BAKING WITH SHIV

I forgot to remember from last year, what it feels like when my seniors are about to leave.  Probably I forgot on purpose, the kind of amnesia that allows you to do something hard all over again a second time, and then sign up to do it a third.  As Michael Pollan discusses in The Botany of Desire, which I just finished this weekend and highly recommend, pain is difficult for us humans to remember.  We hold on to vague generalities, but dispense with specific, excruciating sensations, yielding a system that “help[s] us endure (and selectively forget) the routine slings and arrows of life.”


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Some forgetting is necessary—that’s clear.  Were we to keep impeccable records about every painful experience from the past, we might opt out of human life altogether and disappear never to be heard from again.  (And we probably all know at least one person who’s done the metaphorical equivalent, keeping themselves at an emotional arm’s length so as not to have to relive a painful past.)  But there is something to be said for selective remembering, or maybe reminding; in a very different but also highly recommended book, Pastrix, Nadia Bolz-Weber talks about the quarterly events her church—the House For All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado—holds for new members of their community:

I am always the last to speak at these events. I tell them that…I have learned something by belonging to two polar-opposite communities…and I wanted them to hear me: This community will disappoint them. It’s a matter of when, not if. We will let them down or I’ll say something stupid and hurt their feelings. I then invite them on this side of their inevitable disappointment to decide if they’ll stick around after it happens. If they choose to leave when we don’t meet their expectations, they won’t get to see how the grace of God can come in and fill the holes left by our community’s failure, and that’s just too beautiful and too real to miss.

Let’s add third voice to this conversation: the Buddha’s.  I’ve been teaching about Buddhism the past two weeks, super-conveniently I might add (fellow teachers, isn’t it amazing how often we end up teaching exactly what we ourselves need to hear?).  At the core of the Buddha’s teachings is the assertion that it is not in the nature of impermanent things (which we are naturally surrounded by—humans, animals, relationships, objects, feelings are all impermanent) to cause permanent happiness.  This is logical; we know this.  We know that things will change, that nothing lasts forever, that our bodies will age and die, that we’ll lose stuff, that we’ll break stuff, that we’ll hurt other people and other people will hurt us.  But, as the Buddha points out, we often expect impermanent things to lead us to permanent happiness.  And that’s just not how it works.

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I’m as guilty as anyone—I forget.  For the first two weeks of April I was SO READY to say goodbye to the senior class, and believe me, they seemed plenty ready to leave!  Then I looked at the shrinking number of days on the calendar and realized that these creatures, who shape I know so well, who tolerate my earnestness and bad jokes, who trust me with their authentic selves and bring me smoothies and babysit for my child, were actually leaving.  It knocked the wind out of me.

These are the terms of engagement, right?  It’s only when we let others impact us, when we offer up our vulnerable, authentic selves, that they can impact us in such a way that it hurts when they go.  You don’t get the joy of connection without the pain of separation.  You don’t get to have awesome coworkers who teach and mentor you and improve your quality of life without it being really hard to see them move or leave or retire.  Fall in love with someone?  There’s a good chance they’ll hurt you someday.  The real question, as Bolz-Weber so deftly points out, is—will you stay when they do?

We have a choice—disengage, minimize risk, and turtle ourselves in cautious isolation OR put our pads on and jump in the game, knowing that we’re opening ourselves up to tremendous pleasure and also real heartache.  Though I have been tempted at certain times in my life to choose the former, I really don’t know how to live other than to do the latter.  It’s messy, it’s complicated, but I wouldn’t trade it.  Everything and everyone that I love best has been a risk, has pushed me to learn painful things about myself, has frustrated me, has taught me tough lessons.  But they’ve also taught me everything I know about beauty and about love, about what a holy thing it is to live in such a way that we let the people in our lives mark us so—that we carry the history of our time with them, that it becomes part of who we are. 

BAKING WITH SHIV:

The kid and I have been tackling one baking project per weekend, and it’s pretty damn fun.  I highly recommend this post from Molly Wizenberg about cooking with kids; while I already shared her ethos, she offers some great, specific suggestions that I found really helpful and inspiring.  Case in point: Shiv now knows how to crack an egg all by himself, a thing that I totally wouldn’t have thought he could do without making a big, giant mess.  But I was wrong!  And I’m so glad!  Because competence is one of our core values for raising this human, and he feels like a badass every time he acquires a new skill.  Another reminder that I should never underestimate this nugget.

Baking with Shiv | Blue Jean Gourmet

[matching aprons courtesy Aunt Megan; yes, Shiv is wearing an Elsa wig, and please know that it was I who imitated his pose, and not the other way around.]

Here are yummy things we’ve made that we recommend:

Alice Medrich’s Tiger Cake [Food 52] — far & away everyone’s favorite, this one is a bit time-consuming but not at all difficult.  Bonus: it calls for olive oil so you don’t have to remember to soften any butter!  Note: we skipped the white pepper.

Oatmeal Cacao Nib Cookies [600 Acres] — these were quite good as well, and kept nicely in an airtight container on the counter for several days.  If you don’t have cacao nibs, I’d substitute toasted walnuts or pecans.

Cardamom Apple Bread [Gluten-Free Girl] — as-written, this recipe is gluten-free, but we played around using the flours we had (a smidge of AP, white rice, spelt, & barley) and the texture of the bread still turned out wonderfully.  It wasn’t quite sweet enough for Shiv’s taste, but once I swiped it with some apple butter, he was down.  To me, it paired perfectly with tea!

