Fathers and flourless chocolate almond cake.

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Happy Fathers day to all men of the fathercloth!

And a special shout out to my dad, a man who loves chocolate, especially gooey chocolate.

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My dad carries a bag of carrots, piece of meat, handful of almonds, and hefty hunks of dark chocolate wherever he goes. He could be at the lab, in the airport, on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro; you can bet your bottom dollar on that little lunchbox because he’s got it.

My hypothesis is that he carries around his gourmet food kit out of wariness. Wariness of hunger and what it makes you do, like paying for airlines’ overpriced, sodium-enriched snack packs that are neither tasty nor nourishing. We call Daddy’s phobia “food insecurity.” Yet the more I attempt to philosophize about it, the more I think it’s an expression of his multifaceted, farm-boy, ever-practical inner foodie.DSC_0081

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While packing things for Seattle, I found a Swedish cookbook one of my friends gave me years ago. When I saw a recipe for flourless chocolate almond cake, my Dad’s lunchbox flashed through my head. This is a father cake, I said to myself as I twiddled my fingertips together with glee. The cake looked healthy, yet so gooey ooey chocolaty, while refined. I had to try it.

Upon first bite, you know Swedish chocolate cake is “healthy” like a bran muffin or something you’d get at Whole Foods, which is not necessarily healthy (but hey, it’s all about perception.)  It is not too sweet, surprisingly flavorful, and slightly amandine. However, due to the almond flour, the cake is not as smooth as non-almond flourless chocolate cakes.

Still, ground almonds give the chocolate cake a deep, almost milky sweet flavor that elevates the confection to a whole other category of toasted chocolate wonderfulness. Rest assured, hungry-wary people of the world. This Swedish chocolate cake assuages food insecurity while simultaneously satiating foodie-ism. Let’s just say it’s hard to stop at one slice.

So, Daddy, I dedicate this gooey, rich, wholesome recipe to you. It’s like your food insecurity kit, just minus the meat, carrots, and other stuff like hummus packs that you pick up along the way.

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Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake

Makes a small cake that serves six to eight, depending on how hefty you like your piece of cake. Recipe adapted from The Food and Cooking of Sweden by Anna Mosesson. Anness Publishing, 2008.

100g/4 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate with at least 75 percent cocoa solids
4 ounces unsalted sweet butter, plus a bit extra for greasing
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 Tablespoons
raspberry preserves, whipped heavy cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a shallow round cake tin and line with wax paper for easy clean-up.
2. Gently melt chocolate with double boiler on low heat or in the microwave on low power. Remove from heat.
3. Cut butter into small pieces, add chocolate, and stir until melted. Once almost cool, slowly add egg yolks, ground almonds, vanilla, and sugar. Turn the mixture into a large bowl.
4. Whisk egg whites until stiff and then fold them into chocolate mixture. Put in to cake round and bake until just set but still soft in the center, about 15 minutes. Serve chilled with raspberry preserves and vanilla ice cream.

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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Life advice, wise wine.

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Life advice: it’s one of the most valuable gifts we can give each other and lately everyone and their sister have been feeding me bits of wisdom they’ve picked up along the way.

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I’m fiercely independent, the kind of person who doesn’t like people telling her what to do. But I’m also at an empty, possibility-filled crossroad. I don’t know what my future looks like. I don’t even know what next week looks like (I move to Seattle June 16th!)

So I’ve been listening to all this advice. And incredibly thankful for any drop of wisdom, assurance, or insights that others can give. It has been fascinating to hear different takes on life and how to live it. It’s been beautiful to see how many shapes hope takes.

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While wedged between pungent boxes of cherries and a five foot tower of bok choy in one of Chinatown’s lively markets, an elderly woman with a red neckscarf told me I should become a flight attendant and double date Australian men with my mother (whom I should “never” say is my mother.) A very Italian butcher at Molinari’s Deli in the North Beach told me to move to San Francisco, which is “justa lika Seattle but fog nota rain!” He consequently wrote his phone number on my mozzarella and prosciutto sandwich’s white paper bag. And as one Davidson College staff member notes, “Always have a Plan B.” I’m pretty sure she wasn’t referring to the kind of Plan B that you get at CVS (which, interesting fact, was invented at Davidson College) but instead life back-up plans because she continued, “Almost nothing works out the exact way you envision it, but eventually everything does work out.”

