Missing the Beat

Last week so much time was spent on kickball and on Friday’s dinner (drool over the menu here) that I hardly had time for anything else. It went by in a rush. It took me until today to get caught up on emails and gossip. I was seriously behind, and realistically, it’s only going to get backed up again. That’s just how summer rolls.

This week, we’re gonna try to take it easy and eat a lot of popsicles. It’s the only week of the summer where both boys are home for the entire week and there aren’t any camps or plans with grandparents, and we’re headed to Eastern Washington–to sunny Lake Chelan–at the beginning of the weekend.

We stay in a little time share condo that Joe’s been going to with his family since he was a kid. It’s small–barely enough room for all of us, with a little poorly stocked kitchen. This means that we eat a lot of meals that are easy to prepare and require a minimum of devices and gadgets and pots and pans. I don’t like to bring a lot of things with us, since with 5 of us in the car it gets pretty full pretty fast.

I do like to bring a lot of pre-planned and pre-prepared foods to reduce the amount of time spent in the kitchen or at the store for forgotten items. When I’m on vacation, I wanna be on vacation, dammit!

So, I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and what I’ve come up with stinks. I’m totally out of ideas and I can’t stand to look at Tastespotting or Pinterest any more than I have to. I don’t want to eat pasta or tacos every night, even though I do love a good taco bar.

I’m calling on you, dear friends, for some advice. I’d love to hear your favorite easy to prepare meals for weekend getaways in hot locales. We like to keep it fresh and simple with lots of veggies; not a lot of spice since the kids are kinda picky; and of course, kosher.

If you’ve got any bright ideas, share them here and let’s see what we can come up with!

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.

Not Your Bubbie’s Chicken Soup

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. In case you missed it, I announced plans earlier in the week to start a food truck here in Seattle. Getting ready to go big has made life busier than usual, especially between travelling to the East Coast for a wedding and kickball season starting.

Also, it’s June in Seattle now so you know what that means–cold, rainy days with sweaters and mugs of tea.

I’m being 100% serious right now. I am wearing a sweater and thick socks as I write this. If it wasn’t that it’s still light at 9:30 it would be just like…fall. Us locals sometimes refer to June as “Juneuary” and for good reason. Tonight’s game is going to be very muddy.

I’ve been meaning to share this soup for a while. I figure that now is as good a time as ever, since I made it again very recently for a friend who’s been going through a hard time with her health and has had to cut out gluten very suddenly. She declared the soup to be very good, and I promised her the recipe. In fact, I’ve never had anyone tell me that they didn’t like this soup.

Take your time with the stock and you won’t have to do anything else to make the soup good. The stock is a treasure box of spices, but nothing that is too spicy unless you want to make it so. I really do suggest using a roasted chicken to make the stock, for a deeper, meatier flavor. When I made the soup for the photos you see here, I didn’t have a roasted chicken on hand–just one I had cut most of the meat off of to grill–and the soup was not nearly as good. Don’t skimp on the spices either–nobody likes a thin watery broth when they could be eating soup robust enough to knock you back in your seat. Taste as you go, and if it isn’t spicy enough add another pepper, and more cumin to balance if necessary.

Use the sweetest carrots you can find, but don’t use fresh tomatoes unless it’s actually tomato season. You’re not going to add many so you want them to actually taste like tomatoes. I keep a stash in my freezer that I pull out for occasions like this, but I know that’s not something everybody has. Canned ones are fine, just look for cans that say BPA free, because the acid in the tomatoes really will leach the chemical into your food.

Mexican Inspired Chicken and Rice Soup
Serves 6–Gluten Free

For the stock:

1 roasted chicken carcass, either leftover or roasted just for this
2 large carrots
1/2 yellow onion, peel and all
2-3 medium stalks celery
1/2 tsp whole coriander
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1-3 dried habanero chilies, or more if you use a milder variety

For the soup

3 cups brown or white basmati rice, cooked
2 cups shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups chopped canned or frozen tomatoes (from 1 can is fine)
1 1/2 cups shredded zucchini, from about 1 lb fresh squash
salt to taste

Whether you are using a chicken you roast just for this soup or are using a chicken that was leftover from another dinner, you will want to remove all the meat from the bones and boil the entire carcass. I usually also boil any leftover skin and drippings from the roasting pan. Shred the meat into small bites and set aside.

