Aunt Lulu had been dying for years.
“Marybeth,” she croaked to her niece from her chair by the window. One long, skinny arm was outstretched. No matter that Marybeth was in the kitchen, rolling her eyes over a mound of dough on the counter. “Marybeth, I have something to tell you.”
Marybeth and Lulu had been paired up for years, since Marybeth’s own mama had passed on and left her daughter in charge of her sister’s care. Before that, years and years before, Aunt Lulu had been dying under the watchful eyes of Miss Henry from Pawtucket and before that, she was moaning and casting life advice to her fellow residents at The Carter Boarding House for Single and Widowed Womenfolk. As far as Marybeth was concerned, Aunt Lulu was somewhere between 85 and 125 and had been dying for at least half her life. She doled out life advice like her niece doled out baskets of baked bread, to anyone near enough to take it.
Ever the dutiful niece, Marybeth plunged her hands in and around the dough and turned it around in the flour. One more turn, pat, pat. “You hear me in there?” She had to move fast or the pockets of cold fat would melt. “Marybeth!” She had half a mind to keep going. Get the biscuit cutters out, cut, cut. Move them fast. Pretend like Aunt Lulu’s croaking voice couldn’t be heard over the whir of the kitchen fan. “MARYBETH.” And there it was, that pang in her chest. Maybe this was it, she thought. Maybe this was really it. With a sigh, Marybeth scooped the whole armful of dough onto the baking sheet and rushed it into the icebox. She wiped her hands, and the refrigerator handle, and marched into the sitting room.
Aunt Lulu beckoned her close. She’s still breathing, Marybeth thought sourly. What would it be this time? A word or two about how Marybeth could snag a man of her own (“Lemon juice in your hair! Makes it shine and smell pretty! Listen now!”) A platitude about the poor and feeble-minded (“Well, everybody’s got their mountain to climb. Make sure they got the right shoes, all you can do.”) Her tight-lipped response when politics was on the TV (“makes better talk in the bedroom than it does in the living room!” Which Marybeth still didn’t understand). Marybeth took a deep breath, reminded herself of the promise she’d made to her mama and crouched down beside her aunt’s chair. “What is it, Aunt Lulu?”
Aunt Lulu looked her own from head to toe. Her mouth opened and shut again. Dammit, Marybeth thought as she fought a smile, the old bat forgot what she was going to say. And then Aunt Lulu caught a glimpse of the flour on her niece’s hand. “You let that butter melt?”
Marybeth looked her aunt in the eye. She didn’t have her own platitudes about men or the poor or politics but if there was anything she was sure of in this world, it was flour and fat. “No, ma’am, I did not,” she replied to Aunt Lulu. “As God is my witness, I will not let that butter melt.”
There is nothing quite like a fresh-baked scone. The beauty of most scone recipes, too, is how easy they are to customize. Different herbs, fruit, spices. Today I saw one with dates, this is one of my all-time favorites but I was surprised to see we didn’t have a savory scone option on SKS until now. “Let’s see what Ina has to say about that,” is what you mutter when you realize you’re missing a baked good whose primary components are flour + fat. Good thing we did. These are crazy good and at 16 years old (!) they could even be deemed a classic.
Cheddar Dill Scones
4 Cups plus 1 Tablespoon of all-purpose flour, divided
2 Tablespoons of baking powder
2 Teaspoons of salt
3/4 Pound of cold unsalted butter, diced
4 Extra-large eggs, beaten lightly
1 Cup of cold heavy cream
1/2 Pound of extra sharp yellow cheddar, small dice
1 Cup of minced, fresh dill
1 Egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water or milk (egg wash)
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
2. Combine 4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
3. Mix the eggs and heavy cream and quickly add them to the flour-and-butter mixture. Combine until just blended.
4. Toss together the cheddar, dill, and 1 tablespoon of flour and add them to the dough. Mix until they are almost incorporated.
5. Dump the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 minute, until the cheddar and dill are well distributed.
6. Roll the dough 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 4-inch squares and then in half diagonally to make triangles.
7. Brush the tops with egg wash. Bake on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for 20 to 25 minutes, until the outside is crusty and the inside is fully baked.
All day long, Frances prayed that she would hear words she knew.
She sat on the bus with her flashcards, barely noticing the trees that flew by, their new buds slowly emerging, little nubs jutting into the sky. She looked outside but didn’t look outside at all and mouthed the words on her cards. She spelled some from memory, anchor words, words like luxuriance and dulcimer and guerdon. She’d always loved words, the long ones, the ones that tripped over in her mouth. Frances tapped her fingers against the flashcards and timed her spelling. Tap, letter, tap tap, letter. Syllables were drops of rain.
Frances looked at the next card and smiled. Panzanella. Her mother had surprised her with it for breakfast, put it on the table in front of her daughter and nudged her cards down, just for a second. “Panzanella,” her mother said with her eyebrows up. “Bread salad!” Frances could spell the word forwards and backwards but hadn’t known what it was. It was Italian, she knew that. All she needed was the origin of the word, not the meaning.
She had speared a cube of toasted bread, drenched with dressing that was a little too sour, and popped it in her mouth, enjoying the sensation as she rolled the old word around on her tongue.
Technically, panzanella is made with tomatoes but you’ll forgive us, won’t you? All we want is green. Green, green, green. We’re greedy for it. We bet you are too.
Spring Panzanella Salad with Lemon Dressing
For the Salad:
8 Cups of cubed bread, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 Stick (1/4 Cup) of butter, melted
1 Teaspoon of finely chopped chives
1 Teaspoon of finely chopped parsley
1 Large bunch of fresh asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Cups of baby arugula
1 Cup of fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
1/2 Cup of crumbled feta cheese
For the Lemon Dressing:
1/3 Cup of extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 Teaspoon of white or golden balsamic vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon of honey
1 Tablespoon of minced shallot
1 Clove of garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon of chopped chives
1 Tablespoon of chopped parsley
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place bread cubes in a bowl. In a small bowl, combine melted butter, chives and parsley. Pour herb butter over the bread cubes and toss until well-coated. Pour bread onto a large baking sheet. Season with salt and black pepper. Bake in oven for 10-15 minutes or until bread cubes are crunchy and slightly golden brown. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.