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I didn’t need to go to school; I just needed to graduate so everyone would impart their wisdom.

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Golden California hills.

Some other favorite lines of advice:

“Your road is going to wind around, with many turns. Your first choice that seems so urgent right now is only the beginning, only step one.”
–P. Baker, Davidson College Faculty

“Don’t take life so seriously.”
–Mama Blount

“Stand still. Always ask why.”
–Grandma Lorena

“Remember to keep asking yourself, “Am I happy and am I growing?”
–Davidson College Staff

“Choose to be kind and generous. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you are tired or you don’t feel good or your partner or your kids are driving you crazy. Be kind after your boss yells at you and you feel terrible about yourself. Be kind when the waiter screws up your order at lunch, be kind when your assistant makes a mistake on the report you’ve got to turn in, and be kind when your parents do something that really, really irritates you.
Be kind to others because you will make a lot of these mistakes yourself. And, when you do make mistakes, know that you’ll want two things: For others to be kind to you, and to have the ability to find it in your heart to be kind to yourself.”
–F. Smith, Davidson College Faculty

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After all this wonderful wisdom, I’m sure of one thing; I have so much more to learn.

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Baby Merlot grapes in Napa Valley.

Do you have any lines of life advice?

p.s. I’ve just returned to my kitchen and a recipe for a simple, nutrient-packed (yes! I swear!) flourless chocolate cake is on its way to you.

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.

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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.

Carrot pansy cupcakes.

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Love is about the sweetest thing there is.

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Food is love made edible; I think that’s why so many people write about it, think about it, photograph it, and commune with it three times a day. From an anthropological lens, eating together is an act of trust. Sharing a meal or cooking for another is a moment of mutual vulnerability. We hunger for love like we hunger for food.

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When I spend time with my parents, I’m always struck by how in love they are.

My dad is a helpless romantic and a biochemist; to woo my mom, he once decorated her dorm room with wildflowers in little test tubes. Mimi is a fun, nurturing ex-doula with a killer knack for gardening. It was love at first sight, they say. They were on a college outdoors trip and Daddy made sure he was my mom’s canoe partner. It stuck and he’s been making this carrot cake recipe for her birthday ever since.

The recipe comes from The Silver Palate Cookbook, a family culinary bible that sits on the bookshelf between The Joy of Cooking and Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. My grandmother gave The Silver Palate to my parents when they got married and it’s been a kitchen inspiration for almost twenty-five years. The pages are dogeared and creased and ripple from split measuring cups of water or milk. My parents’ hand writing fills margins, describing past substitutions and telling stories. The spine smells like vanilla extract and glue.

It’s wonderful.

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In the name of spring and wildflowers, I want to bake some love to you, dear reader.

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This carrot cake Silver Palate recipe is originally for a layered cake, but it adjusts well to cupcakes. Cupcakes are great for spring- you get a bite of sweetness and they’re great for sharing. The proportions of crushed pineapple and carrot puree make these cupcakes ridiculously moist, so don’t be afraid of the cakes drying out in the oven. Just be sure to shorten baking time in half (I’ve done it for you below.)

Don’t be afraid to actually eat spring, literally; finish your cupcakes with edible flowers. Here’s a few commonly found edible flowers:

(Before eating, consult The Home Cooking Guide by Amy Barclay and Peggy Trowbridge.)

  • Carnation
  • Day Lily
  • Gardenia
  • Lavender
  • Lilac
  • Marigold
  • Naturcium
  • Pansy
  • Violet

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Carrot Cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes. Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

24 cupcake liners
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 cups vegetable oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened (if unsweetened, add 1/2 cup sugar)
1-1/3 cups pureed cooked carrots, very soft
3/4 cup drained, crushed pineapple
Cream Cheese Frosting (I like this recipe from Martha Stewart)

1. Preheat the oven to 350?F. Line 2 cake cupcake pans (for 4 cupcakes.)

2. Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the oil, eggs, and vanilla. Beat well. Fold in the coconut, carrots, and pineapple.

