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.”
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.
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.
[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!
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.
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.
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.
Meet the Carroll/Mehra family Saturday morning pancakes.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
Despite my best efforts, some blog posts just end up becoming lists. This is one of them.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
You, like Jill, may be one of those people who is mystified by my love for this:
Yes, that’s right, I am a Von Trapper, a girl who counts Christopher Plummer among her first crushes, who knows every word to every song and squeals unabashedly when the camera first opens onto the Viennese countryside.
I can’t rightly say how many times I have seen “The Sound of Music,” but I do know that every time I go back to it, I discover something new. Like the first time I was old enough to understand that my beloved Captain Von Trapp wasn’t just a handsome military widower who could sing and dance BUT ALSO a radical who resisted the Anschluss and stood behind his political convictions.
Or the first time I realized I had outgrown any affection for the cheesy gazebo scene (“sixteen going on seventeen”) between Liesl and Rolf in favor of the cheesy gazebo scene (“must have done something good”) between Maria and the Captain. Or this most recent encounter, in which I decided that there was maybe something to this “favorite things” business after all.
Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things
Or my version:
Babies with Afros and top-shelf margaritas
Rothko and Rilke and freshly-made pitas
Baristas who flirt with a glint in their eyes
These are the things that help me get by
So I’m not meant to be a songwriter–the sentiment still holds. Perhaps it’s ridiculous, but I think that conjuring up the memory or thought of things you like best can actually be rather useful. Or you can actually conjure up some cinnamon rolls in real life.
Cinnamon rolls from scratch do not a quick breakfast make. Patience, grasshopper. They are SO worth it.
For the dough:
1 package yeast
¼ cup warmer-than-your-finger water
Pour the water into a large bowl, then sprinkle the yeast on top with a pinch of sugar. Let it stand for a few minutes—if it doesn’t foam, try, try again.
Now you’ll need these things:
¼ cup whole milk
2 T butter
Microwave them together for 30 seconds or until the butter is melting and it’s all warm (but not hot). Toss the warm dairy into the bowl with the yeast, then add the following:
3 ½-4 cups all-purpose flour, added 1 cup at a time
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. salt
I like to hand-mix but you can use a dough hook. Knead until springy but still soft (you may not use all of the flour). Don’t over-knead; you want a dough that’s loosely hanging together.
Butter the bowl you were just using & let the dough rise there for at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size (may take 1 ½ hours).
For the filling:
1 cup butter, completely softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 ½ T cinnamon
Whip all of the filling ingredients together with a fork or spoon until fluffy. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Spread the filling gently atop the dough, going out to the edges on all but one of the long sides. Leave a ½-inch border along that final edge so you have something to seal the roll with.
Roll the dough up into a log, starting with the edge opposite the border. When you get to the border, wet the dough a bit, then pull it up and over the log and press down to seal.
Line a jellyroll or spring form pan with parchment (cleanup is a nightmare if you skip this step, trust me). Using a serrated knife, cut the dough log into inch-thick rolls, placing them swirl side up in the pan. Don’t space them too closely together, as they will expand. Cover the pan with a damp towel and let the dough puff up again, about 30-45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325˚. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
While they’re baking, whip up a simple icing: a whole lot of powdered sugar thinned with a little bit of liquid. You can use just plain milk or milk + some kind of flavoring (orange juice, vanilla, almond extract, etc.)
Once the rolls have cooled slightly, drizzle them generously with the icing.
Sharing is good. Despite what people always claim about only children, my mother contends that I was always eager to share. Perhaps because I was so accustomed to playing alone, except when I conscripted one of my parents to take part in my favorite game—restaurant. Prescient, no?
In any case, I fancy myself a sharer. I like to share books and music and hugs (but not half-hugs) and food and information, of which I sometimes share too much. I’m going to grow up to become one of those old women who sidle up to you with a Southern accent and over-share treacherous details about their medical problems, aren’t I? And then proceeds to the buffet, where she shoves rolls into her giant handbag for later?
In the meantime, allow me to share with you two new websites I’m mildly obsessed with slash grateful for the existence of:
1001 Rules for my Unborn Son
Spot-on, modern gentlemanly voice offering advice that my fourteen-year-old male students (who are a tough crowd to please) respect. Author Walker Lamond has recently published a book of all one thousand and one rules, but the website counts up from #1 and is currently at #406.
402. If you aren’t hungry enough to eat an apple, you’re not hungry.
383. Framing a poster does not make it valuable.
318. Don’t gloat. A good friend will do it for you.
241. Keep a well-stocked bar. (This last one works for daughters, too!)
The unborn son to whom the title refers is actually no longer unborn, as he came into the world shortly after the completion of the book. Go spend your lunch break perusing this site; you’ll be touched and amused, I think.
And the Pursuit of Happiness
Artist and journalist Maira Kalman is proving that the internet can, in fact, be used tell beautiful stories. Using mixed media for each entry, she narrates her personal exploration of an issue that, by the end, becomes magically relevant to us all.
