walnut, Sesame Seed, and Cardamom Streusel

These muffins are sweet enough to be deemed a weekend breakfast treat but contain the hearty and nutritious crunch from walnuts and sesame seeds. My favorite dried cherries are Montmorency Cherries that can be found at Trader Joe’s. They are pleasant tart and plump of beautifully when warmed with vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon, and water. The extra step of plumping the dried fruit prevents them from stealing any of the moisture out of the muffin, leaving you with a perfectly moist cake.

5 tablespoons butter, softened
½ cup (3 ½ ounces) dark brown sugar
1 large egg
¾ cup whole milk yogurt
1 ½ cups (6 ¾ ounces) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup dried cherries
¼ cup water
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg

Streusel
¾ cup all purpose flour
½ cup walnuts, chopped
1 stick (4 ounces) butter, melted
pinch cardamom (or the seeds from 4 pods, ground)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup turbinado sugar (you may substitute brown sugar)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Pre-heat oven to 350*

Line a muffin tin with 12 muffin papers.

In a small saucepan combine the dried cherries, water, lemon zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Over low heat bring to a gentle simmer then remove from the stove and let stand while you prepare the muffin batter. Alternately you can place this all in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and microwave for one minute and then let stand. The cherries will soak up the liquid until very little remains.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and use a whisk to combine.

In a medium bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter and sugar until light, about three minutes on medium speed. Scrape down the side of the bowl, then with the machine running on medium low, add the egg. Stop the machine and scrape down the side of the bowl again. Once the egg is combined add ⅓ of the flour mixture on low speed. With flour streaks still present, add half of the yogurt then repeat until all the flour and yogurt has been added. Stop the machine and stir in the cherry mixture using a rubber spatula, taking care not to over mix.

To prepare the streusel mix all the ingredients until combined and break into small and medium clumps.

Using a large spoon fill the muffin tin with batter ¾ full. Scatter the streusel evenly over each muffin. Bake in the middle rack for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out with a few crumbs.  Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool until warm enough to bite into. Serve with coffee and enjoy inside the warmth of a tent.

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Boucan Restaurant, St. Lucia

This post was from a recent trip to St. Lucia. I was sent by HighLine Foods to travel the island sampling and studying the seafood culture. I took my job very seriously by eating as much fish as I could. I enjoyed every moment. You can read more about my trip at the Seafood Spot.

 

In the shade of cocoa trees and the towering Petit Piton sits Boucan – a restaurant dressed in the finest dark woods and modern design with an intriguing menu dotted with cocoa, in all its various forms, throughout.

Like seeing a favorite celebrity in real life I was star struck as the walk up to the restaurant entrance was lined with trees heavy with cocoa pods. As a lifetime devout chocolate lover this was the first time I had seen cocoa pods in their native habitat and it filled me with a silly giddiness.

That same giddiness found me again as I tasted spicy local greens coated in a sweet white chocolate dressing. And then again as I sampled my husband’s cocoa nib crusted Dorado and as I dipped my seared tuna in a cocoa pesto. I doused much of my food in freshly ground cocoa nibs using the grinder provided at the table. I was released from the childhood rule of not eating chocolate for dinner, breaking it freely by putting cocoa nibs on virtually everything all-the-while being perpetually stunned when the flavors worked beautifully together.

Full on a pleasantly spiced curry studded with fish and plantains, and a chocolate tasting carrying us from nibs to a cool, lightly sweet chocolate drink, we sat down with the chef to talk with him about St. Lucia and his incredible talent that he brought to the island.

Chef Jon Bentham runs the sleek, black, open kitchen at Boucan. While the food served isn’t necessarily traditional St. Lucian cuisine the ingredients definitely are with 95% of what is used in the kitchen coming from various locations on the island. Chef Jon proudly spoke of their own garden on the property which supplies the restaurant with fresh organic herbs and greens. And of course all the cocoa he could ever dream of using is located a few steps away from the kitchen.

Chef Jon and his staff work closely with the locals insuring them the finest ingredients. With the success of the restaurant, it’s a wonderful economic boost for many St. Lucian farmers. “We’re happy, the farmer’s are happy. Everyone’s happy.” Chef Jon proudly proclaimed.

I walked away happy as well and encouraged to see such a wonderfully inventive restaurant flourishing and taking full advantage of all the incredible bounty found on the island.

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simple pasta with fresh herbs

First of all I need to thank you all for the incredible response from my last post. I have read every single comment and email and they have been like a breath of fresh air. I struggled to publish that post but you all have once again proven to be an incredible community that encourages and lifts us up. So thank you. I apologize for not responding to the emails and comments. It continues to be a bit of a difficult season for me and my family but I have seen so much amazing goodness come out of it already. We are covered in grace and are so thankful for your words and continued support.

________

Of course much can be said on the beauty of sharing a meal with dear family and friends as laughter mingles with the scents of soft spices drifting through the air. Where wine glasses clink over riveting conversation and dishes linger on the table far after the meal is done. There is also beauty in cooking for one.

Perhaps it is because for me this is a rare occasion – one to be celebrated and remembered. It is a time when my cravings and food adversities (of which there aren’t many) are the only ones to consider. It is a time when the pasta can be covered in little green flecks and I won’t hear the moanings from three little ones each one meticulously trying to pluck the herbs off their pasta.

My meals for one are simple and light, often composed of many small tastes and they are consumed in silence.

For another idea of what I like to eat while dining alone check out this cheese plate I created for Wisconsin Cheese. Also, check out CheeseCupid.com for a great tool on pairing cheese with drinks. Somehow I managed to include chocolate with my cheese. I may have a problem.

*Disclaimer – I was paid to produce the content for Wisconsin Cheese. Words and images are, as always, my own.

Simple Pasta with Fresh Herbs

This pasta is far too simple for a formal recipe so instead I’ll channel my inner Nigel Slater (I wish) and contain its ingredients and basic method in paragraph form.

First you’ll set a pot of water to boil with enough salt in it that one taste conjures up images of those horrid accidental times of ingesting a bit of sea water. If you didn’t grow up around the ocean – the water should taste salty. Cook enough spaghetti noodles for one. While the noodles boil mince a handful or two of fresh herbs. In this particular batch I used chives, mint, dill, thyme, parsley and purple basil. Whatever you have on hand will do nicely. Add to that a finely minced half of a garlic clove and about a teaspoon or so of finely grated lemon or lime zest. In total you want to have about two tablespoons of this herb mixture.

Toss that with the hot pasta. Over the top you can grate Pecorino or Parmesan or dot the pasta with a bit of Feta or Chevre. Or just leave it as is. On this particular day the sun was shining and the temperature outside didn’t seem quite fitting for a big bowl of hot pasta. So before I tossed the pasta with the herbs I cooled them off with cold water then tossed in the herbs and had a dish that resembled more of a pasta salad.

Warm or cool it is an incredibly simple dish that satisfies, particularly if eaten alone.

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my mess

I resisted the urge to “style” my mess and actually my kitchen has seen much worse. Also, since I’m being very honest, I originally had two small images of my messy kitchen in this post but realized that that needed to be big. Breathe.

