January 6, 2014 § 1 Comment
It’s not the most photogenic start to the new year, but it’s a start nonetheless. I’m deeply in that moment of time when I’ve been away for so long that it just keeps getting harder and harder to come back. I’ve made two batches of ginger molasses cookies with perfect crackly tops and sparkling turbinado sugar dustings, but haven’t been able to raise a camera to take a picture of what I’d call my ultimate cookie. For the past few months, my camera has sat abandoned at my desk while I made winter squash galettes with buttery crusts and dined on fried mussels and spinach falafel at Oleana and sole with romesco sauce and bittersweet chocolate pot de crème at Foreign Cinema.
Finally back from the holidays, I ended this weekend feeling fulfilled in a way that I haven’t for quite awhile. A snowstorm descended on Boston last Thursday and work was closed on Friday as a result. I spent the day working from home, teaching myself html, and was happy to step into the kitchen for lunch to make a simple spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and asparagus. There’s just something about preparing lunch in the moment that feels so much more like a break than turning on the microwave at noon. It was just a start to the weekend’s cooking. Friday night, we nestled into a bottle of wine, a movie, a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and a towering load of pumpkin bread with pecans. We sat on the couch and ate bowls of risotto with the snow piled up outside our windows.
One of my new year’s resolutions is to start cooking out of my rather extensive cookbook collection, and this weekend, we tackled two new recipes — a Indian tomato-based vegetable curry out of Prashad, and Thai stir-fried brussels sprouts from Pok Pok. Both came out fabulously, and I’m feeling recommitted to the goal of tackling cooking projects outside of my comfort zone. The ingredient lists seemed daunting at first — this has always been the main hurdle for me in cooking over baking — but once we got started, I was happy to spend the afternoon in the kitchen and learning.
The recipe today isn’t a curry or stir-fry, but the pumpkin bread I made while we were snowed in. Chock-full of pecans and super moist, even days after baking, it’s become my new favorite pumpkin bread. The recipe makes a lot, so I ended up with half a dozen muffins in addition to a towering loaf.
Adapted from Laurie Bennett’s Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread at Allrecipes.com
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup pecans (chopped coarsely)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour desired loaf or muffin pans.
In a large bowl, mix pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water or milk, and vanilla. Add both brown and white sugars and stir until combined. Mix in the nuts. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture, being careful not to overmix.
Bake loaves for about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean (muffins will have a shorter bake time).
October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
Outside my window at the office is a row of orange-hued trees separating the parking lot from the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a smaller, vibrant red tree. If you just prevent yourself from looking below, you can almost cut out any signs of civilization from your line of vision, and before you stretches a field of color. I often get to the office before anyone else has arrived and have a few moments to myself, a way of steadying myself for the day ahead, in the silent, dark office, before anyone turns on the lights, the room lit only by the morning light outside the windows. By 4 p.m. my head is pounding from staring at my computer screen for hours, and on my way home, my thoughts are preoccupied in the internal debate “run or nap.” Today, we’re finally starting to feel the real depth of fall, not the light, crispness of early fall, but that time when the leaves crunch underfoot instead of lighting up the horizon, and you can feel—just short of seeing—your breath in the air. Winter is coming.
I’m on my third pan of apple crisp this season. I picked up the last week of our CSA this week, loaded down with butternut squash, stalks of brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes—there was even a bit of popcorn thrown in. I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to go into hibernation mode, and it’s not even the end of October. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of the house for a run, though I did have a great 9-miler last weekend with the club team that seemed to fly by because I was out, not only meeting new people, but actually feeling like I was connecting with people.
With hibernation comes wintery flavors, sweeter, heavier, flavors that allow me to burrow down in comfort. My mind is coming back to a recipe I tried from Bon Appétit. Bourbon. Butterscotch. Cream. What couldn’t there be to love in that? In the end I had mixed feelings about the recipe. The quick turn in the blender, which was supposed to give the pudding its smooth texture, resulted in a bubbly top. I found myself wanting a lighter texture, which I associate, for reasons that may not be based in fact, with custards over puddings. So I burned a brulée on top and that made everything slightly better. Still, I expect I’ll come back to these flavors soon…perhaps in the form of a cake? Perhaps as a tart filling? That seems to recall Momofuko’s crack pie, and an article I read awhile ago, “No, Your Favorite Food is Not Like Crack,” which rang much truer with me than I initially thought it would.