Chop the onion, celery and carrot into large, rough pieces. Along with the chicken, put them in a large stock pot and add the spices. You don’t need to tie them into cheesecloth because you will have to strain the whole thing anyway. Cover with enough water to submerge entire chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and then turn it down and let simmer for 2-3 hours, the longer the better.

While the stock simmers, prepare the other ingredients. If you don’t have leftover rice, cook it now and set aside until the broth is ready. For extra oomph, cook it in stock too if you have some already sitting around. For my soup, I used tomatoes and zucchini frozen last summer, which helps the process of removing as much water as possible. I don’t expect you to have stuff just hanging out though, so you can use the following: Drain the canned tomatoes thoroughly–if it’s short of the cup and a half, that’s totally Ok, or you can add another can. Up to you. For the zucchini, shred it on the largest holes of a box grater and add about 1 tsp of salt. Toss to coat and leave in a colander to drain the liquid off as the salt releases it from the zucchini. Occasionally, stop by to press on the solids–this will help release as much water as possible. If you don’t end up with exactly 1 1/2 cups, that’s OK. Better to have less water than more bulk.

Once you are satisfied that the stock has cooked for long enough, drain out all the solids and discard. Put the stock back in the pot and add in the carrots, zucchini and tomatoes. Simmer until the carrots are just tender, then add the rice and chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally and tasting as you go. When the rice has expanded and absorbed all the liquid it can absorb and everything is starting to really meld together, it’s done.

Garnish with sour cream (we use Tofutti brand which is certified kosher-parve), limes wedges, fresh cilantro, tortilla chips, hot sauce, and anything else you might eat in a taco or burrito.

World Party Day: Snack Time

This is a post for World Party Day, which is coming up April 3rd. If you don’t know much about it, you can find out more here, and catch up on the previous tutorials at Big Things, who are organizing this whole big shindig.

Let’s face it you guys. It’s not a party without some snacks.

You can forget about filling up on candy from the piñata, because that will only take you so far. A delicious breakfast is a good way to start the Day, but late in the night you might need a little something extra. Well, there’s always bags of chips and hummus…But that’s just not REAL party fare, am I right? And who wants to spend hours in the kitchen making snacks before hand (well, besides me…)?

Here is a snack that is super easy to make and IT’S TWO FOR ONE.

That’s right! You can do the work for just one awesome home made snack and still get two different ones. That’s what I call a win-win.

We’re gonna make little snacky bread puddings. They’re snazzy snacks. We’re gonna make 1 batter, then split it in half and flavor it 2 different ways. This version is vegetarian, so you won’t have to worry about all those non-meat eating party guests. BUT–this is a super versatile recipe. If you don’t like the add-ins I have here, you can swap them out for similar ingredients, just be sure to keep the same ratio.

Here’s what you need:

1 1/2 loaves of bread: any bread will work, but decent bread is better. Not too fresh now, you want the bread to be a little bit thirsty.
4 cups of whole milk, or even 1/2 & 1/2
4 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar plus 2 Tbsp
1 cup dried cherries
1 tsp almond extract
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1 14oz package of a savory veggie sausage, I used Tofutti brand Italian style
3-4 good sized sprigs fresh thyme or 1 1/2 tsp dried
1/2 cup or so sliced raw almonds
salt and pepper to taste, plus a pinch of salt for the custard

Here’s what you do:

Put on a fancy apron, if you’ve got one.

If the crust on the bread is particularly tough or thick, cut it off. If your bread isn’t sliced, use a serrated knife to cut it into good thick slices, maybe 3/4″-1″ thick. Now either cut the slices into cubes or get down and dirty with your bread and tear it into bite sized chunks. Divide the chunks in half, and put each half into a big bowl.

Chop up the cherries and add them to one of the bowls of bread. Add the thyme to the other bowl–if you’re using fresh, strip the leaves from their stems first.