A friend encouraged me to take a picture of my messy kitchen for you all to see. We’re no longer friends. (That’s not true).

After the initial terror of the idea I started to see her point then finally came around to agree with her completely. There are a number of reasons why she was encouraging me to do this.

First of all she admitted to me her thoughts the first time she saw my kitchen.

“This is where she cooks everything?”

My kitchen has no pantry to store the assortment of flours and sugars I would like to keep. There isn’t an expansive island to knead doughs and gingerly work cold butter into flour. There is very little counter space and half of the space there is is taken up with coffee equipment. Priorities.

This isn’t me complaining. This is just how it is. Of course there are things I would like to have in a kitchen that I don’t have currently but this space works and I am grateful for it.

So my friend thought you should all see the space as well. More specifically the space in the state of disarray in which it is often found. Dishes from lunch that happened hours ago still sitting. Items that should be tucked away into the overcrowded cupboards clutter the countertop and take up much of the coveted space needed for mixing, rolling and sanity. She wanted you all to see a bit more of my reality. She wants you to know that my kitchen is small, it’s often a mess and also that the cake from my last post took three attempts one of which included me dribbling chocolate across my house because of a cake pan that had acquired holes which I hadn’t noticed until after I poured the liquid into the pan.

 

It’s not just her. I want you to know this too. I don’t put myself and my work onto this space to be elevated in any sort of way. My fear is that you would use any part of my life as you’ve imagined as an excuse to not create the recipes on the site or to create in general.

“She’s got time.” “She’s got space.” “She’s got three perfectly behaved children who clean for her, massage her feet and actually are the ones making the recipes on the site.”

I may have more time than some, I might also have less. I may have more space than some or I may have less. And well, the last one was just put there so I could laugh while I imagined that scene.

The truth is my day is always a series of choices. Right now I’m choosing not to clean the kitchen so that I can spend some time with you in this space. Also, I’m choosing to not do laundry when really now would be a perfect time because except for this fly buzzing around me, currently the house is quiet.

I’ve been asked numerous times, “how do you do it all?” I sort of love and hate that question. I love it for a brief moment because sometimes I can be grossly prideful. So the fact that I have somehow painted a picture of myself as having figured it all out seems pretty great. And then I think, that’s horrible. That poor young mother or person in the cubicle working long days thinks that I eat chocolate and frolic in the garden with my well-behaved children all day long.

I have been that young mother mindlessly peering into other people’s “lives”. With unrealistic brush strokes I painted a picture of their lives as some sort of idyllic reality that I wanted rather than the messy life that I was living. Logically I know that everyone’s reality includes some messes and really we don’t want to see that all the time but every once in awhile I think it’s refreshing to see the mess and humbling to share it.

That dim photo of items out of place – a chaotic mess of life and our reality is also there to fill in for the words that I can’t find yet. This space has been silent for longer than I normally allow but I haven’t been able to put myself here as my mind has been in the same state as my kitchen. Dark, cluttered and despondent.

The beauty of darkness is that it is often there where life’s most valuable lessons tend to hide. Because of the lack of light the lessons are hard to spot, but when you start to see them, that’s when joy becomes part of the suffering.

In the midst of this season of darkness I’m reminded of the power in vulnerability. A humbling lesson as I realized again and again that I can not battle this alone but what has come from that vulnerability is greater love, deeper respect and a refining of who I am.

When listening to Ruth Reichl speak last weekend at a conference I attended and spoke at, she was urging us to return to the home table and to invite people to join you there. Sharing a meal in a restaurant is a completely different experience than opening up your home to others. “When you invite someone into your home you become vulnerable.” She said. “You are saying this is who I am.”
She fears we’ve lost that kind of intimacy and we are not the better for it.

As with any sort of vulnerability, when I think to invite others into my space the wave of excuses hit with great force. “My home is too small. They’ll be uncomfortable. The kids will be too loud. I don’t have matching dishes. They’ll see the stains, the mess, the clutter.

They’ll know me in a way I’m not sure I’m ready to be known.”

It’s an exhausting work trying to hide oneself. A work that I don’t care to excel in. For the sake of greater love and for the hope of guiding someone else in their darkness I become vulnerable. It’s an act of faith. It’s removing the band-aid while the wound is still fresh trusting that the air will help in the process of healing.

 

Green lentils with arugula and asparagus
inspired from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi
serves 4

The past several Sundays have found me at the Farmer’s Market with the sun beaming on my face and my smile radiating back. The offerings are still a bit slim but each week I faithfully return I am rewarded with a bit more abundance. Arugula and asparagus are always a must, beyond that it’s what else I can fit in my hands while still be able to manage the three littles. This recipe highlights the season so beautifully. It’s quick and easy and a perfect option to serve when opening up your home and sharing a meal.

1 cup green lentils
4 cups arugula
½ cup parsley
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tb red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bunch asparagus
salt and pepper
pecorino (or parmesan)
lemon wedges

Wash the lentils then simmer in a saucepan covered with plenty of water. Simmer until tender but not mushy – about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water after cooking.

While the lentils cook put half the arugula, the parsley, oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon zest and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed or a squeeze of lemon.

Add this pesto to the warm lentils then set aside. Taste again and add salt if needed, most likely it will need it.

Roast or grill the asparagus until charred in places and cooked through. Cut into 1-2” inch pieces. (I cut off the woody part of the asparagus then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper then place on a hot grill pan for about 2-3 minutes per side).

Toss the asparagus and remaining arugula with the lentils. Top with plenty of shaved pecorino and serve with lemon wedges.

You can serve this dish warm or room temperature. A perfect, healthy spring dinner, I’d say.

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Green lentils with arugula and asparagus


inspired from Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi
serves 4

The past several Sundays have found me at the Farmer’s Market with the sun beaming on my face and my smile radiating back. The offerings are still a bit slim but each week I faithfully return I am rewarded with a bit more abundance. Arugula and asparagus are always a must, beyond that it’s what else I can fit in my hands while still be able to manage the three littles. This recipe highlights the season so beautifully. It’s quick and easy and a perfect option to serve when opening up your home and sharing a meal.

1 cup green lentils
4 cups arugula
½ cup parsley
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 Tb red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 bunch asparagus
salt and pepper
pecorino (or parmesan)
lemon wedges

Wash the lentils then simmer in a saucepan covered with plenty of water. Simmer until tender but not mushy – about 15 minutes. Drain any remaining water after cooking.

While the lentils cook put half the arugula, the parsley, oil, garlic, vinegar, lemon zest and a hearty pinch of salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Process until smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed or a squeeze of lemon.

Add this pesto to the warm lentils then set aside. Taste again and add salt if needed, most likely it will need it.

Roast or grill the asparagus until charred in places and cooked through. Cut into 1-2” inch pieces. (I cut off the woody part of the asparagus then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper then place on a hot grill pan for about 2-3 minutes per side).

Toss the asparagus and remaining arugula with the lentils. Top with plenty of shaved pecorino and serve with lemon wedges.

You can serve this dish warm or room temperature. A perfect, healthy spring dinner, I’d say.

