RASPBERRY CRUMBLE BARS

Dear Class of 2015,

Graduating from high school is like having a baby in at least this one way; you get a lot of unsolicited advice. And in both cases, you figure out whom to listen to and whom to ignore—just like you learn in writing workshop who “gets” your voice and who doesn’t.

The thing is, I know you all well enough to know that you don’t need really need advice from anybody. You are some of the most thoughtful, reflective human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing; you have plenty of sound advice of your own to give. So instead, I’d like to share some of the lessons that I have learned from each of you. You know how you always hear teachers say, “My students teach me”? I thought I knew what that felt like, but our time together this year has blown all prior knowledge out of the water. Not only has this been my most meaningful year of teaching, it’s also been one of the most personally and professionally rewarding periods of my life. This, I have no doubt, is because of you.

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Over the last nine months, you have reminded me what real vulnerability and risk-taking look like; you have inspired me to pour myself out onto the page, to do the very thing I asked you to do—step outside your comfort zone. Your willingness to tackle whatever assignments I threw your way, even in the midst of college applications and living full, vibrant teenage lives, pushed me to bring a matching level of integrity to class and to my writing. Your trust, enthusiasm, and warmth have brightened each & every day.

The greatest gift of all, though, is the way you have allowed me to see you—to see the way you struggle with families, with relationships, with illness, with disappointment. I am so moved by the scars you’ve shared: the missteps and misjudgments that you transformed into opportunities to choose the person you want to be. I have seen your indefatigable hard work, your dogged determination to grow as writers and people, your resilience in the face of life’s bullshit and people who judge without truly seeing. I have seen you care for each other so gently, and I have witnessed the deep love you share, the way you know the shape of each other’s hearts.

You won’t be surprised by this, but I’m going to break my own rule and give you some unsolicited advice anyway:

1) Trust what you know to be true about yourself, but don’t limit yourself based on an old idea of who you are. We are all constantly inventing and reinventing ourselves; give yourself room to be surprised by your own capacities, passions, and interests.

2) Find out from upperclassmen who the good professors are—the passionate ones, not the easy ones—and take their classes.

3) Don’t shy away from hard things or difficult feelings; you are built stronger than you know.

4) Figure out the difference between feeling lonely and being alone.

5) Last but not least, remember that the trick of your early twenties is to acquire the kinds of stories you’ll want to tell your children, students, nieces, & nephews someday, not the kind of stories you’ll have to explain on a job application.

Thank you for the pleasure of being your teacher. I am so unspeakably proud of you, and I love you very much.

RASPBERRY CRUMBLE BARS
adapted from here & here

In one of Shiv’s current favorite books, The Hello, Goodbye Window, there is a line that reads “You can be happy and sad at the same time, you know. It just happens that way sometimes.” And since these bars are a little bit tart & a little bit sweet, I thought they were just the right fit for this bittersweet occasion.
raspberry crumble bars | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the crust:
1 cup AP flour
½ cup almond meal
pinch salt
10 T butter, soft

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine all ingredients with your fingers, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients. Dump the mixture into the baking pan and press into an even layer with floured fingers. Freeze for 15 minutes; bake for another 15 minutes; cool slightly.

for the filling:
12 oz. raspberries (~1 pint)
1/3 – ¼ cup sugar, depending on your preference
juice & zest of 1 lemon
2 T flour

Fold all ingredients together with a spatula and allow the mixture to sit while you make the crumble topping.

for the crumble:
1/3 cup flour
¼ cup oats
¼ cup chopped almonds
3 T brown sugar
3 T butter, soft
pinch salt

Once again, mix all ingredients together with your fingers until, well, crumbly. Gently spread the raspberry mixture on top of the pre-baked crust, then dot with clumps of the crumble topping. Bake the whole thing for another 20-25 minutes.
Cool the bars as much as possible before you attempt to slice them—ideally, you would cool completely, but we both know that’s not realistic. If you’re willing to have more of a falling-apart-bar, these are delicious warm and I’m sure they would do well topped with ice cream. But since you’ll need to store them in an airtight container in the fridge anyway, I recommend eating at least one cold with a large glass of milk.

