02 . 06 . 12
Even after all this time,
the Sun never says to the Earth,
“you owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.
The words can’t quite come together for this one. Better not to force it. Alas, there is cake. Beet Cake. A bit more on the earthy side then carrots are to carrot cake, the beet variety with the added texture of the seeds and sweetened with brown rice syrup makes a more lasting impression than the former. Add a drizzle of the orange-poppy glaze to make it dessert, or enjoy plain with coffee in the morning. Red beets immediately stain the batter, but once baked you’ll cut into a fabulous rainbow assortment of color and texture.
Beet, Seed, and Blood Orange Cake
Adapted from Tender by Nigel Slater
- 1 3/4 cups gluten free flour blend
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- scant tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 3/4 cup walnut oil
- 1 cup brown rice syrup
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups raw red beets, shredded
- juice of 1 blood orange
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 1/2 cup mixed seeds (flax, sunflower, pumpkin)
Blood Orange, Poppy Seed Glaze
- 1/4 cup brown rice syrup
- juice of 1 blood orange
- poppy seeds
Preheat the oven to 350′ and prepare a loaf pan with oil and line with parchment. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat together the oil and brown rice syrup. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Grate the beets and fold into the mixture, adding the blood orange juice, seeds, and raisins accordingly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Slowly fold into the wet ingredients. Pour the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes. Test with a toothpick around 50 min to test for doneness. Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving.
For the glaze, simply mix together brown rice syrup, juice and a bit of zest of a blood orange, and a few shakes of poppy seeds in a small jar. Set in the fridge while the cake bakes to serve chilled and thickened later.
12 . 16 . 11
I love this season. It’s cold. There are lights. There is hand holding. There is fellowship among strangers. Joy elevates the mundane, and cultivates memories to satiate and linger through the early months of another year, a new year. The blankets come down from the closet, there is ample excuse to bake, and we somehow find time, make time to connect.
For no particular reason, there are some days when I am shaken by the absurdity of my blessings. I learned at a young age that the holidays are not all gingerbread and champagne for everyone. I remember that when everyone seemed to be getting out of school and taking time off, my mom’s private practice was just ramping up. While the “other moms” were planning progressive dinners, she was helping the mourning, lonely, and lost to navigate the hardest part of their year.
There can be just as much sadness as there is joy associated with this season. I try to remember this everyday. While I indulge in the sweet embrace of loved ones next week, I know that someone, somewhere, is alone. Someone, somewhere, is piecing together a semblance of celebration after deep, confusing loss.
It’s startling, to witness your own luck. How mind-blowing it is to have so much, again, another year.
Of course there are moments throughout the season that frustrate. Our relatives can make us crazy. You’ll bump into that person from high school you really would have rather avoided. You’ll feel obligated to attend certain neighborhood functions. Your partner will exceed the 50lb baggage limit. You’ll be late to work. Someone will forget to change the roll in the guest room. There will be thousands of crazy, maddening moments and interactions this season.
Remember that someone, just like you, somewhere on this planet doesn’t get those crazy, maddening moments. They have no one to burn the biscuits for. They are trying to understand the meaning of tradition when there is now an empty seat at the table.
Here’s the thing… I want every single crazy moment that comes with this time of year. I know that one year, if I am not so lucky as I am now, that I will cling to the taste and the touch and the sounds of all these moments and how they made my life so rich and full. I want to do the things I don’t want to really do, I want to see the people I don’t really want to see, I want show, express, and appreciate every bit of it.
Roasted Chestnut Spread
- 1 lb Chestnuts
- 1 1/2 – 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla
Roasting and shucking chestnuts is more fun with a partner, so grab a partner and tell them to set the oven to 425.’ As the oven preheats, begin working with the chestnuts by cutting a large x on the rounded side of each shell. Place flat side down on a pan. I cover mine with parchment because it’s a bit “seasoned” if you know what I mean. Pour a cup of water over the cross-hatched chestnuts and roast for about 22-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, the skins should have peel back a bit by now. Let cool for about 10 minutes before getting started on the peeling process. You’ll need to discard the tough, dark brown shell as well as the thin brown skin that coats the actual soft nut. From all my research, each nut has a different story. Some shells and skins are a nuisance while others come off quite easily. It’s a tedious job, but definitely worth it. Toss naked chestnuts into small pot and cover with 1 1/2 – 2 cups of water, depending on how many nuts you ended up yielding. I usually come out with a few nasty moldy dudes and some that crumble apart when I’m trying to peel, so my best guess is that I have about 8-10 ounces of actual nut when it’s all said and done. Add sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir, allowing to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Let sit in the pot for a bit before transferring to a food processer with the blade attachment. Process for about 5 minutes, adding a tiny bit of water or warm milk to the mixture to help things along. Transfer to a jar or serve immediately with crepes, toast, or apple slices.