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MEYER LEMON FOCACCIA

This week is exam week, a.k.a. that time of year when survival is contingent upon an elaborate system of Post-It Note Lists, both tangible and virtual. To-Grade, To-Finish, To-Make, To-Buy, To-Write, To-Email, To-Plan, To-Watch, To-Return, To-Visit, To-Listen-To, To-Pay, To-Donate, To-Schedule, To-Bring, To-Do, To-Do, To-Do.

Meyer lemon focaccia | Blue Jean Gourmet

My flurry of notes and lists often serves to buffer me from the world outside of my little circle of concern—like, if I am busy being stressed out about how busy and stressed out I am, then I convince myself that I am excused from paying attention to other people’s despair and anger and sadness and pain, because “I just have so much going on this week.”

It’s not that I don’t legitimately have a lot going on—I do—but let’s be clear—the majority of it I brought upon myself. And also, I am going to survive it just fine. What’s really at stake here is my ability to hold onto myself and who I say I want to be, which is easy enough to do when the lists are short and the days are long. But when I get caught up in the shape of my own circumstances, I become a version of myself that I really do not enjoy being around (nor, I suspect, do other people). I become small and petty and stingy and grumpy and boring.

Another calendar year is about to come to an end, and if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that I am a much better version of myself when I devote a considerable amount of brain space, time, and energy to people other than me. Being patient with my son. Practicing kindness with strangers. Trying to find ways to make someone’s life just a little bit easier, to let them know that they are seen, to acknowledge their suffering. Looking people in the eye. Calling them by name. Sending poems in the mail—for no reason, for every reason. Not acting rushed or checking my phone when a student wants to share with me or ask me for advice. Being fully present. Giving of myself. It may sound cheesy or small, and I certainly don’t meet the bar every day, but these are things I can do. And they make my lived experience so much more satisfying.

There’s science behind it, because of course there is. I listened to this On Being episode last month—an interview with Adam Grant, professor of psychology at Wharton who studies the effects of generosity in the workplace. Hearing him explain his research helped explain some of my own practices and habits, putting them in a context that served to make me more conscious about practicing generosity as a deliberate way of moving through the world.

As someone who works with teenagers, I am given regular reminders to practice what I preach: to work to not fall into that category of “hypocritical adult.” I believe in teaching literature as a way to cultivate empathy, and empathy—that soul-expanding practice of trying to imagine what someone else might be feeling—inevitably leads to generosity. It also builds perspective, like when Shiv had to have blood drawn for an allergy test last week and I had to hold him still while he squirmed and cried big hot tears and wailed “No, no, no!,” the fear bright in his cheeks and tense in his body, and I thought, How on earth do parents with chronically sick kids do this?  And so much worse, and every day?  Or to be unable to feed my child, to witness the pain of his hunger, and have to somehow explain to him why it is so.  To travel as a refugee, through treacherous conditions, unable to protect my baby, uncertain of every future moment, met with derision and hate.  These are hells that scale my to-do lists right back down to their appropriate size.

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***

I hope to squeeze one more post in before 2016—I’ve been meaning to share Jill’s mama’s amazing cornbread recipe with you for ages now—but in the meantime, here’s (but of course) a list:

-You should make the Meyer Lemon Focaccia you see pictured here. (Isn’t it funny how, like, 8 years ago, none of us had even heard of Meyer lemons? Oh food blog internet explosion, how you’ve changed us.) Please note, if you plan to make this, that the dough needs to refrigerate at least overnight but up to 2 days, so it’s a great option for those of you who like to plan ahead. The actual baking/assembly comes together quickly, the recipe yields two smaller focaccias, presentation is lovely, flavors are bright; it’s a fine candidate for a holiday spread. I am planning to make this again on Sunday for our annual tree-trimming gathering, along with other appetizers, cookies, & champagne!

-The Bitter Southerner (which is so spot-on with its branding, consistency, & quality that it’s no wonder they have such a following) has put out its Best Southern Albums of 2015 List—I know, I know more lists.  But I can’t wait to dive into this one. The 2014 version of this list yielded many hours of listening pleasure into the new year.

-For those of us with little people in their lives, or big people who love thoughtfully crafted and beautifully illustrated stories, this list of The Best Children’s Books of 2015 from Brain Pickings is a delightful read in itself, and it offers wonderful gift ideas to use now or tuck away for future use.

-Cookies I’ve got my eye on this year: cardamom pistachio cookies, chocolate puddle cookies, lebkuchen, nutmeg logsSwedish rye cookies, whole wheat shortbread cookie.  Food52 put together this very fun Cookies of the World Map, with 46 recipes, should you need further inspiration.

Tidings of comfort & joy, my friends!  xo

with Santa 2015

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PEAR-HAZELNUT MUFFINS

When you live on the Gulf Coast like I do, at some point you just have to call it. Even though the temperature is still in the 90s, even though none of the leaves have turned (and most of them won’t), you decide—it’s fall. You change out your closet, swap your iced coffee for mugs of chai, and try not to resent all of the pictures of friends on social media wearing jackets in apple orchards on crisp, fall afternoons.

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The first year I moved to Houston, my freshman year of college, I was so shocked by the seasons (or lack thereof) that my friend Katherine, who was attending seminary in Virginia at the time, mailed me a box of fall leaves. It remains one of the most loving, particular gestures of love that anyone has ever done for me; I remember the smell that emanated from that box when I opened it, which made me at once more and less homesick. I remember deciding that I was going to pretend like it was fall, even if it really wasn’t. It’s a decision I’ve stuck by all of these years.