2. When bread is toasted, increase heat to 400°F. Place asparagus pieces on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast, turning occasionally, 18-20 minutes or until asparagus is tender, but still crisp. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature.
3. In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, asparagus, arugula, peas and feta.
4. To make the dressing, in a small bowl, combined olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, honey, shallot and garlic. Whisk until well combined. Season with salt and black pepper, to taste.
5. Drizzle dressing over the salad and gently toss. Garnish panzanella salad with additional chives and parsley. Serve. (Best the day it’s made.)
Smitty & The Girl
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 4
Officer Clemmons led Sylvia Mathers through the kitchen and down the hall until she found the right room. It appeared to have been an office once, though most of the furniture was covered with sheets to protect them from dust and it didn’t have a desk. She was surprised when the woman hesitated in the doorway. “Problem?”
“N-no.” Mathers narrowed her eyes. She was fair skinned and so pale that the few freckles on her skin stood out. “Why this room? There are other rooms.”
“We don’t want to get too far from the scene,” Clemmons replied coolly. “And I can watch the street from here. There are more police offers coming,” she added when the woman stared at her blankly. “You have a dead body in your parlor, Mrs. Mathers.”
“It’s Miss and I’m fully aware that my brother is dead.” Some color had returned to the woman’s face and heat to her voice. She’d squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. Was there a place rich people went to practice that haughty look?
“I’m sorry for your loss.” Clemmons lifted a sheet that covered two chairs and pulled it down to the floor. “Have a seat.”
Sylvia Mathers complied and for the first time, Clemmons realized she was in a nightgown and a light robe. “I suppose you’ll want to change.” She pursed her lips and took a cursory look at the woman’s sleeping clothes, saw no smudges of blood or grime. When she raised her head once more, Mathers was frowning.
“You look familiar to me.”
“There’s six cops in this town,” Clemmons replied. “And you get a lot of speeding tickets, Ms. Mathers.” She flipped to a fresh page in her notebook. “They stand out because they’re usually on account of your jalopy going too slow. Don’t see a lot of those.”
Mathers’ frown remained. “What’s your name? Last name?” When Clemmons told her, the woman’s eyes trailed down to her hands. She wore no wedding ring there but a loop around her neck. It wasn’t long before the woman’s raving eyes sought it out. “Your maiden name.”
“Marrion.” Clemmons dropped her hands and her notebook and stood, her back straight and her own chin up now. “My grandmother worked in this house. For you.”
There was shadow over the woman’s eyes. “Marrion. Esther Marrion.”
“That would’ve been during my mother’s reign,” Sylvia Mathers said. Her voice was still cool. “You must give her my apologies, the next time you see her.”
Clemmons blinked. She asked the question, despite herself. “For what?”
“For everything,” the woman replied. “Absolutely everything.”
It’s spring! Sort of! It’s getting there!
Thank you to everyone who celebrated our 4th Blog-iversary with us. We have a lot of great stuff planned for this year. This weekend, in particular, I plan to tackle this and this. (I’ll share the results, good and bad, on Instagram.) Wish me luck. If you’re celebrating Easter or Passover this weekend, hope it’s lovely and filled with family and FOOD. Mwah!
Download your April 2015 Calendar- Pasta Primavera here:
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Looking for the recipe? Check it out here.
Together, they stood on the lawn and stared up at the roof. Clint Barner peered up with a critical eye. Mel Hallowell had no clue what she was looking at but she hoped she did.
“Well,” old Clint said with a scowl. He wasn’t friendly but he wasn’t unfriendly either. As neighbors went, he was a solid B. “You didn’t shovel the roof, didya?” His accent was thick, even for their rural town, forty miles inland and twenty miles due south of Bangor.
Mel shifted slightly. Did he say “shovel the roof?” “I shoveled,” she said and beside her, Rufus the dog glanced at the driveway as if he knew exactly what she meant. She waved a hand and he trotted back to the house.
“Well,” he replied. “You didn’t do it recent, I’d say.” He put his hands into the pockets of overalls that were likely older than Mel and leaned back on his heels. He took a deep breath and whistled.
There were many things Mel wanted to say in reply. She wanted to tell him that she was cold and could they please go inside and discuss her shortcomings in the warmth of her woodstove. She wanted to leave him there, mulling things over and pondering the next thing he wanted to say because this was Maine and you have time, doncha? and go back to that woodstove and her Greek yogurt and granola and half of a banana that sat on the counter. She wanted, badly, to remind him that she didn’t want this house, that she was left this house, and that no, she didn’t know she had to shovel the roof, is that what people did around here, climbing up on their roof with a shovel and did they have snow blowers, did they haul that up there, was this really something people grew up knowing? Mel imagined what would happen if she unleashed that torrent of words on old Clint, if it would be like dumping a bucket of old hair on a turtle. How long, she wondered, would it take him to shake it off?
Mel had been in Maine for two years. She tilted her head back, surveyed the roof and matched the length of her word to Clint’s slow drawl. “Well,” she said. “Yup.”
Congratulations to Amber P., the winner of our giveaway! Amber has won a delectable ice cream sundae kit from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Thank you to everyone who entered and thank you for telling us what kind of recipes you’re loving right now- this will be a big help in deciding what we should make for you in our 4th year!
Here in Maine, winter is long. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read a blurb in Bon Appetit this month (and I agree with Luisa completely, by the way. Not sure a subscription renewal is in my future. The recipes are great but oiy.), something about how Mainers don’t complain about the cold even though March is especially brutal here. So tough, we are up here where the ground is still frozen solid and the snow lingers. Yeah, okay. I don’t know who they interviewed (maybe it’s that one guy in the BA office who is very smug about his Bean boots? I don’t know) but the people I’ve met here love to talk about the weather and OH, they are not afraid to bemoan it with the best of them. Sure, you meet tons of people who love the cold and embrace it but there’s just as many who step outside to a 20 degree day at the end of March and throw a complete and utter temper tantrum to rival anything you might hear echoing in Boston or New York or Chicago. Mutual survival of the long winter is how we bond with each other and complaining about it is a crucial component of that bonding.