3. Pour the batter into cupcake liners, filling cups a little over 3/4 full. Set on the center rack of the oven and bake until risen and fully cooked in the center, about 20-25 minutes.

4. Cool on a cake rack for 3 hours. Fill a pastry bag with cream cheese frosting and decorate, topping with an edible flower from your garden (or frolic in a field and pick edible wildflowers!) Enjoy with tea and someone you love.

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Hot cross buns.

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Sometimes god feels near. And other times far away.

Yesterday morning I rolled hot cross buns between my palms and their sticky dough was fragrant with cinnamon, their flesh studded with little black currants and stained cranberry pink.

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Every Easter morning that I can remember, Daddy has made hot cross buns. I’d wake up early to watch him cross the top of risen dough with a sharp knife. He or Mimi would say, “Christ is risen.” I’d savor the sacred liturgical feel of it all; my reply, “Christ is risen indeed,” would be as delicious as the rolls’ spiced, fluffy crumb.

Grandma Lorena had baked hot cross buns on Easter when Daddy was growing up and so when he made them yesterday it was without question or anticipation. Easter hot cross buns have become a wonderful, almost sweet inevitability.

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When Grandma made hot cross buns, she got up hours before sunrise to take the dough from its overnight refrigerator rise. Grandpa left as the rolls baked to prepare for his sunrise sermon at church. Then Daddy and his two brothers bumbled downstairs. They were hungry and adolescent, drawn toward the smell of yeast and caramelized currants that would soon actualize on their plates with gooseberry preserves and butter.

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Yesterday morning it had just rained and dew drops hung from budded branches. The air was heavy, almost balmy with spring and life.  I dressed the rolls’ wounds with white powdered sugar quietly. The morning, its movement of life, converged in that moment of torn bread becoming whole. Christ is risen indeed.

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Hot Cross Buns

Makes 24 rolls. Recipe from Lorena Blount’s kitchen and her mother, Pearl’s, cookbook, 1953.

  • 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast (equal to 1 package of yeast)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup milk, scalded
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 4 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 well-beaten egg
  • 3 1/2 cup sifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup currants, raisins, or cranberries
  1. Soften yeast in warm water (110 degrees.)
  2. Combine milk, butter, sugar, and salt; cool to lukewarm. Add softened yeast and egg. Gradually stir in flour to form soft dough. Beat vigorously.
  3. Cover and let rise in warm place (around 82 degrees) ’til double in bulk, about 2 hours. (Most rolls require only thorough mixing, with little or no kneading.)
  4. Form into 2 dozen buns and flatten slightly. Brush tops with milk or slightly beaten egg white. Let rise ’til very light. Using a knife, cut top of buns at right angles to form cross. Bake at 375 degrees, 25-30 minutes.
  5. Cool. Then make crosses with powdered sugar icing. Snip off the end of a clean envelope to make decorating tube for frosting. Cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, or vanilla make a good frosting– you won’t need much.

Aside: (my notes say that bigger buns are preferable to small ones which dry out during baking.)

{(Oh}m)ega salad.

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When I was eleven, I was convinced that someday I would become an Olympic ice skater.

1-009Somehow the problem of actually learning how to ice skate never entered my mind.

All I needed was to step foot in an ice skating rink. There, I told myself, I would float across the ice, spinning and twirling in a sparkly leotard so gracefully that a famous skating coach would see me from her spot in the bleachers and say there, that girl, she will be my famous ice skater. The rest would be Olympic history.

That is until Mimi finally gave in to my pleading and took me ice skating one Saturday. I had been to hundreds of ice rinks– in my imaginative mind. For some reason the real ice rink was different. Too different. For the first hour, I clung to the side of the rink experiencing a mixture of confusion, fear, and loathing for all iced things; there would be no coach, no blue leotard bedecked in white glitter. I was crushed.