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Hot Fudge Pudding Cake

With a title like that there is really nothing else that needs to be said.

In fact I feel sort of badly for writing anything at all knowing that the time you take to read these words is time you are not setting to the task of making this cake. But perhaps there are a few of you who are not already gathering the cocoa, butter and sugar just by the mere mention of “fudge”, “pudding” and “cake”.

It’s for those people that I speak of the union of cake, brownie and hot fudge that this single recipe manages to accomplish so well. For those who have yet to pre-heat the oven I will tell you its black as night appearance that informs you of its richness before a single bite is taken. The agressive scent of cocoa flees the oven just as the cake is done baking and the faint hint of coffee only helps to accentuate the intense chocolate.

What I find most endearing about this recipe is that it manages to cover most bases as far as cravings go. Of course it has chocolate well taken care of but for me even a simple chocolate craving is made complicated by my follow up question of texture. With this recipe you get a bit of crisp bite if you are quick enough to grab a corner piece, a thin layer of soft cake is tucked underneath which then gives way to a warm fudge sauce. All of that served over ice cream makes for one stunner of a sundae.

It’s hard for me to imagine that there is any need for further convincing. So I’ll leave it at that.

 

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Hot Fudge Pudding Cake


adapted from Grandma and Cook’s Country

This recipe comes from my grandma’s archives. I love passing along recipes from her to my own family. With each dump of an ingredient and stir of the batter I’m reminded that grandma raised six wonderful children and lived to tell about it so surely I’ll survive raising three. Perhaps she, like me, used this cake on those desperate days to help pull through. 

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup cocoa
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup milk
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup hot water
½ cup chocolate chips
Pre-heat your oven to 350*
In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, ¼ cup cocoa, salt and ½ cup sugar. Whisk to combine. Stir in the milk, vanilla extract, egg yolk and melted butter. Spread into a buttered 9” square cake pan.

In a small bowl combine the remaining ½ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup cocoa. Whisk to break up clumps. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the cake batter then sprinkle the cocoa powder and sugar mixture on top of that.

Combine the espresso powder with the hot water and pour all over the top but do not stir. Bake 35-40 minutes or until the edges of the cake feel baked but the middle still has a gentle jiggle as the sauce poured on top has now settled to the bottom to create a rich pudding. Brilliant, really.

Let cool in the pan for about 15-20 minutes before serving. Serve alongside whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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Rhubarb mojito + a giveaway

CONTEST IS CLOSED. A winner was selected and contacted. Thanks to all who entered! It was a joy to introduce so many of you to Noonday Collection. 

Sometimes you take baby steps and sometimes you leap.

There are times when a task feels like a mountain and other times you jump over them like molehills.

There are mornings when getting out of bed seems impossible and others where you are so excited for the day you can’t sleep.

At times it rains and others when the sun warms your face casting a rosy tint to your cheeks.

Sometimes the words are plentiful and eloquent, other times they are bulky and incoherent.

There is a time to selflessly serve and a time to humbly ask for help.

There are seasons of planting and pruning and times when the harvest is fruitful.

The challenge lies in finding the purpose and joy in it all. Every season tucks away lessons and occasions for growing and bettering. It’s our duty to seek the truth whatever the season.

This is a lesson that I’m currently learning or I should say re-learning. I hold firmly to the truth that everything is made beautiful in its time. In this I find hope.

 

Then there are the days when you stop taking yourself too seriously and realize that a cocktail and a bit of retail therapy goes a long way. Which is why I’m here today.

This pleasantly pink brew is the perfect accessory for spring. A gentle touch of cinnamon and nutmeg blended with rum leans towards a tropical punch but the heady scent of mint wins out giving this cocktail the title of “mojito”. The rhubarb flavor isn’t overly intense but rather lends a floral sweetness that is too light for summer but perfect for the gentle warmth of spring.

Today I come bearing more than just a cocktail. I’ve recently been introduced to Noonday Collection – a company that carries a stunning array of jewelry, gifts and accessories with a bold mission behind the brand.

“Our passion at Noonday Collection is to connect you with the lives of artisans struggling for a better future while styling you along the way. Fashion and design are a vehicle for opportunity and change. You, too, can be a voice for the oppressed!”

image from noondaycollection.com

The products sold by Noonday Collection are created by artisans from around the world. The money goes to the artists and back to their community as well as helping to fund costly adoptions for loving families.

For one of my dear readers, Noonday Collection has offered to give a $50 gift card. If you’d like to enter just leave a comment below. To increase your chances become a fan on Facebook or give a follow on Twitter. Comment below and let me know if you have done either of those.

It is a joy to tell you about this great company and I hope you love their products and their mission as much as I do.

Now go make a cocktail and start shopping.

*I am hosting this contest because I believe in this company and am eager to share it with you all. I wasn’t given anything in return – well, except the excitement of being able to share it.

You have until noon on Monday 4/30/12 to enter . At which point I will randomly select a winner.

 

 

 

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Rhubarb Mojito


makes 1 small cocktail

1 oz white rum
2 oz rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
5 (or so) mint leaves
1 Tablespoon lime juice
lime zest
nutmeg

In the bottom of a glass add a bit of nutmeg, lime zest, mint leaves and the lime juice. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon muddle the ingredients. You want to really bruise and break up the mint leaves. Add the rum and syrup, give a light stir then top with ice. Garnish with mint and a thin slice of rhubarb.

 

Rhubarb Syrup
This is enough syrup to make plenty of cocktails. If alcohol isn’t for you a couple ounces of this syrup added to sparkling water and a squeeze of lime makes a delightful non-alcoholic version of this drink.

 

8 oz chopped rhubarb (2-3 small stalks)
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ vanilla bean (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 5-7 minutes. Let cool completely.
Strain the ingredients. Reserve the rhubarb to top yogurt, ice cream or oatmeal.
The syrup will keep covered in the fridge for two weeks.

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secrets from the kitchen

*This post was sponsored by ARM & HAMMER® Baking Soda, an ingredient and tool I use daily. The story and images are my own.

There are many secrets of the kitchen that are often not taught. Techniques and tricks that become inherently a part of those who work and live in the kitchen. We glide across our limited kitchen space employing numerous short cuts and skills that have been collected along the way like memories.

Lately I’ve been trying to become more aware of those subconscious tricks that I use in order to run my very small home kitchen more efficiently. In doing so I hope to do a better job of passing along such tricks.

Much of what I know about effective kitchen management I learned while working in a restaurant where pushing out over 250 desserts a night was not out of the ordinary. In order to perform such a task everything must be impeccably organized and everyone must follow the same plan. Every movement is calculated and every action is scrupulously examined to ensure that it is performed in the most efficient way possible.

But it’s the moments in which I recall a trick I picked up from my grandmothers or my mom that remind me of the real power of the kitchen. In those moments I feel a great sense of honor and duty in continuing the tradition and passing along skills in the kitchen to my children. I can’t help but think of how the future wives of my boys will thank me for showing my son’s how to finesse flakes out of a simple pie dough. And how my daughter’s husband will benefit from her lack of fear in the kitchen just as my husband has.

