Soba valentine.

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Winter is drinking out of mugs and eating from bowls. Winter is Valentine’s Day- we say we don’t like it but love it anyways. Winter is the scarf you knit in eighth grade and still wear; it’s remembering and nesting. And, as it happens, winter is finding the last delicata squash, sweet and tender and golden, in a picked-over bin at the market. Which is what happened this past week and is what leads me to soba.

This recipe employs a lean winter larder- seaweed, soba, kale, squash- and a bit of memory. When I was in high school, I spent some time as a foreign exchange student in Japan. My first bite on the mainland was that of soba. It was summer, and the soba was hot, and I was jetlagged in an Ambien-induced haze. Needless to say, soba was not particularly impressive to my sixteen year-old self; it would take a nudge from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, seaweed, and a little pantry desperation to make me reconsider the earthy, buckwheat soba noodle.

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Living near the ocean in Seattle makes me want to try new things. Maybe that’s why unbelievably ridiculous shows like Jersey Shore and The Real World happen on the beach. The expanse of unknown water, the strange little creatures that make their way onto the shore, the barnacles and salt; I’d like to think that, though oceanic nudging, I’ve become a new-found devotee of many new things, including soba. (Other subjects- thigh tattoos, double IPAs, purposeful hipster mullets- are still under debate.)

In recent times, soba has gone mainstream and you’ll find it in the ethnic aisle of most grocery stores. Watch it when you’re boiling the noodles; cooked too long soba will be as bland and mushy as boiled cardboard noodles. Cooked al dente and seasoned while still warm and soba takes on a new identity: buttery, complex, and beautifully supple.

So, soba, tonight for Valentine’s Day dinner when you ask me to remember you and to cook and to love you, I will check “yes.” You taste exotic and yet comforting, humble and rich. You absorb flavors like no other noodle and you soften tough vegetables like kale and seaweed. It’s nice to dine with you again. Happy Valentine’s Day, friends! ❤

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Soba with Seaweed and Delicata Squash

Inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Soba Noodles with Aubergine and Mango” from Plenty.

Serves four.

  • 2 medium delicata squash, cored and sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds
  • 2 tablespoons high-heat cooking oil (such as canola oil)
  • 1/2 large red onion, very thinly sliced
  • small bunch of lacinato kale, roughly chopped
  • 12 ounces / 3 bunches dried soba noodles
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, divided
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • grated zest and juice of one large lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 4 sheets dried seaweed laver, cut in strips
  • handful of fresh cilantro and/or parsley, chopped
  • handful black sesame seeds and/or peanuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with foil.

In a large bowl, toss delicata squash rounds with  1/4 cup brown sugar, canola oil, and a hefty pinch of salt. Pour out onto baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally , until squash is crisp and caramelized.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Make the dressing by combining vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, salt, garlic, red pepper flakes, ginger , sesame oil, and lemon zest and juice in a jar. Shake jar until sugar dissolves and liquids emulsify.

Cook the soba noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, per package instructions, or until just tender. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry in the colander or on a tea towel. While the noodles are still warm, place in a large bowl and toss with dressing, cooked squash, onions, kale, some of the seaweed, and most of the herbs. Garnish with remaining seaweed, remaining herbs, and peanuts and serve warm.

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Citrus salad with black pepper and tarragon.

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Helloo-oh, it’s winter. And Seattle has had some dark, short days. When I moved here this past summer, I selectively forgot about latitude, sun patterns, and the winter solstice. Why would a southern girl ever need to remember things like that? Evidently, it’s important in the Pacific Northwest. Evidently, it’s why the vampires from the Twilight series live in a town near me.

But (non-vampire) people have survived this far north for decades, centuries; I must be able to adopt the evolutionary adaptations that Seattlites use to cope with pasty skin and seven months of darkness, right? From my initial observations I’ve found that some days you have ginger cookies and milk for lunch. Some days (ahem, all days) you take hour-long baths. Some days you kayak and/or hike in the snow and/or rain. Every day you eat well.

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Never before have I been in a place that loves its seasonal food as much as the Pacific Northwest does. Winter is no excuse for bland colors. Instead, the markets burst with sunny persimmons, dark green lacinato kale and seaweed, silver-gilded oyster mushrooms, temptingly red endives, and citrus, their oranges, reds, and yellows like sweet, fragrant winter suns.