Next, heat up the milk to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt in there. When it’s good and warm but not boiling, pour out 2 cups (important to measure here) and add that to the bowl with the thyme. Add the sugar and almond extract to the remaining 2 cups of milk, give it a good stir to dissolve the sugar and then pour it into the bowl with the cherries.

Put a plate into each bowl and weigh it down with a can or something heavy. You want the bread to be immersed in the liquid as much as possible.

Let the bread sit for an hour or so. Then, preheat your oven to 350 F and put racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven.

When you’re almost ready to bake these babies, take out your sausage and heat up a skillet. Slice the sausages into 1/4″ rounds and toss em in. Let them get good and brown on at least one side, then turn off the skillet and set aside.

Grease 2 regular muffin tins with butter or pan spray. Don’t use cupcake liners to bake the puddings in, you want them to get brown and crusty from contact with the metal pan. Save the cups for later when you serve the puddings.

Now, take the “lids” off your bread and give each one a good stir. Crack 2 of the eggs into a little bowl and break them up with a fork. Add them to one of the bowls with bread. Repeat for the other bowl. Stir the eggs in really well, so that no streaks of egg are visible. Add the sausage and the crumbled feta to the pudding with the thyme, then a big dose of fresh cracked black pepper and an extra pinch of salt, and toss to coat.

Fill each tin with one type of pudding. You want each cup to be full and heaped out of it’s little well. For the cherry almond puddings, sprinkle a pinch of sliced almonds on top–they’ll get nice and toasty when they bake. If you have leftover bread mixture, that’s OK, just bake more once the first batches are done.

If you have large roasting pans, you can put each muffin tin into a roasting pan and add some boiling water until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the cups. You can skip this if you don’t have pans big enough–the puddings might not stay as moist but they’ll still be delicious, I promise.

Bake for about 15 minutes then spin them around, switching the top pan for the bottom one and vice versa. Bake for about 15 more minutes, until the tops look nice and brown. Let the puddings cool for a few minutes, then pop them out of the muffin tins so that they don’t steam themselves as they cool. If you need to bake more mix, be sure to re-grease the pans and fill the wells in the middle of the tin first so the puddings don’t burn before they’re done baking.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen, and it can be made a day in advance–just wrap the puddings in foil and reheat for 10 minutes or so in a low (250 F) oven before serving. They’re good at room temp though too.

Butter Sold Separately

Sometimes you need to buy something that you wouldn’t normally consider buying. Like non-fat milk.

Wait, I never buy that. Ok. A better example might be kirsch, which I found myself buying last week and I chose to buy Monarch brand (gasp!). I know. I’m sorry. It was the only brand that came in a pint. I just couldn’t bear the thought of flambéing a cherry tart with 35 year old cognac, which was the only thing alcoholic enough to catch on fire that I had in the house.

One other thing I don’t buy very often is new cookbooks, unless they are for cookbook club. But this book was published recently, and I decided I totally needed to buy it.

It has some very delicious recipes in it. Most of them have butter and sugar and a lot of them have chocolate. All of them definitely have love and devotion written between the lines.

My copy already has several pages covered in grease and grit, even though the book is still practically brand new. I’ve cooked or sampled about a dozen recipes from the book, and I’ve loved almost every one. It’s been hard for me to stick to the recipe sometimes, mostly because it’s hard for me to stick to any recipe exactly as printed. I did use ingredients that I’d like to think Joy would have approved of, like adding coconut and cherries to the cinnamon rolls in place of raisins and nuts.

My favorite so far has been the carrot cake pancakes. I am always looking for a way to A) let myself eat cake for breakfast and B) get that family of mine to eat veggies for breakfast. A conundrum, I know. Those things seem at odds with each other, but Joy got it figured out for sure. These pancakes are superb, but I won’t go into detail about them because somebody else already did that for us. I might skip the cream cheese topping next time though, as it did turn out to be a little sweet for our breakfast time crew. Turns out feeding kids frosting for breakfast makes for an interesting morning.

