Of Cakes and Flours

April 23, 2014 § 1 Comment

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Clockwise from left: a huge mug of homemade hot chocolate from last weekend; at the Prohibition Pig is Waterbury, Vermont; a young sheep rolled in hay at the barn down the street from my office (the perfect lunch break!); at a sugar-shack in Vermont.

I’m sitting on the couch in utter defeat because I have failed, again, at cooking rice. Predictably, as I was chopping broccoli and snap peas, my rice turned into a gelatinous glob of sticky starch. And here I am once again struggling through several meals of mushy rice. What a mess. And hardly surprising by now.

I’ve recently become obsessed with the abundance bowl from My New Roots. I’ve tried several riffs with spring vegetables, tofu, avocado, and variants on both her spring and winter sauces. Buttermilk, garlic, parmesan, green onions, maple syrup, and lemon juice? Yes please. That was my riff on spring abundance. Pumpkin seeds, lime juice, maple syrup, and mint? Bring on the winter riffing. Now if I could just get the rice right. Until then, this girl is going to stick with quinoa.

My experimentation with grains tends to come and go in phases. I’ll occasionally go on a bender of “weirdo” flours and try to sneak buckwheat and oat flour into everything, but my cupboards are generally stocked only with white, wheat, and spelt flours. Spelt has made it into my regular rotation and is a staple in my weekend waffles. Aside from that, I’m a real butter, white flour kind of baker.

So Passover presented an exciting challenge. I picked up a bag of brown rice flour and started using it for everything! I made chive pancakes from 101 Cookbooks, and made a second batch of the batter several days later, repurposing it for a sweet breakfast of lemon-sugared crepes. And then I made a cake. That’s right, I made a gluten-free cake, something I never thought would appear on this blog.

Dense with almond meal, and moist even days later, this cake is a real winner. I used all olive oil in place of the vegetable oil and melted butter, and rice flour in place of the all-purpose flour, and served it with slices of grilled pineapple. The cake isn’t kosher for Passover because of the leavening ingredients, but hey, you win some you lose some.

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Sushi and Sunday brunches

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

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I’m laying in bed this Sunday morning recovering from an over-the-top brunch of goat cheese and pear stuffed french toast with whipped cream and a side of home fries at the Ball Square Cafe, and thought I would share my sushi-making night. I got together with a couple of girls from work last Thursday to make veggie sushi with an array of ingredients – carrots, cucumber, mango, cream cheese, shallots, avocado, apple, watermelon radish, shiitakes, and even some homegrown pea shoots that Allison brought in from her backyard. I loved the avocado with mango and bit of crunch from the shallots, but the cream cheese with apples was also a popular choice.

Making sushi was actually surprisingly simple, led by our in-the-know sushi-maker Beth who grew up rolling sushi with her dad for parties. I can’t wait to buy my own rollers so I can make it at home. I brought over my fourth batch of blondies in about two weeks, this time packed with Canadian smarties because that’s what I had on hand. At the end of the night, after cups of tea and some puzzling (that would be, working on a puzzle of insects, fish, and platypuses on the coffee table), I came home with enough sushi for lunch the next day, a potted plant that Allison had just separated from her mother plant, and a baby succulent. My plants are now sitting next to my windowsill, soaking in the sun of our first spring-like weekend.

Whenever I complain about winter here, Boston people always tell me that having brutal winters and “real seasons” makes them appreciate the nice times more. I’m still not sure that I buy the idea that you need almost five months of freezing temperatures, snow, ice, and slush to appreciate spring in the air, but I sure am liking the sun. I headed out for a 12-miler with the team yesterday along the Newton hills of the Boston Marathon course and, even though my left arch continues to cause me problems, was inspired by the camaraderie of all of the runners out training. I won’t be running Boston this year, but I’m more driven to run next year as a result, and, of course, show up at mile 20 to cheer on the team this year while drinking beer :)

Now I’m equal parts giddy from all of the sugar from brunch and exhausted from eating so much, so I’ll leave you alone with this pecan sticky bun I had for breakfast the other day at Flour.

