My perfect crusty loaf
April 6, 2013 § 24 Comments
Hello dear people! We’re just back from Denver. Did I even mention we were going to Denver? I don’t think I did. There were more important things to talk about! But, in spite of the lack of public acknowledgment, that is, in fact, where we were for the last week. We were at a distilling conference, which, as you may suspect, is a whole lot cooler than many of the conferences one could find oneself attending.
Craft distillers are a pretty good bunch, as far as I could tell from my observations of the 600 or 700 or so that were at the conference with us. Quirky, driven, creative, Jacks and Jills of all trades, and quite friendly besides the occasional curmudgeon – there always has to be at least one curmudgeon in any bunch.
I didn’t make a ton of connections. I’m an absolutely terrible networker! I clam up and get shy and awkward and can’t think of a thing to say to anybody, so I float off around the edges and watch people talk. But, there were some smaller, more intimate gatherings where I could actually connect with people and those people I found to be stellar ones! Also, the sessions were generally useful and fascinating. We learned about variables in aging spirits, how to work with wholesalers, innovations in packaging, women in distilling, surviving an audit, how to “nose” (that is to say, smell) unwanted compounds in your spirits. Good stuff.
Now we’re back and the refrigerator is starkly empty. I need to do a major restock. And I need to bake some bread.
As much as possible, I’ve been trying to bake all of our bread at home. Which sounds like some sort of half super-hero, half Ma on the prairie type of domestic prowess. But, I’ve found that there are so many recipes for low maintenance loaves out there, that baking one a week isn’t all that great of a commitment. And the payoff is huge. (Mostly. Sometimes my loaves totally flop. Those are sad days.) Plus, it means we deeply savor every bite of bread. (I usually only have one slice a day so the bread lasts through the week. Joel always accuses me of bread rationing.)
I adore good bread. I can completely understand how civilizations could be built on bread and why it is a metaphor for life, for spirit, for giving, for abundance. So, it makes me terribly sad to know that more and more people can’t eat bread, and that bread in the way it’s commercially produced these days is not very good for us at all. It’s a tragedy really. What are we if bread no longer makes sense in the context of “the bread of life” or “our daily bread?”
I’m no expert, but from what I’ve read, I suspect the reasons for this change in bread are complex and many. Part of it, I am quite convinced, comes from the changes in the grain supply with the industrialization of agriculture. The wheat available today is not the wheat people ate for hundreds of years. The wheat available to us now has been bred to be durable, shippable, highly storable, easy to harvest, and high-yield, but not to be nutritious or flavorful. The potential goodness of the grain has been bred right out of it, leaving instead a highly gluten-filled, hard to digest, inflammatory commodity. « Read the rest of this entry »
Fastelavens boller (aka Norwegian semlor)
February 12, 2013 § 26 Comments
aka Fat Tuesday buns, if you don’t know what any of those other things mean.
Yes, it’s Fat Tuesday, and while in some parts of the world this means shiny beads, and raucous parades with floats, and beignets, across Scandinavia, it means buns. I don’t know the history of how this particular regionally specific way of preparing for Lent came to be (I mean seriously, why buns? Why not, I guess.), but since I grew up with it, I’m awfully fond of it.
Basically, I wait for this day all year, just so I can eat these buns.
The best known of the Fat Tuesday buns are the Swedish semlor (the plural of semla). Theirs are sweet cardamom buns filled with almond paste and whipped cream. If you’d like you can drown them in warm milk before serving. Danish and Icelandic Fat Tuesday buns are more like pate a choux, stuffed with whipped cream and jam and topped with chocolate (and here I must also admit that the Icelanders actually eat theirs on the Monday before, which they call bun day. Those Icelanders, always trying to be different…). « Read the rest of this entry »
Vanilla bean scones and lemon-tangerine curd
February 1, 2013 § 19 Comments
So, a couple of weeks ago I had this whole plan in my mind wherein I was not going to make or eat any sweets until Valentine’s Day. Not because of any January, ascetic, resolution-y type of reason. I steer clear of food resolutions in general, and cleanses peeve me. They rub me the wrong way, I guess because I feel like they’re a reflection of our national dysfunctional relationship with food. I know they’re not trying to, but to me they send the message, “you can shove whatever you want into your body without paying attention all year long as long as you spend 2 weeks in January consuming nothing but juiced vegetables and wheatgrass,” or whatever. Which you can’t. You should eat cleanly all the time, and it should and can be incredibly enjoyable, and then also leave room for some good clean fun here and there (like nachos, hehe).