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OF APPLES & ATONEMENT

I swear I have been writing, y’all, just not around here.

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Here are two new pieces, if you’re interested in checking them out:

Ritual, Love and Community: A 21st Century Family’s Mundan Ceremony [The Aerogram]

My Non-Christian Best Friend [Christianity Today’s Her.Meneutics Page]

I have also been thinking about atonement: ‘tis the season.  Because both Hinduism and Judaism use a modified lunar calendar, our holidays tend to align, which is how I found myself at school last week, fasting for my holiday (Navratri) on the same day that our school community prepared for the observance of Yom Kippur, also a fasting holiday.

If you didn’t grow up inside of a tradition that includes fasting, the practice may well seem strange, absurd, and out-dated.  And I get that; it’s an odd thing, in this very comfortable, twenty-first century life full of glossy magazines and hyper-documented eating, to tell someone that you’re not eating, on purpose, for no other reason than that your ancient religious tradition tells you to.

Of course, that’s not actually the only reason.  All of us, even the most devout among us, pick and choose our practice to some extent; I mean, I eat beef but I still call myself a Hindu.  Why fast, then, when it is so inconvenient, so disruptive, so uncomfortable?

Because that’s exactly what I need: interruption, inconvenience, to spend a little time feeling uncomfortable.  Not only is it a reminder of what a terrible luxury it is to be able to abstain from food out of choice (and not due to, say, lack of access or money), but also it is a reminder of my very human, human nature.  I am greedy, vain, and proud; I spend most days walking around the world as a bundle of wants, fulfilling one desire after the next.  All too often, I let my body lead, making choices that satisfy in the moment, but not long term.  I forget to care for my other components: body, mind, heart.  More importantly, and more damagingly, I fail to minister to those components in others.

That is why I fast—as a reminder.  Of my own frailty, my own failings, not to wallow in guilt and regret but to renew my desire to do better, to stay focused, to live with intention.  And, as always, to never take for granted the astounding grace that allows me to live this life, for whatever time I may have.

Last week, as I stood around inside a period of reflection and abstention, and my Jewish students and colleagues prepared to enter the same space, we joined together in the Avinu Malkeinu, the traditional Hebrew prayer of repentance.  But instead of reciting the words, our Head of School invited us to stand, close our eyes, and sing out just the melody, a capella, as a congregation.

It was one of those moments that the description of which will never do justice—an accumulation of meaning and feeling , a palpable presence of the sacred—it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

That same day, before I broke my fast with my family, we sang our traditional hymns in Sanskrit, words that Shiv is beginning to try and mimic, the ones that I hope will help build his sense of the sacred.  And when he is old enough—eleven or twelve, say—I hope that he will choose to fast along with me, to make time for the inconvenient and the uncomfortable, and the gifts that they bring.

APPLE RECIPES

Blue Jean Gourmet | a round-up of apple recipes

I was ready for apples.  After my annual voluptuous romp with summertime fruit, I find myself wanting a bit more restraint, a bit of regularity, some dependable but not overwhelming sweetness.  Enter: apple season.  Apples are delicious, relatively cheap, and travel well in the bottom of my purse, the latter of which is basically my #1 criteria for snackability.  If among fall taste preferences, there’s an apple camp and a pumpkin camp, I am firmly in the apple camp.  APPLES FOREVER.

Also turns out that I love making things with apples, too.  Behold this whole host of recipes from the archives:

homemade applesauce

apple-baked oatmeal

apple-pear crostada

apple tart

apple-sour cream muffins

(apple) cider sidecars 

Plus, these bonus recipes from around the internet that I made & enjoyed but failed to photograph:

chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake with apples [Food 52]

Teddie’s apple cake, as adapted by my friend Jess* [Sweet Amandine]

*I have made this several times, most recently for Rosh Hashanah a few weeks ago, and it takes well to a little futzing.  This last time, I swapped the cinnamon for ground cardamom, stirred in some rum along with the vanilla, and played with the flours—a little buckwheat did something really nice to the already nutty flavor.  The cake was equally good as dessert, with some whipped cream, as it was for breakfast, with a smear of cream cheese or apple butter.