Having said that… there is a part of living in Maine and the dregs of March that I’ve embraced completely and utterly, with an open, fluttering heart. And that is Maine Maple Sunday. On the fourth Sunday of this cold, bitter month, the sugarhouses in Maine open their doors and host pancake breakfasts, offer up maple cotton candy and smothered ice cream, hayrides and the like. It’s… magic. This year it was incredibly cold but thousands of us were undettered and lined up for smoky, sweet treats. Because syrup. Syrup.
On the crowded list of things I planned to make with my haul, this granola was firmly at the top. It satisfies all of my maple requirements- salty, sweet, and crunchy and you can eat it by the handful. The only thing I’d add is a sprinkling of dried blueberries (Maine all the way). And Joy made it when she came to visit Portland, to boot. For our fourth year, it’s a very good place to start.
Maple Pecan Granola
1 to 1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 heaping cup coarsely chopped dried apricots (or blueberries, if you’re a Mainah)
1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, toss together coconut, pecans, rolled oats, cinnamon, and salt.
3. In a medium suacepan over low heat, stir together the oil, maple syrup, and honey. Stir until melted together. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract. Stir together.
4. Add the wet ingredients, all at once, to the rolled oat mixture. Toss to coat, insuring that all of the dry ingredients are coated in the maple syrup mixture. Divide the mixture between the two prepared baking pans. Spread into an even layer.
5. Bake granola for 30 about minutes (original recipe said 45 minutes but one of the pans burned. The other was done at 30 minutes so watch your granola, people!), removing the pans from the oven twice during baking to toss and stir. Once mixture is evenly browned and toasted, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Add dried fruit and stire granola in an airtight container at room temperature.
Hello world… SKS is officially 4 years old!
4 years of blogging. 246 published recipes. 4 years of recipe triumphs and fails, some disasters so epic that pans (whole pans) have been ruined and tossed into the trash (that would be me), at least one occasion of REPEATEDLY buying the wrong ingredient for one single recipe (that was Nicole, it was either self-rising flour or cake flour and it was ridiculous). 4 years of dragging whole cakes, loaves, bars, cookies and pies into the office (some office, any office) to pawn off on anyone who would take them. At least a handful of nights with one of us standing at the counter at 9 o’clock at night, covered in flour. 4 years of blog calendars and feverishly sent emails, cookbook trading, way too much sampling of Eat Boutique goodies, cookies, cookies, cookies, salad, cakes, cookies, “When was the last time we made cookies? Should we make cookies”
And ice cream. So much ice cream. Of all the experiments and trends and food-related crazes that have swam up and past us over the last 4 years, homemade ice cream has stuck the hardest. Other blogs have kale. We have ice cream.
So it seems only fitting to celebrate with a recipe for outrageously festive Butterscotch Bourbon Ice Cream Pie with Graham Cracker Crust (a Melissa Clark recipe! We’re branching out!) (Jeni’s is still the best but it came out pretty great!) AND the chance to gift one of our readers a Build Your Own Sundae Kit from Jeni’s (our favorite ice cream, did I make that obvious to you?).
The lucky SKS reader/winner will receive a festive kit that contains:
- THE MILKIEST CHOCOLATE IN THE WORLD
Luscious milk chocolate with superior creaminess mixed with Ohio wildflower honey and grass-grazed Ohio milk. Refined and just sweet enough, like a bar of fine Swiss milk chocolate.
- SALTY CARAMEL ICE CREAM
A perfect balance of salty and sweet: sugar caramelized by hand, blended with sea salt and grass-grazed Ohio milk. Initial notes of burnt sugar give way to mouthwatering saltiness.
- NDALI ESTATE VANILLA BEAN ICE CREAM
Voluptuous vanilla ice cream. Rich and full-flavored, with notes of jasmine and honey. Made with Direct- and Fair-Trade-Certified African vanilla beans reserved exclusively for Jeni’s by Ndali Estate in Uganda.
- EXTRA-BITTER HOT FUDGE SAUCE
Very thick, extra-bitter, intensely flavorful chocolate sauce. Served warm and drizzled over a favorite ice cream.
- SALTY GRAHAM GRAVEL
Sweet, crumbled graham crackers baked with butter and a heavy pinch of sea salt.
- CHOCOLATE BLACKOUT GRAVEL
Rich, little buttery baked nuggets of cocoa. Airy, sweet, and salty, with deep, rich cocoa flavor.
I’ve made all three of those flavors from Jeni’s amazing cookbooks and can attest that they are perfect in every respect and that you will swoon over them, especially since SOMEONE ELSE MADE THEM. I think we can all attest that delicious things taste better when someone else makes them, right?
How to Enter: Leave a comment and tell us what kind of recipes are you loving right now.
Dates: Thursday, March 19 to Thursday, March 26, 2015 (contest ends at 12:01am EST on March 27, 2015)
Selecting a Winner: Winner will be selected on Friday March 27, 2015 using random.org, a random generator. The winner will be notified by email and will have until Tuesday to respond. If the winner doesn’t respond to the winning notification email, another winner will be chosen.
Boring/Horrible Disclaimers: You must be 18+ to enter. We will only be shipping within the continental United States. SKS reserves the right to disallow comment submissions for the following reasons:
- Any rude or obscene comments will not be approved. (But I will laugh at them silently before deleting them.)
- All spam comments will not be approved. (Again, some of these make me laugh. But they will not be approved.)
- No purchase is necessary to enter. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. I’m not even sure what you would purchase to win, honestly. Wait, was someone going to send me money to increase their chances? Maybe I should rethink this disclaimer…
Butterscotch Bourbon Ice Cream Pie
2 Cups of heavy cream
1 Cup of whole milk
1 Cup of sugar, divided
⅛ Teaspoon of fine sea salt
6 Large egg yolks
1 Tablespoon of bourbon
1. In a medium pot over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup sugar with 3 tablespoons water, swirling pan frequently, until sugar turns reddish brown in color.
2. Add cream, milk, 1/2 cup of sugar and salt to caramel until sugar completely dissolves and cream mixture is completely smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream.
4. Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer).
5. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.Stir 1 tablespoon bourbon into base. Cool mixture to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.
6. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or store in freezer until needed.