In the kitchen of my childhood I could only reach the front burner but I didn’t let that stop me from “helping” with dinner. At the cusp of learning how to multi-task and just beginning to hone my skills in having the kitchen run like a well oiled machine, I neglected to stir the pot and directed my attention elsewhere. By the time I returned to the pan a deep layer had crusted to the bottom and the evidence of burnt on food was in the air. My mother noticed what was happening at the same time but rather than scolding my negligence she reached for the golden box with the muscular arm while at the same time teaching me one of those invaluable kitchen secrets.

She proceeded to boil the pot with a heavy dose of baking soda and by the end of the evening the pot contained no evidence of what was to be the first of many (many) kitchen mistakes.

Years later, while working in a high end restaurant, a similarly burnt food-crusted pan appeared on our station. Rather than whisk the pan away and let the dishwashers deal with the mess, I passed along the baking soda trick to my pastry chef and felt swollen with pride while doing so.

The ARM & HAMMER® Baking Soda box represents many of those tricks I learned at a young age. Imagine my delight when I was able to return the favor to my mom and share with her one of my favorite uses for this iconic ingredient. She was unfamiliar with the idea of adding a touch of baking soda instead of sugar, to tomato sauce for the purpose of reducing the acidity. I thought for a moment what that pan-burning little girl would think knowing that decades later she would have something to share with the woman who taught her how to move in the kitchen. She would be proud, I’m quite certain. Just don’t tell that little girl how many more pans she’ll burn in her kitchen career.

What are some of your favorite uses for baking soda in your kitchen? Share your tricks on beyondthebake.com for a chance to win.


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There will be cookies

I wanted to be the mom who had warm cookies waiting on the counter when they got home from school. They would bound through the door and race into the kitchen being lured in by the chocolate and caramelized sugar perfume. I would just be finishing wiping up the last of the flour from the counter as they told me about their day. Beyond that I hadn’t thought much about life as a mom before I was one.

Then suddenly it happened. Well, after 9 months (40 weeks and 3 days but who’s counting?) of heartburn, back aches, tiredness, nausea, stretch marks and those sweet little kicks that made me teary every time, I became a mom.

I didn’t enter this role gracefully. I fought its tendencies towards monotony, the constant need to be self-less and the days on end when finding time for a shower seemed less likely than winning the lottery.

Love. That part I had down. When my first born was six weeks old I remember holding him and sobbing, fearing that he would never understand how much I love him. I thought that maybe he could see it in my eyes as we exchanged a look. He made a sort of blink and nod that assured me he felt my love until I heard a rumble and realized our moment was misinterpreted as what was now a dirty diaper.

Parenting is something that oddly elicits advice when it’s not sought after. Nearly six years into this gig I find myself freely offering up my own bits and pieces here and there to people that most likely are rolling their eyes right in front of me without my noticing because I’m quite into my own moment of reflecting on parenting. I can’t help myself. Perhaps because it has been the hardest and yet the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. Through parenting I’ve been revealed, exposed and refined. These little ones have the ability to teach me, shape me and instruct me. That’s the sort of thing that I can’t help but talk about.

As a very new mom I was doing the eye rolling at unsolicited advice. Especially the one about enjoying the time when they are so little, it goes so fast. I heard that one hundreds of times and each time I wanted to offer them my children so they could dispel their own myth about this being an enjoyable time. I wanted them to “enjoy” the sleepless nights, the insessent diapers, the endless pile of spit-up soaked laundry, the piercing whines, and the lack of quiet moments alone. I resented that comment as it immediately made me feel horribly guilty for not loving every moment of this gig. There must be something wrong with me, I thought, these days don’t feel fleeting they feel endless.

Waking in the middle of the night to soothe them back to sleep I would remind myself, “enjoy this” but I did not. I wanted to sleep. Of course there were and are thousands of moments that I wanted to seal and store up to open when they are grown. The feeling of a baby falling asleep in your arms, a three year old asking for “snuggles”, a five year old requesting a date with you and the joyful chorus of the three of them playing legos upstairs then eagerly bounding down the stairs to show me their creations. Those are the moments I will long for.

It’s not that I don’t normally heed words of wisdom. Cozying up to the words of those who have traversed these waters before me is one of my favorite places to reside but I quickly realized that they have forgotten the details. There is a sort of amnesia that happens as the young years roll into older ones. The stench of dirty diapers no longer permeate their home leaving little trace of what actually was the reality of the days of raising young children.

I fear I’m now doing that very thing. I see someone with a baby and I run to it like a mosquito to a bright light. I swoon over the inflated cheeks and squeeze the pudgy thighs taking care not to completely freak out the baby and his sleep-deprived mother. I think when I compare baby’s thighs to sausages and how much I just want to eat them up they are indeed quite scared.

I look deeply into the mother’s eyes and speak of how I miss those baby days. I urge her to cherish these days as they pass too quickly. I long for that sweet baby scent as I inhale her baby. She doesn’t run but I’m sure she wants to.

Then I realize, I’ve done it. I have offered the advice that I so often heard and despised. The truth is I’m thrilled that we are getting a full night’s sleep. I love that I can have conversations with my 5 year old. That he desires to spend time with me and that he lets me into his reality. He offers up little glimpses into how he thinks and feels and I soak those in. My husband and I are thrilled to see them becoming more independent and in the process they are becoming little people – really awesome little people. We are sneaking in more and more moments of our own time and it feels magical. I should tell that mom this rather than inducing guilt.

We are better people having had those sleepless nights and having been forced to be incredibly selfless. There isn’t anything I would change but I want to be able to remember the challenge of it all. I felt so alone as a new mom. I felt horrible for not liking this roll as much as I thought I should. I wanted to quit my job but the career path of being a mom is one that you can’t leave. Those littles need you and whether you realize it at the time, you need them. It’s my desire to not instill in young mothers the guilt I felt when I was told to cherish those days. The reality is it’s tough work and if you don’t enjoy every moment of it you are still an incredible mom. We need to be okay with admitting our own hardships share them with those that are close to you so that we can encourage and support one another.

We women try so hard to do it all and fool everyone into thinking we have it all together when we would do better to serve one another by sharing our struggles. When I’ve done this I have found great freedom and help as often I am not the only one feeling this way. Not that I want others to struggle as I do but there is comfort in not being alone and we can work together to ease the burden.

When you aren’t a parent there is no way of knowing how hard and how joyful this journey will be. Figuring that out is part of the process. So many times I sat holding a screaming baby thinking, “how did I get here?” For better or worse. I had no idea what I was in for but I did know that there would be cookies. Warm cookies heavily laden with dark chocolate and molasses scented brown sugar. There is comfort in cookies. At some point in this parenting job I released the burden of trying to be the mom that I am not and relished in the mom that I am. Offering my children a warm plate of cookies every now and again – that I can do. I may not be the most patient mother but there will be cookies.