When our winter began in November, I made this citrus salad with grapefruit, tangerines, and pomegranate seeds. It was simple  and bright, a challenge to the months of gray to come. As winter has progressed, I’ve added a splash of sultry blood oranges, bit of freshly ground black pepper, handful of allspice. I need this salad like I need Vitamin D; in all its peppery, herbaceous lightness, it’s edible sun.

Postscript: As I write to you the sun is out in Seattle. In fact, the past week has been wonderfully, surprisingly sunny (three days of [foggy] sun! Sun, people!) Coincidence? I think not. Thank you, citrus salad.

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Citrus Salad with Black Pepper and Tarragon

Feel free to make this salad your own with different fresh herbs, spices, and types of citrus. For balanced flavor and pleasing visual appearance, pick types of seedless citrus with different levels of bitterness and varied interior colors.

Serves four, with leftovers for breakfast.

  • 1/8 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh tarragon leaves, split in two bowls
  • 2 blood oranges
  • 2 mandarin oranges, navel oranges, or tangerines
  • 1 pomelo or oroblanco
  • 1 grapefruit (ruby red looks particularly lovely)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (pink pepper would work wonderfully as well; it’s just a bit harder to find.)

Add sugar, 1/8 cup tarragon, and 1/8 cup water in a jar and shake until the sugar dissolves and tarragon bruises. Strain syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve for salad. Tarragon syrup will keep for a week in the fridge and can be used as a cocktail mixer, pancake topper, etc… the sweet possibilities are endless!

Cut off the base and stem end of each citrus and peel citrus with cut side flat on the cutting board. Make sure to peel off any bits of bitter white pith. Slice citrus crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.

Arrange citrus on a platter. Grind a bit of fresh black pepper over top, drizzle with tarragon syrup, and finish with remaining tarragon.

Y’all, buttermilk biscuits!

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While home in Georgia for the holidays, I took Harvard University’s dialect test online.

Well, y’all, turns out I’m a southerner.

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When I was growing up in Atlanta, I wasn’t very fond of the south.

Actually, I did everything I could to prove I was not southern. When asked where I was from, I said Australia. During the “Freedom Fries” mania, I ordered French Frites. Okra made me gag. My parents were the only liberals within a forty-mile radius who dared put “vote democrat” signs in their yard, and I was proud of it. In high school, I skipped as many football games as was humanly possible without committing social suicide. And I insisted on leaving the south before I turned fifteen, escaping to the farthest parts of the world I could think of: Japan, India, Guatemala, Nepal.

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I still say y’all. I would trade my future child for a Price’s Chicken Coop fried chicken dinner; I know the words to every Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton song. And yes, oh yes, I love down-home, sweet and flaky, buttermilk biscuits.

For years, I have searched for the best biscuits. I’ve tried many in restaurants– Skillet Diner in Seattle and Swallow at the Hollow in Atlanta make my favorites. But I needed to eat biscuits that I had made in my own kitchen. I needed to cut butter and lard into flour, to feel silken buttermilk as I worked dough together with my hands. It would prove to myself who I was: a southerner.

It seems fitting that, just as I have begun to accept the south, I would find my homemade biscuits. It happened on New Year’s Day. My mom fried quail and boiled collards and beets; I made biscuits, trying out a new but sworn-by recipe. Sitting down to the table, we were a picture of the post-church Sunday Dinner Southern Gothic.

The biscuits tasted as they should: light yet sour, flaky yet rich. To me, they tasted like the south: tender and sweet.

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Ma Mae’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Recipe adapted from fellow Georgian and foodist brother, Alton Brown, who, for years, has sought to recreate his Ma Mae’s* biscuits. I suggest you serve these biscuits with butter and sorghum or molasses, as pictured above. It’s the southern way.

*Ma Mae: n. southern for grandmother (synonyms: mammy, grandmammy, granny, me-ma, etc…)

Makes a dozen.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 2 tablespoons shortening, cut into small pieces, cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk, cold

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet or pie pan. Prepare a clean surface with flour.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. As quickly as possible, rub cold butter and shortening into dry ingredients with your fingertips until mixture looks like small peas; don’t let the fats melt. Make a well in the center and pour in the cold buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together; it will be very sticky.

Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on rimmed pan so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible, and continue cutting.

Bake until biscuits are tall and golden brown on top, 12 to 18 minutes.

Christmas dinner.

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It’s a magical time we’re in now, isn’t it?