Do you have a favorite, go-to apple recipe?  Please share it!  I plan to be baking apple things for many more months to come.

PEACH-BLACKBERRY COBBLER

We took the boy berry-picking.

berryland & the farm
Well, he didn’t do all that much picking himself—that was my job.  Mostly, he crawled around the beautiful property while his nani (my mom) chased after him.  We all had a big ole time, and came home with lots and lots of lovely, luscious blackberries, blueberries, and peaches.

Since then, we have eaten much of the fruit straight-out-of-hand; the boy has discovered the goodness that is Texas peaches, and he is hooked.  I’ve also made blueberry cake to take to friends, put some lemon-blueberry scones in the freezer for this weekend’s brunch guests, and served up peach & blackberry cobbler below for family dinner.

peach-blackberry cobbler
If anything survives into next week, there may be jam or ice cream…if I were disciplined enough, I would freeze some of this summer goodness to enjoy in the depths of winter, but…I guess I’m a bit too instant-gratification oriented when it comes to my summer fruit.  Here are some of my favorite berry & peach recipes, including those listed above:

Berry-Champagne Granita
Berry Slump
Blackberry Upside-Down Cake
Blueberry Boy Bait
Lemon-Blueberry Scones
Peach Ice Cream
Peach Margaritas
Peach-Mascarpone Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Raspberry Clafouti

I hope you are enjoying the bounty of summer wherever you are!

berry picking

PEACH & BLACKBERRY COBBLER
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

for the filling:

2 lb. ripe peaches
½ lb. ripe blackberries
¼ cup + 2 T sugar
juice from half a lemon
1 tsp. potato starch or cornstarch
pinch of salt

oven: 425°
pan: 8” square glass baking dish

I find it easiest to halve the peaches and pit them before peeling, but proceed in any order you see fit!  Peel the peaches, using a sharp knife if they are too soft to stand up to a vegetable peeler, and slice into pieces of medium thickness (about 8 slices per peach).  Toss the peaches, blackberries, sugar, & lemon juice together and let sit for 15-30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fruit and transfer to the baking dish.  There should be some liquid left behind—take ¼ cup of it and whisk in the cornstarch.  Pour that mixture over the fruit, and bake, un-topped, for about 8-10 minutes, or until you begin to see bubbling around the edges of the pan.

While the fruit is cooking, make the cobbler dough.

peach-blackberry cobbler | Blue Jean Gourmet

for the cobbler topping:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus a bit more if needed
1/3 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt, thinned with buttermilk to total ½ cup
5 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 T sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt

for garnish: a bit of extra milk or buttermilk, Demerarra or plain sugar

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl.  Using a pastry cutter (ideally) or a fork, work the butter into the dry ingredients until it resembles pebbly sand.  Very gently, fold in the yogurt/buttermilk mixture and mix to form a very soft dough.   Divide the dough into 5-6 biscuit-sized clumps (they should be craggy and imperfect!)

Once the fruit is ready, remove the baking dish from the oven and scatter the cobbler pieces on top.  Leave room between the dough pieces so their edges will bake up crusty and golden brown!