Anyhow, pardon the brief tirade, that’s neither here nor there because the real reason that I was going to forego all sweets for any number of weeks was to create a giant buildup to a Valentine’s Day treat to end all Valentine’s Day treats. In spite of my usual relaxed attitude toward the holiday of love, this year, for whatever reason, it struck me as a fun idea to use it as an excuse to make something billowing, and chocolatey, and gooey, and basically hopelessly, ridiculously rich.
And, I suppose I still may, but a couple of things conspired against me in the last few days to send my plans into a tailspin. First, my dear husband told me that he was going to be out of town on Valentine’s and the surrounding days for a consulting project he’s working on. Insert sad face, but that hitch could be overcome by postponing our Valentine’s celebration until he returned. But the second problem is, I lost my taste for chocolate.
I know: What???!!! Right? It’s completely ridiculous. Who goes from being a devotee of chocolate in all its most intense forms, mousse, sorbet, midnight dark bars, dense flourless cakes, to being slightly put off by the very thought of it? Who???? Sadly, me.
Orange cardamom yogurt cake
November 9, 2012 § 90 Comments
Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a pastry chef.
In general, I like to think of myself as more of a cook. I find some self-satisfaction in my inaccurate – or more appropriately, unprecise – stirring together of a pinch of this and a handful of that until I’ve made a meal of it. I don’t think of myself as precise enough for baking and pastries.
And yet…And yet, at the end of a very long week, a week where – let’s just say hypothetically – the workdays have been 12 hours long and the brain has taken the spirit captive, I find that precision is what I want. The precision is a respite.
Structurelessness can be a tyrant, and precision and strict guidelines can actually offer solace. In those moments, I take comfort in measuring an exact teaspoon and a half or creaming for exactly three minutes.
I also love pastries for their sheer un-utilitarian-ness. Sometimes when there’s a lot to do, the wise decision is to make those calls or do that laundry, to stop avoiding and cross some things off your list. But sometimes the wise decision is instead to do something that delights you, that has nothing to do with the list.
You don’t need sweets in your life, to be sure, but I think sometimes you do need little things that are “just because,” that aren’t necessities for the body, but may be for the soul. Life needs to contain both basics and beauty, both bread and roses, or perhaps both stews and pâte feuilletée. « Read the rest of this entry »
Goat cheese popovers with blueberry sauce
August 6, 2012 § 15 Comments
First off, foremost, and before anything else, thank you! Seriously, thank you. Jumping up and down clapping my hands thank you. I’m 8 and I just got the Playmobile Victorian dollhouse set I’ve been coveting all year, thank you. Your enthusiasm, and support, and encouragement for Joel’s and my thoughts and plans mean so very, very much to me, and you will definitely be hearing stories as we get going with our new adventures!
And now, because when I’m overwhelmed with gratitude transitions go completely out the window, without further ado let’s go ahead and talk about breakfast. Or snack. Or breakfast standing in as dinner. Or however you want to serve these popovers. (The first, followed by the second, followed by the third works quite well. I can say from experience.)
Though in the end they became the sauce rather than the apparent centerpiece, it was actually the blueberries that started the wheels turning and rolled me down the path that led eventually to popovers.
I saw them (the blueberries, that is), majestically portly and dusty midnight blue, piled high in their cardboard pints at our tiny neighborhood farmer’s market, and I simply couldn’t resist. The word that comes to mind is peak. Blueberries are at their peak, and they looked it.
The blueberry acquisition was followed, in short order, by a creamy white round of chevre, and I began to form a plan. It was only the vaguest of plans though. It went something like: blueberries and chevre…together. The question of how I most wished to eat them together remained unanswered for a couple of days. « Read the rest of this entry »
Cornmeal peach scones and something of a manifesto
August 1, 2012 § 45 Comments
Ok guys, hold onto your hats because this one came out a little unbidden. In trying to talk about our big plans for what we’re doing next (soon!), I couldn’t help but go into some of the background thinking behind these plans, and it turned into something of a manifesto. Now, I may be a philosophizer and a wax eloquenter, but I’m not usually one to write a manifesto. A manifesto will nearly always rub at least someone the wrong way, and I have in general lived my life bending over backwards to try never to rub anyone the wrong way, to please everyone, to be safe.
But I’m finally, finally starting to realize that it’s not worth it. Not if it means you sacrifice the truth. The tag line of this blog is “fitting real food into real life,” and, well, it wouldn’t be real life if I didn’t speak about my truths. So, it may have turned out to be a bit manifesto-y, but hey! there’s a really good scone recipe waiting for you at the end (Seriously. Really good. Moist and tender on the inside with those perfectly crunchy golden edges that are the best part of a scone.). Next time I’ll be back with a more normal, chirpy blog post, but for now, deep breath, here we go…
I brought these scones to a goodbye brunch at my office a few days ago. We were celebrating and sending off three of our colleagues who are on to new things. All three of them did great work and will truly be missed. Though I wasn’t included in the goodbyes, it felt like the time for me to say goodbye to everyone as well. We’re leaving. We’re moving!