Kalman manages to strike just the right tone, making herself into an Everyman, even though her talent clearly says otherwise. Each time I experience her work, I learn something and I come away more hopeful than I arrived.
Of course, I’d like to share a recipe with you, too. I tweeted about these muffins a few weeks ago and one of my followers (angeltread) requested that I post the recipe. Since I was winging it the first time, I did a second run, got Sonya to take some pictures, and actually wrote down what went in them. It helps, I know.
Given the deliciousness of apples at this time, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to make these. They give your kitchen that warm, fuzzy, happy autumn smell, too. And have a streusel topping—did I mention that?
I know ya’ll have good stuff to share, too. Other great website recommendations? Exciting news? Book suggestions? Celebrity gossip? Dancing baby videos?
APPLE-SOUR CREAM MUFFINS
makes 12-16 muffins
I know, you’re thinking, sour cream, whaaaat? Trust me, though. Keeps things nice and moist but also prevents the muffins from being too sweet. It’s a muffin, not a cupcake. There should be a difference!
For the version pictured here, I used Empire apples, which I love and had on hand, but I think this recipe would work equally well with Jonagold, Cortlandt, or Golden Delicious apples.
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup sour cream
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
2 small apples, peeled & diced
1 cup pecans or walnuts, toasted & chopped
2 T brown sugar
1 ½ T unsalted butter, softened a bit
1 T flour
¼ tsp. each cinnamon, allspice, & nutmeg
pan: lined or well-greased muffin tin
Preheat oven. Stir together dry ingredients and set aside.
Whisk the eggs and brown sugar together before adding the butter. Stir in the sour cream. Fold in the dry ingredients, then stir in apple pieces & nuts. Be careful not to over-mix!
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups so that each cup is three-quarters full. Combine the streusel ingredients in a small bowl, mixing with your fingers to break up the butter into small bits.
Sprinkle a generous amount of streusel on top of each muffin before baking, 18-20 minutes. Cool on a rack before removing the muffins. Enjoy warm or store in an airtight container (though I’d recommend refrigerating these after a day).
I confess: I have been selfish too long. I have kept these adorable dog pictures all to myself, but fear not! Today I rectify my mistake.
Behold, our Peanut Butter Dog Treat Giveaway winners:
That’s Ares, Christy‘s sweet puppy!
and Maple! Both Canadian pups who live with Cheryl of the Backseat Gourmet.
I’m very pleased to report that all three recipient pups very much enjoyed their treats and strongly encourage you to make some for the beloved canine(s) in your life.
Now onto people food! This one could actually easily be part of the Summer Classics Series, because hey? What’s more summery & classic than an baked good with blueberries in it?
The thing is, though, and one of the reasons I LOVE THIS RECIPE is that it tastes just as good with frozen berries. Yup, true story. Especially if you buy lots of blueberries now, when they are cheap & delicious, freeze ‘em yourself, and use them all the winter long for smoothies, jam, & well, this.
It’s got a funny name, too, right? According to Cook’s Country magazine, the original recipe dates back to 1954, when fifteen-year-old Adrienne Powell submitted it to a Pillsbury Baking Contest. She won second place and ostensibly man suitors, since the recipe is named for its effectiveness in capturing teenage boys’ attention.
Dare I suggest that its swoon-inducing effects are not, in fact, limited to the teenage boy variety? I say, whomever you may be trying to bait, this may be the way to do it.
I consider this one of my ”go-to” recipes for when I need to bake something big & comforting on short notice. It’s been handed over to friends who had a baby, friends who lost a baby, a colleague who lost a parent, new neighbors who moved in down the street.
Eat it as breakfast or as dessert, or (my favorite) as an afternoon snack with tea. I guarantee it tastes better than any blueberry muffin you’ve ever had, and so easy to make. Blueberry Boy Bait…getting the job done since 1954.
BLUEBERRY BOY BAIT
If you’re using frozen berries, don’t thaw them first or their color will bleed unappetizingly into the cake.
for the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup blueberries
1 tsp. flour, for the berries
pan: 13 x 9 inch, greased & floured
Whisk the first 3 ingredients together & set aside. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter & sugars together on high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until just incorporated.
Reduce the speed to medium & alternately add the wet (milk) and dry (flour mixture) ingredients:
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
a third of the flour mixture
half of the milk
last third of the flour mixture
Don’t worry about exact amounts, the point is to alternate, producing a much smoother batter than if you added everything at once.
Toss the blueberries with the teaspoon of flour before folding them into the batter—this will help keep them from all sinking to the bottom of the cake. Spread the batter into baking pan.
for the topping:
½ cup blueberries
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon (I often use a whole teaspoon because I am a cinnamon freak)
Scatter the blueberries on top of the batter. Combine the cinnamon & sugar and sprinkle that on top of everything else. Inhale. Mmm, cinnamon sugar. Smells good now, will smell even BETTER during & after baking. Get excited.
Bake until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake, approximately 45-55 minutes. Cool in the pan before serving up the thick squares. Stores well in an airtight container for the better part of a week!