Brush the dough with a bit of buttermilk, and sprinkle sugar on top of each piece.  Bake in the oven until the biscuit topping is golden, 15-20 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and serve warm, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

peach-blackberry cobbler | Blue Jean Gourmet

GUEST POST: STRAWBERRY CUPCAKES

On this Valentine’s Day, I’m so excited to share a guest post from my friend Tami.  She and I attended the same high school in Memphis, and I’ve always admired her sense of humor, willingness to speak her mind, and entrepreneurial spirit.  Plus, her strawberry cupcake recipe is a winner; I tested it this weekend and, for someone who doesn’t normally even like strawberry cake, managed to eat two cupcakes by myself.  When I took the leftovers to work (to prevent myself from eating them ALL), they promptly disappeared and my colleagues raved.  Thanks, Tami! –Nishta

strawberry cupcakes | Blue Jean Gourmet

Having spent the majority of my life in the South, I understand the importance of a good strawberry cake recipe. This caused much stress as I worked on perfecting my recipes for TamiCakes. In my mind, every strawberry cupcake or cake should taste as good as the slices of strawberry cake that I would devour at Bogie’s Deli on Mendenhall as an after school snack in high school. If I couldn’t get the same joy from eating my own strawberry cake as I did whenever I visited home, then the recipe was no good.

For months, I could not find a good recipe. I tried frozen strawberries, strawberry jello, strawberry yogurt, strawberry jam, and nothing worked. Whenever someone would order the Mia X (named for the first lady of No-Limit Records, a Southern music powerhouse during my teenage years), I would cringe, because I did not look forward to the outcome. Eventually, I unofficially removed the Mia X from my menu while I worked out the recipe.

One day while browsing through recipes online, I came across this recipe. The recipe called for frozen strawberries, but I switched it up to fresh strawberries. Fresh is always better in my mind. I also cook the strawberries on the stove and then puree the in the food processor, versus just pureeing them in the food processor without cooking them. The flavor, to me, is much better with these alterations. I top the cupcakes with my cream cheese icing instead of strawberry icing. I love strawberry on strawberry, but using cream cheese allows you to savor the flavor of the cake.

For me, this is a perfect strawberry cupcake recipe. A lot of strawberry cake recipes don’t translate well to cupcakes, but this makes the most delicious little bites. They’re even good enough to sit on top of the Bogie’s lunch counter.

STRAWBERRY CUPCAKES WITH CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Yields 18-24 cupcakes

Note: This recipe yielded only 16 cupcakes for me, but I used large muffin tins and filled them quite full.  Since I didn’t have any red food coloring on hand, the cupcakes you see here are more of a pale pink.  And finally, my piping skills are not what Tami’s are; despite my inability to make these cupcakes look fancy, they still tasted fabulous!

for the cake:

2 ¼ cups cake flour

1 ½ cups granulated white sugar

2 ¾  tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened

¾ cup pureed strawberries (from approximately 1 lb. strawberries)

4 large egg whites

1/3 cup milk

4 -5 drops of red food coloring (optional)

for the frosting:

1 package cream cheese, softened

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 tsp. vanilla

2-3 cups confectioner’s sugar (I prefer two cups, since I’m not a fan of super-sweet icing)

strawberry cupcakes | Blue Jean Gourmet

directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners.
2. Dice strawberries and place in skillet, covered with water.
3. Place over medium heat and bring to boil.
4. Reduce heat and allow mixture to simmer for about 3 – 4 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and strain. Reserve juice for another use.
6. Puree cooked strawberries in food processor, set aside.
7. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; set aside.
8. In an electric mixer, blend butter with strawberry puree.
9. Add flour mixture and blend until light and fluffy.
10. In another bowl, whisk together egg whites, milk and food coloring.
11. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and blend until completely mixed.
12. Fill cupcake liners with 1-inch ice cream scoop.
13. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
14. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat cream cheese and butter together until combined.  Add the vanilla, then beat in the powdered sugar gradually, pausing to taste as you go until your desired level of sweetness has been reached.

Tami

Tami Sawyer is 30, single & loves to bake.  TamiCakes is an entrepreneurial foray into her love of baking, which was passed on to her by her Mom & Granny. She resides in the District of Columbia where she maintains an active social & professional life and still finds time for cupcakes!

HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE

YOU GUYS.  Thanksgiving is next week.  When the hell did that happen?