One of the recipes that is stellar in a more subtle “you’ll eat me someday and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner” kind of way is the Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding. It’s sort of a mouthful to say, and when you get a mouthful of the actual pudding you will be totally glad you came across it.

The crackle of the minuscule bubbles in the souffléd top hide a bottom layer of custard that’s perfectly smooth and creamy without being too rich. The grapefruit notes snap at your tastebuds and leave a heady floral aroma on the palette. You can make one big one, or you can make some little ones. You can turn it into a pie if you make in on 3/14, like I did. You could share it with your friends or you could eat it all by yourself and only feel a little guilty for not sharing it with your friends.

Of all this things I’ve so far tried from the book, this one is the least assuming but absolutely one of the best. I was glad I had some grapefruit just waiting to be turned into pudding. And I can’t wait to try more of the recipes–a lot of the pages have dog ears, so I know it’ll be making many appearances on my kitchen counter. For instance, I’m trying to figure out how to make the chili cheese fries kosher for passover, just so I have something to look forward to that week.

Grapefruit Soufflé Pudding in a Tart
(reprinted with Joy’s permission and adapted just a hint for the dishwasher’s sake)
makes one 9″ tart with a bit leftover OR one 9″ pan of straight pudding OR 6 individual dishes

1 9″ tart crust’s worth of pate sucrée (optional)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grapefruit zest
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
3 large eggs, separated (I used 4 smallish ones and it still turned out great)
1/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 cup whole milk
1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325ºF with a rack in the middle spot. This is the part I changed, which is optional: Line the pan with a thinly rolled tart shell and par bake it like you would for just about any tart. Don’t bake it all the way as it will bake the rest of the way with the filling inside. The rest of this recipe is pure Joy. (pun intended)

Place 3/4 cup of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large metal or glass bowl) with the grapefruit zest. Using the back of a spoon, grind the zest into the sugar until very fragrant–this releases the essential oils. Add the butter and beat with a paddle attachement (or your hand mixer or a wooden spoon) for a minute, just until combined. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating until fluffy and lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the flour and salt and combine thoroughly. Next add the grapefruit juice and milk in turns and mix until well combined. The mixture will be loose and soupy. Transfer this mixture to another large bowl and set aside. Wash and dry the bowl, you need it to be very clean to whip the egg whites.

Now, add the egg whites and beat on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Slowly beat in the remaining 2 Tbsp of white sugar. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, in three batches. Be very gentle, you’re not trying to break down the eggs whites.

Carefully pour the batter into the tart shell and slide into the oven on a cookie sheet. Any leftover batter can be baked as follows, which is the way the original recipes call for it to be baked:

Carefully pour the batter into the pans greased with butter. The batter won’t rise much while baking, so it’s OK if they are pretty full. Place the dish with the batter inside into a larger baking dish with high sides. Slide the larger baking dish (with the smaller ones inside) into the oven, leaving a corner sticking out. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger baking dish, being careful not to splash the soufflé. Fill the pan until the water reaches about halfway up the sides of the soufflé dish, and then carefully slide the whole thing the rest of the way into the oven.

Bake for 25-30 minutes for small dishes, or up to 40 minutes for one large dish. My tart baked for about the same as a large dish would bake for. The top of the souffle will be just barely browned on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. Serve the pudding warm or at room temp. (We even tried some cold the next day and it was still excellent, though it’s best the day it’s made.)

Traditions Made New

A couple of years ago we started having people for New Year’s Day brunch, which was I guess some sort of weird indication that we were becoming grown ups or whatever. It was the year after we bought a house, so maybe that had something to do with it. The first couple of years we spent the entire day totally hungover, but the hangover has slowly become less and less. 

This year instead of a brunch I prepared a four course dinner for a few close friends, and we just ate and drank and ate some more, and then we watched Bridesmaids. It was one of my favorite NYEs ever, and I’ve had some pretty amazing ones.

The next day was the birthday of my Aunt, so I made a cake for her and took it to a large family gathering at my Dad’s instead of the brunch. The timing was perfect to have the burden be on someone else to host a big New Year’s Day event, because of how busy we’ve been this month.

We spent the afternoon in the sun: a very welcome change for the start of the year. One that I hope will be a good sign of things to come. It’s been a dark December.