My sister Jenn called me just now, somewhat sheepishly. She was going to wait, she said, but she needed me to send three chapters of my first novel to her. Her friend Mary (who I think has known me since before I could walk) had been chatting up the book with a friend, an author, who very nicely offered to show it to her agent.
(The fact that I’m writing it this way, so matter-of-factly, should hopefully imply that this is not the first time this conversation has occurred.) “I told her you aren’t really shopping it around,” my sister said to me. “That Dad tries but you aren’t really sending it around anymore.” I tried to stamp down my annoyance. At that very moment, I was trying to wrap up a ton of work at my job so I could run home, get my house in order, jump in the car with my brother and drive four hours to her very house, for our mother’s birthday this weekend. Wrestling, among a mountain of clothes I haven’t been able to clean and a giant dog who hasn’t seen me in days, the nasty remnants of a truly terrible work week which have settled into a sturdy pit in my stomach. (And, oh yes, I need to send her three chapters and write this blog post before I leave.)
The reason why I just smiled and said thank you and sure, I’d send the chapters, no problem, you never know, thank Mary for me (she really is the best) is that I am profoundly grateful, insanely grateful, to have my family in my corner when it comes to my books. Do I think they’re maybe a little biased? Sure. But there are worse things (I could list a million, I’m sure you could too) than having your big sister pitching your book every chance she gets. Just because she believes. And because I know she truly didn’t want to tell me just yet about this possibility, knowing full well that the rollercoaster of “someone’s going to look at your book!” only to then follow up with news that they passed is one I’ve become so accustomed to that I’m fully numb by it all by now. I hung up the phone, crossed the next item off my to-do list and sighed. Still, she believes. That’s something. This week it’s hopefully enough for the both of us.
It’s fitting, in a way, that this week’s recipe is for delicious homemade corn muffins. They were always big in our house when we were growing up and seeing the photos makes me think of my siblings, and our mother (happy birthday Mom!) with a smile. Except we called them Corn Cuffins at the time. Be sure to use finely ground cornmeal or they could be a little gritty for your taste.
Homemade Corn Muffins with Jam Butter
Source: Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, January/February 2015 | Makes 12 muffins | Print Recipe
2 Cups (280 grams) of finely ground yellow cornmeal
1 Cup (130 grams) of all-purpose flour
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 and 1/4 Teaspoons of fine sea or table salt
1 and 1/4 Cups (300 ml) of milk, whole is best here
1 Cup (240 grams) of sour cream (full-fat plain yogurt should work here too)
8 Tablespoons (115 grams) of unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
3 to 5 Tablespoons (35 to 60 grams) of sugar
2 Large eggs
Favorite jam, seedless and fruitless
- Heat oven to 425°F (220°C). Either grease or line a 12- cup standard muffin tin with disposable liners.
- Whisk 1 1/2 cups cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl (if you have a microwave) or a medium saucepan (if you do not), combine milk and remaining 1/2 cup cornmeal. In a microwave, cook cornmeal–milk mixture for 1 1/2 minutes, then whisk thoroughly, and continue to microwave in 30-second increments, mixing between them, until it’s thickened to a batter-like consistency, i.e. the whisk will leave a clear line across the bottom of the bowl that slowly fills in. This will take 1 to 3 minutes longer. On the stove, cook cornmeal mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens as described above, then transfer to a large bowl.
- Whisk butter, then sugar, then sour cream into cooked cornmeal until combined. At this point, the wet mixture should be cool enough that adding the eggs will not scramble them, but if it still seems too hot, let it cool for 5 minutes longer. Whisk in eggs until combined. Fold in flour mixture until thoroughly combined and the batter is very thick. Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups; it will mound slightly above the rim.
- Bake until tops are golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 13 to 17 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking to ensure even cooking. Let muffins cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove muffins from tin and let cool 5 minutes longer.
- To make jam butter, mix softened butter with jam and serve with warm muffins.
“Olive oil, in a cake?”
The baker looked at his apprentice and lifted a dripping spatula far, far too high. Batter rained on them both. “To bake, and to cook, takes a leap of faith, Geoffrey.” He scowled into the bowl and pushed the thick batter aside, searching for pockets of flour. “It is like love, that way.”
Sometimes, many times (most times), I make something I know because I quite simply do not want to fail.
I buy just enough food, and ingredients, for one week. This tendency is not born of ideology but of budget- I buy what I can afford and then I stop. I am that person in the supermarket with a calculator out, adding up prices as I tick ingredients off the list. (My apologies to anyone lagging behind me as I push the cart slowly past the herbs, my face buried in my phone. I’m not texting or updating my status on Facebook but trying to calculate fractions of weight version price per pound in my head.) When I hit my number, I have to stop and reassess the items in my cart, wonder which ones will have to go back to the shelf. Actually, this rarely happens- for some reason, I have become very attuned to my budget and what I can afford and rarely end up more than a few dollars over.
So when I come across a recipe that’s a risk, I pause for dramatic effect. Because, see, if it fails, I have to eat it anyway or there’s nothing else, really, to eat. If a recipe has too many pricey ingredients, it’s immediately out- I can’t make one $40 meal for the week when my budget is $50.
This strategy serves me well. It’s a lot of work and it’s sometimes painful. On those rare occasions when I’ve put things back at the register, it’s downright humiliating. But it helps me save money so I can travel, go out, buy concert tickets on a Monday night, see a friend for a long weekend. (Food is everything but yet not everything.) So it’s worth it.
I make an exception with olive oil. A big, gaping, ridiculous exception.
Brene Brown has a whole section in one, or multiple, books on scarcity and our great, clamoring fear of it. I recognize the feeling well- when a recipe calls for 1/2 cup of olive oil, I pause and my chest gets tight. Watching the level of the olive oil bottle is frightening to me and it’s scarcity, that hum of a word, that’s behind it. I take a deep breath, remind myself how vigilant I am about food and price and ingredients and I say to myself, out loud, “When it runs out, I’ll buy another bottle.” And not a cheap bottle. A good bottle. The best I can find. The thing with olive oil, see, is that it’s important to me. I’m Italian American, maybe that’s part of it, maybe the biggest part, why that bottle is a source of comfort to me. I use it often and when I cook something spare and simple and good, the better the ingredients, the better the final product. Somewhere along the line, I decided to grant olive oil a pass. It sings, the stuff. If you know what to do with it, it goddamn sings.