Thankfully, pears and apples are now plentiful at the grocery store, and we’ve been gobbling them up by the basket-full. I’ve also been hoarding a stash of hazelnuts since August, when our dear friend Courtney visited and brought them to me, so these muffins were a lovely way to make the house at least smell and taste like fall, and—serendipitously enough—the temperatures have cooperated today, too, dropping down into the glorious 70s.  Maybe fall is in the air after all!

PEAR HAZELNUT MUFFINS

recipe source: Megan Jordan’s Whole Grain Mornings

Some notes on the recipe: the muffins pictured here are a batch that I made gluten-free using the substitutions below*. I also doubled the recipe, which yielded 2 dozen muffins & enough leftover batter for a good-sized loaf, which cooked up perfectly well, but needed extra time in the oven.

*To make these muffins gluten-free, substitute an all-purpose GF flour mix for the regular all-purpose flour, and use ¼ cup brown rice flour & ¼ cup barley flour (or oat flour) in place of the whole wheat pastry flour. Also, be sure to use certified GF oats.

pear-hazelnut muffins

ingredients:

¾ cup rolled oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. each ground cardamom, ground nutmeg, & ground cinnamon
½ tsp. salt
2-3 firm pears
2/3 cup turbinado or natural cane sugar
6 T unsalted butter
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 heaping cup hazelnuts, toasted & chopped

oven: Preheat to 425°. Line a muffin tin with papers, or butter loaf pan(s) of your choice.

Mix the dry ingredients (oats, flours, baking soda & powder, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, & salt) in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. Melt the butter and allow it to cool while you core two pears and grate them into a separate, larger bowl, using the large holes of a box grater. You want about 1 heaping cup of shredded pear, so if you need to grate the third pear, go ahead.

Add the cooled, melted butter to the pears, then stir in the sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Fold the dry ingredients in gently, being careful not to overmix. Add half of the hazelnuts to the batter, reserving the other half to top the muffins.

Fill the muffin cups almost-full and sprinkle them with the remaining hazelnuts. (Next time, I might also add some sprinkles of turbinado sugar to the top.) Move the muffins into the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 375°. Bake until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean from the center of a muffin, ~25 minutes.

Cool the muffins in their tins for 10-15 minutes before removing them to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperate; they will keep for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

pear-hazelnut muffins | Blue Jean Gourmet

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FIVE-MINUTE ARTISAN BREAD

There are many here among us now
who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we’ve been through that
and this is not our fate.
So let us not talk falsely now,
the hour’s getting late.
-Bob Dylan, “All Along the Watchtower”

five-minute artisan bread | Blue Jean Gourmet

Back when I first started this blog, I set up Google Alerts so that I would be notified whenever new mentions of my name or the name of this blog appeared in the atmosphere. My goals for the blog are very, very different now than they were then, and I spend very little time fretting over my “internet presence” or tracking my stats like I used to. But the Google Alerts still come through from time to time, which is how I caught notice of a mention of my most recent blog post in the Houston Press’ “This Week in Food Blogs” round-up from last week.

Along with some self-help advice (and a little ranting), Nishta of Blue Jean Gourmet shared this coconut cardamom almond butter recipe that replicates a pre-made version that she can’t find in Houston anywhere. It’s a simple recipe, but note that a food processor is required. Toasted almonds and cardamom give this nut butter a special kick, and it’s another perfect-for-fall option.

It was that little parenthetical phrase that caught my eye—“a little ranting”—and caused me to go back and read my original post. I’ve definitely done my fair share of ranting on this blog, but I was honestly puzzled that anything I had written in the coconut-cardamom-almond butter post would be labeled as such. Even going back and combing through left me stumped. Ranting? Really?

I did some freelance writing for the Press in years past, and it’s generous of them to throw in a mention of me from time to time, even though I am no longer in any meaningful way connected to “the scene.” So I truly don’t mean to sound like I’m—wait for it—ranting about something that, in not even the grand but the small scheme of things, matters not one bit. We could be talking about simple word choice, difference of opinion, or maybe I’m totally tone-deaf when it comes to my own work.

But the reason I feel it bears mentioning at all is that I think it might just reflect something about the standards for what we call “food writing” these days. As my friend Tim at Lottie & Doof has so eloquently stated, most of it is fucking boring. Pale, pasty, and self-referential, vacant of any real meaning or significance (now I am ranting). Sure, there are blogs that specialize in recipe development and stunning photography, and I enjoy frequenting those as much as any other home cook. But the English teacher in me is often baffled by what passes for good writing on the internet—and not just on food blogs. Much of what is heralded as “incredible writing” would get a B- in my Honors Creative Writing course for high school seniors—it is lazy, self-congratulatory, and lacks any real self-consciousness or perspective. It states the obvious. It’s filled with familiar tropes and clichés. It takes zero risks. It is boring.

Look, sometimes you have a recipe to share and all there is to say is “Make this and then eat it!” and I totally respect that. I’ve been there. And it’s not like I’d want every post on this blog to be dissected in an MFA workshop, either; I just think it’s kind of dazzling that to write about anything of substance seems to equal “ranting.”