Magical except for the constant traffic, frightening encounters with last-minute shoppers, and annual family conflict reenactments. It’s a bummer that life gets stressful during the times we hope to savor; but, hey, this is why we have sugar cookie highs and mulled wine! To keep Christmas sane and the candy canes and silver lanes aglow, my family’s planning a simple Christmas dinner.

We’ll have smoked ham glazed with Byrd & Duncan beer syrup, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s famous cream of chicken soup dressing, deliciously southern sorghum green beans, and a couple homemade pies. There will be plenty of wine and a cocktail or two. There will be the conversation about civil war ethics, how much we love/hate Charles Dickens, and, of course, a ridiculous amount of laughter, even more than the amount of wine we will drink.

Happy Christmas! Here’s to peace, good food, and your crazy-wonderful family.

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Green Beans with Sorghum and Sesame

Makes enough for 8 as a side. Adapted from Bon Appétit.

  • 2 pounds green beans, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper & kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sorghum syrup or 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Cook beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, transfer to a bowl of ice water, and let cool. Drain and pat dry.
  2. Toss beans and oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing occasionally, until tender and lightly charred in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk soy sauce, sorghum, sesame seeds, and cumin in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add warm beans and toss to coat.

A savory pumpkin pie.

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Can you believe it? Thanksgiving is almost here!

I was impressed at how quickly holiday spirit happened this year. Only one day after Halloween, radio stations started to play Christmas music, candy canes showed up at the grocery store, and my email inbox bulged with the blogosphere’s proliferation of Thanksgiving recipes; I blame/thank all the people strung out on pumpkin spice lattes. The holidays are a happy time (come on, who doesn’t like an excuse to overindulge or to get presents) and, even after too many glasses of eggnog, I always wish they would stay around longer.

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Because the pumpkin spice latte craze and winter celebrations are here to stay, I’ve been experimenting with creative takes on traditional holiday fare to keep November interesting.

Consider the pumpkin pie. Creamy, cinnamon and nutmeg spiced, the pumpkin pie’s a Thanksgiving staple I want to like. But I can’t get over its often overly sweet filling or soggy, bland under-baked crust; most pumpkin pies are too disappointing to even call pies. So when I found a recipe for savory pumpkin pie from Nigel Slater, a Brit who most likely does not celebrate Thanksgiving and (thankfully) is not familiar with disgraceful American pumpkin pies, I got excited.

Nigel calls for puff pastry in place of pie dough, a choice that yields perfectly crisp, golden, anti-soggy crust, and I love how just a pinch of cinnamon and salt brings out pumpkin’s natural sweetness. In short, savory pumpkin pie actually tastes like pumpkin. (Yes!)  I’m thankful this pie will earn a annual spot on my Thanksgiving table.

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Savory Pumpkin Pie

From Notes from the Larder: A Kitchen Diary with Recipes by Nigel Slater.

Serves six as a side.

  • 2 and 3/4 lbs peeled and seeded pumpkin
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • Thick slice of butter
  • Generous pinch of cinnamon, salt, and pepper
  • 13 oz puff pastry
  • Egg, lightly beaten, for brushing
  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Prepare two baking sheets, one with foil and the other with parchment.
  2. Cut pumpkin in to uniform, small cubes and steam for 15 to 20 minutes, or until flesh is tender.
  3. Remove from heat and transfer to foil-lined baking sheet. Toss with oil, butter, cinnamon, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 30 to forty minutes, until the pumpkin begins to lightly caramelize. Remove pumpkin from oven and mash with a fork. Maintain oven temperature.
  4. Lightly flour a cool surface, cut pastry in half, and roll out each piece to a 9 x 14 inch rectangle. Lay one rectangle on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Leaving a margin on the corners, pile pumpkin on the pastry. Brush pastry margins with egg. Lay second piece of pastry on top and press edges firmly to seal. To prevent splitting during cooking, make 3 slits on the top of the pastry. Brush pie with egg, then freeze for 20 minutes. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Let cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.

Pretzels, and getting out of them.

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What have I been up to exactly? Dear reader, the real question is where do I begin?

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In the past six months, I’ve been a part time hand model, food stylist, professional granola/ice cream maker, freelance beer-tender, recipe tester, and almost cheesemonger. I’ve drank too many cups of good coffee, accidentally worn my apron to the grocery store, and learned how to pronounce things like Fernet. The past months have made many recipes and stories; so stay tuned! Those stories are on their way.