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A weekend on the Cape

January 14, 2014 § Leave a comment

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After rescheduling our getaway weekend due to the snowstorm last weekend, we finally made the drive down the Cape to the Old Manse Inn in Brewster. Just off of Route 6, the Old Manse Inn is a charming white 19th century house from the outside, with a bit of a kitschy antique interior with some nautical touches, notably model boats and some historical pirate information on the second floor. The Inn had recently changed hands, and for much of the weekend, we were the only guests, given that January is very much the middle of the offseason. The innkeepers Brian and Charlie did everything they could to make our stay enjoyable, from calling ahead to restaurants, to giving us a tour of the entire house and grounds, and providing us with a complimentary bottle of wine.

It was a quiet sort of weekend, and I had the feeling of having the entire Cape to ourselves. Traffic was easy, the beaches mostly empty, the wind forceful and assertive. Many of the shops were closed for the season, especially in more touristy towns such as Provincetown, where we sat by the window of one of the only taverns still open with frosty mugs of Cape Cod beer and plates of fish and chips. A rainy Saturday afternoon drove us back to the Inn for some reading (I’ve started Alice Munro’s Dear Life) and napping before dinner. After a glass of sherry in the inn’s living room, we headed to the Rock Harbor Grill for a dinner of wild mushroom pizza, lobster-stuffed cod over a bed of mashed potatoes and green beans, and fresh mozzarella with baby heirloom tomatoes (not so seasonal but that’s alright). We skipped dessert that night but I did go back to the Cottage Street Bakery for a second chocolate croissant the next morning, perfectly flakey, with the inside chew that I love. Sunday, we sat on the wooden steps leading to the Marconi beach, eating sandwiches from the bakery on slightly sweet squash bread before heading down for a walk along the water. The waves crashed on the shore but the intense wind had a way of pulling the very tops of the waves back, created a delightful misty puff coming up from the water’s surface every time a large wave surged.

We stopped in Sandwich on the way back to Boston for dinner at the tavern in the Dan’l Webster Inn with my grandparents. It was un repas correct, as my former co-workers liked to say in France — I had a nicely wok fired Atlantic salmon with a crisp exterior. Then we piled ourselves back in the car to start the drive back to the city. Back to the grind it is. But a three-day weekend to look forward to next week!

Resolutions and a return

January 6, 2014 § 1 Comment

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It’s not the most photogenic start to the new year, but it’s a start nonetheless. I’m deeply in that moment of time when I’ve been away for so long that it just keeps getting harder and harder to come back. I’ve made two batches of ginger molasses cookies with perfect crackly tops and sparkling turbinado sugar dustings, but haven’t been able to raise a camera to take a picture of what I’d call my ultimate cookie. For the past few months, my camera has sat abandoned at my desk while I made winter squash galettes with buttery crusts and dined on fried mussels and spinach falafel at Oleana and sole with romesco sauce and bittersweet chocolate pot de crème at Foreign Cinema.

Finally back from the holidays, I ended this weekend feeling fulfilled in a way that I haven’t for quite awhile. A snowstorm descended on Boston last Thursday and work was closed on Friday as a result. I spent the day working from home, teaching myself html, and was happy to step into the kitchen for lunch to make a simple spaghetti with cherry tomatoes and asparagus. There’s just something about preparing lunch in the moment that feels so much more like a break than turning on the microwave at noon. It was just a start to the weekend’s cooking. Friday night, we nestled into a bottle of wine, a movie, a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, and a towering load of pumpkin bread with pecans. We sat on the couch and ate bowls of risotto with the snow piled up outside our windows.

One of my new year’s resolutions is to start cooking out of my rather extensive cookbook collection, and this weekend, we tackled two new recipes — a Indian tomato-based vegetable curry out of Prashad, and Thai stir-fried brussels sprouts from Pok Pok. Both came out fabulously, and I’m feeling recommitted to the goal of tackling cooking projects outside of my comfort zone. The ingredient lists seemed daunting at first — this has always been the main hurdle for me in cooking over baking — but once we got started, I was happy to spend the afternoon in the kitchen and learning.