 

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Caramel Chocolate Chunk Cookies

 

This recipe is an adaptation of one found in Grandma’s box. I added chocolate as I often do. You may leave it out and replace with nuts or coconut as Grandma suggests. Once baked my version is a close relative of the classic chocolate chip cookie. A bit sweeter and softer than my normal chocolate chip cookie and a subtle caramel and toffee flavor. One really can’t have too many chocolate chip cookie recipes. Also, if raw eggs don’t scare you please do yourself a favor and taste this dough – as if I needed to even suggest that, who doesn’t eat at least SOME cookie dough? The toffee flavor is most pronounced in this state.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

6-8 oz dark chocolate, chopped

 

In a small saucepan add the butter and brown sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer until the sugar has dissolved. Watch carefully as you don’t want to scorch the sugar.

Let this mixture cool slightly then add to a large mixing bowl and continue to cool for 20 minutes. Once cooled add the eggs and vanilla then stir to combine. Stir in the salt, flour and baking powder. With a few streaks of flour remaining add the chocolate. If the mixture is still warm some bits of the chocolate may melt. A little bit of melting is fine and sort of wonderful.

Place the bowl in the fridge and let chill for 30 minutes.

Pre-heat your oven to 350*

Line a sheet tray with parchment and set aside.

Scoop the batter into tablespoon-size rounds and place on the sheet tray. Bake for 12 minutes until golden around the rims. Let the cookies cool on the tray for five minutes while they settle into themselves creating a crackly crust.

Finish cooling on a wire rack.

 

** I have a fun announcement for you all! I have been nominated in the Saveur.com Best Food Blog Awards for Food Photography. Oh boy, I’m excited about this. The voting has begun and I am shamelessly asking for yours if you don’t mind. Thanks to all those who nominated! You deserve a cookie.

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Grilled Cheese with Mascarpone, apricots and chocolate

Still half asleep I instinctively rolled over to check the time, fumbling for my phone with my eyes still closed. My near slumber state was rudely interrupted as the numbers on my phone flashed 7:30 am.

In an instant the morning had begun. In a matter of 15 minutes we would have to feed three kids breakfast, find and pack a backpack, select the perfect snack for the day, dress, brush, wash, and put on shoes. If you are a parent you’ll know that sometimes just the act of putting on shoes takes 15 minutes.

Although we typically like to allow for more time in the morning this scenario is not unlike five of the seven days in our week. The topic of weekend breakfasts starts being discussed around Wednesday as we debate pancakes or waffles and what, if any, additions will be present. By Saturday morning we are all relieved to not have to rush through our morning routine.

The way this week has already begun I think it is going to take more than simple pancakes and waffles to ease us into the weekend. It seems this week needs to be capped with something over the top. Like perhaps two slices of thick cut Challah dipped in a French toast-like batter then spread with creamy Mascarpone, topped with pleasantly tart plumped dried apricots and in case that may not be enough, a fine grating of dark chocolate floats on top. Then maybe it’s capped with another piece of bread before hitting a hot gril. When the bread has cooked through and is crisp on top, the cheese has melted and the chocolate succumbs to the heat holding it all together a drift of powder sugar descends and finishes it off.

Yes, I think that would do the weekend quite nicely.

This post was made possible by Wisconsin Cheese. After getting spending way to much time drooling over all the inventive grilled cheese creations on their site we created a video with them (Gabe shot it – they edited) demonstrating how to make this sandwich. Watch it here then enter their contest with your favorite grilled cheese recipe.

Check out the other great grilled cheese recipes from Sara and Kelsey. Of course, leave it to me to add sweetness and chocolate to my grilled cheese. Typical.

 

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Grilled Mascarpone cheese with Apricots and Chocolate

 

This decadent dish is similar to a stuffed french toast teetering the line of eat-with-your-hands or a fork. Either way it’s indulgent and decidedly delicious. Tart, lightly sweet, and showered in dark chocolate – a special way to welcome in those leisurely weekends.

Stewed Apricots


1 cup dried apricots
1 teaspoon orange zest
juice from one large orange
vanilla bean, split down the middle
½ cup water

Combine all the ingredients in a small sauce pan. Cover and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the cover and continue to simmer until most of the liquid is gone.
Use a wooden spoon to smash and break up the apricots just a bit.
Let cool for about 20 minutes, or until just warm.

Bread Dip


3 eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk all the ingredients together in a shallow bowl or pie plate.

 

For the sandwich you’ll need:

1 loaf Challah or Brioche cut in 1” slices
1 8oz tub Mascarpone
I recipe stewed apricots
1 recipe bread dip
3 oz dark chocolate
Pre-heat an indoor grill or grill pan.
Quickly dip one slice of bread into the bread dip and let the excess drip off.
Add about 2 Tablespoons Mascarpone to the bread. Top with several pieces of stewed apricots and finish with finely shaved dark chocolate.
Top the sandwich with another piece of bread that has been quickly dipped in the bread dip.
Immediately grill until grill marks form, cheese and chocolate are melted and the bread is cooked through – about 5-7 minutes.
Slice, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.

 

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St. Lucia

I’m so excited to finally share with all of you some images and stories from our time in St. Lucia. We spent seven sun-drenched days on the island eating our way up and down the coast. I came home with bright red skin and a desire to have more coconut, fish, and rum punch in my life. Also, sun. I dream of that sun.

For now I have a few images to show you (there are more, hundreds more). If you head over to the Seafood Spot you can read about some of our meals and adventures on the island. There will be much more to come.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that water taxi was our preferred method of travel. Given the option of hot taxi speeding through narrow and often barely-paved roads or brightly colored boat gliding through the turquoise Caribbean sea I will always choose the sea.

The waters surrounding the island are teeming with sea life. We tried our hand at fishing (deep-sea) with no luck but the many fisherman we ran into had boats filled with fresh fish. They must not have been sharing all their secrets.

This is an image I return to when the rain pelts our windows at home and the gray days seem never-ending. 

*Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by High Liner Foods but all words, opinions, images are my own.

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Rhubarb Cake

As the last of the plates were cleared grandma disappeared from the table. A moment later she returned carrying with her an aged tin box containing over 50 years of collected recipes. The lid no longer able to close as hundreds of  handwritten recipe cards and yellowed newspaper recipes packed tightly inside.

For the next hour I sat at the table oblivious to the squeals of the children around me and the conversation that continued as I tucked into the recipes already making plans to copy dozens of them. I held that box and imagined all the dinners that came from its contents. The cards themselves stained from the food that fed my dad and his four siblings.

I was holding a treasure. I felt the great value of that box and was so honored that grandma had thought to show it to me.

“Why don’t you take it?” She said.

I sat still for a moment reveling in her offer. It didn’t take much of her insistence before I held the box tighter overjoyed at this gift.

One of the reasons this blog exists is to create a similar sort of collection for my family. Instead of a tin box studded with blue and orange flowers this site houses our recipes as a sort of memoir of our meals. I am so eager to interweave in these pages the recipes that my grandma deemed worthy of feeding her family and entertaining the people who she graciously opened her home to.

Within minutes of riffling through the cards I found a recipe for Rhubarb Cake. It is no secret that I revel in the arrival of Spring mainly for the sake of Rhubarb so I knew this cake would be the first recipe I’d try.