Seriously, I swear the holiday has snuck up on me this year (you too, perhaps?), but this is kind of a good thing.  It means, much like having only sixteen days notice to get ready for a baby, that I can’t overcomplicate things too much.  I can not plan my many plans.  I can’t over-think and re-think the menu, making things less fun and more fussy.  I can’t go overboard.

I know that “overboard” is normally what Thanksgiving is about, but this year I’m aiming for right at or above board instead.  I’ve got a turkey in the freezer, and I plan to try brining him (a first) before letting Jill roast him (she’s the expert in our house).  I’ve made the cranberry sauce you see here, and my mom and I are both craving pecan pie, so that’s on the docket.

Jill will probably whip up some of her famous deviled eggs, and I loved my friend Rebecca’s grandmother’s dinner rolls so much last year that I think I will have to make them again.  Mom makes a killer vegetarian dressing.  Throw in a couple of vegetables—butternut squash?  green beans?  beets? (I’m totally open to suggestions here)—and I think we will call it a day.

This year, I’m leaving the perfectly coordinated, picture-perfect, show-stopping Thanksgiving to someone else.   And for that, I feel truly grateful.

HOMEMADE CRANBERRY SAUCE

This cranberry sauce has the texture of a loose jelly and a very bright, sweet-tart cranberry flavor.  It’s dead simple to make and is a lovely addition to the Thanksgiving meal as well as to leftover turkey sandwiches (especially when paired with mayonnaise!).

I use port in my sauce, but you can substitute red wine, or even water.  Keeps very well in the fridge, so it’s great for making ahead of time.

ingredients:

1 (12 oz) bag cranberries
zest of 1 navel orange
juice from half of the orange (approximately 1/8 cup)
¾ cup water
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup port*

Combine all ingredients in a deep saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring regularly.  As the sauce cooks, the cranberries will burst and break down, so I like to keep a lid partially covering the pan, to prevent splatter.

The sauce is ready when it has reduced by almost half and is quite thick in texture, sticking a little as it pulls away from the side of the saucepan while you stir.  Cool completely, then refrigerate before serving.

*If you’re feeling boozy, you can bump this amount up to ½ cup & drop the water down to ½ cup.  Any proportion will work as long as you end up with 1 cup of liquid total, plus the orange juice.

Along with cranberry sauce, here are some other ideas for your Thanksgiving table:

Bread

the aforementioned Grandma Nettie’s dinner rolls
sweet potato biscuits
cracked wheat rolls

Starters

deviled eggs
mushroom bruschetta
saffron/cauliflower soup

Sides

braised fennel with Meyer lemon & Parmesan
butternut squash risotto
stir-fried sweet potatoes with sage & brown butter


Dessert

apple-pear crostada
McIntosh apple tart
poached pears with pomegranate

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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.

RASPBERRY CLAFOUTI

Things I have discovered since my last post:

1)   People really love giving unsolicited parenting advice.

2)   People also really love to give baby girl clothes; between hand-me-downs and gifts, I don’t think we will need to buy this kiddo a stitch of clothing until she’s fifteen.

3)   From our immediate friends and family to online acquaintances to perfect strangers, people have been more generous and genuinely happy for us than I would have imagined possible.  It’s humbling, thrilling, and overwhelming in the best way.

4)   Adoption is a much bigger story than just mine and Jill’s part.  For our birth mother, this will be the hardest thing she’s ever done—and there’s no guarantee she will be able to do it.  We understand that, we are willing to take that risk, and we respect her desire to give her baby a different kind of life than the one she can provide.  She is one of the bravest people we have ever met, and we love her.

5)   Installing a car seat correctly is slightly more complicated than one might have guessed.

We are figuring out how to exist in this strange, thrilling limbo; following powerful flashes of productivity and thanks to our wonderful community, the nursery is almost done and essential “baby stuff” has been acquired.  As eager as we are, I keep trying to remember that liminal space is often the most fruitful—even as it is also the most frustrating.