When I first moved to Seattle, I started helping out at The Pantry, a well-loved and well-respected food craft cooking school. At The Pantry, I worked alongside a group of amazing women who made it their goal to introduce me to Seattle’s food scene. It was my first job in the food industry and most of the time I didn’t know what I was doing.

Despite my glass-breaking, pan-burning foibles, The Pantry ladies stuck with me and taught me their magic food ways. By the end of my summer stint at the school, I knew how to prepare the pies class’s pie dough like a pro and fix a broken aioli in record time. I met fascinating chefs, renowned food writers, and home cooks that have since given me more opportunities than I can count on my ten fingers. The Pantry made my coming out to foodie society sophisticated and proper, and it was wonderful.

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Well, it was wonderful ninety-nine percent of the time.

The first class I helped an instructor lead was called Pretzel Making at Home. It would have been the perfect class to start. We would only make two types of dough and a few simple dipping sauces, and I had power posed in front of the mirror before work; there would be no chance for stove-top blunders or knife skills gone wrong. But, only perfect situations become not perfect.

When I arrived at the kitchen to get things ready for class, I found large plastic bottles of lye waiting for me. Yes, the same chemical lye that Brad Pitt uses to burn Edward Norton’s hand in Fight Club. A pretzel evolves into a pretzel after it bathes in either a baking soda or lye solution;  I had thought we would use baking soda because, come on, no one wants to see that Fight Club scene, the “this a chemical burn” demonstration, in real life. But the instructor, a food anthropologist-chef who was about to publish a book on pretzels, insisted lye was best. So I listened, pushed the chemical burn scenarios from my mind, made sure everyone was double-gloved, and, by golly, sprayed those pretzels in lye.

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I have to admit; the lye was worth it. After a sprinkle of caraway, poppy, and sesame seeds, our pretzels tasted like edible pieces of Bavarian Germany. And they were beautiful too. Lye gave the pretzels a thick, deeply golden-black crust that safe baking soda could never give. Do not fear the pretzel and its lye ( Lie! Hah pun time! Okay, sorry, too much.) Instead, embrace this jumbled pretzel of a life, do something you’ve never done before, and taste its uncertainty, its imperfections. Who knows? Pretzels might just teach you a useful lesson or two.

Traditional German Soft Pretzels

By Andrea Slonecker, adapted from Pretzel Making at Home

Makes 8 pretzels

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (100 – 115 degrees)
  • 1 tbsp firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 cup cold pilsner or lager-style beer
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed and softened, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 2 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 tbsp food-grade lye or 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp water

Follow this link to see how, step-by-step,  Andrea Slonecker and The Oregonian create the perfect pretzel (lye-sprayed, of course.)

Mandarin and cumin salad.

1-DSC_0109-001I moved!
Well… ahem, I speak too soon. Am moving; I’m still in transition, which is a nice way of saying that the apartment is filled wall to wall with suitcases, IKEA boxes, dirty clothes, and a collection of nude statues I forgot I had packed.

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Cosette, my new old blue typewriter. (Aie!)

Cosette, my new old blue typewriter (aie!), above. View from my garden rooftop, far above, and a sunset from Carkeek park, below.

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Needless to say I’m craving a little zen in the midst of my mess. These past days I haven’t had much time to cook and am opting for easy salads instead. One of my recent favorites is a simple early summer salad of crisp hearts of romaine, toasted almonds, and sour-sweet bits of orange sprinkled with poppy seeds. It pairs nicely with a refreshing honey and cumin vinaigrette I recreated from one I tried at Vinaigrette in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Yesterday I savored my mandarin and cumin salad with Pacific salmon caught that day, sunset over the city, and a glass of chilled white wine. Wine will help the boxes unpack themselves, won’t it?1-DSC_0103

Honey-Cumin Vinaigrette

1/2 cup olive oil or almond oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tablespoon honey
1 clove of garlic, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of salt

  1. Whisk ingredients together until emulsified and serve over salad of oranges, cucumbers, lettuce, and almonds.

Croissants and the art of living.

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In three days I move to Seattle.
Three days (!)

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I’ll live there for the next bit of foreseeable future. Beyond that, who knows. All this life and being twenty-something stuff, it’s so exciting!

Over the past week I’ve savored post-graduate freedom. From the first hour, I made it a goal to master the art of doing nothing. Yet after two hours spent thinking of everything I could be doing, I scraped my attempt at nothing-filled nirvana.

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It’s not that this Buddhist mindfulness exercise is a load of cotton candy. It’s just that, well, I’m an addict.

