Lighten Up, Already

You might be noticing that there aren’t a whole lot of pictures from this trip to France I’m sharing with you. Part of it is because I had one of my cameras stolen at the very end of the trip.

Another part of it is that I was such a novice photographer then. I was using a camera I borrowed from my mom for the trip. Not only did I not know how to use it very well, at some point I realized it was taking terrible pictures because the lens was incredibly dirty in a place I could not clean. I didn’t have much experience with the DSLR format, and I had by no means learned anything about making my camera an extension of myself.

The third, and last part, is that I was so overwhelmed by how awesome everything was that I just plain forgot to take pictures. I was too busy living it.

Which is how it’s supposed to be on vacation anyway. Just like how when you’re on vacation you probably also do things you didn’t intend to do, you often forget to do the things that were on your list of “must-do”s. I definitely had a list like that, and probably didn’t do half of the things on it. I did however do amazing things I never would have thought of, like crawl through abandoned German Pillboxes from WWII, or swim in a chilly river to cool down from the 95º heat, or tour the Hennessy distillery.

I definitely also had a list of things I wanted to eat in France. In this case, I probably ate all of them. Bread, cheese, wine. Dessert. Sausages and classic roast chicken. More wine. Oh, and Pastries.

One thing I don’t specifically remember eating is quiche.

I was probably drinking too much wine…

Anyway. I do remember eating quiche with my Grandmother many many times in other places, however, so I’m sure we must have eaten quiche at least once. It was probably nothing like this quiche.

In France you don’t have to ever feel like you should be eating lighter. You never have to make excuses to yourself about why you just ate that crème brûlée after consuming some other rich thing for the main course. It’s because you ate a hearty, veggie laden salad for lunch and you walked halfway across whatever city you are in to do something spectacular like play pétanque or window shop.

You might be doing your normal thing, eating yogurt and toast for breakfast, and suddenly you realize you have eaten half a baguette smeared with thick, sunny gobs of salty french butter along with your full fat yogurt and delicious fruit straight from some quaint farm further south than you are. And then you go march up some steep hill to visit a tiny church with a gorgeous window and it totally doesn’t matter.

Here at home though, I’m not as active. Mostly because I’m on the lazy side when I’m not working, and also partly because I have a small kid and it’s kept me home and sort of stagnant a lot more than I’ve been used to in the past. Not that that’s an excuse, but I am not the slimmest I’ve ever been.

So lately, I’ve been attempting to lighten things up a bit. It’s been hard because the weather has been very reminiscent of a time other than summer, so the food part of that longed for season hasn’t exactly caught on all that strong yet. There’s been a few picnics and light summer suppers, sure, but so few that I can still count them on 2 hands.

I wanted to make this quiche with all cream and an all butter crust.

But I resisted.

It was kinda easy actually, because I knew it would be just as good as regular old rich French style quiche. Just…lighter. Rose would be proud. The peas get so sweet when they are baked into the custard, it’s really a treat. The tang from the buttermilk adds a layer of depth that you can’t get from just plain milk, and it plays so nicely with the eggs and the thyme. Just enough spicy (veggie) italian sausage to add a bit of heat, and just enough fat to make the whole thing seem indulgent and you’re set.

The polenta crust is a little different. When I saw this recipe from The Wednesday Chef, I put that on my list of things to try. Of course, I didn’t follow the recipe at all when I made it, I just made polenta like I would if I was going to cut it up and broil it so that it would be thick enough to mold into a crust. You could try adding an egg like she does, but I didn’t think it needed it. I would probably add cheese next time though, so if you give it a whirl let me know how it goes. The whole thing has a nice soft “this feels good to me” texture. The flavor is more delicate than a more traditional flour pie crust, and definitely won’t weigh you down as much.

Eat it with a salad and it will be good to you.

Then you can go back to eating richer things for dessert. I promise.

Buttermilk and Snap Pea Quiche with Polenta Crust
serves 6-8

For the Crust:

(I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything. It’s very straight forward and comes out great ever time, even if you can’t pay as much attention to it as you should. I’m going to repost it here with the adaptations I made for this recipe. It makes enough for 2 quiches or 1 quiche and some polenta to broil and serve with something else spectacular)

3 1/2 cups water or half water half broth (the original calls for 4, I reduced it to make the polenta set up thicker)
1 tsp salt
1 cup medium-grind cornmeal
fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp olive oil (or butter as the original recipe calls for)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy bottomed medium sized pot. Salt the water and turn down the heat to medium. Add the cornmeal slowly while constantly whisking. Once you’ve added all the cornmeal, turn the heat down to low. Continue cooking while whisking once every minute for the first 5 minutes.