Recipe adapted from Jennie. Cowl/Scarf made by Melissa. Find more music by the amazing (22 year-old!!) Ben Howard Here.
12 . 04 . 11
Muscle memory. By definition it’s synonymous with motor learning, a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. The idea is when a movement or thought process is repeated over time, a “long-term muscle memory” is created so that with practice that task can be performed without a conscious effort. It’s a concept that’s been on my mind lately. With the end of another semester upon me, I’ve begun to feel the usual stresses that accompany it.
With three and a half years practice, the muscle memory is pretty reliable by now. My mind and body quickly get with the program, summoning my emotion, faculty, and willpower to engage at full speed. In some ways this is great. Things get done. Books get read. Term papers get written. But what trappings have my conditioned mind led me into again? Unnecessary stress? Check. Anxiety? Check. Emotional highs and lows? Check. Silly stuff in the big picture.
I think the whole muscle memory concept is amazing when you step back and look at how it works in so many aspects of our lives. On the physiological level, a person can teach her legs, her heart, and her lungs to run, jump, skip, swim — and with time she can be active without a conscious effort. In the same way I think there is a sort of psychological muscle memory that exists too. We can program our thoughts and responses to variety of situations through repeated practice to a point where these things too can be performed without conscious effort. Over time instead of stopping and thinking, our brains skip thinking and our muscles just “do,” or react. In some ways, this can be incredibly powerful. We can condition positivity, optimism, and non-judgment to inherently color our intentions and actions. On the flip side, it also means we fall into traps of repeated emotions and behaviors that we’ve been programmed for so long to experience the condition in a certain way.
Here’s the awesome part: we can totally reprogram our muscle memory. It takes one conscious second to check yourself and say, “Hey, experience X, so we’ve been here before, how has my programmed response been working out? What if we tried this a little differently?” With enough practice (and a bit of patience and self-love) we can rewire our responses to certain experiences and situations to better serve us. There will be slips. We’ll fall back into those old habits and thoughts. It’s okay. We’re human. But in time those yucky, dark spots that we find ourselves falling into in certain situations will be obsolete.
I’m practicing, in oh so many ways. Final exam preparations included. It’s working. Start with a piece of Spiced Apple Molasses Cake.
Spiced Apple Molasses Cake
Slightly adapted from Real Simple
- 1/2 cup grapeseed oil
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 5 apples (I used fuji) peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
Heat oven to 350° F. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Set aside. In a mixing bowl or stand mixer, whisk together the oil, molasses, brown sugar, egg, ginger, vanilla and ½ cup boiling water. Slowly stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Add the apples last, folding generously to disperse evenly throughout the mixture. Pour batter into an oiled and floured cake pan, or cast iron skillet. Bake for 45 minutes (closer to 55 with the cast iron) until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool for at least 10 minutes. Enjoy as a dessert or breakfast cake with a cup of french pressed coffee.
11 . 15 . 11
“Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.” ― Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
This is my only offering this week. Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant. Death reminds us that our time on this planet is precious and unknown. All we have is this day. Today. Ask yourself how much did you love? Would it be enough?
With guidance from Tartine
- 3 cups persimmons, chopped
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 tsp butter
- 3 tsp sugar
- 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 T. baking powder
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup unsalted butter, very cold
- 1 1/2 cups buttermilk or dairy-free alternative
- (optional glaze or reduction, see footnotes)
Preheat the oven to 400′. In a medium saucepan over high heat, melt 2 teaspoons of butter with vanilla and sugar, add chopped persimmons. Reduce heat and stir for 5-10 minutes until softened. Set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder and baking soda in a large bowl. Add sugar, salt, and stir together. Cut or shave the butter into dry ingredients. Use a fork or whisk to break up the butter into small chunks throughout the mixture.