<meeting begins> Hello my name is Jessie. I’m a work addict.

I thrive working twelve hours straight. I love making goals. I feel guilty when I do something relaxing. Let’s just say I can get a little too intense. As a challenge to my achieving-addicted self, I decided to live the past week without big goals or many expectations.

And, oh boy, was I rewarded. This past week has been free and just darn good. Without trying to control the week’s outcome, I was able to let go of any relaxation guilt and do things (for fun!) that I was too busy to do these past four years. I drank cocktails every night. I read Catch-22 and a book on the mind-body problem. I hung out with family and friends and gave away most possessions, the ones that have been steadily accumulating in my bedroom for the past twenty-two years. I’ve been rethinking human logic as we know it, and making pastries. Lots of pastries. In doing everything, life has been simple, sweet, whole.

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Nothing lasts forever, I remind myself in my best Dalai Lama voice. In five days I will face a big, cold world with jobs and paychecks and taxes and writer-baker paychecks (that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact, an acknowledgement of my near-future state of starving artist which sounds too much like Tantalus, on account of me working with food all day long but still being a young writer and thus starving. How about hungry artist?) It won’t be so easy to be a little happy buddha when I’m working the four a.m. shift at the bakery five times a week. Or meeting never-ending editor deadlines or trying to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.

But paychecks and plans have nothing to do with contentment. Money, work, approval from others, stubborn self-reliance makes us feel secure. Yet these things don’t actually make life good. I’m talking really good in a primal, beautiful I-might-just-crack-open-with-love-and-ridiculousness-and-everything sort of good.

I’m finding that life is good when we are quiet, when we are confident enough to let it be good. It’s good when we set goals without worrying if we’ll achieve them in the way we think we should– the world has too much imagination to give us complete control– while being aware that, regardless of the outcome, it will be alright. I like to think of this mindfulness as an art because, through balance and awareness, we create our reality. I could’ve read Catch-22 for pleasure or spent more time with my family the past four years, but I told myself I was too busy. And so I didn’t.

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I don’t want to be a work addict. I want to make time for the things that really matter. It’s quiet these days; I’ve made it a goal to continue.

No activity is better to jump start your meditative inner-musings than croissant making. Time becomes flaky. Air wears the silky, sweet smell of butter. Your senses, your mind becomes softer, as malleable as kneaded dough. Be prepared to spend a whole lazy morning making your croissant babies and let the good life flow.

P.S. These croissants make the perfect Father’s Day breakfast! (Hint hint, nudge nudge) By the three crumbs left on his plate, I think my Dad approves.

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Chocolate Almond Croissants

Makes 16 croissants. Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking. Oxmoor House, 2003.

In May, I tried my first pain au chocolat aux amandes at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery in Napa, California. I’ve been dreaming of that fancified, amaretto-scented croissant ever since. This recipe is my (very successful!) attempt to recreate Bouchon’s magic. Enjoy with good coffee.

FOR THE CROISSANT DOUGH
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted but cooled
1 cup cold whole milk
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and pinch of sugar in warm water. Let stand until foamy, around 5 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine yeast mixture, remaining sugar, salt, melted butter, milk, and ½ cup flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until blended. Slowly add remaining flour just until dough comes together in a sticky mass.
3. On a lightly floured surface (granite, stone, or metal countertops work best because you can cool them by placing a clean ice pack on the surface 1 hour before working with dough,) roll out dough into a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to plate, and let cool in refrigerator for 30 minutes while you prepare the butter layer.

FOR THE BUTTER LAYER AND BAKING
1 cup unsalted butter (very important to use unsalted butter; unsalted butter usually tastes better and is of higher quality than salted butter)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon milk (for a golden, flaky crust)