October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
Last weekend, we drove north to New Hampshire. Or rather, Dan drove us north, since I still can’t drive. The idea for the weekend originated with my registering for the Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, a course of rolling hills through the fall foliage with the promise of apple crisp at the finish line, and baskets of apples and pies as prizes if I did well enough. Luckily we were not disappointed — I say we because I got cornered into promising to make several apple pies if I didn’t manage to win one at the race. The course was tough, much hillier than I had pictured (word is, my website reading abilities aren’t the greatest as the rolling hills were clearly indicated when I signed up to run), and I never felt like I settled into a real rhythm. But I came in just two minutes behind my half marathon PR and was pretty pleased that I had finally gotten back into training and racing, even if the actual race had moments that could have gone better. And the prize, a towering basket of apples, for winning my age group, was a pretty nice cherry on top.
From there, the weekend was mostly eating. A first post-race stop at a nearby apple orchard where a wood-fired pizza cart had set up on the lawn for lunch included a pizza topped with spiced pumpkin sauce and bacon, another with peppers, onions, and spinach, blistered black crust and the squeals of children in the rows of pumpkins by the general store. Then, we drove north to Concord, where we stopped at the Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook. A delightful orchard nestled in the rolling hills, now flaming orange and red, specked like evergreen, we ate hot fluffy cider donuts, drank apple cider, and picked a peck full of Empires, Macouns, and Hampshires. We also played catch with an apple and ate a few, but we don’t tell everyone that.
We drove two more hours north, through the lakes region, to North Conway, where we stayed the night at the Isaac Merrill House (Thanks, Mom!), a sweet, white house, dating back to 1773, with creaky floors and fluffy blueberry pancakes and French toast for breakfast. We spent a lot of the trip in the car, expressly to see the fall foliage, which draws so many people north every year. Sunday morning, we drove through the national forest, stopping every so often, emerging into the chill to take in the river winding down next to the road, the mountains streaked with color, vibrant orange hitting the blue backdrop of the sky. As we approached Boston, the rain started to come down, at first a light mist but increasingly heavy, and we stopped again in Concord, this time to discover that most bakeries and restaurants are closed on Sunday, and settled for a veggie pizza, that was actually quite good, as pizza tends to be.
I’ll spend the next week coming up with ways to use all of the apples we brought home; it started with an apple crisp, topped with vanilla ice cream last night, which we’ll continue to eat for breakfast these work-day mornings.
September 29, 2013 § Leave a comment
Stepping out of the house this morning and seeing the street sheathed in white fog was like, for a moment, stepping back home, stepping into a different city, a different time. Walking down the street towards one of the few cafes in the area I thought both took credit cards and provided free internet (as it turns out, it had only one of the two) to do some writing was like stepping back half a year, to writing my thesis in Small World, my thesis that now sits on my desk, bound, and untouched. It’s the first weekend I’ve had to myself in a long time, and I’m using it to find my voice writing again, which is much harder than I thought it would be. Call me crazy, but I miss my thesis, I miss having work that was mine only, I miss the life that was my research, I miss the farms, the mountains, but mostly meeting new people every day. I don’t miss them individually, but as a whole, as people who pushed back on the comfortable lifestyle many enjoy (myself included), as people who nonetheless welcomed the intruder (me) with open arms. But I also miss the vast openness of the farms, and the routes we often drove to the farms, the kind of openness that makes you and your problems feel so, so small.
I had a moment like that the other day, sitting at a picnic table on our farm in Lincoln, preparing for an interview with our head farmer. One of our other farmers had given me a ride down to the farm, and then excitedly shown me a ripe green-stripped tomato in the children’s garden and wandered off into the fields for a walk around — she emerged toward the end of my interview with a bouquet of flowers. So I sat for a few minutes before the interview, looking out over the fields, which ran into forest, trees whose tops are already turning red, under a cloudy, gray sky. And for a moment, as cliché as it is, I felt at peace, like the world wasn’t about to close in around me, but as open as the fields before me.
And now I’m sitting in a café in Davis Square, listening to a young woman rant about her brother at the table next to me, having to do the dishes, and listen to his phone messages, while watching the toddler across from me struggle to eat a cranberry roll by shoving it in his mouth. It’s funny how that vast openness can break down into such minuscule moments, pithy complaints, and dissatisfactions. I have small plans for today, just a bit of writing for work, harnessing the rutabaga and daikon radish from my CSA share into red curry, and maybe a batch of cookies. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking lately, but have lost of rhythm of photographing and writing about it. It’s starting to become routine — a batch of coffeecake muffins on Sunday for the week’s breakfast, an acorn squash galette with caramelized onions and pecorino, served with greens and raspberries, a couple of pizzas topped with whatever vegetables are hanging around — and that’s an interesting discovery for someone who is used to writing about being in the kitchen as an event, as something that is blog-worthy. I made a batch of pumpkin-cranberry granola yesterday after my 14-miler with the team, and was pleased that it came out in crisp, sweet clumps rather than as loose, toasted oats, as my granolas sometimes do. I’ll post some of the dishes I’ve been more proud of soon, but for now I’m just working on rediscovering that I know how to put a sentence together.