 

RASPBERRY CLAFOUTI

(my mom sent me this raspberry clafouti recipe years ago–I believe she got it from the NPR website)

Jill and I are definitely in the “it takes a village” camp when it comes to our child-rearing philosophy; we were both raised by villages and feel incredibly blessed to have a fine village of our own who are eager to welcome little Peanut along with us.

One of our “chief villagers” is Jill’s best friend Bonnie.  She’s one of the sanest, funniest, and most competent people I know and we are so lucky to have her in our lives!  She came over the other night to check out our progress on the nursery (and spoil us with even more gifts), so I made this dessert in her honor because she l-o-v-e-s raspberries.

In addition to being the most fun word to say perhaps ever (clafouti!  clafouti!  clafouti!), this dessert is like the more sophisticated, French cousin of this blackberry upside down cake.  Instead of a cake batter, you make a custard to pour over the raspberries, resulting in an airy, silky mouthful that perfectly complements the delicate texture of the raspberries.  Bonnie went back for seconds.

ingredients:

1 pint fresh raspberries, rinsed and patted dry

½ vanilla bean

¾ cup whole milk

¾ cup heavy cream

3 eggs

½ cup sugar, plus a bit more for dusting

½ cup all-purpose flour

pinch salt

1 T vanilla or almond extract*

confectioner’s sugar (optional), to garnish

* the original recipe calls for framboise, or raspberry liquor, but I didn’t have any on hand

oven: 375°

Butter a deep, 9-inch pie pan and coat it with granulated sugar (I think I may actually use a 9-inch square pan next time, as my pie pan was quite full when I slid it into the oven).  Shake out any excess sugar, then scatter the berries in the bottom of the pan.  Place the pan on top of a baking sheet to catch any spills.

Pour the cream and heat into a saucepan, then split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds in, tossing in the whole pod as well.  Heat over medium-high until small bubbles just begin to form, then remove from the heat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs while slowly adding in the sugar.  Continue to beat the eggs on medium until thick and pale—this will take approximately 2 minutes.  Sift the flour and salt together, then add them to the egg mixture in four batches while beating on low speed.

Slowly pour the milk mixture through a sieve (to catch the vanilla bean), then drizzle into the egg & flour mixture while beating at low speed.  Finally, stir in the extract or liqueur of our choice and pour the custard into the pie pan, topping the berries.

Bake the clafouti in the middle of the oven for 30-35 minutes or until puffy, browned, and set in the center.  Dust with confectioner’s sugar, cut into wedges, and serve warm (we also served it with whipped cream).

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CHERRY PISTACHIO COOKIES

Let me see if I can cover the bases here in quick succession: spring (it’s here), Passover and Easter (coming soon to a calendar near you), blossoms (daffodil, azalea, tulip, & the like), asparagus (served up in accordance with the season at an event we attended last night), mosquitoes (out in full force, damn them), cold-brew iced coffee (the first batch of which I made this week), and annual viewings of The Sound of Music and The Ten Commandments (both have become tradition in this house).

There you have it, my early April in a nutshell.  And as of 4:00 pm on Thursday, you can add a long-awaited spring break to that list!

I’ve got nothing particularly fancy planned for the days ahead: oil change, dentist appointment, house cleaning & organizing, cooking, reading, writing, and meeting a friend’s new baby boy.  It doesn’t seem like much until I stop and think about what we were doing this time last year.  To get up every morning and not have to think about cancer?  That’s a downright luxury, and I intend to enjoy it.

CHERRY PISTACHIO COOKIES

For those of you in need of a Passover-friendly sweet, allow me to suggest these elegant and easy-to-make-ahead amaretti cookies.  And regardless of your observance/affiliation, EVERYONE should make matzo toffee at least once.  Just know that you’re probably going to eat it all in one sitting.