What I find particularly endearing about these recipes is that there is little more than a list of simple ingredients. The few words written to describe the process show an assumed knowledge that is quite lost in our generation. I find the missing details freeing and the reminder that baking wasn’t always such a fearful act that required scales and a degree in chemistry. My grandmother’s and my mother knew how to bake by the feel of the batter and the way the dough reacted to their touch.

I creamed the butter and sugar by hand just as I imagined grandma did. There is something I find quite romantic about relying solely on a wooden spoon to bring a batter together. As the brown sugar and butter lightened in color and my arm felt a bit of a burn from the mixing I tossed in the remaining ingredients and sent the cake into a hot oven.

What emerged was a dense cake studded with tart rhubarb and scented with cinnamon making it the perfect cake to transition from Winter to Spring. I used its hearty texture and the presence of a vegetable as an excuse to enjoy it for breakfast – twice. And with an afternoon cup of coffee it paired quite nicely as well.

Grandma was wise to tuck this one away and now thanks to her, I’ve done the same.

 

 

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Rhubarb Cake

 

The simplicity of this cake makes it the perfect solution when a sudden urge to bake emerges. I made a few adjustments to the original recipe – enough to make it feel more me while still maintaining the feel of grandma. 

2 cups chopped (rough 1/2″) rhubarb

1/2 cup (not packed) brown sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, soft

1 cup (not packed) brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup plain whole milk yogurt

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup semolina flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking soda

 

Butter and flour a 8 or 9″ (2″ high) round cake pan.

Pre-heat your oven to 350*

In a small bowl add the rhubarb and 1/2 cup brown sugar. Let that sit for 30 minutes.

In a large bowl cream the butter and 1 cup brown sugar until light. Add the egg and vanilla. Add the rhubarb mixture and yogurt. Stir well. In another bowl whisk together the dry ingredients then add it to the rest of the ingredients stirring well to combine.

Spread in your prepared pan and bake for 50- 60 minutes or until the middle of the cake springs back when lightly pressed.

Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing from the pan and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Store well-covered for up to three days.

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Four ways with deviled eggs


Between the sun peering through my shades waking me in the morning by its brightness to the rusted tin box containing over 50 years of collected recipes that I recently received from my grandma, I am seething with inspiration and brimming with hope as we approach the passing of the gray season and slowly begin to welcome in an entirely new cast of ingredients.

I stood at the kitchen counter chopping, roasting, baking and washing for most of the weekend stopping, momentarily, when the sun lured us outside. The only thing that could tear me away from the kitchen was the possibility of feeling the slightest bit of warmth from the sun as it reminded us that it indeed still exists.

Even though the calendar had declared the start of Spring sometime early last week while the snow continued to threaten, it was as the eggs boiled and I mixed in things like celery and capers with vibrant yolks that it began for me. And in between the hours in the kitchen when we found ourselves outside stretching our wintery legs and breathing in the air that “smelled like water” according to my 5 year-old, it hit me then too.

This sudden burst of inspiration led to not one type of deviled eggs but four. I dug through my pantry and refrigerator dreaming up ingredients that would easily lend themselves to being mashed with yolks and you know, I stopped at four varieties but could have easily continued.

A deviled egg is not unlike the perfect black dress with its versatility and ability to dress up and down. It may be a vintage recipe that gracesthe now yellowed pages of Betty Crocker but its adaptability makes it timeless.
When inspiration strikes you must seize it, even if it means a glut of deviled eggs. Actually, especially if it means a glut of deviled eggs.

 

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Deviled Eggs: Three Ways

These recipes are suited to my taste but are easily adapted. Feel free to make them your own. I’d love to hear what you come up with!

A few thoughts on perfect hard boiled eggs:

These eggs were placed in a pan of cold water that was then brought to a boil. Immediately when the water came to a rolling boiling I turned off the heat and set a 12 minute timer. Then they were submerged in an ice bath until cool. 

Alternatively you can bake the eggs in a 325* over for 30 minutes. Chill in ice water until cool.

Beet Pickled Eggs with Fennel

2 cups water
1 cup distilled vinegar
3 small beets, washed and sliced
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons sugar
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon salt

6 hard boiled eggs, peeled

Combine all the ingredients except for the eggs in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then simmer on low for 10 minutes.
Let the brine cool slightly before adding the hard boiled eggs. If the eggs are not fully submerged use the beet slices to help weigh them down.

Let marinate for at least one hour in the fridge.

When the eggs are done bathing in beets remove from the brine and carefully slice in half. Remove the yolks and mix with 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons dijon, ¼ teaspoon toasted and ground fennel seeds and a touch of salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.

Pipe or spoon filling back into the eggs then garnish with fennel fronds or Italian parsley.
Preserved Lemon

inspired by Mourad: New Moroccan

6 hard boiled eggs
3-4 Tablespoons plain yogurt
½ teaspoon minced preserved lemon
pinch salt and white pepper
Mix the yolks with the above ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings before filling the eggs and garnishing with fresh mint.
Sour Cream and Tabasco

6 hard boiled eggs
3-4 Tablespoons sour cream
Tabasco
salt and pepper

Mix the yolks with the above ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings before filling the eggs and garnishing with fresh chives.
Celery and Capers

6 hard boiled eggs
2-3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 ½ teaspoons dijon
2 Tablespoons finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons capers

Mix the yolks with the above ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings before filling the eggs and garnishing with celery leaves and capers.

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Brown Butter Donut Holes

Because there are some mornings that call for donut holes.

Like a morning when friends come over to learn more about coffee knowing that we, or more accurately, my husband, knows a thing or two about it and that we have eight, or so, brewing methods.

Or when the sun appears for the first time since the calendar declared, “it’s SPRING!” And although it feels more like Winter than Spring, deep down you sense it’s coming and begin to arrange the rhubarb baking schedule and direct your thoughts towards asparagus and away from earthy root vegetables.

A morning when the kids play contentedly around you and the google calendar reminds you that you have an entire day with nothing to do but simply be present.

Or one that finds you urging your slow moving 5 year old to hurry up as the clock ticks on seemingly mocking your tardiness and you glance to the counter spying a few leftover donut holes from the day before.

Then there is a morning when you sit alone with your feet perched on a tattered grizzly bear foot rest and the silence is interrupted from the crackling of a fireplace and the soft crashing of rolling waves. When you write at a leisurely pace and linger over cookbooks, dreaming of recipe ideas and menus, realizing that you are doing exactly what you were created for and taking that in as the incredible gift that it is.

These are the mornings for donut holes.

 

 

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Brown Butter Donut Holes

 

5 Tablespoons butter

1 cup (8 1/2 oz) milk (I use whole)

1 egg

1 1/2 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (3 oz) whole wheat flour

2 Tablespoons (1 oz) brown sugar

1 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

oil for frying

 

For dipping:

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

 

In a small saucepan add the butter. Bring to a boil and cook until the milk solids present in the butter turn a nutty brown color. Carefully swirl the pan so you can periodically check the color of the butter. Immediately take it off the heat when you smell a fragrant nuttiness and the butter is golden.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Combine the milk and the egg in a small bowl and whisk to break up the egg. Stir the milk, egg and browned butter into the dry ingredients being careful not to overmix.