The recipe today isn’t a curry or stir-fry, but the pumpkin bread I made while we were snowed in. Chock-full of pecans and super moist, even days after baking, it’s become my new favorite pumpkin bread. The recipe makes a lot, so I ended up with half a dozen muffins in addition to a towering loaf.

Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Laurie Bennett’s Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread at Allrecipes.com

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup pecans (chopped coarsely)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour desired loaf or muffin pans.
In a large bowl, mix pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water or milk, and vanilla. Add both brown and white sugars and stir until combined. Mix in the nuts. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Fold the dry mixture into the wet mixture, being careful not to overmix.

Bake loaves for about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean (muffins will have a shorter bake time).

Bourbon Butterscotch Ramekins

October 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Outside my window at the office is a row of orange-hued trees separating the parking lot from the train tracks. On the other side of the tracks is a smaller, vibrant red tree. If you just prevent yourself from looking below, you can almost cut out any signs of civilization from your line of vision, and before you stretches a field of color. I often get to the office before anyone else has arrived and have a few moments to myself, a way of steadying myself for the day ahead, in the silent, dark office, before anyone turns on the lights, the room lit only by the morning light outside the windows. By 4 p.m. my head is pounding from staring at my computer screen for hours, and on my way home, my thoughts are preoccupied in the internal debate “run or nap.” Today, we’re finally starting to feel the real depth of fall, not the light, crispness of early fall, but that time when the leaves crunch underfoot instead of lighting up the horizon, and you can feel—just short of seeing—your breath in the air. Winter is coming.

I’m on my third pan of apple crisp this season. I picked up the last week of our CSA this week, loaded down with butternut squash, stalks of brussels sprouts, and sweet potatoes—there was even a bit of popcorn thrown in. I’m finding it hard to resist the urge to go into hibernation mode, and it’s not even the end of October. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of the house for a run, though I did have a great 9-miler last weekend with the club team that seemed to fly by because I was out, not only meeting new people, but actually feeling like I was connecting with people.

With hibernation comes wintery flavors, sweeter, heavier, flavors that allow me to burrow down in comfort. My mind is coming back to a recipe I tried from Bon Appétit. Bourbon. Butterscotch. Cream. What couldn’t there be to love in that? In the end I had mixed feelings about the recipe. The quick turn in the blender, which was supposed to give the pudding its smooth texture, resulted in a bubbly top. I found myself wanting a lighter texture, which I associate, for reasons that may not be based in fact, with custards over puddings. So I burned a brulée on top and that made everything slightly better. Still, I expect I’ll come back to these flavors soon…perhaps in the form of a cake? Perhaps as a tart filling? That seems to recall Momofuko’s crack pie, and an article I read awhile ago, “No, Your Favorite Food is Not Like Crack,” which rang much truer with me than I initially thought it would.

New Hampshire getaway

October 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Last weekend, we drove north to New Hampshire. Or rather, Dan drove us north, since I still can’t drive. The idea for the weekend originated with my registering for the Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis, a course of rolling hills through the fall foliage with the promise of apple crisp at the finish line, and baskets of apples and pies as prizes if I did well enough. Luckily we were not disappointed — I say we because I got cornered into promising to make several apple pies if I didn’t manage to win one at the race. The course was tough, much hillier than I had pictured (word is, my website reading abilities aren’t the greatest as the rolling hills were clearly indicated when I signed up to run), and I never felt like I settled into a real rhythm. But I came in just two minutes behind my half marathon PR and was pretty pleased that I had finally gotten back into training and racing, even if the actual race had moments that could have gone better. And the prize, a towering basket of apples, for winning my age group, was a pretty nice cherry on top.