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Yesterday, I got to do some talking that mattered. I was asked by Jen, the amazing theatre director at my school, if I would come do some dramaturgical work with the cast of our fall play, Twelve Angry Jurors. Jen has so astutely chosen to set the play in present-day, in order to intersect and overlap with our present-day, big-picture conversation about the American criminal justice system. I’m no expert, but I’ve been researching and shadowing attorneys and asking questions and doing what I can to learn about this issue for the last ten years, so I was thrilled to have the chance to share some of what I’ve learned. I was also totally scared.

That’s kind of how it works, isn’t it? When the stakes are high, when we speak of things with substance, when we put ourselves out there, it’s terrifying. I’m the graduate of an MFA program and I’ve published a book, but I still get nervous sharing a new piece of writing. I’ve had a weekly phone date with Rebecca, my best friend from college, for years, and I’ll still hesitate momentarily before diving into the “real” stuff once we’ve covered pleasantries and chit-chat. I’ve been teaching for nine years, but when the time comes to get up and speak to students about things that matter to me personally, my heart pounds.

Those feelings, those cues of risk, those are how I know I’m into something good. Where my excitement over taking on something new intersects with my fear of screwing up or being rejected, that’s where true aliveness is. That’s where I am being most me, creating instead of existing on autopilot. And the more that’s at stake, the bigger the potential payoff.

So it was in rehearsal yesterday, my second session with the cast. We covered a lot of ground between last week’s and this week’s session: institutional racism, mass incarceration, the intersection of poverty and crime, mandatory minimum sentences, the “war on drugs,” implicit bias, the overloaded public defense system, punishment v. deterrence v. rehabilitation, solitary confinement, the death penalty, the fallibility of eyewitness testimony, DNA exoneration, issues related to reentry & recidivism, and treatment of juveniles. We looked at statistics. We watched videos. We read articles. We discussed.

After the first session, they had so many (good) questions, which they wrote on note cards and passed in as we wrapped up, all pretty glazed over and exhausted by the material. Hard conversations are hard. They’re confronting. They’re intense. They require us to “be” with things that we don’t want to be with. Often, we are implicated. Often, we resist.

But then something happened yesterday, as we recapped what we had discussed previously, then built on it, me bringing in new material to try to answer their questions, them processing and taking in the picture that was starting to develop for them. They opened themselves up to it, let the material affect them, despite the difficulty. They began to feel, to grow angry, to get fired up. I thought they might want the session to finish early, to take a break from all of the hard stuff we were discussing, but they just kept going, with their super-smart questions and their thoughtful discussion and even a little bit of ranting. They made plans for how they would share this material with other students, to make sure what they had learned informed the context of the production. “I had no idea, Ms. Mehra. And now I want everyone to know.”

Let us not talk falsely now, the hour’s getting late.

 

FIVE-MINUTE ARTISAN BREAD
Very barely adapted from Zoe Francois & Jeff Hertzberg via The Splendid Table

This is, like, the least trendy food thing I could post about—bread! With gluten in it! Quelle horreur!  (It does have “artisan” in the title, though, so maybe I get bonus points?)

Our friend Lisa (or as Shiv calls her, “Seesa”), of Blue Heron Farm fame, mentioned this recipe to me a while back and I pulled it out of my memory file a few weeks ago when I came home from an epic grocery shopping trip only to realize that I had forgotten to buy crusty bread to go with the bone marrow I was planning to roast. I had SWORN that I would make that grocery store run last a whole week, with no dashing out for extra things, but it just seemed wrong to eat bone marrow on Almond Nut Thins. So I texted Seesa and she rescued me with this super-easy, super-gratifying recipe.

Note: you can keep the dough in your fridge for up to two weeks, which we did, baking off three separate mini-loaves over that time period. All of them were tasty, and were consumed quickly, but the last one—which I baked off on Monday night to accompany shakshuka for dinner—was my favorite: tangy like sourdough, with a loose crumb and super-crusty-crust…I think this is going to become a staple in our house.

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ingredients:
1 ½ T dry yeast
1 T Kosher salt (if using a finer-grained salt like table salt, you’ll need less)
6 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra
cornmeal

*Note: start the dough at least 5 hours ahead if you want to bake some off the same day.

Pour 3 cups of lukewarm (a bit warmer than body temperature) into a large, plastic container with a lid. Mix in the salt and yeast, then, using a large spoon, mix the flour in gradually, stirring until any patches of flour disappear. Resist the urge to knead! The dough will be wet and loose—partially cover and allow the dough to rise at room temperature (for at least 2 hours or up to 5). At this point, refrigerate the dough (fully covered) for at least 3 hours, or up to 2 weeks.

When you’re ready to bake, you’ll need to complete the following steps, give yourself 1 ½-2 hours lead time to work through the following steps:

-Place a broiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and a baking/pizza stone on the middle rack. Preheat oven to 450°, allowing the baking stone & broiler pan to heat up for at least 20 minutes.

-Sprinkle cornmeal liberally (and I mean liberally!) on a pizza peel. Sprinkle the dough and your hands with some flour. Pull out a grapefruit-sized (~1 lb) piece of dough with your hands and work the dough in your hands for about a minute, turning and stretching it, creating a ball-shaped piece. The top should be rounded, with folds and pulls incorporated into the bottom.

-Place the dough on the pizza peel and let it rest, uncovered, for 30-45 minutes. (If you wish, you can shape all of the dough this way and freeze it in 1-lb portions, defrosting it overnight in the fridge the day before you bake.)

-Dust the top of the dough with flour, then, using a serrated knife, slash the top of the dough in three parallel, shallow cuts. Slide the dough off of the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan and close the oven quickly to trap the steam.