Listen to me now- in this, you should not be afraid. Buy a really, really good bottle (imported or from California, pure olive oil, extra virgin, the best you can possibly afford) and use a giant-sounding, heaping 1/2 cup of it in a cake. This cake.
Do it. You won’t be sorry. It’s good.
You can always buy another bottle.
Almond Olive Oil Cake with Brown Butter Glaze
1 Cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup of almond flour or meal
1 and 1/2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon of kosher salt
3 Large eggs
3/4 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
1/4 Teaspoon of pure almond extract
Grated zest of 1/4 medium orange
1/2 Cup of orange juice
2 and 1/2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 Cup of confectioner’s sugar
3 Tablespoons of whole milk
A few drops of fresh lemon juice
1/2 Cup of sliced almonds, toasted and cooled
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, salt, and set aside.
3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in very thoroughly. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about a minute. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined, about 30 more seconds.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The
cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back slightly when touched, 9 and a cake tester comes out clean.
6. Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.
7. When the cake is almost finished cooling, make the glaze: melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.
8. While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.
Smitty & The Girl
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 3
As soon as Clemmons left the room, Gibb lost control of it. Everyone in it started yammering at once, with the exception of the teenage boy and the corpse that lay at their feet.
A lot of the questions were for Gibb, he realized with a grimace as they descended on him. Sylvia Mathers was the loudest, blathering about lawyers and rights and before Gibb had realized what had happened, they had all taken out their phones and hitting keys frantically. “Hey. Hey!” He glared at them all and put his hands on his sizable waist. “Nobody needs a lawyer right now,” he barked. Not yet, he thought. He let out a breath to calm himself and the group of them seemed to relax a little too. Or at least they put their phones away just as two of the women started to cry.
Gibb looked at them, feeling somewhat helpless. He was a resolute bachelor, in part because he found the behavior of women to be outright befuddling and always had. “All right, all right,” he said gruffly. He shooed the two women toward the corner, relieved when they sat down. “Calm yourself, ladies. Jesus.”
It was the bartender who suggested, quietly, that he cover the body with a sheet. Gibb saw him glance up at his son, who had pulled out headphones from somewhere and continued to stare out the window as if something would appear to give him a clue as to what was happening inside. Gibb glanced down at the stiff. “We can’t disturb the evidence,” he replied and he was only partly sure this was the case.
“Shouldn’t we go into another room?” one of the younger women, the one in the leather jacket, snapped. “Wouldn’t that solve everything?”
“Nobody’s going anywhere.” Clemmons had rejoined them. She put her phone away. “Not until we find out what happened here. I don’t want anyone to leave my sight or Gibb’s, until we get all your stories down.” She glanced over at the Mulpepper boy. “You with them the whole time?” He nodded, still green around the gills. “Good. All right, ma’am,” she said to Sylvia Mathers. “If you’ll follow me.”
The murderer watched as she led the lady of the house out of the room.
We are 4 years old this month, you guys! I cannot believe this site has been up for 4 years. Without fail, our little blogiversary never fails to sneak up on us. It’s like we’re so busy griping about winter and brushing the dusting of snow off our hands that we completely forget that St. Patrick’s Day is coming, along with longer, sunnier days and oh, yes, a time for us to celebrate.
We’ve got fun stuff planned for our celebration so get excited! (bossy)
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Lorie placed the tiny chair on the rock but it wouldn’t stay up. Beside her, her father frowned and nudged it back with his knuckle. “Here,” he said. “Use the moss to keep it up.”
She did as she was told. It took some finagling from the both of them but, finally, the little throne sat upright. She shifted in her spot on the forest floor, the dew seeping into her knee socks, and admired their work. Beside her, her father was quiet. He worked in the woods and knew them well. At that moment, she knew, he was tracking the calls of an animal in the distance. He met her eyes over the offering they’d built for the faeries. “It’s a fox,” he told her.
“What’s it doing?”
“Don’t know.” Her father looked over his shoulder to follow the sound. It was a scratchy, bark of a cry. He reclined on his side next to the faery den, as at home on the forest floor as other people were on their living room couches. “Guarding her cubs, maybe.” He rummaged in his backpack for another pretzel and handed her one. “How’s Mom?”
“She’s okay.” Lorie fussed with the moss. The small platter, that she had taken from her old doll house, looked odd on the rock with only a few tiny red berries to weigh it down. “She thinks this is silly.” She felt her father’s eyes on her face and kept them trained on the little offering. “She thinks I’m too old.”
“If you’re too old, I’m definitely too old,” her father replied after a moment. “The funny thing is that whenever we leave things for the faeries, when I come back the next day, they’re always gone. The chair will still be here and the little plate,” he told her. “But everything else will be gone.” The small pile of red berries she couldn’t eat, the tiny pile of silver rocks they found in the pond, the perfect sea shell. “How do you explain that?”
Lorie didn’t answer. She knew what she should think and what she wanted to think. She felt, as she often did, oddly suspended between her parents, though her mother wasn’t there with them. In the distance, she heard the fox cry once more. Her fingers lingered on the tiny throne. She marveled at the force that kept it upright, on the edge of the rock, and she wondered if it would stay.
How to Make a Magic Wand (Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Sticks)
1 12 oz Package of milk chocolate chips
12 Large pretzel rods
Edible gold paint or dust
These are so easy!
1. Prep: Line a baking tray or two with parchment paper.
2. Take your chocolate chips and melt them in a double-boiler or in a microwave-safe bowl (30 seconds, stir. 30 seconds, stir. Continue until fully melted.)
3. Make sure your melted chocolate is in a large-enough bowl so you can fit the whole pretzel.
4. Drop the pretzel into the warm, melted chocolate. Use a fork to cover the pretzel completely and then use the fork as a makeshift crane to remove pretzel and place on baking tray. Dust ends with edible gold powder. Let cool and dry completely until chocolate hardens.