Heat 2-3″ of oil in a deep sauce pan. Once the oil has reached 360* carefully drop a tablespoon size mounds of dough into the oil. Fry a few at a time watching the oil temperature making sure it stays around 360*. Fry until deep golden, about 2-3 minutes. Carefully move the donuts around in the oil for even frying.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the warm donuts to the cinnamon and sugar and roll around until well coated. Serve immediately.

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A word on travel

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott describes the process of writing to that of watching a Polaroid develop. Once the photo has been taken the image remains unclear for what often feels  like a painstakingly long time.

As with writing it’s only the faint shadows of a story that first emerge. The image and words are monotone and lacking in details but with perseverance, and in my case often, frustrations, the arduous process slowly starts to reveal a complete picture with stunning details, vivid colors and a scene that you couldn’t have even imagined.

When you try and look at the Polaroid before it’s fully developed or finish a story without working it out and giving it the time it deserves then you miss out on much of the detail that gives the piece life.

I can’t help but think that this analogy also works with traveling too, probably because I’ve been doing a lot of it lately and while reading this part of the book I was sipping Rum Punch while the Caribbean sun wrapped me warmly. I give you permission to roll your eyes in my general direction.

With each recent trip I assigned the adventure an already formed Polaroid without my even realizing it. I had set aside expectations and pre-conceived notions of what I should expect and what I planned to glean from the trip before I had even packed my bags.

On many of my recent trips I spent the first few days frustrated that the reality didn’t resemble the image that my Polaroid so clearly displayed. I fussed over failed expectations and tried my best to control the outcome until I finally realized (and realized again, sometimes it takes me awhile to learn a lesson) that I need to allow this experience to tell me it’s story rather than force one on it.

Once I allowed myself to simply experience I was open to changing of plans, fully experiencing the beauty of that place and the differences of culture. I was able to clearly listen to the story of the trip and the blurry scenes of the Polaroid began to reveal themselves into an image that exceeded my previous shallow expectations.

While I realize that it is nearly impossible not to enter in without some expectations, my hope for future trips is that I can quickly forget my Polaroid in order to make way for the one that is yet to be revealed.

 

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a salad, or three

We’re here in the in between. Winter is on its way out but Spring still feels a world away. We’ve seen the same offenders in our vegetable drawers for months and I, for one, am ready for a change. But the frozen rain and threats of snow persist, keeping the asparagus from venturing out of the earth and the Rhubarb from turning to its ready-to-use ruby red (unless it’s green rhubarb).

Within our current limited resources I’m trying to make our salads a bit more exciting. And as is often the case I find a bit of restriction a great exercise in creativity. I’m constantly looking for new flavor combinations and new methods of cooking the same ingredients I’ve been working with for months.

I’ve always been a fan of salad. I find comfort in knowing I’m not alone. It really wasn’t until I started stretching my imagination and moving beyond greens doused in blue cheese dressing (although, at times, nothing can be better) that salads started to really inspire me. Now I find myself dreaming of salads and enjoying them daily.

If I’m having this much fun with them now, imagine what Summer will bring.

 

 

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Orange Salad with Cocoa Nibs // Grilled Zucchini Salad // Avocado Salad with Warm Jalapeño Vinaigrette

Orange Salad with Cocoa Nibs

serves 1

1 orange

2 Tablespoons cocoa nibs

1 Tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons aged balsamic

2 cups fresh spinach

salt and pepper

 

Carefully cut the rind of the orange off, taking as much of the white pith as you can. Cut the orange in rounds.

In a small bowl add the spinach and place the orange rounds on top. Sprinkle with the cocoa nibs and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy immediately.

 

Grilled Zucchini Salad
serves one

2 small zucchini
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 Tablespoons fresh herbs, chopped (I used basil, mint, tarragon, and cilantro)
salt and pepper
lemon juice

Using a mandoline (or a steady hand and sharp knife) very thinly slice the zucchini.
Toss the zucchini in olive oil and salt and pepper.
On a hot grill pan or indoor grill, sear the zucchini until dark marks appear, about 30 seconds. Flip over and repeat on the other side.
Toss the grilled zucchini in a bowl with the fresh herbs and a hefty squeeze of lemon. Taste and add more salt if needed.

 

Avocado Salad with warm Jalapeno vinaigrette
serves 2

¼ cup coconut oil
1 Tablespoon chopped shallot
1 garlic clove, minced
½ to 1 sliced Jalapeno, deseeded (depending on how spicy you want it)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
salt
2-3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 avocado
greens (spinach, cress, arugula, cilantro) or 1 cup cooked quinoa

In a skillet add the coconut oil and shallots. Cook for 2-3 minutes until just golden around the edges. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and cumin. Cook for 1 minute more then turn off heat. Stir in a pinch of salt and lime juice.
Pour ½ of the warm vinaigrette over half of an avocado that is sitting on greens.
If using quinoa stir some of the vinaigrette in the quinoa. Taste and adjust seasonings. Stir in chopped cilantro and cubed avocado.

 

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Mascarpone Ice Cream Affogato

 

I had always thought that at some point in life you get it. That there comes a time when life just sort of magically clicks and you make sense, the world makes sense, people make sense. I don’t know exactly when I thought this would happen but I do know that by the time I was 30 I thought I would have it all figured out.

Well here I am, 30 and often more confused then ever. But the difference between a confused 30 year and a confused, say, 20 year old is that now I simply don’t care. I don’t care that I don’t have it all figured out. In fact I’m thrilled that I don’t.

At this time in my life I feel more free to ask questions, to humbly acknowledge my misunderstandings and earnestly seek to find the answers, knowing full well that most likely they will just open up the flood gates to more questions.

It is an incredibly freeing time in my life where I sense the burden of self-consciousness slowly lifting and life’s subtleties filling me with an intoxicating joy. I’m okay with making a bit of a fool of myself for the sake of seeking answers, understanding something a little better, and for protecting my family and myself.

The mocking voices in my head are retreating to a dull whisper instead of a deafening roar. The space in which they used to inhabit fills with thoughts of thankfulness, abounding blessings and purpose.

I’m seeking adventure, owning up to what I feel called to in life, living and perusing life with an unashamed passion.

I eagerly await the coming years and the wisdom and memories they will produce.

Although there may be a few more fine lines on my face then there were before, this is the best time of my life. Goodbye 20’s. Hello 30.

 

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Mascarpone Ice Cream

 

Makes 3 cups

Although cake is what’s typically enjoyed on occassions such as birthdays, when given the choice I will always choose ice cream. And if said ice cream happens to be topped with a dark and bitter shot of espresso then what you have is one of my favorite desserts.

1 cup mascarpone

1 ½ cups milk

1/2 cup brown rice syurp

squeeze fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch salt

 

Whisk all the ingredients together. Churn in your favorite ice cream maker according to the directions.

Freeze until firm.

For an affogato simply pour a shot of freshly brewed espresso (or very strong coffee) over a scoop of the ice cream.

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Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes

Even though they had sat in a hotel warmer for longer than I had been awake those little Dutch pancakes or Pannenkoeken (trying saying it, it’s quite fun) were something special. Lightly sweet and airy in an unfamiliar way. Usually I hail pancakes for their fluffiness, these are not fluffy at all, rather they delightfully teeter on the line of crepe or pancake.