-Bake until the crust is brown, crackly, and firm to the touch, ~30-35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before enjoying!

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GREEN & WHITE PIZZA

This woman of mine, she is rock. freaking. solid.

anniversary twelve!

People overuse that phrase “He’s a rock” or “She’s my rock” but I promise you I am employing it perfectly in this case.  That Jill Carroll, she is steady as they come.  Dependable.  Honest.  True.  Damn near unflappable.

Sometimes I think she’s an alien.  Like, how can it be possible for a human being to operate this way, with such integrity?  In everything she does—really, I have been watching her for a dozen years now and she astounds me more and more.

Right now, Jill is knee-deep with the work of moving her parents to a house less than two miles from ours.  (If you’ve been playing along for a while, you’ve probably realized that this means that Jill’s parents will be living just down the road from my mother…pray for us & send wine, pleaseandthankyou.)

This has been no ordinary move.  My in-laws are 91 and 81, respectively, and have lived in Shreveport for their entire adults lives, and had been in the house they just left for almost 30 years.  And they probably would have stayed there had my mother-in-law not developed Alzheimer’s, which has robbed her of herself in the worst possible ways.  My father-in-law is tired and unable to meet the demands of caring for a confused and addled spouse, and keeping up with a household besides.

So here we are.  After months of resistance, Jill’s father finally relented to the idea of moving, and from there everything happened fast—house selling, house buying, house packing.  Jill has handled every detail, from contracting movers to fixing refrigerator tubing to wrapping every dang figurine and piece of china in bubble wrap.  And she still manages, somehow, to be this incredibly joyful parent and loving spouse and working woman and well-informed intellectual and patient, patient daughter.

I’m proud of this woman, proud of being partnered with her, proud to witness the way she lives our her values even (especially) when it’s inconvenient and exhausting.  She teaches me so much by living, as all the best people do.


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ROBERTA’S GREEN & WHITE PIZZA

This is Jill’s new favorite thing that I make; she’s requested it half-a-dozen times since spotting the recipe on the New York Times website.  I’ve started making the accompanying pizza dough recipe as my standard; measuring the ingredients by weight really does yield a more consistently good dough.  For the topping, we use the spicy arugula we’ve got growing in the backyard (Another thing Jill manages to do—keep our garden growing.  Sheesh.  JILL, STOP BEING GOOD AT EVERYTHING.).  The heat of the arugula mellows a bit when it meets the hot pizza, but it still retains a lovely bite, tempered just enough by the cheesy pizza & crust.

The original recipe calls for you to top the dough with cheese before you put it in the oven, which I think would work fine if your oven gets really hot, but mine tops out at 500° F, so I find it works better to pre-cook the dough first, in order to get the bottom nice and crisp.  Also, while I love fresh mozzarella for eating raw, I find that it gets kind of watery when I cook it on pizza, so I prefer the shredded kind.

ingredients:

pizza dough of your choice, stretched/rolled into a 10-12 inch round

~ 1 cup shredded mozzarella

~¼ cup shredded/grated Parmesan

extra-virgin olive oil

2-3 cups baby arugula

1 lemon

salt

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If you have a pizza stone, put it on the middle rack of your oven and turn the heat to the highest setting.  Let it heat for at least an hour.

Prick the dough all over with a fork before sliding it onto the pizza stone.  Cook for approximately 5 minutes, or until you see browning around the edges.  Slide the dough back out, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and top with cheese.  Gently slide the pie back into the oven and cook for another 4-6 minutes until the cheese has fully melted. (At this point, I usually turn on the broiler to brown the top of the pizza, and get good color on the crust—you may not need to do so, depending on how your oven heats.)

While the pizza cooks, dress the arugula lightly using the zest & juice of half the lemon, a good drizzle of the olive oil, and some salt.

Once it’s cooked to your liking, pull the pizza out of the oven and immediately top with the arugula.  Serve and enjoy!

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BLACKBERRY FARM GRIDDLE CAKES

Meet the Carroll/Mehra family Saturday morning pancakes.


Blackberry Farm Griddle Cakes | Blue Jean Gourmet   #gf  #glutenfree

Since this recipe was published in Bon Appetit last May, these babies have become such a solid part of our rotation that I can make them without consulting the recipe.  Shiv “helps” me mix the batter and spread and flip the first few pancakes; once they’re cool enough to eat, he leaves the fry cook duties to me & tucks into a plateful.  Even Jill, who is usually not interested in sweet things at breakfast (she’s an alien, I know) will grab a few to go alongside her scrambled eggs.  The recipe makes a bunch—I’d say about 20-25 small-to-medium pancakes—so the ones we don’t eat I let cool and then pack them up, two at a time, for the freezer: foil first, then a Ziploc.  On weekdays, it’s super easy to grab and reheat a pair of pancakes for breakfast.

This recipe isn’t a showstopper.  There’s nothing glamorous or fancy about these griddle cakes, which is maybe why I haven’t blogged about them before?  I think sometimes I fall into the trap of wanting to dazzle (not just on this blog but in life in general), when often what ends up being the most satisfying are the simple, sustainable rituals and pleasures: how my mom makes a cup of tea better than anyone I know, sitting out by the lake after dinner with our neighbor Mike and his big, sweet Doberman, snuggling with Shiv in the dusk time after we’re done reading books but before I put him in his crib, these pancakes that we don’t seem to get sick of.