One thing this means we missed out on was the annual NYD tradition that started that first year, one we like to call “Eat the Year.” It is pretty much what it sounds like. We make an edible “20**” and then we consume it as a group. There has also almost always been some sort of skype/gchat thing happening, the most notable being a bi-coastal dance party. Over gchat. Moving on.

Original Eat the Year. We were a little egg crazy: new chickens, and someone brought duck eggs

Well this year we did “Eat the Year” over gchat with some of the original creators and it was great. We had to eat all of it ourselves, since we were the only ones here, but it was good just to see the smiles on those friends faces as we just said hi for a minute and talked about what they year might bring (building more shelves, obviously). 

Good bye, 2011. You rocked.

For me, this simple tradition is just a way for us to mark the start of the year with the people that really matter to us. We feed our bodies with the food, we feed our heads with the idea of a fresh thing, and we feed our hearts and souls with a meal made with hope and love and joy in mind when it is made. It’s nourishing all around. 

I hope the start of your year was as joyful and full of love as mine. Maybe this year you will start a new tradition, or find a way to keep up an old one that maybe needs some of the dust brushed off of it. And however you spent the time ringing in 2012, I hope it is the best year yet.

The Day That Should Have Been

Today was supposed to be the happiest day for two people. One person: A beautiful, witty and truly unique lady. The other: A fantastic, generous, wacky, brilliant guy.

Spike, today was going to be your day. You finally found your dreamboat, Grace. Who seemed to come from nowhere into your life and we, your friends, welcomed her as your soul mate.

Grace, today was going to be your day. You found the match made just for you, Spike. Who adored you so much. It was beautiful to see, and with ease and open arms we made you a part of our “family.”

But today was not to be what you intended. It went off not according to plans, and while the love is still there and will forever be, it has been rendered intangible–just a memory. Some of the best memories that people who knew Spike could ever hope to have.

But, in all this, Spike would not have wanted too much sadness. He was all about life, living, giving, loving, building and creating. He would not have wanted us to feel like anything was amiss, he would want us only to build something new from the pieces we were left holding. Spike built things for all of us. Thing we can hold in our hands, and things we can hold in our hearts. The things in our hearts are the more important of the two, but sometimes it helps to see the bits and pieces you left behind you. The little handmade treasures that we took for granted while you were still here.

I can’t speak for the huge community of people that Spike’s life touched. I can only speak for myself. I am going to build something for you Spike, and I know just what it will be.

I was going to build it for today, for you both, but now I will build it for tomorrow. For the lives you would have touched. For the lives who will go on remembering you. It will be a little different than we planned, but it will be special nonetheless, and it will be sweeter than ever before. Because, it will have a little something extra–a little Spike, if you will, in the batter. It will be the best cake you ever had, Spike Perry, and even though you won’t get to eat any, we will all think of you when we sit down to enjoy it.

But even more than that, we will enjoy the company we savor it with, because that’s how you would have wanted it.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake with Vanilla Buttercream
Serves 8-10, Adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
For the cake:
2 1/2 C. all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 Tbsp lemon zest
4 large eggs
1 1/4 C buttermilk
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp poppy seeds, optional
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease and flour two 8″ cake pans. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed, creaming until very smooth and light in texture. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
Alternating the flour mixture with the buttermilk, incorporate the remaining ingredients in 3 batches, mixing on low and scraping down the sides as needed. Once everything is in the bowl, add the lemon juice and mix for another minute or so, until it’s light and smooth.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans, and bake until the center springs back when gently pressed, about 30 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a wire rack. Let cool all the way before frosting.
For the buttercream:
2 C unsalted butter, room temp, cut into 1″ cubes
5 egg whites
1/4 cup water, plus extra for washing
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp good vanilla extract
Place the egg whites in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer.
In a heavy saucepan, boil the sugar and water together. When it comes to a boil, use a pastry brush to “wash” the sides of the pan to remove any stray sugar crystals. Insert a candy thermometer.
When the mixture reaches 130ºF, begin whipping the egg whites on high, until they reach a stiff peak. Once the sugar reaches 140ºF, and with the mixer still going on high, slowly (and carefully!) pour a thin stream of sugar syrup into the bowl, using all of the syrup. Allow the meringue to whip until cool, about 5-7 minutes.
Turn the mixer down to medium, and slowly add the butter. Once it’s all incorporated, turn it off, scrape down the sides, and then continue to mix on high until the frosting is smooth. Blend in the vanilla extract.
You can use the buttercream right away, or refrigerate for up to several weeks in the coldest part of the fridge. Let it come to room temp and then mix it with a paddle until smooth before using, if you choose to store it. It also freezes very well, so if you have extra, don’t throw it away! Save it for when you need to share a little treat with a loved one.