These cookies were inspired by my mama, who loves loves loves pistachios.  This dough is very simple; for a classic shortbread and more crumbly texture, omit the egg.  I like to think of this dough as a kind of “secret weapon” since a log of it freezes beautifully, rolled in wax paper and then foil.  Whenever you have company or want to make a gift of some baked goods, you can slice and bake straight from the freezer.

ingredients:

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
½ cup shelled & unsalted pistachios, chopped
½ cup dried cherries, chopped
zest of 1 orange or lemon
¼ tsp. salt

optional: coarse sugar for finishing the cookies

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter, sugar, & zest together on medium high for 2-3 minutes.  Reduce the speed and add the egg, then the flour and salt until the mixture just comes together.  Stir in the cherries and pistachios.

Divide the dough in half, rolling each section into a log about an inch in diameter.  Roll in plastic wrap, then chill at least an hour before baking, or freeze for later use.

When ready to bake, line two baking sheets with parchment and preheat your oven to 350°.  Slice your dough into pieces about ¼ inch thick, rolling the edges of each piece in a bowl of coarse sugar before placing about an inch apart on a baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes (longer if your dough has come straight from the fridge), or until the cookies are golden brown around the edges.  Transfer the parchment sheets to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before storing in an airtight container at room temperature.

PS—These are especially delicious with a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

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SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT WITH FRUIT & SEEDS

Today’s recipe is short, simple, and perfect for a weekend brunch/breakfast.  It’s inspired by shrikhand, a Gujrati dessert that holds a special place in the memory file of my childhood.  My version is not really a dessert, as it’s barely sweetened, but more like a variation on a fruit salad.  We’ve served it a few times to friends, and they’ve raved; the best part is that you can prepare the components ahead of time, then let everyone assemble their own bowl when it’s time to eat.

I make my own yogurt to use here, but you don’t have to.  If you are interested in learning how to make your own yogurt, I highly encourage you to give it a whirl.  You do NOT need a “yogurt maker,” just milk, a yogurt “starter,” and basic kitchen equipment.  After a few hit-or-miss tries, you will easily get the hang of the timing/temperature business and be thrilled to discover that your homemade yogurt is more delicious and a whole heck of a lot cheaper than the store-bought variety.

There are tons of recipes and methods out there, some way more complicated than they need to be if you ask me—then again, I learned using the “finger test” (as opposed to a thermometer) and the descendant of a yogurt culture my mom smuggled from India some twenty years ago.  This post from The Kitchn breaks down the yogurt-making process quite simply, and pretty well parallels what I do, just with more precision.  No matter what method you try, be sure to use at least 2% milk to achieve a thick texture.

I’ve been making homemade yogurt consistently the last few years—I got Jill hooked (she loves hers in a big bowl with two smushed up bananas), and eat some myself almost every day.  I also love using yogurt in baked goods and smoothies, and we use thick, strained yogurt in place of sour cream and don’t even miss the latter.

But that’s enough yogurt proselytizing for one night. I hope everyone is doing well as we come upon mid-March (when the heck did that happen?).  Sunday I leave for Washington, D.C. with 60 eighth graders and five fellow chaperones; please pray for us.  I’ve got a special guest post lined up while I’m away!

SAFFRON-CARDAMOM YOGURT

Note: “hanging” or draining the whey from the yogurt will considerably reduce its volume, so take into consideration when planning how much to serve.  I find that planning on ½ cup of yogurt (pre-drained) per person is about right.

ingredients:

2 cups whole-milk or 2% yogurt
2 T honey—feel free to bump up if you’d like your yogurt sweeter
½ to 1 tsp. ground cardamom—I like I lot, but then again, I’m brown
pinch saffron threads

assorted fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice: apple, strawberry, blueberry, orange segments, banana, mango, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sliced almonds,  etc.

The day before you plan to serve the yogurt, line a colander with a cheesecloth and measure the yogurt into it.  Gently gather the cheesecloth around the yogurt to form a ball, tying or rubber-banding the excess cloth at the top.  If you can, hang the cheesecloth bundle from your kitchen sink faucet, letting the whey from the yogurt drain out and through the colander—you can also just let the bundle sit in the colander, lifting and applying pressure occasionally.