BLACKBERRY FARM GRIDDLE CAKES

The cakes are barely, barely sweet (which you can, of course, offset based on how much syrup you choose to pour on top of them) but the combination of flours yields a really lovely, distinctive texture and taste.  They eat like a treat, but not like a decadent one.

Since we make these so often, I use this tip provided when the recipe was originally published—make your own pancake mix by tripling the dry ingredients, whisking them together well, & storing them in a jar.  Then, when you’re ready to make pancakes, simply measure out 2 ¼ cups of the dry mixture and proceed with the recipe as listed; the amounts for the wet ingredients stay the same.

A few notes: the recipe doesn’t call for vanilla, but I like to add 1 tsp. to the batter, as it really seems to amplify the flavor of the maple syrup.  Also, as you can see from the pictures, we added fresh blueberries to our most recent batch of pancakes, and we highly recommend you do the same; simply drop a few berries onto each pancake before you flip it over!

 

Blackberry Farm Griddle Cakes | Blue Jean Gourmet   #gf  #glutenfree

ingredients:

1 cup oat flour (make your own in 2 minutes by blitzing some rolled oats in your food processor)

2/3 cup yellow cornmeal

1/3 cup brown rice flour

¼ cup buckwheat flour

1 T baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. kosher salt

2 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

¼ cup maple syrup (use the good stuff!)

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted (I usually add a tablespoon or two more for the skillet, but you could also use coconut oil, vegetable oil, etc. for cooking the griddle cakes)

Get your pan ready–heat a large nonstick griddle or cast-iron skillet over medium.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  In a smaller, separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, egg, & maple syrup together.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.  Finally, whisk in the butter until you’ve worked through all of the lumps in the batter.

Brush your hot skillet with butter or oil.  Pour the batter out in small amounts—about a quarter to a third cup for each pancake, spreading the batter a little with the side of the measuring cup as you go.  Cook until the bottoms are browned and you see bubbles on top, about 3 minutes.  Flip and cook on the other side for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Serve hot, with butter & syrup!

*If you are cooking for someone with gluten intolerance, be certain to buy certified gluten-free oats & flours.

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BACK-TO-SCHOOL BREAKFASTS

Hi friends!  It’s that time of year…the time when families wade through store aisles, armed with school supply lists, parents somewhat dazed, kids miffed at their parents lack of understanding about how you can’t just buy ANY folders or pens or locker decorations, because if you don’t get the right ones, your year might be over before it even begins.  For serious.

Marion Cunningham's Boston Brown Bread Muffins | Blue Jean Gourmet

I still love school supplies because I am a big giant nerd, and that’s why it’s convenient that I became a teacher.  I still get excited about organizing my desk and planner, still pick out a new outfit for the first day of school (and invariably have trouble falling asleep the night before).  I still love thinking about what I do and how I can do it better, still get excited about visiting with former students (they grow so much over the summer!) and meeting the new ones who show up in my classroom, nervous and excited and not totally sure how to be eighth graders yet.

This will be my seventh (!) year of full-time teaching, which means that the very first crop of students, whom I had when they were in sixth grade (and whom I taught again when they were in eighth), are now seniors.  It’s hard to describe how proud of and attached to them I feel, and how excited I am to watch and be with them as they start their last year of high school.

I have had a wonderful summer full of time with my little guy; I’m going to miss him big time, but I know how lucky I am to be someone who gets to go to a job I love and come home to this sweet face every day.

Shiv Carroll Mehra-August 2013

A few notes before the recipes:

1)    The photos you see here were taken by the fabulous Sonya Cuellar, friend, artist, and former lead photographer for this blog.  She agreed to do a “guest shoot” last weekend, so you can look forward to a few more upcoming posts with her gorgeous photography!  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out her beautiful abstract paintings.

2)    I’ve been nominated for a 2013 Houston Culinary Award for Best Food Blog!  Fancy, I know.  Should you be up to a little voting, you can do so here.

3)    If you’re in the Houston area, I’m doing a book reading/signing this coming Monday, August 19 at the fabulous midtown bar Mongoose Versus Cobra at 7 p.m.—please come have a drink & say hi!

These recipes are two I’ve discovered over the summer that I’m planning to use to help me get a tasty, healthy breakfast in on busy mornings.  If you have other killer make-ahead breakfast recipes, please share—always on the lookout!

BOSTON BROWN BREAD MUFFINS
slightly adapted from the amazing Marion Cunningham

I know they don’t sound or look like they’re going to be that good, but trust me—they are worth making.  You get the faintest hint of sweetness and added texture from the pecans, plus that distinctive flavor of the rye flour—but not an overpowering amount!, and the crunch from the cornmeal…it winds up being fairly magical.

These keep really well on room temperature in an airtight container, though I suggest you warm them up before serving, maybe with some butter, butter + jam, peanut/almond butter, or cream cheese.

N.B.: the original recipe calls for raisins, not pecans, but raisins are one of the few things in this life that I unequivocally hate.  I did make a few batches with fresh/frozen berries, and those were excellent, if you’re looking to add fruit here, but are also a raisin-hater like me.

rye flour, barley flour, & cornmeal | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

½ cup rye flour
½ cup cornmeal (I particularly love using coarse-ground here)
½ cup barley flour (I’ve also used whole-wheat spelt here with success)
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/3  cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (I’ve cut this down to ¼ before as well)
¾ cup chopped pecans

oven: 400°

Butter or line a standard-sized muffin pan.  Whisk the dry ingredients (flours, cornmeal, soda, & salt) together in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients (egg, buttermilk, oil, molasses, & sugar) until well-combined.