It has begun

We had a busy busy weekend here. We attended a wedding; we hosted an out of town guest, took her to pick raspberries, and shared a scrumptious picnic with her; I baked some delicious cakes; and oh yeah, I competed in my first triathlon. No biggie.

So because it was such a busy weekend, I was surprised how many raspberries survived through it. They don’t last long once they are picked, and having picked them Friday, I expected a much bigger mess by the time I got around to them on Sunday afternoon. Instead, I was pleased to find that I was able to freeze one whole tray of them, leaving me with just enough berries for only a 2/3 batch of jam. (Not that this is a problem, as I have lots of plans for other jams and jellies this year…)

We didn’t pick that many to begin with. The farm we visited had a small number of rows, and since it is just about the end of the season here for berries anyway, I didn’t expect to hit gold or anything. We were able to just about fill one good sized box before Lilli got too hungry and we had to call it quits. 

We also were able to stuff ourselves silly, which is really the point of U-pick berries anyhow, as any good berry picker knows. 

Since I already went berry picking twice before the raspberries last week, (the blueberries, and also some blackberries growing down the block from me, for the delicious cakes I mentioned earlier) I was kind of picked out anyway. I had fun and got to visit with a friend I haven’t seen in years. Tamara is living in Baltimore, and has done at least a hundred exciting things between this visit and when we shared a tiny room in Cannoneer Court on Pratt Institute’s campus in Brooklyn (where I attended one depressing semester before putting my tail between my legs and heading home. Tamara was not, however, responsible for any of that depression.)

It’s a wonder I even managed to get to the berries on Sunday as it was, since that was the day of the race. I competed in the Danskin triathlon here in Seattle, finishing in just under 2 hours. I was quite surprised at how well I did, considering I really didn’t feel that ready. I took a nice long nap afterwards and felt revived enough to deal with the berries before making some dinner (back on LEAP this week, but that’s another story altogether, which I hope to share soon but has been so hard to write about…I don’t know where to start).

I slowly picked through what there was in the box. I fed a few to Lilli to keep her from climbing all over me while I sorted them. I slowly filled the tray and put it in the freezer. I put the rest in a pot, 4 heaping cups, and poured some sugar over. Then, I forgot all about the berries and the pot sat there for a couple of hours. 

Later, I brought it all to a boil. At this point I realized I once again could not remember exactly how many minutes to boil the jam for, so I had to call my mom since my family recipe cookbook is MIA. 

I forgot to stir it during the second boil, but I did remember the 

I think it’s fair to say that by now I had come to terms with the fact that I was actually pretty exhausted and I could feel the soreness creeping in. Triathlons will do that, I guess.

I also forgot to ask Joe to buy lemons when he went shopping (which, by the way, writing the list for was the hardest thing I had done in a while. I think that’s when I figured out how out of it I was.) so I had to use lemon juice from a bottle. I was worried it wouldn’t have as much thickening power, but really it was fine. 

And today, I put it in jars. And I started to deal with the 50 lbs of apricots I impulse bought. And I got ready for the rest of the summer, which will involve canning lots of things, if the past 4 or 5 summers have been any indicator of my canning habits. It usually begins with the jams and ends with pickles or pumpkin butter and apple sauce. This year, who knows?

Berry Jam

You can use raspberries or blackberries with this jam, and probably other ones too but I’ve never tried because I love raspberries and blackberries so much–I sometimes put rhubarb in the raspberry jam, though. It’s pretty much out of this world delicious. 