There is something magic about the snow, thought the little girl, and she stood outside her house as the first snow of winter drifted down towards her. The flakes swung toward her like a magnet to rest on her face, her shoulders, her hair. She opened her eyes wide and stared up into the dark sky, mesmerized by the white swirl over her head. When she awoke the next morning, the girl knew, the whole world would be white.
“It’s God,” her grandmother told her at the kitchen counter last winter as they watched the snow cover everything. “Doing this.” She winked at her granddaughter and picked up a tiny sieve and a spoonful of fluffy sugar. She tapped the sieve over the mug on the counter and the girl watched the sugar fall over the dish. The girl laughed. Her mother glanced over her shoulder and let out a tired sigh. “Snow means shoveling,” her mother muttered. “And cold hands and wet pants and slick roads.”
The girl’s grandmother shook her head and picked up the dish of warm chocolate pudding but when the girl held out her hands for it, she paused. She gave her granddaughter a knowing look. “Your mother needs it more,” she murmured and she pressed it into her daughter’s hands. “Eat your medicine, Charlene,” her grandmother said, in that tone that said she would not be denied.
The girl stared up at the night sky and watched the snow fall. She wondered if, as the pastor had said, her grandmother was nearby, right now. Maybe she was in the snow. The girl blinked, searching for her.
She heard the door and her mother’s voice, calling for her. “Come inside,” her mother called. It was not the first time she’d been called. “It’s cold.”
The girl stared up at the sky. “I’m okay.”
The door didn’t close. The girl felt, rather than saw, that her mother lingered in the door. “Come inside,” she called. “I’ll make you some chocolate pudding.”
The girl continued to stare up at the sky. She tilted her head up and felt the snow touch her face. I don’t need it yet, she thought. Not yet.
Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
4 Large egg yolks
1/4 Cup of sugar
Pinch of salt
2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
2 Ounces of bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 Cup of heavy cream
1. In a double boiler, whisk egg yolks with sugar and salt until sugar dissolves and mixture is warm (about 2 to 3 minutes).
2. Off heat, whisk in chopped chocolate until melted. Cool to room temperature.
3. In a medium bowl, whip cream until soft peaks form. Whisk half of whipped cream into room temperature chocolate. Gently fold in remaining whipped cream.
4. Divide mousse among four dishes and chill, for at least 2 hours.
5. Before serving, remove mousse from refrigerator for 15 minutes. Garnish with shaved chocolate.
I think it’s safe to say that this week sucked a big ‘ole nut.
(Oh, sorry. I think I’m supposed to say Valentine’s Day is coming, here’s some chocolate, ain’t love grand? per American Food Blog Ordinance 379 Paragraph 3 Sub-paragraph 4A, Section B. Damn regulations.)
We had layoffs at work this week. It was… bad. So bad that I’m struggling with words, my vision, remembering where I am, what day it is, oh is it snowing again?
I feel so lucky when I say that, before this week, I have never had to experience this particular nugget of adult hell. I’ve been laid off before but I was working remote at the time and it happened all over the phone. No coworkers present, no good-byes, just… my shaking hand putting the phone down on my Ikea desk and my eyes resting on the dog I had just adopted weeks earlier, who was fast asleep at my feet. There is no side of this, I realize now, that doesn’t hurt.
In the midst of all that, my closest coworkers seem to be suffering from a deluge of yet more bad news this week in the form of death, loss, tragedy and the kind of everyday inconveniences that don’t fit on the grand scale but Sweet Baby Jesus make getting up in the morning just a little bit harder (I’m sorry, Jessica, that your roof is leaking and your idiot landlord doesn’t seem to care, when we are currently buried under 6 feet of snow).
There has never been a better time, in my opinion, for chocolate.
Tonight I melted a giant bowl of it and went crazy. Juliette Binoche levels of choco-crazy. Nothing is safe from this bowl of meltingly sweet and sticky, glossy, semi-sweet dark chocolate in my hands. I’m going to cover everything I own in the stuff and hand it out tomorrow like medicine, just stuff into people’s hands as I pass by. This weekend, I determined, is about love in all its forms, pure and simple, sugar and sweet. I don’t mind the red roses and the hearts and the paper cupids- bring it on, I say. We need as much of it as we can get, in any schlocky form it currently takes.
Drink up the pleasure of some company this weekend, would you? For all of us?
Caramel Peanut Butter & Pretzel Cups
Inspired by: Take 5 Candy Bars | Print Recipe
7-10 ounces of molding chocolate (we used Chocoley*), milk, dark or semi-sweet
1/2 cup of nut butter of your choice
1/2 cup of dulce de leche (I used Chocoley’s caramel filling in mine)
A handful of mini pretzels
1. Melted your chocolate in a heat-proof bowl that’s perched over a small pot of simmering water. Stir until melted completely. Remove from heat.
2. Line a muffin tin with parchment wrapper.
3. Spoon melted chocolate on the bottom of the cup. Give it a little shake.
4. Add 1 small pretzel, a dollop of nut butter and a swirl of caramel or dulce de leche.
5. Top with melted chocolate to cover.
6. Let cool for a few minutes and then add a sprinkling of sea salt.
*The folks at Chocoley very nicely sent us a package of melting chocolate (dark, milk and semi-sweet dark), caramel filling and peanut butter cream center filling, to experiment with in the kitchen this winter. Check out more of the treats we made here. All opinions are our own.
Smitty & The Girl
The Murder Mystery Year: Chapter 2
Clemmons walked into the Mather house first and was grateful that taking the lead meant she could close her eyes for a second, steel herself. She had been an office for six years but had never seen a murdered body before. She’d seen her share of the dead, of course, but this was Cliffwood- dead in Cliffwood meant “natural causes” or “well, she was 97…” In six years, there was only one that had shaken her even slightly and that was a car accident off the main road, a teenage boy. Her husband, an ER doctor, was the one who came home some nights and settled into a chair with a glass of whiskey, to stare at the television but not see it.
She made observations as she walked through the house. It needed a good dusting for one thing. The floors were clean though, that was a shame. Would’ve been nice to catch some footprints.
Gibb walked behind her, his breathing heavy. “There goes your quiet night,” she muttered to him and he shook his head. He’s been with the station twenty years to her six and Clemmons wondered if he was prepared for this, despite that.