I’m not done with my dissertation yet. Ha. Quite the opposite. What was once a wade through data up to my knees has become thrashing in data up over my head. I’m doing a little egg beater kicking, a little elementary backstroke, working on finding the best way for me to swim through it. But, it won’t be happening here. Joel and I have decided we’re moving to Minnesota. In less than a month. Yikes!
We’ve been thinking and talking about it for a while now, and finally things conspired to remind us that these are our lives, and we need to live them in a way that is honest and real for us. Now, I don’t mean anything against Boston at all. It’s a really great city. A great place. But, it’s not our place. And, in staying here, no matter how hard we try not to, neither of us can escape our programmed slide into the speedy rails of achievement orientation. « Read the rest of this entry »
Little pistachio and cherry cakes
June 28, 2012 § 20 Comments
I’m leaving this afternoon to visit my family in Norway for two weeks. So I baked.
I completely forgive you for the raised eyebrows and incredulous pursing of the lips. Who bakes when they’re about to leave for two weeks?! Who bakes while they are still scrambling to make sure they have packed for every possible type of weather?! Who bakes while they’re frantically attempting to get the house cleaned and the dog prepped for having a stand-in puppy mamma?! Just how addled in the brain am I?!
But, you see, I have an explanation. These are travel cakes. Or, at least, they were meant to be, but more on that later.
You may now be asking, “ok, well, what are travel cakes?” My answer, I’m afraid, is I don’t exactly know. But, I decided to go ahead and try to make some anyway.
Chive pancakes (that is, scallion pancakes with chives instead)
April 27, 2012 § 18 Comments
Life is grand friends. Really grand. I can’t stop beaming with pride from every cell of my body, and it’s because of this.
It’s a sourdough loaf. It’s the little things, you know. Isn’t she a beauty? Perfectly crackly hard shell of a crust, spongey chewy interior crumb, those lovely blistered gashes and bits of charred flour. I would shell out good money for a loaf like this, wrapped nicely in brown paper, at a bakery. But I made it myself!(!!!) And I am fit to burst with how excited I am about it.
It came out of the oven just after 11 last night because that’s when it appeared ready to bake, and well, I haven’t stopped smiling goofily about it since.
Applesauce and cheddar bread
April 21, 2012 § 11 Comments
I wish I were better at canning. And not because I’m buying in to some fantastical homesteading fantasy that’s just part of the zeitgeist. I swear. Ok, well, I totally do fantasize about homesteading, we’ve talked about this before. But not for the self-sufficiency part of it, which is what we as a populace are being accused of. I’m way too communal of a creature for that. Homesteading appeals because it is a way of feeling things again, of feeling physical strain toward a goal and of feeling something you’ve made in your hands.
But, the real reason why I wish I were better at canning is so that I can do like my friend Anna did the other night as we were all finishing up dinner. Something in the conversation seemed to trigger a spring in her mind, and she leapt up from the table exclaiming, “do you want some really amazing applesauce that I canned that tastes just like fall?”
Baked eggs and yogurt biscuits
February 24, 2012 § 25 Comments
The other day as I sat staring down at my long scratchy to-do list, I suddenly saw it transform before my eyes, distinctly and unmistakeably, into a lamprey, writhing on the page and viciously sucking all the life out of my day. Gruesome. And, I knew at once that the image was completely accurate. I’ve been living off of my to-do list lately. Actually, it is more like I have been possessed by my to-do list, a drone under its command.
The list consists of winding pages of the endless tasks that ought to be taken care of in between the meetings and duties that create rows of blocks in my calendar, like the bricks of a parapet. The fact of the matter is, there are things that must get done, and better to list them out than try to keep them sorted and ordered in my poor, addled brain. But, lately I’ve let the list get to me. The magnitude of it, and my brain-numbed reliance on it, have left me feeling empty. It takes over my mind even during the moments I’m trying to let go and recharge. And that’s where the trouble comes from.
When I wake up, I feel that brief wondrous moment of expansiveness that the morning brings. Here is the day! It is filled with possibility! For two seconds. Then the list comes thundering down on my head. It shutters and boards up anything that looks remotely like possibility and replaces them with a sense of floundering and stress. Feelings that don’t get you anywhere.