Add the buttermilk, then the persimmons. Mix lightly with a wooden spoon until the dough holds together, adding buttermilk or the reserved persimmon liquid to the dough as needed.
Dust a piece of parchment paper with flour and turn out the dough. Pat the dough into a rectangle (if making round scones, er, hockey pucks like mine) or into two circles, about 1-2″ thick. Using a round cutter, press out scones and lay on a baking sheet with parchment paper making sure to leave at least 1″ of space between each scone. Sprinkle raw sugar over the tops, generously, and bake for 25-35 minutes until just slightly browned.
*I think this Maple Nut Cream from Adrienneats, or a Maple Glaze from The Healthy Green Kitchen would make winning toppers to these guys. They’re more on the biscuit end, so a hit of sweet frosting or glaze would really make these a treat.
06 . 24 . 11
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight… [Breadmaking is] one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells… there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.” — M.F.K. Fisher (The Art of Eating)
For a girl whose happiness owes a great deal to the likes of yoga, games of rummy over coffee, and a good concert; I find myself starting a lot of these posts peddling the benefits of meditation by cooking and baking. There really is something uniquely therapeutic and recharging about directing our thoughts and energy to the instructions of a recipe. Washing, mincing, shucking, stirring… suddenly, we’ll have realized we’re breathing again. Ms. Fisher says it beautifully of bread-baking in particular; how the business of measuring, kneading, and letting rest can help us slow down, pay attention, and actually wait for good things to unfold.
Waiting. What a concept. How often do we really have to wait for anything, anymore? Many have labeled ours the generation of instant gratification; and although Shaun and I would like to think ourselves excluded from the categorization, we do fall into the trenches of haste from time to time.
You can’t rush bread. Measuring. Kneading. Resting. Rising. Second rise. Baking. There aren’t any shortcuts or many special tricks, there are just a few simple ingredients, and time.
Successful loaves, I realized during the process, are like successful relationships. They can be attributed to attentiveness, patience, and our full presence – the trifecta of mindfulness. Don’t rush the process, don’t try to force it be something it doesn’t want to be, keep it simple, and savor the hard work. Give it some TLC and you’ll feel so proud that you didn’t take the easy way out (as in, buying it from the supermarket). Start a relationship with bread-making and you’ll start to understand more about your own, I guess.
This bread is well worth the wait. Inspired by a variety we’ve always loved from a local vendor at the Farmers Market, it’s sweet, savory, and will disappear right before your eyes. Fresh figs are just starting to arrive at the markets, but dried ones will turn out just as swell.
Fig and Anise Seed Bread, built from Best French Bread by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything
- 3 1/2 cups organic bread flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast
- Scant 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seed
- 1 cup chopped black mission figs (I use dried)
In the bucket of a food processor with the steel blade attachement, add the flour, salt, and yeast and process for 5-10 seconds. While the machine runs, pour the water through the feed tube and mix for 30 seconds to a minute, or until the mixture becomes a sticky ball. Add a teaspoon or two of water if it seems too dry. Scoop the sticky ball out of the container,and as Mark says “dump” into a large bowl. Add the anise seed and chopped figs, and knead together until well spread throughout the dough. Shape into a ball. Cover with a clean towel and let sit for 3 hours. Wait. Patience.
Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and give the mound a second light knead, and back to a ball. Pinch together the seam that forms at the bottom of the ball. Place a clean kitchen towel in a colander and sprinkle well with flour. Place the dough ball, seam side up, in the towel and sprinkle with more flour. Fold over the towel, and let sit for another 3-6 hours. Wait. Patience.
Preheat the oven to 450′ with a baking stone on the bottom shelf. When the oven comes to temperature, remove the ball from the colander and slash the top with a sharp knife. Be vigorous about it, it takes a bit to break the gluten. Transfer to the baking stone. Bake for 30(ish) minutes. Remove and let cool on a wire rack.