6 heaping cups fruit
3 cups sugar, halved. Sometimes more for blackberries, if they’re very tart
juice of one lemon

You may need to rinse your berries before you start. Raspberries are generally clean enough, but pick them over to make sure there aren’t any bugs or sticks or cores left. Blackberries, I find, are often full of thorns and bits of plant. The best way to rinse them is to fill a bowl with water, dump the pre-measured berries in, and slowly skim off the stuff that floats to the top, occasionally giving a gentle stir to make sure you release all the unwanted stuff. Scoop the berries into a colander and go from there.

Bring the berries and the first cup and half of sugar to a boil. Boil for two minutes, stirring constantly. Add the second cup and a half of sugar bring back to a boil and boil for three minutes, again stirring constantly. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice. Poor into a clean, non reactive bowl and let set up overnight. 

Poor into clean, sterilized jars. Wipe the rims with a clean damp cloth. In our family, we seal the jars with wax. I think this is because my grandmother dislikes canning, and so this is an easy way to seal them without having to process them. I have always been too lazy myself to figure out how to do it any other way with this particular jam, but I’m sure you could process them for real. Otherwise, just pour about 1/4 inch of melted parowax over the top of the jam, let cool and then put your lids on. If you’re new to canning and the thought of processing scares you a bit, this is a great way to start while you get up the courage to try the whole kit and caboodle. Happy canning!


When I was younger, I had a large box of postcards from all over. Some were sent to me, and others were postcards that I picked up along the road. I have slowly used them to mail love letters and notes of endearment, or just to say hi to friends not seen in too long. 

I guess you could say it was a collection. I don’t collect a lot of things. Not counting things I need for my pastry work, like cookie cutters and other kitchen tools, I really only have a couple. I have an amount of scarves that some might say was excessive. I don’t have a lot of shoes or jewelry or art. I do however love to collect unique glasses. I only ever buy one of each, even when there is a whole set. Joe has tried unsuccessfully to help me get rid of them, but I finally convinced him that “wouldn’t it be so much better if someday we could have a large gathering and assign everyone in attendance a special glass to call their own for the evening?” So I have collected more. This week I found not one, not two, but three! new-to-me glasses that were all special in their own way. Yay!

I can also admit to collecting recipes and things that I can check off of some imagined list as having done to feed myself, both literally speaking and in a more philosophical sense. 

This is our car, full of boxes. The boxes are full of beef.

Like last week, when we brought home a whole beef to split 4 ways with friends; and how I made mayonnaise from scratch; or when I played Iron Chef with our diets for the week, cooking with only about 20 ingredients as part of a strict elimination diet to help my stepsons rid themselves of food allergies. 

It was a good week for collecting food memories. And so was Sunday, when we celebrated making it through a whole week of said elimination diet. To be fair, we celebrated after those very same stepsons went to their mom’s house for the week. I made burgers from some of the ground beef that came as part of our share of the beef. 

They had all the proper summer burger fixings. Spicy pickles, bright green lettuce and the aforementioned mayo. Crisp red onions, juicy red tomatoes, and even a healthy slather of BBQ sauce. 

The best part of all of this, as if it could even get any better, is that everything was homemade or homegrown, not counting the beef itself or the buns. The buns were my only downfall. I baked so much this week that I could not bring myself to make them from scratch, though I think it would have been amazing if I had somehow found the energy to do so. 

And I got to collect a little kernel of knowledge from last night’s dinner: it’s true what they say. It really does taste so much better when you grow it and make it yourself. I collected a memory of the three of us, Joe and Lilli and me, sitting on the deck, eating the best burgers we’ve ever eaten, as a family. In the sun, with the laundry drying behind us and the soft cackle of our crazy flock of chickens below us. 

Last week was rough for me, and trying to make the best of it wasn’t always a success. But last night, I felt better than I felt in a while. I didn’t even care that the camera battery was dead forcing me to take most of the pictures of dinner with my phone while the battery charged up for dessert. 

It was just nice to remember that collecting the little things is what counts the most. 