I thoroughly examined their little holes that covered their surfaced and wandered how they differed from the pancakes that we make nearly every Saturday morning. There was no chemical taste from the presence of leaveners but instead a well-developed flavor that extends beyond just “sweet”.

I’ve never been much of a fan of pancakes. Really the only reason why I do make them so often is because my kids love them and I find it rather idealic to think of them growing up with the memory of our weekend long breakfast tradition, but these pancakes have me changing my mind.

A couple things set these apart. For one they are made with yeast. Their bubbles aren’t chemically created by the presence of baking soda or powder but instead with the addition of yeast and a bit of time. Had I been more patient I would have tried letting this batter rest in the fridge over night as I imagine the flavor would have even been better. I can not confirm this, however because we ate it all in one sitting.

Secondly, there is a hearty amount of whole grain buckwheat in here. The pannenkoeken I found in the Netherlands weren’t as dark but I’m sticking to my version. I was skeptical as I smelled the batter and thought it smelled too healthy for my liking but as they cooked up the buckwheat softened and added intrigue and depth that can’t be found in a recipe using all all-purpose flour.

Maybe it’s because I love saying “pannenkoeken” or because I love the lightness or the depth of flavor from yeast and buckwheat flour or possibly it’s because they are the perfect vessel for loads of jam and powdered sugar. Whatever the reason, these are soon to become a family tradition, one in which I hope my kids will remember with great fondness.

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Yeasted Buckwheat Pancakes

1 generous cup/ 4 ¼ oz all-purpose flour

1 generous cup/ 4 ¼ oz buckwheat flour

2 teaspoons yeast

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups warm milk

1 egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ vanilla bean

2 Tablespoons butter, for the skillet

 

Combine the flours, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Gently stir in the remaining ingredients (except the butter) until everything is well combined. The batter is very wet.

Let sit for at least one hour, until many bubbles start forming.

Pre-heat a sturdy pan (cast iron is my favorite) on medium heat. Add a bit of the butter to the hot pan and let melt.

Carefully pour in enough batter to form 3-4” pancakes. Let cook until the entire surface is covered in crater-like bubbles. Flip and cook about 2 minutes more.

Keep warm in a gently warmed oven.

Serve with jam, syrup, powdered sugar, and lemon slices – if you like.

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Bruges, Belgium


 

Less than 24 hours in Bruges, Belgium – what do you do?

Eat as much as you possibly can, of course!

My Bruges (don’t ask me how to pronounce it, I practiced for a week which evoked many laughs and odd hacking noises) to-do list was as follows:

1. Drink a Belgian beer

2. Eat fries

3. Eat waffles

4. Eat and buy chocolate

That is a chocolate induced smile right there.

I’m happy to report that even in my limited time in that beautiful country I completed the to-do list and then some.

Upon my return I’ve created a new to-do list:

 

1. Make waffles as good as the Belgian’s do – particularly the Liege waffle.

2. Make Flemish stew.

3. Find a great source for Belgian beer in Seattle then drink some.

4. Plan my return trip to Belgium.

Of course there is more to this stunning city than the food. Like wandering the brick-paved streets in the middle of the night in silence as you take in the stunning architecture, the way the moon reflects on the frozen canal, and the warming thought of drinking a dark beer in a pub established in 1515 – oh, that’s food too, I’m hopeless.

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Home

I’m home. I may not be for long but it feels good to be here.

So much to process from this trip, as is the case with any trip, but this one in particular felt different from any other.

My dad summed it up pretty accurately as he reflected on his last trip to the Netherlands, “Stepping into that country felt like I was coming home.”

As with many of my revelations it took food for me to feel just as my dad described. Each bite was familiar and deeply comforting. With the anticipation of experiencing an entirely new culture I was greeted to one I had already known. At first I felt disappointed by this as it’s typically it’s the differences, when traveling, that evoke change and awe in me. As the trip rolled on I realized that what to me had seemed like a typical childhood was one that was deeply Dutch. The country, people, food, and traditions were already a part of me. Through this understanding I learned much more about myself, my family, and a deeper knowledge of the culture in which my family originated.

I leave the Netherlands with a great sense of pride, a hunger to learn more, and a strong fervent to instill in my children much of the traditions that marked my childhood. I also leave with boxes and boxes of Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles typically served on white bread with butter), inspirations for many meals to come, stronger family relationships and new friendships with family I had never known.

 

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Dinner in 15: Harissa Chickpeas with spinach

My bags sit empty, the cameras are not packed, and I have yet to secure the final book reading list. But before I head off to the Netherlands for a week I wanted to say a quick hello and goodbye. It didn’t seem right to keep these chickpeas from you any longer and I didn’t want you to worry if this space sits unattended while I’m skating along the canals, wondering quiet towns and tucking into cafes when the chill is no longer endearing.

I can’t say much about the trip now as I really have no idea what to expect. I will say that I am so excited I can hardly think straight. I am traveling with my grandparents and some aunts and uncles to my grandfather’s hometown. This will be the first time I’ve visited the place where my family began and to experience that with my grandparents is incredibly thrilling. I’ll meet many relatives, stock up on chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag), and take a quick detour to Belgium for chocolate, waffles, frites, and beer. I welcome any and all suggestions on what’s not to be missed.

In all my previous travel experiences my blond hair and blue eyes have been a glaring beacon to the fact that I’m not a local. In the Netherlands I am looking forward to feeling right at home. I’m eager to taste the food that raised my grandfather and my great-grandparents and enjoying it all in the presence of family.

For now there are chickpeas. Spicy ones at that. I’m on a quick meal kick as I’ve been frantically crossing things off the to do list and fitting in as many snuggles as the littles will allow in anticipation of this trip. With all the ingredients on hand this meal comes together in minutes but carries with it a hearty, warm spice thanks to harissa. Mine comes from Morocco but you can get your harissa at fine grocery stores or online. It’s a perfect healthy winter dinner but I imagine in the Summer I’ll see it again, chilled,  in my picnic basket.

I’m looking forward to wandering unfamiliar streets and taking more photos than I know what to do with. Until then, I leave you with chickpeas.

 

 

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Harissa Chickpeas with spinach

 

In anticipation of rich foods and unhealthy eating habits while traveling I’ve been stocking up on simple, healthy meals like this one. I imagine I’ll see a nice big bowl of this upon my return. 

The amount of harissa is really personal preference so please feel free to adjust the amount I suggest.

 

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

1 15oz can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) rinsed and drained

1 1/2 teaspoons harissa paste (more is fine too)

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh mint

2 cups fresh spinach

 

 

Add olive oil to to a medium saute pan, saute garlic until fragrant and golden, about two mintues. Add harissa and cook another minute. Stir in chickpeas and salt then simmer mixture for about 5 minutes – until any liquid has evaporated and chickpeas are tender. Turn off heat and toss in mint and spinach. Stir and let the residual heat wilt the spinach slightly. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve immediately with a hefty scoop of greek yogurt.

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