From there, the weekend was mostly eating. A first post-race stop at a nearby apple orchard where a wood-fired pizza cart had set up on the lawn for lunch included a pizza topped with spiced pumpkin sauce and bacon, another with peppers, onions, and spinach, blistered black crust and the squeals of children in the rows of pumpkins by the general store. Then, we drove north to Concord, where we stopped at the Gould Hill Farm in Contoocook. A delightful orchard nestled in the rolling hills, now flaming orange and red, specked like evergreen, we ate hot fluffy cider donuts, drank apple cider, and picked a peck full of Empires, Macouns, and Hampshires. We also played catch with an apple and ate a few, but we don’t tell everyone that.

We drove two more hours north, through the lakes region, to North Conway, where we stayed the night at the Isaac Merrill House (Thanks, Mom!), a sweet, white house, dating back to 1773, with creaky floors and fluffy blueberry pancakes and French toast for breakfast. We spent a lot of the trip in the car, expressly to see the fall foliage, which draws so many people north every year. Sunday morning, we drove through the national forest, stopping every so often, emerging into the chill to take in the river winding down next to the road, the mountains streaked with color, vibrant orange hitting the blue backdrop of the sky. As we approached Boston, the rain started to come down, at first a light mist but increasingly heavy, and we stopped again in Concord, this time to discover that most bakeries and restaurants are closed on Sunday, and settled for a veggie pizza, that was actually quite good, as pizza tends to be.

I’ll spend the next week coming up with ways to use all of the apples we brought home; it started with an apple crisp, topped with vanilla ice cream last night, which we’ll continue to eat for breakfast these work-day mornings.

Remembering

September 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

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Stepping out of the house this morning and seeing the street sheathed in white fog was like, for a moment, stepping back home, stepping into a different city, a different time. Walking down the street towards one of the few cafes in the area I thought both took credit cards and provided free internet (as it turns out, it had only one of the two) to do some writing was like stepping back half a year, to writing my thesis in Small World, my thesis that now sits on my desk, bound, and untouched. It’s the first weekend I’ve had to myself in a long time, and I’m using it to find my voice writing again, which is much harder than I thought it would be. Call me crazy, but I miss my thesis, I miss having work that was mine only, I miss the life that was my research, I miss the farms, the mountains, but mostly meeting new people every day. I don’t miss them individually, but as a whole, as people who pushed back on the comfortable lifestyle many enjoy (myself included), as people who nonetheless welcomed the intruder (me) with open arms. But I also miss the vast openness of the farms, and the routes we often drove to the farms, the kind of openness that makes you and your problems feel so, so small.

I had a moment like that the other day, sitting at a picnic table on our farm in Lincoln, preparing for an interview with our head farmer. One of our other farmers had given me a ride down to the farm, and then excitedly shown me a ripe green-stripped tomato in the children’s garden and wandered off into the fields for a walk around — she emerged toward the end of my interview with a bouquet of flowers. So I sat for a few minutes before the interview, looking out over the fields, which ran into forest, trees whose tops are already turning red, under a cloudy, gray sky. And for a moment, as cliché as it is, I felt at peace, like the world wasn’t about to close in around me, but as open as the fields before me.

And now I’m sitting in a café in Davis Square, listening to a young woman rant about her brother at the table next to me, having to do the dishes, and listen to his phone messages, while watching the toddler across from me struggle to eat a cranberry roll by shoving it in his mouth. It’s funny how that vast openness can break down into such minuscule moments, pithy complaints, and dissatisfactions. I have small plans for today, just a bit of writing for work, harnessing the rutabaga and daikon radish from my CSA share into red curry, and maybe a batch of cookies. I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and baking lately, but have lost of rhythm of photographing and writing about it. It’s starting to become routine — a batch of coffeecake muffins on Sunday for the week’s breakfast, an acorn squash galette with caramelized onions and pecorino, served with greens and raspberries, a couple of pizzas topped with whatever vegetables are hanging around — and that’s an interesting discovery for someone who is used to writing about being in the kitchen as an event, as something that is blog-worthy. I made a batch of pumpkin-cranberry granola yesterday after my 14-miler with the team, and was pleased that it came out in crisp, sweet clumps rather than as loose, toasted oats, as my granolas sometimes do. I’ll post some of the dishes I’ve been more proud of soon, but for now I’m just working on rediscovering that I know how to put a sentence together.

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