1. Place butter on a work surface and sprinkle with flour. With a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, beat butter into a 6 x 8 inch rectangle with the flour worked in. If, at anytime during croissant making, the butter becomes too soft (softer than the texture of the bread dough) refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. This next step is called laminating the dough. Roll out dough into a 9 x 13c inch rectangle. With the short side facing you, place the butter on the lower half, leaving a ½ inch border on all sides. Fold over the upper half to cover the butter and press edges together to seal. Then, with the folded side to your left, roll out the dough to a 10 x 24 inch rectangle. With short side facing you, fold the bottom third up, then fold the top third down, as if folding a letter. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This completes the first turn.
3. Return chilled dough to lightly floured work surface with a folded side to your left and repeat the process to make 3 more turns: rolling, folding, and chilling. (To complete a total of 4 turns.) After the fourth turn, refrigerate dough for at least 4 hours or overnight (or, if you want croissants later in the week, freeze dough now.)
4. To form the croissants, roll out on a lightly floured work surface to a 9 x 18 inch rectangle. Cut in half lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise (forming 4 squares.) Cut each square in half (forming 8 squares.) Cut each square crossways (forming 16 triangles.)
5. Lightly butter 2 sheet pans. Working with one triangle at a time, gently stretch each triangle about twice its original length. Gently stretch the long edge. Fill croissant with a bit of minced dark chocolate, almond paste, both, or neither. Place hands at top of wide end and gently roll pastry toward you. Seal tip with your thumb, place on baking sheet and form into crescent.Repeat with remaining triangles, spacing them about 3 inches apart. Cover with a moistened kitchen towel and place in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in size (about 1-1/2 hours.)
6. Position rack in middle of convection oven (place higher if not) and preheat oven to 425 degrees.
7. Lightly brush the tops of your pastries with the egg mixture. Bake them one sheet at a time until golden brown (15-18 minutes.)
8. If you want a sweet almond crust on your croissants, take out your croissants 5 minutes before they are done. Sprinkle with sugar water and almonds. Return to oven to complete baking time. Dust with powdered sugar when completely cool.

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Gradumacated.

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It’s been awhile; I’ve missed you!

1-DSC_15431-DSC_15911-DSC_1589-001Some big life happenings have been happening.

Graduating from Davidson College was one of those happenings. I finished the first draft of my new novel, took a few finals, and turned in my last academic paper (well, last for the foreseeable future) and got myself to the beach to celebrate the past four years with the rest of Davidson’s graduating class, beer, tequila sunrises, and bowls of guacamole.

After finding my black cap and gown at the bottom of a packed suitcase, I ran across the stage to receive a fancy anthropology degree with magna cum laude and phi beta kappa flair. The certificate or degree or whatever you call it is all in Latin. Who knows what it actually says; I need another degree for that. But it looks beautiful with its black, flowing script on paper as rich as creme anglaise.

I didn’t have too long to comprehend my exit from academia because within twenty-four hours of the ceremony I was sitting next to my mom on a plane to San Francisco, bound for my Berkeley birthplace and a glass of celebratory Napa wine.

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1-DSC_1413  1-DSC_1493      1-DSC_15821-DSC_15761-DSC_1567As I write to you from a quiet, sunny Peet’s Coffee Shop on University Avenue, I realize how quickly everything happened. May has been the half-marathon I ran a couple years back. Almost to June, I feel the same sensations I had felt just after crossing the finish line: overjoyed to be done, slightly sick, and incredibly excited for my legs to stop hurting (or, in this extended metaphor, incredibly excited for what’s to come.) The only difference is that I’ve been running my academic, metaphorical race for sixteen years.1-DSC_15931-DSC_1601So here we are. Gradumacated. Liberal Arts Edumaquated. Imbibing Robert Mondavi wine (see Cabernet Sauvignon casks above,) Berkeley’s legendary Cheese Board Collective cheese, Acme Bread baguettes,  Monterrey Market kale, local farm eggs. And thankful to all the people (that’s you!) who made it possible for me to get here.

Damn, graduation tastes good.

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Pizza that talks back.

1-DSC01426-006What does every college student crave?

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Pizza. Gooey, greasy, crusty pizza.

The collegiate pizza-phile phenomenon is not exclusively American. My fellow classmates and I feasted on thin, rice flour crusts covered in yellow curry, tako octopus suction cups, and buttery scallops after school in Japan. In Nepal, my roommate and I celebrated her impending Nepali marriage ceremony and my return from independent research  over a 19th century desert plate-sized pizza. We ordered seconds even though the musty waterbuffalo’s milk cheese didn’t exactly taste like home.

These days pizza is so integrated into food cultures that you can’t even call it an Italian export.   1-DSC_0399-001

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When I was a freshman in high school, my parents took me and my brother  to Naples. We went with one purpose. We sought to try pizza in its birthplace, in its most elemental, quintessential form.

We sat outside a small trattoria, our cafe chairs wobbly on the cobblestones. It was midday and hot and we were hungry from a long day of feigning Italian and playing Frogger in Naples traffic. It was the golden hour of our Italian journey and we ordered Pizza Neapolitan.

