All the Fun

The second half of July whizzed past me. I cannot believe it’s already August (my birthday month, yay!) , and it’s going to be another insanely busy month. I’ve been having all the fun and am not stopping anytime soon.

Though sometimes, I need to just sit still for like 30 seconds and make sure that I am taking time for myself. Lately, I haven’t been doing a good job of that and reached a point of near exhaustion.

This week, I’m back on track and being good to myself in a way I haven’t been in a long time, even though it’s really really hard.

I started back up again keeping a food journal, which I’ve found to be the only effective way for me to be accountable to myself for what I eat and when I am physically active.

This isn’t a diet blog, it’s not even a healthy lifestyle blog. It’s a blog about food and I have to stay true to that. I love to eat (and drink) but it’s been getting me into trouble lately because I haven’t been paying any attention to what I’ve actually been consuming. Being busy does that to a person.

So this week while I’m getting over the cravings hump, I am just going to share a few little things.

I made this killer lemon syrup last week using coconut sugar and sugar I made with pomelos. The syrup was used as a base for jelly shots that were consumed at kickball. (Which I’m both elated and totally depressed is finally over for the year.)

It goes really well in just about any beverage though, provided it’s cold and refreshing. Paired with just ripe nectarines and sparkling water it makes for a very refreshing afternoon pick-me-up, with a smooth transition into happy hour–should your day need one of those–by adding a jigger of vodka and a crushed mint leaf or two.

Sparkling Nectarine Lemonade

For the Syrup (makes about 2 cups)

1 cup lemon juice from a bottle
1 1/2 cups sugar–any kind will do, but using half coconut sugar added a nice earthy flavor
3 lemons cut into 8ths, juice squeezed out
1/2 cup or so of water

Put all ingredients into a large, non-reactive pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes until the syrup starts to thicken a bit, then strain out the solids. Stored in a jar in the fridge, this syrup should keep for a several weeks.

To make the lemonade just pour a little syrup into a glass–about 1 tbsp for a not very sweet 8 oz or so of sparkling water–then smash a couple of slices of ripe nectarines into it. Add a squeeze of lemon for extra brightness, and put in some ice if you like. Then top with sparkling water.

Champions

This week, we beat the only other undefeated team in our kickball league.

Don’t misunderstand me though, we have never actually won a kickball game, at least not this season. What we do best is tease or “taunt” the other team. (It’s sort of hard to explain. There’s lots of costumes, good natured ribbing, and drinking involved in our kickball league–we have an extraordinary amount of fun.)

My costume for kickball this week included some Mayan inspired make-up and a feather headdress. Photo credit Jillian Mednick

We’re a creative bunch, and the beginning of the week was spent gluing feathers onto headbands and spray painting liquor boxes gold. Wednesday was the big stand-off, and we came out on top. It was an awesome feeling: being at your best and getting recognition for it.

What all this creativity means though, is that I spent the week away from the kitchen and so I didn’t have much to share with you all. I managed to squeeze in some gardening time, pulling out bolted cilantro and harvesting peas, and filling in a few bare spots with veggie starts picked up on a whim. Nothing notable happened in the eating department though–mostly just nachos and salad.

We’re hosting another dinner tonight, and just sold out the next dinner (Aug 24th). This week might be the best menu yet: grilled whole trout, corn chowder, salad with beets and fresh ricotta. Lemon balm ice cream for dessert, with plum coulis.

This plum coulis is versatile. It’s simple. It’s a very good way to use some of the stone fruit that’s booming right now. The hibiscus adds a nice floral note to contrast the tartness of the plums.

Put it on ice cream, over pancakes, into sparkling water. Maybe a cocktail or two…

Plum and Hibiscus Coulis
makes about 1 quart

1 lb plums, any dark skinned variety
1/2 cups sugar (or more if your plums aren’t very sweet)
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 cup water

Wash and pit the plums. Cut them into small pieces, about 8 per plum. Put them all into a big, heavy bottomed pot and add the water (keeps the bottom from scorching) and hibiscus flowers. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until very soft and the peels are pretty much separated from the fruit, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Strain, pressing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible.