But for some reason I hung on. I wobbled my way around, clinging to the side wall. Towards the end of the second hour, I managed to push off and stand a couple feet from the rail. And by the start of hour three, I was free of the rail and glided in short bursts with my arms balancing to either side. It was magical. But then it was time to leave.

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I’m remembering ice skating dreams as I reflect over my past four exhausting, wonderful years at Davidson. At first it was rough to get my footing; I worked twelve hours a day, signed up for thirteen clubs, and stayed up late talking with good friends in the little time between closing my eyes and doing it all again.

But with a semester of balanced living and eight-hour slumber nights behind me, I can confidently say I’ve gotten the hang at all this; I’ve written more A plus papers, cooked for more dinner parties with friends, and had more time for myself than ever before. I have pushed off the rail and finally got the hang of college life.

Which is funny because it’s almost over. Why does life change just when we feel like we get it?

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I think it’s the universe’s way of keeping life surprising, humbling, and beautiful all at the same time. Life is about finding nourishment in whatever uncertain, ever-changing form of light appears to us.

This coarse pepper seared salmon with cranberries and leafy greens is definitely one form of nourishment and light. After savoring this salad’s omega-3s and antioxidants, you might even push away from the side rails in your world and achieve even the loftiest of Olympic ice skating dreams.

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Cranberry and Salmon Chard Salad

Serves two.

  • 1 salmon filet, cut in half, skin-on
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch of chard or other leafy green
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette
  1. Lightly steam chard and let cool while you start a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat with 1 Tbsp olive oil.
  2. Add salmon to hot pan and coat, side facing up, with 1 pinch of coarse salt and 1 pinch of coarse pepper. After 5 minutes turn filets over and add minced garlic. Let the garlic and salmon caramelize for 4 minutes and then turn off heat.
  3. Toss chard, cranberries, and balsamic vinaigrette. Divide on to two plates and serve with salmon filet. Bon Om-ega!

Just peanut butter cookies.

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Oh, for the love of peanut butter.1-DSC_0676

And all butters (I did grow up in Paula Dean’s Georgia.) But especially peanut butter. I guess that makes Georgia sense too.

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Probably like many of you, my addiction to peanut butter goes back to the womb and the taste bud conception that happened there. I fact, peanut butter could have been the first thing I tasted as a fetus. It would explain a lot of things.

Daddy was in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley and my parents didn’t have any money. Daddy woke up at 3:30 am every morning to pack UPS trucks before he went to school and Mimi babysat neighbor kids to put food on the table and feed my older brother. When my parents knew of my growing molecular existence, they applied for the WIC nutrition program and the peanut butter food stamps that came with it.

One of my first memories is Daddy perilously eating peanut butter off a steak knife after dinner. Sometimes he broiled bread and peanut butter  until it melted in to a toasted, golden glob. He was twenty-five, biked twelve miles to school both ways, and hungry.1-DSC_0562

When I left to spend half a year on the Indian subcontinent, I took one bag. I packed a shirt, three pairs of underwear, The Alchemist, a notebook, my glasses, and one half gallon tub of crunchy peanut butter.

After week of ashram life, yoga eight hours a day, and anemic vegetable curries and I began to experience withdrawal symptoms. I broke in to the jumbo jar like a crazed nut-job. As soon as its seal broke, three other American students appeared the kitchen for “just one bite.” (I am convinced Americans can detect peanut butter from two-hundred yards away.) With smiles on our faces and heaped spoonfuls of peanut butter in hand, we sat on wobbly kitchen chairs and watched monsoon rain make rivers in the streets.

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To this day I am convinced peanut butter is good on everything.

So American.

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If you like peanut butter and/or you’re gluten-free you’re going to fliiiip. These cookies are pure peanut wonder. With an egg and a scoop o’ sugar. And lots of peanut butter. They take 13 minutes to make from start to finish. And don’t worry about smuggling a second or third onto your plate; they’re relatively low in sugar and each cookie is only around 40 calories.1-DSC_0636 Side note: if you’re in to chocolate and peanut butter, add chocolate chips! Oatmeal, small chunks of apple, and pretty much anything that’s good with peanut butter (which is almost anything, see comment above) works well mixed in the p.b. cookie dough. 1-DSC_0644   Don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!1-DSC_0692

Just Peanut Butter Cookies

(Gluten-free!)