Switch to a flat bottomed wooden or silicone spoon and stir frequently (at least once a minute) until all the liquid is absorbed. It should begin to pull away from the sides of the pot, which will take about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and taste for salt and pepper. Divide the polenta into 2 cake pans and allow to cool enough to handle before moving on to the next step. You can also use a larger pie plate if you are planning on making only one quiche, but the recipe will not make enough for 2 regular sized pie plates (9″).

Once the polenta has cooled so that you can touch it, cover it with a sheet of plastic wrap and slowly begin pressing the polenta out to the corners of the dish, continuing up the sides. You want the polenta to fill in the corners and to be evenly spread across the bottom and sides of the pan. For a 7″ pan, half of a batch will go all the way up the sides, for an 8″ pan it will be a little shallower. Allow the polenta to chill a few minutes in the fridge while you prepare your fillings.

For the filling:
(for one 7-8″ quiche–easily doubles)

3 eggs
1/3 cup lowfat buttermilk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
1/3 cup whole milk (up to 1/2 cup for a larger quiche)
3-4 oz italian sausage (I use veggie to keep it kosher/vegetarian)
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup sugar snap peas, roughly chopped
leaves from 1-2 springs fresh Thyme
2-3 oz shredded sharp cheddar, gruyere or similar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375º F.

In a large skillet, brown the sausage and onions until the meat is well browned and the onions have softened. Pour into the crust(s) and top with the chopped peas. Sprinkle the thyme, salt, and pepper over. Mix the eggs and milk well in a separate bowl, then pour over the other fillings, being careful not to splash the mixture over the sides of the crust. Top with the shredded cheese and a bit more salt and pepper.

Baked until the mixture is completely set in the middle and the cheese is well browned, about 40-50 minutes depending on your oven. Allow to rest for 10 or so minutes before cutting, or it will be very loose.

Biscones

It’s been gorgeous here in Seattle.

Warm enough for BBQs and rose on the deck at sundown. Warm enough for all day picnics and (almost) lake swimming.

I’m sure it won’t last for long. It never does.

Since I’ve been training again for a triathlon that is coming up in June, I’ve been trying to eat better, mostly so I will look hot in my wetsuit. So far, I’ve had mixed results. I can easily eat a salad for lunch most days…but others I must have potato chips and PB&J. And cookies. And there was that pie that I made twice last week.

Moving on.

I have been trying very hard–last week I ran almost 6 miles to an event at our synagogue (Then I devoured 4 pieces of pizza and 3 s’mores.)–and I have discovered that it’s all about balance. Balance healthy things with things that make you feel like you did something naughty. Balance an extra scone on the edge of your plate covered in salad and lean proteins.

These scones are the payoff for an extra 20 minutes on your bike. They’re light and flaky like a biscuit, but just dense enough that a couple are plenty satisfying. They make a good breakfast for a busy morning, and are equally at home on a decadent brunch buffet as a counterpoint to sweeter fare. Or you can eat them for lunch, or a snack, or eat them with soup for dinner…Basically they’re good anytime.

These babies inspired a small family altercation at our Mother’s Day Picnic, they’re that good. Just saying.

 Potato, Cheddar and Chive Scones

makes about 12 scones

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt + big pinch
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
6 oz small potatoes
3 Tbsp chopped chives
3.5 oz grated cheddar cheese
2/3 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, cold
olive oil for frying potatoes

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Wash the potatoes and remove any bruised spots, but leave the peels on. Slice them thin, and if the potatoes are bigger than about 1 1/2″ across, cut the slices in half. Heat about 1 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet and then add potatoes. Toss on a big pinch of salt, and fry the potatoes, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown and are tender all the way through. Set aside to cool while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

Cut the butter into about 20 cubes, 1/2″ or so big. Set aside. Mix together the egg yolk and milk in a small bowl and set aside. Grate the cheese and chop the chives and set aside. Lastly, roughly chop the cooked potatoes into small pieces.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or another large metal bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, and black pepper. Toss in the butter and either mix on low or use either your fingers or a pastry cutter –cut in the butter until the chunks are about the size of peas. Add the egg yolk mixture and mix just until there are no longer visible puddles of liquid on the surface. Next, add in the remaining ingredients and mix until the dough starts to clump together.

Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and use your hands to gather it all together into a ball. Knead it gently a few times if necessary until it holds together, then pat the dough out with your hands to about 3/4″ thick. Using a 3″ circle cutter, cut the scones by pressing straight down and lifting the cutter straight back up. This keeps the layers of fat from smooshing together on the edges so they rise up nice and tall. Place the scones on a parchment lined sheet pan about 1″ apart and repeat with the remaining dough.

When you can’t cut any more circles, gently scrunch the dough back into a ball and press out flat again. You don’t want to mash it all together, or the fat will start to melt and the gluten in the flour will activate too much and the scones won’t be as tender. Repeat as necessary until you get 11 or 12 scones. Bake for 10 minutes, then rotate and bake for about 10 more or until the tops are lightly golden and the bottoms have a good firm golden crust.

The Party

This is Lilli.


She is my little lady. She’s quite a character already at just a year. Walking, babbling all the time, playing the silliest games she can make up, and forever curious and loving. 


 Last year on this day we were celebrating with champagne and trying to get some sleep between visitors. Last year on this day we were cooing over a 6#4oz baby with blue gray eyes and a lot of dark brown hair. Last year we didn’t know what to expect of the year ahead of us, except that it would be busy and chaotic and probably sleepless.


All of those things came true, and so much more. She brought peace to her brothers, who now have a built in friend besides each other. She brought more mirth into our home, our garden and even our trips to the store. 

As Joe said when I asked him what else she brought to us this year, “She taught us the meaning of cute.” That does not even begin to describe her. She’s strong, willful, independent and a total cuddle monster at the same time. She’s a papa’s girl but she loves her mama to pieces too. She loves to play with her brothers. She shares cheese with the cat, and is always glad to see an airplane or a garbage truck. She’s a water baby and she never wants to wear socks. There is so much to this little package, I could gush forever. But who wants to read a blog post just about how awesome someone else’s baby is? Well, I can think of a few people, but really, this post is about the party.


I wanted to throw a party that would be fun and would be us. I love to entertain, and I get a lot of joy when I am able to treat the people I love to pleasant surprises. I tried to give myself permission to buy pre-made snacks, but the closest I got was using store bought puff pastry for cheese twists. I tried to make it be just our family and closest friends, but Lilli has made so many friends this year!



Lilli surprised me by being the life of the party, but not in the usual 1st birthday way of having a meltdown or being clingy. She was a 100% charming hostess, and she even shared all her new toys.  She also didn’t make too much of a mess with the cake, I’m guessing because even at such a young age, she knows not to waste a good thing…





I did keep it as simple as I could. Some spiced nuts, a few types of crackers, a couple of dips and fresh veggies. A fruit salad. Some dolled up tomatoes from the garden. Pretty simple fare. 



















And only 2 (ok technically 3) desserts! I did a few craft projects to doll up the house, which I cleaned in a general sense but prompted my mom to say “I’ve never seen it so clean!” (Not true.)





But what it really boils down to in a good party is that every one who attends leaves feeling like they did the best thing they could do that afternoon. That it was worth is to go and see the friends they saw, eat the treats they ate, and celebrate whatever it is they celebrated. I know that Lilli’s party was all of those things and I could not ask for more. We celebrated a year on this Earth made better by Lilli’s presence. 



“Bacon” and Sharp Cheddar Party Snacks
makes about 30


1 sheet frozen puff pastry, I used Trader Joe’s
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
bacon salt


Take the puff pastry out of the freezer about 1/2 hour before you are ready to roll out the snacks. 


When the dough is pliable but not sticky soft, preheat the oven to 350ºF. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough until it is a rectangle that’s as close to 15″ as you can get it, and just wider than when it started. Distribute the cheese evenly over half, and fold the naked half over. Roll again just to seal it all up and press the cheese into the dough. Using a chef’s knife or a pizza cutter, cut strips about 1/2″ wide. They don’t have to be perfect. Take each stip and place on a parchment paper lined sheet pan, twisting a couple of times and sort of pressing the ends down as you place it on the pan. After you have all of the pieces on done, sprinkle liberally with bacon salt. I used peppered flavor. It won’t look like much is sticking, but that is OK. Once the salt heats up it kind of melts into the spreading dough.


After about 20 minutes in the oven, turn over each piece individually, kind of rubbing it in the salt that is on the pan. They should be starting to look brown and the cheese will be getting melty. Let them bake about another 10 minutes or so, until they look nice and brown all over.


You might want to use both sheets of dough that are in the package for this, because it will probably be hard to wait for the party to start before eating them. Fair warning.