Return the liquid to the pot and add the honey and sugar. Bring to a boil and taste for sweetness, adding more sugar if you like. I like mine a little bit tart, it goes better with ice cream that way. Turn down the heat and simmer until the syrup has thickened up a bit, maybe 15 or 20 minutes. If you want it thicker, just boil it longer. While it simmers, stir it every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t burn. Stored in a jar in the fridge, it will keep for several weeks.

A Time Ago

6 years ago today I was in La Rochelle, France. Probably on my way down to the shore–taking in the hot, salty Atlantic Ocean air and looking for new vantage points out into the harbor. Or I might have been in a cafe drinking beer and watching Coupe du Monde on TV. Whatever I was doing, it definitely involved something boozy, something edible, and the family I was traveling with. My own family, of course–just a very limited number of them.

6 years ago I graduated from pastry school and then had no idea what to do next. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to work in a restaurant or a hotel or somewhere else. Originally, I had thoughts of maybe joining on with a cruise line as a way to meet people and get some good stories while doing a bit of traveling, In the meantime, I went to France with my Grandmother.

In Paris we met a cousin who had travelled on her own from the East Coast. Our plan was to hang out in Paris for a few days with a rented apartment as our home base, before taking a train to meet my uncle. Uncle Rob was living in a tiny town called Saint-Simeux, in prime cognac country, working on a photography project and just generally living an enviable life.

Our couple of days in Paris were of course, a hoot. We drank a lot of cheap champagne (some of it from water bottles), ate a lot of delicious food, and walked everywhere. Then we took a train to a town whose name I cannot for the life of me remember. My uncle met us at the train station and we left immediately for La Rochelle where he had rented an apartment within walking distance of the sea. It also had a pool, which was spectacular. Never mind that the one toilet stopped working halfway through our stay, which made it very difficult to live comfortably (we had to use another tenant’s restroom for a day or so while we waited for a plumber to fix ours).

We hung out in La Rochelle for about a week, as I recall. It was some of the best times I’ve even had travelling. While we were there we went to a huge festival of some sort and were out till 3 in the morning. This might not sound like much, but when you are travelling with an 80 year old woman, you don’t often stay out until 3 in the morning. After La Rochelle we spent time in Saint-Simeux, taking day trips to tiny towns along the coast, and to places like Cognac and Bordeaux.

It’s hard now, recalling all the details of our trip. Towards the end of our journey–while in Royan clambering through German Pill Boxes from WWII–our car was broken into and my bag was stolen. Among other things, it contained my little snapshot camera and my travel journal. I was completely heartbroken and it made the rest of the trip–thankfully only another 3 or 4 days at that point–sort of bittersweet.

I lost the list of town names I had recorded–all the towns we visited while driving through the country side in search of excellent food and cognac from small distilleries. I lost most of the pictures of us as a family in Paris, where I didn’t want to carry my huge borrowed Fuji around with me night and day. I lost the tangible form of all the little thoughts and feelings from my experiences.

Mostly though, I kept it all intact. I remember the feel of the sand on the beaches. I remember giggling maniacally with my Grandma as we knelt down in an ancient church in Saintes, pagans to the core.

I can taste the flaky, almost bitter caramel crust of a well made baguette. I can smell the pungent tang of a cheese shop in the heat of a June afternoon; the salty, fleshy whiff of a fish market stocked with huge foreign fish and glorious langoustines to grace your plateau de fruits de mer. I can recall watching the bubbles rise on the side of a glass of Kronenbourg 1664–or a glass of champagne. I can’t count the number of vineyards, sunflowers or towns ending in -gnac that I saw, but I can tell you that the number of glasses of cognac and coke combined with the number of glasses of pastis reach into the dozens.

There are of course, things that stand out. I’m going to highlight some of these for the next couple of weeks.

I’m dying to travel right now. I mean really travel. We’ve been here and there and everywhere in the last couple of months, and we’ll be going to Israel for my sister-in-law’s wedding in August, but I miss being in a foreign place with no schedule, no constraints–no children.

I’m going to content myself with reliving some of the more memorable meals from that trip, every last one eaten in the heat of summer: perhaps alongside a river, or in a quiet restaurant somewhere in the countryside. Now that summer is (hopefully) finally making it’s way to Seattle, I am ramping up by picnicking like a pro and nobody does it better than the French.

First up is a beverage to whet your appetite. It’s not a recipe, per say. More like a suggestion.