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.  Fold in pecans.

Fill the muffin tins three-quarters of the way full and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the muffins are a deep brown and a toothpick (or actual cake tester, if you are one of those people who manages to hold onto one) comes out clean.  Serve hot or warm.  Try not to eat them all.

ENERGY BARS
recipe adapted from The Kitchn

You’re skeptical, I know; I was, too.  But as virtuous as these little bars are, they don’t taste overly virtuous—even the baby likes them!  They have a nice, chewy texture (not rock-hard or gummy, like so many store-bought energy bars) and they actually have flavor!  Plus, I know exactly what’s in them, because I made them, and there’s nothing chemically weird/unpronounceable here.

Also, these bars earn serious bonus points for convenience: easy to make, have kept well in the fridge, and are great on those mornings when time gets away from me and I really need to eat something on the drive to work or I’m going to be grumpy later.  Right?  If I have time to eat at home, I add a bowl of yogurt and a cup of tea and that will get me through the first part of the morning; I’ve also been wrapping one up and tossing it into my bag for much-needed afternoon sustenance.

Last points of the sales pitch: I bought a lot of the ingredients in bulk, so the whole batch worked out to be cheaper than the same number of store-bought versions of would have been!  These are also vegan and can be easily made gluten-free, so they work for almost everyone.  Feel free to adapt the ingredients to suit your preferences.

homemade energy bars | Blue Jean Gourmet

ingredients:

3 cups rolled oats (use certified gluten-free if you’d like)
1 cup dried fruit of your choice (I used cranberries & wild blueberries)
¾ cup chopped nuts (I used pecans)
¼ cup dried, unsweetened coconut (I used flakes, but shredded would work)
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup ground chia seeds
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. salt
1 ¼ cup applesauce
¼ cup coconut oil
3 T smooth peanut butter
3 T agave nectar, honey, or brown rice syrup
1 tsp. vanilla

oven: 325°
pan: 8” square pan lined with parchment (don’t skip the parchment!)

In a large bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (oats, fruit, nuts, coconut, seeds, & spices).

Over low heat, combine the coconut oil, peanut butter, & whichever sweetener you’re using—stir until melted.  Remove from heat, then add the applesauce & vanilla, whisking to combine.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until well-combined.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and press down firmly with your hands to even out the surface—you can also use the back of a smooth measuring cup or water glass.

Bake until golden brown around the edge, ~45 minutes.  Cool the bars completely in the pan (they’ll fall apart if you don’t).  Lift the bars out, using the parchment, and cut into squares with a serrated knife.

Store the energy bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator (mine have kept for over a week).  To take one with you, wrap well in wax paper or plastic wrap.

homemade energy bar - vegan, gluten free | Blue Jean Gourmet

MANGO-COCONUT MUFFINS

Despite my best efforts, some blog posts just end up becoming lists.  This is one of them.

mango coconut muffins | Blue Jean Gourmet

1.    Summer vacation is 21 days away BUT WHO’S COUNTING?  In all seriousness, I am more than a little sad at the thought of leaving behind this group of kids.  They will always have a special place in my heart, as they were the ones who have absorbed and witnessed my sometimes-very-fraught adjustment to motherhood.  I was very touched and honored when they voted me to give the faculty speech at their Eighth Grade Promotion.  Fingers crossed I manage to avoid being overly cheesy and actually say something meaningful.

2.    I can’t recommend this Psychology Today article about the modern phenomenon of a “wholly sanitized childhood” highly enough.

3.    There’s been a baby boom of late in my group of friends: 3 new little lives since the start of May, and more to come in June, July, & August!  So tremendous how those who are so small can change so much, and such a joy to support and cheer friends at the start of such adventures.

4.    I made this ice cream last week and seriously, if I hadn’t known that it was dairy-free, I never would have guessed.  Incredibly creamy and simple to make; I’m planning another batch, but with blackberries next time.

5.    Being thirty is starting to feel as awesome as I had hoped it would.  I am comfortable in my own skin, both physically and metaphorically, and have a much easier time deciding what matters to me and what doesn’t; though I still lead myself into temptation sometimes, I have much better access to that still, small voice that affirms “Yes, this way,” or detracts, “Girl, you know better than that!”  I am not as afraid to own up to my mistakes, and I am acutely aware of my own shortcomings.  I’m not busy trying (in vain) to plan out every detail of my life.  I am able to say Take me or leave me, but without the anger.  I’m not so damn defensive all the time.  I don’t feel like I have so much to prove.

6.    I made these muffins for Mother’s Day, or as is the case in our house, Mothers’ Day, and they were a big hit.  The day was very special for many reasons, but it was especially fun to be able to surprise Jill with this video.

MANGO-COCONUT MUFFINS
very slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

This is a moist, dense, not-very-sweet muffin that is a snap to make.  If you want something sweeter/more akin to cake, you can bump the sugar up a bit or make an easy frosting of powdered sugar & milk to drizzle on top.

mango coconut muffin | Blue Jean Gourmet
ingredients:

½ cup coconut oil
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat spelt or whole wheat flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt

1 cup full fat, plain yogurt—at room temperature
1 large egg—at room temperature
½ cup sugar (if using unsweetened coconut, you can cut this to 1/3 cup)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup unsweetened coconut, flaked or shredded

1 ½ cup fresh mango cubes

oven: 375°

Grease or line muffin cups-for me, this recipe yielded 1 dozen.