(I like to place a bowl underneath the colander, saving the whey for all kinds of uses!)

Allow the yogurt to drain for at least one hour, longer if you want a thicker product, as I do when making a sour cream substitute.  Turn the thickened yogurt into a plastic storage container.

In a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan, heat the honey until it is quite runny and warm.  Sprinkle the saffron threads onto the honey, stirring well.  Let the honey mixture cool, then fold into the yogurt.  Mix in the cardamom as well, then refrigerate the yogurt overnight.

The next day, you’ll see the saffron threads “bleeding” their color and flavor into the container of yogurt.  Stir thoroughly before serving with the fruit, seeds, and/or nuts of your choice.

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CHERRY-CRANBERRY HAMANTASCHEN

If you know me or you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know at least one of the following things about me:

a)    I was a religious studies major in college (this is also how I met Jill).
b)    I was raised Hindu, but attended an Episcopal school for twelve years.
c)    I remain a practicing Hindu, and have taught at a Jewish school for the last five years.

The end result of all of this is that I find myself open to and appreciative of the religious traditions of others—I like hearing and learning about how others practice, observe, and ritualize—and I believe that, even if a tradition is not my own, it can bring value to my life.

Which is why I’m blogging about hamantaschen.

These cookies are traditionally made to celebrate the holiday of Purim which commemorates the heroism of Queen Esther, who foiled the evil Haman and saved the Jewish people in her husband’s kingdom from being killed.  Hamantaschen are always triangular, supposedly to resemble the three-cornered hat that Haman wore.  As a Jewish friend & colleague put it, “Haman is just so evil.  We must eat his hat.”

CHERRY-CRANBERRY HAMANTASCHEN
adapted from Epicurious

Fun fact: Hinduism & Judaism both operate on a modified lunar calendar, allowing holidays to stay in the same season of the year (spring, fall, etc.) while shifting exact date.  This shared calendar often results in shared holidays or neighboring celebrations, and this year the Hindu holiday of Holi, which is a bit raucous, a cause for the blurring of societal norms (in the form of throwing colored pigment at each other) and celebrates the springtime, falls on the same day as Purim, which is also a bit raucous, a cause for the blurring of societal norms (in the form of outlandish costumes), and celebrates a brave woman.  Best of all, both religions know how to celebrate with food.

My hamantaschen recipe calls for dried cherries & cranberries, but more traditional fillings are apricot, prune, and poppy seed.  And chocolate-filled hamantaschen are most popular with the kiddos!

for the dough:

2/3 cup butter or margarine
½ cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk
½ tsp. vanilla
2 ½ – 3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch salt

You can make the dough in the food processor, a stand mixer, or by hand.  Cream the butter and sugar, adding the egg & egg yolk and mixing until smooth.  Add the dry ingredients and process until a ball of dough forms (you may need to add a sprinkling of water).

Cover the dough and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.

for the filling:

1 cup dried cherries
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup walnuts
1 green apple: peeled, seeded, & chopped
½ cup water
juice of 1 lemon or ½ orange, plus zest (optional)
4 T sugar

Simmer the dried fruit, water, fruit juice/zest, & sugar in a covered medium saucepan for 10-15 minutes.  Fruit should be soft but still firm, and liquid should have reduced considerably.  Move off the heat, keep covered, and let the reconstituted fruit cool a bit.

Process the dried fruit mixture, chopped apple, & walnuts in a food processor until the mixture is spreadable.

Once the dough is ready, flour a work surface and roll about a quarter of the dough out at a time, to 1/8” thickness.  Use a biscuit cutter or water glass to cut the dough into circles with an approximately 2-inch diameter.  Drop 1 tsp. of the filling into the center of each circle, then dip your finger in cool water and run it around the edges of each circle.

Gather the dough toward the center, pinching together in three corners to form a triangle.  Place the assembled cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet, baking for 12-15 minutes or until the dough is golden brown in places.

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