After a literal hour, the waiter dropped a burnt, anemic crust decorated with two lonely slices of mozzarella, a handful of basil leaves, and a mealy tomato on the table like a plate of norovirus or maybe Twinkies; it depends on the waiter’s opinion of American Hostess snack cakes.

Needless to say, our palates were disappointed. We didn’t realize it then, but we were looking a richer, more subtly flavored pizza we would never find in Italy. As soon as we got home and recovered from jetlag, we made a pizza piled high with Gruyere cheese and garlic and mushrooms and savored every piece of it.

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In the past four college years my stomach has seen a lot of pizza; I’ve never been to a college event where I haven’t had the addictive triangle slices pushed on me as if they were a litter of free pound puppies awaiting death row.

Pizza from a box satisfies something deeply primal and collegiate within us. But when you toss dough smooth with olive oil or a friend crumbles feta over homemade sauce, pizza becomes a community event. It becomes a collective, anticipated, expressive celebration.

Pizza Neapolitan and Japanese curry pie are tastebud adventures, but no pizza compares to the kind you make with a couple friends, a cold beer, and your own accent.

What does your pizza’s accent sound like?

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Handmade Pizza

Makes two 10-12 inch pizzas. Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes.

It’s as easy as 1-2-3.

Pizza Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (105°F-115°F)
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (can use all-purpose but bread flour will give you a crisper crust)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Cornmeal (to slide the pizza onto the pizza stone)

Pizza Toppings

  • Tomato sauce (depending on preference, you can use tomato puree, chunky jar sauce, or anything in between.)
  • Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Feta cheese
  • Caramelized mushrooms, thinly sliced (or whole if you’re going for a looker pizza), see below for caramelizing directions
  • Chopped fresh basil
  • Pesto or minced garlic
  • Onions, thinly sliced
  • Optional and extravagant: salami or prosciutto, thinly sliced

Part One

  1. Add warm water to a large bowl. Sprinkle in yeast and let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved or foaming.Add olive oil, flour, salt, and sugar and mix on low speed for about a minute with a stand mixer, hand-held mixer, or your very own brawny muscles.
  2. Knead dough in stand or hand-held mixer on low to medium speed with a dough hook attachment. Or, if you’re a poor college student without any sort of mixer or just want to get some frustration out, add a 1/4 cup flour to the dough and  turn out on to a floured, clean counter top. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If the dough seems a little too wet, don’t be afraid to sprinkle on a bit more flour.)
  3. Place ball of dough in a bowl that has been coated lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough around in the bowl so that it gets coated with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm place (75-85°F) until it doubles in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours (or several hours longer, a longer rise will improve the flavor). If you live in North Dakota or are an air conditioner addict and don’t have a warm spot in the house, turn on your oven to its lowest setting for 2 minutes, let it cool a bit, and add your bowl of dough to rise.

Side Note: At this point, if you want to make your dough ahead, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Part Two

  1. Place a pizza stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F for 30 minutes (or an hour if you’re using a pizza stone.)
  2. Punch risen dough down so it deflates a bit and divide in two. Place each in its own bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 10 minutes.
  3. Prepare your toppings. To caramelize mushrooms, with a bit of olive oil, salt, and baking soda (about 1 tsp) on medium heat for 10 minutes, our until golden brown. Prepare other toppings. (Note that you are not going to want to load up each pizza with a lot of toppings as the crust will end up not crisp that way. About a third a cup each of tomato sauce and cheese would be sufficient for one pizza. One to two mushrooms thinly sliced will cover a pizza.)

Part Three

  1. Take one ball of dough and flatten it with your hands on a slightly floured work surface. Starting at the center and working outwards, use your fingertips to press the dough to 1/2-inch thick. Turn and stretch the dough until it will not stretch further or reaches the desired diameter – 10 to 12 inches. Use your palm to flatten the edge of the dough where it is thicker. You can pinch the edges if you want to form a little crust fence. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil (to prevent it from getting soggy from the toppings). Use a fork to poke little holes along the surface to prevent bubbling. Repeat with the second ball of dough.
  2. Lightly sprinkle your extremely hot baking sheet with corn meal. and transfer one prepared flattened dough.
  3. Spoon on the tomato sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and place your desired toppings on the pizza. Bake pizza one at a time until the crust is browned and the cheese is golden, about 10-15 minutes. Enjoy with a cold, cheap beer and a term paper.