It’s very simple. Take a glass and fill it with a cool–but not cold–wine. It doesn’t need to be expensive, and it can be any varietal that is refreshing chilled.

Ok, Ok. It can be a beer if you want.

The second step is to take it outside, and the third is to drink it. You can repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 in any combination as often as you like for the rest of the summer. The 4th step is very important though–when you drink this glass of wine, be aware of how it makes you feel and try to think of another time you felt that way.

Think about the friends you sat with, the conversations you had, the food you ate. Then, make plans–for this summer–to do something that will make you feel that good all over again.

Smooth Moves

Two True Facts:

1) We are doing a lot of travel by airplane this year, and also some by train. Three quarters of it is international and so I am super excited. (That was an extra fact. 3 for the price of 2.)

2) Lilli loves to dance. I would show you a funny video of it but every time I try to video her the little radar inside her head telling her when I’m thinking about turning my camera on starts alerting her to the fact that I’m thinking about turning my camera on for the sole purpose of actually photographing her and she freezes up. Either that or she comes over and starts adjusting knobs and stuff on the camera and it turns into a video taken by Lilli instead of of Lilli.

Lilli’s new favorite dance move is inspired by the fact that we are doing a lot of travel this year. The mascot for the website Hipmunk does a little arm waggle dance when you are waiting for the site to turn up search results. For a while Lilli would imitate the chipmunk and it meant that she wanted to see him on the computer. Now it’s just a part of her dance repertoire.

My favorite new dance move involves an immersion blender and a jar of almond butter.

That’s because it’s not a dance move, it’s a smoothie.

I have historically had a hard time with smoothies. I want to love them. I’ve tried lots of combinations of fruits and veggies and protein powders and other weird add-ins. I’ve tried them with milk, I’ve tried them with water and juice, and both with and without ice. I serve them to my family at breakfast and sometimes I get a “Wow, that’s tasty” and other times half of the smoothie gets fed to the chickens. I just can never seem to get it quite right.

Recently I tried some new smoothie recipes that had peanut butter in them. They sounded like they would be good, but instead they just smelled like the inside of an empty peanut butter jar that’s been soaking in the sink for too long.

Then I came across a smoothie that included almond butter and *chocolate* in the form of protein powder. This is something we keep on hand because both Joe and I find that a good protein shot is really key in overcoming the fatigue after an exceptionally exerting exercise day. (And, yes, that was exactly the right way to phrase that…)

It also had banana in it, and ice and water. I had already had a banana with breakfast, so I wasn’t particularly in the mood for that again but I was hungry and a smoothie sounded like just the ticket. Since I didn’t want banana and I have slowly come to realize that I don’t really care for the texture of a smoothie made with ice (plus I didn’t want to use an actual blender) I decided to look in the freezer and see what kind of fruit I had in there.

That’s when I saw the cherries, and knew my snack destiny.

The frozen cherries were leftover from the tart that went with me to cookbook club. The one where we each consumed approximately a stick of butter, because all the food was from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Just thinking about that makes me sort of cringe, in a good way.

Anyway, there was only about a cup of cherries in the bag so I dumped them into a big old jar. Then I put in a scoop and a half (3/4 serving) of the chocolate protein powder and a few other things. When it was all blended and I was just on the verge of drinking it, I realized it was sort of like drinking a smoothie made of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and then I did a happy smoothie dance. Then I got back to work.

Chocolate Cherry Smoothie
makes 1 big smoothie or 2 small ones

1 cup frozen black cherries–you could also use canned or fresh (pitted!) and add a handful of ice.
1 Tbsp or so almond butter–either creamy or crunchy will work
3/4 serving (or more if you’re really really hungry) chocolate protein powder
1 cup water or milk of choice

Put all the ingredients into the cup that came with your immersion blender or a wide mouth quart jar. You can also use a regular blender for this. Blend it all together until there aren’t any big chunks left. This part is especially important if you use crunchy almond butter like I did.

Drink up!

Out Like a What Now?

Sun in Seattle in March can make people do crazy crazy things. Like sit on the deck and drink cocktails as if it were summer.

Not that we’ve had that much sun. Just a hint.