All Aloners

Joe took the boys to Yellowstone. They will be gone for a whole week. I missed him pretty much the minute he left.

We’ve never really spent that much time apart since meeting almost 6 years ago. There was the odd vacation here and there spent with family, etc. in the beginning of our relationship, and we spent almost a week apart just before our wedding. We’ve been together almost everyday since.

But last month, we discovered that Lilli doesn’t like road trips as much as we do, so I missed a trip to Lake Chelan when school got out. And now I am missing a long awaited trip to Yellowstone, and Lilli and I are hanging out all alone, just the two of us.

The cilantro that’s as tall as me.

It is a small consolation that I got to plan a menu for them to eat while they were out in the Wilds of the West. There was an assortment of easy camping fare, like hotdogs to cook on sticks and mac’n’cheese from a box. And then there were those homemade bagels I was teasing you with last week (which I’ll get around to writing about in due time…the recipe is a doosey). But by far the best thing in the cooler was the empanadas.

I’ve been wanting to try homemade empanadas for some time. I love pie, and we eat a lot of NW style Mexican food (is that a thing?) at home.  Empanadas are like mexican pies you can hold in your hand. How can you go wrong? We are also growing a ton of cilantro, so I knew that I would have the best accompaniment possible for the big pot of black beans making empanadas would give me the excuse to cook up. I found a good recipe for the dough here, but wanted to make my own filling.

I doubled the batch of dough, since we were eating them that night and I wanted to have some to send camping with the guys. It worked out great, but could have been a touch more flaky. I think you could use pretty much any standard, unsweetened, pie dough.

I used little new red potatoes, some caramelized onions, and black beans. I boil my own beans–I like the satisfaction of seeing them go from dry little beans to big, plump delivery systems of flavor. I usually forget to soak them the day before, which results in the softest bean. I almost always end up boiling them for a minute or two early in the day, and then letting them soak for several hours in the water. After that, you need to switch the water before you continue cooking them, which is the best part because you pour off this thick, black, inky water from boiling the beans. I always fantasize about what I could use that water for, but so far I haven’t come up with anything good.

When we ate them last week, we had my Dad and Step-mom over for dinner. I served a big salad, of course–made with very thin sliced cabbage, lettuce from the garden, radishes and celery, with a lime vinaigrette. Eating salad, for me, is the best part of the day. I can turn anything into a salad and if it has it’s own special dressing, that is even better. The empanada part of the meal was the biggest hit though, paired with cilantro sour cream and a healthy dose of hot sauce.

A little surprise in the cilantro.
I pulled this recipe out of thin air, but it’s so easy to pull together, it doesn’t really matter. You can change any of the filling ingredients as you see fit.
Red Potato and Black Bean Empanadas
makes 24
5-6 small red potatoes, cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 black beans, cooked thoroughly
1 ear corn, kernels cut off the cob ( I had leftover grilled corn)
1 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for sautéing
salt, pepper, chili or cayenne, to taste
egg wash (one egg yolk whisked with a little water to thin it)
Heat oven to 400º F.
Heat your favorite frying pan, and add olive oil. Add onions and let caramelize for about 10 minutes or so, stirring often to let them get color evenly. Add some salt and whatever other spices you’d like. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add in the potatoes and about a quarter cup of water. Cover and let the potatoes steam for a few minutes. Check back every 5 minutes or so, adding more water if necessary, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Add the black beans and corn, and heat through. Take off the heat. Set aside to cool while you roll out your dough.
I rolled out my dough into individual rounds, as the recipe I used calls for, but you could just as easily roll it into a big rectangle and cut it into squares and make them that way.
Add about 2-3 Tbsp of filling per empanada, and fold the tops over. You might need to use a little bit of water or egg wash to seal them. Crimp however you like, and brush egg wash over the tops.  I forgot the egg wash step, so you could leave it out if you like and they will still taste amazing.
Bake for about 35 minutes, until they have a nice even golden brown color.
For the cilantro sour cream I just chopped up some fresh cilantro and added it to the sour cream, thinning to the desired consistency with a little bit of milk. How easy is that?