She glanced behind her and Tom, pale as a ghost, nodded his head to the right. She turned, stepping carefully, pausing at the doorframe that led to the kitchen. There was a scuff there, a black mark, and for a split second she thought it was blood. She walked through the quiet kitchen and took in the signs of breakfast, an unwashed mug, the ring of coffee around it on the counter, a handful of crumbs, an open cereal box. Clemmons followed the low murmur of voices into the parlor and came face to face with what she could only declare was a motley assortment of people. Mike Newell, the local bartended, stood in the corner with his arm around his teenage son, who stared out the window, his expression glassy with shock. A woman with dark hair stood on the boy’s other side, her hand in his. Across the room, pacing, was Sylvia Mathers who wore a silvery nightgown that would be at home at a nightclub. A woman with curly dark hair and a sour expression stood beside her, the only sign of her anxiety her wringing hands. Identical redheads, one in a leather jacket, stood in the back of the room with a scowl; the other redhead was more like a doe in headlights. Her wide eyes were fixed on the body that lay on the floor. The body that had absolutely, most certainly been murdered. And there was Bobby Mulpepper, who looked like he’d been recently sick.
Clemmons glanced up from the body and looked at Gibb. “You stay with them. Nobody moves.” She eyed them all warily. “We question them one at a time, alone.”
“Are you accusing us of-” Sylvia Mather’s voice had a slightly hysterical pitch to it. When Clemmons turned to look at her, her words faltered.
“I need to call it in.” Clemmons nodded to Sylvia Mathers. “And then you’re first.”
We are deep into it now, guys. Winter is bearing down hard. I’ve never experienced this much snow in my life, here in Maine, and I just looked at my weather app and saw, wait for it, four more days of snow coming our way. I’m not even sad, I’m IMPRESSED- where is all this snow going to go exactly? Is there a point where snow drifts just… topple over? I was walking Charlie this morning and found myself on the sidewalk wedged between mounds of snow over six feet tall, like I was slipping through a frozen maze.
I would be sorry for it all if snow wasn’t such a good excuse to turn the oven on and reach for loads of butter and sugar. Snowstorms, for me, mean brownies and all kinds of them, yes, give them all over, nom. (The ones pictured in our calendar are our Dulce de Leche Brownies, incidentally. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I tried to put them all into my face.) Even better now that it’s February, a month where all I want is chocolate, chocolate, chocolate like I’m a real-life, deranged Cathy cartoon. Bring it snow. I’ve got oven mitts, you don’t scare me.
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“Do you think we should move?”
“Move?” Amber turned her head slightly and peered at Joe. “You want to move?” She glanced around their well-worn apartment, and in one fell swoop, took in the peeling paint and the cracks in the ceiling. The tilted floors that seemed to cave slightly under the weight of the coffee table. The chipped paint around the windowsill that she was fairly certain was laced with lead. Still, she shifted under the blanket they shared, feeling slightly unnerved. She loved the apartment. He loved the apartment. Weren’t they always saying how much they loved that apartment?
Joe tore his eyes away from the TV screen. There were still crumbs on his chin from the leftovers they’d just inhaled. He must’ve caught something, an edge of her thoughts, because he started to laugh. “Not move move. I mean, do we need to like, move?” He wiggled his arms and legs.
“Oh!” Amber started to laugh too. It was true, they had been in the same spot for hours, days, weeks. It was winter. It seemed like this was what they would always be in winter.”Nah. I’m good.” She snuggled down in the blankets and shared a triumphant smile with the peeling paint.
GREETINGS. I’m waving hello to you from a mound of snow, 26 inches of it. Portland heard its residents grumbling about what a mild winter we’ve had so far, snow-wise, and responded by dumping a blizzard on our Tuesday (which, it’s been decided, is the absolute BEST day for a blizzard! The only day that could be better is Friday but then, everything’s better on Friday) As much as I am a winter girl in my heart of hearts, I’m also a New Yorker, born and raised, and fulfilling my NY destiny by spending at least a handful of days in Florida. Ah, Florida. Where the accents are thick and the kvetching over shit bagels and pizza can be heard for miles. Let’s do this, slightly-lighter-jeans!
Caramelized Garlic, Spinach and Cheddar Tart
Source: Bon Appetit, February 2015 | Makes: 4-6 Servings | Print Recipe
All-Butter Pie Dough* (my favorite recipe)
Flour (for surface)
5 Large eggs
3 Heads of garlic, cloves peeled
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
1 Tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon of pure maple syrup
1 Teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary
1 Teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
6 Ounces (2 Cups) of sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
2 Cups of baby spinach (or baby kale as we used)
3/4 Cup of creme fraiche
3/4 Cup of heavy cream
*Make it faster: use store-bought pie crust. Life is too short, noodles.
1. Place rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350ºF. Roll out your pie dough and place in plate (or leave store-bought crust chilled until ready to bake). Pie crust needs to be blind-baked with parchment and pie weights until dry, 25-30 minutes. Remove weights and parchment and bake until crust is dry and set, 10-15 minutes. Let cool.
2. Cook garlic in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes; drain. Wipe saucepan dry and heat oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until cloves start to turn golden brown, about 2 minutes.
3. Add vinegar and 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes, until garlic is tender.
4. Add syrup, herbs and season with salt and pepper, cook until liquid is syrupy and coats garlic, about 5 minutes.
5. Scatter cheese over crust and top with spinach.
6. In a medium bowl, whisk creme fraiche, cream and remaining eggs and season with salt and pepper.
7. Pour egg over spinach, add garlic and syrup.
8. Bake until custard is set and golden brown in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
She faced the blank computer screen and bided4 her time. Fussing over items on the desk (a pen that had rolled astray, a stack of old bills that needed shuffling, a keyboard that needed a good swipe between the keys) took a few moments. Then there was the pile of soft, puffy cloud cookies on the plate; she tended to one of those two. She got up, went to the bathroom, forgot why she walked into the bathroom, came back, sat down and sighed. “What do I need to say?” she murmured aloud. The cat purred in response from the windowsill. “Maybe it’s the wrong question,” she told the uninterested cat. She sighed again and rubbed the heel of her hand over her heart. “What do I need to hear?”