Last week there was a sunny afternoon that I got to enjoy all by myself, on the way to the Joy the Baker book signing over at Book Larder (I’m totally the blonde in the front row, BTW). I even had the windows down while I blasted lcd soundsystem all the way there.

And there was another one the Very. Next. Day. So sunny and warm we let Lilli play outside in next to nothing while we sipped spring time cocktails on the deck.

It’s days like those that help us gather the courage (liquid or no) to give March the pep talk it needs to shape up it’s act and start acting a little more lamb-like.

In Like a Lion
makes 1

1 1/2 oz of your favorite Gin or Whiskey
1 glass of ice
1 good quality Ginger Ale, such as Boylan’s
1/8 of a Blood Orange (regular oranges are fine too)
Mint, optional

Squeeze the juice out of one section of orange into a glass with as much or as little ice as you like. If using mint, crush a few leaves between your fingers and add to the glass. Top with alcohol of choice and fill with ginger ale. Garnish with the same orange wedge.

I encourage you to try it both ways at least once–we originally thought the gin would be better but ended up preferring the whiskey.

Three Corners

I have a huge stash of things in jars.

Sometimes I go to pull one thing out of the stash and I find something else entirely and I’m all like “Yeah! This is gonna be sooo good.”

I did that yesterday when I was looking for some sort of jam to put into the cookies the kids and I were making. I found a jar of curry pickled green tomatoes that I had completely forgotten about. I still have an open jar of a different kind of tomato pickle in the fridge so I restrained myself and didn’t pull the new jar out of the bench.

I’ll just have to find an excuse to use up the other pickles so I can eat the new ones.

But in the meantime I’m also restraining myself from eating all those cookies we made.

It’s Purim this week–a Jewish holiday marking the saving of the Jewish people of the city of Shushan by their secretly Jewish queen, Esther. It’s traditional to give gifts of food to neighbors and loved ones. Actually, pretty much anybody. This is a tradition I have no trouble getting behind, because I am really good at making huge batches of things for the sole purpose of giving them away. Usually one of the things that is included in the goodie bag is a few hamentashen.

Yesterday I was home with all three little Goldbergs while Joe did a 70 mile ride with his bike team. We went to the park and did some other stuff, but the best part of the day was the cookies. We made the dough in the morning and once Lilli was down for the count after lunch, Isaac and I (Aaron was out with a friend) rolled out the dough and got them into the oven.

We used kumquat marmalade and crab apple jelly to fill them. They’re not exactly traditional Jewish fillings, but whatever. I’m not exactly a traditional Jew.

The last couple of years I have tried different recipes for hamentashen and not been happy with any of them. I’m not really sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It’s basically a sugar cookie dough, sometimes parve (no dairy or meat ingredients) or sometimes not, and then you fold it up into little three cornered treasure boxes of fruit or poppyseed filling. They’re pretty basic as far as technical skill goes.

This year I think I finally got them right. The trick is to use a solid fat instead of oil, which is what some recipes call for. The oil makes them parve, but you can just as easily use vegetable shortening, or I guess margarine, if you need them to not have any dairy. A recipe I got from a friend had a substitution to make them vegan even.

If you’re looking for a basic recipe this is the one. I based it on a recipe I got out of a cookbook that I think came from my mother-in-law, a cookbook called “Daf Yummy.” I tweaked some parts of it to meet in the middle with the recipe my friend swears by, and ended up with a dough I can finally be proud to call “my hamentashen recipe.” You could add orange zest in addition to the orange juice, you can switch up half of the flour for whole wheat, you can add a tsp of cinnamon or another spice to the dough. You could even make them chocolate by substituting about 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa powder.

Now, when you’re eating all those cookies, you might need something to wash them down with.

Another Purim tradition, one that is actually commanded by the Talmud according to some Rabbis, is to drink. Heavily. There’s a lot of drinking in the story–it pretty much saved the day. So, you are supposed to drink until you are perfumed with wine and can’t tell the Hamens (bad guys) from the Mordechais (good guys). To help you along I worked out a recipe for a cocktail that is the perfect embodiment of the heroine in this Purim story: Queen Esther.

She’s strong and sweet. She’s bold, but knows exactly when to play her cards. She’s everything a heroine needs to be–just like this cocktail. It’s smooth and sweet and comes on slowly, building up to end each sip with a little fire.