September 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
Just a quick little note that I’m unable to upload pictures from my camera – I don’t often post my Instagram photos, but a couple from this weekend turned out better than expected, so here we are. We did a little bit of lazy food adventuring this weekend, starting with breaking in my new waffle iron on Saturday morning with some multi-grain waffles, then a pick-me-up at Tatte Bakery in Kendall Sunday afternoon (which included this spiraly brioche with halva paste) before heading to a backyard party, then homemade pizza (with homemade tomato sauce, using up all of the tomatoes from the CSA!) topped with you-name-it which we grilled at our own backyard party today.
August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
If there’s something that has taken a bit of getting used to in my move to Boston, it’s the existence of seasons. And humidity. And thunderstorms. And like, a season where no produce is in-season. Weird. Summer in Boston is a bizarre mix of scorching hot days, days that begin with thunderstorms and turn sunny, and days when it pours and pours. My summer in Boston has also been an exhaustive, exhausting blur of activity, which might help to explain why I’m getting so many complaints about not posting here often enough.
The problem is, writing is my quiet space; it’s what I do when I’m feeling peaceful, reflective, all those adjectives that I haven’t felt in awhile. And while I love being busy, I also love sitting in an abandoned café, gazing out the window and wondering what comes next – though, if I’m being honest, my thoughts often surround what happened in the past. But in that space where time pushes forward, leaving little space to reflect, I’ve had some fun settling into a new life rhythm, that grown-up life that everyone my age likes to talk about. I’ve gone to Newport and Gloucester; visited family of friends; made zucchini muffins and tiny glazed lime cookies, rolled in poppy seeds (more on these soon, I promise!); threw together a bowl of pasta with mozzarella balls, cherry tomatoes, and herbs, just like my mom used to make; met the Mayor; watched Casablanca on a outdoor screen overlooking the Charles as the wind made for curious distortions of the images; joined a running club, and possibly committed to parts of a cross-country season; and finally, sat down to a dinner last night of sun-dried tomato bread we picked up from When Pigs Fly, topped with my homemade pesto, fresh burrata from the neighborhood Italian shop, and some tomatoes from our farm, brushed in olive oil and garlic and roasted (thanks Dan!) until they gushed generous juices when broken with a knife. Messy, messy summer on a plate.
That said, two cravings are rearing their heads, now that fall is just around the corner and I realize what I haven’t gotten to eating this summer. Peaches and corn. Peaches and corn. Peaches and corn. I made these peach pocket pies a long time ago – the photo is taken on our front porch in San Francisco – and I remember the edges being slightly crunchy and chewy with the crusted juices from the peaches, which were barely sweetened so that they retained that slight pucker of cooked fruit. There’s a lovely recipe for bourbon peach hand pies over at Smitten Kitchen, which I might have used but honestly I can’t really remember and have a vague feeling it might have come from some page of a magazine I ripped out once upon a time.
August 22, 2013 § Leave a comment
If there ever was a title I thought would never appear on my blog, it might be this one. Being a California girl at heart and currently relocated to the East Coast, I don’t spend much time, really at all, traveling the Midwest. After a brutal experience in Cincinnati where I traveled for youth nationals my senior year of high school, which was a week of trying to make weight (I was a lightweight rower) amid the plethora of fast food chains littering the high-way, miles of restaurants of either side of me offering little in the way of appetizing food even when I was starving, I was ready to write off the entirety of Ohio. Enter my boyfriend who grew up in Cleveland, and a wedding that meant flying back, and I’m thinking a little differently about Ohio, though we didn’t have enough time for me to really experience the city’s culinary scene.
The first night was a charming backyard dinner, complete with charred pizza straight from the handmade, backyard brick oven, topped with homemade tomato sauce using tomatoes from the farm, and summer vegetables – eggplants, summer squash, artichokes. The meal was completed with Popeyes chicken and biscuits, by request of the Southern bride, and an armadillo cake for dessert, which we learned was something of a crazy tradition – a red velvet cake shaped like an armadillo, placed in a forest of icing and menorahs, a reference to the Jewish wedding which would take place the next day.
The next morning, we went out to the Washington Place Bistro and Inn for brunch, just the two of us. The monkey bread, slightly chewy with a crispy exterior that kept its crunch when drenched in caramel sauce, came on the house, and Dan enjoyed making monkey faces while I photographed it. Then, we ordered pierogi with stewed oxtail (which I ate not even realizing that oxtail is actually beef!) and two entrees, a salmon BLT on ciabatta served with fries embellished with cut herbs and malt vinegar aioli, and a pot roast hash with poached egg and toasted challah. We left stuffed, but I regret failing to finish the last five fries! Possibly the richest brunch I’ve ever had; I don’t remember a time we’ve have eaten out together and failed on the last couple of bites!