That was an easier place to start. The words she typed out, she could change and probably would before she was done. But at least it was a start.
“You are a good person.
You are loved and you love. You work hard. You’re trying your best. You have both hands out, open and waiting. It’s all you can do.
I’m sorry you hurt; I don’t know why but I know that it’s more than you deserve. It’s temporary, though- whether it leads to something better or worse, it’s a moment, just a glimpse and in a second it’ll be gone, poof. Gone like one of these cookies. If you can’t trust in anything right now, trust in that. A minute ago, you were four years old. Ten. Twenty. All of your hurts have collapsed inside you, fallen away. If I picked one out and handed it to you, you may not even recognize it as your own. Isn’t that something? It’s something.
Hope does not spring eternal. It does not. Hope is a well that sometimes goes dry. Sometimes you have to add the spring back to it, feed it, pour it in with those two, open hands. Sometimes you have to pour it in, stand back, and wait for it to fill back up. If you think it will, just wait, and it will. If you think it won’t, pour in some more. Do the work. Scrape and pull and squeeze water from the earth, if you have to, but get it into the bucket and, by God, pour it in. Get others to help you, if you need to- get an army, if you need to. Find someone who will stand beside you and whisper in your ear, “It will fill up. It always, always does.”
It always, always does.
Jam Meringue Cookies
2 Egg whites
1 Tablespoon of fruit jam, room temperature
6 drops of red food coloring
1/8 Teaspoon of cream of tartar
1/3 Cup of superfine sugar or granulated sugar
1/3 Cup of sifted powdered sugar
1. To prep: pour egg whites into a large, steel or glass bowl (wiped clean) and let stand, covered, for at least 30 minutes. Cover 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Preheat oven to 300°F. In a small mixing bowl, stir together jam with food coloring. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, combine the superfine sugar and powdered sugar; set aside. Uncover eggs and add cream of tartar. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a team, beating for 5 to 7 minutes at medium speed until stiff glossy peaks form and sugar is dissolved.
4. Use a spatula to gently fold 1/2 cup of the meringue mixture into the bowl of jam; gently fold jam mixture into the remaining meringue.
5. Using a pastry bag (or a large spoon), pipe or scoop onto the parchment paper.
7. Place baking sheets in oven and turn off oven. Let them dry in the oven, with the door closed, for 1 hour or until dry and crisp but still light in color. Let cool on parchment paper.
“Into the pot you go,” Shan said. He spoke aloud when he cooked, as if coaxing a confession from the ingredients. As an adult, a grown man with children and grandchildren of his own, it would bring a smile to Kayin’s face. As a boy, he sighed with impatience and resisted the urge to tap his hands against the round table. The room smelled sticky and rich, the sheen of the broth resting itself temporarily on Shan’s face.
Shan knew his grandson was hungry. Kayin was always very, very hungry. He hungered for everything under the sun, even the sun; the morning before last, Shan had opened the door to find Kayin standing in the tall grass, his round face tilted up to the sun with his mouth open wide. Now he sat at the table and watched Shan’s every move. “Into the pot, one, two, three.” Shan would not be rushed, not even for his grandson. He kept one eye on the pot and one eye on Kayin, in case Kayin gave in to his urge and began to chomp at the table.
He had not always been so hungry, Kayin. When his mother lived, he had enough. Now, there was never enough for Kayin. Shan stirred the pot and urged patience, for them both.
Happy New Year! We resisted the urge to continue filling the blog with cookies and bars and other sweet treats. Instead, you’re getting a taste of what’s in our kitchens these days. Rich, soul-satisfying soups, stews and broths.
Every year, it seems like there are more and more cleanses happening but it’s never been my style. It’s just so… severe. I need a little comfort with my austerity, if that makes any sense. I need heat and heft and something, you know, to chew. Chewing is good, I think. Chewing implies that you’re working some stuff out, in your head and in your heart- mulling it, chewing it, thinking it over.
You know (as I’ve said every year) how much I thoroughly adore the spirit of January. I just do. Spring may be nature’s renewal but January is our renewal time. And I do, I just love it. Bring on the self-help books and the encouraging articles about habits and getting organized and stress-relief tips and “letting it go” and mindfulness and heart health. Love love love. January is a month of chicken soup for the soul and this year, we need it more than ever.
So here’s my own tip, to be tossed into the ring with all the others- protect your eyes. Don’t shut out the world but don’t absorb so much that you become immune to its pains. Take care of your heart this month. Yes, you need to listen. Yes, you need to know. But you’re only going to be a force of good in the world if you hold on to the good with two hands and don’t let it drown in the bad. Take care of your heart, please. Do it for all of us.
Shrimp Khao Soi
4 Large New Mexico or guajillo chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded*
2 Medium shallots, halved
8 Garlic cloves
One 2″ Piece of ginger, peeled, sliced
1/4 Cup of chopped cilantro stems
1 Tablespoon of ground coriander
1 Tablespoon of ground turmeric
1 Teaspoon of curry powder
2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil
Two 14 Oz. cans of unsweetened coconut milk
2 Cups of chicken broth, low sodium
1 and 1/2 Lb of shrimp
1 Lb of Chinese egg noodles
3 Tablespoons of fish sauce (to taste)
1 Tablespoon of packed palm or light brown sugar
Sliced red onion, bean sprouts, cilantro sprigs, crispy fried onions or shallots, chili oil and lime wedges (for serving)
Make the paste:
1. Place chiles in a small heatproof bowl, add boiling water to cover, and let soak until softened, 25–30 minutes.
2. Drain chiles, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, cilantro stems, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and 2 Tbsp. of soaking liquid in a food processor, adding more soaking liquid by tablespoonfuls, if needed, until smooth.
Make the soup:
3. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add khao soi paste; cook, stirring constantly, until slightly darkened, 4–6 minutes. Add coconut milk and broth. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat, simmer for 20–25 minutes. Add shrimp and remove when cooked through.
4. Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package directions.
5. Add shrimp, 3 Tbsp. fish sauce, and sugar back to soup. Season with salt or more fish sauce, if needed. Divide soup and noodles among bowls and serve with toppings.
*I’ve had a lot of luck finding chili like these at Whole Foods- J