Created and inspired by Melissa Adams.

Makes 2 dozen medium-sized cookies.

  • 1 cup peanut butter (smooth, crunchy, natural, processed– all types of p.b. work)
  • 2/3 cup sugar (use 1 cup if you really like your cookies sweet; I thought it was a bit too much)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda (optional, but helps them stay together)
  1. Stir ingredients in a bowl and roll into 1 inch balls
  2. Place cookie balls on a greased cookie sheet and smash like a # sign with a fork. Cook in 350 degree oven until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. You can cook these until just done for softer cookies-or longer for crunchy ones.
  3. Cool and don’t forget to serve your plate of cookies with a glass of milk!

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Vegan chia date pudding.

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Spring has sprung!

I think all that cooking her to us worked.

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The urge to frolic is irresistible. The sun is up longer each day. Warm bursts of wind shake tiny buds on cherry trees.  Daffodils peak up from their winter hibernation underground. We might’ve lost a Daylight Savings hour but we’ve gained so much more.

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Six weeks. Six weeks. Next week the mantra will become five weeks, five weeks. I know it’s important to be in the present, but I can’t help counting down the days to graduation and Seattle and summer.

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I make light chia pudding with vanilla and sweet dates to stay in the present.

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If you haven’t experienced the wonder of the Chia (and no, I’m not talking about those green, sprouted cha-cha-chia! heads and pets) then get thee self to the grocery store and buy yourself a bag. They’re rich in omega-3s, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Chia seeds are easier to digest than their flax seed friends and lower in fat. And they’re a great vegan substitute for eggs when making pudding because they contain a compound that creates gelatinous texture.

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I’m a fan of vegan food; I shamelessly crave hunks of Tofurkey, strips of smoky Seitan, and a vegan friend’s marinated-broiled tofu. But my world is too enamored with Gruyère cheese and Eggs Benedict to renounce dairy and eggs completely.

Almost all the chia pudding recipes online are vegan. These puddings satisfy a sweet custard craving yet lack the layered, creamy texture that you achieve with dairy. A couple days ago my mom created the non-vegan version below. We haven’t stopped chanting the cha-cha-chia theme song since.

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Vanilla-Date Chia Pudding: Vegan/Non-Vegan

Non-Vegan

Serves 4 (makes about 2 1/2 cups.)

1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup milk
1 egg7 Medjool dates, pitted and minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
handful of berries
maple syrup for drizzling and chopped dates and pecans for topping

  1. In a small saucepan, heat milk on low heat, stirring often, until steaming and then turn off heat. In the meantime, beat egg in a separate bowl.
  2. Temper egg by quickly whisking 2 tablespoons warm milk with the beaten egg. While vigorously whisking the milk, slowly add tempered egg to the saucepan.
  3. Add chia seeds, minced dates, vanilla, and maple syrup to taste while the milk-egg mixture is still hot.
  4. Garnish with dates, pecans, and berries and serve warm or cool overnight and serve chilled.

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Vegan Version

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2012.
Serves 6 to 8 (makes 4 1/2 cups.)

 

1/2 cup chia seeds
1 cup (5 ounces) cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours to overnight
4 cups water or almond milk
7 Medjool dates (5 1/2 ounces), pitted
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons coconut butter
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups mixed raspberries and blueberries
3/4 cup maple syrup, for drizzling

  1. Place chia seeds in a medium mixing bowl, and set aside.
  2. Drain cashews, and rinse well. Add cashews, water/almond milk, dates, salt, cinnamon, coconut butter, and vanilla extract to a blender. Blend on high speed for 2 minutes, and pour into bowl with chia seeds; whisk well. Let mixture stand for 10 to 15 minutes, whisking every few minutes to prevent chia seeds from clumping (pudding will thicken quickly). Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.
  3.  Serve with berries, dates, and maple syrup to drizzle.

Pudding can be refrigerated in a covered glass container for up to 5 days.

 

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