Heat the coconut oil in the microwave or a saucepan until it just melts.  If it gets too hot, wait for it to cool down before whisking in the room-temperature yogurt and egg, plus sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together dry ingredients.  Make a well in the center, pour in wet mixture, and stir gently to combine—don’t overmix!   Fold in half of the coconut and all of the mango.  Batter will be thick; if it seems too dry, add a splash of milk or coconut milk.

Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins and top each muffin with a five-fingered pinch of coconut.  Bake 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Cool muffin tins on racks until the tins are cool enough to handle, then remove the muffins from tins and place back on racks to cool completely.  Enjoy, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days.

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LEMON BLUEBERRY SCONES

What do you do when a complete stranger offers to donate wonderful, healthy breast milk for your son?  Apparently, what I do is bake scones.

I know this topic is going to freak some people out, but part of my commitment to this blog is to always tell the truth about whatever’s going on with me and in my life, and right now, breast milk is one of those things.  If you’re just here for scones, feel free to skip straight to the recipe.

You see—and most people don’t even know this is possible—I’m producing breast milk of my own.  It’s something we adoptive moms can sometimes do, with a little luck and a lot of work (Google “inducing lactation” if you’re curious about details), and I’ve been thrilled to have some success with it.  To be able to feed my son from my own body is an incredible feeling.

Still, like many moms, adoptive or not, I’m not making enough milk just yet, so we are supplementing with a little fancy organic formula and a LOT of donated breast milk.  Truly, it has been a dazzling wonder the way that women have offered up such a precious resource for our family.  In case you thought that such unconditional generosity didn’t exist anymore, I’m here to tell you that it does.

And since there’s no real repaying kindnesses like these, I just make scones instead, sneaking a few for myself because nursing makes a girl h-u-n-g-r-y!  Our little man will be a month old tomorrow, and it’s hard to imagine life before he came…not that I would want to.

LEMON BLUEBERRY SCONE RECIPE

(adapted from La Petite Brioche)

Blueberries are fat and delicious right now around these parts, and I hope you can get your hands on some luscious ones, too, and make this recipe, or just eat them out of hand.

Grating and the freezing the butter may seem weird, but it’s key—don’t skip that step.  If you don’t have a box grater, you can dice the butter instead.

ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour*
½ cup sugar
2 T lemon zest
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
½ cup unsalted butter, grated with a cheese grater and frozen for 10-15 minutes
¾ cup cold heavy cream or whole milk, plus a little extra for brushing the tops
turbinado/raw sugar for sprinkling the tops of the scones

oven: 400° F
pan: parchment-lined baking sheets

*I made my last batch with half white whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, and really liked the “tooth” the white whole-wheat flour added.

Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, & salt into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the zest and the frozen butter, breaking up any butter clumps.  Pour in the milk/heavy cream and fold until just incorporated, then add the blueberries and mix gently.  The scone mixture should be sticky, so add more liquid if needed.

Turn the mixture out onto a well-floured surface and sprinkle a bit more flour on top of the mound of scone dough.  Using your hands, gently press until the dough is a somewhat uniform thickness of 1”.  Fold the scone mixture in on itself in thirds, like a letter, pressing back out again to a thickness of 1”.

Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the scones into rough triangle shapes and lay them out, several inches apart, on the baking sheets.  Brush their tops with milk or cream and then sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake the scones for approximately 20 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Cool on racks before serving warm, with plenty of butter.

PEAR BREAD

Thanksgiving is a week away, folks!  Whoopity whoop whoop.

If you’re like me, you have approximately 8,473 things to do before Thanksgiving gets here.  But, you know what?  They will all get done.  They always do.  And the light at the end of the tunnel is turkey-shaped and my-mom-is-coming-into-town shaped and new-Muppets-movie-shaped.

We’ve got lots to be thankful for around here.  Including you, dear reader.

Should you be traveling in the next week, or hosting folks in your home, I highly recommend whipping up a loaf or two of this here pear bread.  It’s become a favorite of mine, similar to a favorite “oh the bananas are a bit too overripe” banana bread recipe, this one is simple but winds up being much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ll be back again before the holiday, as it’s time to post a new essay, but if I don’t catch you then, I wish you a very fine Thanksgiving—full stomachs and full hearts.

The Governor’s Inn Vermont Pear Bread
from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook

Conveniently enough, this bread keeps well in the refrigerator so it’s a good choice for making ahead of time.  I think it would travel well, too, as long as it were well chilled and wrapped in a few layers of foil.

Given that pears, walnuts, and blue cheese make a fine combination, I also want to try this recipe with the sugar cut in half and whole-wheat flour substituted for all or most of the all-purpose.  I think the result might make a nice addition to an after-dinner cheese plate.

ingredients:

9 T unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg (I tend to use a wee bit more)
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped pears (I used 2 very ripe D’Anjous)
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup chopped walnuts

oven – 350
pan—two loaf pans or one large tube pan

Cream the butter until light.  Slowly add the sugar, beating constantly.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition

Combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.  Add them to the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Fold in the pear and vanilla.  Pour into two lightly greased loaf pans or one large tube pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (loaf pans) or 1 hour (tube pan).  The original recipe calls for the bread to be cooled to room temperature and then chilled before eating, but I actually like the bread warm out of the oven.  It’s quite moist on its own, but a slather of pear or apple butter won’t hurt!

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