Boozy baked apples, coming home.

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Friends, it has been waaay too long. Four months; four-ever. I wish I had a story-worthy excuse that sounds something like “so I was riding down this dark, coffee shop-lined alley on my fixie and these hipsters in jeggings and oversized knit hats kidnaped me” or “the ship I was working on as a fisherwoman didn’t have wifi.”

But, alas, I was not kidnapped by caffeine-hyped hipsters and I gave up my dreams of becoming a fisherwoman when I was thirteen and The Perfect Storm gave me reoccurring nightmares. Instead, my only excuse is that I have fallen helplessly and ridiculously in love with my new home.IMG_8356

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Seattle is beautiful. Most days are gray, but when afternoon sun nudges its way in to the street you can’t help but smile.  Ninety-two percent of the people I’ve met are introverts involved in either a start-up or a band, sometimes both, and who love their dogs, alcoholic drinks, REI membership status, bocce ball, composting, and good food. I live in an apartment above an espresso shop and incense emporium, and when my window is open I can hear the church down the street play hymns on the hour (and coincidentally the same church Macklemore features in “Same Love.”) At night, the air smells like salt and clouds.

Put Seattle on your bucket list; you will thank me forever, I promise. Where else can the sun make you automatically smile?

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The great state of Washington also happens to have incredibly wonderful apples. A couple weeks back, I went to a farm north of the city and picked 22 pounds of the sweet red things. Since then I’ve eaten one a day, and kept the doctor away, but I still feel a duty to my new homeplace to explore its apple horizons. So I pull out the old pyrex dishes and autumn spices, pour myself a cocktail, and get to work on these boozy baked apple babies. Oats and almonds give the apples a crisp, buttery core and amaretto reduces as the apples cook, absorbing their sweetness into a spicy, caramelized syrup that tastes like home. It’s a simple recipe that takes five to ten minutes to prep. Yet time in the oven highlights each apple’s creamy interior, its tart skin, its hint of harsh minerality and the soil where it once grew. I find there is no better way to honor Washington, to honor autumn, than by baking its apples.

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Baked Apples with Ginger and Amaretto

Serves three.

  • 3 medium, firm, flavorful apples, cored
  • 2 tbsp butter, chilled, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp quick oats
  • 1 tbsp sliced almonds
  • Pinches of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves
  • 1 tbsp crystalized ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup amaretto
  • 1/2 cup apple cider

Preheat oven to 375º. Core apples with a small pairing knife or spoon.

In a small bowl combine butter, brown sugar, flour, oats, almonds, spices and ginger. Knead ingredients together with hands until combined. Spoon mixture into apples that you have nestles into in a small baking pan with sides. Pour amaretto and cider around apples and bake for 30 minutes. Serve warm with crème fraîche, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.

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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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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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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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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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Chocolate hazelnut and gluten-freedom.

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At a party the other night, a friend asked me, “If you’re stuck on a deserted island and could only bring Nutella or peanut butter, what would you bring?” Scoff. I’ll have both, and stay on this island forever.

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My family moved to Australia when I was five and I discovered new friends with Nutella-wonderbread sandwiches in their lunchboxes. Lucky me, Aussie children are crazy about American egg salad. At school, I traded my Power Ranger lunchbox for the sweet, nutty chocolate in a shady cafeteria corner. I was hooked.

Since Australia, I squirrel Nutella in to everything I can: smoothies, frostings, spoonfuls, and now cookies. These aren’t just cookies with Nutella. No, they are the hazelnut chocolate makings of Nutella in cookie form. And they’re gluten-free.

More to come on peanut butter love affairs…

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(Gluten-free!) Nutellettles

About 45 cookies
Recipe by Terresa Murphy of La Cucina di Terresa and David Lebovitz

1 1/4 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 cup rice flour (or all-purpose flour)
3 1/2 ounces butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1. Put the hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until very fine; they should be the consistency of coarse polenta.

2. Transfer the ground nuts to a bowl and add the rice flour. Cut the butter into pieces then add the butter, sugar, and salt to the dry ingredients. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together until the butter is dispersed and completely incorporated. The dough should be very smooth and hold together. If not, knead it until it does or add a tiny, tiny bit of water.

3. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and roll each piece until it’s 3/4-inch (2cm) round. Try to get them as smooth as possible, with no cracks. If the dough is too long to work with as you roll them out, you can cut the dough at the midway point and work with it in batches or use plastic wrap to compress the dough in to ropes. Chill the dough logs until firm on a small baking sheet or dinner plate lined with plastic wrap or parchment paper in the freezer for 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 325ºF and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

5. Working with one length of dough at a time, keeping the others in the refrigerator or freezer, cut off equal-sized pieces using a knife. Once you’ve cut a length of dough, roll the pieces into nice little balls the size of a marble and place them on the baking sheet, slightly spaced apart.

6. Bake the cookies for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during cooking, until the tops are lightly golden brown. Let the cookies cool completely.

7. Melt the chocolate until smooth on microwave medium heat or in a double boiler. Put a chocolate chip-sized dollop of chocolate on the bottom of one cookie and take another cookie, and sandwich the two halves together.

Storage: The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week.

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Granola, crunchy and crunchier.

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I finally found it. The best granola recipe in the world.

There’s a lot of granola out there. And it’s mostly over-priced, overly-sweet, and overly-processed. Being a college student with a yoga mat, nose ring, and kombucha scoby, I am well acquainted with the art of homemade granola. But before a couple of days ago, I wasn’t able to create a crunchy yet dense wafer of honeyed oat goodness. Before, most granola batches either turned out slightly soggy or almost burnt. Granola needs to stick together. With independent oats, your milk and granola breakfast becomes a soupy mess; granola is a little like people.

The secret to granola “bark” is in the spatula. After you pour coated oats in to a rimmed baking sheet, firmly compress the mixture with the back of your spatula. Don’t stir the granola while it’s baking. Instead, just turn the pan around a couple times while in the oven.

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Despite its association with the crunchy, health-food types, granola really isn’t that healthy; it requires a dessert-worthy amount of fat and sugar. Thus I have two versions for you. One is sticky, coconut-oil rich, and sweet. It’ll taste more like the granola you buy in the store and it’ll also have just as many calories. The good part is it won’t have all the chemicals. The other version has modest amounts of fat and sugar and tastes great. But because there’s not much fat, the oats won’t stick together.

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Spiced Coconut Granola, Two Ways

Makes 6 cups.

Rich, sweet version

(Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated‘s Almond Granola.)

1/3 c maple syrup
1/4 c packed light brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla or almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup coconut or vegetable oil
5 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 tsp spice of choice (ie cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice)
2 cup (10 ounces) raw nuts, chopped coarsely, like almonds, pecans, or walnuts
2 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit, chopped

Or, the low-fat, low-sugar version

1/3 cup maple syrup
4 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup coconut or vegetable oil
5 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1 tsp spice of choice (ie cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice)
2 cup (10 ounces) raw nuts, chopped coarsely, like almonds, pecans, or walnuts
2 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or other dried fruit, chopped

  1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Whisk maple syrup, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl. Whisk in oil. Fold in oats and nuts until thoroughly coated.
  3. Transfer oat mixture to prepared baking sheet and spread across sheet into thin, even layer (about 3/8 inch thick). Using stiff metal spatula, compress oat mixture until very compact. Bake until lightly browned, 40 to 45 minutes, rotating pan once halfway through baking. Remove granola from oven and cool on wire rack to room temperature, about 1 hour. Break cooled granola into pieces of desired size. Stir in dried fruit. (Granola can be stored in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.)

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