There’s a long tradition of sweetened citrus drinks in the Middle East, dating back centuries, to the time of Esther and her kin. The grapefruit is a new twist on that idea, playing against the herbal notes of the thyme perfectly. I like to think that Her Highness would have approved of this refreshing mix, and would have gladly served it to her King. Maybe she wouldn’t have used good bourbon for old Hamen though.

Hamentashen
makes about 36 cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet your filling will be
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg, broken up with a fork
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice (or lemon)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Filling of choice such as jam, ganache, or a more traditional filling such as prune or poppy seed

In a food processor, blend the sugar and butter until well combined. Add the egg, orange juice, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Pulse just until everything looks mixed in. Add in the flour and blend until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 (or 3 if you have them) cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1/2 batch at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8″ thick. Cut out circles about 2 1/2″ in diameter, using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You can re-roll the dough, but you might need to chill it a bit longer depending on how cold it was to begin with.

Line the circles up on the trays and place about 1 Tbsp of filling in each cookie. I like to use a small ice cream style scoop for this job, it makes it slightly less messy. Fold up the edges of the cookies on three sides, making a nice little triangle around the filling. Be sure to let some of the filling show in the center. If the corners won’t stick together on their own, use a wet finger to trace a circle around each piece of dough, then fold them up.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the corners are a nice golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks before eating these cookies, or you run the risk of burning your mouth on the filling. Just take my word on this.

The Queen Esther
makes 1 cocktail

2 oz good bourbon
1/6 Ruby grapefruit
1 large sprig thyme
1 Tbsp simple syrup
3-4 dashes grapefruit bitters, I like Fee Brothers

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the grapefruit and the thyme, squeezing as much juice out of the grapefruit as you can. Add the bourbon, syrup, and bitters. Put in a handful of ice, put on the top, and shake it up. Pour over fresh ice and garnish with grapefruit and more thyme, if desired.

Getting Crafty–Homemade Tonic

I may have mentioned this before, but I live with a pretty frugal guy. Joe is the driving force behind all those times when I say to myself, “Do I really need that?” He’s also the main reason I have gotten really good at justifying kitchen expenses. One recent kitchen expense was a Sodastream machine.

I accidentally started a habit buying a bottle or two of sparkling water when I did our weekly shopping trip, plus the occasional bottle while out and about. And then these machines started invading the homes of everyone I know. I figured if there was going to be some sort of robot soda invasion I wanted to be a part of it, so after much hemming and hawing about if it was really worth it (which was weird considering how environmentally conscious we are, on top of the frugality) we finally bought one. With a coupon.

Then I started experimenting with all sorts of different simple syrups to flavor the water. Orange vanilla syrup leftover from candying orange peels. Rosemary simple syrup made from branches swiped on walks with the kid. Fennel syrup made from the fronds leftover from all the salad I eat.

But when I saw an article about homemade tonic, it kind of blew my mind. It was one of the reasons we finally caved and bought the machine, the idea that I could somehow make tonic from scratch. Seeing that article, along with all the different links it had for variations on tonic syrup was kind of overwhelming. I decided to just pick the one that looked like it had a lot of positive reviews and start there. Little did I know it would actually make more than a quart of tonic syrup. Now I have a lot of gin to drink…

Which totally isn’t a bad thing. Practicing for summer is never a bad thing.

So it turned out that I didn’t have any regular oranges lying around. This was back when we were still in love with little clementines and were eating them by the pound, and before citrus season was in full swing and I started obsessively buying anything I could zest. No big deal I decided. Also no big deal to me was the fact that I neglected to buy whole allspice berries when I went down to Tenzing Momo (at Pike Place Market) to buy the required Cinchona bark. I just used whole cloves instead.

One thing I did do just as Morgenthaler suggested was to strain it through my french press, which I had never though of using in that sort of capacity. Best kitchen tip I’ve gotten in a long long time, let me tell you.

In the end, if you drink a lot of things that need tonic in it, I’d say the recipe was worth the small amount of time it took. After all, it is a syrup so it will last a while in the fridge. It definitely different than commercial tonic, which I think is too sweet but without any real flavor. If you’re into making things homemade just for the sake of it, then this is probably a good thing to add to your repertoire.

And if it can convince your significant other to let you pick up a new kitchen gadget then you get bonus points!